Could Time Be Running Out For Many Small Businesses?

Posted by on Sep 19, 2014 in Customer Experience Management, Feedback | 0 comments

Forget purchasing power, colossal adverting budgets, opening hours and premises size, small companies are set to face their biggest challenge to-date from large organisations. Small businesses can offer just one positive differentiator over large, a truly unique and personal service…and big business is now all set to directly challenge them on this.

Unknown to the proprietors of most SMEs, the hot topic for the executives in the boardrooms of many large corporations has been the upgrading of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software to CXM (Customer Experience Management) systems. This new breed of software which has been developed by the giants of business systems such as Oracle and IBM is designed to handle big data, giving companies unique insights into each and every customer.

So how far off is this new threat to small businesses? Well if you are serving a B2C marketplace, perhaps in retail for example, you may have already begun to come up against the new systems being used by the supermarket giants or the likes of amazon, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.

So why is CXM such a threat? Well the new software is developed to listen to customers at all touchpoints including social media, allowing companies to tailor customer experience to individuals with the ultimate goal of “wowing” them with service and a tailored offering. It also performs customer rescues when analysis shows the potential to churn, making winning customers from big business so very much harder.

What does this mean for the small business? Well if own or run an SME and you don’t already, you must embrace the same principles as CXM systems. In short, nurture every customer relationship, really get to know what each of your customers likes and as importantly dislikes. Move budgets from marketing for new business, to using it to really impressing your existing customers, then you can build new business from the extra word of mouth generated. Finally employ a feedback scheme so you can get a real handle on what your customers are thinking, as many won’t tell you voluntarily, you’ll just not see them again one day.

Small businesses can offer just one differentiator2

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Don’t Fightback, Feedback!

Posted by on Sep 16, 2014 in Customer Service, Feedback, Voice of the Customer | 0 comments

In the new era of social media and review sites, customers have power like never before to damage a business and its reputation. Find a fly in your soup at a local restaurant, and a quick witty post about it on TripAdvisor or on Facebook and you’ll soon have the world believing the establishment boasts more insect life than the jungles of Panama.

A question though perhaps we might ask ourselves is, should we in the first instance be posting views on social media or review sites after we leave a premises, potentially inflicting real damage to the business concerned? Alternatively, should we not recognise it’s very difficult to get everything right, especially for every single customer, and so instead feedback to the management quietly, giving them the at least a chance to improve their business and perhaps even make it up to us personally.

Certainly if the business concerned were run by a friend or member of our own family, we wouldn’t dream of publishing negative feedback online as we’d recognise the hard work they put into building the business, and that it would cause them damage. So why do we so readily seek to take this action rather than feedback as we would do if we knew the owner? The English don’t like to make complaints, we prefer to have something to moan about later, but when this negative comment finds its way onto social media and review sites this is no longer harmless chat, it’s broadcasting, and could indeed be seen as malicious since it potentially causes such great harm.

Business owners also need to play a significant part in changing the feedback culture too; management should consider putting in place a feedback scheme / voice of the customer facility. Once received, it is vital any feedback is acted upon quickly, demonstrating to the customer their feedback will result in a positive change and that the business sincerely cares that they are unhappy with their experience. If a customer rescue is achieved and the situation rectified, research shows that these customers will be more loyal than before, and indeed be bigger advocates for the business.

The English don't like to complain2

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The New Age of Customer Care

Posted by on Sep 9, 2014 in Customer Experience Management, Customer Service, Feedback, Voice of the Customer | 0 comments

Over the last ten years the internet has changed the way most of us do business or indeed are a customer, and we are still very much at an early stage in the evolution of what we currently term the web. It may seem hard to imagine but the next decade will see even greater change, but this time driven as customer service catches up to technology with the advent of Customer Experience Management (CXM) replacing or laying on top of existing CRM systems.

CXM will aid large corporations achieve a high level of customer care that many of which have previously been unknown for, almost anticipating a customer’s needs and listening to their feedback when they have issues by way of VoC, feedback schemes and other contact at customer touchpoints. This is in stark contrast to the first decade of the mass adoption of the internet, when many businesses sought to almost hide behind their websites when customers wanted to make contact. As customers chased purchased products or were seeking to make a complaint, they trawled around websites in vain looking for a telephone number or even just an email address to make a follow-up enquiry. A ridiculous practice when we look back now, akin to a bricks and mortar shopkeeper jumping behind the counter of his store and turning off the lights if he believed a customer might be on their way back to return goods.

If you are running a business in the approaching new age of customer care then the message is simple, now the world has gone online and you no longer see your customers, you better start listening to them. If you don’t listen to your customers your competitors surely will, and would be more than happy to fulfil their needs. For small businesses not able to employ such complex CXM technology they will have to become a beacon of personal service, getting to know their customers like a local shopkeeper might have done fifty years ago. For the customer this is all good news, and marks a welcome shift away from the frustration of dealing with companies that sometimes didn’t even previously pay lip service to customer care.

The New Age of Customer Care

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The Opportunity Is The Problem

Posted by on Sep 8, 2014 in Customer Experience Management, Customer Service, Feedback, Voice of the Customer | 0 comments

Human nature dictates that we trust and value a friendship more once it’s been tested, and the same is true for customer loyalty after an issue arises and the business proves it truly cares. Having had a problem corrected many studies have shown customers become more loyal than they were previous to the issue, indeed oftentimes they then become the biggest advocates for the business.

Most companies today still see contacts made for customer service reasons as a drain on resources only. If we consider the Call Handling Time key performance indicator used in most contact centres, that statistic really equates to how quickly each Customer Service Advisor can end each call rather then ensure each caller is completely happy, let alone go on to use the opportunity for developing the relationship with the customer.

In an overloaded social media world, having a direct conversation or dialog at length with any customer and building a direct relationship has become far more difficult, especially for larger organisations or companies that primarily do business online. So, now in contrast to most, some forward thinking organisations are embracing this type of customer service contact as a chance to develop a deeper relationship, and differentiating themselves from their competitors by showing a high level of care and value toward the customer.

In time with the advent of Customer Experience Management (CXM), each and every contact either via a feedback scheme, Voice of the Customer channel or direct to a contact centre call will be viewed as critical to every business. Until such a time there remains a huge advantage for the early pioneers into CXM, and those organisations seeing the opportunity in feedback and complaints to really set themselves apart from their competitors, by using this customer initiated contact to actually build stronger relationships.

Once its been tested

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The Positive of Negative Feedback

Posted by on Sep 6, 2014 in Customer Service, Feedback | 1 comment

We all love to get feedback when it’s positive, without exception this is true, and conversely the opposite is so for negative feedback which tends to make us instinctively defensive.

It’s not surprising this is the case, if we put in vast amounts of time, effort and perhaps money into building a product or business that we ourselves believe in, then quite naturally it causes in us the emotions of anger and perhaps even pain when someone is critical of it, or the opposite is true if the feedback is positive as it makes us feel a sense of recognition for our labour.

With all feedback it’s important to remember that in most cases the person giving it sees nothing of your effort, nor are they aware of the time you’ve invested, or indeed even understand your intentions or objectives in trying to create something great, they merely see the results of your work and their feedback is simply their experience of these at a single given time.

Since one of your primary aims in business is to make as many customers as happy as possible as much of the time as possible, it makes feedback and each and every customers perspective important. On an individual level it gives you the opportunity to change a person’s negative opinion, and when taken collectively with other customer feedback it can stop you investing your most important commodity which is your time, into things in which your customers may perceive have far less value than you do yourself. Feedback can be a real guide in directing your efforts within your business.

A rather simplistic but useful example of this for illustrative purposes might be in a restaurant perhaps, in which a conscientious chef may love his own grandmother’s particular family recipe for a pie. He may spend extra time preparing this particular dish since it’s a speciality of his and indeed his wife’s favourite too, but if more often than not customers feel it contains too much pepper then the chef would be wise to listen to this feedback, and hold back on what is a minor ingredient rather than seasoning to his own taste. The chef may not prefer the pie himself, but the customers will be happier, the restaurant will sell more pie which is the ultimate objective, and the chef can always be more liberal with the pepper when he next makes the pie at home for his family.

The point being listening to feedback allows you to give the customer what they want, not just what you think they want. Feedback creates an opportunity to save your time and your money, especially negative feedback whenever you can obtain it so it should be welcomed and indeed highly valued. By listening to negative feedback you can achieve greater success, as by adapting your business to accommodate the wishes of your customers you will achieve more repeat business. Positive feedback can also prove useful, giving confirmation of when you are getting things right. A word of caution though in that all feedback is merely a snapshot, and continuously seeking more feedback is essential to maintain standards and to ensure any example of positive feedback isn’t a minority held view, or simply proof that you got things right on one day out of seven.

Listening to feedback

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CXM for Small Business

Posted by on Sep 4, 2014 in Customer Experience Management, Feedback, Voice of the Customer | 0 comments

Often it may seem Customer Experience Management is the preserve of large organisations with vast resources at their disposal, however this isn’t necessarily true and one of it’s key components customer feedback certainly isn’t, indeed some aspects of good CX it could be argued might be easier to achieve within a small businesses environment.

When you stop and consider one of the primary requirement of CX is for closed loop feedback, allowing management to continuously listen to customers by taking feedback at as many customer touchpoints as possible and then responding to this feedback and starting to anticipate their problems and needs, then advantage perhaps could be with the smaller organisations maintaining just a small number of close relationships. CXM is in its infancy and a tight definition yet to be formed, but it would be safe to say it is as much about strategy and a way of viewing your relationship with your customers as it is about technology. Large businesses turn to technology for a solution due to the vast numbers of customer relationships they maintain requiring this, and for these large corporations the systems investment can often be huge and solutions complex to achieve effective CX.

On the face of it this technology will give the large organisation a massive advantage over smaller companies, with software automatically analysing purchase history and feedback responses from customers and responding directly to the latter, but surely that cannot compare to the small business owner responding timely and with a personal touch, or when someone complains for example most people would much sooner have a response from someone of influence within the business, that can empathise and then perhaps bring about change rather than simply pacify.

A further advantage for the small business in terms of CX is if you think of the typical levels of management between the CEO of a large corporation and the end customer facing staff, and then compare that against the proprietor of a sole trader businesses for example who oftentimes themselves is customer facing. Unlike the CEO, the sole trader can get the feedback direct and then tailor the customer rescue response for example rather than have to follow a guideline or be shackled by a limit of authority in terms of what they can do. The small business also isn’t without the assistance of technology and too can now employ simpler low cost feedback schemes for VoC feedback on products and services, and so in conclusion by utilising these and by also taking the time to engage with customers direct as often as possible, it is possible that a small business could be much more successful achieving effective CX than many larger companies.

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Feedback Scheme founder Jamie Snape undertakes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Posted by on Aug 27, 2014 in News and Media | 1 comment

Feedback Scheme founder Jamie Snape today undertook the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, but wanting to go above and beyond just “the call” decided to add a little extra by insisting his nominees (after himself of course) undertake a new Ice Bucket Challenge ‘Executive Edition’, and so be wearing their suits when taking their dousing.

Having now undertaken the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge following his nomination by his brother Paul Snape, he awaits the response from his three nominees; The Business Desk Director David Parkin, Charlie Haywood of Hotfoot Design, and of course his older brother Andrew Snape.

Finally please remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is in a good cause, and to donate in the UK to the MND Association at

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Profit In The Service

Posted by on Aug 25, 2014 in Customer Service | 0 comments

For the majority involved in running an organisation of any size, if they are completely honest a customer can find the same product they sell or the service they provide elsewhere, this is just a painful truth and there are very few exceptions to this. As such differentiating a business and generating repeat custom is probably in the main achieved through one of five factors; price, convenience of geographic location, high switching costs, loyalty from existing relationships or customer service levels.

Of these five factors, we take the focus off high switching costs as these are specific only to existing customers and only to certain sectors, and this can be overcome with planning and/or timing. Convenience of location again can be overcome by competitors, this time through logistics or by opening a presence within close geographic proximity. Loyalty from existing relationships can only really be generated on mass by nurturing through good customer service over a period of time, and so can’t be separated from customer service. So from five we are left with just the two key factors in differentiating from competitors and achieving repeat business, which are price and customer service levels.

There are those that may argue that customers wanting to align themselves or their business with certain brands constitutes a sixth factor, but then the greatest example of this kind of magnetic brand attraction for our generation is probably Apple Inc., certainly within a B2C marketplace. Whilst having a unique hardware range, Apple have also achieved their status by way of exceptional customer service for which people are willing to pay a premium for both product and customer service, and the iconic brand status they have now couldn’t have been achieved to the same degree without the latter.

So between price and customer service levels, differentiating by price is certainly the easiest route for any business to take, as fractionally undercutting the competition (by reducing profit margins) won’t take much effort at all. It won’t take much work in terms of staff training either, minus one or two percent on competitor rates or prices is actually something most people could undertake without training, and so a few ‘Price Promise’ graphics at the POS for a retailer for example and the task of differentiating with the competition is complete. The only problem with the price route is some competitors will surely take the same path, and the reduction in profit margins quickly then becomes the slashing of margins.

A further downside to differentiating by price is on a human level, since this generates little in terms of personal career satisfaction for executives and indeed for the staff on the frontline too. With less profit margin you need more customers, and so can spend less time on servicing each. That warm feeling when you get home from a job well done are feelings you mostly gain after providing a great service and are striving to be the best at what you do.

Whilst providing exceptional customer service and building relationships with customers takes time and isn’t something that’s easy, it’s certainly something you can put a tangible margin on as people will in the main pay at least a little extra for good customer service and support. In short customer service is probably the only factor in business where you can truly provide something unique, that cannot be copied, and being the top for customer service also builds loyalty and can retain or increase profit margins. If you decide not to be at the top for exceptional customer service, then you probably have little choice but join a terminal race to the bottom in terms of price.  At the bottom though I expect you will find very little loyalty, and even less profit, and when a competitor arrives that enjoys greater economies of scale and/or purchasing power, then at that moment your business will complete its decline to failure.

Race to the bottom

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Customer Experience Management (CXM / CEM)

Posted by on Aug 21, 2014 in Customer Experience Management, Feedback, Surveys, Voice of the Customer | 0 comments

Customer Experience Management (the acronym for which is CXM or confusingly also CEM) is relatively young, and really has only recently been fully embraced by organisations.

So what is CXM?

CXM seeks to refocus an organisation towards customer service, and provide each customer with a tailored experience. It manages an organisation’s relationships with their customers, and monitors what the customer or client expects to experience in terms of service and/or a product, and sets this against what they actually experience, which are often two very different things in reality, CXM then seeks to rectify any difference between the two.

So what in tangible terms is CXM?

At the centre of all CXM systems is the critical component which is closed loop feedback. This involves gathering data from all existing customer touchpoints, but often also involves being more pro-active with Voice of the Customer (VoC) solutions such as Incentivised Feedback Surveys.

With a closed loop feedback scheme in place, taking feedback from surveys and indeed all customer touchpoints, negative feedback then triggers intervention where necessary, sometimes referred to as ‘customer rescue’, which is then followed by obtaining further feedback and intervention where necessary throughout the customer lifecycle.

CXM should ideally be seen as a pro-active approach to customer service and sales, marrying the two, initiating anticipatory contact with customer when appropriate to do so, and then reacting to feedback often on an individual basis.

Why do organisations need CXM?

According to various studies, it costs over five times as much to gain a new customer as retain an existing one, and this is why CXM has become the main focus for many organisations. The ultimate goal for CXM being avoidance of customer churn and maximising the customer life cycle, maintaining greater loyalty to a product or service. CXM also seeks to make advocates of their existing customers, gaining new business by increasing word of mouth after providing customers with an exceptional  experience.

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Survey QR Codes

Posted by on Aug 15, 2014 in Customer Experience Management, Feedback, Surveys, Voice of the Customer | 0 comments

In the last couple of years you may have noticed QR codes (Quick Response codes) move their way into the mainstream of marketing, however it may surprise some to learn QR Codes were actually invented in Japan way back in the 1990s initially for use within automotive manufacturing. Following the arrival of mobile devices with inbuilt cameras and internet access, QR codes have been given a new occupation beyond their original perceived usefulness, gaining traction within B2C marketing in particular, as essentially scanable quick links for website pages.

So, should your organisation now be using QR codes to link to your online surveys and in your general marketing materials?

Well, right now at time of writing, the best answer would probably be perhaps, so long as you’re targeting a suitable audience and your expectations of their use are realistic. There is certainly a school of thought, that QR codes seem to be a box ticking exercise for many companies. Perhaps they see them on a competitors marketing materials and feel compelled to use one, indeed inventing a use for them, often a use which makes little or no sense.

A problem with QR codes is that to-date their readers have not been adopted as out-the-box technology in most mobile devices including the current crop of iPhones (at time of writing running iOS7). As such for many scanning a QR code isn’t as simple as just pointing your mobile device’s camera at the code and having the browser open up to the correct URL, its in fact a case of scrolling through your apps to find a QR code reader, selecting that, waiting for it to run and then finally pointing your device at the QR code and then waiting for the scanning process, and finally your browser to open and the intended web page to load…all that of course assuming the user has in advance downloaded a 3rd party QR code reader application.

While these convenience obstacles are in place I can only surmise that QR codes will be used in the main by those technology intrigued audiences, dedicated to using every one of their chosen mobile device’s features, and as such, listing a memorable domain name will surely for the immediate future remain the best way to help people arrive at your online survey.

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Incentivised Feedback Surveys

Posted by on Aug 14, 2014 in Customer Experience Management, Feedback, Surveys, Voice of the Customer | 0 comments

With many large companies currently grappling with the implementation of Customer Experience Management (CXM/CEM) systems, one tool currently being deployed is the Incentivised Feedback Survey.

In the UK, retailers particularly have adopted this tool on mass, with such companies as New Look, Primark, Mountain Warehouse and supermarket giants Morrisons and Tesco all having recently implemented such schemes. Fast-food is another sector in which this tool has also gained popularity, with brands KFC and Pizza Hut leading the way.

Incentivised Feedback Survey schemes themselves are designed in most cases to tempt customers into taking the time to complete a feedback survey with respect services and/or products, with the reward often being in the form of entry to a prize draw or a discount against future goods or services.

Typically Incentivised Feedback Surveys are based online, and utilise a unique URL (sometimes arrived at via a QR code scanned into a mobile device) directing the user to a site separate to that of the company’s main website, or redirecting to 3rd party survey services. In either case this extra site usually functions solely as a bespoke online survey tool that has been tailored to suit the author company.

It is important to recognise that the design of these surveys are currently not always to suit their customers too, often lengthy, there are some poor examples of this tool now in existence which can give rise to a high abort rate. Further to this when analysed, one struggles to find evidence that the data from Incentivised Feedback Survey schemes will be from a full cross-section of a company’s customer base, indeed there is clearly a danger that data will more often come from lower socio-economic groups who will be more motivated to sacrifice their time for entry to a prize draw, or for a relatively small future discount against goods and services.

Despite their drawbacks, Incentivised Feedback Survey schemes certainly do provide extremely valuable data to many organisations as part of a Voice of the Customer (VoC) program, but managers tasked with introducing CXM do sometimes make erroneous assumptions that it provides a total closed loop feedback solution which it clearly does not. Indeed the Incentivised Feedback Survey should ideally be used in conjunction with other feedback tools, and the feedback from all customer touchpoints rather than as the only the one instrument within a CXM system.

A touched on a good CXM system does requires as an integral part a closed loop feedback system for which an Incentivised Feedback Survey scheme doesn’t ideally tick the box, though some vendors have sought to adapt their systems to try to with ‘customer rescue’ as an option within the Incentivised Feedback Survey process. In devising feedback schemes as part of CXM systems it is vital to remember that the primary goal is to avoid customer churn, therefore catching real-time opinion by way of closed loop feedback from the customers who are disgruntled (and therefore less likely to fill out long surveys) and who are motivated to imminently change suppliers, is worthy of a greater focus than the general feedback data obtained from Incentivised Feedback Surveys.

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