Regarding customer satisfaction, few techniques are as powerful as talking to customers to understand their problems. In this article, I’d like to remind you of a few principles of good customer satisfaction management and the advantages of involving customers directly at the highest level of the company.
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Very few top managers stay close to their customers. The larger the organization, the more management detaches from the ordinary people. Top managers find themselves isolated from the field. Do they still read complaints letters or talk to dissatisfied customers? Probably not. This loss of proximity calls for active customer involvement in the decisions taken by the company. This proposal is far from romantic.
An empty customer seat on Amazon’s Board of Directors
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is a pioneer in customer satisfaction. He has revolutionized online retailing by putting the customer at the heart of all Amazon decisions. It was he, for example, who imposed the practice of the “empty chair” at meetings. Its purpose is to symbolize the customer, the “most important person in the room.”
The empty chair approach is part of a company culture where 80% of KPIs are related to the customer experience:
- Order easily
- Anticipate what the customer needs (thanks to algorithmic recommendations)
- No errors in orders
- The customer must always be able to order what they need (i.e., no stock-outs).
This obsession with customer satisfaction has led Amazon to top the University of Michigan’s customer satisfaction index for online retailing for several years.
Building relationships with customers, however, goes beyond the simple concept of an “empty chair.” The latter is certainly there to remind managers that customers must be added to the room. But if the customer needs to be included, how can management rely on honest, transparent feedback from the field to make the right decisions?
The customer belongs on the board of directors
Some organizations, like Ryanair, have created a “Customer Advisory Board” so that the customer is physically and actively represented. In this way, the customer’s presence is transformed from symbolic to active. In the case of Ryanair, however, the question remains: what does a company that crystallizes complaints expect from a customer representative?
Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) are strategic tools to strengthen and maintain customer satisfaction. They enable companies to get closer to their customers by soliciting their opinions and advice. There are three types of CAB based on different customer groups:
- Existing customers
- Former customers.
Customer advisory boards are hybrid initiatives between a quantitative satisfaction survey and a focus group that serve as sounding boards for management.
This advice can be used to achieve a variety of objectives:
- Decide on future investments
- Develop new products
- Improve existing products.
It is, therefore, a market research tool like any other, except that it is linked to the highest level of the organization. The filters of the lower echelons, therefore, do not apply, which can be an immense help to management. This makes it easier for management to detect things that might otherwise be hidden from them.
The advantage of a Customer Advisory Board is also significant in terms of communication. Many initiatives of this type are intended to serve as a showcase for the company.
The advantage of customer dialogue in understanding customer satisfaction
Talking to real customers has several advantages for top management:
- The company’s most senior executives are directly exposed to multiple expressions of dissatisfaction and thus gain insight into the problems associated with their service or product. How else could such information be obtained? Is it reasonable to think that the various strata of the organization (employees, middle management) allow problems to transpire upwards?
- Unhappy customers will feel better treated if they can talk to a top manager about their problems. Numerous scientific research studies have shown the positive effect of “interactional justice” on the satisfaction of unhappy customers. Resolving a complaint through dialogue with a senior manager is a good practice that only some companies apply.
- The qualitative feedback from dissatisfied customers through one-to-one interaction is invaluable. Sometimes, your customers have ideas your best marketers would never have had. This is one of the reasons behind the co-creation techniques that followed the first scientific experiments carried out with lead users.
We are asking managers to go out and meet their customers, especially those dissatisfied, especially in B2C. An extremely simple initiative is to pick up the phone and call those customers who have given aggravated signs of dissatisfaction in a satisfaction survey. A customer with the lowest NPS (Net Promoter Score) score should always be supported. His poor assessment is a cry for help, a cry to be listened to (see the example of the DKV insurance company, which doesn’t use its satisfaction surveys to re-establish links with its customers).
Posted in Marketing.