CX Professionals Talk About 3 Strategies to Drive Action

At a recent MaritzCX event, we held an interactive power hour  facilitated peer-to-peer discussion about creating a strategic action plan to generate the expectations and actionability of insights. The room was all a buzz with CX professionals, who were sharing ideas and discussing the methods that work best when it comes to driving action throughout their organizations.

We all know that gathering insight from customers doesn’t help “you” or “them” if you don’t use that information to make an impactful change. In the CX profession, we like to measure and look at metrics—but influencing people, teams and organizations to act differently is one of the most important and difficult things we need to do.

This interactive discussion pinpointed 3 strategic ways to drive action throughout your organization:

1. Drive Ownership at All Levels of Your Business

  • Empower the lines of business with data, so that action can be taken by the owners who can make changes for customers.
  • Engage the business lines in your CX work from day one. If there is a certain customer pain that a business line would like to learn about, bring them into the process from the beginning to develop a research learning plan, so that they have accountability with you. When the insight is brought to the forefront, action can be taken immediately, because the business lines have been involved from the beginning.
  • Provide a Playbook or repository of best practices with peer review to share with your front line employees. If you know what works well for the customer, share it and give your teams the ability to rate the information on an interactive platform. This enables peers to know when something is working well, or when it needs to be revised.

2. Don’t Forget the Importance of Data Integration

  • Use both Voice of Customer (VoC) and operational data metrics. Do not report them separately. Your data should be reported as one, as this will help you and your organization develop a better understanding of customers.
  • Leverage, test, and learn. When insights come in, they are telling us something. Use that information, get into market, measure the gaps and make sure to drive the right business outcomes (from what customers are asking for). Listen, test and learn is the key to success.
  • It is important to try and solve the right business problems. You now have all your data integrated into a comprehensive story of what your customers are saying, as well as what the business outcome is. At this point, you can rally around what problem you want to solve and then use the right metrics to carry that forward.
  • Use the data. You need to make the data immediately available and transparent to all employees throughout your organization.

3. Collaboration that Goes Beyond Your Team’s Cubicle Walls

  • A hub and spoke cross-functional model can be an effective way to help with accountability and actionability throughout your organization.
    • The hub is the CX team
    • The spokes are all other organizations/teams that own and drive CX/EX action within their part of the organization. They are the ones that are truly accountable for driving change.
  • Develop a thorough communication strategy. A communication plan that conveys the required actions and the business value of the change should leverage the customer feedback, put it into effect, and inform the organization about it, and the changes that have taken place.

I’d like to thank Amy Jo Fisher, American Family Insurance for facilitating the event discussion.

 

 

3 Best Practices to Engage Your Frontline Employees

Identifying the Problems Your Customers Encounter, Is Only Half the Battle

Knowing how to resolve them, however, is what really matters. Many companies, while committed to improving the customer experience, are not where they want to be with their Voice of the Customer (VoC) initiative. In particular, the frontline managers and employees who directly shape customer experience lack the information and resources they need to take effective action and fully engage with their CX programs.

MaritzCX has conducted extensive research and interviewed employees at a variety of levels and companies who are responsible for translating survey results into action. Our research revealed several common issues for frontline employees:

  • Feeling left out of the design;
  • Not fully understanding the story; and
  • Not knowing what to do even when they do understand

When CX programs fall short in critical areas like these, the front line employees disengage—and that’s a problem. After all, these programs don’t just exist to feed corporate dashboards; they also support and drive actions to improve the customer experience.

So, what’s to be done? It starts with acknowledging the front line as stakeholders in the process.

1. Give Front line Employees Their Own Voice

Front line employees can develop customer loyalty, attract new customers, build your company’s reputation, and drive your company’s profit. It’s important, then, to make the front line an equal partner in the design process and tailor the reporting engines to their needs. Here are some recommendations:

  • Involve Them in Program Design: Include front line managers as active members of the design team to learn their perspectives firsthand—after all, these are the people creating and delivering much of what the customers experience.
  • Give Them What They Crave—the “Real” Voice of the Customer: Verbatim customer comments provide a rich source of information and value to the front line. Sophisticated text analysis tools allow survey designers to shift the balance from 100% close-ended questionnaires to those that actively seek open-ended feedback.
  • Offer Them Questionnaire Real Estate and Flexibility: Mass customization techniques are making it possible for organizations to tailor their customer experience surveys for individual operating units or groups. Smart organizations will also include a “flex” section in their surveys to accommodate topical or time-sensitive issues of interest.
  • Give Them Easy-to-Use Feedback Mechanisms: Consider developing a system that encourages the front line to provide regular feedback on the survey process, e.g. one that is built directly into the reporting system for added convenience.

2. Use the Right Tool for the Right Job

Collecting the right information is only the beginning; you must also make the information easy to access, use, and understand. Today’s customer experience reporting portals can be difficult to use, non-intuitively organized, and full of distracting elements that obscure the message for the end user.

Employees with different responsibilities require fundamentally different information. A retail manager for a bank, for example, does not use the same information as someone in headquarters. Focusing on the front line and their specific needs helps the organization design a more effective reporting system and user interface. Most industries with a retail operation have at least three user roles with different needs:

  • Headquarters/Corporate Users
  • Regional or Area Managers
  • Frontline (Unit) Managers

It is important to design your reporting system with the end users in mind and equip employees with tools that cater to their individual needs.

3. Remember, It’s All About Action

It’s easy to get caught up in the details of sampling and questionnaire design and forget what equally matters: inspiring and motivating people to do something with the information. To do this, you need to deploy a consistent VoC process that aligns the right people and processes to enact meaningful change.

The ideal reporting system will include a “cafeteria plan” of pre-configured tools that support actions at the unit level:

  • Performance Metrics Tools help managers identify and prioritize the areas they need to focus on to improve the customer experience. These tools can be aligned with organizational goals or used to analyze the relationship between customer experience and business outcomes such as loyalty. In either implementation, it encourages unit managers to understand the potential outcomes of their efforts.
  • Employee Coaching Tools, when built directly into customer experience management (CEM) systems, allow front line managers to collaborate with their employees and address areas of concern or opportunity. Alternatively, when linked to the organization’s learning management system (LMS), they can redirect employees who are struggling in a certain area to applicable training courses.
  • Service Recovery Tools, such as unit-level case management systems, allow front line managers to identify at-risk customers and reach out to resolve the problem. Additionally, managers can assign specific tasks to employees, close out concerns, and monitor case aging and incidence rates.
  • Diagnostic Processing Improvement Tools, when implemented at the unit level, allow front line managers to use a gated action planning process to resolve their specific problem areas. A well-designed reporting system should include a section to develop and track unit-level action plans.

Conclusion: Ringing the Cash Register

The investment return on VoC programs has never been in the measurement—it’s what companies do with the information that has the potential to ring the cash register. Getting the right information into the hands of unit managers and other front line employees is critical to improving the customer experience. The best systems:

  • Offer tools that support effective service recovery, employee coaching, and action planning;
  • Link to learning systems; and
  • Contain monitoring tools that drive action-ability and collaboration across all levels of the organization.

Anything less and you risk disengaging your employees and selling your VoC initiative short.

The VMware Culture Journey to Inspire Customer Centricity

VMware Inspires a Customer-Centric Culture

Customer centricity is a hot topic in business these days, as more and more companies challenge themselves to foster a “customer-centric culture.” But that’s a tall order – not to mention an ambiguous one – and it raises a number of questions, such as:

  • What is a customer-centric culture anyway?
  • Why is it important?
  • Who is responsible?
  • How do you inspire a customer-centric culture?

We are actively leading a customer centricity transformation at VMware, and while every organization is unique, our answers to these questions may prove useful as you embark on your own journey. And the word “journey,” when it comes to a customer-centric culture, is key.

For us, it all started with an unwavering passion to do the right thing for our customers, and over time it became clear that we needed to develop a deliberate strategy around it. We’ll talk more about our strategy later, but for now let’s break down the basics.

What is a Customer-Centric Culture, Anyway?

Customer centricity is more than a concept – it’s a mission. At VMware, we believe that customer centricity goes beyond creating great customer experiences – we put the customer at the center of everything we do. Customer centricity is a core company value, a way of thinking, and an approach to doing business.

To achieve that state of being, I can’t overstate the importance of humanizing the customer for your employees. Real culture shift happens when your employees walk in your customer’s shoes and genuinely understand how their individual roles impact the customer experience (even if they aren’t customer-facing!). With understanding comes empathy, and with empathy comes motivation to make a difference.

Why is it Important?

Ah, the million-dollar question. Starting at the top with our CEO Pat Gelsinger, we firmly believe it is our responsibility to provide the best possible experience for our customers. After all, VMware wouldn’t exist without them. In short, it’s the right thing to do.

We also know that consumers and businesses today have more options than ever before, and if we don’t deliver the kind of experience our customers expect, they won’t continue doing business with us. VMware thrives when our customers successfully harness our solutions to meet their business needs – so it makes sense business-wise for us to listen and act on our customers’ needs.

Who is Responsible?

Every employee plays a role in the customer experience. Whether front-of-house or back-office, we all contribute to our customers’ perception of our company.

At VMware, our Customer Advocacy team drives the customer centricity strategy which helps every team, from Leadership on down, understand their role in creating an exceptional customer experience.

In my view, an effective culture strategy has two main components:

  1. Active participation from the entire Leadership team. Employees will prioritize what their leaders are focused on. We work with all functional leaders to ensure their customer obsession talk tracks are woven into every major communication, from all-hands meetings to newsletters; and that they convey a sense of importance and urgency, focusing directly on the customer experience elements that are in the wheelhouse of their audience.
  2. Individual employee customer-centric decision making. We strive to empower every employee with the insights, resources, and independence necessary to operate in the best interests of both VMware and its customers. To facilitate customer-centric decision making, we also strive to ensure that customers are top of mind for all employees, day in and day out. This is where customer-centric culture comes in, and it is why we’ve fully dedicated a member of our team to lead culture programs that create customers for life.

How Do You Inspire a Customer-Centric Culture?

Inspiring a customer-centric culture doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a journey, and my team has learned plenty of lessons along the way. Some of our efforts have been more effective than others, but this is to be expected.

One of our notable successes to date has been VMware’s annual celebration of Customer Experience (CX) Day, an industry holiday. We think that CX Day is akin to a wedding anniversary! While you work hard at your customer relationships every day of the year, as you do your marriage, CX Day is a great opportunity to pause, celebrate, and show gratitude for the relationship you have with your customers.  Our worldwide celebrations have engaged employees via interactive journey mapping, tours of a customer story “museum,” and other activities to acquire feedback on how to improve the customer experience. See how we celebrated CX Day in 2018!

While CX Day is impactful, we obviously want our employees to think about customer experience more than once a year! To that end, we created a global ‘CX Leaders’ program to cultivate a network of customer enthusiasts across VMware. The inaugural set of leaders were prior recipients of an internal award recognizing individuals who went above and beyond to deliver a great customer experience. The Leaders conceptualized a program known as Customer Appreciation Week, which focused on the power of an unexpected thank you. Over the course of the week, our sales teams reached out to nearly 4,000 customers to thank them for their commitment to doing business with VMware – and that was it. That’s right – no sales pitch, no upsell, no renewal prompt. The customers were surprised and delighted by the display of appreciation with no strings attached – and for us it was a simple way to maintain relationships and reinforce our commitment to our customers.

Our Closed Loop program is another area where we invest to engage employees and strengthen customer relationships. The program connects dissatisfied customers with VMware employees to dive deeper into feedback provided through various listening posts. In these conversations, the VMware employee seeks to understand the root cause of dissatisfaction and build a relationship with the customer, then follows up with the appropriate internal business unit(s) to develop improvement plans. The program mutually benefits VMware’s customers and employees, and it’s one of the best opportunities for an employee to walk in our customer’s shoes.

Closing Thoughts

I’d like to leave you with a final thought, which is that customer centricity isn’t binary – it’s a journey that begins with customer focus and extends to customer obsession. For us at VMware, it represents a fundamental business transformation that will extend far into our future. The best is yet to come!

The No. 1 Enemy of Dealer Customer Retention!

I discovered a surprising truth after three years as Customer Retention Manager for a large volume dealer in Houston. There is a hidden enemy that must be addressed before any customer retention initiatives can be achieved. It is the no. 1 enemy of client retention, and yet most practitioners fail to recognize it, let alone address it.

It’s the reason why many dealers are left with small, gradual changes in their retention efforts that pale in contrast to the huge budgets and time spent acquiring new customers. But by keeping an existing customer, who is apt to buy again, dealers could be spending many times less to obtain the same amount new vehicle sales.  As proof of this, the 2018 Cox Automotive Service Study found that buyers who returned to the selling dealer for service in the past 12 months were 74% more likely to return to that selling dealer for their next vehicle purchase. Returning service customers were 74% more likely to buy their next vehicle from that same selling store! Those who didn’t return for service in the past 12 months were only 35% more likely to return for their next purchase.  That should gain the attention of most dealer GM’s, who generally come from the sales side of the business.

And speaking of sold customers returning for their next vehicle purchase, that same Cox study revealed a negative by-product of today’s obsession with “conquesting” sales from other dealers.  “Not a convenience location” (no. 5 reason in the 2015 survey) moved up to the second most given reason for new vehicle purchasers not returning to the dealer where they purchased.  So, there is a very good chance that many of today’s conquest vehicle sales will not return to that original dealer for service because they live out of the area where the selling dealer is located.

So, what is the number 1 enemy of retail auto customer retention?

No, the number 1 enemy isn’t a limited budget. Although a sufficient budget is necessary, it’s not the real enemy of a successful retention strategy.

Lack of buy-in from the dealer and management? It’s important, but the reason store leadership doesn’t get solidly behind a retention push is directly tied to the no. 1 enemy.

Silos are a real problem. You must address them, and it is not simple to do so, but they are not the real problem.

Competing initiatives are often cited as a reason for lack of meaningful progress in addressing customer retention. But these agendas usually directly support the number 1 enemy of retention. And that focus distracts management from seriously directing resources in the support of retention.

The lack of a robust technical infrastructure? Yes, retention can be aided with better technology, but it is not the true obstacle to retention.

Lack of training? It certainly helps to have trained employees, but if the average auto retailer really believed in retaining existing customers as a primary strategy, they would find the budget and time to train their workers. HINT: All the training, technology and “knowledge” in the world is not going to thoroughly address the number 1 enemy of retaining customers!

Lack of support from the OEM? No, automakers are offering more and more mega cash incentives for customer retention, as I covered in this post for the MaritzCX Cafe blog.

It’s transactionalism, an all-consuming focus by dealers on the “deal” or the “RO” is the number 1 enemy of a successful customer retention program. And that obsession consumes both the larger part of store budgets as well as the time spent by the staff.So, what is the number 1 enemy of a successful customer retention transformation?

Transactionalism describes the decades old, deeply ingrained tradition of placing the transaction front and center as the primary strategy for most auto retailers. And while the transaction has always been the primary focus of showroom sales, it’s just as prevalent these days in the service lane. Customer facing employees are paid to maximize and close “deals/ROs”, and because of that, retaining customers takes a back seat.

I’ve heard it said time and time again that there is little customer loyalty these days in retail auto. But how would we know? If the industry is so intoxicated with the transaction, and much less so with retaining the customer, it’s no wonder customer loyalty is perceived as dead. I spoke directly to this reality in a past MaritzCX Cafe post titled Retail Auto: Client Loyalty is not Dead, But Client Follow-Up is!

But there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon.  Early last year, one of the largest automakers launched the first ever OEM customer rewards program and another major manufacturer followed soon thereafter.  And there is strong evidence that other OEMs are pivoting more and more towards implementing strategies that handsomely reward dealers and their associates for focusing on  retention.

That’s great, but the big question left is, how are the OEMs going to move the needle of retention forward, when most of the dealers are still consumed with “transaction?”  This is all about changing behavior at the dealership, which is the toughest challenge of all.

Behavioral Science Can Reveal Your Customers’ True Feelings

Insights Come Hand and Hand with Listening

There is no feedback more important for companies to utilize than the candid, true thoughts and feelings of employees and customers. In fact, having a detailed understanding of your brand’s emotional connection to consumers can produce positive financial results and retain valuable customers, while even attracting new ones.

Behavioral science is the study of human behaviors; the causes and the effects. There’s much we can learn from people’s actions and decisions that can help businesses to draw conclusions and make predictions that ultimately impact them financially. From product development to sales and services, every person in the journey and every step that’s taken by an organization will contribute overall to the emotional trust that consumers have for a brand.

According to an article published by The Harvard Business Review, on average “fully connected” customers are 52% more valuable to businesses than those who are just “highly satisfied” with the brand or service. Any company, from any industry can forge powerful connections to their customers by properly identifying and aligning themselves to the specific emotions that drive profitable behaviors. The first step is to identify how your customers feel and find the places to fill the gap between general satisfaction and full-on loyalty.

Be Aware of the Brain and How It Works

As humans, our brains are always working around the clock. Everyone has motivators, expectations, and experiences that influence how we feel and react. We will all bring to the table different elements and can’t change how our brains are wired. Constantly, our brains are taking in information and even making quick judgments or decisions on a moment’s notice. A huge number of daily decisions are made intuitively, and most decisions rely on feelings and emotions more than rationality. Especially when it comes to “gut feelings,” something we trust within ourselves more than any outside logic or mental analysis.

And unfortunately, although our brains are quite amazing, the constant stream of brain activity actually deteriorates the quality of our decisions over time, leading to an irrational trade-off in decision making. This is called decision fatigue.

For example, after a long day, do you want to go home and cook a meal, or just simply get takeout? Earlier in the day, before mental exhaustion kicks in, going home to cook a nice meal might sound healthy and cost effective. But by the end of the day, one might lean towards take-out instead because it’s easy and quick. Neither decision is necessarily good or bad, it’s just all about the condition of our minds prior to making decisions, that determine the amount of concentration delegated to certain choices over others.

Another factor that drives perception is the “peak-end” rule. This is whether an experience is remembered as pleasant or not, based only on the peak moment, or the end of the experience. Instead of a “general” overall recollection, it’s only what is remembered most, that drives the perception.

In order to manage and control perceptions, organizations need to pay equal attention to the emotional side of their customer experiences, as well as the operational processes. When customers don’t feel like their concerns are being heard or met, they will go where they will be addressed, and that doesn’t guarantee that you keep their business.

Learning to leverage behavioral science will give companies the ability to identify customer emotions with financial impact and provide them with a “neuro” road-map for maintaining loyalty. Because being aware of the brain, and how it works, can bridge the gaps in any customer and employee experience; if only you are willing to listen.

The Emotional Insight That Awaits You

Lots of emotional insight is waiting to be unlocked, but where to begin? In order to maximize opportunities from emotional connections, companies must examine every customer touch point and find opportunities where they can enhance the emotional motivators. It’s important to understand what you need to measure, and where.

The following questions can be helpful to begin with:

  • What promotes consumer behavior, and what emotions contribute to decisions?
  • What type of personas are being interacted with?
  • Who is interacting with who?
  • What is trying to be accomplished overall?
  • What are customers going through, and how do they feel along the way?

A great way to collect answers to these questions are through customer journey maps. Journey mapping helps to interpret what your customer will go through, and what they are actually feeling.

Throughout the customer journey, there are places to keep tabs on what consumers are thinking and feeling during certain moments. To find crucial touch and pain points, Quantitative surveys with open ended unstructured data, analyzed with text analytics, can detect in customer language a variety of topics that stand out. Creating and understanding a range of feelings and experiences from the collected data, especially the intense ones, closes the gap between customer expectations and the actual experience. These customer insights can determine where damage is being done and allow for prevention of future occurrences.

All the right experiences can be designed to reach the right touch points when you acknowledge the brain and determine the proper “feelings” for your employees and customers.

Set the Bar for Proactively Understanding Your Customers

A recent MaritzCX study revealed that 80% of the companies who proactively gather, analyze, manage and use insights into customers’ feelings have better financial performance, year-over-year.

Whether you have a pre-existing customer experience program for your business or are jump-starting a new one, first ask yourself, “Do you know how your customers feel about their experiences they are having with your brand?

Emotional connections are no longer a mystery and can be utilized by businesses in-tune with their customers, as a competitive advantage to growth. At MaritzCX we work with businesses to prioritize and focus on what elements have the biggest emotional impact.

Listen to, The ROI of Feelings webinar to learn more.

Carmaker Mega-Bonus Incentive Programs Prompt Dealership Behavioral Changes

There’s a “cultural,” or if you will, “behavioral” change going on at car dealerships being driven by a source that might surprise many.  New, factory bonus incentive programs, such as GM’s EBE, ESE and PASE and Nissan’s Customer Experience Elements, are creating pressure on car dealers to bring “customer experience” to the same level of importance as the “transaction.

Third party consultants and suppliers have tried for decades to motivate dealers to focus more on the “experience.” Those efforts are being dramatically supported by escalating factory bonus programs aimed solely at creating a loyalty loop, where sold customers come back to service their vehicles at the selling store.  It is a proven fact that sold customers who return to that same dealer for service have much higher odds of buying their next vehicle from the dealer who sold them their previous one.

Genesis of Factory Incentives Begin With Dwindling New Car Margins

Car makers have always had incentive programs, but past payouts pale in comparison to today’s mega-programs, first launched 5 years ago.  It started with factory incentive programs dedicated to compensating dealers for dwindling showroom sales margins. Even today , about 40 percent of car dealers are not profitable in their new-car departments until they get factory spiffs, according to dealership consultancy NCM Associates. But the recent OEM incentives, commonly referred to as “stair-step” programs, are still heavily skewed towards solely boosting new car revenue profits, and not necessarily the showroom customer experience.

But as time has passed, and the era of the “connected customer” comes into play, the role of showroom sales is changing as well, with a greater emphasis on setting the stage for retaining customers for life. Sales personnel are now being asked to perform tasks beyond the transaction, such as completing the connected customer set-up (like OnStar), initiating the customer rewards sign-up and spending extra time in the delivery of the vehicle.  And factory incentive programs are even compensating the sales team directly for performing such tasks.

Two of the big three automakers have also introduced dealer wide “rewards programs” with the sole purpose of bringing the customer back again and again to boost service revenue and repeat sales.  The growth in targeted rewards, say dealers and consultants, increases manufacturers’ power to shape dealership operations in general, and staff behavior specifically.  At first, dealers balked at the prospect of corporate interference from incentive benefits, but over time, many have come to accept those bonuses as critical to the profitability of the store.

OEM incentives are changing store culture (behavior) by “fear of loss” rather than “benefit of gain”

For decades, automakers have tried to influence dealers to encourage their front line sales/service personnel to pay as much attention to creating a memorable customer experience, or as it is still referred to, CSI, as they do to the transaction…but to little or no avail.  Auto retailers have gotten more transparent, but mainly because the Internet has empowered customers to force change.  Transactional-ism is so ingrained in store personnel DNA, that training and technology, by itself, hasn’t forced the kind of behavioral changes needed to increase retention.  Dealer staff pay plans have always focused on “the deal” or “service RO”.  Employee pay plans are job descriptions… dictating the behavior of the sales/service personnel.  But OEMs discovered that pocketbook strategies are the only way to expand staff behaviors to focus on touch points that will directly affect customer experience and ongoing relationships…thus boosting “return revenue,” including their next vehicle purchase.  With factory bonus money on the line, those huge sums are beginning to strongly motivate the store leadership to formally implement management efforts focused directly on the tasks required to retain customers.  And OEM incentive payments directly to the staff for non-transactional, “experiential” practices are influencing staff behavior to place retention on the same level as “the deal”.  Another difference today is that, in addition to monetary payments, OEMs have dramatically increased the number of programs that specifically support the new factory standards accompanying the incentive bonuses.  Dealers aren’t left to their own devices to create and manage what the new programs require in the way of behavioral change.

Ground Zero For Retaining New Customers…The Service Experience

Dealer service centers have, not so affectionately, been referred to as “the back end” of the dealershipThe showroom has always been the primary focus of the dealer leadership, which is generally made up of store general managers groomed primarily in sales. While some of service directors saw this lack of attention as permission to “do their own thing”, the discontinuity between sales and service has had a negative impact on customer retention.  But those days are slowly diminishing.  In fact, the ever-increasing reliance on factory incentives is also changing how buyers assess a dealership purchase, buy-sell advisers say.  New-vehicle sales are no longer the predominant gauge of a dealership’s financial health. In fact, about three years ago, buyers started shifting their focus to fixed operations, specifically customer-pay service work, as the barometer for store profit potential, said buy-sell adviser Mark Johnson, president of MD Johnson Inc., near Seattle. The service center has clearly established itself as the primary profit center for the future of retail auto…at least until autonomous vehicles become a reality.  In fact, service has also become the  “second showroom”, as I spoke about in this MaritzCX Café post a year ago.  Vehicle exchange programs, stationed in service departments, have established themselves as a second point-of-sale for service customers who are in the market to move up or trade their old model in for a new one…thus facilitating dealers to turn a service visit into a new sale.

The service level customers experience is slowly becoming the great differentiator in retail auto today. The service department, in essence, provides a “loyalty loop” after the sale, where sold customers get a real taste of a dealership’s “customer care” level.

Bottom Line

Car manufacturers are mandating the right kind of cultural (behavioral) change at the dealership with huge factory incentives aimed primarily at “customer experience” and repeat business.  At first, auto retailers felt threatened by their diminishing entrepreneurial power, but many have come to accept, and more importantly, even depend on the programs as the major way to keep their stores profitable.  For decades OEMs and third-party consulting firms have attempted to expand the “transaction” minded dealership network to deliver a higher level of customer experience.  By incenting, closely monitoring and strongly supporting customer retention programs, OEM’s are forming closer relationships with their dealer partners in order to adapt to a fast-changing auto industry.

The Role of the Relationship Survey in CX Programs

Most comprehensive customer experience programs are made up of several different types of studies, the two most common of which are Transactional and Relationship studies. Here we will describe the differences between these two types of studies.

Transactional or trigger-based studies are the base of most customer experience programs. This type of study is conducted among current or recent customers and is used to ascertain the customer experience for a specific transaction or interaction. This type of research looks at near or short-term evaluations of the customer experience and often focuses on operational metrics. 

In contrast, the relational or relationship customer experience study is typically conducted among a random sample of the company’s customer base. Relational customer experience is used to understand the cumulative impressions customers form about their entire customer experience with the company. Importantly, this type of customer experience research is often the chassis for ascertaining specific aspects of the experience important to predicting loyalty and other customer behaviors. 

A. Transactional Customer Experience

In a transactional customer experience study, we focus on the details of a customer’s specific recent transaction. For example: 

  • The respondent’s most recent visit to Wendy’s 
  • The customer’s visit yesterday to her local Deutsche Bank branch 
  • Last week’s call to the Blue Cross/Blue Shield customer service center 
  • The respondent’s visit, 10 days ago, to Nielsen Nissan in Chesterton, Indiana, for routine auto maintenance. 

The overall rating we ask is the respondent’s overall evaluation of the specific transaction (visit, stay, purchase, and service). The attribute ratings are also specific to the specific transaction. 

B. Relational Customer Experience  

A relational customer experience study is broader in coverage. Here, we ask about the totality of the relationship with a company. In a relational customer experience study, the questions relate to the overall, accumulated experience the customer has had with the company. So rather than ask about the timeliness of an oil change at Nielsen Nissan and the quality of that service, the relational survey would ask for the respondent’s overall perceptions of Nielsen Nissan’s services across all the times the customer has interacted with that dealership. 

The overall ratings are often overall satisfaction with the relationship as a whole, willingness to recommend, and likelihood to return. Attributes are similarly broader in scope. We would not ask the customer about her satisfaction with the speed of service for her last oil change, instead we would ask about her satisfaction with the speed of service she usually gets when she visits Nielsen Nissan. 

C. Sampling Differences Between Transactional and Relationship Studies

In addition to the content of the surveys, a critical difference between these two studies is the sampling frame. In a transactional customer experience study, we sample customers who have interacted with the company recently. This is also sometimes called “trigger-based” customer experience since any type of interaction with the company can “trigger” the inclusion in a transactional customer experience study. 

In a relational customer experience study, we typically sample from the entire base of customers, including people who may not have interacted with the company recently. A relational customer experience study is projectable to the entire customer base, while a transactional customer experience study is a sub-set of customers – those who have interacted recently. 

When leveraging customer experience information with internal information, transactional customer experience information is often linked to operational metrics (such as wait time, hold time, staffing levels, etc.). In turn, through the use of bridge modeling, transactional research is often linked to relational customer experience, which is then linked to downstream business measures, such as revenue, profitability and shareholder value-add. 

D. Recommendations for Relationship Surveys 

Survey Content: As mentioned above, relationship surveys are meant to measure the totality of customers’ experiences with a given company. They are also meant to determine how customers are feeling about the company NOW. It is important to note that customers overall feelings about a company (as measured in relationship surveys) are often NOT the average of their transactional experience evaluations. This is because different transactions, especially if they are negative, can have a much larger effect on overall feelings toward a company than other transactions. 

Most relationship surveys contain questions addressing: 

  • Overall Metrics such as Likelihood to Recommend the Company, Overall Satisfaction with the Company, and Likelihood to Return or Repurchase 
  • High-level brand perceptions 
  • Company service channels usage and evaluations such as store/ dealership, finance company, call center/problem resolution teams, etc. 
  • Product usage and evaluations 
  • Share of Wallet measures 
  • Marketing/communication perceptions 

Survey Sampling: Who, how often and how many customers do you need to survey? There are no hard and fast rules but remember the idea is to obtain a representative sample of your customers. With that in mind: 

Who to Survey: All customers (whether they are recently active or not) should be available for sampling. You also might want to oversample small but important groups of customers (e.g., millennials, new owners, etc.) to ensure that you receive enough returns to analyze these groups separately. However, if you do oversample you will need to weight your data back to your customer demographics to ensure representative overall results. 

How Often to Survey: While transactional CX research is usually done on a continuous basis, relationship studies are usually conducted once or twice per year. How often companies conduct relationship studies is usually determined by the number of customers available (i.e., are there enough to conduct the study twice per year?) and when and how often decisions will be made based on the findings. 

How Many to Survey: This is often the most frequent question clients ask and the basic answer is that it depends on what organizational level you need the results to be representative of. The good news is that if you are only concerned about making decisions on the entire company level, only about 1000 well-sampled responses is sufficient. For most large companies that is a very small percentage of their customers. However, if you want the finding to be representative of lower levels of the organization for comparison purposes (e.g., zones, districts, stores) or want findings to be representative of certain customer groups (e.g., millennials, minorities, long-term customers, etc.) calculations need to be performed to determine the number of responses needed for these groups. Unfortunately, as demonstrated in the chart below, as the population size (e.g., company customers, zone customers, store customers) goes down, the percentage of customers needed to represent that population goes up. For instance, to obtain +/- 3 percentage point precision for a population of 3,000,000 people you only need 1067 randomly sampled returns. That is just 0.04% of the population. For a population of 30,000 people, you need 1030 returns which is 3.4% of the population. For a population of 3,000 the number of returns needed drops to 787, but that is 26.2% of a population of 3,000. For a very small population like 300, you need returns from 234 people (78.0%) of the population. 

population survey

E. Summary 

Both transactional and relationship surveys are key parts of any comprehensive customer experience program. Transactional surveys are great for assessing the quality of specific customer touch points and making improvements in those areas. Relationship surveys allow for the assessment of the entire customer experience across all touchpoints and therefore more closely relate to customer behaviors such as loyalty, customer spend, and customer advocacy.

TELUS Realizes Direct Cost Savings and Churn Reduction

TELUS is Canada’s largest healthcare and IT provider. They are also the fastest growing national telecom. However, in 2016, TELUS’ CX program was fragmented. They set to work and less than 18 months later, they turned their CX program around and saved $1 million year-over-year which resulted in a 100 percent volume increase in feedback and 45 percent SMS response rate across 3,000 VoC users. By focusing their efforts on reaching more customers with proactive recovery, they have seen a $5 million-dollar opportunity in churn reduction.Their concentration on the user experience and a comprehensive customer follow-up strategy benefited their bottom line. In a recent webinar, Stavros Davidovic, CX Manager at TELUS, shared the details of their program and the numbers behind their CX efforts.

You Need the Right Team

In order to achieve the type of growth experienced by TELUS, having the right team is critical. This needs to be a dedicated internal CX team. Team members need to be empowered to remove barriers, improve timelines, and develop themselves and others as subject matter experts.

Furthermore, as a part of the internal CX team, there needs to be a passionate executive sponsor that challenges the CX team daily. Those that support the CX team in the organization also need to have fair access to resources. Cross-functional alignment is key. Having the right team is not enough, if a customer centric mindset is not ingrained in the organization.

Establish a Customer-Centric Identity

Having a customer-centric identity at an organization means that customer experience is considered at every interaction. At TELUS, the goal is to not only collect feedback and act on feedback, but to do it at every step of the customer journey. This allows for an always up to date pulse on how the customers are feeling, which enables to TELUS to act accordingly. Part of having a customer-centric identity is having a hub for all things feedback related. This allowed for TELUS to be more transparent internally, as well as provide a place for reference material and support. One important part of keeping a customer-centric mindset is to ask the right questions.

Ask the Right Questions

Customers may not give out the detailed feedback you are looking to find. That is why it is critical to ask the right questions. Not just asking the right questions but asking them at the proper key points in order to maximize the impact of feedback. By asking the right questions at key points, you’ll be able to keep your brand consistent, invitations timely and personalized, emphasize the value of feedback to the customer, and properly act on the feedback.

“Customers aren’t interacting with you because they want to, but because they have to. You have to be mindful of that.”

From Fragmented to First-Class

In just 18 short months, TELUS saw a $1 million dollar increase in annual savings, 100 percent increase in volume of feedback, an increased SMS response rate, and a churn reduction of $5 million by reaching 15% more customers. These results were due to establishing the right team that was cross-functional with an executive sponsor, establishing a customer-centric identify that put the customer first in every situation, and asking the right questions at the right point in the customer journey. These things allowed TELUS to slingshot their fragmented CX program to being world-class. For more information and If you’d like to watch the full webinar, you can do so here.

The Dealership (Service) Call Center…Not Ready For Prime Time!

The sale of a product marks the beginning of a business relationship – a relationship that only becomes truly profitable through the service relationship that follows. Ideally, that relationship would last throughout the product and customer lifecycle. Dealer vehicle services, therefore, are not just something that you are obliged to offer customers after you sell them something: It is an essential part of a profitable, long term business model. Predictive maintenance (PdM) – as opposed to routine ex-post or preventive maintenance – offers companies the chance to fundamentally transform their service and business model. For that to happen, they must start seeing PdM not just as a means of collecting data, but as a vital tool for creating additional value in an active partnership with their customers. PdM combines the topics of service and digitization and opens significant new value pockets. But to turn this immense theoretical opportunity into solid reality, dealer service is obliged also to meet certain conditions. Above all, they need to understand that PdM, as a form of “Services 4.0,” is far more than just a question of routine oil change reminders.

Dealer service centers…at the center of the customer loyalty loop

There’s little question that, for the near future, all eyes will be on dealership service departments as the primary source of dealership profit. It’s about time! Service centers have been the primary profit producers for decades. But consistent service customer retention is the unit responsible for bringing those sold customers back for the next showroom sale. Thus the old saying that “sales sells the initial vehicle once, service sells the “all the rest” has never been truer.

The Evolution of the dealer Business Development Center (BDC)

In its day, the launch of the dealership Business Development Center marked a monumental change in the traditional retail auto sales model. Up until then, use of the telephone was left to the discretion of sales agents, who were trained and managed primarily to focus on face to face sales and the “now” transaction. The BDC marked the first formalized effort to improve on the phone skills that sales agents lacked. To be blunt…most dealer sales people are still ineffective on the phone.

When the BDC strategy spread coverage to the service center, that same focus on re-actively answering the phone, in the past was the norm. For far too many service center BDCs, that mindset is still in place today. Retail sales and service leadership speak positively about the importance of retention, but most of their efforts are still stuck in making the appointment for the “now” transaction. While autonomous vehicles and mobility seem to be the hot topic today, those realities are still years, if not decades away from the immediate needs of the day to day retail auto world.

“We are in the midst of seeing more change in the next five years than we’ve seen in the last 50 years.” Mary Barra, General Motors CEO

The connected car and predictive maintenance are the “next big thing”

Autonomous vehicles and mobility are still years off from attaining meaningful scale. Far less coverage is being dedicated to the “connected car”…with the promise of replacing mileage-based maintenance recommendations with predictive certainties. Vehicle telematics have the ability today to alert the owner of a potential breakdown ahead of the occurrence. I spoke to this opportunity in this Cafe post earlier this year. And I followed it up by this post signaling that today’s service center was not near ready to deliver those predictive alert.

So the technology part of predictive data delivery is available, but the delivery of those services at the dealer end is far from being in place. Dealer service BDCs are not equipped, both in the BDC agents’ capabilities and front line culture to deliver the interface to the end user customer.

Service BDC agents, like service center front lines, are still stuck in a reactive, “after” the breakdown culture

It’s hard to change the culture of any department in a dealership! But consider this: if service BDC agents are challenged simply to convince customers to make appointments for preventative, routine maintenance…won’t they be even more challenged to persuade customers to schedule service before a breakdown occurs? There’s a great deal of difference between scheduling inbound appointment calls and that of an outbound call attempting to convince a vehicle owner to schedule a service that will specifically prevent an impending malfunction before a breakdown occurs. Customers are inherently suspicious of dealer service preventative mileage recommendations…convincing them of predictive maintenance will be a new challenge altogether.

A new script and higher skill set for BDC agents

While service customers are familiar with mileage-based oil changes, they don’t always act in a timely manner to take action and bring the vehicle to the service center. Presently, BDC agents use repetitive calling to nudge customers to act. In other words, they focus more on reminder calls and less on persuasion skills to motivate the customer to act now.  But relying on a repetitive call model won’t be effective for the future of “predictive maintenance.” Service centers will have to either train or recruit to a higher agent skill level in the future. Repetitive “reminder calls” won’t convince customers to act on a maintenance service they don’t understand. Agents must be believably persuasive to a level not practiced today.

And scripting will undergo dramatic changes as well. Repetitive “friendly reminder” calls will not be effective for owners who cannot visualize the benefit of a service that will specifically eliminate breakdowns before they occur.  That call messaging will center on the agent’s ability to connecting with the “feelings” of the vehicle owner.

Service BDCs evolve from “cost/expense” to the “revenue/profit”

Most dealers are still using an antiquated P & L strategy, where sales receive all of the credit (and marketing budget) for the first sale, but for repeat sales as well.  However, a high percentage of those repeat sales are the result of the positive customer experience delivered by the service center.  Past customers usually don’t return for the next vehicle purchase if their service experience was unacceptable.

As customer experience manager for a large GM dealer, I was included in the weekly marketing meeting where tens of thousands of dollars were spent every month for attaining new customers.  However, in all of those meetings, I never heard one mention of allocating any of those ad dollars to the service department for “retaining” repeat vehicle purchases.

Hopefully, the successes achieved with predictive maintenance will clarify even more that sales sells the first vehicle…and the positive experience delivered by the service center sells the rest.

 

Retail Auto: Client Loyalty is not Dead, But Client Follow-Up is!

You’ll never see a dealership Google image that isn’t like the one above—a smiling couple, seemingly happy with their experience of buying a vehicle. But are car buyers really that happy with the sales experience they receive, or happy to have it behind them?

Are they still smiling with the dealership experience after the initial sell? Did the sales staff properly introduce them to the next phase of their dealership customer journey, the service center? Was their “service experience” with free maintenance and warranty work after, well delivered? Did the follow-up experience after the sale consist of the typical, but dated, dealership follow up email of “congratulations” and maybe even a birthday card before they were receiving “pitches” for their next vehicle purchase?

Ask most any dealer principal or general manager and they’ll tell you that customer retention is front and center on their list of priorities. But with many dealers, when you measure the dollars formally allocated towards customer retention, those numbers are usually nowhere to be found.

Where are the Customer Experience Dollars?

As Customer Experience Manager for a large automotive dealer, I was fortunate enough to be invited to weekly advertising meetings between our leadership and ad agency. The purpose was to discuss what worked, what didn’t work and what was ahead.

But never, in all those weekly meetings, over almost three years of attending, did I ever witness one discussion about retaining past customers. There was time spent discussing community events, but no time spent on a formalized strategy for retention.

What was discussed? Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, Pandora, Instagram, television, radio, on-site remotes, and even newspaper to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars spent each month on “getting them” and not one formal dollar designated for “keeping them”.

It is assumed in far too many dealerships that a respectable majority of past buyers will return because of the warranty or the free first maintenance offered by the manufacture. But after that, at roughly three years for leases and five to seven years for vehicle purchases, research reveals they begin to go elsewhere for service, mainly to an independent repair shop or franchise.

The Typical Dealership Sales Model

Typical dealership purchase funnel

The sales funnel has been used in retail auto for decades, but where is the “retention” part of the model? Many dealers would answer that they have their have their own rewards program for retention, but is it a rewards program that provides surprise and delight on a continual basis? Or like most dealer rewards programs that only apply discounts on products and services? What’s surprising and delightful about that?! Will that be enough reason for the client to return if the previous sales or service was poor?

Candidly, most dealer “experiences” are transactional. And when the showroom sale is completed, and the vehicle is delivered to the customer, most of the focus is on the next prospect (new prospect generated by ad dollars). Dealership retention efforts are mainly focused on the experience of buying and servicing the car, but will that top-of-mind awareness remain in the vehicle owner’s mind three years later when the lease is up? Will it trigger an initial contact with that car buyer to return to that same store five to seven years later when the vehicle owner starts a new car search?

The Loyalty Loop: an inclusive model for sales and retention

The Loyalty Loop

Photo Credit:McKinsey

Where is “the funnel” for client retention? Where is a formalized model for dealer retention of past customers? The Loyalty Loop was developed by Mckinsey and Company, a top consulting company used by many of the country’s top companies. But look how it focuses on a loyalty loop inside the traditional sales model. That inside loop consists of what the customer experiences with the dealer between car purchases.

While rewards programs are better than nothing, those rewards are not what I would call surprise and delight. They also offer discounts that involve coming to the dealership. Even though we know that vehicle owners are usually not surprised and delighted to return to the dealer for most anything.

Here’s an example of surprise and delight. Some dealers give FREE car washes as a retention tool.  All the owner needs to do is come to the service lane to redeem it. But most customers don’t want to come to the dealer for anything. How about this, give them a free “mobile” car wash.  Now that’s surprise and delight!

The Ownership Retention Gap

Consider these NADA statistics with respect to the retention of previously sold customers:

  • Dealers spent an average of $7.00 on retaining their already sold customers (2017)
  • Luxury dealers spent an average of $762.00 on each vehicle sold, non-luxury spent $670.00 (2017)
  • Average gross on referral vehicle sales was $1,200.00 vs $817.00 for fresh “ups”
  • Referrals have a 51% service usage vs 29% for fresh ups
  • Referrals have a 96% CSI score vs 73% for fresh ups

What’s is wrong with this picture? Far too many dealerships are ignoring their past customers who would be more loyal, produce more gross per vehicle, send referrals, deliver higher CSI scores and use their dealer service center more often than “newsuspects” who consume most all of the monthly ad budget for dealers.

We’ll expand on this topic in our next post.