Six Ways to Assess and Improve Your Customer Experience

By: Guest | June 13, 2011 | 

Jeannie Walters has been focused on the customer experience for more than 15 years, consulting to companies big and small on their retention strategies. She is principal at 360Connext, a speaker, and mom to two young boys.

As humans, we like to fool ourselves. At best, it’s a way to be kind to ourselves (“It’s ok to eat this on vacation!”) and at worst a way to maintain excuses (“I’m too tired to exercise”).

As business leaders, however, it can be the worst kind of risky.

When you try to look at your own project, business, or even employees without a sharply tuned critical eye, you end up with a viewpoint that inevitably provides some data, but not necessarily the right kind.

I evaluate other organizations’ experiences every day. I work hard to maintain a true third-party perspective, because I know what happens when you’re on the inside looking further in. You make assumptions, based on history. You acknowledge success based on completing a project, whether it is working for your customers, or the business, or not. You hear what you want to hear from existing customers and employees, regardless of what they’re really trying to tell you.

But I’m also realistic. We run businesses because we want to do it ourselves. We don’t need to hire an outside consultant for every little glitch. We are often our biggest critics, right? (If you just shouted, “that’s an excuse!” you’re catching on.)

Following are six ways I recommend to truly gain an outside perspective on your company:

  1. Google It! It’s no secret to search yourself to see how others might see you. But what about your customers? Your competition? Your employees? Do a few different searches on a few different search engines to see how a prospect, a job seeker, or a blog reader might first gain an impression about you and your organization. Click through the links presented and ask yourself, “Is this putting our best foot forward?”
  2. Mystery Shop Your Organization: Call into your business as a prospect. See what happens. Really listen and think of it as Acting with a capital A! Dive into your character, think about your motivation before you call. Then listen carefully and take notes. If you were actually that person, would you buy? Why or why not?
  3. Gather Communications from the Last 30 Days: Take a critical eye and review your blog posts, your newsletter, your invoices and anything else you’ve sent to customers. Do they each represent your brand in the same way? Would you bother reading it if you hadn’t sent it?
  4. Review Your Employee Interactions and Communications from the Last 14 Days: Within the last two weeks, have you dragged your employees into more than three meetings? Have you sent emails you now see were rude, curt, or unappreciative? How are they paid? Is it cold? Are there conflicting pieces of communication about your future, your vision or your plans? Employees are looking for a clear path. Make sure you’ve delivered that to them.
  5. Call a Few Customers, Past and Present: The trick here is asking the right questions. Don’t ask “What could we have done to keep you?” It’s too open-ended and most of the time, we humans really don’t know! Ask “What did the competition offer that made it more attractive for you to leave?” Don’t make these calls about sales – make them about listening. And a cautionary note – it’s hard NOT to hear what you want to hear and it’s difficult (believe it or not) for customers to say what they REALLY think to you, especially if you’ve had a personal relationship. You will get the *partial* truth, at best.
  6. Hire A Third Party: I know I said this isn’t always an option, but nothing can give you the gift of perspective faster. Even by taking the steps above, we’re still likely to read the communications with the voice in our head saying, “Oh that email wasn’t written well because that was the day when everything hit the fan and I was in a bad mood!” Or, seeing nothing wrong with the invoices we send because they are accurate and paid on time. That’s not the same as someone reviewing your experience from the customers’ perspective.

Humans, it turns out, are tricky. We love to fool ourselves. So do yourself a favor and ask another human to be your eyes and ears when it matters most. What do you think? When is it vital to bring in the outside perspective?

Jeannie Walters has been focused on the customer experience for more than 15 years, consulting to companies big and small on their retention strategies. She is principal at 360Connext, a speaker, and mom to two young boys.

  • SocialMediaCRM

    Jeannie, thanks for the insight. Always good advice to analyze with an outside perspective.

  • bdorman264

    But if we do all that we might find out what really people think of us…………

    I will say most either have their head in the sand and don’t want to know; or have their own perception and not a clue what reality is.

    We have used 3rd parties to do some of this and it was a pretty interesting exercise. It did open our eyes on a few things that maybe we weren’t quite as visible and well known throughout the area as we thought we were.

    Internally, we have a tendency to beat ourselves up at times when we are actually doing a pretty good job comparatively speaking. Doing an internal audit from a disinterested third party gives you an idea of what you are doing really well, how you are perceived in the public, and what can I do to get better.

    Good to see you at the Spin Sucks house today; hopefully, that had something good to eat.

  • jeanniecw

    @SocialMediaCRM Thanks! It is, but few actually take the time to do it!

  • jeanniecw

    @bdorman264 I agree about having heads in the sand. That is often an issue with top leadership. I’ve literally had CEO’s say to me: “No, our customers don’t want that,” after showing them video of customers asking for something – passionately! I’m glad you’ve taken the action of getting a 3rd party involved – that puts you in small (but smart) minority!

  • Earlier this year positioned someone to focus on Customer Outreach and customer outreach only. This person’s position is to call new customers (who have signed up within the last month) and old customers (customers who have been with us for about 1 year).

    The purpose of the call is simply to reach out, offer advice, and ask how we can help.

    So far, we’ve gotten some excellent feedback on doing this. It’s neat to learn from customers how we can improve and they appreciate that we’re taking the time to reach out. Some aren’t so receptive to the call, I guess they see it as a sales call, but that’s ok. For the most part, everyone loves it and we’ve gotten some excellent feedback from doing this one thing alone.

  • jeanniecw

    @RicardoBueno That’s a perfect example of how to do this in a straight-forward way. It becomes part of your process, so you continue to learn and the customers see that you’re actually listening to their feedback. Well done!

  • I love feedback. Good and bad. The hard part is always trying to take it all in a constructive manner. Especially if people take the time to complain it’s something they care enough to talk about, otherwise they would just leave and you’d never here from them. That feed back loop is so important.

    I love the “What did the competition offer that made it more attractive for you to leave?” Very nice.

  • And I wish I did a spell check before I hit send. Oops. =)

  • ginidietrich

    As much as it pains me to say this, I love you more for this! Really smart, thoughtful post. We do past and current client surveys. We get a lot of really good feedback that makes us feel good, but never any constructive criticism. How do you get people to give you something really useful?

  • jeanniecw

    @DaveCharest You make a great point about respecting complaints. Most of us never take the time to provide feedback at all – good or bad. Thanks for joining in here!

  • jeanniecw

    @ginidietrich Pains you!? Oy vay! 😉 As far as how to get constructive feedback, I’d ask very specific questions from former clients first, including questions like the one I mention, and once you see any sort of pattern, ask current customers about those specific points. You’ll gain tremendous insight.

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  • ginidietrich

    @jeanniecw The problem is we’ve never lost a client due to a competitor. We lost a bunch of clients due to the economy three years ago. And we’re still on great terms with all of them. All of them SAY if their budgets are reinstated, they’d come back. But I’m not sure I believe them. How do I get to the truth?

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