Why aren’t you talking to your customers?

Why aren’t you talking to your customers?

When I ponder all the service experiences I have, and indeed we all have, as a customer every day, it’s very simple to pick out a common trait to all those providers or retailers that I remain loyal to. They talk to their customers. Regularly. Of course they reach out to try and sell to me, but they do something more. They proactively reach out to advise, solicit feedback, make offers, and build community.

The cherry on the cake, is when those providers make their communications personal, beyond a mail shot with a named opening. The best service providers are those that understand what I value about their experience, brand or service, and build on that. And how do they gain that perspective? It’s certainly not voodoo. They just talk to their customers.

And, in fact, a lot of providers lose sight of the importance of maintaining a cycle of communications. Your customers’ perception of value, their experience, their pain points and their positive interactions change every day. Service providers who are willing to iterate the conversation, squeeze and squish the process, stir up the mechanisms, collate the feedback, react instantly and also take a long term view – they are the providers who best understand their customers and so build and maintain huge brand loyalty, customer happiness and advocacy. This cycle positively informs and charges itself.

Plenty of organisations are nervous about talking to their customers; waiting for their clients to come to them when they have an issue. But it’s impossible to understand how successfully you are serving your customers if you wait for them to approach you in this manner. And, if you don’t spend time with the happy customers, you’ll miss out on feedback which is just as valuable as the complaints.

The temptation, particularly as a service provider (moreso than retailers or goods outlets), is to pick some method of customer satisfaction measurement, and implement it without too much thought about the how, the why, or the outcome. Honestly, I feel a small shiver of dread whenever I hear, “Yeah, we’ve decided we’re going to do NPS”.

Before you pick your methods, you really do need to decide what you’re trying to capture, and why. Consider that cycle I mention above. To start on the journey, you need to take the first few steps in a small way. Dorothy didn’t jump straight to the middle of the Yellow Brick Road, she followed that opening spiral diligently, and accepted advice and reacted accordingly along the way. The only difference is that you are not going to the Emerald City, and in fact, if you believe you have reached it, and your work is complete, you probably haven’t examined the situation closely enough. This work is never complete.

The first step on that cycle is to have simple conversations. Just pick up the phone and talk to them! The more conversations you have, the more you’ll get a sense of where, when and how best to set the cadence and process around what may eventually become a Service Review practice, a Customer Satisfaction Survey Set, and indeed NPS.

Be sure to use several approaches. That way you don’t need to be a slave to one set of metrics and their production cycle. By the same token, don’t rely solely on metrics. Your customers are real people and you need to be able to understand and relate real stories about their experience.

In fact, the real stories are probably more important than any set of metrics. Getting the real stories behind why your customers make the choices they do will inform your service improvement strategy far more than any single metric.

And those stories will change as your service changes. Your customers’ expectations will change, too. Their experience of service elsewhere will change. And what might be considered to be exceptional service pioneered by one organisation today will be seen as pretty standard tomorrow. You will need to continually cycle and adjust.

And talk to your customers!

This article first appeared on my Linkedin publications in January 2018.