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Listen to your customers before your competitors do

When manufacturing improvement techniques such as Lean, Six Sigma and Continuous Improvement burst upon the scene, manufacturing companies who wanted to get ahead of their competitors quickly adopted it. These techniques became second nature to the manufacturing sector as early as the 80s, but it took until the noughties before other industries realised what it could do for their businesses, led by the financial sector.

Continuous Improvement even found its way into the sporting world when Sir Dave Brailsford re-labelled it ‘marginal gains’ and used it to dominate the cycling world with Sky/Ineos on the road and team GB on the track.

But can it help improve the customer experience in your business regardless of what industry you are in?

The techniques I mentioned above can be inward-looking as they are used to improving performances within the business, but what about your customers? After all you can be as good as you like within your business but if you have no customers, it’s rather pointless.

Within Six Sigma there is a technique called The Voice of The Customer (VOC) which is a powerful customer focussed approach and is well worth introducing into your business.

So where do you start?

1. Talk to your customers

One girl whispering a secret to another.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

It seems obvious, but it would surprise you how many companies assume they know what their customer wants and then create the wrong solution to their misdiagnosed customer experience strategy, or—even worse—they copy their competitors without doing their own research.

There are many ways that customer feedback can be collected, such as questionnaires, tick box forms in emails and on websites, but is that a good way to engage with your customers? It comes across very impersonal, which is not a good message to be putting out for the customer experience.

The best way is to use customer focus groups or social media. Here, customers will tell you what you do well and others will tell you what you don’t do so well; it’s the latter which is the real gold dust.

While it’s nice to listen to customers telling you how great you are, the real opportunities are with those who tell you the things you aren’t so good at. Sometimes it’s hard to listen to but if you embrace the feedback it will take you to the next level. 

2. Create your goals

Bird's eye view of a football pitch.
Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

Now you have lots of feedback you can think about what you to do with it to improve the customer experience. I would suggest you look for trends in the feedback and categorise them into:

  • Quick and easy issues that you can address straight away so your customers get an improved customer experience. Example: maybe your call filtering system is malfunctioning, causing customers to give up and go elsewhere—a simple thing to fix.
  • Urgent issues that you didn’t realise were an issue but are having a very negative impact on the customer experience. Example: when is the last time you visited your website and worked through it as a customer would, only to find out it fails at a critical stage such as the final payment? Not a good experience for you or your customer.

Important issues are issues that will become urgent in the future if you do not address them soon. One example is future changes in legislation.

So now you have all of your feedback in a priority order you can set SMART goals for each category.

3. Next steps

Now you have your SMART goals for each category, you need to assign a ‘customer champion’ to each one, someone who will be responsible for implementation but most importantly ensures the solution really does resolve the original issue. This is an important point as it can be very easy to lose focus on the point of the exercise if you don’t have someone representing your customer’s viewpoint

4. Monitor

Once implemented, it is crucial that each new initiative is monitored to ensure it achieves what you want it to achieve on a sustainable basis. There’s nothing worse than thinking you have resolved the issue only to find out from an irate customer two months later that it still exists!

The customer champions should regularly review each initiative to make sure it continually meets expectations.

At this stage it’s a good idea to tell your customers about the customer experience improvements you’ve made so they can see you value their opinions. This in turn will improve customer loyalty. Some of those customers may now even be ex-customers who were driven elsewhere due to a bad customer experience with you; now is the time to get them back.

Three old-fashioned telephones hanging on a wall.
Photo by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash

5. Improve

Now you have listened to your customers and worked with them to improve the customer experience, don’t stop there. Make continuous improvements by regularly communicating through your social media platforms and customer focus group, and listen to what they are telling you.

Screwfix are one of the big business success stories in the UK. When I worked there, I was really impressed by how they invited trades people into the head office and asked their opinions on how they could improve their service. 

It’s a no brainer—they tell you want they want and you give it to them. They buy it and they tell all their mates and they come to you as well.

Listen to your customers before your competitors do!  

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