A formal definition of customer experience, taken from Wikipedia, states that customer experience is: “The sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier.” In practical terms, customer experience is the customer’s perception of, and attitude about, different areas of your company or brand across the entire customer lifecycle (see Figure 1 to right).
We know that the customer experience has a large impact on customer loyalty. Customers who are satisfied with the customer experience buy more, recommend you and are easier to up/cross-sell than customers who are dissatisfied with the customer experience. Your goal for the customer relationship survey, then, is to ensure it includes customer experience questions asking about important customer touchpoints.
Customer Experience Questions
Customer experience questions typically account for most of the questions in customer relationship surveys. There are two types of customer experience questions: General and Specific. General questions ask customers to rate broad customer touchpoints. Specific customer experience questions focus on specific aspects of the broader touchpoints. As you see in Table 1, general customer experience questions might ask the customers to rate their satisfaction with product quality, account management, technical support, and so on. Specific customer experience questions ask customers to rate their satisfaction with detailed aspects of each broader customer experience area.
I typically see both types of questions in customer relationship surveys for B2B companies. The general experience questions are presented first and then are followed-up with specific experience questions. As such, I have seen customer relationship surveys that have as few as 5 customer experience questions and other surveys that have 50+ customer experience questions.
General Customer Experience Questions
Here are some general customer experience questions I typically use as a starting point for helping companies build their customer survey. As you can see in Figure 2, these general questions address broad areas across the customer lifecycle, from marketing and sales to service.
While specific customer experience questions are designed to provide greater understanding of customer loyalty, it is important to consider their usefulness. Given that we already have general customer loyalty question in our survey, do we need the specific questions? Do the specific questions help us explain customer loyalty differences above what we know through the general questions?
Customer Experience Questions Predicting Customer Loyalty
To answer these questions, I analyzed four different B2B customer relationship surveys, each from four different companies. These companies represented midsize to large enterprise companies. Their semi-annual customer surveys included a variety of loyalty questions and specific and general customer experience questions. The four companies had different combinations of general (5 to 7) and specific (0 to 34) customer experience questions.
The goal of the analysis was to show whether the inclusion of specific experience questions added to our understanding of customer loyalty differences beyond what the general experience questions explained. The results of the analysis are presented in Figure 3. Through step-wise regression analysis, I first calculated the percent of variance in customer loyalty that is explained by the general customer experience questions (green area). Then, I calculated the percent of variance in customer loyalty explained by the specific questions above what the general questions explained (blue area). Clearly, the few general experience questions explain a lot of the variability in customer loyalty (42% to 85%) while the specific customer experience questions account for very little extra (2% to 4%).
Efficient Customer Relationship Surveys
We may be asking customers too many questions in our relationship surveys. Short relationship surveys, using general experience questions, provide great insight into understanding how to improve customer loyalty. Asking customers about specific, detailed aspects about their experience provides very little additional information about what drives customer loyalty.
Customers’ memories are fallible. Given the non-trivial time between customer relationship surveys (up to a year between surveys), customers are unable to make fine distinctions regarding their experience with you (as measured in your survey). This might be a good example of the halo effect, the idea that a global evaluation of a company/brand (e.g., great product) influences opinions about their specific attributes (e.g., reliable product, ease of use).
Customers’ ratings about general customer experience areas explain as much of the differences in customer loyalty as we are able to with customer experience questions. Short relationship surveys allow customers the optimal way to give their feedback on a regular basis. Not only do these short relationship surveys provide deep customer insight about the causes of customer loyalty, they also enjoy higher response rates and show that you are considerate of customers’ time.
Bob E. Hayes, PhD is the Chief Customer Officer at TCELab and president of Business Over Broadway. He is a recognized expert in customer experience management, and customer satisfaction/loyalty measurement, Big Data and analytics. He is the author of TCE: Total Customer Experience, Beyond the Ultimate Question and Measuring Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty.