From Market Researcher to Customer Experience Leader

Pink piggy bank with eyes and and bandaged crack - © Duncan Noakes - Fotolia.com

To start 2015, we are featuring some “Lost Gems” from 2014 — some great posts that deserved to get wider notice than they did the first time out.

A vice president of market research for a financial firm shared a case study last week at the Marketing Research Association’s Corporate Researchers Conference about the steps he took once the brand’s customer satisfaction tracker reported a drop in the percent of customers who were very or extremely satisfied.

The first success story was the existence of the tracker itself. Prior to the VP’s arrival, the company had used an annual tracker. By replacing it with a quarterly tracker, which at this point had been running for several years, he was able to catch the decline in satisfaction shortly after it occurred.

Once alerted to the decline, the research VP leapt into action. His first decision was to conduct focus groups in three cities with customers, employees, and competitors’ customers. This “triangulation study” identified common issues reported by customers and employees, as well as some similar problems to competitors and some best practices to adopt from them as well. This qualitative research provided such excellent insights that is still talked about within the company today.

He knew that responding to this qualitative feedback would take a team. With over 1,100 branches in 43 states, and with 13 different customer touchpoints, the brand has complex customer interactions. He started and now leads a Customer Experience Council of 25 people, with over half of them from the field, and many with more than 20 years at the company. The council vets recommendations for improving customer service and concentrates on answering two key questions:

  • What is the optimal customer experience?
  • What are the key issues preventing the delivery of the optimal customer experience?

Initially, over a two-day period, the council went through the major issues identified in the research and outlined a plan of attack for each. For instance, one complaint was that Collections would call a customer multiple times (using an automatic dialer), despite the fact that the customer had visited a branch and already negotiated a new repayment plan. The council developed a way to improve communications between branches and Collections—and eliminated this problem altogether.

A key task the council undertook was to develop a customer journey map (a technique that he had learnt about at the prior year’s Corporate Researchers Conference!). The council fused lots of different research together and identified areas where more research was needed. The customer journey map inverted the traditional way the organization looked at touchpoints (from the inside of the organization out), replacing it with a customer-centric vision of what the experience actually was, rather than what the process was supposed to be.

As part of this ongoing research, the VP did his own ethnography project. He visited a branch for three days, documenting his observational research into employee interactions with each other and with customers. This provided a host of suggestions for the council to consider, many of which were simple to implement. With over 1,100 branches, there was a realization that the company could do more to provide a consistent, quality experience across all the branches. By adding more feedback options throughout the customer journey, they were able to identify problems as they occurred and develop new systems to eliminate those issues.

This corporate researcher had taken to heart advice that he had received early in his career when he was at AT&T, when an executive told him, “You researchers give me great data, but when are you going to give me information?” Research requests are now more strategic and are designed to improve upon the 360-degree view of the customer. As the organization’s customer experience leader, the head of the Customer Experience Council, he isn’t just measuring customer satisfaction: he is overseeing efforts to improve it. Thanks to the work of the council, and the organization at large, customer satisfaction at the brand has rebounded.

Jeffrey Henning, PRC, is president of Researchscape International, which provides “Do It For You” custom surveys at Do It Yourself prices.  He is a Director at Large on the Marketing Research Association’s Board of Directors. You can follow him on Twitter @jhenning.

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