Customers Say the Darndest
As part of our role in customer care, we have been taught to ask customers for their opinions in order to make our service delivery a better experience for them. Customer feedback is a tool to improve service, which can make service a competitive advantage, and is usually a source of invaluable information. But sometimes, as we collect real-time feedback for customers, even Customer Relationship Metrics (Metrics) gets more than we bargained for. After collecting customer data and comments for more than eleven years, Metrics decided to step away from analysis about what customers are saying and consider why.
It is important to understand that in any social behavior, including service interactions, how consumers think about themselves will influence how they behave in a product/service situation. When buying a product or service, people believe it will somehow be a reflection on them, their personality, their social structure and they also make inferences about what other type of people buy the same things. [Therefore, it impacts what they think about the people who sell, as well as service, the goods and services they choose.]
Customers will approach the service interaction with expectations on how the interaction will go and what role they will play in this interaction based on the inference about the company. This will influence the nature of the interaction, even before it occurs. When dealing with customer service via the telephone, consumers have very little to frame the expectation of the company – merely the tone of voice and how a CSR “sounds”. This is why many CSRs are trained to “talk with a smile in their voice” and coaches focus on the greeting and delivery to underscore and maybe uplift the company reputation. Yet, even customers can take this affection a little too far, as these real customer feedback examples show:
Since customers are not able to see and have never met the CSRs they interact with, they create a mental image of what this person must be like using expectations and prior experience as a guide. Consumers are motivated to categorize others because it makes their lives simpler and provides a feeling of control. Callers, therefore, will know (or think they know) how to deal with a situation in which they are dealing with people they don’t know because they have categorized it. People will naturally compare others to a prototype they have in their mind to make the situation easier and manageable. When people call for customer service, they begin with a prototype in mind of what the CSR should be like and how the interaction should go. When a CSR fits the prototype, and even goes beyond what the consumer believes to be the prototype, then Wow Factor feedback is collected:
This also works the other direction when the CSR does not fit into the prototype in a negative way.
We have all suspected that satisfaction and/or dissatisfaction in one life role may be transferred into other life roles, like a CSR taking a bad day out on a customer and a customer taking things out on a CSR. Frustration or dissatisfaction with a product/service may actually be the result of the consumer feeling frustrated in other life roles than the consumer role. Just as CSRs must manage the delivery, so must they detect and manage the issue for the caller – all with the company’s best interest at the forefront.
Customers also expect to be treated in a manner consistent with their expected role as the customer in the interaction. Research has shown that consumers evaluate service institutions and personnel positively when the personnel treat them as individuals who have specific needs to be met by the service interaction. As consumers, we have a set of expectations for others’ behavior and we prefer that they behave in a manner consistent with those expectations. And if they do not perform consistently with these expectations, customers will also let you know.
Consumers’ own self-perceptions bias their judgments such that consumers often see themselves more positively and their role to be more valuable, important, or influential than is actually the case. They will see themselves as being the best and most important customer to your business and view the service from that vantage point. The self-serving bias allows people to take responsibility for their successes, but to usually blame others for their failures. Therefore, if a customer buys an expensive car, it is seen as a success, but if the car does not work, no matter what they did to influence it, it will be due to other’s actions (the mechanic didn’t help, the car was a lemon, etc.). This can also work from the CSR’s perspective when they blame the customer for their problems instead of blaming the dealers or manufacturers. This is an important concept in service interactions because research has shown that blaming others for product dissatisfaction permits one to direct anger outward, toward the firm, rather than to oneself.
And then sometimes, there is just no behavioral explanation for what a consumer says.
Why be concerned with the research behind customer comments? Well, it has to do with an increase in customer satisfaction, loyalty and creating a positive word of mouth. If you can better understand your customers, you can create a better environment for the service interaction. You can also educate your representatives and use this information as a training opportunity so that CSRs garner a better understanding of why consumers sometimes say the things they do. After all, customers do say the darndest things sometimes.
Dr. Jodie Monger, is the President of Customer Relationship Metrics, (www.Metrics.net) and a pioneer in customer satisfaction research for the contact center industry. Prior to creating Metrics she was the founding Associate Director of Purdue University's Center for Customer-Driven Quality. Her expertise is working with organizations to help capture and analyze the Voice of their Customer.
Dr. Cherie Keen is the Vice President of Research and Client Services for Customer Relationship Metrics. Prior to joining Metrics she was the Director of Research at SOCAP International (previously the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals in Business), an International membership organization for customer care executives.
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