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James Bolle, VP Head of Client Services EMEA at InMoment, discusses why brands should consider respect as business critical in the customer experience mix and provides a guide for creating a culture of respect. 

Respect is one of the key building blocks in a strong relationship, be it a marriage, friendship or business. Without it, we feel undervalued and underappreciated. In a customer-brand context, this is an incredibly important concept. Customers increasingly have opportunities to express their concerns and attitudes with brands in a multitude of ways, from a traditional survey response to a simple tweet. How brands react to this changing landscape is critical. According to the Institute of Customer Service’s (ICS) European Customer Satisfaction Index, leaders, stakeholders and organisations that build and foster relationships based on respect will be best-placed to achieve sustained customer and employee engagement.

Respect is a vital part of the customer experience mix as customers want to feel valued by the brands they interact with. Simply put, a customer that is willing to trade money for goods or services deserves to be treated as more than just a number. Feeling undervalued creates a strong, emotional state that can have a marked effect on both short- and long-term spend, loyalty and advocacy.

The customer-employee relationship is perhaps one of the most important relationships where respect must be a key focus. The ICS’s European Customer Satisfaction Index found that customers’ top priorities are mostly related to staff attitudes and behaviours, complaint handling and product reliability. Across eight different European countries, the three key customer priorities included:

  • Staff doing what they say they will do
  • Staff competence
  • Staff understanding a customer issue

The reason why these issues are so important to customers boils down to respect – a customer trusts a brand to deliver goods or services and be knowledgeable about those goods and services. Furthermore, if a problem occurs, a customer trusts that the brand will fix it. These expectations are infinitely reasonable so when they aren’t met, customers lose respect for the brand which can lead to them never interacting with that brand again.

It is essential that brands create a culture of respect, both organisationally and in CX in particular. There are four key steps to achieving this:

  • Empower conversation
  • Let the customer tell you their story
  • Let the customer know you have heard them
  • Take action and fix the issue (and let customers know you’ve made a change)

Empower conversation

Customer feedback is a fantastic way to demonstrate to customers that brands respect them and their opinions. A challenge we observe, however, is that many methods of obtaining that feedback can actually work against a positive relationship. For example, surveys are often far too long, and questions don’t apply to the customer’s actual experience. When a brand asks questions, they should be tailored to the extent possible using data from CRM systems and loyalty programmes – availability of technology makes bespoke surveys possible, and customers are beginning to expect that type of personalisation.

Furthermore, brands should use a variety of methods for listening to customers, so customers can provide feedback in a way that’s easy and preferable to them. In addition to traditional surveys, brands should consider using video feedback, harnessing social media and building feedback into mobile applications. Increasingly adept mobile-embedded voice assistants like Siri are making voice feedback viable and simple.  The objective with feedback should be to empower authentic conversation with your customers instead of a one-way interrogation.

Letting the customer tell you their story

Surveys traditionally ask a customer to respond to a series of questions with a numerical rating scale, providing structured data which can be easily reviewed, compared and analysed. However, structured data only touches the surface of a customer’s experience. It doesn’t highlight how or why a customer felt a particular way or the details of a particular experience.

People have told stories each other since the beginning of time – storytelling is intrinsic to being human and it should be harnessed in CX. Giving customers the flexibility to talk freely about their experiences without the constraints of numbers and direct questions does two things. Firstly, it provides unstructured data which brands can analyse at a deeper level. Secondly, allowing customers to tell their story, on their own terms, demonstrates a respect for their attitudes and makes the customer feel valued.

Letting the customer know you have heard them

Giving customers the opportunity to freely and openly talk about their experiences is the first step to demonstrating respect. To truly show customers their value as a consumer, however, brands must respond to this feedback and let them know that their voice has been heard.

Firstly, brands must respond to customers in a personalised way. If a brand responds to every single piece of feedback with the exact same message, it gives the impression that the customer’s feedback isn’t truly appreciated. Automation, CRM tools and loyalty programmes make delivering personal responses straightforward, meaning bespoke responses to feedback can be provided without impacting on a brands resources.

Additionally, transparency in response to customer complaints is essential. As previously discussed, when a customer has a bad experience, they associate negative feelings with that experience. To help turn a negative experience into a neutral, or even positive experience, brands must respond in a timely fashion – through automated prioritisation tools – and tell the customer what they will be doing to help resolve the issue. This demonstrates to customers that they are respected and valued.

Take action

Bringing customers full-circle in a journey of change is the ultimate demonstration of respect, helping foster trust and loyalty in the brand. According to the ICS, trust increases in parallel with increasing customer satisfaction levels. This can be driven by brands making business changes on the back of customer feedback. Primark changed their staff uniforms in the past year from black shirts to blue following customer feedback that staff were difficult to find. The New York Bagel company also made the big change of ceasing all pre-slicing of their bagels after public outrage of the reduced quality in bagels when pre-sliced. Their Facebook post letting customers know they’re taking on board all feedback garnered many emotionally-charged responses to the sliced bagel debate. Whilst these are small steps in improving the customer experience, the message it communicates is significant:  customers are valued and that their views are respected and listened to.

Respect, trust and foster loyalty

It is no surprise that brands that listen to feedback and make changes as a result do better in customer service indices. Respect, trust and loyalty are all interlinked – demonstrating to customers that they are respected will lead to greater trust in the brand and will foster brand loyalty. This will result in stronger customer satisfaction scores and an altogether better customer experience. In the UK for example, companies that rank higher on the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) rank higher for trust.

Get respect right, and stronger CX scores and improved business performance will follow.

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