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How often do you hear companies say – ‘the customer is king’; or that they listen and respond to their customers, because it’s them that drive their business?

No doubt the answer is all the time. Yet here’s what’s perverse. Despite many businesses saying this, I come across very few that actually have a reliable and consistent way of listening to their customers. They say they want to hear from their most important audience, but somehow the communication channels are either broken down, or non existent.

Even where there are some data collection mechanisms in place, they rarely capture enough, consistently high quality data to represent their customers, making it difficult to be truly customer centric. Because, unless you’re incredibly lucky, drawing hard and fast conclusions from narrow samples, won’t reveal what’s needed.

Customer behavior adds a further extra layer of complexity. Despite being much more likely to complain or make suggestions than ever before, our British reserve is alive and well, and can thwart even the most rigorous data samples. ‘Honestly, how was your meal, sir?’

Not only this, but customers may not always say what they really think. Our own research shows this at its most stark. For example, 31.5 percent of American shoppers we polled about their experience with shop assistants replied to: “Have a nice day” greetings with “You too” when they really thought “I hope you lose your job”. The truth is, too many times, people just don’t come out with what they really think. If a customer has a bad experience they still often won’t tell the staff; and even if they do, many staff won’t feel engaged enough to pass this information on – mainly because the feedback could directly criticise them.

Because of this customer service urgently needs to morph into customer science – where facts drive action, and where visible improvements in customer sentiment can be seen to make demonstrable difference to profits.

Retailers need to be looking to capture satisfaction ratings, discretely and conveniently from paying customers at the point of purchase (yes TruRating does provide this).

Used properly, this high quality, representative data (our opt in rates are around 88 percent) can provide endless insights – from individual staff performance, through to how higher levels of service correlate to higher levels of spending. It can even spot which days or times of day produce better service scores than others.

Without this, or similar customer science, ‘old style retailing’ as we call it, will fail the customer. The best firms are already trying different service strategies to see what works (and what doesn’t), and are starting to be able to draw concrete connections to their profit or loss. Continual testing of the customer experience has to be the mind-set businesses need to get into.

The pushback of course, is that applying science to service sounds scary (and expensive), conjuring up images of spreadsheets, formulas and numbers. But the reality is, nowadays, it doesn’t need to be like this.

Today’s technology can boil complex feedback down into simple, visual dashboards that clearly display the key metrics businesses are interested in. Often this is their service scores, how these numbers correlate to spend, and (and this is the one clients really love) a score that shows what their increase in profit could be if they raised their scores by a set amount.

A great example of this was recently outlined by a client of ours, who during a three-day promotion period, found that if they increased their value and referral ratings by a tiny four percent, it led to a huge 77 percent uplift in spend!

These sorts of numbers should make businesses sit up. For while many they may think they know their customers well, or believe their own ‘gut feel’ is their best predictor of growth, the scientific data suggests that businesses don’t always know their customers as well as they thought. Without genuine data, they’re just shooting in the dark.

And the best news is, that customers – once they can see changes being made – won’t mind passing on their comments either.

There are always winners and losers in retail. Those who are willing to listen, and who are willing to use science to try something new will be the ones who’ll win. Those that don’t want to change will fail. It’s that simple. The future is the way in which customer data is used properly, because it’s this that brings about material gains in true customer satisfaction.

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