The 9 Levers for Improving Customer Satisfaction

In a previous post we introduced various ways to measure customer satisfaction. Such metrics are like landmarks on your road map. They’re promising on paper but useless without action.

If you do, though, you can make your customers a vital bit happier. To see how much “vital” is, look at these numbers from an InfoQuest meta-analysis of over 20,000 surveys worldwide: a totally satisfied customer brings in 2.6 times as much revenue as a somewhat satisfied one and 14 times as much as a somewhat dissatisfied one.

Graph shows the relation between revenue and improving customer satisfaction

1
Find your ideal strategy

Improving customer satisfaction means to decide on a zoom level. No need to scrap the seasoned “every customer counts”-philosophy, but it’s impossible to develop a unique approach for every single customer.

When we hear horror stories and heroic tales in customer service they usually recount individual cases. But when you gather data averages from your own customers, it’s because they enable you to target systemic issues, not isolated incidents.

A set of techniques that covers the majority of your customers, not only the odd serial complainer, has the highest impact on your overall customer satisfaction. So, acting upon metrics means focusing on all of your customers. Accept that it’s bearable to struggle with extreme cases.

Nevertheless, a true story, well told, gaining public attention, is a great way to place your company in the front row. It encourages your customers to share a positive image of you. Nobody is going to ask how many of your customer service interactions actually went like that one particular incident that they loved to read about. Just beware of confusing responsibilities. Showcasing the events that touch your audience is a job for your marketing department.

2
Meet or exceed

In customer service, there are two main schools of thought: the one that preaches going above and beyond, and the one that preaches to avoid this and focus on reducing effort. You can lean more to one side without completely rejecting the other. But it’s obvious that both are diametrical by nature.

At least when dealing with larger amounts of customers, it’s not applicable to decide on a strategy on a case-by-case basis. That’s why you should find your ideal path here.

Going above and beyond is the view that to satisfy customers, you need to do more than what they expect from you or even more than they think they need. Customer experience consultant Micah Solomon wrote a convincing piece, explaining why this approach is worth the extra challenge and investment it bears for businesses.

The younger approach promotes the exact opposite. In a famous post on HBR titled Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers, Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman and Nicholas Toman introduced a new metric, the Customer Effort Score. It measures the effort it takes customers to have their issue solved — generally on a scale from 1 (very low effort) to 7 (very high effort). The three experts called out for an end to delighting customers because it makes customers, as they said, “only marginally more loyal than simply meeting their needs”, while the costs are much higher.

Graph showing the relation between service performance plus its costs and customer satisfaction

Obviously, the time and number of interactions required until an issue is solved impact the overall effort for the customer. Your actual fixes will have to bring about a limitation of both factors.

3
Making it quick for customers

Online customers expect their whole experience to happen ever faster and ever more efficient. Especially though, they want problems to be solved as quickly as possible. In customer service, time means effort.

To improve here, first decide on and regularly renew goals for the following metrics. Think of them as set screws to reduce the waiting time for your customers:

First response time.The time until a company answers an inquiry. Companies vary in staff number, technical resources and the amount of requests. These all influence your first response time. Waiting time can, for instance, be reduced in all channels through efficient routing, automatically sending inquiries to the least busy person. Also, as Collin Burke from InsightSquared suggests, by evaluating your peak hours of traffic and manning your support accordingly.

Resolution time.Once your customer has described her issue, she hands it over to you and her internal clock will start to mercilessly tick off the minutes until it’s solved.

Two graphs showing the relation between resolution time and customer satisfaction, and service skills and resolution time

As Amar Sagorica from Buffer explains, the knowledgeability of your staff has a great impact on problem resolution time. If your reps need many questions until grasping the issue, they might lack in (technical) knowledge or communication skills.

Which is why training and a company's learning culture affect customer satisfaction. Also, mind the technical side. In chat support, software can speed up communication with special features like keyboard shortcuts to trigger predefined text blocks. Support reps should be proficient in the communication channel they’re dealing with.

But being quick is only one way to make it quick for customers. As I’ve discussed before in my post on user onboarding best practices, human time perception is very sensitive to subjective estimation and setting.

You’ll find evidence in customers who don’t know why they’re waiting. All of these are prone to feel the wait is (too) long. The best fix, as suggested by Harvard professors Norton and Buell, is explaining what actually is taking so long.

4
Making it easy for customers

Each time an issue lands on the wrong desk and a customer needs to be forwarded to someone else, the issue will have to be explained once more. Same goes for missed follow-up questions that could have been discussed in the same conversation. Those things are a waste of resources on both sides — the customer’s and the business’.

Although companies are well equipped to anticipate and “forward-resolve” these issues, they rarely do so, generally because they’re overly focused on managing call time.

From “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers”, HBR

The metric to track the resulting effort is the number of interactions necessary to solve an issue. Preventing redirects will minimize it, so let your customers choose upfront to which department or about which topic they would like to speak. Then you define who’s your ideal fit to help them. Common technical tools that support such queries are email forms, pre-chat surveys and the old school number dial menu via phone.

A connected rule states that you should always let the customer close the case. So, don’t consider the job done until the customer does it. This principle applies to all channels. If you’re providing service via live chat, we’ve got some best practices for you.

5
Empowering customers and employees

Just as the service rep’s, the customer’s knowledgeability impacts how easy it is to solve an issue. It can even prevent their emergence. That’s why educational can improve customer satisfaction before a word is spoken.

Relevant content includes tutorials, FAQs, videos, webinars, infographics and GIFs. Team productivity tool Asana uses its YouTube channel to introduce their users to new features, like in this example:

Promoting your educational resources on your website and social channels has a nice benefit: A customer who knows your company for quality educational content will look for answers on your website before taking to customer support.

In this HBR article, Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy also suggested the empowerment of service employees to streamline your processes. I’d like to apply their ideas to the limitation of redirects.

According to them, employees who are taught to think for themselves, given authority and a framework of rules to make own decisions, and granted latitude to experiment, will raise efficiency in customer service. In other words: Don’t lose the customer’s time in business bureaucracy.

6
Being proactive

If customers are lost, premature exits are the result. The cure for those exits is to prevent the issues that led to them.

To prevent, be proactive. By starting a conversation you can intercept visitors in moments of uncertainty and offer help. For instance, with a chat window that pops up to anyone who reached a certain page or spent a certain time on it. Proactiveness also means to address commonly or logically related issues to prevent unnecessary returns of your visitor.

7
Show customer appreciation

Reciprocity is the basis of most customer appreciation methods. As Robert Cialdini explained in his book Influence, reciprocity is a tendency we all share – that to return favors.

The deeper idea behind customer appreciation, though, is to create and reinforce relationships. It’s this connection that makes people more likely to return a favor. To make the first step and reach out, here are the six ways to show customer appreciation:

  1. Surprising.
  2. Predictability.
  3. Being there when it matters most.
  4. Proactivity. (see above)
  5. Letting the customer close any case. (see above)
  6. Providing resources. (see above)

8
Transparency and humanity

Rafe Sargarin hit home with his post on a painful truth of our time: Humanity in customer service fell victim to the Internet and call centers. As companies try to improve efficiency in their service by progressing automation, customers struggle to connect to that. Bringing back the human touch can strongly improve customer satisfaction.

In this wild world outside of a call center, there are exceptions to everything and predictability is neither attainable nor all that important.

Rafe Sargarin

Particularly when you’ve made a mistake, the customer’s trust is on the line. If you put up a picture on the wrong spot on the wall, you can pull out the nail and fix the position. The hole in the wall, however, will remain and remind you of your mistake.

In their 2003 study, Chatura Ranaweera and Jaideep Prabhu looked at the importance of customer satisfaction and trust on customer retention. They found that when a customers has been disappointed, it sticks with them.

What matters most in any case, however, is your tone. A secretive and aloof one will only hurt you further. Apologizing is about empathy and openness, about offering support and proximity. Which is why a mix of transparency and humanity is a good way to comfort customers you let down.

Samsung’s COO Tim Baxter uses a clear and human language to recover customer trust. This was his formal apology following the company’s Galaxy Note7 disaster:

Apple’s face-off with the FBI is a teaching play in how transparency can increase customer trust. In 2014, Apple had already reacted to an embarrassing transparency rating by launching their Anti-Corruption Policy. It’s obviously helpful if transparency manages to preempt media coverage.

9
Owning the first impression

According to the halo-effect, people view the first information about something as a reference for all later input. If a company’s website looks bad, you’ll tend to think that their product isn’t the cream of the crop either.

Or, derived from Solomon Asch’s famous research on Forming Impressions of Personality, another example:

Meet Bob and John. Bob is smart, hard working, arrogant, and greedy. John is greedy, arrogant, smart, and hard working.

Who do you like more? Following Asch’s findings, it would be Bob since in his description the positive personality came first. Although it’s only a matter of moments, they bias how you gauge the following bad traits.

Thus, a good first impression in a service interaction will positively influence how customers view your overall performance. Excite with your website content from the start, but also with the service you provide from the first interaction on.


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