Five SMARK Questions for Stefan Kolle

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In the build-up to his presentation at the Marketing 360 conference in Bucharest, SMARK – Romania’s leading community for marketing professionals – interviewed my colleague and business partner Stefan Kolle on the topics of NPS, customer experience and advocacy.

As the interview contains some interesting points which you might not be able to pick up from the Romanian edition, we thought we’d reprint the Q&A with the journalist:

So what can we do to improve the customer experience? Which is the best way to go?

There is of course no simple answer to this, that is the same for everyone. The most important starting point is to really listen to your customers, and find out what they really want and need. This is not as simple as it sounds, for a number of reasons. Customers may not use the right words. Your colleagues might not be willing to listen. The company may not be willing to act on what you hear from your customers. But if you are able to truly listen, to translate what you hear in an actionable and „what’s in it for me” way for your colleagues and show the business case (i.e. why should we do X for the customers instead of Y), the company will support you. These are your first steps: hear the customer’s voice, make a business case to prove your right, and engage several colleagues to support you. What exactly it is you should do to improve the experience, depends of course on the industry you are in, the kind of customers you have, etc.

One of the points you make is that company directors are not sufficiently addressing the topic of customer experience. Which methods do you propose for them to better measure the satisfaction levels of their customers?

At Futurelab, we are great fans of the Net Promoter System (TM). This method, invented by Fred Reichheld, calculates how likely people are to recommend your product or company to their friends and family. Fred Reichheld has proven – and we have seen it in practice – that the likelihood of your customers to recommend you is directly correlated to your future revenue and profits. The method is also very quick and simple to administer, at relatively low cost.

Please note that „Net Promoter” and „Being a promoter” have nothing to do with promotions, but everything with recommendation.

There is also a number of research companies that offer a variety of customer satisfaction surveys, from quick & dirty to long-term continuous research. However, for those who are just starting to get the first grip of customer centricity, I would personally recommend a simple trick: spend a day „in the field”: on the frontline of customer service, in the shop or supermarket, on the location, etc. It will quickly give you an idea of what may be the the key improvement areas.

How can we enhance the purchase experience on a market saturated with promotions?

Promotions create terrible distortions in the market – in the view of the customer and the view of the company. Of course it is impossible to entirely ignore discounts and promotions, but the fact of the matter is, that only one company can be the cheapest. The fact that all the others are still in business proves that the customer never chooses based only on price. So, again, we have to find out what matters, really matters, to our customers, and improve the experience around that. Of course we have to make sure that we only spend money to enhance the experience in such a way, that the ROI will be positive. So it is not about doing anything to please customers, but focus on what they really need.

Which of our customers will recommend our product, how and to whom? How can we gain these types of clients?

The customers that will recommend us are the ones who had a deeply satisfying, or even a WOW-experience.

And the interesting thing is, to begin with: you don’t have to gain these customers, you already have them! So let’s start by identifying them, for instance, by asking the NPS question: „Would you recommend us?”. And if they say yes – say „Wonderful! Now can we talk a bit more about how you could do that?”, and you build it from there.

And with those who tell us that they would never recommend us, because their experience was terrible, we should also go into discussion and see how we can solve their issues. As a result of this, they may become our most loyal customers.

Perhaps, the most important thing to remember about this is, is that it is about personal, one-on-one communications! Engage directly with your promoters (and of course also with the ones that are not happy with your products and services to resolve that!)

Can you give us a concrete example of a situation of a bad customer experience, how you identified the reasons and how you managed to solve it?

One of my favourite examples is about one of our banking customers, in a country not far from you. Their small-business unit was not doing so well, so we started digging into the reasons why. We found that one the one hand all services were focused on efficiency and speed, while on the other hand there were penalties for customers who were too late with certaing payments, or who did too many transactions. By talking to these businessmen we found out that they cared about other things much more. They felt they were disrespected by their employees, their family, the government, and now their bank was also treating them like bad people. By shifting the whole experience to one where the bank was showing that it understood the problems these entrepreneurs had, and shifting costs and fees from penalties to service charges and higher interests where they didnt mind the total revenue went up together with satisfaction and likelihood to recommend.

And then, once you have created this improved experience, make sure they do tell their friends, family and colleagues (and recommendation is even more of a factor in B2B environments!). Give them tools (whether its vouchers for their friends or special prices for joint account), give them stories to tell, let them share their experiences. And dont forget to just plain and simply ask – „Please recommend us”