Customer experience (or CX as it is commonly referred to as) has slowly woven its way in to the modern marketer’s lexicon. It is now a broad all-encompassing term used to benchmark company performance. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review “The Truth About Customer Experience” described CX as a customer’s entire end-to-end journey.
This is significant as it suggests that the experience is not just defined by a few critical touchpoints, but is in fact the cumulative impact of every interaction the customer and organisation share. Not only does this imply that customer experience can change in an instant, but also that there are some factors that businesses are not in control of.
From word of mouth (both physical and digital) to reviews on independent websites, it is nearly impossible for organisations to retain full control of the customer experience. So, the question then becomes how can it be understood?
Start by Asking Customers
The most obvious solution to this issue is to ask customers. Most consumers will have an opinion on an organisation, shaped by the cumulative impact of all of the touchpoints with which they have interacted. However, it is key to define which customers are asked about and how. It is important to gather a broad range of opinions from different stages of the customer journey.
Start by defining each stage of the customer journey. A good starting point for this is the consumer decision making funnel from McKinsey & Company. Once each stage has been identified, the next important step is to select the most effective method of opening a dialogue with customers.
Quantitative research tools such as surveys and polls may be one potential option. These are quick and easy to set up. More importantly they can provide a basic sentiment analysis from a large population. However, for richer insight and greater understanding of how customer experience changes over time, a more in-depth method is required.
This is where customer panels are most effective. A customer panel is an online pool of participants waiting to take part in research and complete a variety of tasks. These consumers can be segmented into those who that have used products and services before and those that have not. From here, it is possible to set these consumers particular tasks and track them through the customer journey – monitoring their experiences along the way.
The main benefit of this method is the ability to track not only how customers interact with the organisation, but how each stage of the customer journey (and each respective interaction) influences and moulds their overall opinion of the company. This is valuable data and can be used to identify aspects of the organisation which require improvement. It creates a map of the highs and lows of the customer journey and tracks experience through touchpoints on a large scale.
But collecting the data is only half of the process. To improve the customer experience, the findings must be applied correctly. Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy solution for this. Every organisation is unique and every situation must be dealt with differently. However, there are some tips which can be applied to most organisations:
- Review not only negative feedback, but positive too
- Ensure you have identified the root causes of the issues
- Follow up with in-depth qualitative research
Follow Up Research
Once you have conducted research in a customer panel, it is important to follow up the research with more in-depth methods. Community panels are great for gathering longitudinal data across the spectrum of customer experiences. However, to find out more information on the exact experiences it is important to conduct qualitative research also.
We would recommend question board focus groups and diaries. Our range of qualitative research tools make this easier than ever before. Gather qualitative research to discover the exact causes of sentiment, and really get into the mind of your customers. These methods are useful for not only understanding customers, but co-creating solutions too.
Customers are heavily invested in brands and share a sense of ownership over them. Therefore, rather than simply pointing out flaws and areas of improvement, customers can also generate creative solutions. Give customers creative tasks and put them in your shoes – give them a chance to unearth ideas that will improve customer experiences and meet business objectives too.
So What is the Secret?
There is no big secret to conducting successful customer experience research. To understand how customers interact with your brand, simply ask them. Forego a business orientated viewpoint and try to get inside the mind of your customers. Use community panels and follow-up research to understand how they interact with brands and what their opinions are.
But of course, each organisation is different. Some will have a long customer journey – particularly those which involve high value products, while others will only have a few touchpoints with customers and some may be almost invisible. So, be sure to consider your unique position in the market and seek advice from a professional researcher.
Research agencies have a huge wealth of experience in assessing organisational performance and the best route to successful customer experience research. Find an agency that understands your sector, understands the importance of customer experience and work together to generate an effective research strategy (and ultimately business plan) to improve your customers’ experiences – that is the best way to increase positive sentiment and improve brand perception.
Read more about our approach to online market research. Or, to book a free trial of the FlexMR research platform and make use of our wide range of quant & qual tools, talk to one of our experts.