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Customer Experience Ratings in Decline – Customer Panels to the Rescue

By Charles Pearson

Concept of Customer Panels To The Rescue

A recent Research Live headline grabbed my attention, it read “UK Customer Experience Drops to Record Low” and was referring to KPMG Nunwood’s recent annual survey in which they calculated each brand’s Customer Experience Excellence (CEE) score (a weighted average of each brand’s score, as mapped against the six metrics of personalisation, time and effort, resolution, integrity, expectations and empathy). Not only has the UK dropped to a record low, but it is now behind the US with a score similar to that of the US from 5 years ago!

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Not only have UK customer experience excellence scores dropped to a record low. they now lag behind the US with a score similar to theirs 5 years ago

How is that possible? Especially given the constant column inches dedicated to consumer behaviour in recent years - fragmented purchasing, weakening brand loyalty, smaller yet more frequent shopping trips, the need (and expectation) for more personalisation, and of course the massive shift to online shopping - to name but a few.

With all of this pressure on brand performance, it would seem reasonable to expect an enormous amount of attention to be placed by all on engaging with their current customers in order to understand and anticipate their needs, and wants, with the overall goal of protecting and growing those relationships… Apparently not.

Perhaps I shouldn’t find this customer insight deficit surprising given that in my business development role at FlexMR - concentrated on the build, management and research (DIY and full service) associated with customer panels and insight communities - I am constantly coming across brands that have yet to make an ongoing commitment to customer engagement for feedback purposes. Still though, I can't help but wonder why? Given that actionable customer feedback is proven to enhance decision making in terms of developing and launching successful products and services, creating the most compelling promotions, establishing impactful communications, customer services, packaging, product placement… pretty much every customer facing business element imaginable - what explanation can there be for this deficit?

One possible scenario here is that of awareness, of the lack there of - that is simply knowing that a customer panel solution is available, easy and cost effective.

Another explanation may be the considerable confusion regarding the various terminology used. For example, is it a “customer panel” or an “insight community”? What’s the difference, if any, between them? Does a panel only work with existing customers? And if so, what about target consumers? And employees? Employees are important stakeholders and not just in terms of the employee experience. They are often current or target customers in their own right and as such, can be used as a general proxy.

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Is it a "Customer Panel" or an "Insight Community"? What's the difference. if any. between them? And which is the right digital market research solution for your business?

I am often asked questions like this. And what follows are my answers. I hope that they serve to illuminate this topic, to contribute to the increased awareness and understanding of the continuous customer insight solutions available and why all brands should be implementing their solution of choice.

What is the difference between a Customer Panel and an Insight Community?

A customer panel is a ready and waiting, large and diverse group of customers who have agreed to participate in research as and when asked to do so. The focus is primarily on the brand owner to set the topics and initiate the questions and the panellists to respond. Sometimes customer members are also asked to react to what other customers say, as in qualitative methods, i.e. focus groups. With an insight community, the “community” aspect in its purest sense refers to the ability of members to initiate their own topics and conversations with other members.

Why choose an Insight Community over a Customer Panel?

Brands that operate insight communities do so for the purposes of “always-on” content. A collaborative customer led feed teaches them how their brand is being discussed, the other topics on the minds of their customers, and how these topics and the manner in which they are being discussed can help better inform ideas and opportunities. Insight is gleaned primarily through ‘listening’ rather than structured research projects.

Is an Insight Community smaller than a Customer Panel?

Sometimes the “community” term is used to refer to a smaller group of customers but as both “panel” and “community” are used interchangeably within our industry it isn’t necessarily the case that community means community in the purest definitional sense. It’s always best to confirm exactly what your potential provider is proposing case by case. Panels and communities can be setup for the short or longer term.

Why is it called a “Customer” Panel; isn’t it possible to have a different stakeholder group in a panel?

Absolutely! Customers are the most obvious target audience, as they spend money on the brand directly. But target consumers, who are of course potential customers and employees can all be included within a panel where required. In fact, with the right supplier platform, each group can be created and managed within the same overall panel database enabling all to be used separately or together, depending on the research activity in question. Importantly, different research activities can be directed to one or more segment only or the panel in its entirety.

How does a Customer Panel differ from an Access Panel?

Brands will have a use for both a customer panel and access panels. Customer panels enable fast, cost effective and continuous customer research. Access panels hold the key to target market consumer research. When the proposition – idea, concept, communication, web page, app, etc. – is being developed to attract new customers as well as existing, access panels may be used either in addition to or instead of a customer panel to examine the broader market opportunity.

In Conclusion

Regarding the lowered customer experience ratings in the UK, KPMG was quoted as saying, “Innovation and the success of those leading the way are the primary driving forces behind this shift, with shoppers now judging customer service in comparative terms – the strong performance of one brand raising the bar for others.”

It’s pretty clear then, if brands are going to keep up they need to strive for customer experience excellence today and tomorrow. The only way to do so successfully is to have a fast and effective mechanism for engaging with customers to ensure that innovation is constant, not done in a vacuum, with direct customer input always.

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FlexMR Charles Pearson

Charles Pearson- SVP, Strategic Business Development

Personal Bio: Charles has developed online research solutions for over 30 years. Prior to his appointment, he has opened global offices for Research Now across the US, EMEA and APAC regions.
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