Who's Better, Who's Right?
Why customer perceptions differ radically from our own
Bain & Company asked leaders of 362 companies if they felt their companies delivered superior customer service. Eighty percent believed that the service they provided was indeed superior.
What these companies didn't know was that, at the same time, Bain was surveying more than 3,000 customers, asking them if they felt they received superior customer service. Only 8 percent of customers surveyed described their experience as superior. How can 80 percent of the companies think they are providing superior service, but only 8 percent of their customers agree with them?
You are in the customer perception business. So who's right? The customer! Businesses need to know that they are in the customer perception business. Think about your own experiences as a customer, just in the past week. How often did you experience exceptional customer service, the kind of service where you want to share your experience with others and bring it back to work as an example of a superior approach? Is it one out of every 10 experiences? Or is it one out of every 20? The sad truth is that the majority of businesses rank their customer service significantly higher than their customers rank it.
The million-dollar question
Why is there such a huge gap between what businesses think they provide in customer experience and what their customers think? You can spend hours on this question alone with your management teams, and the discussions and takeaways around this would be incredibly valuable.
Don't ask the customers what they want; give them what they can't live without. Learning from our customers is critical to building the experience we deliver. Many companies do a fairly good job measuring their customers' satisfaction through their own devices or have outside companies collecting this data. I agree this needs to be done. However, on the flip side, you can't ask the customers what they want--you have to give them what they can't live without. Think about all the companies that have revolutionized their industries, broken the old paradigm, and turned everything on its head: Zappos, Amazon, Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, Uber, and Apple. They didn't improve on what everyone else was doing--they completely transformed the way it was being done.
Let's pretend it is the 1970s and we brought a small group of coffee drinkers together and asked them what they would like in a coffee-drinking experience. They would have looked at us as if we had two heads and said, "A coffee-drinking what? There are two ways to have your coffee: with or without cream, and with or without sugar, for 25 cents. What experience?" And they would have been right. Not one would have raised their hand and said, "I would like to be able to spend 10 to 20 times as much."
You probably wouldn't have heard, "I would like to be able to order it over 80,000 different ways and get it." (You really can have your Starbucks made over 80,000 ways). Nor would someone have said, "I would like to be able to hang out here for a couple of hours." You wouldn't have heard any of those ideas from customer focus groups, which means we probably would not have ended up with Starbucks--just the same way we wouldn't have ended up with the iPhone or Amazon. Customers can only think in terms of what they have previously experienced, and that is typically not revolutionary.
The million-dollar answer
Here is the real answer to why we (the business/employees) feel we deliver customer service so much better than our customers perceive: we are not in our customers' shoes. The vast majority of customer-facing employees cannot relate to their customers. Many times they may have little in common with their customers. They might be of a different generation, quality of life, or most of all, never been a customer of the product or service they are selling. We do not relate to their reality. We are not and have never been them. And if you can't relate to someone else's situation or circumstances, it is impossible to have any kind of empathy with them. Without empathy, you lack compassion and creativity.
Walk in the customer's shoes
World-class service organizations teach their employees to view things from the customers' perspective. Remember, many employees have never been their own customer, have never needed the services and products their company provides, and cannot comprehend what the customer's mindset is. Therefore, they do not relate well and find it difficult to empathize, be compassionate, and anticipate customers' needs--all key to delivering the experience 80 percent of companies believe they provide.
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