Customer Experience News & Trends

Surveys are good, but this is better

Surveying is a must if you want to improve the customer experience. But this is an even better approach:

Get out and talk to customers face-to-face. Regularly.

Anyone who’s been in the customer experience industry for even a short time knows that surveys don’t garner the most reliable feedback. Response rates are low. And actual responses are generic.

Face-to-face conversations garner real emotions, candid feedback and a loyalty-building interaction.

Who’s doing it now

It’s an approach Ford Motor Company has used in recent years with much success.

“Externally we have sources like J. D. Powers, Consumer Reports, Strategic Reports, and we also have sources of internal data,” Dan Lymburner, Ford’s Americas product development quality manager, has said. “Ford has a lot of smart people who can plot out the data, put it into Pareto charts, and slice it up, but until you really understand what the customer means when they check a box or the words they write down [in a survey], it’s really not very impactful. The face-to-face gives us much more visceral feedback.”

About four times a year, a variety of people from different areas within Ford — engineering, parts specialists, assembly professionals, salespeople and marketers — go out to meet with customers. They hit lots of areas where Ford has a presence so they can get a feel for varying needs in different areas.

Getting a broad view has helped them make improvements that impact customers. For instance, when they recognized that customers in cold climates wanted everything — seats, steering wheels, windows, floors, dashboards! — heated, they created a Cold Weather Dealer Council that could address cold-climate issues.

There’s no scripted conversations for the weekend customer meetings, although they do ask customers about what they like and what’s not working so well. Then they watch as customers use Ford vehicles.

“Although surveys at the dealership, along with customer service calls and analyzing social conversation, are great ways to stay connected with customers, good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation — even in the year 2015 — is still invaluable,” Lymburner said.

What you can do well

While meeting with customers is a powerful tool, we aren’t suggesting that you abandon surveys. They’re still the most convenient way to get feedback. But when you do meet with customers, follow these best practices:

  • Listen for tone. You’ve probably said or heard a half-hearted “good” or “fine” when a waiter asked, “How was everything?” — and knew that it wasn’t good or fine. Like that restaurant encounter, customers will tell you in face-to-face conversations that things are fine, but a half-hearted tone will speak more clearly. When you get an unenthusiastic response, probe more. Ask specifics, “What would you change about …?” “What don’t you like about …?”
  • Watch. Ask customers to use your products or services as they would one their own, and watch them. Look for what goes smoothly and when they hit glitches, even the glitches they don’t recognize as problems, but things you never intended to happen with the product or service. Note features they don’t use — and ask why to find out if they need to be better educated on them or if they’re not useful.
  • Introduce. Take your ideas to customers, whether they’re already created or still in development. When possible, have them try products or services and give feedback before launch. If new things are still concepts, find out what they like about the idea and what could be better — or not done at all.

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