Evolving customer satisfaction through brand authenticity
Written by Jeff Hall, David Robbins and Kerry Colligan
Does the experience ring true?.
You know what’s great about customer satisfaction management (CSM)? It gives brand managers something in their know-thy-customer toolbox. Using CSM to build a clearer understanding of the customer-brand interaction makes sense. Strong CSM programs do this fairly well. Weak initiatives usually consistently do not.
The marketing research industry has spent years in healthy debate over the myriad valid reasons why CSM is often an insufficient and at times misguided customer experience management tool (see related articles 20091003 and 20091007). To be clear, the purpose of this article is not to present yet another in-depth critique of CSM. Rather, it is simply built on the recognition that CSM often falls short by ignoring the dynamic process that creates the entirety of customer experience.
Customer perceptions are not created in a vacuum. They’re co-created by media, word of mouth, marketing, vast operational elements and other sources originating both inside and outside the organization (Brown, 2003). Since the organization participates in this process, its actions are critical. The intended and unintended activities a brand undertakes to shape and influence the experience necessarily impacts perception. It is this critical element that customer satisfaction measurement is unable to capture. Managers are often left wondering how their actions have impacted the customer experience and guessing what specific steps should be taken next.
Further, customer perception is often treated as reality. This isn’t the fault of CSM – managers must recognize this limitation – though often they do not. The focus on perceived experiences alone (without a holistic understanding of the customer experience) encourages decision-making that can often miss the mark.
We need not look any further than our own personal experiences to know that this is true. Think of a situation when your perception of an experience was inconsistent with another person’s. The fact that people can have vastly different individual interpretations of the same experience highlights the frequent disconnect that can occur between perception and actual experiences. There’s more going on than your personal perception. Each person’s interpretation of the experience reflects a perceived experience, while the actual experience usually lies somewhere in between.
Rather than manage to customer perception or continue to struggle with only half the tools needed, the authors recommend measuring and managing the actual elements of the customer experience with the same care as customer perception. Developing a clear understanding of the actual experience mitigates the risk that customer perceptions are inaccurate. Or biased. The actual experience allows organizations to understand how well their specific operational standards, and execution thereof, relate to customer perception. Without it, customers are much more likely to defect, as misguided strategies and tactics are implemented in naïve attempts to win them over.
One way to develop that understanding is through a mystery shopping program, which can bring the customer-level perspective to the process. This is helpful because organizations generally see the customer experience in complex procedural ways, while customers tend to view their experiences in much less detailed terms. Time restrictions aside, customers are generally unable or unwilling to provide accurate and reliable operational feedback. But assuming the program assesses the right measures, mystery shopping can provide detail that effectively coincides with and measures the implementation of organizational procedures.
In addition, as noted above, customer perceptions are often incorrect or biased. Recognizing that some bias exists in all measures, mystery shopping can reduce that bias by removing the emotional incentive to “enjoy” the experience. Further, proper statistical analysis of mystery shopping data leads to raw and adjusted findings that provide insight into any bias that does exist.