The Power Report: 12 tips I learnt from listening to consumers
by Megan Power (@Power_Report) Listicles. I’m not a fan. And it’s not just the annoying word blend that in my mind, at least, conjures up a mix of popsicles, stalagmites and at least one unmentionable. No, it’s the whiff of clickbait that’s always sparked unease.
Deluge of competing content
But list-based articles (first popularised by digital news and entertainment outlets like Huffington Post and Buzzfeed) work. Little wonder — the title instantly lets people know what to expect; it’s a boon for seasoned skim-readers; and a blessing for time-starved audiences overwhelmed by a deluge of competing content.
I’ve given in this time, not because listicles are an easy way out when faced with writing a 1000-odd word piece (they’re not) but because I’d like to show, with the ease of a few select bullet points, just how simple it is to keep customers relatively happy. There are detailed, in-depth pieces on customer experience (CX) out there. This isn’t one of them. This is a lean to-do list, an old-fashioned pull-out-and-keep guide.
Many organisations, despite the best intentions, don’t invest much in customer experience. They either don’t understand the importance of it or. if they do, they fear the costs involved and aren’t convinced of the impact on the bottom line. They also tend to overthink the issue. This brief listicle is for them. It’s also for every CEO, business owner, marketing director, customer experience officer, insights manager, technology boss, innovation leader, head strategist, creative director, and user experience team who claims to put the customer first.
What business should do — the list
So, here’s a summary of what thousands of SA consumers, who shared their frustrations with me daily over six long years as a consumer columnist, would like business to do:
- When you’re done listening, listen some more. If you can’t grasp what your focus groups and customer insights are revealing, frame the question differently until you do; don’t just shrug and move on. Far too often, I see insights managers “getting” what a customer survey was trying to tell them only when I later raise the same problem during customer-journey testing. This brings me neatly to my second point:
- Test your journey or processes routinely, either internally or independently. Whatever route you take, customers want you to feel exactly what they do. So, get into a customer’s shoes and see how much you enjoy the walk. It’s illuminating and, in my experience, usually produces quick wins.
- Communicate in plain language —ditch the jargon, acronyms and clichés. Use a customer’s vocabulary, not the company’s. Besides, it’s against the law to communicate so poorly that your customers don’t understand. Test communications against how you speak to your mother, spouse, co-worker in everyday conversation. Do you talk about a vehicle or a car? Mortgage or homeloan? Do you buy bread or purchase it? Do you “leave no stone unturned”? Really? And nonsense like “Have a good day further” must go, along with infuriating platitudes like “sorry for the inconvenience” just after you’ve mistakenly drained half a customer’s bank account. Same goes for acronyms: you may well spend your day talking ABXs, and TRBs and PDCs but leave them at the door.
- Take customers into your confidence. Explain why certain policies are in place, even if it’s a little uncomfortable. Customers want to be levelled with from the get-go. Don’t expect customers to be reasonable if you aren’t transparent. There are many different ways to share pertinent info with your customers. Be creative. Be pro-active.
- Don’t draw up company policies on the basis your customers are crooks looking to abuse the system. Some are but not the majority. Create fair policies with the majority’s interests in mind.
- Know who your customers are. Don’t design products and rules based on the needs of millennials and then wonder why your over-60s balk at them. When they do, respect them enough to admit the oversight and rework the plan. Customers will feel heard and love you for it.
- Make your websites useful — and functional. Don’t force customers to complete 10 different steps, when two would do, just to find the information they’re after. Design your tools so they’re easily accessible and customers don’t have to jump through hoops to use them. Too many organisations boast large user-experience (UX) departments but their websites and process designs are atrocious. What are these UX teams doing all day? Remember, too, to design for mobile, which is where customers increasingly access your content.
- Whatever channels (call centre, email, social media, chatbots) are used for customer queries or complaints, make sure they work. Timeously. The days of “we will respond in 2–3 days” are long gone. Be honest, too. If your turnaround time is still 12–24 hours, say so. Then make sure you stick to it.
- Keep your labelling and marketing honest. Customers don’t like to feel misled. It’s a trust thing.
- Design simple loyalty programmes that don’t require huge effort. And don’t change the goalposts halfway through. Get it right before you launch.
- Know the basics of the Consumer Protection Act. This applies to the CEO down. The act has been around for more than eight years now; nobody can plead ignorance. It’s shameful that some savvy consumers know more about its provisions than business itself. A particular message to retailers with rigid, non-compliant “Refund notices” up in their stores: take them down until you can get them right. You’re confusing shoppers and showing contempt for not only the letter of the law but its spirit.
- Lastly, learn some humility. Say sorry. The long-mocked catchphrase in the 1970s movie, Love Story, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” doesn’t sit well in 2019 either. Wronged consumers want to see businesses fall on their swords. Rightly so. Besides, they’re certain never to see it in local politics, so humour them.
It’s not an exhaustive list; far from it. But it suggests organisations don’t need service champions, or the appointment of customer experience officers, to start getting the bare minimum right. They just need the will — and perhaps the odd listicle or two.
Megan Power (@Power_Report) has nearly 30 years’ experience working in South African media, including investigative journalism and news editing; she now runs Power LAB, a strategic communications and customer experience agency focusing on customer journey audits, crisis readiness and brand reputation. Megan’s consumer column, The Power Report, ran weekly in the Sunday Times for six years and has now found a new home on MarkLives.