Should we be educating our customers?

education

To what extent should a business attempt to educate its customers?

Historically, many businesses have taken it upon themselves to try and educate their customers about their products and services. From pensions to paracetamol, most products come with some form of impenetrable instruction manual that customers are expected to read in order to understand what they have purchased.

Attempts to educate customers often stem from a desire to minimise complaints and bad press by managing their expectations. Sometimes a business needs to educate customers about why their request might not be in their best interest – particularly in an increasingly high tech environment. Those 100-page policy documents might make sense to the underwriters, but they will mean very little to the customer who needs a 1-page summary in jargon-free language.

 

We don’t need no education

But do these attempts to educate customers work in an era where the customer resorts to an internet search as soon as they have a problem or query? Prior to the Internet (remember that?), the business was the trusted source of knowledge. But the speed at which knowledge is now created and shared makes it increasingly difficult for a business to manage its knowledge effectively.

The employee responsible for doing the educating may themselves never have experienced the problem that a customer is facing, leading to a perceived lack of authenticity. And, rightly or wrongly, the customer often believes that the best person to ask for advice is another customer rather than a representative of the company.

The problem of educating customers is just as difficult for B-2-B as for B-2-C. For example, business A may procure a new product from business B, but there is a significant danger that the former can overload the latter with too much training and documentation. However, if business A holds back on educating business B about the full range of options afforded by its new purchase, it may be accused of not delivering value for money.

Changes made by third-parties also cause a headache, as Facebook’s decision to start auto-playing videos demonstrated. When a large number of mobile customers found they were suddenly consuming more of their data allowance, they accused their mobile providers of over-charging them. And in some cases, it was the customers who first informed the mobile operators of the problem – the customers were ‘educating’ the business.

So do businesses have a responsibility to push information to customers to inform them of such changes? Should customers have to opt in to or opt out of these ‘helpful’, paternalistic communications?

 

Who should be educating whom?

In a hyperconnected era, the flow of information between company and customer is dynamic. Knowledge is no longer the exclusive possession of the company: the customer can – and should – educate the company just as much as the company educates the customer.

How? This mutually beneficial relationship can be developed by making customer communities as integral to a business as the board, the finance department, and the sales team. Customer communities and forums are a largely untapped resource, and businesses should be employing more open business models to co-evolve with their customer communities – incorporating their feedback and insights into both problem-solving and product development.

For what purpose? The answer is: to build confidence. We attempt to educate customers to give them the confidence to make better decisions about our products and services. Our customers can do the same for us – their feedback gives the company the confidence that everything is aligned and working as it should be.

The networked era is changing the role of the organisation from an ‘all-knowing parent’ to a ‘trusted advisor’. Trust and confidence are increasingly integral to brand value, and there is great value for organisations in making this transition. But navigating this change requires businesses to treat customers as adults, and be prepared to demonstrate greater trust, openness and authenticity.

Our customers can help to educate us and are prepared to do so, but only if we are prepared to listen and respond with the same objective: to increase understanding and build confidence.

Source : The QoE discussions November 2016 ‘Should we be educating our customers?’

Using complaints to justify and drive action

By viewing complaints as another form of contact, organisations can change their attitudes and helps businesses extract information to guide improvements. But there is a difference between learning from and responding to complaints – do we need formally to separate these activities?

Many organisations separate product and service failure to simplify root cause analysis. Making product managers responsible for fixes also enhances proactive actions.

It is imperative to find ways for information from complaints to flow, rather than trickle, though an organisation. Inadequate policy communications with customers and staff is often the root cause of complaints – clarity and simplification are recommended.

What can be learned from a complaint may not be in proportion to the severity or escalation route of an individual case – care must be taken not to overreact or prioritise.

  • Do we measure and learn from complaints that don’t require further action?
  • What do we do with positive ‘complaints’ or the positive elements of a complaint?

Simple reporting is most effective, especially when accompanied  by real example. And beware of complaints that are dismissed or filed for another day, their accumulative effect may hold the key to what next and how.

From The QoE, May 2012, ‘What Next, and How?’

Why we need to be consistent

What do we mean by a ‘consistent customer experience?’ A consistent customer experience for whom? And for what purpose?

Which elements of the experience can be constant across products, service and geographical boundaries?

What is the motivation for consistency? Easy to manage, better cost control, increased efficiency
or improvement in outcomes?

Delivering a consistent experience is often seen as a major objective, but what do we actually mean. Alignment of cross channel information, delivering to brand promise, service recovery or complaint resolution? Should we be looking at tone of voice or meeting emotional needs of the customer? Perhaps the desire for consistency is actually a strategy to help us understand complex situations and issues.

Some key questions

  • What would our customers see as consistent? How can we identify and articulate it?
  • Has the desire for consistency increased the net effort as we try to be consistent rather than agile?
  • Shouldn’t we be striving to meet individual needs? If so, are there consistent elements or themes?
  • Consistency does not always mean repeatability. Can we generate a consistently surprising experience?

Ultimately, consistency and simplicity would seem to go hand in hand.

From The QoE, May 2013, ‘Consistency’

Delivering confident customer experience

Few things are as compelling as confidence to inspire engagement, trust, and decision making, and to drive actions. A weak or overly defensive proposition is easily recognised and challenged.  The implications for the development of customer experience are significant and seem to fall into the following categories:

Externally

  • Brand / product and service propositions
  • Customer service interaction
  • Complaint resolution
  • Measurement and insight

Internally

  • Board and shareholder support
  • Leadership
  • Cross function engagement
  • The ability to drive action
  • The performance of customer facing staff

Perhaps unusually for customer experience development, the internally focused issues are more important than the external. On too many occasions CX practitioners adopt, or are forced into, a defensive position that quickly infiltrates relationships at all levels, and then  on to customers.

What is the root cause?

  • Has the strategic or tactical ROI yet to be proven?
  • Is the proposition too simple or too complex?
  • Are the rewards perceived to be too distant from expenditure and or/effort?
  • Is the emotional element too difficult for organisations to understand and accept?

Should we include – or return to – the moral, values and professional standards approach?
Trust is built on exposing vulnerability. Perhaps organisations and us as individuals have become too risk adverse, or selfish. It is also possible that over-reliance on tangible measures and targets is the problem.

Evidence from recent school and hospital problems would support this view. It may be as simple as the desire to remove cost and drive profit has gone too far. Everyone will have their views and, in sharing their experiences, will draw their own conclusions and come to their own solutions.

From The QoE, March 2013, ‘Developing the Confidence to Deliver a Trustworthy Customer Experience’

Using the tools provided by science

Personality profiling is undoubtedly one of customer experience’s most commonly used tools ‐ however recent evidence shows that it should come with a warning.

The good side of profiling is undoubtedly its ability to raise awareness of the differences, strengths and weaknesses that helps the majority to be more understanding of others’ needs and improves influencing skills.

The not so good is the potential for some of the more dominant and single minded amongst us to use this as further evidence that ‘this is the way they are’ and they cannot change. Even more worrying is that this is often accepted.

Another area where science is at odds with common practice is leadership, management and team building.  All three desperately need to be reviewed and brought up‐to‐date in many of our leading organisation, as our present day understanding of motivations, behaviours and leadership highlights some current practices as having their roots in the industrial revolution.

Science also gives us the ability to understand one of the fundamental debates in experience management. Do we use hard evidence or gut reaction to guide our thoughts and decision? The answer would appear to be gut reaction (intuitive thinking) but only when we have been exposed to sufficient experiences and evidence. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell is a good source of knowledge on this subject.

The challenge for customer experience practitioners is that we may have  the ability to make intuitive decisions where others don’t.

Strategies that may help in this regard are increasing the exposure of others to experiences and evidence, but also by building trust and alliances through inclusive pilots and trials.

From The QoE, September 2012, ‘Tools of the Trade’

Note: A good read on viral change is The Alternative to Slow, Painful and Unsuccessful Management of Change in Organisations by Leandro Herrero.