Ron Johnson is the Managing Director of Blueprint Creative Inc, a brand development firm based in Barbados. Blueprint Creative Inc and Antilles Economics recently collaborated to survey consumers about Customer Experience in Barbados. The following interview with Ron provides his perspective on the results.
We have just released the results of our Customer Experience Survey for Barbados. Did the results surprise you?
Because there is very little first-hand information on customer experience in the Barbados market, we weren’t sure what to expect. We viewed this survey more as a ‘starting point’ to form hypotheses about the impact of customer service on consumer behaviour. I can say, though, that we are very pleased that the survey uncovered a number of very useful insights about consumer behaviour in Barbados. This is exactly the type of research which Barbadian companies can use to better understand their customers and improve their customer service.
What made you reach out to Antilles Economics to conduct a national survey of customer experience for Barbados?
The study was driven by the need to provide our clients with Barbados-specific data on customer behaviour. Prior to this study, much of the data on customer experience was gleaned from other countries. We recognised that due to cultural differences between consumer markets, extrapolating data from one market to another may have resulted in incorrect assumptions about consumer behaviour on the island. We understood that conducting a national survey would help uncover insights about consumer behaviour that are specific to the Barbadian market. We also knew that these insights could be used to help our clients with their branding initiatives, so we were very excited about the project.
We specifically reached out to Antilles Economics because we recognised that the company has the industry experience and insight to conduct such a survey. In addition, Antilles Economics has an excellent reputation for professionalism and efficiency in all areas of research, market intelligence analysis and forecasting, so that also influenced our decision to partner with Antilles.
In your work on brand development, have you found a strong relationship between brand perceptions and customer service? Expand.
Yes. Generally, we’ve found that consumers that have experienced poor customer service tend to have a poor perception of the company providing that service. We’ve found this to be true even in cases where the service provider exceeded other customer expectations such as providing reasonable pricing for their products and services. In other words, in the eyes of customers, having a competitive pricing policy is no excuse for providing poor customer service.
How can companies improve their customer service perceptions in the eyes of consumers?
There are a number of ways in which companies can improve the levels of customer service across the organisation. An important first step is for companies to proactively launch initiatives that help them to truly understand their customers’ service expectations, preferences and pain points. Many customer service professionals refer to this as understanding the voice of the customer. Depending on the size of the company and the industry in which it operates, companies can use initiatives such as face-to-face interviews, focus groups, surveys, mystery shopper programmes and Information Technology (IT) solutions to better evaluate their levels of customer service. The options for listening to your customers are limitless and can be both qualitative and quantitative.
Another important step is to demonstrate to customers that the organisation is serious about customer service. If your initiatives reveal that customers have a legitimate customer service concern, acknowledge it and fix it. Once you’ve made a commitment to fixing the challenge, be sure to follow through. If you reassure the customer that you will improve the situation, but then do nothing, your brand reputation will take an even worse hit.
I also believe that it is also very important for companies to benchmark and emulate global organisations that are known for consistently delivering amazing customer service. You can simply run a Google search for “best customer service stories” and you’re sure to find some heartwarming and inspiring stories from some of the global leaders in customer service.
One of the findings of the survey was that a large percentage of consumers felt unable to switch from a company that they were not happy with. How do you believe this affects the company’s brand development and customer service activities?
Brands with customers who are unhappy and feel trapped should pay close attention to their customer service activities. Simply because they feel trapped, some consumers may become very critical of the company as they discuss the brand with their friends, family members or colleagues and may be able to influence their purchasing decisions. This can have a severe impact on the reputation of the brand. With companies who have monopoly status, there is also the possibility of a mass exodus of customers if the market eventually opens up.
There may also be another group of “trapped” consumers who simply throw their hands in the air in acceptance of their situation. This group may believe that since they are already locked in a long-term contract, their service provider may not feel the need to improve service to them and that their voices won’t have any impact. In this scenario, it may be more difficult for a business to improve its customer service if they are not receiving any upfront, honest feedback.
Both of the groups mentioned above can impact a brand’s development and the success of its customer service efforts. Organisations with customers who may feel trapped should be sure to embark in a number of proactive activities that will engage their customers and assist the brand in gathering the information relevant to improving its customer service experiences.
How does your organisation use this type of research?
As a branding company, we understand that consumers’ views on a company’s level of customer service can have a significant impact on its overall brand. The national survey uncovered a number of very useful insights into consumer behaviour in Barbados and consumers’ expectations on customer service. We plan to use these insights in at least two ways. Firstly, we will use the information to build a stronger Blueprint Creative brand. We will also use the insights to help our customers build stronger brands.
What are the main takeaways from the results that you would like Barbadian executives to be aware of?
A main takeaway for Barbadian executives is that dissatisfied consumers have a tendency to “leave brands without saying goodbye”. The survey uncovered that while a significant number of consumers are likely to switch to a competing brand due to poor service, they are less likely to register their dissatisfaction with management. This may lead to a scenario where customers have already switched to a competitor before management even realises that it has a customer service issue. This could be potentially devastating for companies as it may eventually lead to an exodus of customers before the company has had a chance to address the deficiencies in service. Management teams who are more proactive in monitoring their company’s levels of customer satisfaction may find themselves in a better position to use customer experience as a competitive advantage.
A second takeaway is that Barbadian consumers are highly likely to tell their friends, family members and colleagues about their customer experiences. Businesses who maintain high levels of customer satisfaction can benefit tremendously from (free) word-of-mouth marketing. At the other end of the spectrum, businesses with low levels of customer satisfaction will likely have to contend with having a brand that is tarnished in the marketplace.
To really benefit from these results, executives will need to remember that customer experience goes much deeper than activities such as employees being pleasant during interactions with clients. For instance, customers also want to interact with employees who have a deep understanding of the products and services being sold by the brand and who are empowered to solve customer problems without excessive red tape. Many other factors such as product pricing, after-sale follow-up and return policies can all influence customers’ opinion of the brand.
How would you advise executives to incorporate these findings into their customer service strategy?
These findings provide clear insight on how Barbadian consumers respond to high levels of customer service and also how they respond to low levels of customer service. The level of an organisation’s customer service can have a tangible impact on the organisation’s brand, and by extension, on its profit potential. For companies that value customer service and provide customer service training for employees, the findings can provide clarity on exactly why customer service is important to the organisation and why employees need to provide high levels of service.
Additionally, rather than seeing customer experience as a ‘bolt on’ module, leaders should incorporate their customer experience strategy into their overall business strategy. Every employee has a role to play in helping an organisation to constantly improve its levels of customer service. The company’s management should provide clarity on exactly how each customer can provide exceptional customer service. For this reason, customer experience needs to be championed at the organisation’s highest levels of leadership and should be cascaded and reinforced throughout the organisation.