CX Mistake #7: Obsessing About Detractors

In this series of posts, we examine some of the top mistakes companies make in their customer experience management efforts. This post examines mistake #7: Obsessing about detractors. Customer experience programs often spend most of their time fixing problems so customers don’t dislike them, but they don’t spend enough time figuring out how to make customers love them.

It’s always important to create operating processes that deliver consistently good experiences. But consistency is a minimum requirement for strong brands. To make a deep connection with customers, experiences need to reinforce other key attributes of a brand. In a recent Temkin Group study, we found that only 14% of companies target campaigns at their brand promoters. Customer experience efforts aren’t purposely ignoring advocates, but the environment in which they operate pushes them in that direction. Here are some of the contributing factors:

  • Customer feedback overemphasizes problems. Customers are most articulate about their dislikes. In recent Temkin Group research, we found that 34% of US consumers give feedback to a company after a very bad experience, but only 21% did the same after a very good experience. So normal customer listening mechanisms push companies to focus on problems.
  • Understanding dissatisfaction does not help you understand loyalty. It might seem reasonable that focusing on dissatisfaction would help you learn about loyalty. But it turns out that the attributes that makes people unhappy are often not the same things that make them very happy. If the brakes in my car don’t work, then I’m very unhappy with the car. If my brakes work, then I don’t think about it. So companies often lack insight into what causes customers to become advocates.
  • Executives overreact to problems. When executives hear about a single customer issue, they often push hard on the organization to fix the problem. When they get feedback from a happy customer, they just say “great job” but don’t push their organization to make any changes. Over time, this creates a lot more energy towards fixing problems than towards creating customer advocates.
  • …and they don’t like talking about emotions. Customer experience is a combination of what consumers do, think, and feel. But executives are often more comfortable focusing on the most tangible items, what customers do and think. Given this bias, corporate plans inadvertently focus on creating satisfied customers, not engaged brand advocates.

Here are some tips for avoiding this mistake:

  • Create a stream of activity around advocacy building. You shouldn’t stop finding and fixing problems, but you need to make sure that you are also identifying and implementing things that create brand advocates. So establish a separate track of activity around “raving fans” so that it gets unique attention. 
  • Translate the brand into desired attitudes. Customer experience management efforts should create customer attitudes and behaviors that support business objectives. So make sure you explicitly describe the desired attitudes of customers that will reinforce your brand and use that information when you design and examine experiences.
  • Map your customer’s journey. One of the most effective tools for understanding how customers feel about your company is a customer journey map. If you don’t understand how customers view their interactions with you, then you won’t be able to turn them into advocates.
  • Use alternative research. Traditional market research approaches of surveys and focus groups can uncover what people like and dislike, but they may not uncover what people really desire. Why? Because customers can’t often articulate what they really desire. That’s why you should incorporate qualitative research techniques like contextual inquiry, shadowing, and journaling.
  • Infuse emotion in the design. Since experiences are made up of functional, accessible, and emotional attributes, it’s critical that customer experience designs incorporate all three attributes. Make sure you put desired feelings into the design requirements.
  • Don’t track average or net scores. While coming up with a single metric may be interesting, it blurs the distinction between really happy and really unhappy customers. Make sure you have a measurement and goal around really happy customers. If you’re using Net Promoter Score, for instance, start tracking promoters and detractors separately.

The bottom line: Design for love, not just for eliminating hate

Written by 

I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about leading-edge XM topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

3 thoughts on “CX Mistake #7: Obsessing About Detractors”

  1. Great post – I couldn’t agree more. Especially about the fact that the emotional element is often overlooked. I’ve had auditors in today looking at our feedback and the things they often focus on are all about process , metrics and detractors. I will share your post with them!

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