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A regular blog offering insightful analysis of the latest in the business world from a researchers perspective.

  • Nick Bonney

Are you really listening?...

With the constant advances in the world of AI, it can sometimes feel that there’s always an automated barrier between an organisation and it’s customers. Whilst chatbots and automated FAQ’s can help deal with simple, transactional queries, for more complex issues, there can be no substitute for engaging directly with customers to understand how they’re really feeling.


I was pleasantly surprised this week therefore to be contacted directly by lighting brand, Industville, in response to a Trustpilot review that I had left. Not only did they thank me for the review but they were so interested in how people were engaging with their products that they wondered if I could send them some photos of where and how we’d used their lights. Oh, and they thanked me for leaving review by offering me a discount off a future purchase. As a customer, I can honestly say there’s no substitute for the personal touch.




This experience was still front of mind when Lovehoney made the headlines this week with the news of it’s first foray into bricks and mortar with a Christmas pop up in Covent Garden. Whilst most of the buzz in the marketing press (OK, that was a cheap shot but bear with me) surrounded speculation as to whether this signalled a more permanent shift into physical retail, the more interesting story for me was buried elsewhere in the launch PR.


Sarah Warby, Lovehoney’s CMO, described how they treated their customer base as ‘extended family’ and outlined how Lovehoney has two full time employees dedicated to reading all the customer forums and reviews. With nearly 250,000 reviews on the site, it’s refreshing to know that this is a brand that wants to listen and respond but also is so convinced of the importance of customer feedback that it is prepared to allocate dedicated resource to managing it.




For Lovehoney at least, the strategy of listening and putting customer feedback at the heart, seems to be working – the business has grown to over £100m in revenue and the founders have been able to take a step back, selling a majority stake to Telemost Capital. Undoubtedly, there’s a case of ‘right brand, right time’ as attitudes in society have become more liberal but it must be reassuring for investors to have customer feedback as a tailwind helping them along.


I think there are some great lessons for all of us in both of these examples...


1. LISTEN DON’T ASK


At a time where, unfortunately, much of the narrative around customer experience seems to value volume and speed of feedback over depth and understanding, both of these brands are genuinely interested in listening to their customers. Sending out thousands of e-mails from a ‘do not reply’ e-mail address may provide false comfort internally that you understand your customers but often, outside in, can create just the opposite impression.



That’s not to say there is no role for the customer satisfaction survey but the way the data is collected (both in terms of channel and mechanic) needs to feel appropriate to the interaction and also ensure the customer gets a chance to air what they want to say, not just what you want to hear. The in app rating systems of Uber and Caffe Nero feel right, for example. Whilst it seems ludicrous to think of getting an e-mail survey after every coffee or every cab ride, in other sectors there are brands doing just that.


2. AUGMENTED NOT ARTIFICIAL


The temptation is often for businesses to invest in a system instead of the human skills rather than as a compliment to them. I’m not decrying the value that technology can bring to understanding and measuring the customer experience but simply questioning whether many brands are using it in the right way. There is no doubt for example that the ability for Lovehoney to use rich text analytics on unstructured reviews or for Industville to be able to use image analytics to understand how customers are using their lights may add value. However, I’m a strong believer this needs to be as a compliment to the existing processes rather than replacing them i.e. how will this help the two employees who are reading all the reviews at Lovehoney deliver a better response to their customers or ensure a faster response from the business? A pretty dashboard is a means to an end not an end in itself.


3. CHANGE FOR GOOD


Whilst this feels like the most obvious one of all, the critical thing with both the Industville and Lovehoney examples is that they are actually doing something with the feedback. I know, crazy right? This seems so glib I’m almost loathe to write it but there are so many brands for whom this just isn’t the case. By way of example, BA send me a long, drawn out survey every couple of months it seems about my experience with the Executive Club. Being a survey geek, I religiously fill it out and tell them the reasons why I have slipped down their membership tiers, why I hardly fly BA anymore and why EasyJet honestly seems just as good for short haul. There’s never any response nor any sign that things are changing as a result. Of course BA is not alone in this but many customer satisfaction programmes feel like a relationship where a needy partner constantly asks what you want to do but goes ahead and does what they were going to do anyway…


Constantly listed in the top 10 ‘buzz’ topics in reports like the GRIT report, customer experience is one of the few areas of research where companies are investing against a backdrop of declining research budgets (according to the IPA). If we’re to avoid the bubble bursting, it’s critical we don’t take our eyes of the real prize - building brands by listening, engaging and responding to our customers. A metric for metric’s sake achieves nothing…

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