One of my favorite parts about December are the year’s “Best of” compilations and crystal ball predictions for next year. Does anyone ever checkup on how the year played out? I came across a January blog post “Top 13 Trends for 2013” by the Temkin Group and was pleasantly surprised by how accurate Bruce’s crystal ball is! This year has seen a surge in Customer Success Managers and VPs as companies continue to recognize the importance of delighting the customer. In B2B businesses, customer success is definitely a key ingredient to profitable growth. And although we have become more attached to our mobile devices than ever, the need to nurture relationships is still very much a necessity—and perhaps an opportunity!
Let’s see how a few of the year’s predicted trends panned out and how 2014 may shape up.
1.Decline of surveys
We always think of “survey” as a dirty word since it doesn’t convey the desire to put someone’s opinion into action but rather sounds like a waste of time with little to no impact. I’m not surprised to see this on the list for 2013 for that very reason. But it’s still a necessary evil to collect valuable insights. Moving into 2014, I think it’s clear that B2B companies need to do two things. 1) Clearly communicate that the data collected from this survey will indeed be put into action, and 2) Recognize the need to manage the number and quality of surveys (and their questions) sent out while still collecting the most information along the customer journey. Instead, consider informally collecting feedback in other ways like taking notes during phone conversations and at other touchpoints. Account managers who make note of a customer comment in a CRM system that is properly maintained by management can be a strategic way to track customer needs and requests. Some companies have online forums where customers can submit suggestions for product/service ideas and others vote on its importance to let management know how big of an impact that feature could have on customer success. There are many ways to engage your customers other than surveys to solicit feedback.
When you do deploy a questionnaire (via a survey process), the key is to design the questions to elicit valuable insights that matter both externally to the customer and internally to multiple departments to drive action. If 2013 did see a decline in surveys, it wasn’t for lack of thirst for feedback, but because companies are getting smarter in how they collect insights. My prediction for 2014 is that companies will continue to evolve and get smarter about which questions they ask and how often they ask them. Because they need to.
2. Rise of text analytics
2013 was a banner year on Google Trends for searches on “text analytics” and the sheer rise in text analytic-focused conferences in the past couple years is also a good indication that this is a burgeoning practice in both B2B and B2C. In a recent study by the Temkin Group, the large majority of companies with VoC programs have trouble acting on insights. Text analytics can help managers understand which areas are “bright spots” and which areas are pain-points for customers. Many surveys are flawed by design and don’t ask the right questions that matter to customers. Verbatim responses may lead your Customer Success team to the hot button issue that the exact questions didn’t cover. Such a tool can help find valuable insights on customer sentiment and product use while being cost effective as well. In addition, regularly trolling social media sites for company mentions with software like HootSuite or Amplicate are easy ways to keep text analytics going through the year in between survey waves. With the need for customer insights and the amount of data being collected, I don’t think text analytics is going away any time soon.
This is a no-brainer; people are using their smartphones and tablets more and more. But I would argue that unless you have an app that functions as a separate arm of your product/service, most B2B customers are not using their phone to do business with you. This graph provided by Smart Insights shows the breakdown of cell phone use as of June 2013. According to this study, most mobile users are utilizing apps on their phone for social networking, games and entertainment more than anything. Productivity is only 2% of the mobile experience, and I would guess consists of checking emails during a morning commute on public transit or other weekday “down time.”
As far as customer feedback programs are concerned, your survey platform should definitely be scaled to easily deploy a mobile questionnaire to collect insights. As long as the questionnaire is short and to the point (which is should be anyway), providing a smooth mobile feedback experience could help increase response rates, especially for high level executives and decision makers who are doing business on the go.
4. Anticipatory service
We recently posted an article on research from the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA) about how the most successful companies understand current customer needs and track future needs. Most companies ultimately want to be able to do this but it’s not always clear on how to do it. The concept is easy: Listen to your customers. In practice, it can be a bit more confusing. I think the use of text analytics, discussed above, is one great way to integrate listening easily into your business (provided you have sufficient volume of comments – often a problem in B2B business). Creating a partnership through a two-way dialogue with your customers to properly understand why/how/when they need you before you go-to-market is the best way to increase loyalty. Abandon one-way messaging we often see from companies and simply ask your customer what they need from you. Starting here is the only way to strive toward anticipatory service. A great recent example is the “Mayday” button on the new Kindle Fire HDX. Amazon, a company notorious for requesting feedback, understood that customers need help quickly to resolve issues and added a live video chat function with an Amazon Support rep. While this is technically a B2C example, this kind of real-time problem solving could easily become commonplace in B2B product/service launches in 2014 and beyond.
2013 has been a great year for the CX industry, I can’t wait to see what 2014 holds for customer success– What are your predictions for 2014?