CX Insight Magazine

April 2022

CX Research: Filling In The Gaps

Using customer experience (CX) research to better understand consumer behavior, opinion, and preferences.

by Execs In The Know

In October 2021, Execs In The Know released an entirely new and comprehensive research series, CX Leaders Trends & Insights. Unique to this research is its publication in two distinct volumes: a Consumer Edition and a Corporate Edition. While each provides insights into the experiences, opinions, and perspectives of each volume’s target cohort, the Corporate Edition contains a special section dedicated to identifying alignments and disconnects between the two groups (i.e., consumers and the CX leaders who serve them).

In this article, we’ll examine some of the more profound disconnects between the two volumes of research, examining where consumer and CX leader opinions and perspectives diverge, as well as highlighting a couple points of alignment.

The fact of the matter is, CX leaders can only create effective change within their organizations if armed with a deeper understanding of the consumers they serve. More specifically, CX leaders should seek to understand their specific customers, as well as the current experience provided by their brand. While CX research (including the likes of the CX Leaders Trends & Insights series) might not always tell the complete story, it can provide some broad-stroke clues about where consumers are at in their thinking, where they’ll be next, and what they expect as they make the transition.

With that, let’s have a look at what the data is saying, and start to fill in some of the gaps, starting with where consumer and corporate perspective diverge.

The Disconnects

1. Consumers Want Fair and Honest Treatment Above All Else

Let’s start with what’s most important to consumers when dealing with large brands to resolve a customer care issue.

What’s most striking about this consumer-based result is the consistency in three years’ worth of surveying data. Not only do the responses of “Fair and Honest Treatment” and “A Quick and Easy Process” consistently top the list (and by a rather wide margin), but the former maintains a steady, albeit slight, edge each time. Plainly said, consumers want their customer care dealings with brands to be fair, quick, and easy. Everything else related to the experience is but a second-tier consideration.

So, how does this compare with the perspectives of CX leaders when they are asked to speculate on what’s most important to their customers?

Clearly, there is a noteworthy disconnect. While CX leaders correctly estimate the important of “A Quick and Easy Process,” they entirely miss the importance of providing a specifically “Fair and Honest Treatment” to their customers. But what does “Fair and Honest Treatment” mean exactly, and how can brands ensure they are delivering on this customer expectation?

Like so much related to CX, almost every valuable, actionable insight starts with data. If brands want to understand what “fair and honest” treatment means to their customers, they should start with their Voice of the Customer (VoC) data, including surveys, contact-based voice and text analytics, and Quality Assurance program data. Frontline staff can also be a valuable source for insights into what might feel broken or unfair to customers.

Begin with examining company policies and procedures, and always approach things from the customer’s perspective. When specific issues are identified, quantify the current impact, calculate the cost of changing course, and measure the delta between the two. It’s often the case that CX leaders will quickly discover the cost of doing nothing is far greater than working to remedy the situation. It’s also true that company policies can be quite flexible once leadership and other areas of the business are brought up to speed about the impact of a particular policy and its impact on the overall customer experience.

2. Consumers Still Want Help from Other People

Self-help solutions have come a long, long way since the first commercial use of an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system in the early 1970s. Furthermore, the past decade has seen an explosion of innovation, including more advanced mobile applications, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots, user-friendly knowledge bases, and other “smart” solutions. Moreover, the onset of the global pandemic in 2020 has served to only accelerate these developments, resulting in a slew of companies bootstrapping and fast-tracking self-help solution projects.

But is this what consumers really want? Have a look:

So, the answer is “Yes,” to a very limited degree. In fact, only 15% of consumers would prefer a self-help solution above either the Voice- or Text-Based help of a person, all other things being equal. But where do CX leaders think consumers are in terms of their preference for self-help versus Voice- or Text-Based help from a human?

Almost half of CX leaders think their customers would prefer to use a self-help solution, a three-fold disconnect from the consumer edition results. Perhaps this outcome isn’t too surprising given the fact that CX leaders have insights into metrics like contact volume flow, deflection and resolution rates, and cost-per-contact, all helping to shape a story. Consumers, on the other hand, only have their most recent experience using a self-help solution. Given the above disconnect, that’s exactly where CX leaders should be focusing their attention when it comes to self-help solutions: the experience. Are the self-help solutions provided by a brand easily accessible, simple to use and, above all else, effective at resolving a range of issues?

Even if a brand checks all the boxes on the aforementioned attributes, it’s also important to understand that adoption takes time. But that’s not the only headwind. A single bad experience has a far greater impact than a single good experience, and many consumers are formulating their opinions on self-help solutions based not on their experiences with the solution of a single brand, but based on their experiences with the self-help solutions of all brands. In other words, consumer opinions are, in large part, being shaped by the lowest common denominator — their least pleasant experience with a self-help solution, regardless of industry or brand. To combat these perceptions, brands must make sure their self-help solutions are optimized to meet the expectations of their customers, and the proper amount of resources need to be devoted to setting realistic expectations by educating customers on things like self-help solution use cases and limitations. If brands can evolve their self-help solutions to be easy to use, and are effective at solving for a wide range of issues, customers will come around in terms of their preferences.

These are just two of the disconnects highlighted in the Consumer Comparison section of the CX Leaders Trends & Insights: 2021 Corporate Edition report. But disconnects weren’t the only interesting dynamics to have emerged. There were also several points of alignment. Here are a couple of the more harmonious results between the perspectives of consumers and CX leaders.

Points of Alignment

1. Above All Else, Brands Should Focus on the Customer Care Experience

Time, attention, and money are all finite resources. While the priorities of an organization may be many, the simple fact of the matter is there can only be so many areas of focus. So, where should brands direct their limited resources in improving a particular aspect (or experience) inclusive of the overall customer experience?

Let’s see what consumers think:

By and large, consumers point to the Customer Care Experience as the place where brands should focus their limited improvement efforts. What’s even more telling is that this has consistently been the case since the question was first asked of consumers in 2017.

Granted, Customer Care is typically a more complex and nuanced engagement than either a Purchase or Shopping Experience, let alone the Ownership Experience (the experience of simply owning a product or utilizing a service). It’s probably also true that there is not as much leeway for brands to differentiate when it comes to the Purchase and/or Shopping Experience. It is typically the case that innovations are quickly and widely adopted. In fact, the Shopping and Purchase Experience has, in many ways, been standardized and commoditized. Nonetheless, consumers are certain in their opinion of where brands should focus.

But where do CX leaders think consumers stand on this topic?

Although this question was first asked of CX leaders in 2021 (so there is only a single point of data), corporate respondents were quite accurate in their estimation of consumer opinion. Yes, the fact that it is CX leaders answering this question (as opposed to marketing or product leaders) is certainly a factor, which may explain the slight overestimation. That said, who better to understand the business impacts of investing time, attention, and resources into improving the Customer Care Experience?

While there is no shortage of data connecting the dots between excellent customer care (as expressed by high CSAT and NPS scores) with things like brand loyalty and repeat business, the consumer’s stated perspective also holds value. In other words, if leadership needs more convincing when it comes to investing in customer care, it’s reassuring to have data that points back to the consumer’s desire for an improved Customer Care Experience, above all else.

2. Receiving Good Customer Care Does, In Fact, Lead to Loyal Customers

As demonstrated in the previous Point of Alignment, the Customer Care Experience matters a great deal to consumers. While the survey results don’t explicitly point to customer loyalty as a byproduct of receiving great customer care, it’s certainly implied. Luckily, both consumers and CX leaders were asked a much more poignant question on the matter of loyalty.

Here’s how they responded, respectively:

It is important to distinguish the fact that in this pairing, unlike the others, CX leaders weren’t asked to estimate the thoughts and opinions of consumers. They were, in fact, asked to express their own opinion on the matter. This detail aside, it’s clear that both consumers and CX leaders are in close alignment about the importance of the Customer Care Experience in determining customer loyalty. In fact, more than half of all consumers and CX leaders “Strongly Agree” that good customer care results in very loyal customers.

Though it should be no surprise that 0% of CX leaders would either “Strongly Disagree” or “Disagree” with the statement, there was remarkably low disagreement among consumers as well. This should serve to provide organizations with plenty of kindling to fuel the notion that investing in a better customer care experience is a smart long-term business strategy. Why? Simply put, generating higher rates of loyalty pays dividends, and in multiple ways.

First, it’s far more profitable to retain existing customers versus recruiting new ones. In fact, some research puts the cost of attracting a new customer at as much as five times the cost of retaining an existing customer.

Second, given the competitive nature of current markets and razor-thin margins across categories, customer loyalty is simply rarer and more difficult to earn than in decades past. Customers can no longer be forever won by a single aspect of the overall customer experience, be it price, product quality, or quality of care. All aspects of the customer experience, from shopping to buying to owning, must be polished and meet constantly evolving customer expectations, often shaped from experiences that cut across verticals. For this reason, the stakes are much higher today.

Consumers are now in the business of benchmarking every customer experience against the best customer experiences they’ve had. For instance, consumers might ask themselves, “If an airline can create an easy-to-use app where I can book my flight and get in touch with customer care, why can’t my favorite retailer do the same?” In this way, brands are no longer competing within their segment, but are instead competing against providers of the best customer experience across all verticals. Without understanding this and making the proper investments to compete within this reality, brands might be putting themselves at an immense competitive disadvantage. Clearly, CX leaders already understand this and, undoubtedly, they are doing their part to help the wider organization catch on. Hopefully, this and other CX-related research can help smooth out that effort.

Want More CX Research?

Although this article focuses on some of the more interesting comparatives between the 2021 Consumer and Corporate Editions of the CX Leaders Trends & Insights series, in truth, this article only scratches the surface. Together, the CX Leaders Trends & Insights: 2021 Consumer and Corporate Edition reports pack nearly 140 pages of survey results, analysis, and exclusive Practitioner Perspectives.

To download digital copies of the research discussed in this article, as well as gain access to other CX-related research, please visit the Execs In The Know CX Research Library.


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