‘Listening’ Is Golden — A Customer Experience Interview

Customer stories can help us to understand more clearly what sort of an image our customers have of a product; this is the core belief of Ákos Tolnai, Managing Director of AbilityMatrix. AbilityMatrix is a company working to map and illustrate the elusive experiences of the customer in a highly transparent way.

- How can one even define what the concept of customer experience is, where it starts and where it ends?

- There is a popular view that the picture evolving in the mind of a customer during interactions is the experience, and much effort is focused on shaping this. I think it is a much broader concept, and basically it could include anything related to the brand or the product. It is part of the customer’s experiences if a car with a company logo forces its way in front of us on the road. Brand value has been measured and researched for a long time. This is done with explicit, directed questions. However, customer experience is a feeling that cannot be explored properly with traditional methods alone.

- Does the experience have the same effect everywhere? For which companies is it more important to pay attention to this?

- This is most important for industries that are marketing-based; this include cosmetics, fashion, and consumer products. With these products, people are interested in the results: a powder either washes well or not, but no real experience is connected to it. There is hardly any noticeable difference in quality among the competing products. Here, advertising plays a large role and the marketing budget will decide what will be successful. In contrast, for product-based industries, emotions play a far greater role. If a phone is said to be fast, its multi-core processor will not matter, because if Facebook loads slowly on it, people will be dissatisfied. Many different advertising messages can be invented for the first group, for example: how good the new washing powder is because of some special molecules. While this may be convincing for them, the result isn’t the same for the second group For them, the experience comes from the real product. The users’ experiences decide how positive or negative this may be.

- There are established methods for the measurement of brand value, but how can experiences and thoughts be surveyed and detected?

- There are many things that can be quantified by research, but the problem with the widespread quantitative tests is that it is easy to influence their results with the questions themselves. Just one example: if someone has to evaluate on a scale of 1 to 10 from good to bad, or vice versa, there will be totally different scores. Even the most thorough quantitative research is difficult to put to use. An easier tool is sentiment analysis, which is carried out almost exclusively via online researches. In our experience, stories are the best way to understand customer experiences. In order to do that, you need to sit down and talk to the customers: in person the respondents almost always share true and fair stories, which is less likely to happen in writing, for example in online surveys. In such stories the most important experiences are always first to be mentioned. Often it is very surprising what kind of experiences shape the relationship with a brand. It is important to examine not only the first relationships, but also the customer’s journey: for example, the customer looked up the company’s website because of an advertisement seen in the street, and they developed an interest in the product due to a sponsored celebrity or seeing it at their neighbours’. If we manage to understand this, we can truly understand why customers will be loyal to the company in the long run.

- How can a company set out to find out about the expected experiences?

- First, questions have to be asked: if you sell cars, you must consider not just getting from A to B, but also how: fast, comfortably, or safely does this happen? Our Ability Matrix model helps to connect the expected content and the service elements to the feelings evoked. Each product consists of many elements, and these provoke different emotions, and if they can be evaluated clearly, in development those can be concentrated, increasing our odds for success. For example, it is not certain that new functions need to be added: fewer may actually have more success. No one cares what the bandwidth of their Internet connection is: people are interested in the mobile internet not breaking up, so this should be in focus. Tesla Motors realized that it is not a car but some quasi spacecraft that needs to be sold: their vehicles are equipped with all kinds of high-tech solutions and accelerate incredibly at the push of a button. They do not compete with other cars: they play in another league.

- How much are people willing to pay to be provided services by companies according to their expectations?

- An excellent example of this is small corner shops: they are much more expensive than supermarkets, but shoppers wanting proximity and promptness still choose them. It can be seen that companies that understand emotions and expectations can always ask for more, since in their case, price is not a competition factor. You can always find one or two expectations, which may make the service better than the competitors’ offerings and for which customers are willing to pay more. Although many say that here in Hungary only a few people have the money to buy more expensive products, it works similarly everywhere in the world: if a company meets real expectations, there will be a demand at a higher price. The other model only works as long as someone starts to offer something better a bit more expensive.

- To what extent can a company be made to switch to customer experience-based thinking? Can this be done without commitment?

- According to legend, during a visit to the NASA Space Center, President Kennedy asked a janitor what he was doing and he replied he was helping to put a man on the Moon. This mentality is the main thing: commitment needs to be felt throughout the company. At Zappos online shoe shop, customer service doesn’t minimize call length but instead solves problems and asks personal questions — If a cat can be heard in the background, the staff will ask what it is called. They also give customers the option to return shoes free of charge, thus managing to gain the trust and loyalty of online shoppers. The content and the emotions definitely need to be connected, without this, one cannot succeed in the long run.

The original interview appeared in Figyelő Trend by Peter Bucsky, 2015 november. This translation and republishing is made with permission.
As a result of their experience with AbillityMatrix, more and more people are beginning to understand the effect this has on efficiency. Do you want to start your customer experience or innovation project? Get in touch with us.

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