The Human Emotion that Impacts All the Metrics
Clearly something was wrong with the data.
The numbers don’t just jump like that. Especially when we’re going through an acquisition. Especially when people have sheltered in place at home.
We don’t get double digit increases in every customer sentiment metric across the board.
And yet we did.
NPS, CSAT, CES, and just about every other measurement of how customers experienced their interactions with us rose dramatically.
We checked the data again and again for errors or to see if it was coming from one particular segment or channel.
It was an almost perfectly even distribution any way we sliced it.
It didn’t add up. We were in the initial stages of a global pandemic and like many other financial institutions, every department wrestled with how we would function in the new reality.
Branches saw customers by appointment only and contact centers were drowning in call volume while support operations were overwhelmed.
On my monthly call with CX leaders from other financial institutions, I brought up my head- scratching search for this customer sentiment lift despite the obvious customer friction.
At first, I thought it was the result of the employee heroics from assisting customers who wished to obtain Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans. But that group represented single digits across the customer base.
Funny thing - every other bank experienced the same phenomena. Great numbers, happy charts, glowing customer comments, all of that despite slower service with more customer friction.
I’m a cause-and-effect guy and my brain wasn’t settled. What caused the sudden increase and would it stay?
Then, one word, rather a feeling, hit me like a ton of bricks…empathy.
Customers could relate on a human level. After all, they were sheltering in place, schooling from home, and caring for parents, just like we were.
Humans serving humans.
Customers appreciated the fact that someone who had the same fears, struggles, and realities that they had were there to serve them. I believe that some were grateful just to have someone to talk to on the other end of the phone or in a branch (employees on the front line prior to any vaccine were truly heroes).
Our customer sentiment dashboard reflected their empathy levels which were soaring.
As I prepared to explain this unprecedented pop in the charts, I also fully expected things would at best return to normal and possibly get worse.
Because, although the pandemic spurred new levels of empathy that lowered expectations, a new normal would settle in and the script would soon flip.
And it did.
The reversal would come at a much slower pace, but it still came. As expectations started to rise and empathy started to fall, the data shifted back like a roller coaster at Six Flags.
Instead an upward spike, voice of the customer metrics, started their slide. After the vaccine became available, and people started to figure out new routines, they expected better service.
But customer’s expectations about service returned to previous levels, and they just felt worn out and beat down by the effects of the pandemic. Like many, our capacity couldn’t keep pace. The uneven practicalities of remote work, in-person customer meetings, branch lobby openings, and employee Covid cases, put a strain on the customer experience.
The numbers dipped below previous norms. It wasn’t just us, I polled my peers. This slide back, often below pre-pandemic levels, was typical.
So what are the lessons learned?
Empathy from customers is always an underlying component of their love for your brand. Their empathy during the pandemic proved it. In seven years of watching the same customer metric dashboard, no new technology, no service offering, no reorganization, no price incentive, NOTHING made the numbers jump like empathy. Therefore, pay close attention to the nuances in customer comments; understand the emotions behind the numbers.
Customer expectations shape their feelings about empathy. In this case, expectations dropped as we all entered into a new world of the unknown while facing serious health fears in unprecedented times. Seek to pull customer expectations out of the data.
Understand how customer empathy and expectations work together when designing. and delivering the customer experience.
A rise in the charts related to empathy probably won’t last. Don’t get caught flat-footed. Know that expectations won’t stay there.
Customer empathy toward business is not something CX leaders should count on. In fact, the opposite is true. Empathy toward your customers, understanding what’s changing in their lives and how they want to experience your brand requires diligence and commitment. (And their desires have shifted since the pandemic.)
Building a CX discipline into your organization in preparation for the expected and unexpected makes all the difference.
What’s critical to weathering this storm and others (although none may be quite like this one) is to build a CX roadmap and embed CX into their culture. Those organizations that do will outperform their peers coming out of Covid.
The good news is that it's not too late to get started.
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