Posted by: communicationcloud | May 19, 2011

Is your optimism damaging your customer experience?

A project I worked on recently got me thinking about the effect of our tendency to find what we want to find in data.

Imagine you have 100 customers. You deal with all of them via the same processes & systems. At the end of a month, you get some data that suggests that 3 of your customers have had a great experience of dealing with you; you have no data about the other 97 customers – either or positive or negative.  Since all your customers dealt with you via the same processes and systems, you probably assume that the small amount of positive data is indicative of your general success.

Now imagine a different scenario. This time, the only data you have suggests that 3 of your customers have had a terrible experience of dealing with you. Do you assume this means that all your customers are unimpressed? In my experience, you don’t: instead you reassure yourself that only 3 customers have had a bad experience … and the rest are fine.

While it’s great to see positive thinking in action, this optimism can lead to complacency that’s damaging to initiatives to improve your customer experience.

Yet I’ve come across this attitude in various aspects of customer interactions with businesses I’ve worked with:

* Looking at whether search terms on the website have been successful, the marketing manager concludes that no work is needed because only a very small percentage of searches can be proved to have been unsuccessful (even though there’s no conclusive data either way about the other searches). What conclusion do you think she would have drawn if the same small percentages of searches could have been proved to be successful?

*Looking at the number of customer complaints, the customer service manager finds there have only been a few over the last few months. That number’s such a low percentage of the number of customers the team have dealt with that he assumes everything is generally working well. And yet, during the same period there have been no compliments or other positive feedback received. Based on this evidence, why is the assumption that the customer experience is good?

* Looking at customer feedback, the product manager sees that a couple of people have asked for better instructions for using the product. It’s only a couple, though, so she decides it’s not a priority. The product manager hasn’t been involved in usability testing or training sessions for customers using the product, so doesn’t have any experience or data about ease of use – but isn’t too concerned about this. How many requests for improved instructions (or improved usability) would she need to see to convince her that work needs doing?

I’ve picked very simplistic examples – rarely the full picture in real-life situations – but I hope they’re enough to illustrate my point. It’s very easy to jump from a small amount of data to a broader conclusion; in fact,  since it’s very rare to have access to a “full” set of data, it’s often necessary to make this jump. But before drawing definitive conclusions, it’s worth checking the assumptions behind your jump work both ways.

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