Over the past few months, we’ve outlined the key findings of PeopleMetrics’ 2010 Most Engaged Customers (MEC) study, which analyzed over 15,000 ratings of 67 brands in 12 industries to establish a hierarchy of characteristics companies must demonstrate to achieve high Customer Engagement. We’ve talked about why Customer Engagement matters, and how companies with a compelling business offer, consistent caring service, customer trust, and extra effort from employees see the highest engagement scores. So far, we’ve created the foundation and core of our pyramid toward Customer Engagement. Now, let’s explore why genuine service sets apart “the cream of the crop” as far as Customer Engagement is concerned.
Dedicated, engaged customers, like all human beings, crave genuine interactions with others. The findings of this year’s MEC study confirm what business gurus like Joseph Pine and James Gilmore have claimed for years: the customer experience is now where service companies must focus , and a genuine service experience is what the world’s top brands now deliver. PeopleMetrics’ research verifies that companies that create authentic relationships with their customers achieve higher Customer Engagement scores—which, in turn, leads to higher profits, stock prices, and a slew of other positive business outcomes.
What does authentic service look like? Our respondents made it clear that they’re looking for real smiles, active listening (including asking relevant questions), and eye contact. In general, authenticity falls into four categories:
Sincere, Honest, Helpful Service. As one Saks Fifth Avenue customer remarked in our survey, “You can usually tell when people are being ‘fake’ in their compliments or interactions. The employees [at Saks Fifth Avenue] seem very genuine and sincere.”
Real Smiles. A Trader Joe’s customer expressed this customer desire well, saying, “Their eyes as well as their actions smile. Their voices are friendly and even when they’re busy they acknowledge me so that I know they are aware of my presence without being rude to anyone else involved.”
Recognize and Know the Customer. We all want to feel special, and employees who know customers by name foster higher engagement. One Costco customer explained, “Yes, they all recognize me as being a Costco member...in fact, some of the employees that were in one location where I first joined recognize me and they know I have been a member for many years.” A Cartier customer put it more simply: “[Cartier employees] always know my name and address me as a friend.”
Cares as a Friend Would. Many would scoff at the idea of a corporation being a consumer’s friend, but companies with the highest Customer Engagement scores indeed do form friendships with their customers. One Progressive customer expressed it this way: “When you call on the phone, they seem like they actually care about your particular problem or concern. When they deal with a claim, they consider what you want to do, as well as what their opinion may be. One car I had was involved in an accident, and I so wanted it fixed. The adjuster went out of his way to try to make this so for me. In the end, the car did have to be totaled because the frame had been bent. But, he really seemed genuine in his concern for my wants.”
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” Many market research firms focus on improving the shadow (a company's reputation), without thinking about how to how shape the tree (the service patterns informing that reputation). Sending client satisfaction surveys isn't enough; leading companies also need tools to design customer-centric cultures.