How To Listen For The Experience Customers Truly Want

Tom Gooley is Chief Operations Officer at Cetera where he brings together teams who deliver exceptional experiences that drive growth.

In the independent financial advice space, relationships are paramount. Oddly, though, many business-to-business enterprises are reticent to measure customer experience with the same laser precision you would expect from customer experience leaders.

Advertising tycoon David Ogilvy presciently said, “The trouble with market research is that people don’t think what they feel, they don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.”

He was spot on. When my company decided to employ a rigorous Voice of the Customer (VoC) program, I experienced Ogilvy’s phenomenon firsthand with our 12,000-plus financial professionals. Especially “don’t do what they say.”

• They told us they wanted hyper customization, but what they really want is for us to just deliver the service. Standardization actually makes everything simpler.

• They said they preferred phone calls. But what they were really saying was they didn’t trust the task was getting done quickly and correctly.

• They said they wanted one form instead of multiple separate forms to complete a task. But what they truly wanted was to eliminate all forms.

NPS feeds a successful VoC.

Ogilvy died in 1999, two years before the birth of the Net Promoter System. This essential tool supplies methodologies that enable us to become and stay focused on the quality of our customer and employee relationships. The data gives a clearer picture of what our customers, employees and the marketplace truly feel, think and do. When we synthesize feelings, thoughts and actions, we can transform the service experience.

VoC is not simply data. It’s a way of life. It’s a discipline that drives a culture of learning and acting on feedback. It’s a spirit of leadership focused on continuous improvement. A complete VoC program creates an ethos of service and simplicity and requires commitment and patience to mature over time and become hardwired into the organization.

The net promoter score (NPS) is the arrow that points us to the buried treasure. We can then uncover solutions with further analysis that propels our company-wide action planning, where we prioritize our investments and efforts.

Many companies stop at customer surveys. However, a comprehensive system includes a transactional dimension. The annual relationship and employee surveys gauge overall satisfaction and provide a view into drivers. Competitive NPS is a blind benchmark survey that gauges your company against industry averages. Transactional NPS (T-NPS) surveys help us understand what’s happening at key interaction points. Sent automatically at the time of service, they feed real-time results to a dashboard allowing us to adjust quickly.

For example, T-NPS feedback indicates a recurring complaint. We look at all potential sources of friction: Is it technology, process or team readiness? We then look at where items get stuck and remove the reasons why they are stuck. This discipline—asking in multiple ways, discerning whether the feedback has legs, digging in to find the root cause, identifying points of friction and eliminating the causes—is a continuous, virtuous loop. Once it gets started, the energy it generates keeps it moving.

Getting Started

I recommend a three-phase approach.

1. Establish automated surveys at critical touchpoints, benchmarks, key growth drivers and lifecycle milestones.

2. Expand analysis, reporting, action planning and sharing with stakeholders.

3. Embed initiatives and strategies tied to scorecards, projects, budgets and culture.

Heading into the “embed” phase at my company, we’re getting to the good part—what we’ve discovered.

• At the heart of it all, our customers simply want it to be easy to do business with us—every system, process, team member and time.

• We’ve established a closed-loop call-back process to connect with customers who’ve left feedback, questions or praise.

• We’ve digitized the service journey, provided more self-help tools and made well over 200 improvements—with dozens more coming.

Exceptional Experiences. Every Time. Together.

Your team members are the heart and soul of your service offering. Your program will not be complete without a focus on recruitment, development and career-pathing to ensure you have an engaged team.

Previously, our service teams were the first point of contact for nearly everything our financial professionals might ask for in their daily operations. We learned the information they needed to do their job was either hidden or overwhelming.

Now, our service professionals are deeply knowledgeable on a finite set of topics, and answers are easy to access. A recalibrated phone system routes callers to the right person, allowing our team members to focus on their passion areas. We measure their happiness and experience as vigorously as we do our customers. They are happier and empowered by being part of the solution.

And now, we can show them a live snapshot of exactly how we are performing. At this moment, looking at more than 12,000 interactions, we are receiving 4.75 out of 5 stars. That sure takes the sting out of an angry call!

How do you know it’s working?

I was recently talking with Matt Costanzo, an affiliated advisor of my company whose feedback has been instrumental in several enhancements at my company through the years. His insights contributed to the creation of a proposal generation tool, a more intuitive portal for advisors’ clients and a streamlined asset conversion process. He said the time he’s saved and the value of the opportunity to contribute are incalculable.

I was most moved when Matt said, “I can’t think of another place where I can actually see my feedback transform the service I receive.” This is high praise from Matt, whose company lives by its motto, “You’re only as good as what you did for your clients yesterday.”

Listening to customers and delivering outstanding service is a mindset of growth, accountability, inclusivity, empathy and empowerment. You’ll need to nurture these qualities in yourself and in your team to transform your service model into the experience your clients deserve.


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