The institutions of government, media, and business have seen a massive shift in trust from the general public in the past few years. Media and government especially suffered in 2017 and 2018. While the Edelman Trust Barometer, a comprehensive global survey of trust, indicates that trust numbers for businesses are slightly up in 2019, they still aren’t stellar. People are changing where they put their faith. How will that affect you, and what can you do about it? Here are 3 trends to keep in mind as you move forward in 2019.

1. It’s time to step up and fill the void.

While confidence in most institutions is at a critical low, trust in employers is at an unprecedented high. People have lost faith in government and the media to do what’s right, so they are turning to CEOs and leadership to steer them in the right direction. There is an outcry for change, and employees believe their leaders can be the agents of change. It is more important now than ever to clearly define a mission and maintain a dialogue with employees around that mission.

Showing you care and acting on their feedback contributes to how they’ll perceive your performance. The Edelman surveys show that perception of high performance and trust lead to much higher levels of loyalty and engagement within a company. As engaged employees have proven to have a positive effect on customer interactions, it’s no surprise that high trust organizations are out-performing their sectors by an average of 5%. Listen and lead. Your employees expect a lot of you, and now is the time to make a difference.

2. Documentaries are more popular than ever.

That’s right, docs are rockin’ it. Viewership and money in documentaries have skyrocketed, and it’s a trend worth noting. Why? Because it’s another potential symptom of the trust crisis. When government and mainstream media are no longer standards of truth, people look elsewhere for true north. Much like people choosing CEOs over politicians for change, so it seems that viewers are flooding to the documentary format for reliable news and information.

This means a couple of things for your business. If your advertising seems overproduced, off-message, or manipulative, it can drive customers away. As they ditch the flamboyant and flashy for the sincere and instructional, so too will they shy away from messaging that aligns itself with untrustworthy stylings of the media.

Branding may need a tweak as well in order to maintain trust. Documentaries famously depict humanity, champion causes, and provide transparency throughout a narrative. There are lessons to be learned here. Focus on your company culture and the people who make it great, employees and customers alike. Put it on display; success stories, testimonials, and published reviews are a great start. Demonstrate also a dedication to the community or a cause that is in line with your mission statement. Starting a conversation with your employees and customers about what’s important to your business and being open about the steps you’re taking is key to earning trust.

3. Positivity over politics.

This seems like a no-brainer, but it needs to be said. If you’re espousing some sort of cause or message, steer clear of politics unless it’s a social cause that is central to your brand mission. As divisive as politics have been in the last few years, taking a firm side one way or another has left the nation fatigued. Also, using ads and marketing that focus on negative aspects of competitors or the opportunity costs of not choosing your brand can scare off customers. It’s a stance that has politics written all over it, and this type of positioning has lost credibility with the constant bitterness portrayed in the media. People are starving for change, so give it to them.

Remain positive. Focus on what you do and why you do it well. Focus on your employees and why they make your company a great place to be. Cherish your customer relationships and show prospects the future you can build together. In a world filled with anger and resentment, be the friendly neighbor everyone is looking for.

When it comes to progressive and growing brands and their employees, culture is king. “Company culture” has quickly risen through the ranks of business buzzwords and with good reason. Unemployment is at a rare low, and in a job-seekers market, companies have to stand out more than ever. It takes a special kind of work environment to not only attract but retain top talent. A curated culture in the office can be the difference between a productive, cohesive team and expensive turnover and low morale. But what exactly makes a good company culture?

Executives and leaders are rushing to embrace the idea of culture in the workplace, but they don’t always understand what it means or how to create it. Not surprisingly, asking employees themselves can shed some much-needed light on how to spruce up the synergy in a business. At Listen360, we’ve been working with employee feedback for over 10 years with companies like Orangetheory Fitness and Sport Clips. Our findings boil down to 3 main areas that make a company culture exceptional.

 

  1. Mission

Most companies have some sort of mission statement, and odds are, yours does too. How many employees can recite it? How many of them can relate to it? Your goals, message, and tenets should not only convey your intentions towards your customers but should include the type of relationships and aspirations you hope to achieve within the company.

Employees don’t want to hear where you want them to take you, they want to know where you’re all going together. Establishing a mission statement that encompasses the advancement of the company, the individual, and the brand family–which includes customers–is important to morale and a sense of purpose.

 

  1. Merit

Your employees work hard, and recognition will go a long way. Naturally, when asked what would make them happier at work, employee polls listed compensation, but a lot of intangible and idealistic things showed up as well. Sharing positive feedback from customers–especially about specific employees–will boost morale and even improve interactions with customers. Many successful brands use some variation of a “scoreboard,” and share wins throughout the company to promote the accomplishments of various teams.

Respect and recognition from superiors polled very high among employees asked about improvements in the workspace, so keep this in mind when deciding how to best recognize them. Sometimes, merit and worth come from feeling heard and feeling like a contributor. Practicing better listening skills, asking for ideas from all parts of the company, and actively collecting feedback about the work environment all show that you care and value your employees.

 

  1. Means

Right up there with respect and value is a sense of purpose. Engaged, loyal employees feel like they can build a career and a life within your company. Each individual has interests, talents, and aspirations, and it’s important to learn and support these. Providing the resources necessary for employees to not only succeed in daily tasks but to fulfill personal development can be the difference between a 10-year tenure and someone looking for the next best gig.

Developmental workshops, special projects, and open brainstorming meetings can shake out exactly what your employees want to do and what it will take to get them there. Maybe one team member has a penchant for videography or graphic design. See if you can work that skill into a marketing campaign or some sort of internal application. Room to grow and plenty of support will have a drastic effect on the company as a whole.

Sunday’s showdown between the Patriots and Rams turned out to be some of the least compelling television in recent memory. The 13-3 snore-fest that played out on the gridiron didn’t give CBS much to work with, to be fair. There was one brilliant moment, though, that captured my complete and undivided attention. During a pregame ad, in the midst of some amusing back and forth with Peyton Manning, John Malkovich suddenly bellowed a powerful lesson in storytelling. CBS essentially made a captivating piece of content by, well, telling us how to make captivating content.

The promo begins with cinematic slow-motion shots, costumed warriors, suspenseful symphonic music, and a classic “movie preview” narrator voice. Manning is pitching this dramatic Super Bowl promo to a conference room full of CBS Sports executives. They’re confused. Why would they consult with retired quarterback Peyton Manning if they wanted some metaphor about gladiators? Manning doesn’t seem to pick up what they’re putting down. But wait, he has rented out the entire Roman Colosseum and sent actor John Malkovich there for the commercial shoot. The absurdity builds.

Malkovich hops on a video call from Rome and tears Manning’s idea apart. The idea of gladiators quickly seems hackneyed and laughable. The put down gets some laughs, but Malkovich makes a point about the Super Bowl that any brand or marketer should take to heart. “The only story you need, Peyton, will be right in front of your eyes!” he shouts as if it couldn’t be more obvious. Malkovich becomes the voice of reason that many Mannings of the marketing world fail to hear when trying to convey their message to customers.
John Malkovich speaks with CBS execs via video.
The key is knowing what you offer and why people should want to choose it. That sounds overly simplified, but it’s just that basic. In this scenario, CBS has the two best teams in the country competing for the biggest title in football on a grand stage. Why would they say anything else? 

You know your product or service, and you know your mission. Don’t stray from that identity. Gather customer feedback diligently to make sure you know exactly what your customers want. Brands often make the mistake of adding more bells and whistles to their websites, marketing material, and sales tactics. Clarifying your message and stripping away the excess is an important exercise when experiencing growth and broadening your audience.

Every part of your story should clearly communicate what you offer and how it will better the customer’s story. As Malkovich so aptly puts it in the promo: “Everything else is noise!” When you’re competing for customers’ attention over the roar of today’s crowded markets, you can’t afford any extra noise.

Watch the Super Bowl LIII Opener here.

Many of us conventional consumers are used to certain constants in our lives. We get up, we go to work, and when we get home, Netflix is waiting for us. The unjudging glow of an episode of The Office for the 15th time is a staple in the twilight hours for many a weary weekend warrior. But then, like with the unexpected death of a beloved character in a favorite series, the illusion suddenly shatters. Netflix has to go and raise prices. Again.

This Isn’t the First Time

We’ve seen this movie before. Larger news outlets and edgy online publications alike try to put an elusive original spin on the inevitable. They’ll either laud the streaming savant as a juggernaut of creative content, or they’ll warn of doom and gloom for the company and its subscribers. Either way, the real story quietly continues the same way every time. Netflix is still raising prices, and just like with the series that killed off our favorite character, we’re still watching.

Follow the Numbers

Before I send the Hulu heroes into histrionics, this is not another pat on the back for the big guy. This is a business lesson in knowledge and trust when it comes to a customer base. Put your personal streaming preferences aside for a moment, and consider the facts. Despite protests about every previous price hike, Netflix managed to inflate its stock with the moves while continuing to add tens of millions of subscribers year over year. This, the largest price increase since the company’s humble beginnings, was greeted by a 6.5% bump on the market the next day. While the share price has momentarily returned to the mean, it still seems to be trending upward, and subscribers are sure to as well.

Commitment to Customers

So, what? That’s not understanding and trust. The price increase is just a money grab, right? Well, it’s a little more involved than all that. The reason this model works and keeps working is that Netflix has a special rapport with its subscribers that most any business envies. The voice of the customer has spoken, and bigger, better content is what we all crave. Netflix has listened and is on an absolute warpath when it comes to cranking out original content. Spending $12 billion and producing roughly 1,500 hours of the stuff in 2018 sends a pretty clear message that the folks at Netflix are doing their darndest to give us what we want.

The Lesson

Customers historically accept a price increase when they’re excited about a brand as a whole. Higher prices should be like a promise that quality will improve, but a customer base will only accept the terms if they trust that your business will actually make that happen. It’s important to monitor how your customers are feeling about your brand and your mission while being transparent and acting on your goals. Netflix has committed to doing that, and, even though some subscribers take to Twitter in protest for a brief moment, it seems that most accept the service is moving along with the price tag. Onwards and upwards.

 

The titans of tech consumerism are often on the media mainstage and for good reason. Business behemoths like Apple, Amazon, and Google cause markets to fluctuate and reshape entire cities, so naturally, when they do something, we pay attention. Often, though, we only think of the big picture or conversely, the micro-picture. “How will this affect the economy?” or, on the other end of the spectrum, “Do I need to worry about my new phone?” What we sometimes forget is that we can extract more relatable lessons from these giants. Many of their strategies, especially customer feedback, can scale for our own businesses somewhere in the middle. Let me give you an example.

The Giant

After a poor showing for the holiday season, Apple’s disappointing sales have been dragging it down. Consumers are much slower to buy new models these days. On top of that, the newest iPhone just didn’t excite the world as it usually does. Surely, other gadget goliaths smell blood in the water. This would be the perfect time to strike.

The annual Consumer Electronics Show is usually rife with competitors. Apple, for whichever brand elitist reason or the other, refrains from making appearances at the event. CES 2019 promised to be no different as tech fanatics swarmed to Las Vegas to see what everyone else had to offer. Despite its absence from the showroom, Apple found an ingenious way to cast a massive shadow over the event. On January, 4, right before the trade show, the Vegas skyline included a massive new billboard. A black advertisement featuring an iPhone simply reads: “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.” The ad not only plays on the proverbial Vegas slogan, but it is a well-crafted reminder to consumers that Amazon and Google are embroiled in data security controversy.

The Lesson

So, other than being a deliciously cheeky ad campaign, how does this apply to the layman in a business sense? Apple didn’t withdraw and pout when its product didn’t perform well, it regrouped and dug deep for what the customers really care about. Recent surveys show that smart device sales are slowing largely in part due to concerns over privacy and security. Apple has long cultivated a customer-centric culture, and its Net Promoter Score is shockingly high for the industry. So, as always, the customers spoke, and Apple listened.

This case just goes to show that staying ahead is not necessarily about having the biggest and brightest new-fangled product or service, it’s about understanding what the customer wants. Rather than spending a gut-wrenching amount of money on a new product or renovation, gather actionable customer feedback. Having the right feedback strategy can reveal very nuanced pain points for your customers. Apple has the luxury of armies of consultants and oceans of data, but that doesn’t mean we can’t follow suit. Customer feedback is scalable and vitally important. Customers will be more informed and more willing to switch brands based on price in 2019. If you’re not continuing dialogue with your customers and nurturing those relationships, your competitors have all the more room to elbow their way in.

Apple received tons of media coverage and social media buzz about the ad which quickly overshadowed the poor sales season. And hey, at the risk of invoking cries of “correlation not causation,” I’ve got to point out that its stock bounced back too. The day after the billboard went up.

The way we think customers want to be treated affects how we do business, but sometimes, our assumptions are a little off. Here are 5 myths about customer service–and why they’re busted–that can help reveal the best customer experience possible.

 

  1. A satisfied customer is a loyal customer.

Studies show that if customers are “satisfied” with a product or service, they are still likely to leave for a better price from a similar business. If you want customers to stake their reputations on referring your business and stick with you through pricing changes, you’ll have to far exceed their expectations.

  1. The fewer the complaints, the better.

Anywhere from 70-90% of dissatisfied customers don’t voice complaints before leaving a business. If you aren’t actively monitoring how customers are feeling, you may just be turning a blind eye. Complaints can reveal behavioral problems that would otherwise go unnoticed at the front line. Recognizing and changing specific habits can help retain current customers and create more loyal ones in the future.

  1. A company’s commitment to service will get the attention of customers.

Actually, there’s a huge gap here. While 80% of business leaders say they’re providing superior customer service, only 8% of their customers agree. It’s crucial to monitor customer feedback to see how customers really feel about your efforts.

  1. New sales are more important than customer service.

This is where we get into the idea of “good profits” vs. “bad profits.” A dollar from an angry customer is just as green as a dollar from a happy customer, but that first dollar represents poor reviews and a bad reputation. Studies show that a customer who had a poor experience will tell 17 people about it while a customer who had a good experience only tells 11. Profits from unhappy customers may look good in the short term, but eventually, that negativity will poison growth and overtake positive reviews and referrals.

  1. Invest more in marketing and advertising than in training or customer service.

According to various studies, it can cost anywhere from 5 to 25 times more to win a new customer from ads and marketing efforts than it does to retain an existing one. Customer retention is vital to growth, and the proper training and customer service measures will go a long way. Tracking those efforts and their effects on your business is the best way to move forward.

 

 

Fourth quarter is upon us, and as the year winds down, it’s time to start taking stock of what we’ve accomplished in 2018 and how we hope to move into 2019. This year saw a big trend towards customer experience, and companies everywhere are refocusing efforts on relationships with their customers.

The Temkin Group outlined 15 trends in customer experience (CX) to keep an eye on in 2018. While some of the things they pointed out are pretty high touch and difficult to roll out quickly, there are some pretty basic ideas that you can keep in mind for the final quarter or even for a great way to start 2019. Let’s break down a few of the highlights.

Companies are revamping underperforming CX metrics.

It’s time to trim the fat and figure out what works and what doesn’t. With the growing popularity of CX, plenty of systems, softwares, and measurement tools have arisen. It’s important to distinguish the important data and feedback from the simply well-intentioned. Technology is growing exponentially while marketing budgets are at their slowest pace in years, so optimizing data collection will help ensure other resources don’t suffer.

Brand promise alignment is a priority.

Clarifying a mission and delivering on that promise are of rising importance as brands try to establish an identity. Businesses are realizing that customers care less about the company history and growth and more about how they’re going to establish a relationship of value together.

Companies are realigning analytics around the customer journey.

Sales reports aren’t the only important numbers on the table anymore. Quantifying and tracking the customer journey is a key to ensuring retention, making sure that service is up to standard across the network, and predicting growth. CX metrics like the Net Promoter System have proven to be inextricably linked to growth, so it wouldn’t hurt to look at what analytics you’re using now to see how they measure up.

Newly energized executives will rush to embrace the idea of CX.

CX has become more than a buzzword in discussions of what drives growth, and more and more senior leaders are getting excited about it. Maybe too excited. While they know it has clear benefits, they may have an unrealistic idea of what needs to be done to get results. Many marketers and operations people assume that managers and execs understand what they’re asking for when they ask for it. It’s important to understand and explain the ins and outs of CX metrics to the entire company so everyone is on the same page and working towards the same tangible goals.

More and more efforts will emerge to create customer-centric cultures.

This trend is here to stay. Businesses are recognizing the importance of CX, and giants like Apple and Amazon have been focused on it for years. With so many options in every industry, consumers are shopping for an experience and a brand they can trust, not necessarily a product or service. They notice when a company culture is about relationships, and they’re more likely to stick around when they do. The best time to start is now, because wait too long, and you’ll fall behind the curve.

 

When we order a pair of sunglasses on Amazon, we want them on our doorstep yesterday. When we join a new trendy gym, we expect to lose 10 lbs in the first week. When we get into a pointless argument with a friend about which species of bear is the largest, we yell at a little gadget in the kitchen to tell the answer. The point is, we don’t want to wait for anything anymore, and businesses know that. The culture of instant gratification is here to stay, and while most products and services have caught up to fast-paced customers, it takes more to stay on top.

Think about the last time you had to navigate the endless menu of a customer support line. Maybe your blood boiled when you spent an entire afternoon in a doctor’s office waiting room and someone who showed up late was seen before you. Customer experience is now more important than ever, and a poor one can be damning.

An alarming 33% of Americans are willing to switch products or services after just one poor experience. Dissatisfied customers tell 36% more people about their experience than happy ones do. First-class entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos and Tony Hsieh are more than aware of the fact that US businesses lose an average of $62 billion a year to poor customer service, and their success is largely built on making sure that revenue never walks out the door in the first place. They know that customers want excellent service, and they want it right this very second. You don’t get to become leaders in customer experience like Amazon and Zappos without having a system in place to guarantee every customer gets excellent, timely service.

This may sound like a herculean task (especially when measured on a Bezos scale), but with the availability of tried and true methods like the Net Promoter System, it’s more attainable than you’d think. Your customer feedback efforts have to be as fast as your customers’ expect them to be: instantaneous. When you implement NPS with a system like Listen360 that compiles feedback in real time, you can match that blistering pace. Faster follow-up and quicker mobilization to change practices that cause friction will work to keep those customers from falling through the cracks. Speed shows commitment, and your customers will certainly notice.

In a blacksmith’s home, there are only wooden spoons.

The plumber’s house always has a dripping tap.

Proverbs such as these are scattered throughout cultures around the globe. The phenomenon is quite universal: sometimes we become so consumed by our profession, so preoccupied with projecting our talents outward, that we forget to look inward long enough to provide for our own families.

Rapidly growing businesses often have impressive and proven strategies for customer acquisition. An influx of new customers is an exciting statistic glimmering with the promise of revenue and growth. It is so exciting that it can dominate all of our efforts and resources. But what about the customers we already have?

When customers choose to buy your product or service, they become part of your brand family. Whether it is reluctantly or enthusiastically, they take up your banner in some fashion. Nurture and respect a cohesive family unit, and it can bolster the brand’s image, value, and future prospects. Consumers see a proud and happy brand family and jump at the chance to join. Neglect or mistreat that family, however, and you may quickly find frustration and disillusionment that could lead to an exodus.

Retention is an integral aspect of growth. It is exhilarating to look outward towards prospects with an appetite to conquer new territory. Fail to take care of the folks at home, though, and you might have a revolt on your hands. Slowing down to make sure customers have proper care and attention will greatly improve a business’ odds of survival. A high retention rate ultimately drives profitability and increases the value of a customer lifetime.

Just like customer acquisition, customer retention needs carefully planned programs. For some insight, take a look at this webinar with John Schroeder of Nova Foresight and Angela Bossie of Listen360. Tune in to follow along as these two experts map out the path to higher retention rates with 3 essential strategies.


Watch the recording here.

He was losing it. He tried to turn away to hide it, but Paul caught a flash of building rage on his face.

“That was painful to watch,” he said through gritted teeth in an unnervingly level voice.

“You said it would be OK,” Paul started, reeling from the reaction, but he was cut off by the steadily rising volume of the other man.

“Just stop,” the irate man spat, “I have to walk away before I…” he trailed off as he stormed over to the chain link fence that separated his front yard from a drainage ditch.

Paul couldn’t imagine what the end of that sentence could possibly have been. Stunned, he stood silently for a moment and watched the man’s knuckles turn white as he gripped a fence post and stared into the distance. This one was certainly going to be a challenge.

This, quite surprisingly, was an actual customer service interaction. It was dramatic, it was unexpected, and it was even a bit frightening at points, but it was, at the end of the day, a fairly low-stakes customer service situation gone awry. Many customers surprise business owners with patience and kindness in the face of a problem, and they are often easily swayed into the promoter category if the problem is remedied correctly. A few customers, however, erupt at the slightest sign of turbulence during service and can seem too hostile or stubborn to salvage. While they may not seem worth all the pain and effort, when handled correctly, these individuals often tend to surprise business owners in quite a different way.

Paul was an eager twenty-something running business development for a portable storage and moving franchisee. In his territory’s infancy, there were only three or four team members, so everyone did everything from sales and marketing to truck driving and manual labor. The company’s wheelhouse was one to two bedroom apartments and small homes that could fit in just one of their containers. This particular customer caught them off guard by placing what was by far the largest order to date. He needed four containers-worth of storage packed and stored and then moved to a new home. Even with all hands on deck, it was a logistical nightmare. As backbreaking as it was, though, all the overwhelmed team could do was smile and put in a couple fifteen-hour days. They were very green and in desperate need of customers.

Servicing the order started out relatively smoothly. The third-party labor help showed up on time, and the pace was ahead of schedule. Paul had no prior experience driving trucks or hauling large cargo, but he was one of only two employees insured to make deliveries at the time. Delivering the second and third storage containers had fallen to him. Despite a week of practice with the rig, he still had some difficulty backing the 5,000lb trailer into the angled driveway.

“This grass here is firm, you can roll over it with the truck if that helps,” the owner shouted to him from his lawn.

“Are you sure?” Paul was skeptical. Property damage was always a big concern on these jobs.

“Go for it!” The man seemed pretty certain.

It was an 8”x5” patch. Another driver measured it eventually out of curiosity. An area the size of a large envelope was all it took to turn this seemingly agreeable homeowner into a seething wildcard. One of Paul’s tires had spun out in the lawn and brought the whole job crashing down around him. He was bewildered and at a loss, and it would turn out that the customer needed some time to calm himself. What Paul and his team did next, though, would rewrite the likely outcome of this upsetting scene.

As powerful as “I’m sorry” is, sometimes it does not get through the first time. Paul offered some free products and asked how he could make things right.

“You can’t, can you?” The customer seemed to have made up his mind, and eventually refused to even speak to Paul, shutting the garage door on him as he pleaded for a resolution. Paul was beside himself, but he knew he had to think of something. He informed a superior of the situation immediately, and they got to work on a solution.

The next day, Paul’s boss showed up to the customer’s house slightly earlier than the scheduled loading time. They figured Paul should hang back until the customer had time to regain his composure. His boss was armed not with another apology but with a grass fork, the correct strain of grass seed, chocolates for the customer’s wife, and a discount on delivery services. He was willing to get down in the dirt on his hands and knees to resolve the problem, and with this sign of contrition, the man started to realize that maybe he had overreacted. Just a little.

When Paul eventually rejoined the servicing efforts, he not only received several warm handshakes and compliments from the man who could barely stand to look at him the day before, but he was pleasantly surprised with gleaming 5-star reviews and testimonials online. The customer event went on to refer some new business to the company.

No matter how hopeless a customer service situation seems, there is always a chance for redemption. When an apology and the regular course of action do not do the trick, it might be time to get creative. The greatest detractor a business has ever seen may become its biggest advocate, even if its the man who cares too much about his lawn.