There are two clear camps when it comes to external benchmarking: the fervent disciples and the dismissive naysayers. The proponents of the practice like Warren Buffett and Mark Cuban argue that it’s crucial to know your competition in order to better know yourself and your industry. A handful of others out there will argue that benchmarking is flawed and can’t possibly provide useful data in complex industries. So which side of the fence are you on?

Some of you might be passively reserved about using external benchmarks, and it’s not uncommon. A lot of questions swirl around whether or not it’s worth the effort. Most of the holdups cited by businesses tend to be misconceptions, and they shouldn’t keep you from the wonderful world of benchmarking. The bulk of them go something like this:

“My business is unique. I don’t need to copy others.”

An inward-looking mindset seems to be the most popular and unfortunate reason for backing out of benchmarks. We all have a tendency to think we’re special and different, but in reality, we all have similar goals and experience similar problems. It’s not about copying, it’s about comparing.

A benchmark isn’t the equivalent of peeking at someone’s answer on a test and writing down whatever you see. It’s more like seeing the grade reports afterward as well as how each student prepared for the test. If one student keeps getting an A+ and is doing something you’ve never thought to try, wouldn’t you want to know about it? It certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Let’s stick with the school analogy. If you’re not looking at others’ grades, you might think you’re doing the best you can, and the class (your industry) is just a really difficult one. If you carry on doing your own thing and accepting your grade without looking at the class average, you’ll never know the potential to do better.

I’d venture a guess that the class average isn’t good enough for you anyway. If you want to be at the top, you need to know what you’re up against. Nobody is competing in an industry of one, so if you’re satisfied with just looking inward, you might want to reconsider.

Our Upcoming Benchmark

If you haven’t heard yet, listen up! We at Listen360 are working on an exciting benchmark report that includes industry standard Net Promoter Scores and best practices. You’re going to want to get your hands on this one. Stay tuned or contact us for more information.

Nobody operates a business in a vacuum. It’s pretty obvious you should at least be keeping an eye on your competitors. Benchmarking is a great way to evaluate your own practices by comparing them to industry standards and the best practices of your competition. Think of it as a mile marker in a race. If you don’t know where you are on the course, how can you adjust your pace? Here are 3 ways in which benchmarking can help you hit that stride in your customer experience efforts.

1.Know Your Strengths… and Weaknesses

Success, like pretty much everything else, is relative. You set goals within your own organization, and you should be setting them within your industry, too. It is sometimes hard to be objective when we judge ourselves, but data doesn’t lie or pull any punches. When you compare yourself to others in your industry you might be surprised at how your practices actually stack up. Like the old saying goes: you don’t know what you don’t know.

Taking a look at your peers will reveal the ways in which you’re excelling and can provide insight on how to stay ahead. It will also show you where you’re coming up short of the average. Defining both of these areas through an objective lens will make it easier to establish a new direction and let go of any practices that may have been detrimental.

2. Learn from the Best to Be the Best

If Tiger Woods offered you some pointers on your short game, you’d probably take them. Right? Emulating the best in the biz certainly wouldn’t hurt. Taking a look at what industry leaders are doing might help clear up some roadblocks you’re hitting when it comes to innovation. Finding new and creative ways to solve problems is a collaborative process, so looking for pieces of the puzzle wherever possible will help that big picture come together. A benchmark is an excellent place to start.

Seeing the trends in best practices from those at the forefront of your industry can also act as a compass when you’re strategizing or kicking off a new program. It’s very important to formulate standardized processes to stay on course. You can use a benchmark as a template for helpful metrics to keep you moving forward.

3. Winning New Business

Better practices translate to a better bottom line. I think we can all agree on that. But knowing where you stand in your industry goes so much further. Your managers and team members will be better educated in the competition and have a better direction for business development and customer experience. This also instills a company-wide dedication to improvement and excellence. Think of it as a sort of scoreboard that motivates your team and unites them in achieving a common, tangible goal.

If you’re a franchisor or multi-location business, being able to articulate how you stack up in your sector, where you’re aiming, and how you’re going to get there is crucial to growth. The same is true for customers in many industries. If you can show prospects how your brand measures up and that you’re diligently monitoring and improving your practices, that will go a long way towards winning referrals and inspiring loyalty.

Learn More

At Listen360, we absolutely love benchmarks and the deep diving data that helps us all be better at what we do. Right now, we’re working on a very exciting benchmark report using data from thousands of businesses and millions of customers to shed some light on customer experience best practices. It will provide some great insights, and we want you to have it! We’ll be releasing more about it soon, so stay tuned!

The Consumer Confidence Index is one of those numbers that the government and economists eagerly await every month. Since consumer spending makes up about 70% of the US economy, it’s no wonder they want to pay attention to how the average consumer is feeling. The Conference Board, a non-profit business think tank, surveys thousands of Americans, crunches the data, and comes up with a number that represents how confident consumers are in the economy on a monthly basis. After March, the CCI number sits at 124.1, down 7.3 points from February. That’s a pretty significant drop, and a bit odd in such a strong economy. So, what does it mean?

In a time where we’re all scrambling for some indicator of the economic direction, many are latching onto numbers like this. Any slight dip in the barometer of the economy triggers flashbacks of the financial crisis. For that reason, it’s good to provide some context, as we can often get sucked into the relativity of our current situation. A score in the 120s is historically strong. In fact, anything over 100 generally indicates an expanding economy, so we look to be in pretty good shape. By comparison, the CCI in February of 2009 at the height of the financial crisis was 25.3, a far cry from where we now stand. That being said, a sudden drop like this raises some eyebrows. So, should we be worried?

In a recent interview with Planet Money, Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators and Surveys for The Conference Board, tried to provide some clarity on the matter. “Consumers have a very accurate record at forecasting recessions,” she said plainly. It makes sense. As such a large part of the economy, consumers are a driving force when they’re confident and a vacuum when they’re uncertain. Before jumping to conclusions about this downtick, though, it’s important to remember the overall trend. “We’re still at a strong level which indicates that the economy is going to expand,” Franco says. “But we’ve had a bit of a large decline in the present situation which is a bit unusual,” she adds, pensively. It seems like we’re going in circles here.

It tough to nail down whether or not things are going to change, but for now, the outlook is pragmatically optimistic. “These things change month to month,” Franco reminds us. With haunting memories of the financial crisis still fresh in our memories, it’s easy to get jumpy. If my two cents means anything, I think that may even explain the sudden drop in consumer confidence. We’re conditioned to expect the worst now. Things have been good for so long that it seems impossible that they could continue without something looming on the horizon. Consumers might not be losing confidence, per se, but just being cautious. This is certainly a watershed period for our country, so for now, we just have to continue to monitor the numbers diligently and maintain that measured optimism.

We at Listen360 are all about that precious data that lets us understand how consumers are feeling and how we can better relationships and communication. I couldn’t possibly dive into the invaluable gauge that is the CCI without pointing out that you can scale this premise for your own business. Just as economists pay close attention to consumer feelings, you should be gauging your customers’ feelings. It’s difficult to sway the attitude of an entire country of consumers, but you’re much more empowered when it comes to strengthening your relationship with your customer base. NPS is to your business what CCI is to the economy. It wouldn’t hurt to check it out.

To hear the entire Planet Money interview with Lynn Franco, click here.

Update:

Since I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, we’ve seen the jobs report for March. The results were promising. Job growth bounced back from a troubling February. Wages continue to rise, and most industries added jobs. These factors can lead us to expect a boost in the CCI next month, but hey, I’m no economist.

Apple just dropped something new on us. Don’t roll your eyes yet, it’s not a new iPhone that is nearly indistinguishable from the last or some wireless headphones that cost a kidney. It’s Apple TV+. I know, that doesn’t sound very exciting, but at the Apple event, Oprah and Steven Spielberg seemed pretty enthused about it. So what? Apple paid some megastars to endorse them. Well, that may be, but this news may change the landscape of streaming services, and it oddly has a valuable lesson for you and your business in the modern digital climate.

The streaming market has been dominated by a few obvious players: Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. It may surprise you, though, that there are over 300 streaming services out there, and they’re all vying for your seemingly affordable subscription dollars. And how are they doing that? Premium, exclusive content. We all know content is king these days, but is there too much of it now?

With Oprah promising a show and Steven Spielberg on board for some production, Apple TV+ boasts some pretty spectacular upcoming content. But is it enough to disrupt the status quo? Even Disney is on the streaming horizon, ready to challenge the subscription hotshots as well. The way the streamers are cranking out compelling television has our heads spinning. The fact that each major player is hoarding those flagship pieces of content (à la Stranger Things) to try to force a switch isn’t helping.

A recent study by Deloitte showed that there are now more “pay TV” subscribers out there than there are traditional cable subscribers, but those pay TV customers are suffering a sort of “subscription fatigue.” We want our TV à la carte, but we’ve found that the big names are forcing us to make choices. With so many great shows being kept under lock and key by the major names in pay TV, we either have to suffer a multitude of subscriptions that would force our monthly payments up to the levels of traditional cable, or we just have to go without a few shows.

OK, so how does this apply to you and your business? Wasn’t this about Apple TV+ or something? Yes, I’m getting to that. Apple throwing its hat into the ring of such a contested market with so much growing customer fatigue is a prime example of what’s happening to modern markets everywhere. Digital progress drives diversification. Markets of every industry are being newly challenged by big-box names and small fries every day. Consumers have more options than they care to evaluate. Just like subscription fatigue, option fatigue is creeping into all aspects of life. Why should they have to research and pay for so many things to make sure they’re getting the best of all worlds? Just like pay TV, consumers are beginning to make tough choices to settle with one or two options.

You need to make sure they go with your option. Not settle for it, mind you, but fall in love with it. You need to collect and analyze data as to why your current customers are choosing your business, why they’re staying with it, why (God forbid) some are leaving, and what is working best for you. Study it, learn from it, and lean into it. The giants of content are racing to do this to corner the market, and you shouldn’t ignore that strategy. Play to your strengths and be the best version of you; don’t be another option just making noise in the market, exhausting potential customers. Retention is a whole new game in the digital age, and it pays to do your homework.

 

If you want to start on some of that homework and up your game, check this out.

For a deeper dive into the streaming battles, give a quick listen to this interesting take on the recent Apple news.

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.

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.