Beyond Covid-19. How to avoid losing customers, business relationships and perspective.

The Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has changed plans that were in the making and blocked projects at their inception. However, this ‘free time’ can be used proactively to analyze customer satisfaction, a key step to rebooting the business with a forward-looking approach.
Uomo d'affari deve aumentare la soddisfazione dei clienti
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If there is one thing certain about this history making moment, it is that we will not return to pre-March 2020 conditions in any time soon. The global scale of the pandemic is unprecedented and, depending on the country which has been affected, its direct impact is translating into a serious health emergency and varying levels of social distancing and lockdown.

The effects of social distancing and lockdown must be taken into account in order to prevent the negative effects that are already affecting the economy, affect our return to business. It is natural for companies to want to get back to business as soon as possible, however, it is equally important to prepare adequately for a challenging period of ‘adaptation’ to the new environment, acting sooner and not later on issues that could help to reopen with a certain momentum.

There has been a lot of talk, for example, of smart working, organizational adjustments of production units and some of these changes are already taking place. However, one aspect that will greatly affect the ability of companies to reopen with ease is closely related to how they will have managed customer satisfaction during this difficult time.

This crisis, first and foremost, has impacted everything which up until now has been taken for granted. Individuals basic needs are being threatened: health and safety, food, supplies and finances.

The emotional state of our customers resulting from these types of threats act as a sounding board for their actions and behavior. We can therefore expect an amplification of our customers perception regarding how we are managing our customers. If the customer experience and customer satisfaction has been perceived as unsatisfactory during this difficult time, we can expect to reopen on bumby ground once ‘everything is over’. Where it may be too late to rectify the damage done.

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Maintaining customer satisfaction high is a goal that must always be pursued. However, with the current economic crisis generated by Covid-19, safeguarding customer satisfaction must become a strategic priority.

In the hypercompetitive area of the B2C market where price competition is high and the switching cost is low, the issue is often referred to as ‘the problem of the unfaithful customer’. Mobile phone companies are a typical example; they need to constantly monitor customer abandonment rates (Churn) to preserve customer base profitability. These operators are forced to launch extremely aggressive marketing campaigns to “win away customers” from competitors. Competition causes customer migration from one company to another, motivated by cost benefits or improved quality of services.

To answer this problem, we use tools that can do predictive analysis to understand if a customer is loyal or about to switch suppliers. Today, there are models which can be used based on, for example, machine learning that allow you to manage information “overruns” to extract hidden patterns from your data in order to react quickly and modify the company’s strategic direction.

Which tools are available to help companies manage ‘customer abandonment’ in the case of the B2B market where a small number of customers often represent a high percentage of turnover? In the B2B market the replacement cost is higher and long-lasting business relationships are fundamental.

In the B2B market, it is often the business relationship and the dynamics that are created between the customer and the supplier that create conditions of dissatisfaction and abandonment (Churn). Therefore, it is important to take timely action and measure your customers experience and satisfaction levels.

An effective method is to conduct an accurate analysis to understand the customer experience. The data gained from doing an analysis of existing customers allows you to understand the root causes of customer churn so as to intervene in time.

What is the ‘Churn Rate’?

The churn rate is the drop-out rate or defection rate that expresses the percentage of customers who have left a service in a given period of time compared to the total number of customers who have used it in the same period.

The churn rate is inversely proportional to the retention rate: the lower the churn rate, the higher the retention rate and vice versa. Increasing the customer loyalty rate, minimizing the dropout rate, is a company’s primary objective especially in times of crisis.

When conducting customer experience surveys, you always get an overall view of customer satisfaction but, at the same time, you have access to detailed information about the people involved in the survey and their decision-making processes. The result is access to knowledge that helps keep customers happy over time, fully understanding the levers to be taken into action. Surveys, if carried out with professionalism and a correct methodology for the B2B, are perceived as an investment by the client, and create opportunities for reinforcing personal and business relationships.

Replacing a lost customer costs between 5 and 25 times more than maintaining an existing one. It is therefore critical to understand our customers’ experience so that we can learn to prevent similar losses in the future. So how can we use the survey to analyze our customer churn rate?

1. Purpose

Having a clear goal in mind is important with any Customer Satisfaction survey. As for customer churn, the purpose of the survey must be to identify what caused a customer to stop using our product or service by highlighting areas for improvement.

The purpose of the survey must be clear both internally and externally. All parties involved need to be aware of why you collect the data and what you plan to do with it. In addition, the support of the company’s top decision-makers who have the power to act on the information obtained must be guaranteed.

Transparency is also essential when reaching the most problematic customers. If they understand that their comments will be used to improve their customer satisfaction, there is a greater likelihood that they will provide constructive feedback that can be used in improvement plans.

2. Design

In some cases it may be necessary to interview not only existing customers, but also customers who have already switched to a competitor.

Lost customers have very little incentive to spend time providing feedback, and this should be reflected in survey design. It is normal to encounter resistance with existing customers; therefore it is entirely reasonable to find even greater resistance with customers who have stopped using out product. Designing short and easy-to-understand surveys would be a better idea in cases like these. The survey should aim to get to the root of the problem as quickly as possible.

When designing the survey you need think about the issues to be addressed, the questions to be asked and the formula with which to ask them. The part regarding churn analysis could be a single section of the entire interview. In the case of customers who have switched, you could use only the specific questions that are needed to be concise and effective. For example:

  • A quantitative-scale question that asks customers to evaluate their overall experience with your company. This will generate a simple quantitative number that will be a useful point of comparison.
  • A multiple choice question that asks the customer what led to the decision to switch to one of your competitors. This will give you an overview of the reason behind them changing supplier.
  • An open question accompanied by an open text answer box, such as “How can we improve our product/service?”. This will allow ex-customers to provide more qualitative details about their experience and provide specific and usable data.

It is important to remember that customers always have an interest in communicating what they think suppliers should improve or what they should have done better in order not to lose them. One of the reasons is that for customers there is a switching cost relating to changing their supplier that they would obviously prefer to avoid.

3. Prevention

Customer Experience surveys also have another goal: identify customers who are about to switch and take immediate action in order to retain them.

Identifying potential switching customers before it happens is not always easy, however what your existing business relationship does not highlight could emerge clearly during the Customer Experience survey. The customer feels free to express himself, understands that the conversation is aimed only at improving the service, so communicates with greater transparency the points on which he would like to see an improvement or change.

4. Insights and actions

Once you have collected and analyzed your data, it’s time to take action. The analysis of the data allows you to confirm the initial assumptions and to discover the underlying reasons for dissatisfaction. It highlights how widespread the causes are that lead to a customer’s dissatisfaction or to switch to a competitor. By collecting tangible responses to support initial insights, your company can begin to make the necessary improvements with greater precision based on solid data.

This is only the beginning, survey results can become integrated into the company forming a basis for internal sharing and brainstorming, encouraging decision-making and allowing all members of the organization to take action.

After all, feedback has little value until it is used. Only once we understand why customers have abandoned us will we be able to know which steps to take to retain those we still have.

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