Customer Experience Is the New Brand Differentiator

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Ever wonder why more point-of-sale clerks ask you how your day is going and whether you found everything you were looking for?  They are carrying out an intentional strategy of engaging consumers in service of improving the “customer experience”.

Improving the customer experience – or CX, as it is called in marketing lingo – has become the new battlefield to differentiate a brand from competition and increase retention, satisfaction and revenue. Business leaders say as much as two-thirds of their competitive edge is based on the experience they deliver to customers in-store and online.

As a consequence, marketing dollars have shifted to CX improvements, based on a more attentive analysis of customer feedback to see if expectations are being met or exceeded – and, if not, to find out why, according to a Gartner survey. An intimate understanding of consumer expectations and the customer journey is critical to guiding strategic decisions at all levels of an organization. 

In the past, product value and service quality dominated consumer decision-making. That may be changing. Some 86 percent of buyers surveyed said they would pay more for a better customer experience on items such as coffee, sports tickets, airline seats and car insurance. Sustained customer satisfaction can lead to fierce consumer loyalty.

CX can extend from virtual reality tours for homebuyers to a good experience on a mobile device. Data indicates there will be nearly 28 billion more queries on mobile devices than desktop computers. Customers like to search for information themselves, so it is important to make the path easy, including mobile search and purchase.

Fifty percent of customers value finding and purchasing what they want on their own. Seventy percent expect a brand’s website should allow for self-service. Some of those queries will occur in-store. Impediments to positive in-store or online consumer engagement include difficult navigation, unhelpful search results, slow load times and sites that aren’t searchable.

Customer frustration with their experience can lead to bad word-of-mouth. One study indicates 13 percent of unhappy customers will share their dissatisfaction with 15 or more people, while 72 percent of customers will share a positive customer experience with six or more friends and family members. One in three customers will desert a brand after a bad experience. 

The bottom line is that if you aren’t measuring your customer satisfaction and investing in your customer experience, your bottom line will suffer.

[Many of the statistics cited in this blog came from a post titled, “37 Customer Experience Statistics You Need to Know for 2019” by Toma Kulbyté and published by SuperOffice.]

 

Gun Ownership Punctuates American Political Polarity

America is undisputedly polarized and nothing reflects that polarization as much voting by gun owners and non-gun owners, based on SurveyMonkey research from the 2016 presidential election.

America is undisputedly polarized and nothing reflects that polarization as much voting by gun owners and non-gun owners, based on SurveyMonkey research from the 2016 presidential election.

There is no dispute that Americans are polarized, and no issue depicts the deep divide in America than gun ownership.

SurveyMonkey has published side-by-side maps based on 2016 presidential exit polls that show gun owners predominantly voted for Donald Trump and non-gun owners predominantly voted for Hillary Clinton. The only two exceptions were in West Virginia where non-gun owners voted for Trump and in Vermont where gun owners voted for Clinton. 

“No other demographic characteristic created such a consistent geographic split,” according to New York Times reporters Nate Cohn and Kevin Quealy. “Overall, gun-owning households (roughly a third in America) backed Trump by 63 percent to 31 percent, while households without guns backed Clinton, 65 percent to 30 percent.”

The nearly all-blue and nearly all-red maps depict an electoral vote outcome by state based on gun ownership voting. It is a startling polemic, which helps explain political inertia on addressing gun violence.

The SurveyMonkey data point about gun ownership, which was posted originally in October 2017, resurfaced last week as political leaders struggled to “do something” in response to the twin mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Something as basic as universal background checks for gun purchases remains an elusive proposition, let alone more aggressive actions such as an assault weapon ban.

SurveyMonkey examined other “divides,” but none were as clear-cut as gun ownership. The closest was the racial divide. For example, Clinton only won a majority of white voters in New England and the West Coast. A majority of non-white voters only backed Trump in Iowa, Oklahoma and Alaska. 

Working-class whites voted predominantly for Trump, except in Washington and Massachusetts. “Everyone else but working-class whites” tended to vote for Clinton, except in states such as West Virginia, the Dakotas and Utah.

The urban-rural divide is real, with Trump carrying most rural areas and Clinton dominating in urban centers. How this divide affects the electoral outcome of state depends on how big the urban centers are compared to rural areas. 

Married and unmarried voters have a definite split, with unmarrieds trending toward Clinton and marrieds toward Trump. Yet, still not as definitive as gun ownership.

The same goes for religious divisions that reflect sharp divisions as Protestant and Catholic voters leaned toward Trump, while atheists and non-church-goers leaned toward Clinton. 

Union membership, once thought to be an unbreakable political alliance with Democrats, has become more of mixed bag. A majority of households with a union member voted for Trump in several states including Iowa, Indiana and West Virginia.

Changing Minds by Appealing to The Senses

Studies show atmospherics influence human attitudes. That suggests marketers and public policy advocates should consider making customers and constituents comfortable before making their pitches.

Studies show atmospherics influence human attitudes. That suggests marketers and public policy advocates should consider making customers and constituents comfortable before making their pitches.

Does the brain run the body or the body run the brain? The answer can be a huge clue on how to influence human behavior. 

The brain processes information generated by the body and sends messages to all parts of the body. We tend to think the brain is the center of human intelligence, the source of creativity and the home for emotions – sort of an organic computer. So, if the brain functions like a computer, does the principle of “garbage-in, garbage-out” apply?

Parts of the body interact directly with the outside world. We see through our eyes, hear through our ears, taste with our mouth, smell through our nose and touch with our skin. How much does the outside world influence what we “think” because of the signals our bodies send to our brains?

Another way to think about this conundrum is to ask why a dog wags its tail, which is part of the canine neurological network. Tail-wagging occurs when a dog sees its favorite person, smells a familiar scent and senses it is dinner time when a pet parent reaches into the bin of kibble. Is the dog brain wagging the tail or are the messages the dog body is sending to the dog brain causing the wagging?

Very likely, the interactivity of the brain and body is so complete and accomplished, there really isn’t a “boss.” The brain is more like the chief of intelligence for a large, sophisticated organization.

Yet, the answer to the question of brain over body or body over brain can still matter, even if the difference is small and incidental.

Research conducted in 2012 and published in Psychological Science suggests outside influences have an effect on perception and creativity. In one finding, people who held a warm cup of coffee tended to rate the personalities of strangers they met as “warmer” than did people without warm coffee cups.

In a more extended study, students positioned inside a large box were less creative, as measured by “out-of-the-box” ideas, than students working on the same assignment while sitting just outside the box.

In a related experiment, students were deemed more creative when allowed to walk wherever they wanted while doing the assignment as opposed to students required to follow a fixed route.

Even though these studies aren’t conclusive, they suggest atmospherics affect thinking.

The concept, called “embodied cognition perspective,” should cause policymakers and marketers to pause and consider what factors are more conducive to the results they seek. 

It doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to know someone is likely to order a cold beer when sitting at a pool on a hot day. What does require some “cognition” is thinking about how an environment can enhance an outcome by having the body send positive messages that influence the brain.

There is a good reason why furniture stores organize what they sell by rooms so would-be buyers can experience how a sofa or a bedroom set would look in their house.

Lobbyists like to make their pitches to lawmakers over drinks and dinner. Picking up the tab isn’t the clincher; it is the comfortable, relaxed environment that can make lawmakers more receptive. 

Media buyers practice a form of embodied cognition perspective when they place TV and radio ads on channels and in slots where their target audience is watching or listening.

A more recent adaptation are in-store apps designed to assist customers in stores find what they want without searching endlessly or asking a clerk for help. It’s also a great way to conduct flash sales. 

The research is a good reminder that colors, convenience, organization and friendliness can convert shoppers into buyers. Variations of those principles when applied to public policy advocacy can move people from skepticism to support.

If you want to change the way people think, don’t overlook courting the way they feel. If possible, make sure they have a warm cup of coffee in hand so you can take advantage of a receptive moment.

 

Poll: Americans Open to Medicare Choice, Not Medicare-for-All

Fresh poll results indicate a majority of Americans think a choice between private health insurance and Medicare is a good idea, but a Medicare-for-All plan is a bad idea.

Fresh poll results indicate a majority of Americans think a choice between private health insurance and Medicare is a good idea, but a Medicare-for-All plan is a bad idea.

A majority of Americans like the idea of choosing between private health insurance or Medicare, but disfavor eliminating private health insurance under a Medicare-for-All plan, according to a new NPR/Marist Poll.

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Seventy percent of poll respondents said a choice between coverage under private health insurance or Medicare is a “good idea.” Only 25 percent view that choice as a “bad idea.” Democrats are the most supportive at 90 percent, with 70 percent of independents in agreement. Republicans are split with 46 percent liking the idea and 48 percent viewing it is a bad idea.

There was little difference in viewpoints between men and women, between respondents from different regions in the country or between big city and small city dwellers.

There were slight differences based on education and age. Millennials (79%) were the most favorable toward the idea and older Americans (64%) were the least favorable.

Fifty-four percent of poll respondents consider Medicare-for-All a “bad idea,” while only 41 percent view it as a “good idea.” As you would expect, people identifying themselves as “progressive” (68%) were the most supportive and Republicans (14%) and Trump supporters (15%) were the least enamored.

For 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, a troubling finding was that only 40 percent of self-described moderates and 39 percent of independents regard Medicare-for-All as a good idea. It is unpopular in all regions of the country and in big cities, suburban areas and rural areas.

Millennials (53%) and people with household incomes below $50,000 (49%) are the most supportive respondents for Medicare-for-All. 

The poll touched on a number of other issues. Here is a quick summary:

  • 89% of respondents regard background checks for gun purchases at gun shows is a good idea.

  • 67% favor government regulation of prescription drug prices.

  • 64% favor a pathway of citizenship for immigrants in the United States illegally.

  • 63% favor legalizing marijuana nationally.

  • 63% favor a Green New Deal to address climate change.

  • 62% favor a so-called wealth tax on higher-income individuals.

  • 57% favor a ban on the sale of semi-automatic assault guns.

  • 56% favor a $15 per hour minimum wage.

  • 53% favor the United States rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement.

  • 53% favor free tuition at colleges and universities.

  • 50% favor a carbon tax on coal, oil and natural gas.

  • 51% oppose repeal of Obamacare.

  • 50% oppose eliminating the electoral college.

  • 58% oppose abolishing the death penalty.

  • 62% oppose a national health insurance program for illegal immigrants.

  • 66% oppose decriminalizing illegal border crossings.

  • 62% oppose reparations for slavery.

  • 66% oppose a universal basic income of $1,000 per month for all US adults.

The Marist Poll was conducted from July 15-17 with 1,346 adults using a random sample of landline and mobile phone users. Of the adult respondents, 1,175 said they were registered voters. Thirty-eight percent of the registered voters were independents, 33 percent were Democrats and 27 percent Republicans. Fifty-two percent were women and 48 percent men. Minority participation was consistent with US population demographics.

 

A Peek at American Pride Before Independence Day

As Americans prepare to celebrate Independence Day, a new Gallup poll reveals a continuing decline in national pride that reflects polarized political views, discontent with US welfare and health care systems and deep disappointment in the US political system.

As Americans prepare to celebrate Independence Day, a new Gallup poll reveals a continuing decline in national pride that reflects polarized political views, discontent with US welfare and health care systems and deep disappointment in the US political system.

American overall pride in their country has dipped to the lowest point since Gallup started asking the poll question in 2001. Democrats are mostly responsible for the decline in pride.

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“Record-low American patriotism is the latest casualty of the sharply polarized political climate in the U.S. today,” Gallup said of its poll conducted in June. “For the second time in 19 years, fewer than half of U.S. adults say they are extremely proud to be Americans. The decline reflects plummeting pride among Democrats since Trump took office, even as Republican pride has edged higher.” 

Before jumping to a conclusion about who is and isn’t patriotic, Gallup asked revealing questions that help to pinpoint the decline in pride:

  • 91% of Americans take pride in American scientific achievements.

  • 89% are proud of the US military.

  • 85% are proud of American culture and arts.

  • 75% are proud of American economic achievements.

  • 73% are proud of American sporting achievements.

  • 72% are proud of US diversity in race, ethnic background and religion.

America is off track on its health, welfare and political systems.

  • Only 37% of Americans take pride in US health and welfare system.

  • Only 32% take pride in the American political system.

There is an unmistakable division between Republicans, Democrats and Independents and a noticeable difference between older and younger adults.

  • 76% of Republicans are extremely proud of America contrasted to only 41% of Independents and 22% of Democrats.

  • 63% of adults 65 or older are extremely proud of America compared to 24% of adults between the ages of 18-29.

Gallup said the highest expressions of pride in country occurred immediately after the 9/11 terror attack in New York.

One-on-One Interviews Create Partners in Decision-Making

One-on-one interviews share the same concept as management by walking around – turning interviewees, employees and stakeholders into partners in critical decision-making.

One-on-one interviews share the same concept as management by walking around – turning interviewees, employees and stakeholders into partners in critical decision-making.

Management by walking around and talking to front-line workers was made famous by Tom Peters. The concept boils down to making employees – or any stakeholders – a partner in the decision-making process.

That same inclusionary concept is embedded in the research techniques of one-on-one interviews and community roundtables. Stakeholders are interviewed or participate in a group discussion to inform decision-making, whether it’s for a business, project or major initiative. 

Too often, research is dismissed as interesting, but not imperative. Just as Peters demonstrated the power of management engagement with workers, one-on-one interviews and roundtables perform the same role by giving decision-makers relevant, timely findings to inform their decisions.

In our world, we say no communications plan is strategic unless it is based on solid research. The same holds true for business plans, policy initiatives, marketing and messaging.

CEOs and managers would be wise to take time to meet with the employees they oversee to learn what they know and apply to inform management decision-making.

CEOs and managers would be wise to take time to meet with the employees they oversee to learn what they know and apply to inform management decision-making.

You may know what you want to say, but you should know what people are willing to hear first. That insight can shape how and where you say your piece. It also can influence who says it.

Given how important knowing in advance the attitudes of your target audience, it is surprising how often research is thrown overboard because it is costly, time-consuming and “unlikely to reveal anything new.” That short-sighted, overly self-confidence perspective has come back to bite many executives, marketers and politicians in the bum. It is an unforced error because one-on-one interviews are one of the least costly and most effective types of qualitative research.

Peters counseled his corporate client executives to get “up close and personal” with their subordinates, especially workers who interface with customers, but have no institutional channel to relay what they discover. Peters also recommended top executives work full shifts with the production staff so they could see first-hand working conditions, process snags and wasted motion. His goal: To create horizontal relationships that allow a free-flow of information.

Trained researchers have the skill to coax insight out of people they interview or whom they moderate in a group discussion. Researchers start with a set of questions designed to spark a conversation, which can expand beyond answering a question to provide invaluable context and perspective. Interviews and group discussions also offer visual clues about emotive reactions to certain issues, words or imagery.

Interviewees, especially if assured they won’t be quoted directly, are typically very forthcoming. After all, most people like to be asked their opinions. They appreciate the chance to answer questions and explain their answers.

Reports based on one-on-one interviews or group discussions don’t contain percentages because this is qualitative, not quantitative research. You are getting their views expressed in their words. The actual words interviewees use are just as important to hear as their answers to the questions.

Executives are hired because they are expected to know how to run their respective organizations. However, many decisions stretch the knowledge or experience of top executives. They need fresh, relevant information to inform the choices they must make. One-on-one interviews and group discussions can provide the information and insight executives need for smart, collaborative decision-making.