Saturday, February 16, 2013

Customers Rule! Creating a Data Driven Culture that Puts Customers First

Every business needs one thing - customers.   We want to keep our current and past customers coming back and we want to acquire new customers. Surprisingly, we often fail to utilize the best resource to do this better - our customers.  There are numerous opportunities to gain insights into customer experience and how to tailor services, products and tools to improve customer satisfaction and create higher demand.  Business decisions are often driven by what Avinash Kaushik calls HiPPOs (The Highest Paid Person's Opinion), rather than what actually matters - the people interested in purchasing our products and services (Kaushik, 2010).

We can use our website to gather data on customer experience through overt methods, such as surveys and forums and through less overt means using web analytic tools.  Creating a culture in which businesses decisions are driven by data coming from our customers, rather than "gut feelings" and HiPPOs ground an organization in solid decision making practices and ensure that an organization remains focused on what matters most - customers.

Methods

There are multiple methods that we can utilize to gather data about customer experience.  Web Analytics software enables us to track metrics such as conversion rates, cart abandonment and click stream data that can all provide insights into user experience and identify problem spots.  These tools are helpful, but we often need additional data to help us identify where we can improve and to evaluate whether a proposed change will lead to better outcomes.  In this post I discuss a couple of these basic methods, A/B testing and voice of customer surveys.

A/B Testing

One of the best ways to gather data on whether a proposed change will be an effective one is through A/B testing.  A/B testing is a pretty straightforward concept in which two options are compared to evaluate which option performs best.  When considering a change to your website you can test the changes by directing a portion of your new traffic to the test page and comparing the conversion rates of interest.  Depending on the objective of the change - more sales, more subscriptions, greater number of page views, etc., you will create goals with which to compare with your original page.  Whichever page performs best in obtaining your desired objective is the one you use on your website.

From Paras Chopra's, "The Ultimate Guide to A/B Testing"

Common comparisons in which A/B testing is used include things such as color schemes for layouts and buttons, button location, general layout, pictures, price and promotions.  Using A/B testing to drive decisions will help your company to become more customer focused.  A/B testing will provide you with real world data of how customers react to proposed changes to your website.  No longer will you have to go off of what seems like a good idea, but will have real evidence of what works best.  This is important because results are often counter-intuitive.  You may think a certain layout "looks" better, but the less attractive layout does a better job of achieving the results that really matter to you.

For a more in depth look at A/B testing and how to implement an A/B test check out Paras Chopra's article, "The Ultimate Guide to A/B Testing".

Voice of Customer Surveys

One of the best ways to improve customer experience is very simple - ask your customers.  Not only are customers often willing to provide feedback to help you improve your business, they often appreciate the opportunity to do so.  Providing a forum where customers can communicate with your business in a meaningful way can increase customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Their are several ways in which you can implement a survey into your site, including an active pop-up window, a less obtrusive customer initiated tab or button on your site and a survey embedded directly onto your site. Pop-up windows provide higher response rates than customer initiated surveys, but may pose a problem of diverting users from a desired goal - particularly if you run an e-commerce site.

Tim Leighton-Boyce recommends a free text embedded survey on a thank-you page after a conversion as the best option, hands down.  Such an option doesn't get in the way of a conversion since it is presented after a purchase has been made.  Survey completion rates are higher than any other option by far and customers tend not to be annoyed with this take it or leave it request when presented on the thank you page after a purchase or other conversion has taken place.  Leighton-Boyce also recommends that you be sure to provide a free text response option with any other direct questions provided in such a survey.  This is important because customers may want to inform you about an issue, or a suggestion that you haven't thought about and your direct questions do not adequately capture.  This kind of data is much more time consuming to analyze, but is worth the additional resources to enable customers to address the issue of interest to them.

Tim Leighton-Boyce provides additional recommendations and resources in his article, "Let Your Customers Tell You How to Make Your Site Better".

Conclusion

These are only two of innumerable ways in which you can gather data regarding your customer's experience. The important thing is that you begin gathering this data, and even more important, that you use it!  Creating a culture in which decisions are based on quality data that is intelligently interpreted is actually a move toward a customer focused culture.  Let your customers tell you, either directly from their feedback, or from inferences made based on the way they interact with your site, what works well and what doesn't.


References:
1. Avinash Kaushik, "Web Analytics 2.0, the Art of Online Accountability & Science of Customer Centricity," Wiley Publishing, Inc. 2010.
2. Paras Chopra, "The Ultimate Guide to A/B Testing", viewed 2/16/2013.
3. Tim Leighton-Boyce, "Let Your Customers Tell you How to Make Your Site Better", viewed 2/16/2013