"What customers say to each other about us is far more important than what we say about ourselves"

Thursday 4th April 2019

Martha Rogers

In the lead-up to the annual World Business Forum to be held in Sydney in May, Industry Moves talks to featured speaker, international best selling author and influential customer experience leader, Dr Martha Rogers. She gives some expert advice on strategy for regaining customer's trust, offers some tips on how social media can be used to reward best customers and shows us what a good apology looks like.

What reasons do you feel are the cause of certain sectors of the finance industry not understanding the importance of good customer experience?

Number of birthdays, mostly. When today’s top executives attended business school and worked hard at their own meteoric rise to the top floor corner offices, technology, communication, data management, product production and distribution, and what we think of now as “vintage marketing” characterized an era barely recognizable today. Thus many of today’s leaders want to continue what worked so well for them for decades. But the wisest and savviest of them recognize that everything that led to their success is upended now:

Customers have nearly-unlimited access to information and to each other’s ratings and opinions.

  1. What customers say to each other about us is far more important than what we say about ourselves. Customers have nearly-unlimited access to information and to each other’s ratings and opinions. People will always be more and more interconnected – never less. Mass media still exist of course but are splintered into a shadow of the old glory. “Advertising” will continue its brand-building role, but social media and the internet help make more of the buying decisions.

  2. Data Management goes beyond anything business schools back in the twentieth century could even imagine. Every year sees the amount of data we generate and manage leap up and the cost of storage and analytics drop. The internet of things, artificial intelligence, and deep machine learning make predictability more and more accurate even at sharply segmented levels.

In other words, “customer experience” is not just a good idea that you can lean into if you have some leisure time or budget. It is mandated by transparency, interconnectivity, and the power of customers to know and choose what’s best for themselves. The technology is a bullet train. You can plan the route, from the conductor’s cabin, hurtling into the next quarter and the next. Or you can lie down on the tracks.

You can plan the route, from the conductor’s cabin, hurtling into the next quarter and the next. Or you can lie down on the tracks.

What do you feel are the most important steps for an organisation to take to regain customer’s trust after bad publicity?

Unfortunately, Chapter 51 of our revised paperback, Extreme Trust: Turning Proactive Honesty and Flawless Execution into Long-term Profit, is one of the most-referenced chapters. It’s titled, “The Power of an Apology,” with a sidebar named “Recovering Lost Trust.” In the e-social age, apologizing for honest errors will be a potent strategy for earning the trust of customers. We are human. We make mistakes (although not too many if we want to remain trustable). Seeking forgiveness is a form of social aikido; Rather than resisting someone else’s actions (or complaints), you are actually using their momentum in your own cause. (Note: This works well for everyone in personal life too, especially when everybody can know everything.)

Here’s what a good apology looks like:

  1. Acknowledge the problem. (We realize our service has not met your expectation this holiday season.)
  2. Acknowledge that this had a cost to others. (As a result, you did not receive your orders before Christmas day.)
  3. Now, the actual apology. This will have the phrase “We apologize” or “I’m sorry” in it, or it’s not quite an apology. And it doesn’t have an excuse or the phrase “But you have to understand…”)
  4. Tell how we’re going to fix it. (You will receive your order before New Year’s Day, free of charge. And we want you to know we have already changed shippers and commissioned new, better order and delivery systems to make sure this cannot happen again.)

We goofed, we’re sorry we made things harder for you, won’t happen again.

"...don’t try to deny facts, because the truth will come out, and the cover-up is often worse than the “crime.”"

One thing we know from research is that people will forgive mistakes due to incompetence much more quickly than they will forgive mistakes due to deception or selfish motivations. An error in execution does not lose a customer permanently the way bad character can. Good to avoid both, of course, but in any case don’t try to deny facts, because the truth will come out, and the cover-up is often worse than the “crime.”

After a good apology: Good behaviour is the single most effective way to restore trust after an episode of bad or untrustworthy behaviour.

Martha Rogers

How have you seen the growth of social media impact on customer loyalty?

Let’s face it: Used correctly, social media and websites can offer the unique benefit of being able to connect with each of your customers – on a hotline.

But: Customers are less committed to brands than ever in history.

You can learn about each of your customers through “Social listening” about which products they are discussing with others, which media they use and when, and be a participant in complaints and compliments

Figure out how to make it easy to be engaged with you, and to share with others.

Reward your most enthusiastic, loyal VIP customers by making it easy to rate, review, and lead your customer base. But make sure it’s clear your reward is not tainted by pay to play, but instead reward them by giving them VIP status, scoops about new products and ideas, special access to you and other influencers, and providing them with special experiences such as a closed online presentation with a popular performer or endorser.

What trends have you seen recently in the way large organisations monitor and respond to customer experience?

The key to thinking about this is taking the customer’s perspective. Easy to say, hard to do. Many companies have adopted ways of making sure they know about each piece of the interaction (e.g. connection rate or completion rate) for each of their contact points such as inbound and outbound calls, email, website, SMS, web chat, but still have no clue about what it’s like to be our customer.

"Customers are not interested in any of the ingredients in the sausage you are making. They just want to know it’s nutritious, tastes good, and provides value."

Here’s an example: You have a problem with cable service, so you call the cable provider. After 20 minutes on hold and a nerve-wracking phone-decision tree, you finally get a human being representative, who is very helpful, and gets you the help you need. Then the technician comes to your home, nearly an hour later than the two-hour appointment window, and leaves without getting everything done, because he ran out of the part he needed to do your job. So you have to make another appointment, wait again, and finally get fixed something that shouldn’t have gone wrong in the first place. You can’t decide if it’s worth it to go through the call process again to get a refund for the days the service wasn’t working. Then you get an email asking you to review the repair job. But when you open the email, you find a bait and switch message; what the cable company wants to know is whether the phone rep was good or not? You delete the email without answering it.

What do we learn from this?

Customers are not interested in any of the ingredients in the sausage you are making. They just want to know it’s nutritious, tastes good, and provides value. Asking about one small piece of the overall experience feels irrelevant to them.

You and I know that what’s happening is that the vendor who handles the complaint calls wants to prove to the company their reps are doing a good job. So they only care about that one piece of the entire experience. The customer just feels as though she doesn’t get to tell her side of the story and how frustrating all the rest of the experience was.

The one part that does get measured is actually the only part that was good. (And too bad the good phone rep doesn’t get to hear about it.)

What would you most like your audience to take away from your upcoming presentation at WOBI in June?

Old rules need not apply. The question to ask yourself every day in the shower is this: Since all of our revenue – by definition – comes from customers, what am I doing to make sure we are getting the best ones, keeping them longer, and growing them bigger by providing them with great customer experiences and solving their problems – even ones they haven’t articulated yet? And how do we use artificial intelligence and deep machine learning to do all that more efficiently and effectively?

And a little about you Martha…

Where did you grow up and what was it like?

I grew up in Pensacola, Florida, USA, near the sugar-white-sand beaches. Beautiful area of the country, lovely moss-covered live oak trees, and magnolias. I was ninth-generation of my family to be born in Pensacola, and I was the first to move north of the Mason-Dixon line (established in the U.S. Civil War of 1860-65). Lucky to have excellent public schools and then I worked my way through college with scholarships, work-study, and loans. Now we live in a great old landmark home in Connecticut, on the national historic register, and have a place in New York, where we often work and attend theatre and ballet, and get to spend time talking to a lot of very interesting people.

Is there someone or something, in particular, that has influenced your life/career?

I worked hard and saved money starting with my first full time summer job at age 14, in order to pay my way through college and graduate school. I’ve been selling stuff since Girl Scout cookies when I was little. (Best place to sell em? Local county jails.) One of my early jobs was writing ad copy, and that’s when I learned the difference between extolling a product, and figuring out what a customer needed and how a product might help. Some important influencers for me have been Tom Peters and Phil Kotler, both of them very smart guys who never stopped learning and teaching. And of course, I’ve learned the most from our clients from companies around the world, who have been in the trenches and honoured us with the chance to help improve the lives of their customers and the profitability of their businesses.

You have travelled extensively with your presentations, have you got a favourite destination?

If the planes are on time and I know there will be smart people where I’m going, that’s my favourite destination. The big cities in Europe and Asia are fascinating, and I love the Andes and the Nebraska Sand Hills in the U.S., as well as our great cities. Of course, I have always been in love with all parts of Australia and have realized that if I were to move away from the New York area, Australia is the only other place I’d really want to live.

What is something that most people don’t know about you?

I loved dance and was in a performing company for five years. And yes, sang and danced in musicals. In a past life, I made my own bread and grew my own beansprouts. And I come from a big family; we are on group text conversations every day, including the millennial generation among us. Ain’t tech grand?

World Business Forum Want to hear more from Dr Martha Rogers? Click here for details about her upcoming presentation at this year's World Business Forum, to be held on May 28 & 29 in Sydney. Industry Moves' readers can use promo code IM10 when purchasing tickets to receive a 10% discount.
Industry Moves is a proud supporting partner of the event.

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