You may already know only 10% of an iceberg sits above water, while 90% is under water, hidden from view. But did you also know customer experience has similar proportions? In the normal flow of business, your company sees only the direct contacts your customers make with you: visits to your website, calls to sales and customer support, etc. That’s the visible 10%.

What you don’t see, the critical 90%, is the time and effort expended by your customers to do business with you, the perceptions they form about your company along the way, and the comments they make to others. This submerged 90% of the experience is where the battle for the customer’s loyalty is won and lost.

Small Problems in Customer Service Can Have Big Consequences

A useful illustration is to think about what happens when seemingly small problems occur, such as website login issues, dropped hand-offs between customer support representatives, or technicians not fixing an issue correctly the first time.  While these issues may appear minor from your analysis of website errors, dropped support calls, and other readily available operational metrics, they can cause major impacts to your customers, especially if they happen consistently or occur at a bad time.


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Think about a general contractor nearing a project deadline, a farmer with a short window to plant or harvest a crop, or a florist on Valentine’s Day. Typical operational monitoring systems can’t see these customers’ situations unless the customer tells you (which they don’t want to do – they just want you to deliver flawlessly).  “Small” service issues in these customers’ critical path can cause big losses of time, money, opportunities, or damage to their reputation. At the very least it will likely add to their existing levels of stress and frustration.

The same is true for almost any customer who experiences inconsistent service or repeated errors, regardless of whether or not you’re directly in their critical path. Most companies’ processes and technology systems don’t to know this history, let alone alert representatives to make doubly sure that this customers’ next several interactions run smoothly.

If you’re fortunate, customers will tell you about their issues and give you a chance to correct them and learn from them.  However, many customers will not “throw good effort after bad” and simply move on to a different provider to meet their future needs.

In the near term, blind spots in your knowledge of your customers’ experiences might not harm your business’s performance. But over time, companies who are unable to measure consistently, manage, and improve the full spectrum of their customer experiences face lower levels of customer loyalty and, ultimately, lower financial performance and market value compared to competitors who do.

It Pays to Find Out What’s Below the Surface

So, it pays to find out what’s hidden below the surface to more fully understand your customer experience and improve it. This can be done by augmenting common “surface” measurement tools such as web analytics, call handle times, and average repair completion times with other tools to help you peer below the surface. These include brief customer feedback surveys following a transaction, field observation and mystery shopping, and monitoring mentions of your company or product on social networks and other public forums.

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As you begin to map the other 90% of your customer experience, you’ll learn more about what your customers value most, as well as what you may be doing, or not doing to satisfy them. There’s a good chance you’ll find immediate opportunities for improvement.

What you discover may surprise you: for instance, results from the 2013 Customer Rage Study imply that you may be able to double your customer complaint satisfaction rates and, in turn, increase customer loyalty simply by apologizing and providing other non-monetary remedies when your customers complain about their experience, without needing to spend more money on refunds or repairs. 

These and other valuable insights await under the surface: are you ready to take the plunge?


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