The three Cs of customer
Alfonso Pulido, Dorian Stone, and John Strevel
It may not seem sexy, but consistency is the secret ingredient to
making customers happy. However, it’s difficult to get right and
requires top-leadership attention.
“Sustaining an audience is hard,” Bruce Springsteen once said. “It demands a
consistency of thought, of purpose, and of action over a long period of time.” He was talking
about his route to music stardom, yet his words are just as applicable to the world of customer
experience. Consistency may be one of the least inspirational topics for most managers. But
it’s exceptionally powerful, especially at a time when retail channels are proliferating and
consumer choice and empowerment are increasing.
Getting consistency right also requires the attention of top leadership. That’s because by using
a variety of channels and triggering more and more interactions with companies as they seek
to meet discrete needs, customers create clusters of interactions that make their individual
interactions less important than their cumulative experience. This customer journey can
span all elements of a company and include everything from buying a product to actually
using it, having issues with a product that require resolution, or simply making the decision
to use a service or product for the first time.
It’s not enough to make customers happy with each individual interaction. Our most
recent customer-experience survey of some 27,000 American consumers across 14
different industries found that effective customer journeys are more important:
measuring satisfaction on customer journeys is 30 percent more predictive of overall
customer satisfaction than measuring happiness for each individual interaction. In
addition, maximizing satisfaction with customer journeys has the potential not only to
increase customer satisfaction by 20 percent but also to lift revenue by up to 15 percent
while lowering the cost of serving customers by as much as 20 percent. Our research
identified three keys to consistency:
1. Customer-journey consistency
It’s well understood that companies must continually work to provide customers with
superior service, with each area of the business having clear policies, rules, and supporting
mechanisms to ensure consistency during each interaction. However, few companies can
deliver consistently across customer journeys, even in meeting basic needs.
Simple math illustrates why this is so important in a world of increasingly multichannel,
multitouch customer journeys. Assume a customer interacts six times with a pay-TV
company, starting when he or she undertakes online research into providers and
ending when the first bill is received 30 days after service is installed. Assuming
a 95 percent satisfaction rate for each individual interaction—whether measuring
responsiveness, the accuracy of information, or other factors—even this level of
performance means that up to one in four customers will have a poor experience
during the on-boarding journey.
The fact is that consistency on the most common customer journeys is an important
predictor of overall customer experience and loyalty. Banks, for example, saw an
exceptionally strong correlation between consistency on key customer journeys and overall
performance in customer experience. And when we sent an undercover-shopping team to
visit 50 bank branches and contact 50 bank call centers, the analysis was confirmed: for
lower-performing banks, the variability in experience was much higher among a typical
bank’s branches than it was among different banks themselves. Large banks typically faced
the greatest challenge.
2. Emotional consistency
One of the most illuminating results of our survey was that positive customer-experience
emotions—encompassed in a feeling of trust—were the biggest drivers of satisfaction and
loyalty in a majority of industries surveyed. We also found that consistency is particularly
important to forge a relationship of trust with customers: for example, customers trusted
banks that were in the top quartile of delivering consistent customer journeys 30 percent
more than banks in the bottom quartile.
What is also striking is how valuable the consistency-driven emotional connection is
for customer loyalty. For bank customers, “a brand I feel close to” and “a brand that
I can trust” were the top drivers for bank differentiation on customer experience. In a
world where research suggests that fewer than 30 percent of customers trust most
major financial brands, ensuring consistency on customer journeys to build trust is
important for long-term growth.
3. Communication consistency
A company’s brand is driven by more than the combination of promises made and
promises kept. What’s also critical is ensuring customers recognize the delivery of
those promises, which requires proactively shaping communications and key messages
that consistently highlight delivery as well as themes. Southwest Airlines, for example,
has built customer trust over a long period by consistently delivering on its promise
as a no-frills, low-cost airline. Similarly, Progressive Insurance created an impression
among customers that it offered lower rates than its competitors in the period from 1995
to 2005 and made sure to highlight when it delivered on that promise. Progressive also
shaped how customers interpreted cost-reduction actions such as on-site resolution of
auto claims by positioning and reinforcing these actions as part of a consistent brand
promise that it was a responsive, technology-savvy company. In both cases, customer
perceptions of the brands reinforced operational realities. Such brands generate a
reservoir of goodwill and remain resilient on the basis of their consistency over time in
fulfilling promises and their strong, ongoing marketing communications to reinforce
Becoming a company that delivers customer-journey excellence requires many things to
be done well. But we’ve found that there are three priorities. First, take a journey-based
approach. For companies wanting to improve the customer experience as a means of
increasing revenue and reducing costs, executing on customer journeys leads to the best
outcomes. We found that a company’s performance on journeys is 35 percent more predictive
of customer satisfaction and 32 percent more predictive of customer churn than performance
on individual touchpoints. Since a customer journey often touches different parts of the
organization, companies need to rewire themselves to create teams that are responsible for
the end-to-end customer journey across functions. While we know there are an infinite
number of journeys, there are generally three to five that matter most to the customer and
the business—start your improvements there. To track progress, effectiveness, and predict
opportunities, you may need to retool both metrics and analytics to report on journeys,
not just touchpoint insights.
Second, fix areas where negative experiences are common. Because a single negative
experience has four to five times greater relative impact than a positive one, companies
should focus on reducing poor customer experiences, especially in those areas in which
customers come into contact with the organization most often. For instance, training
frontline service representatives to identify and address specific customer issues
through role playing and script guidelines will go a long way toward engendering
deeper customer trust.
Finally, do it now. Our research indicates that since 2009, customers are valuing an
“average” experience less and have even less patience for variability in delivery. In addition,
companies that experience inconsistency challenges often expend unnecessary resources
without actually improving the customer journey. Making additional investments to improve
the customer experience without tightening the consistency of experience is just throwing
good money after bad.
For more details about customer satisfaction across industries, see “Customer
satisfaction survey: Who’s up and who’s down,” on the McKinsey on Marketing & Sales
Alfonso Pulido is an associate principal in McKinsey’s San Francisco office, where Dorian Stone
is a principal; John Strevel is an associate principal in the Toronto office.
Copyright © 2014 McKinsey & Company. All rights reserved.
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