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There are many modes of customer service (phone, in-person, email, etc.). But, when done well, chat is by far the best.

It reduces customer effort, increases customer satisfaction and answers customers’ questions quickly. Plus, it’s less costly than the phone, is more immediate than email, and it amplifies conversion by showing up on your website just when customers are about to bail.

The thing is… usually chat is NOT done well—meaning these advantages are rarely realized. As antidote, here are 5 things that chat masters always do to ensure their chats are profitable and lead to customer experience success.

Customer Service Chat: 5 Ways to Improve

  1. Skip the empty questions. Customers are chatting for answers, and while chat can be conversational, get to the point. “How are you doing today?” and other space-filler questions are usually read as tedious hurdles the customer must endure, rather than niceties the customer enjoys.
  2. Be specific and reference the customer’s situation immediately. If the intake form shows why the customer is chatting, don’t ask the customer to repeat themselves; instead move into relevant, clarifying questions that show listening.
  3. Use the customer’s name; it’s a small way to show the customer you care and are focused on them.
  4. Make sure the customer has all the facts they might not have thought to ask about. This could include information about timeframes, what to expect next, or how to customize the product.
  5. Tell the customer you’re following up with an email and then do it. This gives your customer a reminder of where they were and gives you a way to add context and value; it’s a win-win. The value you add could be links to other resources, interesting facts about social trends in your industry, etc. The point is to bridge the customer’s initial inquiry to the products and services your company provides.

Of course, your associates can have the best tips and tricks along with the most extensive training but if you don’t measure how often and how well they act on that information, you can’t prove (or disprove) the quality of your customer service. And let’s face it, the world is full of good intentions and terrible execution.

At Interaction Metrics, we provide robust, highly accurate customer feedback programs and customer service evaluations with optimizations. With meaningful metrics and elemental analysis, we remove the biases and other flaws that obstruct customer experience success.

Say hello to get the 1 number you need for customer experience success.  Or, just say hello because you’d like to exchange ideas about how to improve the customer experience.

Whenever I run a webinar on how to drive ROI from customer experience, I get an unusually high number of registrants. This leads me to believe that while there are more customer experience (cx) roles than ever before, customer experience itself is not seen as an ROI generator. But thinking about customer experience as an ROI generator matters! If CX is yet another sunk cost, you won’t get the resources you need to deliver a truly great experience to your customers.


While customer experience is many things, any company that’s serious about customer experience (and thereby generating ROI) will focus on two areas: collecting accurate, actionable customer feedback and delivering great customer service. Here I’ll focus on how to get ROI on customer service, and I’ll save how to get ROI on other aspects of CX, for future posts. My examples will span a range of industries, from retail to elective surgery, because customer service can work as a conversion tool for almost every company.


Customer Service—It’s Your Conversion Machine:

Let me start with a blanket (but true) statement: Whenever chat, email or phone-based customer service generates ROI for an organization, it’s invariably because customer service is being actively staged and strategized as a conversion vehicle. Every aspect has been carefully considered: what the customer service associate says, when they say it, and how they say it. And for chat-based customer service, when the chat box appears, and for whom, is also a deliberate feature.


It’s critical to note that even though great customer service can (and should!) drive conversion, you should NOT think of customer service as a sales team. After all, the customer is calling or chatting to get information or advice. Responding to questions with a sales spiel is a quick way to turn customers off. Using customer service to drive conversion is not about using overt sales techniques, but rather providing proactive information and showing the next step as a natural progression in a clear and compelling way.


Making customer service your conversion machine comes down to mastering the four dimensions common to all customer service:

  • Timing
  • Connection
  • Information
  • Differentiation


What follows are a few tips and tricks about how to use each of the four dimensions as a conversion tool. Of course, there are myriad, nuanced ways to use customer service for conversion, and I’ve only listed a few so if you’re interested in more ideas, say hello.


Timing: These are the pacing aspects of customer service—how long is the transaction, how long is the wait in line. To convert you need to show that you value the customers time.

  • Set expectations and meet them:  when you say “hold for just a minute,” take just a minute, not five. Not only is this good customer service but, in terms of conversion it’s critical. While the customer might very well take the next step even if they have to wait on hold or in line—if you disregard their time, it will violate their trust, and for conversion, trust is essential.


Connection:  These are the listening and empathy aspects of customer service.  To convert, associates need to show clear engagement because if you don’t care why should your prospect?

  • Reference the customer and their situation specifically. For example, if the customer needs recommendations for a dress, and mentions it’s for a wedding, weave this into your response: “The X dress and the Y dress would be two great options for a low-key, Saturday afternoon wedding…”
  • Use the customer’s name; it signals that they’re uniquely important.


Information:  Of course, timing and connection mean nothing if you’re providing bogus or confusing answers to customers’ questions. For customers to take a next step, they need answers that are clear, accurate, and proactive.


  • Validate with social proof. Explain to an equivocating shopper that “in the product reviews, customers rave about the ergonomics and versatility of this particular lawn mower.”
  • Always include a call to action. An easy next step is by far one of the most important aspects of conversion. For example, in chat and email interactions, provide links to the products referenced. That way, if you’ve been persuasive enough in your interaction, it’s simple for the customer to click and buy.


Differentiation: Customers shop around, so you’ve got to actively demonstrate that your company is special or outstanding. Prove to the customer that they’ve come to the right place.

  • Cite facts and statistics that show your company is the expert. For example, “For five years in a row, we’ve been rated the best home insurance agency in Florida,” or “Our sunglasses go through a 30-point quality assurance checklist—they’re tested to survive the worst of your mountain bike wipe-outs.”
  • Provide an extra tip or trick “And know that if you leave your sunglasses on your dashboard, the lenses are likely to overheat and delaminate.”
  • Share your unbeatable warranty policy or product guarantee: “In the rare event that you get a defective item, or you don’t think you look stellar in that dress, just return it. We want our customers to be thrilled with their purchases from us; that’s why we offer a 60 day guarantee.”


You can’t manage what you don’t measure—including conversion. But knowing your conversion rate alone will only show you how you’re doing generally, not what needs to be improved upon specifically. If you want to improve your conversion rate, you’ll need to measure the communication elements that drive your conversion rate and you’ll need to share your Persuasion Score with executive and front-line teams regularly.


Now, as long as you’ve made it this far, send us a customer service interaction (a chat transcription, an email, a call recording) and we’ll tell you if it’s conversion oriented. If it’s not, we’ll give you a few ideas about how to make your interaction more persuasive!



I know you get asked to take surveys all the time, because I do. Even the shortest business trip results in at least 5 surveys: Delta wants to know about your flight; Hilton wants to know about your stay; Enterprise asks about your car rental and on and on. But the most prevalent of all surveys is that one at the bottom of your sales receipt, the request from Apple, Kohl’s, Nordstrom, Target and virtually all retailers to “tell us how we did.”


So last fall, two of my analysts and I set out to measure the quality of those point-of-purchase surveys (Point-of-Purchase Survey Study). We thought it would be interesting to know what level of science and engagement the nation’s largest retailers bring to their surveys. The surveys say they want to know about our experiences as a customer, but do they really want to know? Or, is this just PR spin?


Well, friends, unfortunately… it’s PR spin. The nation’s largest retailers run tragically poor customer satisfaction surveys, they’re bad for customers, bad for companies—they’re a waste of time and money all the way around..


So what are these big retailers, like Amazon, Apple, Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, and Target, doing wrong? Are there lessons that can be learned from their mistakes? And how can you make your survey better than some of the biggest companies in the world?


Let’s look at the two main problems: First, the vast majority of the surveys were riddled with biases, so we can’t imagine they provide anything but highly skewed data. And second, most of the surveys failed to show they care about their customers and the experiences they had.


Let’s look at the problem of bias. There were five types of biases in these surveys, each negatively affecting data accuracy in different ways.

1.  Leading Questions— Known within psychology as priming, leading questions are designed to elicit a particular response. Ace Hardware asked: “How satisfied were you with the speed of our checkout?”


This question is phrased in a way that assumes the customer is at least somewhat satisfied.


2. Forced Wording—The Gap asked customers: “Rate your agreement with the following statement: The look and feel of the store environment was very appealing.”

“Appealing” is a weird word. It’s probably not how customers think about their experience in a store like Gap. They’d be more likely to think “it’s a mess,” “that was fun,” or “it’s well-organized.” Furthermore, the question would seem to have an agenda behind it—as in Gap executives want to hear that their store environment was very appealing.


3. Faulty Scales—Wal-Mart asked its questions on a 1-10 scale. This scale introduces two problems: first, there is an even number of selections and therefore no true midpoint:

walmart-customer-satisfaction-survey-scaling.JPGSelecting a 5 would imply a lower than neutral score, while selecting a 6 would imply a higher than neutral score.

The second problem with Wal-Mart’s scale is that there is no zero and some experiences are just that, zeroes, not sort of poor, plain old bad.


4. Double-Barreled Questions—This is where one question asks about multiple topics, usually that’s two questions compressed into one. Lowe’s asked customers: “Were you consistently greeted and acknowledged in a genuine and friendly manner by Lowe’s associates throughout the store?”


Here, we see four questions in one. Yikes! Does Lowe’s want to know if the customer was greeted OR acknowledged? And was that greeting/acknowledgement friendly OR genuine?


Imagine Lowe’s finds that 85% of customers say “No,” they were not consistently greeted/acknowledged in a genuine/friendly manner. Obviously they need to make improvements—but what? Their greetings or their acknowledgements? How friendly they are or how genuine they are?

The best survey questions provide clear and actionable insights. To improve, Lowe’s should instead divide this question into four, or even better, consider what they really want to know and devise a clearer way to ask it.


5. Question Relevance—Ace, Gap, JC Penney, and O’Reilly Automotive all asked about their associate’s product knowledge (e.g. “Please rate your satisfaction with the employee’s knowledge of parts and products)—and none of these retailers offered the NA option. It’s likely that a large portion of shoppers didn’t ask a question of any associate and so would have no way of accurately providing customer feedback.

There are two ways to ensure questions are relevant to the customer. One way is to use survey logic and gating questions such as “Did you ask an associate for help?” Only customers that respond “Yes” will be asked about the associate’s product knowledge.

Another way to do this is even simpler: offer the N/A option, this way, when the question is irrelevant, you won’t have bogus responses clogging up your data.


On top of the myriad data accuracy issues, our Point-of-Purchase Survey Study showed that retailers have little regard for their customers.


For example, Walmart asked 4 introductory questions irrelevant to the customer’s experience, and required the input of 2 receipt codes. Really? That’s a hassle.


But the biggest, most consistent engagement mistake? Many of the surveys were just too long—the average length was 23 questions. A survey should certainly never take longer than the interaction itself, in fact, it should take less time.


Family Dollar asked a whopping 69 questions in their survey—with 10 seconds a question that’s over ten minutes spent reflecting on items that cost a buck.


Designing a quality customer satisfaction survey is a process, requiring multiple edits to reach the best version. Throwing in every question is how NOT to design a survey. Think about what you want to know, and carefully craft your questions.


It’s also important to set expectations at the outset, communicating how long the survey will take, and then meeting that expectation. Nordstrom advertised their survey as 2 minutes, but with 25 questions it took closer to 5 minutes.


Most retailers didn’t provide any estimate of survey length, and instead simply let their customers click into the abyss.


To execute a customer satisfaction survey that’s better than just about every major retailer, get serious about accuracy and engagement:

  • Ensure your survey collects accurate and actionable data. Eliminate biases such as leading questions, forced wording, and faulty scales.
  • Make every question clear and relevant to the customer.
  • Show the customer that you respect and value their time by designing a survey that only asks what's necessary and that states at the outset how long it will take.


If you follow even a few of the guidelines we’ve provided here, your survey will be leagues ahead of the biggest companies in the world. For additional hints about how to improve the quality of your customer feedback, get our Genius Tips. And if you’re interested in more about the first of its kind, Point-of-Purchase Survey Study, check out the 2-minute video or ask us for the complete report.

In the US market alone, there are hundreds of customer service consultants offering thousands of customer service improvement strategies which begs the question: does anyone need yet another customer service improvement plan? I think, decidedly, yes, for the simple reason that most customer service remains lackluster and inconsistent—while executives routinely believe their customer service is better than it really is. (For more information on this, just ask, we’re happy to share.)


So why does customer service tend to be largely reactive, inefficient, and overly transactional?


From having evaluated tens of thousands of customer service interactions, I find that when customer service disappoints it’s almost always because it has been managed in an overly general, cookie-cutter way. The result is that customers are treated more similarly than they really are, as though they have the same needs, expectations, and perceptions. But of course, that’s not true. Each customer is unique, making their inquiries at least a little bit different. So when companies treat everyone the same, rarely are customers fully engaged or completely satisfied.


Antidote! What I outline here is a plan that actually improves customer service. I know this plan works because we’ve been using it for more than a decade to improve customer service for clients in a wide array of industries. And the reason it works is that the entire plan hinges on a single proven concept—one that’s paid huge dividends for our clients: specificity. That’s specific ways to add value, relative to specific scenarios, measured by specific scoring rules, summed with specific metrics and last but not least, coached with specific model answers to build necessary customer service skills.


If your immediate reaction is, “…but that’s not scalable!”, I assure you it is. There’s a well-crafted process behind this plan, so it’s actually more scalable than the usual approaches to customer service that are less formally conceived.


Step 1: Decide What Specifics You Will Add

First, you need to decide what specific, extra value you can add to each customer service interaction. This “specific extra” becomes a way to involve your associates—and it’s a powerful way to create a lasting, positive impression in customers’ minds. Examples of “specific extras” include brief, meaningful educational content; or a policy that is clearly and frequently articulated like Zappos has with its easy-to-return shoes.


Adding value through “specific extras’ is about consistently doing a little bit more, on top of addressing the question at hand or solving the problem.

Where to start? Gather your customer service improvement team and brainstorm. Then see how each of your good ideas can actually play out in real interactions. Sometimes those great ideas are clumsy when put into execution. So adding a specific extra is both imaginative and iterative, and requires a little bit of trial and error to land on what’s right for your brand and goals.


Step 2: Take a Complete (and Specific!) Inventory

In order to improve your customer service, you need a clear and specific picture of who contacts you and why. Don’t assume customers who ask the same question need the same answer. And don’t assume that your customer service report or software analytics are picking up on unique scenarios, because at present, software is not sophisticated enough to tease out this level of differential nuances.


The solution is to observe a statistically-valid number of your customer service interactions (emails, chats, face-to-face, etc.) and classify them by touchpoint, inquiry type, customer state of mind and customer objective.


Once you’ve figured out the possible combinations of touchpoints and customer characteristics, you’ll have your list of specific customer scenarios.


Step 3: Define Specific Criteria

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. So for each unique customer scenario, develop specific scoring rules. When figuring out what to measure for each customer scenario, start with the four dimensions common to all customer service interactions:

  • Timing: Was the customer’s time valued?
  • Information: Were the customer’s questions answered clearly, accurately, and proactively?
  • Connection: How engaged was the associate? Was the interaction tailored to the customer’s situation?
  • Differentiation: Did the associate demonstrate that your company is special in some way?

To make your scoring rules usable, break the four dimensions down into specific elements (usually there are between 8 and 20 elements) and weight these elements depending on what’s most relevant to the specific scenario.


For example, when a caller asks a retailer where their package is, connection and information will be most important. But when a caller asks about products they have not yet bought, providing persuasive information and differentiating your brand will matter most.


There is no doubt that developing scoring rules that measure each element is extremely time-consuming. But to be accurate (and truly useful), scoring rules must be specific and include explanations about how to apply each rule.


Step 4: Track Specific Metrics

Measure often and keep track of progress using specific metrics based on the elements you’ve defined in your scoring rules. Metrics that are specific show you exactly where and how you need to improve. Metrics that lack specificity (read: net promoter scores and C-SAT scores) don’t give you exacting details about where your customer service is going wrong.


Manage and share these metrics with a dashboard that enables you to coordinate improvement efforts across teams. Dashboards are also a great way to engage associates with the customer service improvement process.



Step 5: Provide Specific Examples

Finally, provide specific examples that show associates exactly what you are looking for in how they handle each specific scenario. If you can’t show your associates model answers, you’re missing a vital tool, because while it’s possible that associates could build out these models, they probably don’t have the time.


And without clear models, while some of your associates may make great choices, the fact is, some could unknowingly tarnish your brand.


Specific examples may sound like you want rote answers to customers’ questions, but you don’t. To prevent that hollow, robotic quality that creeps into customer service, coach associates on the structure behind each model answer, giving them the customer service skills they need to improvise off those structures and develop their own unique responses.

Superior customer service is specific, and specificity is the key to customer service improvement. It’s about specific ways to add value, understanding specific customers and their specific situations, measuring with specific scoring rules, tracking specific metrics, and providing specific examples that give associates the skills they need to deliver the highest levels of customer service. When you follow these five steps and embrace this concept of specificity, you will be well on your way to improving your customer service.


Perhaps the best way to think about this ‘specificity concept’ is as a mindset that actively focuses on awareness of variation and difference. This is a decidedly different way of thinking and perceiving that social scientist Dr. Ellen Langer describes as mindfulness, in contrast with the usual mindless ways most of us tend to our experiences. Let me know how it goes!





I’ll be moderating conversations about VoC at next week’s Operations Summit and it got me thinking… It’s practically a given that every company will issue a customer satisfaction survey as part of their VoC program. But it’s NOT a given that every survey will improve customer satisfaction.


Think about your own satisfaction survey for a moment. Are you collecting accurate data? Is the data actionable? Are you able to identify clear gaps and opportunities?


Customer listening programs often suffer from a host of flaws and biases. In fact, in our recent study of point-of-purchase surveys we found that the largest US retailers pack their surveys with tired, biased, and often irrelevant questions.


And when clients come to us with their surveys, here are some of the common flaws:

  • Surveys so long they alienate customers.
  • Surveys that force customers to choose from irrelevant multiple-choice options.
  • Surveys whose customer comments never get properly analyzed.


Good surveys produce good data, and good data reflects the experiences your customers actually have with your company. Good data also shows where you need to improve.


This 6-step process will improve your VoC program by providing a customer satisfaction survey that gets to the heart of customers’ expectations, their perceptions and how they feel about their experiences with you.

  1. Evaluate your current survey(s) and map your unknowns.
    Work through your current survey(s) to identify irrelevant questions and biases. Check for:
    + Neutrality: Are your questions impartial so you don’t force the answers you want?
    + Engagement: Are questions conversational, so that customers want to respond?
    + Relevance: Are you employing branching logic to ensure you’re maintaining relevance with customers throughout your survey?
    + Sampling Biases: How well do your respondents actually represent your customer base?
    + Actionability: Are you asking for information that can be put to use?
    Next, take a step back and consider what you don’t know—where might you have gaps in your understanding of customers’ journeys? Are there areas from your previous surveys that were inconclusive?

  2. Tailor your language.
    Think about your industry and customers. How would your customers describe their experiences with you? Ask your team:
    Who are our customers?
        How engaged are they?
    What words do they use?
    What’s most relevant to them?
    A classic example comes from the hospitality industry. Hotels often ask about quality of “housekeeping” on their surveys—but when customers they open their hotel room door, they aren’t looking for “housekeeping,” they’re looking for “clean.” Tailoring your survey’s language to match the customer’s is how you uncover the best data about how customers really feel.

  3. Develop branching logic.
    Consider your customers. Have you done a persona study? Does each persona interact with different touchpoints? For example, don’t force an end-user to click mindlessly through questions specific to distributors; it will result in junk data.

  4. Draft your questions. Iteratively.
    If you think a survey can be built in a day, you’re wrong. You’re asking customers to spend their valuable time taking your survey, so you’ll need to spend your valuable time building it.

    Questions should be put through detailed development and rigorous review processes. Return to step 1, and vet your newly drafted questions against the list of common problems. Then edit, and edit again. In fact, we recommend getting internal AND external feedback on your survey questions—before you edit one last time.
  5. Code and analyze the data.
    Once you’ve got your survey responses in, it’s time to find the signal in all that noise. Hopefully you have a large, statistically-significant, set of respondents, so your findings are predictive and forecastable.

    As part of your survey analysis, it is critical to code the open-ended comments. And by code we don’t mean simply read or make a word cloud. You need to scientifically parse and categorize the comments because this is how you bring that data to life in meaningful, actionable ways.

  6. Present your findings—graphically.
    To get your  team on board with your VoC results, curate your metrics down to a simple few and incorporate infographics. Use a dashboard to get everyone involved with the data and next step actions.

    Some great customer experience metrics that we advocate for include: Quality of Customer Interaction™, Customer Effort, Competitive Edge, and Persuasion Scores.

Not all surveys are created equally. In fact, many customer satisfaction surveys are disengaging and result in inaccurate data. But our 6-step process, gives you the framework you need for a stellar survey—one that collects accurate customer feedback, motivates teams to improve in specific ways, and shows customers their voices are hear.

1.jpgWhat’s the point of doing a customer satisfaction survey? Well, rather obviously, to gauge how customers perceive you, and where their expectations are being—and not being—met.


This requires walking in the customer’s shoes and designing your survey from the customer’s perspective. Sound simple? It is…sort of.


Unfortunately, organizations run a high risk of tunnel vision, becoming acutely interested in only the problems they think are most pressing. So they pack their questions into customer surveys, despite the fact that their interests have NOTHING to do with customers’ actual experiences.


Let’s look at an example:



“Please rate the balance of graphics and text on *******.com.” (1-10, or Don’t Know).


The biggest problems with this question are:

  • It’s unclear: Does a bad rating indicate too much text, too many graphics, or both?
  • It’s out of touch with the customer experience: Customers don’t think, “Hmm, the graphics-to-text ratio has balance problems” They DO think, “This webpage sucks, I can’t find a simple answer.”


The question of graphic balance is best saved for a web design or UX team. As I often say, your customers are not your analysts. Leave questions out of the survey that do not reflect the customer’s immediate experience.


Examples of questions that customers CAN answer and that provide actionable insight for your customer satisfaction survey are:

  • “Who else might you buy similar merchandise from in the future?”
  • “How would you rate your call with our support team?”
  • “Did you get an answer to your question that made sense?”


When you combine customer-centric survey questions with good customer feedback research methods, you’ll get to the heart of the customer experience.  So, take a hard look at your customer satisfaction survey and make sure it’s actually relevant to your customers. Start listening to your customers now!

It seems that we’re asked to take a customer satisfaction survey with nearly every purchase. But do you ever wonder…do they really care what I have to say?


Our 2016 Customer Listening Study, the first of its kind, evaluated the customer satisfaction surveys of 51 top US retailers. The main finding: retailers like Lowe’s and Wal-Mart waste customers’ time—and their own—with critically flawed surveys. No company was completely scientific in its approach; nor did any company fully connect with customers in a thoughtful, compelling way.


Retailers issue millions of customer satisfaction surveys each day, raising the question of whether these surveys are worth the paper they're written on.


The top two problems: retailers collect inaccurate data, and they fail to show active customer listening. Based on an objective evaluation of 15 elements, the surveys scored 43 out of 100 points, an F grade.


We also found that:

  • With 23 questions on average, the surveys were excessively long.
  • 32% of all questions lead customers to give answers that companies want to hear.
  • 7-Eleven had the best survey—it was 13 questions, none of which were leading or used biased wording.
  • Family Dollar had the worst survey—it had 69 questions, 29 of which were leading.
  • Nordstrom, the retailer most known for customer service, stated its survey would take 2 minutes—but with 25 questions, it took 4-5 minutes.


This study highlights how easy it is to produce a flawed survey. The findings should be considered by any company with a customer listening program.


If retailers want to get more value from their customer satisfaction surveys, they should apply a scientific methodology, and be sure to connect with customers to show they’re listening.


The retailers selected for the 2016 Customer Listening Study were the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) top retailers, omitting supermarkets and membership stores. Surveys were collected from June 23 to July 27, 2016. Download the Study Report, or watch the short video.


Have a question about the Customer Listening Study, or want to learn about designing an intelligent customer satisfaction survey? Drop us a line.


About Interaction Metrics

Interaction Metrics is a customer experience agency that maximizes the value of experience planning, satisfaction surveys, mystery shopping, customer interviews, and customer service evaluations.  Only Interaction Metrics Findings Reports combine actionable customer experience metrics with specific recommendations for how to improve.

At conferences, I’m often asked about mystery shopping, and it got me thinking: there are a lot of misunderstandings about what mystery shopping can and can’t do.


Some see mystery shopping as a simple check-in; others see it as too artificial for an accurate customer service evaluation. Many executives assume they get the same insights from reviews, social media, and direct customer feedback.



Others think it’s all about consumer retail, such as clothes shopping at the mall. They are wrong. Mystery shopping has tremendous value for B2B as well as B2C, and is vital to a thoughtful and well-vetted customer service evaluation.


Obviously mystery shoppers are NOT real customers, and don’t always reflect your average customer—whether that’s a machine parts distributor or a fashion-forward teen. What mystery shopping offers is a high-precision tool to improve customer service in your most vulnerable areas. In addition, it’s highly customizable for different goals. And because it examines what actually happens, it enables you to track actionable customer experience metrics.


Here's how to use mystery shopping to improve customer service:


1) Use mystery shopping to conduct a thorough, airtight customer service evaluation.


Designed and performed well, mystery shopping ensures that nothing slips through the cracks. It can test almost anything, plus track specific customer experience metrics, such as how associates:


+ Solve problems
+ Explain information
+ Represent your brand
+ Handle different personas (e.g. skeptical, confident, or angry customers)


Testing many things at once is an efficient way to target weak spots, focus on goals, and measure frontline performance against precise criteria.


2) Use mystery shopping for the most accurate apples-to-apples comparison with your competition.


You don’t exist in a vacuum; competitors are always part of the equation, but it’s hard to get an accurate comparison. Customer satisfaction surveys reveal how customers perceive you but they don’t measure concrete differences between you and your competition.


Mystery shopping looks at actual performance, using the same criteria to evaluate you and your competitors for an objective comparison. For example, for an investment strategies client, we used a high net worth persona to call nine of our client’s competitors asking similar questions about market volatility. This enabled us to show our client best practices from the field for handling this specific type of question.


3) Use mystery shopping to test your most difficult situations.


Most of your customer interactions are probably fairly cut-and-dry, with little risk involved. But for every fifty interactions, you might have one critical opportunity to keep or lose a customer. Mystery shopping is the best way to test how your frontline handles these high-risk interactions.


For example, for a client in healthcare, we designed a scenario in which a parent called in with her child having an asthma attack—a rare event, but critical to our client’s brand when it did occur. If you simply listen to twenty-five calls, it’s unlikely you’ll run across high-risk situations like these. Mystery shopping hones in on the moments when your brand and customer loyalty are most vulnerable.


In short, mystery shopping takes the mystery out of customer service. It ensures the most comprehensive customer service evaluation, accurately compares you with competitors, and tests high-risk situations. Done well, it provides actionable customer experience metrics, and uncovers clear steps to improve customer service.


Mystery shopping incorporates Interaction Thinking™, because it recognizes the fact that customer interactions are comprised of many nuanced details and elements. When designed to capture this complexity, mystery shopping pinpoints where you need to make the greatest headway. So, to improve customer service efficiently, incorporate expert mystery shopping into your current customer service evaluation program. You’ll have clear, actionable insights on where to improve most, and the concrete next steps to get you there.


About Interaction Metrics

Interaction Metrics is a customer experience agency that maximizes the value of experience planning, satisfaction surveys, mystery shopping, customer interviews, and customer service evaluations.  Only Interaction Metrics Findings Reports combine actionable customer experience metrics with specific recommendations for how to improve.

Our company recently began working with a website optimization service. As the introductory phone call drew to a close, our new account manager asked me to take a customer satisfaction survey—and told me, “That’s how I get paid.”



This was useless, awkward, and inappropriate. It showed that what I had to say didn’t really matter. Plus, this was my account manager—there’s no way I’d give him a poor rating that might sour our weekly phone calls.


This entire approach to customer satisfaction surveys ran counter to Interaction Thinking™ because it overlooked how interactions can create value for the company and customer alike. The company could have gotten accurate data (we’ll get to that in a minute), and the customer could have had a great onboarding experience, unencumbered by feelings of obligation or guilt.


Furthermore, the survey was painfully generic. For example, one question was the ubiquitous Net Promoter Score (NPS): “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend?” Not only is NPS so overused that many customers are numb to it—it’s often just irrelevant. Who would I recommend my account manager to? Most of us don’t discuss niche web services with friends. The rest of the questions were equally trite and focused on broad outcomes, not specific nuances.


By the way, if this had been a tech support call, linking employee pay to survey ratings could favor quick fixes that might seem right at first—but don't fully resolve the issue, and leave customers calling back a week later.


Now, about that data: unfortunately, this company’s survey only gathered selective, biased feedback and inaccurate customer experience metrics. It revealed no valuable insights about the actual quality of the customer experience, or how to improve.


If companies want to master the customer experience to build customer loyalty, they need satisfaction surveys that collect accurate, valuable customer experience metrics—while never sacrificing positive, worthwhile experiences for customers.


About Interaction Metrics

Interaction Metrics is a customer experience agency that maximizes the value of experience planning, satisfaction surveys, mystery shopping, customer interviews, and customer service evaluations.  Only Interaction Metrics Findings Reports combine actionable customer experience metrics with specific recommendations for how to improve.

If you’re not achieving your goals for the customer experience, you’re probably not measuring at the correct level; learn what that level is.



Companies want to give and get value through the customer experience—what are your goals? To deliver proactive customer service? Reduce customer support calls? Increase customer loyalty? Sell more through each customer interaction?


To achieve your goals, you’ll need to measure the fine-grained elements of your customer interactions. Only an up-close view—not a high-level view—will show you how to actually improve.


Where most companies get it wrong (really wrong) is they spend copious resources tracking the consequences of their customer experience (dashboards, Net Promoter Scores, etc.). But, they barely consider the factors that cause those experiences.


Outcome Metrics:

Outcome metrics are your results. For example, after a hotel stay, you might get a survey with the Net Promoter question: “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague?” Your answer—if you answer at all—will be a result of your experiences at the hotel. Outcome metrics, whether satisfaction or Net Promoter Scores, allow you to track progress over time. They’re indicators of general performance, but they’re limited. They’re limited because they’re not the tools that will help you to improve.


Nuanced Metrics: The tools that show how to improve.

The customer experience consists of broad factors, such as connection and timing, which break down into smaller elements: the smiles, frowns, word choices, thoroughness of answers, and more. It’s these small elements that you can actually change. Nuanced metrics and methods are the tools that delve into these elements, uncovering your gaps, opportunities, and how to improve.


Quick Example:

Imagine you own a coffee shop and want to sell more coffee. A number of factors and elements are involved:

+ Product: Do customers like the coffee? Is it burnt or bitter?

+ Timing: How long do customers wait? And is there music in the background, so it doesn’t seem so long?

+ Connection: Did the cashiers focus on each customer? Or were they busy talking to each other?

+ Competition: Was a coffee shop on the next block offering free pastries?


You’ll increase sales revenue if you improve underlying factors like coffee quality, wait time and cashier attentiveness. But if you only look at your sales numbers, nothing will change.


Think of it like training to run faster.

To get results, you have to improve factors like: flexibility, endurance, and nutrition.


Each factor is comprised of myriad elements. For example, flexibility depends on: muscle groups, activity level and body temperature.


Devise a plan to improve each element and you’ll improve your speed. Simply measuring how fast you run will never tell you what to improve, or how. You can’t run faster overnight—but you can do 20 extra minutes of endurance training, 15 minutes of stretching, and eat healthier foods.


Wow VERSUS Satisfaction: Where Do You Need to Be?

How deeply you examine the factors and elements driving your outcomes depends on whether you need to satisfy or wow.


+ Wow: In a competitive market, or when customer experience is one of your differentiators, you’ll have to “wow” your customers. “Wowing” requires you to unpack the customer experience at a granular level.


+ Satisfaction: But, if you’re the market leader, achieving satisfaction is probably enough—and while you’ll still need to examine the details, you won’t need to scrutinize the subtleties.


Clarifying the Difference Between Satisfaction and Wow:

Customers are satisfied when their perceptions match their expectations. Customers’ expectations are set by your marketing messages, nearby competitors, and other companies comparable in your marketplace. Customers’ perceptions result from their direct experiences with you. Satisfaction is ok… but it’s NOT memorable.


On, the other hand, to wow is to exceed expectations. This calls for consistency, surprise, and customization. For more about “wow” get our free overview.


Whether You’re Aiming for Satisfaction or Wow, Know Your QCI™ Score.

At Interaction Metrics, we’ve developed the Quality of Customer Interaction™ Score. QCI™ is more actionable than NPS and other single-input metrics. This is because it accounts for multiple aspects of the customer experience, weighted by what matters most for each customer and their situation.Interaction-Metrics-Key-Measure


Customer Experience Metrics & Methods: Align Them.

Your goals, metrics, and methods should fit together like a puzzle, each piece complementing and informing the other. To get the clearest read on the customer experience, use a hybrid approach—because every method has pros and cons. For example, surveys are easy to do, but fall short because customers are rarely conscious of the details affecting their experiences.


Hybrid approaches also deepen insights. For example, to gain competitive edge, service evaluations pinpoint where you’re losing customers, while interviews uncover customers’ innermost thoughts and feelings.


Measure. Grow. Transform.

The best thing about using nuanced customer experience metrics with the right combination of methods is that next steps become abundantly clear. Next steps can be workshops, model answers, optimized interaction maps, director’s cut audio… the sky’s the limit.


Bring It All Together:

For any customer experience goal, whether that’s to increase conversion, inspire customers, win market share or anything else, you’ll need to:

+ Stop relying on outcome metrics

+ Embrace nuanced customer experience metrics

+ Combine metrics with the right methods

+ Apply powerful, engaging next steps


Let’s discuss your goals and the best metrics and methods for you with a free MetricsLAB™. Your takeaways will include: the pros and cons of different metrics plus a few preliminary ideas to advance your measurement. It’s 25 minutes. No strings attached. Improve your customer experience metrics. When’s good for you? Sign up here.


About Interaction Metrics

Interaction Metrics is a customer experience agency that maximizes the value of experience planning, satisfaction surveys, mystery shopping, customer interviews, and customer service evaluations.  Only Interaction Metrics Findings Reports combine actionable customer experience metrics with specific recommendations for how to improve.

It was the typical noon-time rush at my local Starbucks—certainly not my favorite time to stop, but I was hungry and needed a snack. I ordered a drink and a bagel, and moved out of line to wait. My drink came out quickly, but five minutes later there was still no bagel. I caught the eye of an associate and asked where the bagel had gone. “Oh that’s the new guy, he’s still learning the ropes,” was the response I received. No apology, no attempt to rectify the situation…It got me thinking: Situations just like this occur every minute, all day long, because with customer service comes high turnover—so there’s always the new guy, but customers shouldn’t be their guinea pig.ALcBvCnr.jpg


The lunch rush? Of course that’s not the right time to bring a new employee up to speed. They should be prepared for all situations before they’re assigned a shift. And to prepare associates for providing great customer service, you need to coach them using roleplay and plenty of immersive examples. Don’t just tell them how to interact with customers, have a process that shows them what great customer service entails.


When your employees do make mistakes, and they will, have a procedure in place that uses the situation as an opportunity to build value. If the Starbucks associate had said “Thanks for telling us—we’re a little out of process today and I apologize. Here’s a card you can use for any drink—and next time I hope you’ll find us more in step.” With this, I would have felt appreciated, like a valued customer, not like the forgotten consequence of training gone awry.


All great customer service is built on great process, not great people. Sometimes in customer service, associates come to you with seemingly innate skills for connecting with customers and making things right. But those amazing employees are mostly luck and luck’s not a strategy. You can’t control your associates’ every words and you can’t control that one missing bagel, but you can have processes in place to deal with situations in a way that’s positive for employees and customers alike.


To create processes that drive great customer service, catalog and model each step of your everyday interactions. Next, make sure your customer experience team measures how often—and how well—your associates adhere to those models.


The truth is your new guy is an opportunity. He shows where your processes are failing. That’s exactly what you need to know to stay ahead of your customers’ expectations so they don’t go blogging about missing bagels. Starbucks, you’re good; you could be even better!


About Interaction Metrics

Interaction Metrics is a customer experience agency that maximizes the value of experience planning, satisfaction surveys, mystery shopping, customer interviews, and customer service evaluations.  Only Interaction Metrics Findings Reports combine actionable customer experience metrics with specific recommendations for how to improve.

Benchmarking has a history of helping businesses compete in global markets. But these days, many companies are missing out on the opportunity to innovate due to an over-reliance on benchmarked metrics.


The practice of benchmarking was born in the 1950’s with companies like GE and Toyota. Then, what was in vogue was a process called reverse engineering in which companies examined competitor products to find out how to make their own products better.


In the 1970’s, a struggling Xerox took a cue from reverse engineering, but shifted the focus from product features to all the processes (including customer service) that drive success.[i] Since then, benchmarking has spread like wildfire—but so have its critics who call benchmarking a “virus,” and “a recipe for myopia, me-tooism and mediocrity.”[ii]



The problem is that while benchmarking is important—because it helps you keep an eye on the competition—it’s not enough. Benchmarked metrics merely skim the surface, and if you spend too much time watching your peers, you’re probably not allocating the resources you need to fully differentiate or innovate.


Customer service contact centers suffer the most from benchmarking’s shortcomings, using metrics like time-to-answer and first call resolution (FCR) as the golden mean for operational targets. And they often fall back on generic tools like SurveyMonkey to collect outcome metrics such as customer satisfaction (C-SAT) and Net Promoter Scores (NPS).


So what do you do instead?


Recognize that the customer experience is complex—more complex than an FCR rate or NPS score. Experiences consist of multiple factors, such as information, connection and timing, which break down into smaller elements like thoroughness of answers, proactivity of explanations and word choice. While benchmarked metrics can capture parts of this experience, and perhaps alert you when something is going very wrong, they won’t give you the nuanced information you need to demonstrate market leadership.


If you want customer service that differentiates your brand and builds customer loyalty, you must take a deep look at your company and customer interactions, and use metrics that compare your performance against your own brand promise. Every company has its own signature and opportunities to innovate. To make your company stand apart, you’ll need to demonstrate your signature—and this requires granular metrics.


The companies that are succeeding in today’s global marketplace are the innovators, so make sure you are challenging yourself beyond benchmarking. Make sure you are rallying your team to measure the granular details that really matter.



i. Canada. Performance Management, Alberta Finance. Other Performance Measurement Documents: Results Oriented Government. Alberta: 28 September 1998.

ii. Brierley, Sean. “Benchmarking Causes a Loss of Focus.” Finance Week. 01 June 2005.


About Interaction Metrics

Interaction Metrics is a customer experience agency that maximizes the value of experience planning, satisfaction surveys, mystery shopping, customer interviews, and customer service evaluations.  Only Interaction Metrics Findings Reports combine actionable customer experience metrics with specific recommendations for how to improve.

An Analyst Perspective on Customer Surveys:


Customer surveys make up a multi-billion dollar industry, and many of us get at least one per day. But just because surveys are everywhere doesn’t mean they’re always good.


At Interaction Metrics, we often find that companies assume they’re ready to launch their customer survey as soon as they’ve opened a SurveyMonkey account and pieced together a few questions. However, once we show them what their survey could be, they quickly see that a grab-and-go approach is counter to their best interests.Genius-Customer-Surveys.png


The problem is that customer surveys are easily plagued with biases and other flaws—resulting in data that’s inaccurate or that fails to uncover the drivers of customer loyalty. So read on to learn tips and tricks for better surveys, and keep in mind these two main themes:


+ Your entire survey approach, from who gets the survey to who analyzes it, must be carefully constructed, vetted, and executed to avoid biases and other flaws.


+ Unless you pay careful attention to your survey wording, you’ll only capture what your customers say, and utterly fail to uncover how they actually feel. As behavioral economists and Gallup researchers have shown, this is significant because feelings—not thoughts—correlate with buying behavior and customer loyalty.[i]


3 Genius Strategies to Improve Your Survey Immediately:


Strategy 1: Ask your team, “How committed are we to capturing truly accurate data about the feelings, needs, and experiences of our customers?” Having a conversation about which touchpoints your survey should address, and how to design an accurate (statistically-valid) methodology, is essential.


Strategy 2: Stand back and take a multi-perspectival view of your survey. Look at your customer survey from many angles:

  • The customer’s perspective—is it easy to take?
  • An operations perspective—does it uncover actionable insights?
  • The marketplace—how does your survey compare with the competition?
  • Your CEO—will your survey engage them with the voice of the customer?


Strategy 3: Brainstorm how to augment your customer survey with other measurement methods. Social media research, customer interviews, and touchpoint questionnaires are all great ways to supplement your survey. Customer interviews are particularly valuable because they capture the true voice of the customer and highlight the nuances of specific customer situations. Using complementary methods vets the validity of your survey and helps expand your customer insights.


Genius Tips: Know the Pros and Cons of Customer Surveys:


The Pros: There are a few simple reasons why customer surveys are so widely used across industries around the world:

  • They’re quick.
  • They’re cheap.
  • They allow customers to vent, which can boost opinions of your company.


When customer surveys are done well, they:

  • Provide digestible, quantitative data.
  • Uncover nuanced qualitative insights.
  • Enable progress to be tracked over time.


But despite the benefits of a great survey, it’s dangerously easy to design a bad one. Popular platforms (like SurveyMonkey and SurveyGizmo) are great for survey deployment—but only after you’ve carefully designed and vetted your questions. Make sure to account for the numerous difficulties and problems that can arise in survey design.


The Cons: Let’s look at some of the most common survey problems:


+ Sampling Issues: There are two main sampling issues—sample size error and sampling bias. Size error occurs when the sample is too small to fully reflect the target population. Sampling bias occurs when the populations surveyed are incorrect or incomplete. Both lead to misrepresentative results.


+ Response Bias: Even if your survey is distributed to a 100% unbiased and representative sample, the actual response population may not represent the target population. The most common response bias is that highly satisfied customers respond to surveys more than dissatisfied and neutral customers.


+ Wording and Execution Bias: One of the biggest problems in survey design is that the questions themselves bias the results. If answers are too limited or lack an “other” option, customers may select an answer that doesn’t reflect their true feelings—and if the question is required, customers will be forced to. In the same vein, subtle positive or negative wording can subconsciously affect a customer’s response.


+ Rigged Process: Employees can skew their own survey results with self-administered survey selection, rigged research design, or outright cheating. This happens for a variety of reasons—fear of demotion, criticism, links between survey results and employee bonuses, or even just a lack of outside perspective. Whatever the reason, a gamed system fails to produce accurate data.


+ Irrelevant Questions: Many surveys ask questions that are important from a management standpoint, but that don’t resonate with or even make sense to customers. In other cases, questions are so general or removed from the lived customer experience that they simply aren’t relevant enough to provide meaningful data.


You’re on your way to becoming a survey genius, but if you need to call in the real experts for a brainstorming session, we’re ready to help! Interaction Metrics is known for designing exceptional customer surveys that deliver actionable, nuanced results. Intrigued? Check out our free, no obligation MetricsLAB™. It’s a great way to learn about the best metrics to accomplish your goals and advance your survey strategies.



i. Fleming, John K., Curt Coffman, and James K. Harter. The Gallup Organization. “Manage Your Human Sigma” Harvard Business Review. 83.7 (2005).


About Interaction Metrics

Interaction Metrics is a customer experience agency that maximizes the value of experience planning, satisfaction surveys, mystery shopping, customer interviews, and customer service evaluations.  Only Interaction Metrics Findings Reports combine actionable customer experience metrics with specific recommendations for how to improve.

process-performance-700x467.jpgEvery company has its own take on customer experience—what are your goals?


Perhaps you’re looking to stage the customer experience to strengthen customer loyalty and retention. Or, maybe you need more proactive customer service to increase First Call Resolution (FCR). Sometimes, customer surveys paint a rosy picture, but your sales numbers tell a different story—and you need to know what’s slipping under the radar.


Lots of companies use outcome metrics like the Net Promoter Score (i.e. “How likely are you to recommend us?”) to gauge customer satisfaction and overall performance. And in some cases, this is enough—especially if you don’t have anything specific that you’re looking to change or improve. But if you have an area that’s lacking, NPS will never show you what’s going wrong and how to fix it—and neither will any other metric that measures outcomes, and ignores root causes.

Processes Drive Outcomes


Nothing appears out of thin air. Behind every outcome (be it customer satisfaction, NPS, sales, etc.) there are many subtle and not-so-subtle root causes and processes. When an outcome needs improving, you have to get up close and take a hard look at all the dynamics at play. This is how you identify concrete ways to manage your outcomes.


Here’s a quick example. You own a coffee shop; the number of drinks sold per day is the outcome you want to improve. Processes that shape this outcome include: coffee quality, wait time to order, wait time to receive order, cashier engagement, local competitors, and dozens of other variables.


To get a handle on your sales, you’ll need to uncover information such as:

  • What exactly did customers like and not like about your coffee?
  • How long did they wait in line?
  • Did they receive proactive customer service?
  • Did the cashier meet them where they were at and respect their mood?
  • Was the coffee shop a block over offering free pastries?


So take a critical look at all the inputs that drive your outcomes. Once you measure those inputs, you’ll know where to focus to efficiently create the greatest improvement—and meet your goals.




About Interaction Metrics

Interaction Metrics is a customer experience agency that maximizes the value of experience planning, satisfaction surveys, mystery shopping, customer interviews, and customer service evaluations.  Only Interaction Metrics Findings Reports combine actionable customer experience metrics with specific recommendations for how to improve.

gold.jpgUnstructured data presents a goldmine of information, but mining that gold is no easy task—it requires coding with detailed text analysis. To be clear, unstructured data includes customer survey text comments, customer service calls, emails, chats, reviews, and other narrative sources of information. It’s the data that doesn’t fall into neat, easy categories—so the signal often gets lost in the noise.


Some companies are so stumped by their unstructured data that they just toss it and hope no gold nuggets were lost. This is a grave mistake because customer verbatims are—quite literally—the voice of the customer.


Here’s what’s going on with unstructured data:


Companies don’t know the best practices for quantifying their unstructured data, so they rely on out-of-the-box software solutions. Or worse, they simply read the comments, but this doesn’t provide the precise metrics you need for success.


In our ROI-driven world, managers are unsure if rigorous text analysis will lead to a profitable payoff—but the fact is, it probably will.


Food for Thought: How would your company be more profitable with greater visibility into your unstructured data?


Go beyond simple tone and sentiment analyses. With text analysis you’ll have customer effort metrics, department-specific recommendations, and meta-themes in your customers’ experiences. To find out more, sign up for our complimentary MetricsLAB©. It’s a great way to learn about the metrics you get from unstructured data, and whether they’d be valuable for you.


About Interaction Metrics

Interaction Metrics is a customer experience agency that maximizes the value of experience planning, satisfaction surveys, mystery shopping, customer interviews, and customer service evaluations.  Only Interaction Metrics Findings Reports combine actionable customer experience metrics with specific recommendations for how to improve.