We all want to see constant improvement, but what do you do when customer satisfaction flat lines?
The dreaded customer satisfaction (CSAT) plateau. It happens to every organization. After beginning our customer experience program, we enjoyed watching the satisfaction metric rise. And rise it did. I couldn’t wait to see the quarterly results to see how much we had improved. And then it happened. Customer satisfaction levels plateaued, and not just for one quarter.
Ah, there must be something wrong with the analysis.
Ran it twice; it appears to be right.
Plateaus are beautiful in nature and illicit “oohs” and “aahs” from those who view them. In contrast, plateaus viewed in customer satisfaction bar charts conjure up silence or at best a deep “hmmm” from disappointed executives.
We looked for reasons, explanations, and universal truths – anything that might explain why our progress leveled off. What made our plateau particularly distressing was that we were sharing customer feedback and insights throughout the organization. A virtual plethora of improvement projects were complete or in progress. And we finished our first customer journey map and complemented it with a future, desired customer journey map. Our internal effort was at an all-time high, but the metrics told a different story.
I turned to numerous sources to research potential reasons for plateauing – and how to get the momentum moving in the right direction again. While there was a lot of information available about how to set up a new CX program and get executive sponsorship, there were few places to turn to for content about real-life, day-to-day issues that CX leaders encounter.
Now back to the plateau. What did we do? And what did we learn about busting through a customer satisfaction plateau?
- Go back to the data. We took a detailed look at the data, segmenting it in new ways to get a clearer picture of what was under the top number. We learned that, in some segments, satisfaction was indeed plateauing. However, we also found that satisfaction was rising in two very important customer segments for our business. We continued looking at the details to understand why those satisfaction metrics were higher, and how that journey differed from the other segments.
- Project alignment. Next, our team took a look at recently completed projects and those in progress. We classified each by its “Level of Impact to Customer Satisfaction” and “Length of Time for Impact to the Customer Experience.” What we found is that most of the projects we’d recently completed were important to our customers, yet, wouldn’t substantially impact customer satisfaction for more than 12 months. For example, we were re-designing an onboarding program that would affect only new customers, so, while we were improving the experience, the survey data wouldn’t reflect that until those customers had the chance to go through the new and improved process. In response, we plotted all current projects on a grid and initiated some we knew would have a shorter term impact. By maintaining a balanced portfolio of projects, we could create more consistency in improving the customer experience.
- We got emotional. When we reviewed our project portfolio we noticed one other item. We were working on improving the rational side of the customer experience. Specifically, we were improving the product and services but not addressing the emotional component. As Colin Shaw notes in his 2016 predictions, emotions account for more than 50 percent of the customer experience! We identified a huge opportunity to understand how emotions impacted our customer experience and how we could use that to improve the experience.
- We told the story. We went to the Customer Experience Executive Sponsorship Committee and told two stories. We used the personas we had developed for customer journey mapping and walked our team through the experience of the type of customer who still had increasing satisfaction, and compared it to another group whose satisfaction was decreasing. We also proved the importance of emotion in the design and improvement of the customer journey. Finally, we made recommendations about how we could use what we learned about one customer journey to improve the others, how to balance our project portfolio to make both short and long-term improvements and, finally, steps we would implement to understand the emotional component of the journey. The resulting discussion was lively and, at the end of the meeting, we had a renewed commitment from the board to support our efforts!
In retrospect, I think we were looking at the plateau in the wrong way. Rather than viewing the flattening of the curve as a roadblock, it demonstrated that we were making progress. It was a perfect time to look back and see how much progress had been made. But it also indicated that we were moving to a more mature stage of customer experience and needed to add more refined techniques to our customer experience toolkit.
The good news is that we are, once again, on an upward trajectory with our customer satisfaction results! But, next time we reach a plateau, we will embrace it as a challenge and opportunity to reach the next level of customer experience management. If you or your team have encountered a CSAT plateau and overcame it, we’d love to hear how in the comments below.
3 Actionable Insights for Overcoming a Plateau:
- Understand your data – Go deep into the data to determine if the results have stabilized in all customer segments or just a few. Use text analytics to determine reasons for the differences.
- Balance your project portfolio – Align your improvement projects for both short-term and long-term impacts. Include projects that address the emotional, as well as the rational side of the customer experience.
Improve your storytelling skills – Stories are powerful. Learning how to describe the customer experience with them helps secure the institutional support required to change and improve an organization in order to increase CSAT.