Editor’s note: A version of this article appeared on Minute Hack and is adapted here with permission. 

According to a recent McKinsey article entitled Prediction: The future of CX, there is a bit of a mismatch in terms of what companies need to do when it comes to understanding customer sentiment and what they actually do to recognize it and make it better.

“As leaders strive to form a more complete picture of customer preferences and behaviors, they continue to rely on aging survey-based measurement systems,” the article says.

It’s a valid point. The proliferation of data, from IoT-enabled devices and multiple customer contact points – be it sales, accounts, service, and so on – means that organizations should have at their disposal a wealth of information, to make quicker, more informed decisions on the emotional state of their customer relationships. The reality is that most organizations do not always tie everything in and unify the customer view.

This can have serious repercussions for customer relationships and could lead to one department, say sales, making the wrong call on an already distressed customer, leading to further frustrations and disappointment. How can all departments share ongoing relationship status, visualize sentiment, and improve future decision-making and remediation?

The Customer Distress Index

Service models are already moving from reactive to predictive. Instead of waiting for something to break, you have the ability to predict when it might break and intervene appropriately. Traditionally, this was done in a time-based or interval-based manner but now there is a greater focus on the use of remote or point-of-service technology to build predictive models.

However, there is much more to the provision of service that can make or break a customer relationship, which is why some service providers are now exploring the concept of the customer distress index. I was first made aware of these several years ago when working with the service leader at a large high-tech manufacturing company but have since seen these adopted by several medical device organizations. This distress index is intended to be a mathematical representation of a customer’s experience with your service or overall organization.

There are already some tools on the market that can address this – the likes of GainSight, TeamSupport and Salesforce have scorecard capabilities – but the key is the quality and variety of data inputs and the actions to remedy distress.

The distress index isn’t designed to track a singular event, such as the customer being on hold for a long time but is intended to show a trend where a series of negatively perceived events might create a level of distress in the overall relationship. These factors might change over time with different groups of customers, and it is important for an organization considering such an index to continue to test and modify the model with real customer results.

Building a Customer Distress Index

In putting together an index, organizations need to understand the factors that lead to customer distress. For example, the following is a list of common factors that most organizations would recognize:

  • Unplanned service interruptions
  • Business interruptions
  • Time to resolution
  • Duration of open service tickets
  • Number of escalations
  • Billing delays or errors in invoicing

There are additional factors too, such as a lack of internal coordination. How connected is the organization or does it operate in data and communication siloes?

Understanding the factors and being able to feed relevant data into an index tool should build a picture of customer sentiment but the ultimate aim of any index has to be preventative. It is difficult to remedy customer distress, so organizations should be looking to use an index to help plan better, flag potential issues before they occur, and avoid distress. This sort of index is in fact just the start. What really defines an organization are its actions and, in our experience, this is where many businesses tend to come up short.

To ensure a robust response to tackle customer distress, organizations really need to answer three key questions.

  1. Who within the business has the authority to approach the customer when they reach that level of distress? It’s important to have a team that is responsible to act in times of customer distress.
  2. What authority does this team have? With a team in place, it’s important to allocate resources. What can this team rely on to help remediate customer issues and bring customers back to a level of happiness?
  3. How is this team empowered to act? By that we mean, what can they actually do to ease customer tensions? Can they extend contract terms? Can they offer preferential pricing, upgrades, or new products?

Organizations need to think about these things when they develop the index, to ensure actions match requirements. This team would also be well placed to understand specific customer needs.

If the index is to predict the future, it will need access to relevant data. If a customer tends to get distressed over service visits for example, the index needs to be able to reflect this, so that plans for future visits are better planned.

To enable forward-looking motions, the index will need to be able to do the following:

  • Plan – include upcoming events, for example
  • Adjust – recognize the timing of distress triggers and adjust plans accordingly, for each customer
  • Connect – understand relationships with different customer stakeholders and how to look after these relationships
  • Prevent – stop the double-dip by making sure problems do not recur
  • Select – it is difficult to manage every customer in this was so select those customer profiles that really matter most

Resolving issues proactively is an essential part of field service management. As with most initiatives, the success of a Customer Distress Index requires an investment in resources and change management. The resource part might be relatively easy or one where you can build a justifiable ROI tied to customer retention, customer revenue, reduced concessions, or more.

That said, it’s the cultural and change management piece that becomes vital. Building a dashboard won’t help you alleviate customer distress unless your organization is oriented around achieving better customer outcomes.

Ultimately the role of a customer distress index is to enable a single view of an entire customer relationship, regardless of touchpoints. It can develop into an incredibly powerful tool, one that could be the difference between retaining or losing important business.

Continued Reading: Orange to Green: Using a Customer Distress Index to Strengthen Proactive Support


ABOUT Sumair Dutta

sumair duttaSumair Dutta is the VP of product marketing at ServiceMax. In this role, he helps shape ServiceMax messaging and positioning to support customers and prospects. Previously, Sumair worked closely with leaders of service businesses to define and shape their service vision while working hand in hand with implementation teams to execute on established service plans. Sumair is a thought leader in the field service and service management spaces and has conducted numerous research projects in the areas of field service, customer support and business strategy. He brings more than 15 years of experience in studying, analyzing and guiding field service organizations, first at the Aberdeen Group and most recently as the chief customer officer at The Service Council.