Thursday, January 19, 2017

Staying Ahead of the Competition

Image courtesy of vigdor
Do you know what it takes to stay ahead of the competition? Is that one of your business goals?

I recently did an interview with someone for an article she was writing, and one of the questions was about competition and how to best research the competition. Other questions on the topic revolved around how businesses can stay relevant and how they can set themselves apart in over-saturated industries. (I'll share the link here once the article is published.)

I’m a huge believer in innovate, don’t imitate. I think it’s important to understand what the competitive landscape looks like, but you cannot stay to focused on the competition. Do your homework. Be aware. Understand what they’re doing. But focus on your customers; research your customers and your customers’ needs, and then go and do your thing.

When there are clear, differentiated choices of products, services, and/or experiences in the marketplace, the decision is made easier for your customers. Bring your own unique value to the table. When customers' experiences with one company stink, they have the ability to go purchase from someone else. Let them decide.

So, to stand apart, innovate the experience. In a world with so many commodity products and services, the only real differentiator becomes the experience. Deliver a unique and differentiated experience. In most cases, that’s pretty simple. Honestly, just make it easy to do business with
your company.

The day after that interview, I saw this article from strategy+business about What It Takes to Stay Ahead of the Competition. Of course, I was curious to see how the authors addressed this topic. No surprise that we were in alignment; in their research, the authors found that four particular capabilities emerged as integral to sustaining high-quality performance:
Improvement. This capability was defined as a firm’s ability to make incremental product or service upgrades, or to reduce production costs.

Innovation. Defined as how strong a company was at developing new products and entering new markets.

Sensing of weak signals. Defined as how well a company can focus on potential banana peels in order to improve overall performance, including analyzing mistakes, actively searching out production anomalies, and being aware of potential problems in the surrounding business environment.

Responsiveness. Defined as a business’s ability to solve problems that crop up unexpectedly and to use specialized expertise to counter those complications.
I cannot argue with any of those four; as a matter of fact, I've written about these topics previously.

Improvements are critical. Without them, your customer experience will be stuck in the same rut it's always been in. Take your customer feedback, and do something with it. Here are a few examples of what I've written about Improvements.

5 So Whats: Prioritizing Improvement Opportunities
#CX Improvements and the Streetlight Effect
CEM Toolbox: Taking Action

Innovation is probably one of my favorite topics to write about when it comes to differentiation and staying ahead of the competition. A few examples on this topic include:

Innovate, Don't Imitate
Four Voices That Could Pull Your Company Out of the Innovation Rut
Moving at the Speed of Innovation
Customer Experience Fuels Innovation

Those slow-moving or slow-rising competitive threats are called Weak Signals. They are everywhere, and the trick is often knowing which ones to act on.

Weak Signals and Boiling Frogs

I've not written a post specific to Responsiveness, but it is a critical component in delivering a great customer experience and in standing apart from the competition. One way to counter the complications and implications of unexpected issues is to be proactive, to conduct pre-mortems (what could go wrong?), and more. A few proximate posts include:

What Role Does Intuition Play in Customer Experience
Is Proactive Customer Service Still a Moment of Truth?
CEM Toolbox: Setting the Stage for a VoC Strategy

Don't let the competition dictate your business decisions and your customer experience. Don't make the competition your primary focus or driving force. Do your own work. Understand your customers. Be prepared. And innovate. Continuously innovate... your products, your talent development, and your experience.

Competition is always a good thing. It forces us to do our best. A monopoly renders people complacent and satisfied with mediocrity. -Nancy Pearcey

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Future is Now: Take Your Customer Data to the Next Level

I originally wrote this post for CXpert. It appeared on their blog in August, 2016.

I'm often asked about the future of customer experience: What does it look like? What will companies focus on this year? What advancements have we seen or should we expect to see? What are the latest tools to help companies improve the experience?

For this post, it's the latter I'll address.

Data is available in abundance these days. There are a ton of statistics out there about the volume of data we see today vs. just a few years ago, but I think we can all agree that there's a lot of it! And I think we can all agree that most companies don't  use - or know how to use - even a tenth of it.

I've written previously about the six steps you should take to use data to transform the customer experience. Those steps - centralize, analyze, synthesize/contextualize, socialize, strategize, and operationalize - are handy, but most companies get hung up on the first step. And if they know where their data is and have pulled it all into a data lake, or if they've gotten as much data together as they believe they can for now, they then get stuck on the next step, analyze. This is where I think there is a real opportunity for customer experience professionals. This is where we've got some new tools.

Which tools?

Companies are sitting on a goldmine of data. It’s time to do something with all of that data. It's time to forecast the future and remedy the present. What am I talking about? Predictive analytics and, more importantly, prescriptive analytics. These are two important tools that customer experience professionals must have in their toolboxes in 2016 and beyond. Unfortunately, many of these professionals are still either unaware of the tools or aren't sure what they (can) do.

Traditionally, companies were able to identify and prioritize improvement opportunities from their customer surveys via correlation or regression analysis and quadrant charts, which identify priority improvements, fundamental essentials, and things to continue doing. But I don't think a lot of folks put faith into those quad charts, which don't offer up the ability to identify the impact those improvements (or the "continue doings") would have on the desired business outcomes.

In recent years, there's been an evolution from purely descriptive analytics (basic, summary statistics) to predictive analytics (predicting some future outcome based on what you know about the customer or on historical data). And now we have prescriptive analytics, which takes that prediction and tells you why and then what to do, outlining the next best action to take in order to achieve a desired outcome.

According to Wikipedia, prescriptive analytics: not only anticipates what will happen and when it will happen, but also why it will happen. Further, prescriptive analytics suggests decision options on how to take advantage of a future opportunity or mitigate a future risk and shows the implication of each decision option. Prescriptive analytics can continually take in new data to re-predict and re-prescribe, thus automatically improving prediction accuracy and prescribing better decision options. Prescriptive analytics ingests hybrid data, a combination of structured (numbers, categories) and unstructured data (videos, images, sounds, texts), and business rules to predict what lies ahead and to prescribe how to take advantage of this predicted future without compromising other priorities.

You can already see how this is a windfall for customer experience professionals and, more importantly, for customers.

Prescriptive analytics isn't just for survey data, though. If you've got customer demographic, transaction, interaction, or other behavioral data, you can analyze it to predict not only some outcome but also which customers (down to the individual customer) will most likely be aligned with that outcome, and then use prescriptive analytics to prescribe the next course of action to take with each customer to ensure the outcome is achieved. In plain English, here's an example: first you predict who is most likely to buy a certain type of car, and then you can identify which messaging, discounts, offers, sales approach, etc. to use to take the customer over the line.

Customers want personalized experiences; this is one tool, one method to use to ensure that happens. Use prescriptive analytics to take your customer data to the next level, improving the experience and adding value for your customers.

I've often said that data are just data until you do something with them. You need a tool to identify the what: what is it that you’re supposed to do with the data? Ultimately, you need those prescriptive analytics to identify why, how, and where - from which action - you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck.

Having prescriptive analytics in your customer experience toolbox gives you a huge, first-mover advantage. There's still a large awareness and education effort required to help companies realize the beauty and the benefits of using prescriptive analytics to transform the customer experience, especially the part about personalizing the experience down to the individual level.

If you’ve been stuck in a rut and haven’t been able to make any progress toward improving the customer experience, it’s time to rethink how you’ve been analyzing your data. Making data-driven decisions will only lead to better outcomes – for the customer and for the business.

If you torture the data long enough, it will confess. -Ronald Coase


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Authoritative Guide to #CX

Image courtesy of GMC Software
How do you know you're achieving customer experience excellence?

Back in November, I wrote a post about a whitepaper I penned for GMC Software on how the worlds of customer communications management (CCM) and customer experience collide, without question. Parts of that whitepaper and another I had written for GMC Software were incorporated into their first ebook, The Authoritative Guide to Achieving CX Excellence: Unlocking the Power of Customer Communications Management (CCM).

I recently joined Mirza Baig of GMC Software for a brief conversation about the book - it was more of a book review, and I was happy to share my thoughts on it. The book spans 10 chapters packed with thought-provoking content and links to other resources to help you understand the concepts and guide you in developing your action plans. It supports that much-needed focus on communications, which is often an overlooked part of the customer experience.

While the book outlines how various companies have...
  • Transformed the customer experience
  • Increased efficiency
  • Eliminated silos
  • Decreased risk, and
  • Gained visibility into the customer journey
... it's also a great resource that:
  • defines and clarifies CCM
  • outlines the benefits of CCM and how those are tied to business outcomes
  • supports the importance of consistency across the organization and the customer journey
Take a few minutes to listen to the book review podcast and then download your copy, as well. It'll get you thinking about things that you didn't even know you should be thinking about.

Good communication is just as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after. -Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Did Your Company Make the #CX Naughty List This Year?


Image courtesy of miserablespice
I originally wrote today's post for Intradiem; it appeared on their blog on December 16, 2014. Two years later, it's still relevant!

'Tis the season... Santa's making his lists and checking them twice.

Oh no! Your company shows up on his CX Naughty List! What did you do wrong this year? In short, a lot.

There are (at least) five categories in which companies continue to fall down when it comes to the customer experience. For each category, I'll call out some of the most egregious reasons for being on Santa's CX Naughty List. Trust me, there are a lot more reasons; I could write a book about all of them.

1. Customer Culture
Customer Culture is all about setting the stage for successfully designing and delivering a great customer experience. If you don't have a leadership team who supports and drives a customer-centric culture, forget it; it won't happen. Here are a few things your company did or didn't do around developing a customer culture this year that caused you to land on the Naughty List.
  • You still don't understand the importance of focusing on the customer experience: your executives don't get it, but there are plenty of examples and statistics as to why focusing on the customer experience pays in spades.
  • You think and operate inside-out rather than outside-in: your focus is on processes that are designed and implemented based on internal thinking and intuition. The customer's needs and perspectives do not play a part in this type of thinking. You make decisions because you think it's what's best for the business.
  • You don't make the employee experience a priority: employee engagement is down, turnover is up, and you still question why you should focus on delivering a great employee experience.
  • You still think the purpose of a business is to maximize shareholder value: so that's how you prioritize your decisions and investments in the business, based on delivering a great rate of return for your shareholders. The real purpose of a business is to create (and nurture) a customer.
2. CX Strategy
CX Strategy refers to your approach to delivering a great customer experience. Some of the reasons you may have landed on Santa's Naughty List this year include:
  • You listen to customers but only focus on the metrics: instead of taking what you heard from customers and improving the experience, you decided to focus on the numbers and what moves the numbers. You promised your customers free oil changes if they rated you all 10s!
  • You don't have a customer experience vision: without a vision, you're left short-sighted when it comes to the customer experience.
  • You believe you already deliver a great customer experience: honestly, this is about short-sighted and egregious as it gets. Why? Because you don't.
3. Constituent Understanding
Do you know who your customers are? They might be partners and/or end customers/users. Why do they buy products and services from you? What are their needs? What problems are they trying to solve? What are they trying to achieve? You made the Naughty List because of the following.
  • You don't listen to your customers (or other constituents): you either don't understand why you should listen, or you don't care.
  • You don't know who your customers are: you've decided to focus on target segments instead of personas, when personas will get you closer to the customer and to a better customer experience design.
  • You don't map the customer journey: without mapping the journey, you truly don't understand what your customers are experiencing, which means "empathy" also isn't part of your vocabulary.
4. Analyze
Analyze is all about how you tease out meaning from your customer data. The following behaviors got you on the Naughty List this year.
  • You don't analyze unstructured data for insights and sentiment: there's so much richness in that unstructured feedback, but you've chosen to ignore it because it seems like too much work.
  • You focus on the wrong outcomes: there are a few different ways to look at this one, but in your case, you decided to focus on growing referrals, when it's not all that relevant to your business.
  • You don't tell a story with your data: you deliver dreadful charts and statistics to your employees, hoping they'll know what it means and how to apply it to delivering a great experience.
5. Operationalize
This is where the rubber meets the road. It's time to execute. It's time to improve and to deliver a great customer experience. You made the Naughty List based on this category due to a few shortcomings
  • You don't train employees on what it means to deliver a great experience: if they don't know what it means or what it looks like, how can they deliver it.
  • You develop products without understanding customer needs or what they are trying to achieve: you haven't listened to customers or tried to learn more about them; as a result, your products don't meet needs and frustrate customers.
  • You spend a lot of money on marketing to acquire new customers but can't keep the customers you currently have: it's a lot cheaper and easier to focus on the customers that you have than it is to acquire new ones; if you focus on delivering a great experience for the customers you have, they will help you acquire new ones.
  • You do nothing with the valuable feedback that your customers provide. Enough said.
Santa's hoping you'll do better next year! Focus on the things that matter to your customers and to your employees. Address the issues outlined above. And let's see if you make it to the Nice List in 2017.

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right. –Oprah Winfrey

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Value of Connecting with Other #CX Professionals

Image courtesy of Noel Dela Cena
I originally wrote today's post for the CXPA blog and have modified it slightly since then.

Simon Sinek said: A community is a group of people who agree to grow together. I think that describes the customer experience profession, and especially the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), quite well.

There’s a lot of value in connecting with other customer experience professionals, whether those connections are made through the CXPA or not. As you know, this customer experience profession is relatively new, having been formalized and validated five years ago by the formation of the CXPA. (Yes, I know, you may have been a customer experience professional longer than that.) Given that, plus the challenges newbies to this field experience (were you plucked from another role or department to tackle CX?), connecting with other customer experience professionals who have faced the same opportunities, challenges, and victories as you have is actually quite rewarding, for a variety of reasons… not the least of which is, as Simon states, growing together.

I can sum up the benefits of connecting with other CX professionals in two words: (1) education and (2) support; in some ways, they can both be lumped together and defined as:
  • learning from each other, 
  • having someone who understands what you’re talking about
  • having someone who can answer questions about the same challenges or experiences you’re having, 
  • bouncing ideas off each other, 
  • sharing failures and best practices, 
  • mentoring someone with less experience or knowledge, 
  • having a shoulder to cry on and also one to pick you up and help you along,
  • and more.
We are all still learning! Even after almost 25 years in this space, I learn new things from other CX professionals every week. As this field and this profession evolve and as we continue to define what it means to be in this CX profession, know that your professional connections become even more important.

Take the time to reach out to other CXPA members, join the discussions on the Discussion Forum, share your experiences and best practices or offer up resources that have worked well for you, and ask questions of the CX Experts. And if you're not already a member, join this growing community!

Get involved and connect with other CX professionals. Grow with other CX professionals. You will not regret it!

The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity. -Keith Ferrazzi