Wednesday, January 17, 2018

How and Why to Map Your Stakeholders

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Today I'm pleased to share a guest post by Paul Laughlin. This post was originally published on his blog on October 2, 2017.

Do you have a stakeholder map? Is it up-to-date and do you use it?

Those questions frequently come up when I’m working with clients. In either training or coaching, the need to "know your stakeholders" is a common one.

It’s not surprising that it matters. Today’s businesses are more complex than ever. Plus, it’s not enough for insight or analytics leaders to generate insights, they need to be able to act on them. Few, if any, of today’s leaders can do that in isolation.

Whether you need to partner with IT, Sales, Marketing, or Operations, you will need to cooperate. The challenge, of course, is that other people have their own priorities, challenges, and values. These may not accord with yours, or may at least make your intended action less important now.

Consider a stakeholder map for better stakeholder management.

Creating a Stakeholder Map: Step 1
The first challenge, when seeking to manage your stakeholders better, is to identify them. This might sound patently obvious, but I often see too little time spent on this stage.

Leaders (including data/analytics/insight leaders) will easily recall others they work with often. But, one of the benefits of a well-designed stakeholder map is having taken the time to spot others.

So, I suggest taking some time to think. Use mind-mapping techniques to identify a 360-degree view of all your stakeholders. To get you started, consider the following possible direct relationships:
  • Whose investment/permission do you need to proceed?
  • Whose process approval do you need to comply?
  • Whose resources do you need in order to deliver change/action?
  • Whose engagement do you need to do the work?
  • Whose expectations do you need to meet to succeed?
  • Whose cooperation do you need in order for it to work?
  • Who thinks they are affected (but aren’t) and needs reassurance?
In other words, consider your: sponsors, gatekeepers, suppliers, team, clients, peers, and others who may be worried.

Once you have identified these immediate relationships, then think about who they need. Can you identify their line manager, internal suppliers, teams, peers, etc?

Some simple examples of different visualisation techniques for this stage are available from

By this stage you may be thinking this could be a never-ending journey. You are free to stop once you find newly-identified stakeholders who wouldn’t really be impacted. Either they would have no stake in what you are working to achieve, or you don’t need them.

My advice is to work on this a little longer than you want to. It’s surprising how often, toward the end, you identify a team or a leader you had not considered.

Creating a Stakeholder Map: Step 2
The output of Step 1 may look unwieldy, even if you have produced a beautiful "spider web" on flip charts. That is because it is. Of itself, the above exercise has identified too many stakeholders for you to viably manage.

The point of Step 1 is not to create your priority list but first to think broadly enough so you’re not stuck on "the usual suspects." Step 2 is all about prioritization. Anyone who has worked on project/change management will be familiar with the Boston Consulting Grid (BCG). This works on a similar representation.

To prioritize the stakeholders identified in Step 1, you need to assess each one against two dimensions:
  1. How much influence do they have?
  2. How interested are they?
The first question is all about their impact on what you are seeking to achieve. Let’s say you have produced a targeting model for a marketing campaign. Perhaps all your testing has proven (to you) that it is much more accurate than the current approach used by Sales & Marketing teams. In this context, Question #1 means: Who has the authority to decide if new targeting is implemented?

One caution here is to consider different types of power. It’s easy to identify those who are more senior in the organization. Also look for those with significant influence over others or recognized expertise. Score highly all those who have high influence over the decision to use the new model.

The second question (above), concerns engagement. Frankly, are they bothered? You should score highly those who are very interested (either as advocates or detractors). Also consider stakeholders who have significant "skin in the game," i.e., those you know will be interested once they understand the impact on them.

Once you have relatively scored every stakeholder (from high to low on both axes), you can plot them. This is where the exercise looks like a BCG. Plot the relative position of each of your stakeholders identified in step 1 on a 2×2 grid of the above axes.

In classic BCG fashion, the ideal quadrant should be top right. That is the stakeholder with high influence and high interest. But, be ruthless. Don’t just keep stakeholders near that top right because you like them or usually work with them. Take a hard look at relative scores – because you need to prioritize down to those who need to be managed.

A tidy visual explanation of this technique is published by Karim Vaes:

Image courtesy of Karim Vaes

Using a Stakeholder Map: What Next?
Hopefully you have seen above the benefit of identifying your stakeholders and prioritizing those who matter most. Such a stakeholder map (output from Step 2) can help you prioritze your limited time.

Every insight or analytics leader I meet is busy. They often refer to things like "not enough hours in the day." So, personal effectiveness and productivity should matter to such technical leaders, too. This mapping exercise is all about helping you be more productive.

Managing stakeholders takes time. The way to avoid burnout and to stay sane is to focus your efforts. Be disciplined in who you spend time with and how you communicate.

This is how you should treat the different quadrants of your map:

Key Players (Top Right)
This is where to really focus your efforts. Get to know these stakeholders, what they are like, what matters to them. What is there preferred way to be briefed (face to face, call, email summary, etc)? Plan in time to proactively ensure they understand your proposal and keep them informed in a way that works for them. Clearly communicate what is in it for them.

Keep Satisfied (Top Left)
These stakeholders are your next priority group. They have the influence to make or break your plans, but less/little interest. The key here is to be brief. Ensure you summarize down to the least they need to know to reassure them. Your time is likely to be taken crafting pithy updates or influencing their trusted advisors/teams.

Keep Informed (Bottom Right)
These stakeholders are less important than the two groups above, but are interested. Here the key is to minimize the time you take keeping them informed. Most of your stakeholders should be below the central horizontal axis, so they are in this or the next group. Given such volume, although this group matter, they can be a time drain. How can you automate reports, or brief them through existing meetings?

Minimal Effort (Bottom Left)
These are the least important stakeholders. Step 2 should have placed the largest number of stakeholders identified in Step 1 in this quadrant. Here you want to be reactive, if possible, and protect yourself from any unnecessary effort. Avoid offending anyone, but see if you can just answer their questions through existing means or as they arise.

Stakeholder Map: What Works for You?
I hope that post was useful. It's important to know how to effectively manage stakeholders. But mapping your stakeholders is a great place to start. If you don’t have a map, or the one you have doesn’t work for your current situation, then create a new one.

For now, what works for you? Do you have any other tools you use? How do you map stakeholders and keep the most important ones in view?

Paul Laughlin has over 20 years experience of leading teams to generate profit from analysing  data. Over the last 12 years he’s created, lead and improved customer insight teams across Lloyds, TSB, Halifax and Scottish Widows. He’s delivered incremental profit of over £10m pa and improved customers’ experiences.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Importance of Communication to the Omnichannel Experience

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Today I'm pleased to share a guest post by Ford Blakely, founder and CEO of Zingle.

According to Google, 98% of Americans switch between devices in the same day.

Today’s savvy consumers have a variety of options when it comes to engaging with your brand. From desktop and laptop computers to tablets and smartphones and even brick and mortar stores, the customer journey is more complicated than ever.

Let’s get one thing clear, though: having multiple channels is not the same as being omnichannel. The difference here is that a true omnichannel experience is interconnected and seamless throughout the entire customer journey, whereas multichannel simply means you have multiple customer touchpoints but fail to connect data across channels to enhance the experience.

The Importance of an Omnichannel Strategy
Delivering a true omnichannel experience is hard to achieve but definitely has its benefits. A survey by Aspect Software indicated that businesses that adopt omnichannel strategies achieve 91% greater year-over-year customer retention rates compared to businesses that don’t.

Other benefits of an omnichannel experience include:
  • Deliver Better Customer Experiences through leveraging real-time and historical data on customer online shopping behaviors, profile preferences, and purchase history, as 90% of customers expect consistent interactions across channels.
  • Provide More-Effective Marketing through targeted promotions and remarketing strategies based on data-driven customer segmentation across channels, as campaigns integrating four or more digital channels will outperform single or dual-channel campaigns by 300%.
  • Acquire New Customers by increasing exposure to your brand and engaging customers on any channel or device they are using, as 71% of consumers who have had a good social media service experience with a brand are likely to recommend it to others.
  • Gain More Robust Data that covers all channels and allows businesses to make better decisions on product development and marketing efforts, as 77% of strong omnichannel companies store customer data across channels compared to 48% for weak omnichannel companies. 
  • Improve Operational Efficiency through real-time communication and visibility of data across channels, as 71% of shoppers agree that it is important or very important to be able to view inventory information for in-store products.
As you can see, having an omnichannel strategy has benefits for both consumers and businesses alike. Customers get better experiences, while businesses acquire and retain more customers.

The Missing Link in Today’s Omnichannel Customer Service Strategy
Consumers don’t care about channels; they demand a fast and effortless customer service experience no matter which channel they use.

Common customer care channels like phone, email, website, chat, and social media are all great ways to serve customers, but there is one missing: text messaging.

Text messaging is the only channel that doesn’t require a lot of effort or time for customers to engage, and many consumers prefer it; RingCentral reports that 78% of consumers wish they could have a text conversation with a business. But only 48% of businesses are currently equipped to handle any form of messaging.

Customer service continues to evolve and improve as technology advances, and businesses should be looking at all channels available to serve customers while keeping in mind the business cost of service for each channel. For example, customer service call centers cost dollars per call versus text messages, which cost cents per call.
People like to communicate in different ways. Some like emails; some like face-to-face interactions; while others, like millennials, prefer texting over phone calls. Regardless of which channel your customers choose to communicate, ensure that your messaging, tone, and overall experience is consistent and personalized across channels. In addition, proper training of staff on knowledge, etiquette, and timeliness for each channel you support is equally important as the channel itself.

The implementation and execution of your omnichannel strategy can be the difference between rising above - or falling behind - your competitors.

Ford Blakely is the founder and CEO of Zingle. As a frustrated consumer with an entrepreneurial spirit, Ford sought to figure out a quicker way to order his latte in the morning. He did - and in 2009 Zingle was born as the first two-way, business-and-customer communication platform. Currently, thousands of hotels, food retailers, and other businesses use the software platform to increase efficiency, revenue, and customer loyalty by providing a quick and simple way to communicate with customers through text messaging - people's preferred method of communication today.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

8 Must-Read Posts to Start Your CX Strategy on the Right Foot

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Does your company place top priority on culture and employees?

I've asked this question many times over the last several years - over the last 25 years. I've said more times than I can remember: "Quite simply, without employees, you have no customer experience." Companies have to put employees first. They have to make sure employees have a great experience. And yet... they don't.

I'm encouraged that more and more consultants and thought leaders are talking about the importance of focusing on the employee experience and culture these days. Together, we'll make a dent!

I look forward to sharing the link to a webinar I recorded just before the holidays that's all about culture and employee experience. Stay tuned for that link - it's coming soon!

In the meantime, here are some blogs I wrote in 2017 to get the thought processes flowing. Companies need to focus on these areas - for the sake of the employees, the customers, and the business.

We Have a Crisis in Leadership

7 Pillars of a Strong Culture
Culture - The Soul of the Organization
Mission, Vision, Guiding Principles, Values. Oh My!
Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment

The Candidate Experience and the Customer Experience
Where Do Your Employees Fall in Order of Importance
Employee Engagement: A Confluence of Passion and Purpose

Some questions to consider as you look at your strategy for 2018:
  • Are your executives aligned? Do they work together as a team?
  • Are they committed to employees and the employee experience?
  • Do they model the behavior they want to see within the organization?
  • Have you defined your core values?
  • Are the values communicated and integrated into all your employees do?
  • Can your employees recite your mission, vision, and purpose?
  • Have you developed a Culture Ambassadors program? 
  • Is your culture one that attracts great talent and keeps existing employees excited to come to work every day?
  • Do you have an employee listening program? And act on the feedback?
  • Do you map employee journeys? And use the findings to improve the employee experience?
  • Is the candidate experience on anyone's radar?
If you answered "No" to any of these questions, start building your to-do list! You've got your work cut out for you this year! If you think you can deliver a great customer experience without first focusing on the employee experience and creating a culture where people come first, you're wrong. Time to revisit your strategy!

Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization's makeup and success — along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like. I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn't just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value. -Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., Former CEO of IBM

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Silos Are For Farmers!

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I originally wrote today's post for CallidusCloudCX; it was published on their blog on July 26, 2017.

In last July's webinar with CallidusCloudCX, I talked about nine behaviors of CX Losers. (There are more than nine, without a doubt!) One of the behaviors was failing to break down organizational silos.

I grew up on a farm, so I'm quite familiar with silos. And that's where they belong, on the farm; they're concrete or metal structures that are created to hold or to store something, to separate the contents (grains), and to make that something difficult to get at (by rodents, predators, weather, etc.).

That sounds very similar to what organizational silos do: hold, separate, and protect. One silo, er, department, will hold, separate, and protect its contents (data, information, resources, etc.) from another department. Even worse, the focus within each organizational silo is on the flavor of the day, or of the silo - whatever that silo is working on, which may or may not be connected to what the rest of the organization is focused on.

Organizational silos cause pain for your employees. They lead to reduced efficiencies, waste resources, kill productivity, reduce morale (with a them-and-us mentality), and are detrimental to your ability to create a customer-focused culture. This means they cause pain for your customers, too. And they wreak havoc on your CX strategy.

Silos kill innovation. They create nightmares for the customer experience. And say good-bye to the omnichannel experience! When departments and channels don’t talk and share customer data, the experience is fragmented and frustrating. You’ve experienced this: Think about having to re-enter your information when you go from website to phone or providing information when transferred from rep to rep. That frustrates customers to no end!

When a company is silo'd, the following are just some of the things that happen in a vacuum:
  • Communications: no consistency
  • Actions: no consistency
  • People development: training, coaching, hiring, rewards and recognition, etc.: no common standards or consistency
  • Data access and usage: no data sharing
  • Information and knowledge: no sharing
  • Technology and tools: unique to each silo of the organization
  • Metrics: unique and inconsistent
There is no consistency or uniformity when there are silos; every department is using its own tools and processes to support what they are doing rather than working efficiently and consistently with the rest of the organization to be more cohesive, to be one company. And employees and customers feel it and know it.

What do companies need to do?

They need to get everyone in sync, on the same page, and working together toward a common goal.

Think about this: silo is more of a mentality than a physical thing. There are no walls in place to keep you from talking to your colleagues in another department and from sharing what you’re working on with others. Department or business unit heads choose to not share information or to collaborate. It's a leadership issue. It's a culture issue. It requires a shift in mentality!

How can you start to shift the mentality? Try these...

1. Journey maps: by definition, when you map customer journeys, you must involve cross-functional stakeholders, which (a) gets them collaborating and sharing and (b) helps them see how various departments impact a single customer journey. As a result of that epiphany, they realize they must work together to improve the experience. A previous client mapped their customer journeys and learned that their silo'd business units created a poor experience for the customer, who had to re-engage as a new customer each time he worked with a different business unit. After mapping, they flipped the organization on its head and organized the business to align with the customer journey rather than being a silo'd journey through their individual business units.

2. Governance structure, steering committee: helps to ensure that action plans are executed and outcomes are measured - cohesively, in a collaborative fashion - across the organization; the governance board functions as the engine and the oversight committee of a CX change management initiative. They get people working together toward a common cause/goal. They ensure alignment and accountability, and their cross-functional collaboration is priceless.

3. Communications and collaboration technology: put systems into place that allow employees to share information, learnings, and more across departments, channels, business units, etc. Put technology in place that facilitates and encourages communication and collaboration. Encourage collaboration and cross-functional teamwork – through journey mapping, action planning, design thinking, etc. – in the interest of the customer. Having the tools and technology in place facilitates and supports an open culture.

4. Leadership and executive commitment: breaking down silos is a culture and a mindset shift, and of course, that means it comes from the top. Both company executives and department/business unit heads must lead the charge. What can they do?
  • Improve cross-functional and organization-wide communications and interactions by initiating, supporting, and facilitating the conversation starters
  • Share stories, acknowledge successes, and cross-team collaboration
  • Work toward a common goal, in a very vocal way, i.e., talk about the common goal and how each department impacts it
  • Speak the same language, using a common vocabulary when it comes to the customer and the customer experience
  • Tie CX and other incentives in the same way from department to department, i.e., don't give people a reason to hate what's happening in another department
Other thoughts? Make sure you’ve defined and communicated the company's mission, vision, values, guiding principles, and brand promise. These help to get everyone on the same page. While they may not break down silos, they'll create alignment and break down some of the mentality barriers that exist with silos.

Have you had success breaking own silos? What have you done? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Silos build the wall in people’s minds and create the barrier in organizations' "hearts." -Pearl Zhu

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

5 Fails to Avoid with Your VoC Program

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I originally wrote today's post for CallidusCloud CX; it was published on their blog on June 21, 2017.

Not seeing the results or improvements you expected to see from your customer listening efforts?

Why is that? What's going on?

I've been known to cite two reasons for VoC program ineffectiveness:
  1. Companies simply “collect feedback, just like some people collect stamps, which requires you to: buy the stamps, put them in a book, put them on a shelf, and forget about them; similarly, companies listen to customers, analyze the data (often ad nauseum and erroneously), create these lovely management reports, put them in binders, and pass them to their managers, who then proceed to put the reports on their bookshelves, never to be seen again. (Of course, all of this takes several months, by which time, customers are gone.) Or...
  2.  They focus on the metric, i.e., they try to move the metric, not to improve the experience; moving the metric can actually be detrimental and cause inappropriate behavior, gaming, and other undesirables that derail from the purpose of listening to customers and does not involve the same actions required to improve the experience.
There are clearly more reasons than these for VoC program ineffectiveness, but let's assume you've done everything else right up to the point where you need to do something with the feedback. After you listen to customers, you actually need to use the feedback - this is a major requirement for program effectiveness. Trust me; I know I'm stating the obvious, but it clearly doesn't seem to be obvious for everyone. Not acting on the feedback your customers take their valuable time to provide is just plain wrong.

Some of the most-egregious VoC program fails happen after the feedback is received. (Again, assuming you did everything else, e.g., actionable questions, right audience, etc. right up until now.)

What are those fails? Detailed below are five of them. I need to get a bit more specific than simply saying "you need to act" because that's pretty nebulous; I think that's where people get paralyzed:  What should I do with the data? What do I do next? Who acts, how they act, and when are all critical pieces of information at this point. I hope the explanations for these four fails get you started on the right path.

1. Failure to close the loop at the personal level
Also known as service recovery, this is one of the most important ways to follow up with customers about their feedback; it lets them know that their opinions matter and that you are committed to improving the experience. The business benefits through customer retention, reduced negative word of mouth, product enhancements/ideas, and potential growth opportunities.

Outline a systematic approach for service recovery to occur at the individual customer level. Who will respond to the customer? Within what time frame? In what mode (phone, email, in person)? What will they say/ask (e.g., apologize, ask for more information to get to the root cause, schedule a follow-up call for more details, etc.)? How will you empower your staff to handle these calls? What information do they need to make the call? What is the intended outcome of the follow-up? When and how does the service recovery get escalated? How will you capture the discussion? Will you share best practices with others to learn from? How will you know if the customer is satisfied with the follow-up? How will you know if you've "saved" the customer?

2. Failure to close the loop at the tactical level
By tactical level, I'm referring to closing the loop with stakeholders, with those teams or departments with a vested interest in the specific feedback. Share the feedback with them so that they can address the following: What are some of the common issues, themes, or trends that arise from the data? How can/will each department respond to their respective issues? What will they fix? What improvements do they need to make to their specific policies and processes? What additional training does their staff require? What tools do they need? What communication is required to ensure the entire team or department is on board with the required changes? Are there best practices that they can share with other departments?

3. Failure to close the loop at the strategic level
Acting at the personal and tactical levels is paramount, but it's also necessary to step back and look at the big picture. Some of the improvements that need to be made are organization-wide and require C-level involvement to ensure the commitment is there for time, funds, and other resources. They'll need to view the insights you gain from customers under a larger lens: Are there common feedback themes across the organization? What structural changes does the entire business need to make? How should we incorporate the feedback into our decision-making processes? How can the feedback influence business performance and strategies? What communications are required to engage the organization in a more-strategic overhaul or transformation?

4. Failure to close the loop with employees
If employees don't know what they're doing wrong, then they can't change their own actions and behaviors. Your employees are the ones who deliver the customer experience; keeping them in the dark about how they are performing or how they are meeting customers' needs is detrimental to the business. They have the ability to immediately change the customer's experience, so share the feedback with them. Recognize them for the right behaviors and for delighted customers. Or coach them when the experience didn't go so well.

5. Failure to close the loop with customers
This is a must! Again, customers spend their precious time providing you feedback about your products and services; the least you can do is tell them what you did with their feedback, what improvements you made as a result, including both tactical and strategic changes. Communicating this to customers reassures them that: their feedback is valuable, their time wasn't wasted, you actually use their feedback, and they can provide feedback again. Always communicate back to your customers what changes were made as a result of their feedback and thank them for taking the time to do so. Given that this type of communication is more global in nature than personalized service recovery, it will cover more-strategic improvements but may also cover some of the tactical changes that you've made. Either way, don't forget this piece of communication.

One key point to keep in mind: remember that closing the loop is not just about acknowledging, addressing, and resolving the bad experiences; it's also a way to celebrate the good. If the feedback is positive, thank your customers and perhaps delve deeper into why they would promote your brand,  activate your advocates, share the good news internally to highlight what a good experience looks like, and give kudos and recognition to employees, where due.


Some companies close one of these loops but not the others; some companies do none of these. They are all critical. Hard wiring customer feedback into your operational processes, whether tactical or strategic, and into meetings, discussions, and business decisions is the only way you'll get value and results out of your VoC program. Using customer feedback for continuous improvement at the various levels outlined above ensures VoC program success.

Speaking of success, what are the success metrics for your program? You've outlined them, right? If you did, I would imagine that you'd include things like specific and measurable process improvements, cost efficiencies, culture changes, and customer retention as some of your critical KPIs. These things cannot be achieved without taking real action on the feedback.

Customer feedback must be engrained into the company's culture, into its DNA; when the customer's perspective becomes not only desired by - but also persuasive throughout - the organization, you have achieved a customer-centric culture.

If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it. -Margaret Fuller