Thursday, March 5, 2015

Doing Less Better Starts with the To-Do List

Image courtesy of John R. Bell
Today I'm pleased to share a guest post by John R. Bell.

Six weeks ago, my business book was released. Do Less Better. The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World concerns itself with focus and simplicity. In it, I draw on personal experiences from my days in the C-suite and the boardrooms of my consulting clients to make the case that sacrifice is the surprising secret to successful long-term viability. Business complexity has never been greater, but it is not the phenomenon itself but rather the inability to cut through the clutter that comes in the way of resurrecting clarity and coherence

In the weeks following the release, I’ve had several challenging questions about the concept from podcast interviewers and traditional journalists. One of the more biting ones was how doing less better impacts the organization’s average Joe or Jane. This question concerns itself with activities at sea level, not up there in the stratosphere where corporate strategy is crafted

I say that “focus touches every department and every employee in well-run do less better companies.” I suggest that the “to do” list is a good place to set the stage for a do less better mindset. You need a “to do” list. Your boss needs a “to do” list. So does the President of the United States. But understand that the list’s effectiveness is in direct proportion to the number of items on the list. Fewer projects = bigger impact

Know what is essential.

Know what to delete from your screen, and when to move on.

Know what will bring the greatest return on effort. This is your personal ROE ratio.

Sure, there are menial tasks that we all must do. If they consume 75% of your day, prioritize the other 25%. Some people set up their lists according to operational and strategic projects. Some differentiate by the value of the task. Some establish goals based on what they can do really well. For example, should a blogger go for quantity or quality of posts? Is a daily post that’s been slapped together in a half hour better than a weekly post of insightful, engaging content that might take days to research and write? The answer depends on the blogger’s objectives and his or her working style.

When I was a CEO, one of my marketing managers made a request to hire an extra brand manager. Credit to him for his courage; he was well aware of my distaste for adding employees. My belief, then and now, is that the greater the number of employees, the greater the corporate complexity. Anyway, he said his project list had reached a point that precluded him from doing the kind of job he wanted to do. He believed that the recruitment of an assistant would make all the difference. I asked him to update his project list and organize it, beginning with the most important and ending with least important projects. The following day, he brought me the list

We discussed the projects, and when satisfied that I understood the twenty or so items on his page, I scratched out the bottom third of them. “Stop working on these,” I said. “Do you think you can manage the rest without that assistant?”

Of course he could. Okay, I’ve simplified the interaction but not the part about scratching out a third of the projects. Ultimately, that marketing manager became far more effective and far more motivated by doing the work that matters. Properly deployed, do less better is a winning strategy for employees, customers, and shareholders

John R. Bell, the author of Do Less Better: The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World, is a retired consumer packaged goods CEO and global strategy consultant to some of the world's most respected blue-chip organizations. He has served as a director of several private, public, and not-for-profit organizations. John can be reached at or 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The #CX Proof is In the (Diet) Pudding

Image courtesy of beetlecakes
I have a few questions for you about your company: 

Are you focusing on acquisition or retention? 

Are you rebranding your image or are you reinventing the customer experience? 

What are your priorities?

I recently wrote some posts about how companies have this misguided focus on anything but the customer experience.

With one, I posed the question: Are you delivering a great customer experience - or are you just relying on advertising to create awareness and sell your products?

Do Your Customers Talk About Your Products or Your Ads?

With another, I asked: Have you ever wondered why customers say they buy your products based on price - and then, in the end, they also stop buying because of price?

Why Customers Really Leave

And finally, the last one pondered this: Is your customer acquisition (and retention) strategy based on discount pricing? How's that working for you?

Discounts Sabotage

So imagine my (lack of) surprise when I read this in last Friday's Business Insider Closing Bell email (bolding is mine):

Weight Watchers' shares tumbled as much as 34% Friday after the company reported fourth quarter adjusted earnings per share of 7 cents on revenues of $327.8 million, down 10.4% year-over-year. Expectations were for revenues of $389 million, while EPS was in line with forecasts. During the earnings call Thursday, CEO Jim Chambers said recently launched ads and customer promos couldn't avert the 15% loss in active subscribers last quarter.

I clicked the link to read more. I wanted to find out if that was really their strategy to save the business. Sure enough, it is. They've been rebranding their image and trying to overcome some obstacles of late. The article goes on to say that, during his earnings call, Jim Chambers stated that a new marketing campaign and promotions to build membership were the company's main strategies. That's not unusual (unfortunately). The problem is that he's talking acquisition here, not retention. What about the 15% of subscribers that he lost. What's he doing to keep his customers? Instead, he's just trying to plug holes.

The article then cites some Duke University research that uncovered that the average user was getting less value (and weight loss) for his or her money at Weight Watchers than at competitors like Jenny Craig. Ah, the "V" word. Value. So they're paying a lot of money and not losing any weight, or not as much as promised/hoped.

Promising is the fact that Jim did mention the member, member feedback, and the member experience in the earnings call. I'm just not convinced that he's doing anything more than lip service at this point. I don't think there's a concerted effort there. And I'm a bit skeptical when someone (their CFO) says: We are getting excellent feedback on the product, as Jim mentioned 90% really like it. So that’s why we feel we have got a good platform on which to build. Why skeptical? Well, Jim actually said (bolding mine again):

Importantly personal coaching is receiving extremely positive feedback from our members. Over 90% would recommend it to a friend, demonstrating the power of personal support and accountability on member experience and success. While the take-up rate for personal coaching has been low so far, with about 3% of recruits choosing this option over the course of the year, we’ll actively explore ways to bring this rich experience to more people.

Did 90% of the 3% recommend it? That's a lot different from 90% of all of your subscribers. I can't imagine someone who hadn't used it would recommend it. Ah, semantics...and pedantics.

A Bloomberg article states that Weight Watchers is just not keeping up with customers' needs and the way they are tracking activity, weight loss, and more. “Weight Watchers really has to change what they’re offering -- they have to get modern,” said Meredith Adler, an analyst at Barclays. “People are just more digital now than they ever were.”

Frankly, we were slow to innovate and add value to our products,” Weight Watchers Chief Financial Officer Nicholas Hotchkin said at an investor conference on Nov. 11. “We were particularly susceptible to the proliferation of free apps and activity monitors.”

I think it's time for them to listen to customers and understand: who they are, what their needs are, how they want to lose weight and track their health and fitness activities, and more. They talk about member feedback, but if it's the wrong kind of feedback, if it's the wrong kind of - or approach to - listening, it's meaningless. And if you do nothing with the feedback you get, if it doesn't prompt deeper investigation, innovation, and change, then it's pointless. Focus on retention over acquisition; focus on the customer experience; you won't have to work so hard to acquire new customers - your existing customers will do that for you.

Most of us understand that innovation is enormously important. It's the only insurance against irrelevance. It's the only guarantee of long-term customer loyalty. It's the only strategy for out-performing a dismal economy. -Gary Hamel

Friday, February 27, 2015

The 7 Deadly Sins of Customer Experience

Is your company committing the 7 Deadly Sins of customer experience?

Recently, my kids asked me about the 7 Deadly Sins; I don't remember how the topic came up, but when they ask, I answer. Of course, as I ran down the list and explained them (in a PG kind of way), I pondered sins of the customer experience.

I guess that put me on a 7 Deadly Sins kick. I just hosted a webinar about the 7 Deadly Sins of Journey Mapping. I'll take a broader stroke in this post and look at customer experience management overall.

The 7 Deadly Sins are mortal sins (as opposed to minor sins) and are considered to be the root of all other sins. If you commit these sins, failure is certain. Are there more than seven sins in customer experience? Yes, probably. But I think these are the most egregious; if you are guilty of these, you won't successfully transform the customer experience for the better.

So, without further ado, the 7 Sins are, in no particular order (although #1 is probably #1)...

1. No executive commitment
Probably the biggest Sin to commit is to think you can transform anything without executive buy-in. If company leadership isn't on board with focusing on the customer, then forget it; it won't happen. Oh sure, you might have localized or departmentalized efforts, but those will be silo'd efforts that translate to silo'd experiences for the customer. Without executive commitment, you'll never get resources - human, capital, or other - to execute on your customer experience strategy.

Some posts I've written related to this Sin include:

Kicking the #CX Can Down the Road
Help! My Execs Don't Get It!

2. Lack of CX vision and strategy
Following up to my last statement regarding executive commitment, you must, of course, have a customer experience vision and strategy. CX Strategy refers to your approach to delivering a great customer experience. It's your plan or direction. Your strategy outlines how you're going to achieve the goal of delivering a great customer experience.

Without a vision and a strategy, you can't achieve your goals, and your employees can't deliver a great experience. Without knowing what you're delivering, it's really hard to execute! If leaders don't define the vision, communicate the brand promise, and outline what success looks like, employees can't be expected to deliver on it.

A post I wrote related to this Sin:

Is Your Customer Experience Suffering from Short-Sightedness

3. Failing to outline a governance structure
Without a governance structure in place, we perpetuate silo thinking and fail to achieve cross-functional alignment, involvement, and commitment. Why? Because a governance structure outlines people, roles, and responsibilities when it comes to your customer experience strategy. Who is going to ensure that there is alignment and accountability across the organization? We often see this piece of the governance structure refer to a core program team, an executive sponsor, and cross-functional champions. Your oversight committee should include the team of people you believe will best carry out the strategy, driven by your corporate and customer experience vision, for your organization.

You'll need to have clearly-defined rules and guidelines for how the customer experience management strategy will be executed. Who will drive the efforts and how? How will you transform to a customer-centric culture? How will organizational buy-in be achieved? How do you continue to motivate employees to focus on the customer? How will you listen to customers? Who will use the data and how? Where does accountability lie? What processes and policies must be in place in order to roll out these efforts? How will change management be handled? How will you measure success? How does it all tie in to our desired business outcomes?

A post I wrote related to this Sin:

Are You Flying by the Seat of Your #CX Pants?

4. Not understanding - and listening to - your customers
You can't transform something you don't understand. Included in that "understanding" is not only the current state of the experience but also (especially) the customer himself. Who is he?

Do you know - really know - who your customers are? They might be partners, resellers, 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? And how do they feel about how you are performing or how you are meeting their needs? I'm talking about personas, journey mapping, and voice of the customer.

Some posts I've written related to this Sin include:

What's the Cost of Listening to Customers?
Does It Pay to Listen to the Voice of the Customer?
Do You Know Who Your Customers Are?
Customer-Driven Transformation via Walking in Customers’ Shoes

5. Not acting on what your customers tell you
This one is simple: You can't listen to your customers and then not act on what they're telling you. How disappointing! It's wrong on so many levels!

Are you making improvements based on customers' feedback? Are you letting customers know what you've done as a result of their feedback? You must! And if you don't, then you're missing a huge opportunity, for a variety of reasons.

Some posts I've written related to this Sin include:

Tips to Help You Close the Loop with Your Customers
Transforming the Customer Experience with Big Data

6. Making the employee experience an afterthought
... or not thinking about it at all.

Why? Because we know that the employee experience drives the customer experience. It's called the spillover effect, or “the tendency of one person’s emotions to affect how other people around him feel.”

I like to quote this 1999 article from Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge that summarizes the work Sears executives did to rebuild the company to focus on customers. The article talks about the new business model and what they discovered: There is a chain of cause and effect running from employee behavior to customer behavior to profits. Imagine: their model is data-based!

Some posts I've written related to this Sin include:

It's Time to Focus on Employee Experience
Putting Employees More First
Does "Employees More First" Disparage Customers?
Define Your Employee-Centric Culture
7. Perpetuating inside-out thinking
Inside-out thinking means 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.

On the other hand, outside-in thinking means that you look at your business from the customer's perspective and subsequently design processes and make decisions based on what's best for the customer and what meets the customer's needs. You make decisions because you know it's what's best for your customers.

Some posts I've written related to this Sin include: 

The Problem with Inside-Out Thinking
Are Your Customers Persona Non Grata?
Building a Customer-Centric Culture
Five Key Questions to Ask to Achieve a Customer-Centric Culture

Which of these Sins is your company guilty of?

Everything starts with the customer. -Louis XIV

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Extra Mile or The Last Mile?

Image courtesy of S.O.O.C
Which is more important: the last mile or the extra mile?

A couple months ago, I wrote about first and last impressions, posing a similar question there:  which is more important?

Today I'm wondering about the last mile and the extra mile. Which one should you focus on more? Which is more impactful to the customer experience? Which one creates raving fans? Or, at least, happy customers?

Let's start with some definitions.

What do we mean by "the extra mile?" According to, to go the extra mile means: to try harder to please someone or to get the task done correctly; to do more than one is required to do to reach a goal; to make more effort than is expected of you. Of course, we knew that; we talk about that all the time when we describe what companies do to delight or to deliver a superior customer experience. Stan Phelps gives us a lot of examples of how great companies consistently go the extra mile for their customers and their employees.

What about "the last mile?" This is a phrase mentioned much less often in our world; hence, my question, is it as important as the extra mile? According to Investopedia, the last mile is: a phrase used in the telecommunications and technology industries to describe the technologies and processes used to connect the end customer to a communications network. I suppose I'll equate this to doing it right, getting it there. Or quite simply, delivering at the moment of fulfillment, as in, making sure customers get what they expected to get. So, in the telecom industry example, the phone lines come into my home, and I can make and receive calls. There's no delight there. It works; it just does what it's supposed to do. I'm happy.

Do you see my dilemma?

There are those who argue that companies don't need to put forth the extra effort - or go the extra mile - to delight, that they should simply spend more time just getting things right. In the HBR article, Stop Trying to Delight Customers, the authors state:

According to conventional wisdom, customers are more loyal to firms that go above and beyond. But our research shows that exceeding their expectations during service interactions (for example, by offering a refund, a free product, or a free service such as expedited shipping) makes customers only marginally more loyal than simply meeting their needs.

Does that then support focusing on the last mile?

Forrester has stated that there are three requirements of a great customer experience; it must be...
  • enjoyable
  • easy
  • effective
So, it's enjoyable; customer effort is low; and it meets your needs.

Does that also support focusing on the last mile? Or both?

I have to draw some parallels to my first/last impression post, in which I said: You won't get one without the other. There won't be a last impression if you don't get the first impression right. You know what you need to do.

Which is most important? Well, I think you can't have one without the other. You can't go the extra mile if you haven't completed the last mile.

You know what you need to do.

There are no traffic jams along the extra mile. -Roger Staubach

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Stakeholder Management Strategy for #CX Success

Image courtesy of xianrendujia
Today's post is a modified version of a post I originally wrote for Confirmit in April 2013.

In Tuesday's post, I discussed the rationale - and preparation - for conducting stakeholder interviews before embarking on a VoC program.

In today's post, I'll focus on what to do immediately prior to, during, and after the interviews to make sure you get the most out of the process. Just like with your customers, there’s no faster way to alienate a stakeholder than to ask her questions and then take no action based on her responses.

Prior to the Meeting
Send a copy of the discussion guide/interview questions to stakeholders far enough in advance of the meeting that they have a chance to review the questions and any supporting materials, allowing them time to collect their thoughts and responses. When the stakeholder has time to prepare, you'll not only stick within your allotted/scheduled time but you'll also receive well-thought-out answers to your questions.

During the Meeting
As the meeting begins, explain your VOC efforts and CX strategy and their intended outcomes, and summarize the objectives for the interview. Other guidelines to follow include:
  • Follow the question flow that you’ve outlined, but adapt to the person as the conversation evolves.
  • Probe for details, if anything is unclear.
  • Not all questions may be relevant to all stakeholders, so be flexible during the interview and skip questions, if needed.
  • Don’t forget to focus on the customer, not just on the company.
  • Keep the discussion on course but allow for some sidebars, if relevant.
  • Make it a discussion, not an interrogation.
  • Upon completing the interview, thank the individual for his/her time, ask for other thoughts or concerns, and briefly summarize next steps.
After the Meeting
Compile the findings from all interviews. Prepare a Summary Report of the findings that provides a solid overview of the information gathered from the pre-work and the interview process. Where relevant, use direct quotes to highlight or illustrate key stakeholder points or to support the objectives of your VoC or CX efforts. This report includes details you'll use to design your efforts to ensure stakeholder needs and requirements are met along the way and that the outcomes match their expectations.

Then you'll need to compile a Stakeholder Analysis, which will identify and outline:
  • Interest levels of the various stakeholders
  • Conflicts of interest among stakeholders
  • Misalignment of goals and objectives for your program
  • Believers and naysayers
  • Objections and risks
  • An overall picture of program readiness
Along with your Summary Report and the Stakeholder Analysis, you’ll want to identify next steps in the form of a Stakeholder Management Strategy, which will include a Stakeholder Map that plots each stakeholder based on her interest in, and her power and influence over, the initiative. The Strategy document outlines how you'll utilize stakeholders who support your efforts and what your strategy will be to overcome the objections that naysayers have, which will be crucial to success. Speaking from experience, if you can't overcome the naysayers, you will have a tough time getting off the ground. The Strategy document will also inform each stakeholder of his or her role in your VoC and CX efforts and how you’ll involve them.

It seems like a lot of work, but you’ll be glad that you took the time to incorporate these interviews into the design of your VoC and CX strategies. This is one more tool to help get buy-in and commitment for your efforts. The bottom line is that when people are involved or know how and why they are involved, they're more likely to step up, commit, and help ensure you have the resources you need for success. If you force this on them, they'll probably push back.

It is not every question that deserves an answer. -Publilius Syrus