Tuesday, November 25, 2014

15 Brand Trends for 2015

Image courtesy of derekGavey
Another year almost gone, and it's time to start sharing trends and predictions for 2015!

Last year, I shared Brand Keys' Robert Passikoff's 14 Brand Trends for 2014. This year, Robert again put together his proposed trends for the upcoming year. He again shared his thoughts on the numerology, as well, this time, obviously focusing on 15: In numerology 15 is the combination of the number 1 (representing leadership and forward movement) and the number 5 (numeric for business and finance), thus 15 becomes the fusion of leadership and forward momentum for brands and marketers.

Let's see what Robert predicts for the new year.

1. Every One of a Kind: Consumers want and expect customized and personalized products, services and experiences, fueled by...

2. Magnified Human Technology: Digital and mobile will fuel the sense of empowerment and possibility for the individual consumer.

3. Real Brand Engagement: Marketers will link “engagement” to how well the brand is perceived versus its’ category'’s Ideal, rather than counting “likes” or just trying to leverage imagery.

4. The Everything Expectation: Brands will need to accurately measure unarticulated and constantly-expanding emotional consumer expectations in order to provide significant advantages to engage, delight, and profit.

5. Real Time Becomes Real Important: Expectations of real time everything will increase and influence purchase decisions.

6. It'’s Still The Brand, Stupid: Increased consumer expectations will be accompanied by enhanced perceptions of products and services as commodities. Differentiation and ‘standing for something’ meaningful, emotional, and important to consumers will be paramount.

7. Category is King: To engage those smarter, high-expectation consumers, brands need to be smarter about their own category-specific emotional values that they can leverage and own.

8. Brands Will Get Emotional: Successful brands need to identify the emotional values in their categories and make them the foundation for meaningful positioning, differentiation, and authentic storytelling.

9. Non-Fiction Storytelling: The stories brands tell must reflect real brand values and category realities and meet consumers'’ believability criteria.

10. The Closing of the Showroom: Consumers will use five or more online sources to facilitate purchase decisions, reducing reliance on traditional brick-and-mortar retail.

11. High-End Shoppers Expect High-Tech Shopping Experiences: Watch for more RFID, beacons, and touchscreens to supercharge the shopping experience.

12. Much More Multiculturalism: As ethnic groups grow, brands and retailers will integrate a sense of culture and culture-specific brand experience with all forms of outreach.

13. Online Authenticity: As ‘The Internet of Things’ matures, consumers will expect greater security of personal purchase data, which will act as a confidence builder for online sources and the brands using them.

14. Dead-On Digital: Brands will shift their digital platform question from, "Should I be here?"” to "What should I do now that I am here?"” Success will be linked not only to outreach alone but also to  contextual relevance.

15. Going Native: Content marketing will continue to become a specialty unto itself while tools like the Digital Platform GPS will optimize placement and resolve issues related to native advertising, digital delivery platforms, and shorter consumer attention spans. Metrics will move away from counting the number of views, shares, and likes toward real brand engagement (see Trend #3).

Do you have a favorite? Or one that you'd like to add?

It’s always about timing. If it’s too soon, no one understands. If it’s too late, everyone’s forgotten. -Anna Wintour

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What the Hell is Customer Experience?

Image courtesy of terry.1953
How ingrained is the customer and his perspective in your company's DNA?

I recently came across an article/speech by the late David Foster Wallace; it starts with the following story.

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

David Foster Wallace's interpretation of this story is: the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.

While I don't disagree with that, my interpretation is: we have forgotten about the water because it's what we "live" or "live in" every day. It's just natural for us and not something we think about.

That translates nicely to customer focus and to delivering a consistently great customer experience.

I believe that every company should strive to achieve this level of customer experience maturity, where we look at each other every day and say, "What the hell is customer experience?" Why are we even talking about customer-focus or customer-centricity or customer listening or improving the customer experience? It's ridiculous. It should be what every company lives and breathes every day. There should be no concerns over executive buy-in or battles to build a business case and prove return on investment. This is a no-brainer.

Instead, we have companies/executives that...
  • still need to be sold on employees first, customers second, shareholders third
  • focus more on acquisition than on retention
  • share nothing but sales metrics in company meetings
  • sell things they shouldn't sell, just to make your numbers
  • focus solely on making their numbers
  • talk about nothing but sales metrics in executive meetings
  • don't listen to their customers
  • or listen to customers but don't act on the feedback (only listen to check a box)
  • don't make decisions based on what's best for customers
  • don't include some reference to customers in job descriptions for customer-facing positions
  • don't train employees on what it means to deliver a great customer experience
  • don't teach employees how to deliver a great customer experience
  • don't create a clear line of sight for employees to the customer so that they understand their roles in, or contributions to, delivering a great customer experience
  • don't communicate their brand promise to employees
  • don't communicate openly and transparently with employees
  • who then can't live the brand promise and deliver on it
  • don't explain their vision or purpose to employees
  • don't understand customers or their needs
  • listen to customers but only focus on the metrics, not on improving the experience
  • develop products without understanding customer needs
  • are focused on shareholder value
  • don't make the employee experience a priority
  • don't hire the right people 
  • don't celebrate achievements or customer experience greatness
  • have siloed organizations
  • ... and the list could go on...
What's the purpose of a business? To create (and to nurture) a customer. Enough said. Everyone should be marching to those orders. Every decision we make should focus on and lead to that outcome. First.

When customer-thinking is part of your culture, when delivering a great customer experience is ingrained in the DNA, when everyone speaks "customer," then you've achieved the "What the hell is water?" level of customer experience maturity. Here's to hoping that that's not too far off for your company.

When you’re trying to make an important decision, and you’re sort of divided on the issue, ask yourself: If the customer were here, what would she say? -Dharmesh Shah

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Are You Putting Marbles in a Bowl?

Image courtesy of frscspd
Are you listening to act - or are you just putting marbles in a bowl?

Probably the most important component of listening to the voice of the customer is acting on what you hear. In order to do that, we must first optimize how we are listening.

What do I mean by that?

When we ask customers for feedback, it's imperative that we make the most of that conversation. I'm specifically referring to surveys, but I suppose this could apply to other listening posts. We must ask questions in a way that gets us the information we need in the clearest, most-detailed way possible. We can't improve the experience if we don't know what's wrong. We can't coach our employees if we don't know what to coach them on, nor can we praise and recognize without knowing what or why.

I recently attended a conference where, after some of the presentations, attendees were asked to rate the speakers. In order to do so, we were told to use marbles; as we left the room, we could pick a colored marble that matched how we felt about the session: green for spot on, yellow for OK but missed the mark, and red for not so much. After one particular session, I saw that the bowl contained quite a few more yellow marbles than green ones.

This got me thinking, as these things often do.

How on earth does this tell the organizer how or why this particular speaker or presentation missed the mark?

Listening is great, but listening without understanding is pointless. Marbles might tell us sentiment, but they don't tell us why. Using marbles might be a creative way to measure performance, but that's all it is. It's not insightful at all.

That brings up a few important points to remember when you're designing a survey:
  • Worry less about how it looks or how fun it is and more about what it will tell you
  • Ask the right questions; ask for understanding
  • Probe for details; don't just focus on that "one number"
  • Always offer a text box that allows respondents to provide feedback in an unstructured way
  • Don't focus on the metric; focus on the customer and how to better the experience
  • Assign an owner to each question and hold that owner accountable for actions on that feedback
  • Ask questions in a way that ensures the feedback will be actionable
Any initiative to improve the customer experience will be unsuccessful without understanding the customer and his needs. To do that, we must have the right data at our fingertips.

Want more tips on survey design? Take a look at this post: 22 Tips for Proper Survey Design.

Statistics were magic like this: they could tell you with near-certainty that a thing would occur, without a hint of when or where. -Hugh Howey, Shift

Friday, November 14, 2014

Customer Experience: Art or Science?

Image courtesy of Mickey75017
I originally wrote today's post for InsideCXM. It appeared on their site on August 12, 2014. 

Do you think there's a little art and a little science involved when it comes to delivering a great customer experience?

I do.

I read recently that "art is reason applied without limits, geared towards an ideal and guided by the practical," while "science is reason applied within a framework, geared towards the practical and guided by an ideal." What do you think? Does it apply here?

Artists have a goal in mind, and they are free to use their creativity to achieve that goal, e.g., create a painting. They are not stifled by rules or guidelines. Scientists have a framework within which they must work, right. They have guidelines and research and theories, and they are limited to staying within that box.

As I thought about how this relates to customer experience, I decided to differentiate art and science a bit further. Can the two work together? Do they belong together?

can be taught (skills).
Art is within you (attitude).
So hire for art and train for science, right?

Or said another way…

Science is hard skills, i.e., those things that can be taught.
Art is soft skills, i.e., those things that lie within us, like personality, attitude, and professionalism.

Science is rules, processes, policies, data, and tools.
Art is the person, who you are, what’s within you.

Those rules and tools are necessary for the person to do the job, but it’s who they are that will dictate if or how they use them to deliver a great experience.

Science is the script.
Art is going beyond the script and being human; it’s how you treat people.

Perhaps we need the script simply as a guideline, but we allow employees to go beyond the script and do what’s right for the customer in the moment.

Science is training and education.
Art is creativity and common sense.

Employees must know what it means to deliver a great customer experience, but absent that they should also be able to apply common sense to do so. This is better explained as knowing the right thing to do and doing the right thing.

Science is practical. It’s taking what you’ve learned and applying it.
Art is ideal and idealistic. It’s OK to think outside of the box, go the extra mile, and do the little extras to delight the customer. It’s also about knowing what delights some and doesn’t delight others.

Science is known laws, facts, and reason.
Art is creativity and emotions.

These two together would make for a great customer experience. Again, science becomes the guidelines, while art allows the employee to do what they need to do for each unique individual and individual situation.

Science is cold and impersonal.
Art is warm and personal.

I’d much rather be on the receiving end of a customer experience that comes from art than from science. Perhaps this is one dichotomy where the two don’t work well together. Or perhaps the art tempers the science in this instance.

Science is technology.
Art is human.

The technology facilitates the customer experience that the employee delivers.

Science is data driven.
Art is emotion driven.

Take what you know about your customers and use that to create a personalized, empathetic experience. Science is customer understanding, while art is its application.

Science is metrics and KPIs.
Art is a smile, a happy customer.

When the business focuses on the science side of things, they focus on the metrics; when they are truly customer-focused and customer-centric, there’s art to that because we focus on the customer rather than on moving the numbers.

Science is objective.
Art is subjective.

Science is numbers-driven and not influenced by human feelings or emotion. Art is quite the opposite: personal, individual, emotional. Combining the facts with the emotions makes for a good customer experience. Said another way…

Science is rational.
Art is emotional.

Both are necessary to deliver a great customer experience. You want your frontline to take a rational approach to how they interact with customers, yet apply emotion and empathy to personalize and humanize the experience.

Science is metrics.
Art is stories.

In order to sell the importance of focusing on the customer experience to your executives, you’ll need both.

Based on these comparisons, it seems that customer experience requires a solid mix of both art and science. It’s not just one or the other; it’s both working hand in hand. They’re the yin and yang of customer experience. They complement each other.

Consider the framework under which you ask your employees to deliver a great customer experience. Have you provided them with some bumper guards (the science) but allowed them to unleash their creativity (the art) to do what’s right for the customer?

What do you think?

Science provides an understanding of a universal experience, and arts provides a universal understanding of a personal experience. -Mae C. Jemison

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

18 Reasons to Map Customer Journeys

Image courtesy of GrantVernon
Have you started journey mapping yet? Or are you still wondering why it's an important tool to have in your customer experience management toolbox?

I've written and talked about journey mapping so much this year, even suggesting back in January that we make it the year of the journey map. I think customer experience professionals have made huge inroads in that regard this year. I hear so many people talking about mapping and so many prospects and clients asking about it. Progress. And yet, there are still plenty of folks who don't understand how powerful the maps can be/are as a CX tool.

Throughout the year, I've written about different ways that maps can help you advance your CX strategy. I thought I'd compile them all here in one place.

Use journey maps to...
  1. get executive buy-in to focus on the customer experience
  2. get organizational buy-in for customer focus and customer centricity
  3. understand your customer and his interactions with your organization 
  4. build empathy for the customer and what he's going through as he interacts with your organization
  5. shift CX thinking from touchpoints to journeys
  6. shift CX thinking from inside-out to outside-in
  7. align the organization around a common cause
  8. provide a clear line of sight for employees to the target: customers
  9. help both frontline and back office employees understand how they impact the customer experience 
  10. influence talent requirements and hiring decisions
  11. train and coach employees about the customer experience
  12. onboard employees and indoctrinate them in the CX culture
  13. speak a universal language (customer)
  14. break down organizational silos
  15. get a single view of the customer 
  16. identify moments of truth and performance measurement opportunities
  17. design/improve the customer experience
  18. kill processes, rules, policies that don't make sense
What am I missing? If you've mapped customer journeys, what other activities have you used your maps for? What other benefits have you witnessed as a result of mapping? How do you use the maps?

Remember, don't map for the sake of mapping. We're not just checking a box, to say that we created maps. They are not the endgame; they haven't been dubbed "the backbone of customer experience management efforts" for nothing. Journey maps are a valuable tool in your company's effort to improve the customer experience.

A closing thought... maps aren't just for the customer experience. Map the employee experience, the partner experience, and the experience of any other constituent with whom you interact, including your internal customers.

A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected. -Reif Larsen, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet