Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Weak Signals and Boiling Frogs

Image courtesy of jronaldlee
How do you recognize the weak signals in your business?

Have you heard the story about the boiling frog? As told in Wikipedia, it goes like this:

If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.

The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of threats that rise gradually.

Sadly, when it comes to the customer experience, organizations are the boiling frog, frantically and reactively trying to get out of hot water with their customers. The key here is that they're being reactive. It's too late. The water is already boiling; they're about to be cooked.

On the other hand, that slow boil, those threats that rise gradually? Those are also known as "weak signals." They are everywhere, and the trick is often knowing which ones to act on. It's important to be aware of them, to keep track of them, to understand them, and then to know when to act on them. Pay close attention to weak signals heard or seen about products, services, or markets that don't yet exist. (Have you ever said, "I wish someone made a product that did X?" or "Why can't this product do X?") The key here is that weak signals allow you to respond more proactively, rather than reactively.

One thing to keep in mind is that weak signals may be subtle on their own, but they can often be/become stronger when combined with additional signals. On that note...

Where can weak signals be heard or seen? Many are found in the research you conduct every day, so you need to know how to spot them, but often they can be heard on social media or on other off-the-beaten path communication channels: snippets of information that provide some insight into where and how needs are shifting. You can also observe how customers are using your products or listen to their feedback.
  • Which jobs are they trying to do or which problems are they trying to solve (that no one else is)? 
  • Have they started to hack your products to do something they weren't designed to do to begin with, simply to better meet their needs, more efficiently get the job done, or do something completely different?
  • What are their painpoints with the way things are currently working or being done?
How do businesses get ahead of the threats? There are several ways, many of which you, as a customer experience professional, are probably already doing:
  • listen to customers, non-customers, partners, vendors, and other constituents
    • listen where customers speak, especially on social media 
    • identify specific jobs to be done and corresponding unmet needs
  • understand the environment, especially:
    • financial implications, government regulations, and other environmental, technological, and social factors that impact your customers
  • keep an eye on the marketplace, specifically for:
    •  entry of new competitors or breakthrough technologies
  • watch for a decline in your sales, retention, or satisfaction, particularly as those metrics increase or remain the same for the rest of the market
  • be constantly gathering information about changing customer needs, as well as about other trends and issues in the marketplace
These listening/observing efforts may likely be happening across your organization, but it would behoove you to find a way to pool or to centralize this work so that you're all on the same page. And then communicate! Share with the organization. The folks who need to act on this information? Make sure they're fully briefed and aware of the intel you've gathered.

Need examples of companies who failed to listen to weak signals? Or who may have heard them but chose not to act? What about Blockbuster, Kodak, Sony, Sears, and others? What if they had known of looming threats ahead of time? Would they have taken the same approach, employed the same strategy? Perhaps, especially if they didn't take the threat seriously. (Actually, I think one or two of them got hit over the head, never mind weak signals, but thought they knew better.)

This reminds me of that post I wrote back in July about customer experience fueling innovation. Listen. Innovate. Or die.

Beware. In today's fast-paced, technology-driven world, weak signals become strong signals fairly quickly.

There are two kinds of idiots: those who don't take action because they have received a threat, and those who think they are taking action because they have issued a threat. -Paulo Coelho


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Break Down Barriers to a Great Customer Experience

Image courtesy of real ramona
Is your organization suffering from silo-itis?

If you answered that question with a "yes," you're absolutely, 110% not alone. Unless your company was intentionally built from the ground up to not function in silos - and you're lucky, and unique, if it was - then silos are an issue for you and for your customers. 

We all know how detrimental silos can be not only to the customer experience but also to an organization. When the organization is siloed, information is not shared, the cross/multi/omnichannel experience is a mess, and the organization as a whole is not really focused on the end game. Cross-functional collaboration and involvement is needed to execute on your customer experience strategy. Breaking down silos means that data and information flow freely across the organization, without any barriers. When those silos exist, a customer’s end-to-end experiences with the organization are fragmented and painful.

I know that breaking down silos is a hard thing to do, especially in large organizations. And some would argue that silos are a good thing; in some contexts, that is true, but not when it comes to executing a seamless customer experience.

NewVoiceMedia recently published a whitepaper that defined three different types of silos:
  1. Operational silos - functionally based: this may be one of the most common ones we think of when we're talking about organizations, as it refers to various departments not connected or talking to each other and organizations not acting in a uniform, one company way nationally or globally
  2. Channel silos - interaction based: customers have multiple channels with which to interact with most every company, but companies make it extremely difficult to do so without excessive effort on the part of the customer; companies don't act and speak in one voice across channels. and customers feel like they start anew with the company any time they shift to another channel
  3. Hierarchical silos - organizational-level based: this type of silo occurs when team members are either inhibited or actively discouraged from engaging senior leaders without going through the correct protocols and channels, according to NewVoiceMedia
These silos perpetuate or become the root cause of data silos, systems silos, metrics silos, and more.

NewVoiceMedia proposed some solutions for breaking down the silos, including hiring a Chief Customer Officer (CCO), who will lead and oversee customer experience efforts across departments, business units, and the entire company. She will champion the voice of the customer throughout the organization, ensure that there is a focus on the customer, get departments and business units speaking and sharing information openly, and create an environment that encourages collaboration, teamwork, trust, open communication, and a "one company" approach. A lofty goal, no doubt.

A couple of tools that will come in handy to help the CCO achieve those goals include:
  1. Governance structure. Without a governance structure in place, we perpetuate silo thinking and fail to achieve cross-functional alignment, involvement, and commitment. A governance structure outlines people, roles, and responsibilities associated with your customer experience strategy. Who is going to ensure that there is alignment and accountability across the organization?
  2. Journey maps. Maps done right allow, nay, force companies to collaborate, share, communicate, understand the customer and experience, have a common understanding of the customer and the experience across the organization, link the employee to the customer, and more.
  3. Guiding principles. This might seem like a weird on; the other two are very tangible tools, and this one seems a bit softer. Guiding principles unite the organization in a different way: they are beliefs or philosophies that guide the organization through everything it does; they help employees understand what's right and what's wrong; they outline how employees are expected to act and behave; and they help employees make decisions and do the right thing.
Some silos are good; many are not. But the key here is really getting everyone to work together - sharing, collaborating - for a common purpose, a common goal. I don't really have to tell you what that purpose is, do I?

Breaking down silos can spark innovation in unexpected ways. -Gillian Tett

Thursday, September 15, 2016

5 So Whats: Prioritizing Improvement Opportunities

Image courtesy of (F.Q)
How do you identify and prioritize improvements within your organization?

Last week, I wrote about the 5 Whys method, which is used to dig down to the root cause of problems experienced within your organization or by your customers. Recall that this method is about asking "Why?" five times to drill down to the ultimate cause. You can adapt this process to your needs; sometimes asking "Why?" five times is too many, and sometimes you need to ask it more than five times.

Once you've determined the root cause, the next step is to identify how you're going to fix that so that it never happens again. Some people recommend coming up with five "hows" or five solutions. Once you've got a set of viable solution options, you'll need to narrow that down to your next best action. And yes, there's a "5" for that, as well: the Morris 5 So Whats.

What is that? According to iSixSigma.com:
 The 5 So What approach goes beyond the 5 Whys. It challenges advocates of improvements and solutions to answer the question “So what?” By the time practitioners ask and answer “So what?” five times in response to the impact of a potential solution, they will reach a maximum impact. (In some cases it may take even fewer questions.) The impact of different solutions can then be weighed against each other to assist in prioritizing the implementation of solutions that best support organizational goals or customer requirements.
The 5 So Whats methodology was developed by the U.S. Army to move beyond uncovering root causes to actually implementing ideal, impactful improvements. The approach: after you've determined the root cause, ask "So what?" five times (or as many times as you need) in order to determine the optimal solution.

When you conduct a So What exercise, you're really trying to understand the importance and the impact of implementing a solution. Consider financial impact, outcomes impact, customer impact, employee impact, environmental impact, efficiency impact, etc. There are probably other impacts to consider, but once you look at the various impacts side by side, you can create some sort of feasibility rating that then allows you to prioritize improvement opportunities.

To me, it seems like a smart exercise to do with any improvements that you plan to make. So what? Who does it impact? What does it mean for each stakeholder? How does it impact each one? What does it mean for the business?

Only dead fish go with the flow. -Andy Hunt

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Using Your Employees' Voices to Transform the Customer Experience

Image courtesy of elinor_dear
I originally wrote today's post for TandemSeven. It appeared on their blog on January 7, 2016.

Fact: Without your employees, you have no customer experience.

The linkage between employee experience and customer experience has been proven. It's real, and your employees matter.

What is the employee experience? It's the sum of all interactions that an employee has with his employer during the duration of his employment relationship.

If your employee experience is bad, it will be very difficult for employees to delight your customers. In very simple terms, this describes the spillover effect, defined as “the tendency of one person’s emotions to affect how other people around him feel.”

So how do we ensure that our employees are happy, engaged, and having a great experience? We ask them. We listen to them. We find out what's going well and what's not.

When you implement a formal program to listen to employees, the initiative is referred to as Voice of the Employee (VoE). In this blog, I’ll describe the context that a Voice of Employee program needs to thrive, effective employee listening methods, and how you can actually use those insights.

Components of a Voice of Employee Program
Companies listen to customers to understand them and their experience, but at the root of the customer experience is the employee experience. If employees aren't happy, engaged, and equipped with the right tools and resources to do their jobs, then the customer suffers. Think about your interactions with companies like Southwest Airlines, Zappos, or Ritz-Carlton; these companies have created intentional cultures of employee experience, happiness, and engagement first because they know that if their employees are miserable, their customers will be, too.

So it's important that we listen to employees and find out what's keeping them from being able to delight customers.

Voice of the Employee programs consist of many different types of listening posts, including: employee engagement surveys, employee satisfaction surveys, culture assessments, transactional/event-based surveys (e.g., onboarding), exit surveys, stay interviews, 360 feedback loops, social media (e.g., Chatter, Yammer, or other internal social tools), suggestion boxes, and more.

Through listening and then through proper analysis, you can identify those factors that inhibit employees from doing the job they were hired to do and from delivering a great customer experience. Those inhibitors could include lack of coaching or training, inadequate or inappropriate tools and resources, and other barriers or frustrations that cause the employee to work inefficiently and ineffectively. When the effort employees put forth to do some task outweighs the benefit of completing said task, that's problematic. For you and for the customer.

But I've gotten ahead of myself. Let's go back to listening to employees and improving the employee experience. How do we do that? There are five very clear steps:

1. Map the employee journey for a variety of tasks that employees do every day

Journey mapping creates awareness for the steps that an employee takes to do whatever it is that he's trying to do within the organization. Take a look at major tasks that you want to map, conduct mapping workshops, talk to employees about the steps they go through to do each task, and identify key moments of truth. Maps also identify areas where things are going well (or not) and where you'll need to get more feedback from employees.

Maps really bring the employee experience to life, allowing company leadership to understand what employees are going through as they complete some task. I conducted an employee journey mapping workshop for a small retailer. The CEO and a few other executives sat in and listened for about an hour; they were curious what it was all about. I'm glad they stayed as long as they did. They were shocked to learn at how difficult they'd made it for their employees to do even some of the simplest tasks; they realized that even those simple tasks inhibited employees from being able to deliver a great customer experience, never mind the fact that they frustrated employees to the point of wanting to leave.

Maps also create the empathy that is equally important to creating a great employee experience as it is to creating a great customer experience. Maps will facilitate a culture transformation - to one that's more employee-centric and customer-centric.

2. Listen to employees
There are a lot of ways to listen to employees, as I noted above. Each one has its purpose, but, ultimately, all of them are designed to ensure that the employee experience is optimal. Use what you learned during the journey mapping exercise to ensure you're asking about the experience during the most important interactions, specifically the interactions that matter most to your employees. Make sure you're asking the right questions so that you have the level of detail and actionability that you'll need to improve the experience.

3. Pull it all together

You'll be listening to employees at various touchpoints and across the employee relationship overall. You'll need to put all of the feedback together and understand the experience along the employee experience journey and across the entire relationship. It's important to understand not only how well the experience is at certain points in time, in the relationship, but also the big picture and how it all fits together.

4. Leverage feedback to drive experience and process improvements
The most important thing when you capture their feedback is that you must act on it - you must do something with it. Nothing frustrates employees more than when they tell their managers that something is wrong or when they spend time to complete surveys - and then management doesn't listen and doesn't act on what they've been told.

5. Line up tools and resources to get started

There's a lot to do, and you'll likely need some tools to help you get it all done and to help you build in a continuous improvement loop. Having one platform where you can bring all of your data and artifacts into one place so that they can be tracked, shared, and measured is ideal. If you're not sure how to get started or what to do, you may need to enlist the help of a consultant, who can guide you through defining your strategy, mapping the journeys, listening to employees, analyzing the findings, and putting it all to work. The consultant can also assist you in identifying and implementing the appropriate tools to facilitate improving the employee experience.

Why is this all important?
Besides the obvious reasons, engaged employees are more productive, stay longer, and want to see the business succeed – and they provide feedback and put forth the effort to make sure that happens. They drive customer happiness and loyalty, and ultimately, they drive the customer experience. Kevin Kruse has dubbed the following the Engagement-Profit Chain:

Engaged employees lead to…

•    Higher levels of service, quality, and productivity, which lead to…
•    Higher customer satisfaction, which leads to…
•    Increased sales (repeat business and referrals), which lead to…
•    Higher profits, which leads to…
•    Higher shareholder returns (i.e., stock price)

No one can argue with those outcomes!

Never forget that people buy from people. That's a great reminder of why listening to employees and improving the employee experience are a priority in your organization.

The way your employees feel is the way your customers will feel. -Sybil F. Stershic


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The 5 Whys: Getting to the Root of the Matter

Have problems? How are you solving them so that they never happen again?

How are you getting at the root cause of any issues you or your customers are having? What types of root cause analyses (RCA) are you conducting? Or are you even thinking about RCA?

Conducting some sort of root cause analysis (and there are many different types) any time you experience an issue is critical, for the simple fact that you want to nip the issue in the bud and not have it occur again. Too many companies fix the symptoms and call it a day, only for the issue to occur over and over again. When you fix the symptoms, you're applying bandages rather than curing the disease. Getting at the root cause and fixing that ensures the same issue won't recur.

One of my favorite RCA methods is the 5 Whys. I like it for its simplicity. Whether that's a good thing or not, I don't know, but I do know that that simplicity allows people to really understand what it means to get to the root of the matter. It also helps you understand the relationship between different (root) causes. It's a great tool to help you understand. Simple, quick and dirty, but powerful.

According to Wikipedia...

5 Whys is an iterative interrogative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question "Why?" Each question forms the basis of the next question. The "5" in the name derives from an anecdotal observation on the number of iterations needed to resolve the problem.

This method was developed by Sakichi Toyoda; it was adopted throughout Toyota Motor Corporation for a variety of uses, but specifically used during the development and evolution of its manufacturing methodologies.

As noted, simply state the problem, and then ask "Why?" five times to drill down to the ultimate cause. You can adapt this process to your needs; sometimes asking "Why?" five times is too many, and sometimes you need to ask it more than five times.

If you don’t ask the right questions, you don’t get the right answers. A question asked in the right way often points to its own answer. Asking questions is the ABC of diagnosis. Only the inquiring mind solves problems. -Edward Hodnett

One of the problems with the 5 Whys to be aware of is that different people may come up with different root causes. I recently saw a post by Pete Abilla about his experience at Amazon, when Jeff Bezos conducted an impromptu 5 Whys session to understand why an employee hurt himself.
    Why did the associate damage his thumb?
    Because his thumb got caught in the conveyor.

    Why did his thumb get caught in the conveyor?
    Because he was chasing his bag, which was on a running conveyor belt.

    Why did he chase his bag?
    Because he placed his bag on the conveyor, but it then turned-on by surprise

    Why was his bag on the conveyor?
    Because he used the conveyor as a table

So, the likely root cause of the associate’s damaged thumb is that he simply needed a table, there wasn’t one around, so he used a conveyor as a table. To eliminate further safety incidences, we need to provide tables at the appropriate stations or provide portable, light tables for the associates to use and also update and a greater focus on safety training. Also, look into preventative maintenance standard work.
I came up with a different root cause, as I followed along. (I inserted the question, "Why did the conveyor turn on by surprise?" That took me down a different path.) So be aware of that. Having cross-functional representation in the 5 Whys session will be helpful, especially if your scope of knowledge limits your ability to go further/deeper into the analysis. I think it's OK to come up with different root causes; it drives further discussion and investigation to get to the real  root of the matter. In my mind, it's possible that there are a couple things that need to be fixed, not just one. You need to understand the impact of each and prioritize improvements accordingly. As the Wikipedia post suggests, it might be a good idea to have some test of necessity and sufficiency at each level of analysis.

For more details - and to ensure that you move the organization from fixing symptoms to fixing the root cause - Eric Ries writes a great post on how to conduct a 5 Whys root cause analysis.

A relentless barrage of “whys” is the best way to prepare your mind to pierce the clouded veil of thinking caused by the status quo. Use it often. -Shigeo Shingo