Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Other Golden Rule

Image courtesy of cgrantham
Today's post is a modified version of a post I originally wrote for Confirmit in September 2014.

We often hear customer experience professionals talk about the fact that there's a great emphasis to - and a greater return if we - focus our efforts on the customer experience for B2C companies. There's this notion that it's not as important for B2B companies, that it can't be impacted, or that it doesn't matter because B2B is just a different beast.

I disagree.

While the two are different, to some degree, what do B2C and B2B companies have in common? The knowledge and the fact that listening to their customers is paramount to delivering a great customer experience. And the knowledge that a great customer experience yields great benefits for the company. There may just be slightly different approaches to getting there.

For B2B companies who deal with consumers via partners or resellers, the focus has traditionally been on the relationship with the partner, often with very little visibility into the end-customer experience.  This is definitely changing and we’re seeing a new trend in the marketplace: the shift from B2B to B2B2C.

Why? Because of one simple rule: the Golden Rule. No, not that Golden Rule. The other one. The one that reads: He who holds the gold makes the rules. Whoever has the money, has the power; in this case, it’s your customers. Customers have the power. They talk to each other. They share experiences. They are much more informed than they’ve ever been, and they have higher expectations.

What do customers want from companies like yours? They want you to know them. They want personalized experiences, where you anticipate their needs. They want companies that provide both proactive service and innovative products. They want effortless experiences, so think “ease of doing business.” They want cutting-edge products and are looking for the next best thing. They want consistency across channels – and don’t want you to ask things you (should already) know. And they want it now!

To get all of this, some of the onus must be on the customer. With that power comes some responsibility. It comes at a cost: customers must allow companies to know them. Time to open up, drop the privacy walls/concerns a bit, and let companies in. Let them get to know the customer – likes, dislikes, preferences, needs, what customers are trying to achieve, and more.

Of course, customers are only half of the equation. Companies are the other half. In this age of the powerful customer, companies must adapt to the customer. How do companies win? Which companies win? Those that…
  • Are forward-thinking and innovative
  • Take the time to know and understand their customers - listen and share insights throughout the organization
  • Utilize predictive capabilities to anticipate – and adapt to – customer needs
  • Develop strategies to deliver on those needs
  • Utilize human-centered design, i.e., collaborate with customers to design their products and services
  • Understand the need for speed of innovation – it’s no longer acceptable to take years to develop new products or to upgrade existing ones
  • Talk with customers, especially early adopters, to keep themselves ahead of the curve
What’s the point? Why is this shift from B2B to B2B2C – a shift where companies that focus on the partner experience now look beyond to the end customer instead - important?

The bottom line is this: You can have all the OEMs and partners you want. You can satisfy their needs all you want. But if the product you manufacture doesn’t add value, doesn’t sell, or isn’t something the end customer cares about, both you and your partners are going to go out of business.

How do we do that? How do we add value for our partners and help them be more successful?

Simple. Don’t be so far-removed from the end customer. Don’t just rely on what your partners are telling you about the customer – you’ll need to do your own research, your own listening, to get ahead of the game. Work with your partners to listen to the voice of the end customer. Understand who they are, how they use your products now, what jobs or tasks they are trying to achieve – and then use that information to shift gears to better meet their needs in the future.

Your customers will thank you. Your partners will, too.

I have something that I call my Golden Rule. It goes something like this: 'Do unto others twenty-five percent better than you expect them to do unto you.' … The twenty-five percent is for error. -Linus Pauling

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Confused Customer Buys Nothing

Image courtesy of CollegeDegrees360
I originally wrote today's post for Intradiem on September 25, 2014.

Are your customers confused? Do you even know what that means? And do you know what the implications of customer confusion are?

There's a marketing maxim that states:

A confused customer buys nothing.

This isn't a good thing, from a variety of angles. Think about that for a minute. And while you're doing that, let's start with defining what a "confused customer" looks like.

The following outlines how you can identify confused customers; they...
  • Can't find their way around your store or your website
  • Can't find what they are looking for
  • Find what they're looking for but don't understand product details, pricing, or discounts
  • Have an issue with your product or service and can't understand why you can't resolve it
  • Don't understand your jargon
  • Think your products can do something they can't
  • Have too many choices
  • View your brand, products, or services no differently from your competitors
  • Don't understand the difference between your product offerings
  • Have too much information, none of which is or may be relevant to the task at hand
  • Have too much or the wrong information to make a decision
  • Don't have enough information
  • See inconsistencies in the brand, brand purpose, product, services, etc. 
  • Find brand messages inconsistent with brand experiences
  • Don't understand what your brand stands for - what your purpose is
Would you add anything else to the list? Does this describe what your customers experience?

What does that mean for you? Well, just as the maxim states, confused customers won't buy anything. They won't return - at least not without a lot of effort from you and, perhaps, from their friends - and they won't recommend you either. On top of that, they develop this dissatisfaction that leaves a general bad taste in their mouths about your brand.

But wait. Why are customers confused? Yea, there are two parties to this equation! What are companies doing to create that confusion? They are...
  • Sending brand messages that are no different from their competitors'
  • Creating websites that are not clear and not easy to use
  • Making store layouts and displays convoluted
  • Developing pricing and discount strategies that require an MBA in Finance to understand
  • Imitating rather than innovating
  • Offering too many products
  • Creating line extensions that don't jive with the brand
  • Not training staff adequately to be able to answer customer questions or to address their issues
  • Speaking in jargon rather than in customer-friendly terms
  • Trying to be all things to all people; as a result, they aren't meaningful to anyone
What else are companies doing to create confusion for their customers?

What should companies be doing to eliminate any confusion to begin with? There are some basic strategies and practices that ought to be in place to avoid customer confusion. Some of them begin with their employees and their own internal messaging: clarity is required for employees to know what is expected of them, both in their roles within the company and how what they do contributes and relates to the customer experience. That means that communication is probably the most important tool in order to provide clarity of:
  • Purpose
  • Vision
  • Values
  • Brand promise
  • Goals
  • Expectations
When employees have clarity, it translates to clarity for customers, as well. Why? Because employee know-how and the employee experience drive the customer experience. They take their knowledge and clarity into everything they do, including developing brand strategies and communications, pricing and discounts, marketing messages, products, product information, websites, customer support experience, and more.

Another way that companies can reduce customer confusion is to eliminate operational and process inefficiencies. The best way to do this is to inventory touchpoints, and map the journeys that  customers take for the various tasks that they are trying to achieve, products they are trying to buy, etc., and identify where the journey breaks down. From there, fix the operational and process issues that lead to confusion and pain. Think simplicity. Think effortless. Think ease of doing business. Think process improvement.

Are your customers confused? You want them to buy, right? So, how and where can you eliminate confusion for them?

There’s nothing worse than a sharp picture of a fuzzy concept. -Ansel Adams

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Is Your Brand a #CX Earworm?

Image courtesy of Sam Droege
What on earth is an earworm? And what does it have to do with customer experience?

The first time I heard this word, I had a completely different idea of what it was. I had to look it up.

So what is an earworm?

According to Wikipedia, it is: a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person's mind after it is no longer playing. It's usually a hooky song (think Vanilla Ice's Ice Ice Baby, for example) with that addictive verse or lyric that you just can't seem to get out of your head.

According to the top definition on Urban Dictionary, the only way to get rid of it is to replace it with another one.

So I started thinking about whether this was a thing for customer experience professionals. Is there something we say - inspiring, annoying, or otherwise - when we talk about the customer experience that sticks in our colleagues' brains? Is there something we should be saying to make sure it sticks in employees' heads as they are delivering the experience?

Better yet, and more importantly... is there something your company does that sticks in your customers' ears or brains? What do you do that's memorable? (Remember that "memorable" doesn't mean good or bad; it could be either, though I know we prefer it to be good.) What is it that makes customers think of you constantly and talk about you to their friends? If you can't answer those questions, perhaps it's time to start thinking about that.

Consider this: researchers uncovered that recent and/or repeated exposure is/are associated with earworms. They also found that there are different types of memory triggers (a place, a point in time, a sign, etc.) and emotional states (happy, sad, connected, lonely, etc.) that result in earworms.

When it comes to the customer experience, perhaps connecting on the emotional level is the way to go. Here are some thoughts on things that can facilitate that; your company...
  • Purpose aligns with who your customers are
  • Supports a cause that aligns with their values, their lives
  • Is local, localizes, and supports the community
  • Creates a community or a sense of belonging; customers feel part of something bigger
  • Doesn't brag, it just does what it knows is right
  • Puts the customer above all else (after employees); no distractions
  • Does those little extras that create surprise and delight
Are there brands that have become customer experience earworms? Absolutely. Think of the usual suspects: Zappos, Apple, Nike, Ritz-Carlton, Amazon, etc.

Need some help figuring out how to achieve earworm status? I'm immediately reminded of lagniappe and purple goldfish. Check out that link for some great ideas on how to make your customer experience memorable.

If you're afraid of being forgotten, do something memorable. -Unknown

Friday, January 16, 2015

Do Your Customers Talk About Your Products or Your Ads?

Image courtesy of Carli Jean
Are you delivering a great customer experience - or are you just relying on advertising to create awareness and sell your products?

On the eve (sorta) of the biggest day of the year for the advertising industry (OK, for commercials... we love to watch the Super Bowl commercials), I thought I'd share some thoughts on the common disconnect between advertising and the customer experience.

Or, as Robert Stephens, co-founder of Geek Squad has been known to say: Advertising is the tax you pay for being unremarkable.

Let's start with a good definition of what advertising is. Entrepreneur magazine offers up this:

Advertising provides a direct line of communication to your existing and prospective customers about your product or service. The purpose of advertising is to:
  • Make customers aware of your product or service;
  • Convince customers that your company's product or service is right for their needs;
  • Create a desire for your product or service;
  • Enhance the image of your company;
  • Announce new products or services;
  • Reinforce salespeople's messages;
  • Make customers take the next step (ask for more information, request a sample, place an order, and so on); and
  • Draw customers to your business.
Hmmm... convince customers, create a desire, enhance the image...

Those all make me think, why not let the customer experience speak for itself? Or let your customers speak for you?

If companies spend more time focusing on designing and delivering a great customer experience, they'll surely spend less money on advertising. Why, then, do companies spend millions on advertising every year? Why are their ad budgets and resources so hugely disproportionate (to CX strategy budgets) or so misplaced? Quick answer: advertising gets eyeballs and awareness, assuming people pay attention. And it's tangible. It's familiar. It's measurable. It's what we've always done.

I hate that last statement.

What does a great customer experience get you? Word of mouth. And that's much more valuable and has a greater return on investment than advertising. According to Nielsen's Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messaging report, 84% of customers cite taking action on word-of-mouth recommendations, while 68% say they take action some of the time on TV ads.

Companies should reallocate funds from their advertising budget to the budget for improving the customer experience to see a greater impact on the bottom line.

Forget the advertising. If you're seeing fewer customers, and year-over-year sales are down, take a good look inside. (And outside. What are your customers saying about the product and the experience?) Why on earth would you throw money at some huge ad campaign that will only result in even more dissatisfied customers in the end? Fix the experience. Make it great. If you’re doing remarkable things, then you don’t need to spend millions on commercials. Your brand speaks for itself. Or your customers speak for you. Or everyone in the industry talks about you. (Think Zappos, Amazon, Ritz-Carlton, Apple, etc.)

I think companies are slowly starting to get a clue that customer experience is important because I've recently seen and heard commercials that mention "the customer experience." That doesn't make it right or mean that they actually understand what that means; as a matter of fact, it makes me laugh. Don't advertise it. Just do it. (Apologies.) Actions speak louder than words.

This video, aptly named "The Break Up," reminded me of my post, How to Lose a Customer in 10 Days. It personifies advertising and what companies do to, well, lose customers. Have a look, and tell me you didn't laugh or nod your head in agreement at some point during the video.

We want consumers to say, "That's a hell of a product" instead of, "That's a hell of an ad." -Leo Burnett

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Customer-Driven Transformation via Walking in Customers’ Shoes

Image courtesy of mattlogelin
I originally wrote today's post for Confirmit in August 2014.

There is an old saying: "You can't really understand another person's experience until you've walked a mile in his shoes.”

This statement is really the foundation for designing a great customer experience! There is no customer-driven transformation (and it must be customer-driven) without really understanding your customers and what they go through when interacting with your organization.

What does that mean? It means that, if companies are to design and deliver a great customer experience, they must first know who their customers are, what customers are trying to do with their products or services, what they are going through in order to achieve that, and how the experience went.

So, let’s start with first things first…

Who are your customers?
Many companies talk about developing products and designing experiences for their “target customers,” but what can you really do with knowing that your customers are “males, 18-49?” Targets are too high-level and meaningless when it comes to customer experience innovation and design; they don’t provide details about needs, goals, attitudes, behaviors, or emotions, and are just too far from reality and from what the customer is actually doing.

Personas, on the other hand, are up close and personal – literally. Personas are fictional characters used to describe an ideal prospect or an actual customer going through some scenario with your company. They outline motivations, goals, behaviors, challenges, likes, dislikes, objections, and interests that drive buying decisions or whatever it is that your persona is trying to achieve.

Using personas to define your customers allows you to shift from target-thinking to a more actionable definition or view. If you really want to develop a personalized experience for your customers, you need to do your homework and develop personas. Personas take you one step closer to a customer-driven transformation.

Once we know who the customer is - whose journey we are going to focus on - we can take the next step: map the customer journey with the organization. We need to focus on mapping very specific jobs to be achieved by the customer. You’ll find out very quickly that it’s going to be much easier and much more meaningful to map at the persona level than for some high-level, meaningless, inactionable target demographic.

There are many approaches to mapping – outlining an approach is a blog post on its own. Don’t get so lost in the HOW that you forget the WHY.

Why should we map?
If there’s going to be any customer-driven transformation, we need to think about the journey, not just about individual, singular touchpoints. Customers just don’t think about things that way – they think about your company and your brand overall. When your product quality stinks, you stink. When your service is bad, you are bad. As a result, you need to take a more holistic view of the experience. Remember, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. So, understand your individual touchpoints, but think in terms of journeys. Also know that much of the experience often happens between the touchpoints, i.e., those things that happen behind the scenes as well as those that are out of the control of the customer and the company, like economic or political factors, traffic on the way to the store, or the lack of parking spaces – which are difficult for organizations to measure directly.

McKinsey found that organizations that focus on the entire experience (rather than just managing individual touchpoints) benefit through enhanced customer satisfaction, reduced churn, increased revenue, and greater employee satisfaction. These organizations have broken down the proverbial silos and found effective ways to collaborate across departments, another benefit of taking a more holistic view/approach.

Transformational thinking
The great thing about journey maps is that you’re going to use them to not only transform the customer experience but also to transform organizational thinking – in order to transform the customer experience.


Let’s start with one of the most important things: maps help to ensure that the entire organization is on board with the common goal, improving the customer experience.

One approach to achieve that is to use maps for employee onboarding and continuous training. Maps help the employee connect the dots and make sense of how cross-functional teams work together to deliver the customer experience, and they provide a clear picture of how what the employee does contributes to that experience. Maps help them understand how their work matters.

Maps provide employees with a clear line of sight. When employees have a clear line of sight, it means that they...
  • know how they contribute to the common goal (this is especially important for back-office employees who often feel like they cannot impact the customer experience)
  • know what it means to deliver a great customer experience, and ultimately
  • are given the tools and training - and are empowered - to do so
“Customer empathy” is the latest buzz phrase, but it’s not just a buzz phrase, it’s a reality and a necessity. It’s all about understanding and sharing the needs and feelings of others. To walk in another's shoes is to understand and live what they are doing, thinking, and feeling; these details are all part of the journey mapping process. When employees are able to empathize, they can deliver a great customer experience for every customer with which they interact.

And finally, 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 involvement is needed to build the maps and to ensure ownership of the touchpoints; as such, they become that tool to help break down the silos. 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.

As you can see, maps are quite valuable and not only transform the organization but also your culture, the way you do business, and ultimately, the customer experience.

Empathy depends not only on one's ability to identify someone else's emotions but also on one's capacity to put oneself in the other person's place and to experience an appropriate emotional response. -Charles G. Morris