Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tools to Put the Customer at the Center of All You Do

Image courtesy of reynermedia
Trying to ensure the customer gets the attention she deserves within your company?

Striving to make yours a customer-centric company? How does the customer become the center of attention for your organization? What tools should you have in your customer-centric toolbox?

There are many, but one of my favorites is "the empty chair," which is a seat at the table for the customer and a reminder that we should always be considering if the decisions we make are in the best interest of the customer or of the business.

Jeff Bezos is the one leader who is well known for regularly having an empty chair in meetings to represent the customer, i.e., "the most important person in the room." Why does he do that? Because you ought to be making decisions about the business based on what's best for the customer. After all, you are in business to create and to nurture customers.

While the empty chair is a great approach to making sure management thinks outside in versus inside out, there are other tools that can be used, as well. Here are a few others:
  • Personas on every wall: these help to remind employees who the customer is, what she's trying to do, her pain points, what delights her, etc. - again, keeping her front and center in all you do
  • Customer cut-outs: place these around the office - and especially in meeting rooms -  to keep the attention on who really matters; they should include details of who the customer is and what she thinks and feels about the current experience
  • CCO/CX professionals: in key decision-making meetings, especially, there needs to be a representative from the CX team present to represent the customer voice and perspective
  • A real customer: imagine that! ask a customer (or multiple customers) to attend a meeting in which you'll be making decisions critical to the customer experience
  • Customer feedback: have you gotten feedback about the product or the touchpoint you'll be discussing; share it with meeting attendees so they understand how customers feel about the current experience
  • Journey maps: this might seem like a stretch, but if you can show executives/employees how the changes they plan to make impact the experience through truly walking in customers' shoes, then that's a powerful tool to have at your disposal, too
How many of these has your company adopted? To build that customer-centric culture, to get the entire organization to live and to breathe the customer, you should really be using all of them. And more.

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Two Major Flaws of Your Customer Listening Efforts

I originally wrote today's post for Clicktools. It appeared on their blog on March 31, 2016. I have modified it slightly since then.

Are you listening to your customers? What are you doing with what you've heard?

In order to transform the customer experience, it's critical that you listen to your customers. Unfortunately, customer listening has two major flaws - or, more accurately, companies have two major shortcomings when it comes to customer listening.

The first flaw is: lack of action. You've got tons of feedback, tons of data, and you do nothing with it. What a shame! You really are just "collecting" feedback, like you collect stamps, as I like to say. Like those stamps, the data sit on the proverbial shelf and age and get dusty. Stop the madness! Your customers have given up their precious time to tell you what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong. They're trying to help you. And yet you waste that feedback by doing nothing with it. It becomes worthless.

Why? Here are some issues that lead to inaction. You...
  • don't know where to start; you know you're supposed to listen but don't know where to go from there.
  • haven't outlined clear objectives for your listening efforts.
  • haven't engaged with stakeholders to find out what they'd like to learn from customers.
  • haven't asked questions in a way that they are actionable.
  • haven't asked the right questions, so the data itself isn't even actionable; specific improvements aren't apparent.
  • haven't assigned owners to questions to ensure you know who's accountable for each feedback item.
  • haven't asked open-ended questions, which can add rich commentary and details to help you hone in on specific issues.
  • don't analyze the feedback/data.
  • analyze the data but don't link it with customer data existing in your CRM system, bringing the customer to life and allowing for more customized, personalized improvements.
  • don't know how to analyze the feedback to tease out the story, the actions to be taken.
  • don't know what the analysis means, assuming you analyzed the data, or how to interpret it to make it actionable.
  • don't know how to share the data in a way that it can be acted upon.
  • don't share the data with those who need to act on it.
There are more reasons that customer feedback goes stale and isn't used. I'll leave it at the for now. If you think of other reasons, please leave them in the comments below.

Let's move on to the second flaw.

Have you ever heard of Goodhart's Law? It states: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. According to Wikipedia, its origin lies in finance and economics:

The original formulation by Goodhart, a former advisor to the Bank of England and Emeritus Professor at the London School of Economics, is this: "As soon as the government attempts to regulate any particular set of financial assets, these become unreliable as indicators of economic trends." This is because investors try to anticipate what the effect of the regulation will be, and invest so as to benefit from it.

You probably already know where I'm going from here. The second flaw is: the metric, not the customer, becomes the focus.

This is a big problem, and quite honestly, it's also one of the issues that should be added to the list above of what causes inaction. Companies focus on the metric, on moving the metric, and not on the customer and the customer experience. Listening becomes all about "How do we rate today?" And while it's good to gauge your performance, the movement of the metric is an outcome down the line - the first area of focus ought to be: what's going on with the customer experience and how do we improve it. Instead, too many conversations start with, "How do we improve the metric?" not with "How do we improve the experience?"

A metric is just that, a metric, a way of measuring your progress. If you make it the endpoint, you'll fail at the journey.

Metrics can help to rally the troops around the customer – but that’s only if they're presented in the right context. It’s not the right context if you…
  • mention the score without even talking about the customer and the customer experience (yes, this does happen!)
  • game surveys (selecting certain customers, surveying at a specific time when you know scores will be better, offering incentives a la "the car dealer curse," etc.) just to get a score
  • threaten disciplinary action or lost compensation if an employee doesn’t achieve a score, especially if the employee doesn't have a clear line of sight to his impact on the customer experience or understand what the score links to
  • do tactical things to move the needle rather than big picture thinking about how to improve the experience
How can you avoid the metric becoming the target rather than the indicator? Consider these suggestions:
  • Talk about customers and what your customers are saying about the company and its products and services
  • Make the metric the last thing you talk about – or don’t talk about it at all
  • Tell stories about customer successes and customer painpoints
  • Focus on employee behaviors and what it takes to improve the experience
  • Share customer feedbac, verbatims, emotion, and what's important to customers
  • Act on the feedback
  • Coach and praise based on feedback and the experience the customer had
  • Focus on customer outcomes first, then business outcomes
  • Ensure that employees have a clear line of sight to the customer
  • Give them a clear understanding of how they contribute to the customer experience
  • Build a culture where the customer is at the center of all you do and no decisions are made unless we ask, "What would the customer think of this?"
Don’t measure for the sake of measuring, and don’t listen just for the sake of measuring. Listen because you want to understand the customer and where the experience is falling down (or standing up). And then act on what you hear. Don’t just focus on improving the score; improve the experience, and the numbers will follow.

If you reject feedback, you also reject the choice of acting in a way that may bring you abundant success. -John Mattone

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Companies Must Invest in Their Employees Now!

Image courtesy of dushy4
I originally wrote today's post for ICSA as part of their blog carnival and celebration of National Customer Service Week. It appeared on their blog on September 5, 2016. It is a modified version of a post that I wrote for CX Journey back in 2012.

National Customer Service Week is just a month away; it's awesome to set aside time to recognize and to celebrate those employees who work hard every day of the year to support customers. It's also a great reminder that customer service is a critical aspect of any business. With this post, my focus will be more so on the employee, on your customer service representatives, than on the customer.

There is a clear linkage between the employee experience and the customer experience. We know this, and yet many companies still refuse to make the employee experience a priority, focusing instead on stakeholder value, the bottom line, or customer experience without considering the implications of a poor employee experience to all of the above.

It’s time for companies to think about their employees first. I love this, from Tom Peters: “CEO Hal Rosenbluth chronicled the incredible success of his travel-services firm, Rosenbluth International, in The Customer Comes Second. Love that title! Who comes first? Don't be silly, says King Hal; it's employees. That is – and this dear Watson, is elementary – if you genuinely want to put customers first, you must put employees more first.”

It's time to invest in your employees now! It's time to make sure they have a great experience so that they deliver a great experience for your customers, but more importantly, so that they don't leave. Churn is a big problem in the customer service profession. But it doesn't have to be.

Here's an interesting thought: Why do companies conduct exit interviews when employees leave, but they don't conduct stay interviews to understand why employees stay? Or what would get them to stay?

I don't even think I need to pose this question, but why focus on employee retention instead of turnover or churn? Without a doubt, employee turnover is costly - not just in terms of the costs of recruiting, hiring, and training a new person but also in terms of the knowledge and productivity that just walked out the door.

As an employer, it raises a few concerns. Namely, what company wants to incur the costs associated with hiring new employees every year (or more frequently)? And the impact on the customer experience every time you lose a more-seasoned employee and have to start over again with a new one is huge. Plus, the time invested in training and developing the employee also becomes costly. But, then I'm reminded of the saying...

    What if we train employees, and they just leave?
    What if we don't train them, and they stay?

... and so that cost needs to be absorbed, either way.

Let's go back to my question about exit interviews. In an exit interview, we typically ask what went right and what went wrong. (I'm over-simplifying, but you get the point.) At this juncture in the employee-employer relationship, where the employee has checked out, the employee has no vested interest (usually), and either doesn't provide any information worth acting on (sometimes for fear of recourse) or does such a huge dump of things gone wrong that you find it hard to believe, i.e., is it vendetta or truth? It's typically too late to save the employee, which can be a costly mistake. Honestly, I'm not so sure that an exit interview is a good use of time and resources. I do, however, like the concept of the stay interview.

Why don't we ask, on a regular basis, where employees stand; how they feel about the organization, management, culture, and vision/direction; and if they have everything they need to be successful in their roles? You might say, "Well, I do an employee satisfaction survey. Isn't that good enough?" I say "Bravo to you!" if you do conduct employee satisfaction (engagement, culture, etc.) surveys! You're ahead of the curve already! Stay interviews are a bit different, though, and supplement your annual or semi-annual employee survey. They are more conversational in nature and are conducted between manager and employee, perhaps during weekly 1:1s.

While exit interviews are more like autopsies in nature, stay interviews are more like your wellness visits, focusing on what current employees enjoy about working for the company, as well as on aches and pains and what needs to be fixed. As an employee is walking out the door, there is really nothing that a manager can correct immediately to keep him (and throwing money at them is really just a temporary bandage), while employees who are staying can be reassured that they are appreciated and can witness their feedback being used to transform the organization and its culture.

Key to this process is that managers are trained on how to conduct the interviews and on how to address concerns and feedback. Also important is the need to close the loop and keep employees abreast of improvements and changes as a result of the discussions. Changes, if needed, must be made in order for this to be a successful initiative. In addition, these discussions must happen on an ongoing basis. Paramount to everything else is a culture that accepts the feedback gleaned from these interviews without recourse and embraces employees who are open and honest, in the spirit of success of both the employee relationship and the company.

Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago. -Warren Buffett

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Weology: We Comes Before Me - Part 2

Image courtesy of Peter Aceto
This is Part 2 of a two-part series on my discussion with Tangerine Bank CEO, Peter Aceto.

I left off on Part 1 of my conversation with Peter Aceto with questioning why so many leaders still don't get the importance of focusing on the customer and customer experience improvements.

In this second part, I'll share the rest of our discussion, which revolved around change and change management, business leaders Peter admires, companies who have adopted Weology, success metrics, and more.

Let's waste no time continuing the Q&A!

Change Management
My next question to Peter was about change and what a real transformation takes. Specifically: Early in the book, he states: "Changing the way people think about things, influencing them and seeing what comes out of it gives me great joy." It's a challenge that customer experience professionals face as they attempt to get executive commitment, transform the organization's culture, and more. It's all about changing the way people think. What advice would you give to these professionals to help them help others (especially executives) change the way they think about things? I, personally, love the concept of "Involve me, and I will understand." That works for employees but what about executives?

Peter started by saying that he had learned a few things about change and change management since he wrote the book; many of those things came from his Chief People Officer. A few nuggets revolve around connecting with people, earning trust, eating with employees, and showing vulnerability. When they trust, they follow and question later. The luxury he has with the Tangerine business model is that he doesn't have employees all around the nation or the globe; it's a direct company, and as such, all of the employees are together in one location. That affords him a lot in terms of connecting with employees.

Also, change is a process; there really is a methodology to it. "Involve me" is the essence of that process. Change is about communication, but it's not about leaders saying, "Hey, let's have a town hall, and I'll tell you stuff" type of communication. It's about involving people early in the change process. And it's also about knowing your audience. Different people are accepting of change in different ways, and different people are more receptive to different ways of communicating. They communicate, listen, and hear differently - in different time frames. Oftentimes, people have questions and need time to process and think about what was just shared with them before they can accept it. It becomes the leader's job to bring that change along and do it as quickly as possible. It's important to know that you can use a process that involves people - on their own terms - to make sure change happens as quickly as possible. Sounds complicated, and it is; it takes a lot of time and energy, but you want everyone bought in, committed.

The sad part is that most change initiatives don't succeed, so they're a waste of money. That creates a bit of skepticism: "Oh great. We're doing this again; it failed last time." There's a vested interest in getting the process right. It's a learning experience, for sure.

Admired Business Leaders
I know that Peter is a huge fan of Muhammad Ali, based on the number of times he was mentioned in Weology. So I asked, Which business leaders do you admire for their customer-centric vision? What have you learned from them?

Peter responded with three great entrepreneurs:
  1. Arkadi Kuhlman. Arkadi is the founder of ING Direct and a banking industry visionary. He hired Peter 25 years ago and took a risk in doing that, as Peter tells it. It's a great story about how they met and why Peter was instrumental in pioneering online/direct banking and the business model that Arkadi envisioned; you'll have to read the book. But Arkadi had a vision to differentiate from his competitors via the inside the company, i.e., the culture. To have that idea 20 years ago was truly amazing. He got it before everyone else got it. As a result, he created value not only for shareholders but also, especially, for 20 million customers in nine countries around the world.
  2. Elon Musk. He doesn't necessarily admire Elon for his approach to culture and the employee experience - the essence of Weology, after all, is around your people - but for being a visionary and re-imagining an entire industry. (You can see the connection there; it's just like he and Arkadi did for banking.)
  3. Tony Hsieh. It's easy to understand his admiration of Tony. If you read Part 1, you know that Peter studied Tony's approach to building a business. He loved that Tony took culture to the next level.
  4. Entrepreneurs. Because Peter works in a larger organization, he enjoys staying close to more entrepreneurial people, to people who think differently. Doing so creates energy and challenges his thinking - especially because most entrepreneurs are client-experience focused
Weology Adoption
I was curious to find out if Peter knew of any companies that had adopted Weology. You'll be surprised at his response. It's the only company he mentioned, but when you read the book, you'll see the details behind this. The name of the company? Guinness.

Why Guinness?

Guinness was a pioneer in prioritizing culture long before culture was cool! Back in the early 1900s! They had a gym and a swimming pool for their employees. You think today's Silicon Valley tech start-ups have perks? Guinness had a savings and loan division for staff, hospital and hospice stays were paid for, and employees received two-thirds of their salary if they were out sick. They received free medical and dental services and free prescriptions. They paid above-market salaries and guaranteed lifetime employment. And much more.

But we know that culture isn't solely about perks. Guinness was a pioneer in putting people first. And they had no reason to do it, i.e., they were already the largest brewery in the world. They wanted employees to enjoy work and create better products. They wanted healthy, educated, and solvent employees working for them. When those things are taken care of, there's less stress on the employee, and he can be more productive. An important lesson, no doubt.

Weology Success
Next question: How does a leader know when she's/he's achieved Weology? What are your/the success metrics or milestones?

The best way Peter could sum this up was by citing a tweet he sent six years ago, which said: What's more important: employees, customers, or shareholders? Someone responded with something along the lines of: Turn employee passion into customer magic into shareholder cash. Bam!

A leader teaches, develops, empowers, and creates a purpose that employees are proud and excited about it when they go home. And then customers feel that and want to do more business with your company. And then shareholders benefit.

Tangerine tracks an employee engagement metric via regular surveys, but it's not just about a number. Tangerine's leaders really want to understand the degree to which employees are excited, passionate, and believe they are contributing to the bigger purpose. They measure it at the employee level and at the leader level, which allows him to coach his leaders, as well.

For customers, Tangerine measures NPS and tracks J.D. Power and Associates results; the focus with these metrics is not only about customer experience improvements but also to identify, relative to competitors, if they're exceeding expectations.

Other success metrics for Tangerine include actual referrals and a deepening of the client relationship, i.e., customers expand their business/number of products with Tangerine. These two are proof that the previous two (employee engagement and customer experience) are working.

As Peter noted, these are some very focused success metrics that reconcile to that tweet, which is the summation of Weology.

Proudest Leadership Moment
And finally, we wrapped up our conversation with this question to Peter: What is your proudest moment as a Weology leader?

Before I tell you Peter's answer, I need to say that he was a pleasure to speak with. He is genuine and totally sincere about how much he cares for his people and his customers.

On to his answer...

Peter has had the privilege of seeing someone who started in the call center, in an entry-level position, rise to a senior-level position in his organization and become a potential successor.

He gets much joy out of seeing people grow, learn, and reach their potential; it's like watching his  own kids. He won't - and doesn't want to - take credit, but he is happy to just be a part of that.

He loves to solve problems and go the extra mile. Nothing is as exciting as when customers interact with him directly on a Saturday, no less; if he can personally solve their problems by end of day, it delights them, and he loves it! It blows customers away because HE solved the problems, never mind the fact that they didn't think it could be done by anyone within the organization on a weekend.

He's received customer testimonials stating that finding Tangerine has changed their personal financial situations. And that makes him very proud.

Thank you, Peter, for your time! I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you and getting to know you a little better.

If you haven't read Weology yet, it's a must-read. You'll be inspired, and you'll put the book down and want the same for your organization!

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. -Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Weology: We Comes Before Me - Part 1

Image courtesy of Peter Aceto
Does your company practice Weology?


What is it? If you guessed that it sounds like "the study of we," you're pretty close.

The name of the concept stems from a Muhammad Ali poem, which simply goes like this:

Me... we.

Three unique letters rearranged into two powerful little words.

The concept itself, which is also the title of a book (Weology: How Everybody Wins When We Comes Before Me), summarizes the leadership style of Peter Aceto, CEO of Tangerine Bank. His approach is defined by a culture where employees thrive, succeed, and are fulfilled, happy, and growing at work - a culture where every individual in the organization, regardless of who they are or what they do, has a voice, i.e., every individual matters.

Why is this important? As Peter states in the book: Being good to your own people is good  business. When Me thrives, We benefit.

Me... we.

He goes on to say that what he calls Weology is about creating win-win scenarios. It's transparency without asterisks. It's a way of putting people first in the short term so that a company can thrive in the long term.

If you've been following my blog for some time, you know that I'm 110% on board with that line of thinking.

Hold that thought for a minute.

In early August, I shared my post titled Customer Experience Fuels Innovation on Twitter, and Peter chimed in to say, "It sure does!" I followed up and said that I'd love to hear what he's doing at Tangerine Bank, ultimately asking him for an interview. He agreed, and we spoke last week about just that.

I'm excited to share the details of our conversation, especially as we celebrate Customer Service Week and Customer Experience Day this week.

I read Weology before Peter and I spoke - just know that I nodded and smiled the entire way through the book, wholeheartedly agreeing with all things Weology - so I had a lot of great background about Peter, his career, and Tangerine Bank. When we spoke, my questions were focused on things that I felt would be helpful for customer experience professionals in the throes of culture transformations within their own businesses, with a few other questions sprinkled in because, well, I was curious.

Let's dive in.

Customer Service Week/CXDay
We started our conversation talking about Customer Service Week and Customer Experience Day. I asked Peter if he was doing anything special to celebrate the contributions of his frontline staff, and he mentioned that Tangerine Bank has created a video to celebrate employees who are dedicated to their customers; in the video, they highlight how employees feel after going the extra mile for a customer.

Customer Experience Fuels Innovation
Next, I went back to that tweet about customer experience fueling innovation. That concept seems to be the root of who/what Tangerine is. My ask of Peter: Some would say that innovation fuels the customer experience. Do you see those as two different sides of the same coin? Competing views? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Peter responded that the question itself is binary, but the answer, the result, the concept is not binary; it's just not that simple. There are a few companies (e.g., Google, Apple) showing people a new experience, an experience that wouldn't have existed without technology innovations that didn't exist 10 years ago.

Tangerine Bank's R&D team, for example, is looking at different types of biometric authentication - again, something that we didn't think about 10 years ago, much less three years ago, and something customer's haven't asked for - which will create an experience that makes people's lives easier, an experience that goes back to Tangerine's purpose to do just that.

Tangerine understands that people don't just want a mortgage/loan; they want to buy stuff. (Reminds me of Theodore Levitt's quote: People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole.) At the same time, Tangerine wants to understand the challenges people experience in their lives, as well as the goals they have for themselves; with that information, Tangerine works to design a better customer experience. In order to do that, they clearly need to think differently (especially for a bank!); they realize that they can't look at things the same way they always have. On an ongoing basis, they have an ear to clients, to the world, and to trends affecting us all - and they are continuously modulating.

In reality, they are likely two sides of the same coin. We need to understand our customers and the jobs they are trying to do while allowing the business to advance the technology that drives an innovative experience.

Being Purpose Built
In the book, Peter says: Tangerine was "purpose built," i.e., to foster and focus on long-term relationships with customers. I asked because this is a real challenge for customer experience professionals: Is that (being purpose built from the start) the only way that a company can truly be/become customer-obsessed? (I would put Amazon and Zappos in this purpose-built bucket; Tangerine seems to be on the same track as they are.)

Peter clarified that "purpose-built" for him meant having a higher purpose, i.e., to help Canadians live better lives, to empower them to take control of their finances, ultimately helping them live better lives.

Those are lofty goals, but he notes that a company doesn't necessarily have to be purpose driven or client driven/focused from the start. It's easier, but not necessary.

Having said that, Peter has studied Tony Hsieh (Zappos) and his approach to entrepreneurship and customer obsession. He noted that one of the lessons Tony learned was that he had underestimated the importance of having the right culture in place in his companies from Day 1. He started several businesses that either failed or that he ended up selling purely for the fact that he knew he needed to get culture right in the first place. In other words, he aborted the mission and started over in order to start right.

Tony is an anomaly, for sure. And his approach is one that not all entrepreneurs can - or are willing to - take. Peter's final thought on this is that a lot of companies have struggled with how to change an embedded culture; it's definitely more difficult but not impossible.

Employee Experience Drive Customer Experience
My next question to Peter: It seems simple enough: employee experience drives customer experience. Why have I been fighting that battle (getting that message across) for so many years? Why don't CEOs get it? Will we really need to wait til this generation of CEOs turns over before that message no longer falls on deaf ears?

As you know if you've been following my blog, this is a topic that is near and dear to me. So I was excited to get Peter's thoughts on this one.

One of his hypotheses on this topic: historically, business leaders are schooled and rewarded in their careers around delivering results,  i.e., short-term, profitability, financials, margins, and efficiencies, and when they get more successful, they get big offices with big doors (which Peter doesn't have; he sits out on the floor with his employees), pulling further away from the employees and even closer to the numbers and the metrics.

Peter's baffled, like I am, by this whole phenomenon. It's so obvious; why isn't this (understanding that the employee experience drives the customer experience - and then leaders doing something about that) happening faster? Despite that, he noted that people do take notice of the few companies who do it differently. So perhaps there's hope there yet.

At the same time, he's also baffled about why more employees don't walk - and why customers don't take their money elsewhere - if the experience remains business as usual.

So what's up with business leaders? Why don't executives get it? I probed further because I really want to understand this - I've pondered it before: will it take a material turnover of leaders in order for the changes we are dying to see happen? While Peter thought it was a fair question, he didn't think so.

I wish I could be as optimistic about that!

In Part 2 of my discussion with Peter, which I'll post later this week, we'll continue with questions about change and change management, business leaders Peter admires, companies who have adopted Weology (this one is surprising), success metrics, and more!

Anyone can start something new. It takes real leaders to stop something old. -Peter Aceto