Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Black Friday vs. the CX Journey

Aaah, Black Friday… the day (or day and a half, whatever it's turned into now) when shoppers attack each other to buy toys and electronics at bargain basement prices (or, are they?), and retailers smile from ear to ear as they get back in "the black."

Unfortunately, Black Friday is really a brand/customer experience nightmare. And it’s a nightmare for those of us in the #CX industry who preach that companies need to be more customer-focused.  By pure definition, Black Friday is NOT about the customer at all but about the company – about getting their bottom line back on the positive side.

Is there really an opportunity to develop relationships with your customers on Black Friday?
I probably don’t need to answer this question.  This one’s a clear case of “a picture is worth a thousand words”…  well, or just one… NO.

But, having said that, there is the opportunity to delight... always! I'm wondering if any of the customers in the picture above were delighted.

Are these customers the type of people you want to develop relationships with?
OK, it’s time to pull out the Apostle Model quadrant chart.  If you’re not familiar with the Apostle Model, which was developed by Thomas Jones and Earl Sasser from the Harvard Business School, I'll give you a quick overview and will save the details for a future post. The Apostle Model is a different way (as opposed to NPS) to segment your customers for the purpose of understanding loyalty and driving customer-centricity in the organization. This model uses two questions (overall satisfaction and likelihood to repurchase) instead of one to create the segments. The graphic below gives you a quick look at the segments and how they are defined.

Black Friday always reminds me of the Apostle Model; the people who are shopping these crazy sales are classic examples of “mercenaries.” Mercenaries, as shown in the lower right-hand quadrant above, are defined as customers with high satisfaction and low loyalty.  They are in your store because they are driven by price. On Black Friday, they achieve at least short-term high satisfaction because they bought something they want/need at a reduced price; however, they are not committed to your company, hence not likely to purchase again. (See one my previous post's here – I’m definitely considered a “mercenary” in this case, although I'm only satisfied because I got a great price.)

Mercenaries are not customers for life.  You have not created a relationship with them. You have not connected with them. They have not connected with you.

(O sure, there are exceptions… but for argument’s sake, let’s just go with it.)

What sort of example have you set for your customers about your brand experience?
Simply put, the Black Friday experience sends the wrong message about your brand.  Does it say anywhere in your brand promise that you’ll make sure that, once a year, customers can kill each other over doorbusters? The brand experience needs to be a consistent one. All year long. 

Don't get me wrong; I’m all for saving money. But we have to remember that, for retailers, Black Friday is about this moment. It’s all about bringing in the money today. It’s not about the customer. It’s about competing for customers’ dollars.

Unfortunately, it also blackens the door to the Christmas season.  

>> I know that this post doesn't apply to all retailers, but it's the few that create that image in our minds of what Black Friday is really about. I'd love to hear about any retailers you thought actually stayed true to their brands and provided an awesome experience on Black Friday.


Monday, November 28, 2011

CX Journey Maps: Plotting the Customer's Journey

This blog was originally published by me on 10/18/2010 at http://blog.allegiance.com/2010/10/customer-interaction-maps-plotting-the-customer's-journey/. It has since been modified.

I say “to-may-to,” you say “to-mah-to.” I say “CX journey  map,” you say “customer interaction map” – or customer corridor map or … well, you get the idea. Whatever you call it, it plays a crucial part in defining your overall VOC initiative.

So, where do we begin? Let’s go back to a blog I wrote previously about the brand promise. Recall that the brand promise is the expectation that you set about your brand with your customers. Each of your touchpoints reinforces and fulfills the brand’s promise. Creating a CX journey map forces you to think about the customer lifecycle and to consider or visualize the experience at each touchpoint – and ultimately, it identifies where the brand promise is broken.

During this process, it is important to remember that the customer should always be at the heart of any decisions made or actions taken by your company.  The experience cannot be designed without giving the customer a seat at the table.

Before you begin to create your CX journey  map, you must first identify and understand who your customers are. What jobs are they trying to achieve or needs are they trying to fulfill when interacting with your company? Do you cater differently to different types of customers? Do different customer types have different interactions or touchpoints with your organization? Will the map look different for different customers?

Next, identify the stages of your customer lifecycle. Start not with the purchase, but long before that – when you’re just a thought in the customer’s mind, part of the consideration set. End with the customer’s exit or cancellation; remember that, even when a customer cancels your services or terminates usage of your product, it is an important interaction to do well.

Then, think about the touchpoints along the customer lifecycle. A touchpoint is generally thought of as any point the customer touches the company, e.g., call center, sales call, packaging, etc. Interactions are what happen at those touchpoints.

Finally, identify the following for each individual touchpoint. Lay out the map in such a way that you identify which of these are customer-facing and which are behind-the-scenes.
  • what the customer's expectations are for the touchpoint, what he is trying to achieve
  • what the current process is that the customer goes through at the touchpoint
  • which specific interactions occur at that touchpoint
  • what the ideal customer experience ought to be
  • what the customer's painpoints are when trying to achieve his desired outcome
  • what feedback you've received about interactions with the touchpoint
  • what your score is for the interactions and the touchpoint overall
  • which channels the customer has used/can use to achieve the desired outcome
  • which processes support that touchpoint
  • which people support those processes
  • who owns the touchpoint and its related interactions and processes
  • who the customer interacts with
  • what the specific outcome for that touchpoint should be
  • which tools are used during the interaction at the touchpoint
  • what customer data are gathered at the touchpoint
  • which metrics are tracked at the touchpoint
From a practitioner’s viewpoint, this map clearly helps you understand when, where, and with whom interactions occur; it’s important to do prior to designing surveys (both customer and employee) for each touchpoint. It also helps you to identify other customer and operational data that you’ll want to pull into the initiative in order to make your surveys, analysis, and action planning more relevant, personalized, and actionable. It might also identify other customer feedback inputs besides surveys (e.g., online communities, tech support forums, support calls, etc.) that should be tied back to the survey data for that touchpoint.

The CX journey map is important to introduce as you roll out the CX discipline to the larger organization. It can help the various departments and business units understand the customer lifecycle while helping to break down silos and pull the organization together to work toward one common goal: a superior customer experience.

It’s simple. Start with the brand promise, identify touchpoints and determine which are most important/influential (not all touchpoints are created equal); outline the optimal experience (from the customer’s perspective) at each; and rally the organization to deliver it!

Update: If you're looking for a great tool to streamline and simplify your customer journey mapping exercise, check out Touchpoint Dashboard. I think you'll be impressed by how powerful this tool is.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Are You Delivering on Your Brand Promise?

This blog was originally published by me on 08/09/2010 at http://blog.allegiance.com/2010/08/are-you-delivering-on-your-brand-promise/.

I’m a little late working on this blog post because of a family emergency, but it seems fitting that I write it this morning – and on this very topic – as I fly from Long Beach to Salt Lake City, using both this airport and JetBlue for the first time. After driving 40 miles to the airport, I’m hoping for a smooth experience as I make my way through these “firsts.”

As JetBlue is well known for its brand promise of bringing humanity to air travel, I am looking forward to the “JetBlue experience,” to find out what it’s all about. The company touts more legroom, free DIRECTV and XM Satellite Radio, and free-flowing snacks at no charge. (What? No WiFi?) It also has a Customer Bill of Rights, should we be delayed and stuck on the tarmac for some reason. (I hope we don’t have to experience that portion of the promise.)
So what’s all the hubbub about a brand promise? A brand promise is the expectations you set with your customers.  It’s a combination of the brand purpose and the reality of what the brand can deliver. It defines the benefits a customer can expect to receive when experiencing your brand – at every touchpoint. It must be delivered consistently at every touchpoint so as to create predictability. Customers will select your brand because they know that, every time they choose your brand, they will have the same experience. This doesn’t happen on the first interaction – it takes many interactions for customers to begin to trust your brand.
And that introduces another concept related to the brand promise – trust.  The brand promise sets expectations, and expectations are aligned with trust. Predictability begets trust, and trust begets loyalty. Over time, I expect that I will trust JetBlue to deliver the same excellent experience every time.
Expectations are an integral part of your customers’ satisfaction levels. As a matter of fact:

Performance - Expectations = Satisfaction
Let’s think about that for a second. Customers try your brand with a set of expectations (your brand promise) in mind. How you perform against those expectations leads to some level of satisfaction. If performance meets or exceeds expectations, then customers have a higher level of satisfaction and/or loyalty. If performance is less than expectations, then the brand promise has been broken – no explanation needed on what that means for your company. One sidebar to note here: consumers have higher expectations of iconic brands.
A critical and required component of delivering on the brand promise consistently is to socialize it with your employees. We have all heard that engaged employees drive engaged customers.  In order for employees to hold up their end of that deal, they must first know and understand the brand promise. It needs to be communicated to employees (starting with the employee onboarding or orientation program), and it must be reinforced regularly.
JetBlue’s brand promise is to bring humanity to air travel.  I read that the company defines humanity as friendliness, flexibility, and caring.  JetBlue’s founder and former CEO David Neeleman was quoted as saying, “The JetBlue brand promise dictates how employees execute at the various stages of the customer experience, from the time customers check-in at the gate to the time they land and claim their luggage. And consistency in the experience is key, or else the brand suffers.”
Has JetBlue lived up to its brand promise for me? Well, as I said earlier, it takes time and several interactions before you feel that brand predictability. It’s too early to tell. The flight attendants are friendly, but their service hasn’t really been unique relative to other airlines I’ve flown recently (including Southwest, Continental, Delta, and American). As I write this, about half way into the flight, the DIRECTV system is still not working…stay tuned!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Journey

Image courtesy of kevinthoule
I follow Simon Sinek on Twitter and on Facebook. He sends out daily "Notes to Inspire," and yesterday's Note struck a chord with me with regard to getting this blog off the ground; but it also relates well to companies and their CX Journeys.

"The hardest part is starting. Once you get that out of the way, you'll find the rest of the journey much easier." - Simon Sinek

A lot of companies struggle with how or where to start with their CX Journeys. Just start! Take the first step. It may not be a perfect go of it right out of the gates, but at least you are putting forth the effort.  At the same time, though, don't just do it for the sake of checking the box. There's a balance there. Be sincere with your efforts.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Call For Service ... If You Dare!

I had an interesting shopping experience today, and I knew in the midst of it that it would turn into a blog post.  It was a great example of why certain retailers are where they are in the customer experience rankings.

It's a bit of a story, so grab a cup of coffee and join me on this journey!

I'll start by saying that I don't often, nay, ever shop at Kmart, but I wanted to buy an air hockey table for my kids for Christmas, and I stumbled upon a pretty good deal (with great product reviews) on a table that was sold at Kmart. My attention was drawn to this one by GottaDeal.com, who is awesome at leaking all of the Black Friday ads before next Friday; the table is on sale for $99 on Thanksgiving Day.  Well, the chance of me going to Kmart is zero (see previous comment), and even less likely on Thanksgiving Day! So I figured I'd just order the table online and have it shipped, until I discovered that it would cost $90 for shipping!  OK, on to Plan B, which was to go to the closest Kmart (20 miles away) and just buy it there. And this is where the fun really starts.

I arrive at Kmart and go to where the table should be, but it's not there, even though their website indicated this morning that they had four in stock.  I wander around for several minutes trying to find someone to help me and finally do, but she doesn't know Sporting Goods and needs to find someone else.  She comes back with the store manager! Cool. Now we're getting somewhere!

And this is where things start to go downhill.

The store manager tells me that he had two in stock (recall the website said "four"); he just put one on layaway for someone, but there might be one over in the Gardening area, where they keep all the oversized items. Bottom line: I'm supposed to go to the opposite end of the store to figure out if there's one there, but hey, if it's there, he wants it (so he says to me, half joking).

Customer Service Tip #1: Walk your customers to where the product is.  Find it for them. Don't make them do the work. Help your customers.  SERVICE your customers!

OK.  So I wander off to the other side of the store, fully expecting that there would be someone in Gardening who could help me.  I enter the Gardening area, and it's like a desert wasteland... not a soul in sight.  But, I do see the floor model of the air hockey table and have hopes of finding one in a box that I can buy.  Voila!  I do find one.  AND, it is marked on sale for $99! Woohoo!  Jackpot!  I would get the Thanksgiving Day price after all, until I noticed the fine print, which indicated that the item was on sale for that price last week.  (More on that in a minute.)  Knowing the thing weighs 70lbs and will not fit into a shopping cart, I head back to the other end of the store to find someone who can bring a flatbed cart to transport the thing to my car.  One of the cashiers says she'll send someone to Gardening with a flatbed, and I happily return to Gardening to wait for said individual and cart.  And wait.  Five minutes later, I hear the cashier page for "any available associate to Gardening to help customer."  Nothing.  I look around and see this "call for service" button and push it. Five minutes later, I here, "Nick to Gardening to help a customer." I wait five more minutes.  I push the button again.

Customer Service Tip #2: Performance - Expectations = Satisfaction. If you're going to offer a "call for service" button and set that expectation, then you need to be prepared to act on it! Oh, and clean the thing, too. It's nasty.

Finally, 20 minutes after I entered the Gardening department, three employees who probably had no idea that I was waiting for someone to help me, wandered into the area. The name tag for one of them read ASM (Assistant Store Manager); I didn't catch what was on the name tags for the other two.  One of them immediately asked if I needed help and apologized profusely for my wait.

Customer Service Tip #3: A sincere apology will always help to diffuse the situation and calm the agitated customer.

Customer Service Tip #4:  Expediting the process from this point on will also help to ensure the experience ends positively.

I appreciated the apology and the initiative that all three of them took to help me immediately. Within five more minutes, I paid for the table and was out of the store!  But before we get to that point, there were a couple more things.

Recall that there was a $99 sale sticker on the box. When we got to the cash register, of course, the table did not ring up at $99, but they did honor the price.  Yay!

Customer Service Tip #5:  If you have the wrong price on your product, that is not the customer's problem.  You must honor it.

The cashier gives me the final price, and I try to swipe my credit card in the card reader but can't proceed until I take a survey! I must first answer my likelihood to recommend Kmart before I can complete the transaction. Are you kidding me?

I get it. I'm in the industry. You want to collect data from every customer, but let's think about why you are asking LTR at this moment. Is it really meaningful? NO. Is it just a number at this point? YES. Will you capture any meaningful information about why I was not likely to recommend? NO. Will you slow down MY transaction as well as that of anyone who is waiting in line behind me? YES.

Customer Service Tip #6:  Don't ask LTR before a transaction is complete, i.e., at the credit card terminal. It's not meaningful. It's just a number. And that means that Kmart focuses on the number and not on the customer. And honestly, that (i.e., not focused on customer) was extremely apparent throughout most of this experience.

Kmart, I appreciate that some of your employees were doing their best to make this a great experience for me. The recovery was good. Two of the employees even loaded the table into my car for me. But it didn't really change my opinion about Kmart, unfortunately.

How likely am I to shop at Kmart again? It's still "Highly Unlikely." If this blog post ends up in the hands of someone at Kmart who cares about the customer experience, they'll know my score (even though I canceled out of the survey)... and why!

P.S. When I got home, I did take the online survey that was on their receipt (kmartfeedback.com). Like their customer service, it too needs a good overhaul.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Employee Satisfaction Surveys – Should Managers Be Rewarded on Results?

This blog was originally published by me on 07/19/2010 at http://blog.allegiance.com/2010/07/employee-satisfaction-surveys/.


For any VOC initiative, it is just as critical to conduct employee surveys as it is to survey customers.  Employee engagement drives customer engagement, and without understanding the hearts and minds of your employees, your VOC initiative will be incomplete.

Conducting employee surveys within your organization presents opportunities for you to show employees that you care about them and their needs. At the same time, it provides employees an avenue for providing feedback about the company, culture, management, tools, resources, training, and more.  For survey results to be most effective, employees need to trust that they can provide candid feedback in an anonymous fashion without retribution.

Even more important than conducting these surveys is to act on the results – and then to hold managers accountable for creating action plans and executing on them. However, is it a good or standard practice to compensate managers based on their employee satisfaction scores?  This is a practice that is difficult to support, given the following complications caused by providing incentives to managers based on the satisfaction of their employees.
  1. Any time you tie survey results to a bonus plan, managers will waste time and energy trying to find fault with the overall program design, survey questions, or data quality – instead of taking the candid feedback at face value, taking ownership, and putting the feedback to work. 
  2. Tying compensation to employee feedback also leads to situations that I refer to as the “car dealer syndrome,” which includes gaming the system, bribes, and other seedy behavior.
  3. The potential to earn more money because of these results can also lead to retribution for low scores and poor feedback; employees need to know they can provide feedback without fear of recourse for negative feedback.
If you want to reward your managers, use objective measures, such as employee turnover, that can’t be tinkered with.  If you feel the need to reward managers, do so based not on the scores and the feedback, but on the execution of action plans created as a result of the feedback.

Having said all that, I do believe that company executives should certainly have a portion of their bonus plans tied to both customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction scores.  Creating a customer-centric culture begins when you first focus on your employees and make their satisfaction a priority.  That focus can only be   driven by those at the top.