Thursday, March 29, 2012

Is Proactive Customer Service Still a Moment of Truth?

I met with a client last week who mentioned that he's figuring out the best way to implement a proactive service solution for his call center organization. That got me thinkin'...

Regardless of product type or relationship type (B2B, B2C), interactions with your call center or your customer care team are probably the primary moment of truth. While a support experience is only part of the overall customer experience with your brand, it is certainly a touchpoint that allows you to build a relationship with your customers. Often, it is the only opportunity to set a first - and a lasting - impression.

If you engage in proactive customer service, which in my client's instance (and the angle I'll cover here) means solving a technical issue/breakdown before his customers know it exists, you need to be able to balance communicating to customers that issues were fixed proactively with not freaking out customers that your product has so many issues.

I did a little research on proactive customer service and was surprised how much has been written about it. For example, Business-Software.com wrote an article that outlined seven reasons proactive care is important.
  1. Increases customer satisfaction
  2. Reduces operational costs
  3. Increases employee efficiency
  4. Gives you an edge over the competition
  5. Makes for better-managed call centers
  6. Provides for more up-sell and cross-sell opportunities
  7. Improves service
To provide proactive customer service, you need (and you've heard me say this before) the right people, the right tools, the right data... all at the right time. You have to be committed to this. It's not just a passing fad; it requires a dedicated team whose focus is proactive service 24/7.

Bruce Temkin attempted to elevate proactivity to something greater by defining the six levels of proactive support, though I would debate why Ignore, React, and Alert are considered proactive. By definition, proactive means "creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened." (Google dictionary)



The whole point of proactive customer service/support is to resolve an issue or to get information to the customer before he/she has to initiate an interaction with you. Get out in front of it.

A great example, at least when it's done right, of proactive customer service is when airlines rebook you on a flight when you've missed your connection as a result of weather or airline-related delays.

Southwest Airlines has a team called Proactive Customer Service (in existence for 10+ years now) that works with 14 other departments to ensure operational efficiencies, effective communications, and better customer accommodations. Their job is to evaluate flight disruptions, determine the customer impact, and reach out to customers proactively so that the customer doesn't have to reach out to them. This type of service needs to be consistent, meet or exceed customer expectations, and be on 24/7.

Now, going back to my second paragraph and thinking about the relationship-building aspect, it would seem there are some pros and cons to this type of service, though I believe the pros far outweigh the cons. The con, I believe, is that it removes that human interaction that becomes a relationship-building moment... or is that a con, afterall?

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Lost Art of Thank You Notes

Is writing thank you cards or notes a lost art? Does anyone still do that?

Silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone.  ~G.B. Stern

My older son's birthday was last month; he had a party and received gifts from family and friends. Before the birthday weekend was over, I reminded him that he'd be writing thank you cards and notes for each gift he received. "I know." But he didn't say that or write the cards begrudgingly; he's been taught that it's what we do. I always have my kids write thank you notes for gifts on birthdays, holidays, etc. They're 7 and 10 - they've been doing it since they could write their names. It's never too early to start.

But here's the thing. They've been to a lot of birthday parties over the last couple of years, and I can honestly say that I cannot recall receiving thank you cards from any of the kids we bought gifts for within the last year or two.

What's my point? This bit of etiquette gets instilled early on in life, by our parents. I wrote previously about raising the customer experience leaders of tomorrow. It starts today; it starts when they are young, before they even know a thing about customer experience. But I think parents are no longer teaching their kids the importance of gratitude, thank yous, appreciation - whatever you want to call it. How can kids who never learned the importance of saying "thank you" ever develop a culture of appreciation years from now, when they're running their own businesses... or running yours?


 “What if you gave someone a gift, and they neglected to thank you for it – would you be likely to give them another? Life is the same way. In order to attract more of the blessings that life has to offer, you must truly appreciate what you already have.” -Ralph Marston


Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Experience Speaks Louder Than Words

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to experience the "new United."  I realize United has put forth great efforts to communicate to customers about - and throughout - their merger with Continental, but I feel like some of that communication rings hollow.


I was on an early flight out to San Francisco on Monday morning, with a return flight on Tuesday night. I checked in online on Sunday afternoon and was pleased that I was given the option to auto-check-in for my return flight. While it might not be a big deal to check in (sometimes), it's just a nice timesaver and one less thing to think about during a full day of meetings. Micah Solomon calls it "anticipatory customer service." Check. Off to a great start!

I used the mobile boarding pass option. Now, I'm sometimes skeptical of this option, and since this was the first time I was using it on the "new United," I felt the need for a back-up, so I printed my boarding pass, as well.  What made me skeptical is that they actually send an email to you with a link to the boarding pass on their site, not a text message with an image, like Delta does. When I arrived at the airport, I pulled up the email with the link, and sure enough, the page was not accessible. I was able to go to other sites, but I wasn't able to access the page with my boarding pass. #Fail.

When my group was called, I got in line to board. The gate agent should have looked at me and greeted me, but instead, she wasn't really paying attention and seemed shocked when I said, "Good morning." And only after I said it did she reciprocate, though in a tone like she was embarrassed she hadn't thought of it first.

I boarded the flight and had the pleasure of sitting in the middle seat (on both the outbound and the return flights, no doubt). O joy. I climbed into my seat and noticed that there wasn't much leg room at all. I'm 5'8" and was wearing heels; my legs are long (but I know I'm not as tall as some who have to suffer this legroom indignity). I couldn't cross them or reach past them to get to my bag under the seat in front of me. The picture to the left is not of my legs, but it accurately represents how my legs were jammed up into the seat in front of me.

I happened to be a couple of rows behind the emergency exit rows and suffered from extreme legroom envy. You could actually put another row between those seats. But, alas, they are no longer called "exit row seats;" they are now "Economy Plus!" And you must now pay extra to sit there! (More on this in a moment.)

While we were waiting for a few stragglers to board, people noticed a couple empty seats in the exit rows, and one gentleman asked if he could move to one of them. The flight attendant said in a half-sarcastic tone, "You can, but you have to pay for it." 

As we were waiting to take off, the inflight welcome and safety video began to play. It kicked off with a message from CEO Jeff Smisek. In the welcome portion of the video (called Developing the Right Culture) on this flight (in addition to that one, I learned in my research that there are three other messages that could be presented on your flight: Thanks for Flying with Us, Game-Changing Aircraft, Single Passenger System), he talked about the importance of having a culture of dignity and respect. Here's a quick summary of the 51-second segment, where he uses a lot of CX buzzwords. See if you can find them all.

It's very important in a service business that people:

  • enjoy coming to work
  • want to deliver good service, and
  • are proud of what they do

He goes on to say that the biggest challenge was to make sure to develop the right culture for the combined companies (Continental and United). He outlines the values as...

  • doing what you say you're going to do
  • doing your very best to deliver on it, and 
  • recognizing your mistakes

... and sums them up as dignity and respect, treating each other like we liked to be treated.

He goes on to say that trust is built through information and through honest, along with doing what you say.

His view is that you can't run an airline from a corner office in a skyscraper, and if he could personally greet every passenger he would say, "Thanks so much for flying with us, and we'll do our very best to take care of you."

I respect the message. I think it's great. But the actions need to at least match the words; it would be awesome if the actions spoke louder than the words. Jeff Smisek wants to create this amazing customer experience and this great culture for his employees. But culture is more than words; if it's not part of the DNA of the organization, part of the fabric of the company, then it's just words, just buzzwords. I believe there's a disconnect between his message and the experience.

So let's go back to my trip. On my return flight, the auto-check-in was great, and the link to the boarding pass worked. I boarded the flight and once again crawled into the middle seat, in almost the same row I was in on the outbound flight.

Once everyone boarded, the exit rows were completely empty. Not one of the 12 seats was filled. Someone asked to sit there, and again, I heard the flight attendant tell the person that he could sit there, but he'd have to pay for it first. So I wondered out loud (I tweeted it while waiting for the plane to leave the gate): "What happens in a crash when no one sits in the exit rows because they are now called Economy Plus and cost extra? #United #cxo"

I remember the old days (or perhaps, the old airlines), when you could request a seat in the exit row when you arrived at your gate. The benefit to you was the extra legroom, but at the same time you had to be prepared to take on a serious role, should the flight need to make an emergency landing. But now United has taken those rows and turned them into an upgraded class of seats for which you need to pay a $59 premium. I ask this question seriously... what happens when there's a need for an emergency exit, and there's no one in those rows to open the doors immediately or to assist passengers. Those seats always seemed sacred. Has United put profits before passenger safety? I hope none of us ever has to find out.

I know the airlines are always toward, or at, the bottom of the list of industry rankings for customer experience. But they don't do anything to help their cause. The CEO creates a video message to passengers that is comparable to what you might hear on Southwest, but the experience just doesn't match. Make sure your words come from the heart of your culture. And make sure the experience speaks louder than your words.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Things That Make You Go, "Hmmm..."

I received the following story in an email a couple weeks ago, and it had me asking several questions, not the least of which was, "Is this true? Did this really happen?" Regardless of whether it did happen or not, there are certainly lessons to be learned here.

Have a read, and then I'll pose my thoughts and questions below. I'd love to hear yours; please leave a comment.


The New CEO
If you've ever worked for a boss who reacts before getting the facts and thinking things through, you will love this!

Arcelor-Mittal Steel, feeling it was time for a shakeup, hired a new CEOThe new boss was determined to rid the company of all slackers.

On a tour of the facilities, the CEO noticed a guy leaning against a wall. The room was full of workers, and he wanted to let them know that he meant business. 
He asked the guy, "How much money do you make a week?"


A little surprised, the young man looked at him and said, "I make $400 a week. Why?"

The CEO said, "Wait right here." He walked back to his office, came back in two minutes, 
and handed the guy $1,600 in cash and said, "Here's four weeks' pay. Now GET OUT and don't come back."


Feeling pretty good about himself, the CEO looked around the room and asked, "Does anyone want to tell me what that goofball did here?"

From across the room a voice said, "Pizza delivery guy from Domino's."

Sounds like a case of Ready. Fire. Aim.

Some of my questions for you...

1. How do you make decisions? Do you move forward with an initiative and ask questions later? Or do you get all the details, think it through, and then proceed?

2. Do you think you can make organizational changes (including your culture) by making snap judgments? Without thinking through the implications to your employees? To your customers?

3. How do you treat your employees?

4. What motivates your employees? What inspires them?

5. Where would you start if you were a new CEO at your company (especially if you think the company needs a "shake-up")?

6. How are you communicating with your people?

7. Do you trust your employees to always do the right thing, so that you're not on a hunt for "slackers?" Does this type of reaction build trust?

8. Executives/leaders set the tone for the organization. Is this the type of culture any company wants? Is this the kind of place you would want to work?

9. How do you define "slackers?" And what feedback loops/performance plans do you have in place to avoid the slacker syndrome?


"Once I started to value and respect my employees more, I realized their ideas could be better than mine." - Jay Steinfeld, founder and CEO of Blinds.com

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Change You Can Believe In?

It occurred to me the other day, as I was watching the GOP primary results come in, that there is a connection between politics and the customer experience. OK, no, I promise I won't get political here. Remember - the rule is: among friends, don't talk politics or religion. I abide by the rule, for the most part.

So, how do they relate, you ask? Well, think about this: we keep saying that we want CHANGE in politics. Wasn't that the whole story around Obama - that he was the change we'd been waiting for? Isn't that the same story around the GOP primaries - the top candidates propose that they are the change that people are now waiting/hoping for?

Except... people are really afraid to vote for change. If they really wanted change, wouldn't they vote for someone like Ron Paul or Herman Cain (when he was still in the race)? They are not career politicians. They have views that are perhaps radical, but isn't that what creates change?

OK, Annette, you've gone completely off your rocker. Before you lose me, because you promised not to talk politics or religion with your friends, how does that relate to the customer experience? 

Well, here's my experience in the VOC/CX world: CEOs don't really want change. Yes, that's a bit provocative, but let's think about this. I don't believe they accept the fact that the employee experience drives the customer experience, and the customer experience drives the business. Seems the business comes first: sales, marketing, and acquisition are always put ahead of retention. (There are a few exceptions, but why? Why doesn't everyone have a culture and an experience like Zappos? Or at least try.)

It's so frustrating to see that the news, blogs, and other social media are filled daily with stories about bad employee experiences and unbelievably awful customer experiences. Companies talk the talk, but they do not walk the walk. Look at these stats and tell me if I'm wrong.
  • 68% of customers leave because they were upset with the treatment they received while speaking to customer service. – US Chamber of Commerce
  • Even in a negative economy, customer experience is a high priority for consumers, with 60% often or always paying more for a better experience. Harris Interactive, Customer Experience Impact Report
  • 86% of customers stopped doing business with a company because of a bad experience (up from 59% four years ago).  Harris Interactive
  • 90% of North American firms view customer experience as important or critical to 2010 plans. 80% of firms would like to use customer experience as a form of differentiation. – Forrester’s: The State of Customer Experience 2010
  • Only 12% of current marketing spend is on customer retentionMcKinsey
  • 7% of companies think they are customer experience leaders.  Temkin Group 2011
  • In reality, based on a review of VOC programs, only 2% have reached their highest level of maturity. – Temkin Group 2011
  • 61% of companies want to be at the top of their industry (in customer experience) in three years.  Temkin Group 2011
  • Look at the 2012 Temkin Experience Ratings, and you'll see very few industries (3 out of 18, to be exact) with "Excellent" ratings, yet if you drill down into those industries, very few companies within those industries earn this top score.
None of those stats speak to real progress being made.

Listen, we have a problem here, and we need to figure out how to fix it. How do we deliver that message? How do we force - and enforce - the change that customers are waiting for and expecting?

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. -Charles Darwin

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Do You Have an Undercover Boss?

This past Friday evening, I watched Undercover Boss for the first time. I'd read about the show and about some of the "cases," but I'd never watched it. I must say, it was eye-opening, not to mention a very humbling experience for the CEO; he admitted as much at the end of the show. Grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and read the recap of the show... and give me your thoughts about the questions I pose at the end.

Friday's episode was about Oriental Trading Company (OTC), and the experience (and epiphany) their CEO, Sam Taylor, had while going undercover. OTC is based out of Omaha, NE, and considers itself the nation's largest direct retailer of novelties, small toys, and party items. OTC employees more than 2,000 people and sells 30,000 products across three websites. (These are stats provided on the show.) Their mission? Make it easy and affordable for everyone to celebrate, have fun, and express their creativity throughout their lifetimes. In a nutshell, their mission is to make people's lives more fun. They've been doing that for over 80 years. The company started as a family-owned operation but is now privately held.

Before the undercover portion even began, I felt Sam was a pretty "special" CEO; he had a tragic history that left him compassionate and empathetic to people's needs. He said that his mom instilled in him to try, every single day, to do something for somebody to make them feel better. (Let's see if that translated to his business life.)

He teared up telling the story about how, when the economy tanked in October 2008, OTC had to make its first layoffs. However, for the employees that remained, he wanted to make sure the employee experience was fun. He presents financials to the employees every quarter, and the company has an annual event for employees and their families.

Sam's disguise was pretty amazing, and employees did not recognize him. His undercover story was that he was a failed entrepreneur learning what it takes to be a successful businessman. He agreed to participate in Undercover Boss because he wanted to make sure the message of "selling fun" was getting to the employees. He also said that it was critical that every order was 100% accurate; they had invested a lot in new technology over the last two years to ensure order accuracy. He worked four different jobs over the course of four days, with four different people training him. The stories of the individuals training him were all unique. Here's a brief summary of those four days.

Day 1
On the first day, he worked in the warehouse. While learning his "new jobs," he asked the employees questions about the company, their jobs, etc. On this day, his trainer was Troy, who said that OTC is a "godforsaken grueling place to work." He tells Sam that half the people there don't care about OTC, that OTC doesn't pay well, and that most managers don't know how to interact with their employees. Managers treat their employees as numbers. Sam asks Troy why he still works there, at which point he learns a little more about Troy as a person and his personal obligations. At the end of the day, Sam takes in all of the feedback and vows to make some changes.

Day 2
The next day, Sam goes to work in the truck loading department. He wants to make sure the packages are handled carefully. He meets his trainer, Andrew, who refers to his area as "the dungeon" and the "point of no return" (for the packages). They load about 4,000 boxes a day, and each box weighs 45-50 pounds. Sam acknowledges that the job is harder than he thought, that you have to pack a truck very efficiently. And he admits that the trucks are quite warm inside. (Consider that, if it's 95 degrees outside, it's at least 10-15 degrees hotter in the truck.) He proceeds to get Andrew's side of the story, which is that OTC claims to sell fun, but it is no fun in the truck. He's not making much money; he says the truck loaders make as much as the pickers and packers, but the pickers' and packers' jobs are much less physical. "They work you more for less here."

Andrew showed Sam the break room and noted that, while there were sports drinks in the coolers, they were rationed and not given to the workers until it was very hot in the warehouse. Management "picks and chooses when they hand out sports drinks." The employees can see the drinks in the coolers, but they cannot access them because the coolers are locked! Sam admits that, to be efficient during hard times, they made some cost-cutting decisions that were clearly not good for the employees.

When Sam (in disguise, of course) asked Andrew for advice for an entrepreneur, Andrew told him, "Be different than OTC." Ouch.

It was hard for Sam to take in all of the criticisms, including a lot of complaints about salary. He asked Andrew, "So you wouldn't recommend anyone come to work for OTC?" And Andrew said, "No, I wouldn't." Sam's face said it all at that point, and then he said to the camera, "I'm in big trouble." Eye opening.

Day 3
Sam had been getting an earful, and he was concerned that employees are not happy. Day 3 provided a new perspective. He was going to be working in the packing department, where he said it was important to ensure accuracy (no missing items) to reduce reships. His trainer was Kim, who had been with OTC for 19 years! This lady was quite impressive. Any customer-centric CEO would be proud to have her as part of the team! She cared more about how the orders were packed ("I pack them like you want to receive them") than she did about her own productivity metrics. Wow! Love that. She said that, because she took her time to pack carefully, it affected her bonus. Her focus was doing the best for the customer and for the company. No doubt, Sam was impressed with her and her attitude about the importance of the customer.

Her story continued. It was 103 degrees outside, but that just made for a scorching environment inside, with heat exhaustion around the corner. (I was reminded of a conversation about sweat shops in China... except this is happening right here in our own backyard!) She brought her own water bottles to ensure that she stayed hydrated. Sam asked if she spoke to management about the issue, and she said she had - they said it was a budget issue. Simply, Sam stated, we need to make sure our employees are taken care of.

He proceeded to ask her what it was like working at OTC. Her response: it's physical and hard on the body. She suggested that one of the "big wigs" come out and work with them to see what it's like and to see if they can maintain the pace she is expected to. On the flipside, she appreciates that OTC does things like the annual family picnics; however, she'd be quite happy to see OTC skip those perqs and just take care of employees. "We are working here for our families."

Her impression of the execs was that they don't care about the employees. Sam said he does, but somewhere, there is a huge disconnect... not only with regard to execs caring about employees but also with regard to the "sell fun, make work fun" concept.

Day 4
On the fourth day, Sam gets to work in the induction department, where the items come in in bulk, and the workers have to sort them. Sam's goal in this area was to ensure that the technology is working properly and that the employees have the tools and training to do their jobs. His trainer on this day is Julia, and he asks her what it's like working for OTC. She says that communication is sorely lacking and that when the executives present to employees, it's only about the numbers.

She had made product suggestions, e.g., to make products focused on the Hispanic community's needs, but her feedback was never acknowledged, much less responded to.

When Sam asked her if she wanted to be employed at OTC for the long-term, she said, "No."

Lessons Learned
No doubt, there were lessons to be learned here by the CEO. It was an epiphany for him.
  • I think he already knew this, but for the sake of drama (and making a point): employees are people, too. They are all individuals and come with their own stories, needs, etc.
  • He has a better appreciation for his employees and the work they do day in and day out.
  • He discovered that the employees are really good at what they do - and he's not!
  • Based on his undercover stint, he questions the budget cuts they made. They didn't make those cuts based on how it affects their employees every day.
  • They need to invest sufficiently in their employees.
  • There's a disconnect between their mission and reality: make the world fun, but it's not a fun place to work.
  • He needs to spend more time with his employees and let them know their CEO cares about them and listens to them.
  • The company is very sales/numbers driven, when it needs to be more people driven.
  • Communication (up and down) needs to be improved.
  • He realized that they need to go back to the basics, to make the company like it was when it was family-owned, i.e., have personal touches.
  • Each individual on his executive team needs to spends two days a year doing each of the jobs he just did.
  • A better performing company (he didn't mean financials here but the inner workings of the organization) leads to better morale, which means he will retain his employees longer.
There are probably more, but these were the ones he highlighted.

He wants his legacy to be that he is a CEO that cares about his employees and his customers. 'Tis a noble cause, indeed.

In the end, Sam met with each of the four employees, let them know about the disguise, let them know he listened, and lavished them with great financial gifts and support. It was extremely impressive what he ended up doing for each of them. I won't ruin the surprise, in case you haven't watched it yet.

My questions about this episode are...
  • What about the rest of the employees? The gifts he gave these four folks were quite impressive. What did he do for the other 2,000 employees?
  • He opened up the sports drinks to be available two months out of the year. Really? How much would it hurt/cost you to offer your employees sports drinks all year? The win is greater than the ding here.
  • He talked about some of the changes he made as a result of the four individuals' stories and feedback, but they were generally minor in comparison to what is really needed. What process changes has he made since? What shifts in budget cuts is he planning to make?
  • How is he planning to change the overall culture of the company to make it fun? When I think of "sell fun, make work fun," I think of Zappos. Nothing I heard at the end of the episode made me think that the culture was shifting to a Zappos-like culture.
On another note, in what I'm sure is a stark contrast to his employees, Sam lives in a beautiful home and some of the comments made by his family were arrogant, and yet Julia mentioned that she was ever-grateful for a $200 bonus! Truly a disconnect here. I know that's a harsh assessment, but I'm sure this is not unique to this company/CEO.

My questions for you are...
  • Are your executives going undercover to see what a day in the life of your employees is like?
  • Is there a disconnect between your employee experience and your customer experience - and, ultimately, the mission for both?
  • Does your company have a vision for the employee experience?
  • Is someone at your company mystery shopping the organization, to get the customer perspective?
  • When your executives present to employees, are they only talking about financials? Or are they recognizing employees for jobs well done and talking about other things happening within the organization? Talking numbers is not what drives engagement in employees.
  • Is your organization sales/financials driven - or people driven?
Clearly, this was an eye-opener. It's a reminder to executives that there are people working those lines - people are turning the wheels of the business. Those people need to be taken care of.  As I always like to remind everyone, "people buy from people." If those people are not taken care of, the business loses. I think that's the biggest lesson here.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Strike 3 - You're Out!

I was shopping at a Ralph's (a grocery store in the Kroger family) last Saturday. As I was waiting in the checkout line, the line started to get longer; there was one person in front of me with a ton of groceries to be bagged, and there were four people behind me. There was one other check stand open, with a couple of people in that line. At the front of the store was the service desk, where employees also happened to clock in for their shifts. (Why this was here and not somewhere else, like a back office or a break room, is beyond me.)

The cashier in my line called for one of the guys standing by the service desk to help him bag. His response? "I have one more minute." (It was 2:59pm.) Wow! Is that a union thing, or is that a culture thing? (BTW, there were three other people standing there, and none of them offered to help this cashier.) Your customers are waiting, and you can't help because your shift doesn't start for a minute? And the other employees didn't want to help this cashier/the customers? Strike 1! (OK, that might be two strikes, but since there are only three in a game, I must follow the rules. LOL.)

The cashier doesn't blink and suggests to the people in line behind me that they can use the self-checkout one aisle over, to which they all said, "No thanks." Chalk one up for putting the "human" back into "service." The checker's response? "You're going to ruin our QueVision score." O my. Really? You just said that to a line of customers who chose human interaction over a DIY machine? Customers don't care about your score. They care about getting in and getting out as quickly as they can, and sometimes those self-checkout stands can be more frustrating than waiting in line. Strike 2!

For those who don't know (I didn't - I googled it when I got home), QueVision is a system that Kroger has implemented to help speed up the checkout lines. If you'd like more details on it, read this article from the Roanoke Times. If you google it, you'll find that employees, for the most part, are not thrilled with this system. Why? Because they have a score they need to meet or exceed, and the system requires people to leave their areas of the store to jump on the cash registers if the lines are too long. Purely from a service perspective, this is a problem because...? (Yes, I get it - it pulls service people from other areas of the store where customers might have questions, or where shelves aren't getting stocked because the person in charge of that area is on the register. But there are ways to balance all of that.)

When it was my turn, I noticed that the platform where you can set your purse, coupons, etc. while you pay had a note taped to it about their post-transactional survey. If you wanted to provide feedback about your shopping experience, you could go to TellKroger.com and input a certain code. I didn't pay close attention to the code because I assumed it was on the receipt, and the only reason I made a mental note of the URL was because it was, well, it's just what I do.

I had my kids with me and didn't think anything more of it at the moment, but when I got home (and after I googled "QueVision"), I wanted to provide my feedback. Guess what? There was no survey link on the receipt, no survey code, no acknowledgement of a survey. Nothing. I'm quite familiar with these receipt-based surveys, so I went to TellKroger.com anyway, thinking I would just have to enter some transaction details from the receipt to take the survey. Nope. Not only did I have to enter transaction details, I also needed that darned Survey Entry Code! And look (below), the survey site even provides an image of what it all looks like on the receipt.


That's great, in theory, but there was no Survey Entry Code on my receipt. Kroger, if you're wondering why your response rate is so low, rethink this. Bad execution on someone's part. Strike 3! So, Kroger, you tell me... do you want my feedback or not?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Using NPS to Segment Customers

I would be remiss to not include Net Promoter Score (NPS) in my series on ways to segment your customers in order to deliver a better, perhaps more-personalized, customer experience. Unless you've been hiding in a cave for the last few years, I think you know what NPS is. But just in case you've just emerged from hibernation (spring is almost here, after all!), NPS, which was first introduced by Fred Reichheld in his article "One Number You Need to Grow" (Harvard Business Review, 2003) is a metric that is derived from one survey question: "How likely are you to recommend Company X to a friend or colleague?" The pure form of NPS dictates that the question is asked with a 0 to 10 scale, where 0 = Not At All Likely and 10 = Extremely Likely, and that the most reliable source is your relationship survey (as opposed to transactional surveys).

Respondents to this question are broken down into three segments, based on their ratings, as shown in this graphic from the Bain & Company website.  Those who rate their likelihood to recommend a 9 or 10 are considered Promoters, while those who rate their likelihood somewhere in the 0 to 6 range are Detractors. Passives are those who rate their likelihood to recommend as 7 or 8.


The actual score comes from taking the % Promoters and subtracting from it the % Detractors. Passives are ignored in the equation. The theory here is that your Promoters speak loudly, but some of that voice will be drowned out by the negative rants of your Detractors - hence, a "net score."

It was written about in three books, two by Fred Reichheld and one by Richard Owen and Laura Brooks of Satmetrix, the company that Reichheld partnered with to develop NPS.

The Ultimate Question (Reichheld)
Answering the Ultimate Question (Owen, Brooks)
The Ultimate Question 2.0 (Reichheld, Markey)

The theory behind NPS is that:

  • Promoters will recommend your company/product/services, buy more, engage with you by providing feedback about products and  services because they want you to succeed, and continue to do business with you for a long time. 
  • Detractors will drown the voice and drain your resources.
  • Your focus is on increasing the % Promoters and decreasing the % Detractors.
  • NPS is a predictor of growth.

I could write for days and days about the pros and cons of NPS, but I'll stick with these high-level and most-commonly mentioned ones for now:

Cons: NPS is just one number based on just one question in your survey; you must ask more questions to be able to diagnose root causes. In addition, there are a lot of opponents who question the real predictive ability of this metric.

Pros: Because it is just one number and an easy-to-explain formula (no black box), it is simple for anyone in the organization to grasp. It rallies the troops to focus on the customer experience.

I think the latter is the key here. The reason this segmentation works is that it drives the organization to focus on customers and their experiences; however, that needs to be done in such a way that it is not just about the number, but truly about the customer. That is, don't just work on improving the score; improve the experience, and the numbers will follow.


As with any other metric or approach, employ the steps I've outlined in my Key Components of a VOC Initiative to execute properly. It's a journey, not just a number. The key here is to listen, close the loop, make improvements, and communicate - every day. Simple as that!

Note that NPS is not appropriate for every company or every industry. I don't advocate one metric over another with my clients. I'll sit and talk through pros and cons and figure out what works best for each individual scenario.

Net Promoter Score, Net Promoter and NPS are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Satmetrix Systems and Fred Reichheld. © 1996-2012. Bain & Company

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Service Recovery

If you're a fellow Cox Communications customer, you'll be very familiar with this story; if you're not, read along for lessons to be learned.

Cox Communications has had an outage of their voice mail service for the last week or so (exact start date TBD - more on that in a moment). From a customer service perspective, I give them a B-. I think they did some things well, but there are some areas where they fell down.

So when did the outage actually happen? Unfortunately, like many of you, I rely heavily on my cell phone, so I can't really answer that question on my own. I usually forward my office line to my cell if I plan to be out and about... and then conveniently forget about that setting, so it's regularly on call forward. And I get so few phone calls on my home phone that I wouldn't know if there was a voice mail outage. (Advantage for Cox in this situation; I'm guessing a lot of customers rely more heavily on their cell phones than their landlines anymore.)

Mission Viejo Patch states the issue started on February 21, but the first message about an outage on Cox's Facebook page was on February 24. The first email I received from them on it was February 26. I subsequently received a message with a status update on February 28, and another mid-day February 29, indicating the service was restored. O! But wait! Not eight hours later, I received an email saying that the fix didn't hold. Ouch.

Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly of this issue and the way it's been handled. Within the good were some bad and ugly, i.e., they get an A for effort but failed on execution. Take a look.

The Good

There were a lot of things that Cox did right in terms of this issue. They...

1. Communicated proactively about it (for the most part, though I'm still not sure when it actually started)
2. Signed their emails with the name of a relevant executive's name (Vice President, Customer Care)
3. Outlined clearly what the issue was as well as who it impacted and what services were affected
4. Apologized sincerely and showed empathy: "We apologize for the inconvenience and frustration that this issue may be causing."
5. Offered a workaround, which included calling Cox Support for a feature (call forwarding) that would be added for free for the duration of the issue (if not already a feature you subscribe to)
6. Gave instructions on how to apply the workaround
7. Provided status updates, although occasionally set expectations that were not met
8. Offered various additional options for status updates
9. Showed genuine appreciation for their customers' patience by providing a free month of voicemail service ($7.99) for an issue that lasted almost 8 (?) days (though, now we learn it's not resolved yet); they had indicated in their status updates that customers would be credited, but I figured there would be a credit only for the days the service was out.

The Bad

On the flip side, there were two opportunities that they missed.

1. The email messages were not personalized. Cox knows very well who I am; I have been a phone/cable/internet customer of theirs for almost 10 years. The emails were addressed to "Dear Valued Cox Customer." In bad times, it's great to still be polite and address customers by name, especially if you know their names.

2. Again, this has to do with personalized service. Cox knows if you have call forwarding or not. So, rather than have you wait on hold with the hundreds or thousands of other customers who don't have call forwarding (keep in mind that it's part of a feature bundle that you pay for, and some of the features are likely not needed by everyone), automatically give everyone call forwarding for the duration of the issue. First, customers are inconvenienced because of the issue, but then you want to further inconvenience them by making the workaround more painful than it needs to be.

The Ugly

The Ugly is ugly for a couple of reasons: it lacks personalization, and it's useless.

The closing paragraph of the status emails read:  "For updates as we work to resolve this issue, please visit your local Cox Facebook page or the customer forum on cox.com..." Ok, what does "local Cox Facebook page" mean? 

I searched "Cox Communications, Orange County" on Facebook, and six "local" pages popped up, not one of which was the right one or had any information about anything. Somehow I ended up finding "Cox Orange County," which is their official "local page." (By the way, that Facebook page has 5,344 followers; it's not a great vehicle for them to use to communicate to their masses when there's an issue.) Why not link me right to that Orange County Facebook page in the email? You know I'm an Orange County customer. 

Then there was the other option, the part of that sentence that said "... or the customer forum on cox.com...," with a link to the so-called forum. (Clearly, that is a misnomer.) Call it what you want, it's a road to nowhere that gives you nothing more than what is in the email. Here's what that page tells me...


What I expected to see on that page was meaningful, timestamped, daily (at least) status updates. This message is of no help. As a matter of fact, it sends you somewhere else for updates! So I clicked on the Cox.com/Support link, and I was taken to the landing page for their online support area. See the image below. At the top of the page is a statement boxed in red with an "alert" symbol.


Wait, it gets better. See that link at the end of the paragraph? Want to guess where that takes you? Yea, back to the page where I just came from! The road to nowhere. A circular link to frustration. Ha!

Some of the lessons learned (and there are likely others) include:

1. Apologize, empathize, and be genuine
2. Personalize your communications
3. Communicate using a vehicle that your entire audience uses
4. Provide regular status updates
5. Don't send customers to your site for updates if there really are no updates
6. Don't make the the task of finding updates more painful than the issue itself
7. Make a peace offering (i.e., credit for cost of feature)
8. Minimize customer efforts for workarounds

Want to add any others? And am I being generous with a B- grade for this experience? Maybe. I'll let you decide.

Update: Once the issue was resolved (on 3/1), Cox continued to communicate with its customers to let them know they were monitoring the system to ensure that it remained working and stable. In the latest email (3/5), Cox let customers know that the credit had been bumped up from $7.99 to $25. ("I also know that even our most sincere apology may not be enough. In appreciation for your business, your patience and your loyalty during this time, we will increase the credit to your account from $7.99 to $25.00.") Nicely played.

Note: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly images (c) 2008 - Zach Bellissimo.