Thursday, June 27, 2013

Who Are We Doing This For?

Image courtesy of rachaelvorhees
Earlier this week, over the course of just four hours, I had two separate client conversations that had me scratching my head and asking: "Who are you doing this for?"

The two conversations went something like this.

Client #1: "We have all these great product enhancements coming. We've talked to everyone internally, and here's what we're going to be offering going forward."

Me: "Did you talk to your customers? Did you ask them what they want, what they are trying to use your product to achieve?"

Client #2: "The objectives of our VOC initiative include cost cutting, process efficiencies, and differentiation."

Me: Wow. What about improving the customer experience? And what do you mean by differentiation?

Client #2: Well, we have this, this, and this. And we do that. And this differentiation is what we're known for.

Me: Have you validated that with your customers?

You can guess the answers for both Client #1 and Client #2.

So here's where I ask: Who are we doing this for? and why? I'm talking about your business. If you're not in it for the customer, what or who are you in it for?

If you think you know what your customers want and need, great. Thinking is not good enough. And it's not just what they need. Need can be defined in a lot of different ways. Ask them these questions: "What problems are you trying to solve?" "What are you trying to accomplish?" "What job are you trying to do?"

And differentiation? It's awesome. I've written before about being remarkable, standing out from the crowd, and not being a me-too. So, I'm all for it. The thing you need to ask yourself: Is what you consider to be an important point of differentiation actually what is most important to your customers? Is it what they care about? You have no idea; go ask them. Your customers will tell you if you are different, remarkable, or a standout. Then figure out how you'll create a truly differentiated experience for them.

It's painful to know that we actually still need to ask these questions of businesses today.

Don’t try to tell the customer what he wants. If you want to be smart, be smart in the shower. Then get out, go to work, and serve the customer! -Gene Buckley


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Hey, Laaaaady!

Image courtesy of eda.c
What is a touchpoint? And why am I asking that now?

Well, you know by now that I tend to have a story or a situation almost every week that inspires me to write a blog post. Today is no different.

So, back to my question: What is a touchpoint? There are many different ways that people define it, but in a nutshell, it is a place or point that a customer touches, or interacts, with your brand; those interactions can be in-your-face obvious or they can be those little things that may be less obvious or not as visible. And that is what brings me to today's inspiration. I'll start with the story.

Friday night is pizza night with my boys. Last Friday, after their taekwondo class, the boys wanted to go to the Domino's store next to the dojang to order a pizza. We walked in and placed our order. The cashier handed me the receipt, let me know the pizza would be ready in 12 minutes, and went back into the kitchen. The boys asked if they would call my name when the pizza was ready, and I said, "No. He didn't ask for my name." I brushed it off because we were the only ones in the store, but the thought didn't escape me that he did have the opportunity to ask me my name (or, at the very least, see it on my credit card).

When the pizza was ready, another employee walked out and handed us the pizza, and we were on our way. I didn't think about that interaction again until later that evening. I don't know why, but it occurred to me that I should look at the receipt to see what he put on it in place of my name, if anything at all. I pulled the receipt out of my purse, and here's what it said:


"Lady." I had visions of Jerry Lewis saying, “Laaaaady!” running through my head.

Well, I guess it could've been worse. (Remember CVS, Radio Shack, Papa John's, and others?) But, guess what? This simple piece of paper is also a touchpoint. They had an opportunity - a moment in time, a brief second, one question - to personalize the experience a bit. To make a connection, if you will, through this touchpoint. Actually, I don't even want to call it a personalization. I want to call it a human touch.

Contrast that with another experience.

Sunday is bagel morning with my boys. Yea, I love our traditions. And so do the boys! Bagel mornings are always at Einstein Bros. Bagels. I'll have to write in detail about Einstein Bros. another time, but it was a totally different interaction. The experience there is consistently great. After they take my order, rather than giving me an order number, they ask for my name. (I'm not a number! I'm a person!) And when my order is ready, they call my name for pick-up - and many times, like they did this past Sunday, they bring the order to my table for me. They don't have to do that. They just do. Here's what the their receipt looks like:


No doubt in my mind whose order this is! Or about who cares about their customers.

Domino's has a lot to learn. But the good news is that there's a simple fix here, really. That one simple fix can make all the difference in this situation. Train your employees to ask their customers for their names - and then address them by their names. I would call this common sense, but I'm reminded daily that common sense is not so common. So this particular piece of the process needs to be trained.

Isn't the human touch much better than being a number or a "Hey Laaaady!"

It starts with respect. If you respect the customer as a human being, and truly honor their right to be treated fairly and honestly, everything else is much easier. -Doug Smith

One customer, well taken care of, could be more valuable than $10,000 worth of advertising. -Jim Rohn

Friday, June 21, 2013

Walk in Your Customers' Frankenshoes!

The most important component of customer experience management is understanding the experience from the customer's point of view.

What does that have to do with a picture of my foot (to the left)? Read on to find out!

I had foot surgery three weeks ago, and for the weeks that followed, I walked around in what was not-so-affectionately dubbed my "frankenshoe." For a very active person, trust me, it was extremely annoying to be so immobile. As it usually does, stuff like this gets me thinking about the customer experience - and, of course, a new blog topic.

During my recovery (the shoe is off now, thank goodness), every step I took required a bit of effort. I needed to plan ahead if I wanted to go from point A to point B (where often point A was my office and point B was the kitchen downstairs!), pooling all my needs into one trip. This got me thinking about customer effort and the efficiency of processes customers go through to achieve what they are trying to achieve with your business.

Do you have old, outdated, or unnecessary processes that customers go through to accomplish a simple task? Do you need examples? How about that antiquated phone tree on your IVR system? Or the million clicks that customers need to go through to purchase an item online? Or the multiple calls that need to be made to get an issue resolved? Or the search for a phone number just to call your support line? Or your return process? I could keep going...

Why does it have to be that way? It doesn't have to be! The crazy part is that we are all customers, and yet, we still design these awful processes that make no sense. Why isn't it just common sense?

In the all-too-often absence of common sense, we need a plan.

The customer experience can be immediately improved by reviewing the steps your customers have to go through in order to interact with your company. Not sure where to get started? Well, honestly, it's a pretty straightforward process.
  •  Map your customer journey. Walk in your customers' shoes to identify the journey, but walk in their frankenshoes to understand their effort.
  • Listen to customers at key moments of truth. 
  • Conduct a root cause analysis to get to the heart of the matter. Surprised that it's a ridiculous process? Don't be. Just fix it now that you're aware of it.
  • Act on the feedback. Improve the processes that they say are broken or cumbersome.
  • Map your internal processes. Look at your behind-the-scenes process, too; likely they are a burden to your employees, which then trickles out to your customers and their experience.
Process improvement must be a part of your customer experience toolbox. It's time to remove broken, outdated, unnecessary, or cumbersome processes that inhibit or hinder the customer experience.

Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all. -Peter Drucker

Thursday, June 20, 2013

How Do You Respond When Things Go Sideways?


Today I'm pleased to bring you another guest post by Sarah Simon.

This post marks another installment in my series on lessons from the high country.

Beautiful morning, what could go wrong?
It’s a beautiful June day in the rugged Indian Peaks of Colorado.  The snow pack lingering from the previous winter sits several feet deep in many spots as we hike toward the day’s objective.  At 12,814 feet / 3,906 meters, Mount Neva is not a particularly tall mountain by Colorado standards, but her northeast cirque is graced by numerous couloirs, ribbons of snow that tantalize the climber from her base to her summit.  Not long after passing Lake Dorothy (12,061 feet / 3,676 meters), the snow becomes constant, and we stop to don crampons.  Soon we stand at the apron to Juliet Couloir, ready to climb.  Surely mine wasn’t the only heart beating a little faster!

Exiting the couloir
Our team begins the steady climb up the couloir, breathing harder as the slope angle increases, taking turns on lead.  We fall into a steady, comforting kick-step rhythm – plunge the alpine ax into the snow, then kick right, kick left.  Repeat.  We continue this way, sweating in the spring sunshine, until at last a sudden steepening of the snow and bright sunlight indicate we’ve hit the top of the route.  One by one we pop out onto the summit plateau to wobble in blocky boots and crampons across the boulders to the summit of Mount Neva.  Though I’ve stood on the summits of hundreds of mountains, the elation for me of reaching the top is never diminished.  This is my high, what I live for, the reason I wake on weekend mornings before dawn to run myself to exhaustion by Monday.

Before long, we begin our descent down the face of the mountain.  Tiring of down-climbing blocky and potentially unstable large boulders, we opt as a team to traverse to a snow field.  Three team members successfully face-in downclimb the snow when suddenly the man to my immediate right just disappears from the slope! He tumbles and summersaults down the steep slope before skidding to a rest at the bottom where the snow levels out.  My heart is pounding.  Beside me, where once Stephen stood calmly waiting his turn to descend, I see only bare, smooth, wet rock.  Great.  This changes things for sure!

The three of us remaining on the mountainside ponder our options, and then decide to climb thin, steep snow above where Stephen was just whisked away.  As I face into the mountain for my short traverse and downclimb, the snow it seems is getting softer and less-supportive by the minute, and I remember thinking: This has got “stupid” written all over it.  Becoming convinced that the soft, rotten snow will give way, I briefly weigh my options: Downclimb on foot and wait to be surprised (like Stephen!) when the rotten snow goes out from under me, or voluntarily become one with the slope, sit down, and glissade.   I opt for what I intend to be a controlled slide on my back-side down the mountain.  Unfortunately, things get out of control quickly.  The ride gets bumpy and I pick up speed rapidly – in fact, my GPS later reveals my top speed during this incident in excess of 17 mph / 28 kph.  Training kicks in instinctually, and I promptly try rolling over and arresting my slide, but my ax is not going to stick; it slices through the early afternoon snow like a hot knife through warm butter.  One more time I try to self-arrest to no avail – the soft slush provides no purchase.  And so I resign myself to riding this out, zipping downhill so quickly that my sunglasses fly off my face.

Thrill of victory, agony of defeat
At the bottom of the slope, I come to a stop.  I am breathing heavily, but surmise that I’m fine.  I amble back up hill a few yards to retrieve my sunglasses, then return, laughing, to my team when I notice blood in the snow.  Blood?  Immediately, I think of Stephen and check on him – but he’s fine.  My climbing partners become agitated, pointing at me: Your arm!  Your arm!  I then see blood running from a deep cut to my left forearm.  A retired doctor and a nurse both rush to investigate.  “Don’t worry, honey, that’s just your fat cells sticking out of the cut,” the nurse remarks in a matter of fact tone.  Huh?  As my team tends to my wound, I slowly realize that things could have been much, much worse.  Hurtling out of control down a steep slope of softened snow with a sharp alpine tool in-hand is not a very good scenario, and I have, in fact, been quite lucky to have escaped worse injury.  I walk away with my team to return to the trailhead, sense of humor intact, grateful to have escaped getting badly hurt and resolved to apply the lessons learned today to future outings.

Crime scene diagram
 Applying this to Customer Experience
Despite our best intentions, things will “go sideways” in our customer experience initiatives. Sometimes we take every precaution, and things go wrong.  Other times we are rushed, poorly informed, or imprudent – and suffer the consequences.  Either way, no one – not even the most cautious and meticulous among us – can expect an incident-free customer experience effort.  Response rates to voice of customer surveys stubbornly stick in the single digits.  Colleagues question the validity of our insights.  A customer service hiccup devolves into a painfully-public social media conflagration.  A business unit owner refuses to buy-in to making the change necessary to improve his team’s performance.  A once-trusted colleague attempts to sabotage our efforts out of spite.  Our budget is cut.  We lose a valued team-member.  A key executive sponsor retires.

We cannot always control events that unfold and prevent bad things from happening, not even in our neatly-designed voice of customer and customer experience programs.  What matters most is how we react when things do go wrong.  Do we panic, lash out, blame others, and let our efforts get derailed?  Or do we keep our focus, isolate and address the issue at hand, and promise to learn from the situation to apply hard-won lessons in the future, becoming a stronger professional in the process?

Customer experience initiatives are full of surprises, and many of us operate our programs with limited experience and no best practices to draw from.  By staying calm, keeping perspective, and even retaining our sense of humor, we can weather these inevitable problems we encounter when things seem to get out of hand.  Looking back, we’ll sense that what seemed like a CX / VoC disaster was really just a speed bump on our road to improving the customer experience.  Expect – and accept – the challenges that arise in this industry.  Things will go sideways.  It’s how you respond to these events that matters most.

Sarah Simon is a career insights professional with 16 years of experience in the feedback industry. Specialties include VoC architecture, journey mapping, developing linkages to business performance, reduction of customer defection, results analysis and communication, with expert survey design skills.  She is the survivor of a botched early-generation "big data mining" operation and is happy to live to tell about it. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How Can You Turn Ordinary Customer Service to Extraordinary?

There are a lot of great books out right now about customer experience management and customer service principles. I've read many and have mentioned or reviewed a few here on my blog

That brings me to the topic of today's post: Steve Curtin's new book, Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary.

Why do we need yet another book on this topic? Well, I think we all tend to come at this topic from a different perspective or a slightly different angle. Steve doesn't disappoint with his book; it is certainly written from a fresh point of view. And it's packed with a lot of details and comparisons to help you understand what is ordinary and what is extraordinary.

Steve starts by explaining the difference between job essence and job role - an important distinction to be made and a theme carried throughout the book to help explain his seven simple behaviors - and then dives right into outlining the three truths of exceptional customer service:
  1. It reflects the essence of the employee's job role.
  2. It is always voluntary - an employee chooses to deliver exceptional service.
  3. It doesn't cost any more to deliver than bad customer service.
It's not hard to see that we are reminded of these truths through every chapter that follows. The subsequent chapters define the seven principles he mentions in the title of the book. They truly are, well, quite simple to grasp, but each chapter is chock full of details and examples of how the concept moves your service from ordinary to extraordinary.

The seven concepts - really, attitudes and behaviors - are:
  1. Express genuine interest.
  2. Offer sincere and specific compliments.
  3. Share unique knowledge.
  4. Convey authentic enthusiasm.
  5. Use appropriate humor.
  6. Provide pleasant surprises.
  7. Deliver service heroics.
 None of these are difficult to understand. Frankly, they're so simple that they should be labeled common sense. But we all know how I feel about common sense. Having said that, it's all worth repeating, and Steve does an excellent job.

I enjoyed reading this book. The overall concept is well though out and clearly outlined. Each chapter is devoted to the seven ways to raise ordinary customer service to extraordinary, and each chapter ends with a summary of how that chapter's characteristic does exactly that. Steve also provides a space for you to fill in your own thoughts, ideas, and examples of how you might apply the principles from the chapter, making it a handy guide and a workbook to help you turn his words into action.

Note: Steve sent me an advanced copy of the book; some of the contents may have changed from the manuscript to the final copy, which can be purchased on Amazon. You can see a book trailer video here.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

If It's Essential to a Good Experience, Why Hide It?

Image courtesy of nizahbanana
Today I'm pleased to present a guest post by Jen Maldonado.

My one-woman campaign to defeat what I’ve termed “Gilded Fork Syndrome” was borne out of frustration (and no small amount of sarcasm) while wearing my consumer hat at a certain coffee shop chain near my office.

Short story long (bear with me; it ends well), I sat down to eat my just-purchased fruit cup after enduring a long wait to order it in the first place, only to realize I had not been given a fork to enable me to do so. I quickly apologized to the friend I’d met for lunch and excused myself to set off on what would become nothing short of a treasure hunt.

Were the forks on the counter near the register?  No.

Were they somewhere tucked away near the prepared foods in the refrigerated case the fruit came from?  Nope.

Were they over at the condiment stand beside the sugar and cream for doctoring up the coffee?  Nu-uh.

Were they atop ANY flat surface at ALL in the shop where other, clearly less-prized, items like napkins, stirrers and lids were being made readily accessible to paying customers like myself?  No-sir-ee.

Puzzled, I stepped back into line to await my turn for eye-contact – since clearly standing off to the side with an inquisitive look on my face sending "please help me" vibes was getting me nowhere!  And all the while, I was preparing mentally for that imminent cringe-worthy moment when the barista would extend his finger and condescendingly point out, “They’re right over there.” (Duh.)  But even more baffling was the actual reply received, spoken as the employee bent over to reach beneath the cash register on his side of the counter: “We keep them down here.”

Huh??  Speechless, I thanked him and returned outside to the patio table where my patient friend awaited me and had somehow resisted the urge to send out a search party during my prolonged absence in pursuit of this elusive implement.

“Forks of gold, apparently,” was all I could mutter as I apologized for abandoning her.  “Seems they wanted to keep them away from us corporate riff-raff.”

In all seriousness, why on earth would an eatery take something so essential as a FORK and stash it away somewhere completely inaccessible by its clientele?  My purchased product was already in hand; I just couldn’t consume it in an elegant fashion without this tool designed to facilitate its delivery. 

Granted, I could have gotten by with a crude workaround such as eating with my fingers like a caveman.  Certainly the caliber of the meal itself would have remained unchanged despite the two methods of intake being markedly different – just as my likelihood to return or recommend would have been despite the identical quality of the purchase in question.

In fact, even though I ultimately got my hands on that figuratively gilded fork just the same as if it were presented to me up front, the difficulty encountered while hunting it down managed to degrade my experience nonetheless.  Just goes to show, sometimes it’s not only the end state that matters, but also the means to that end and how painless it was getting to where X marks the spot.

So, what trove of useful tools is each of our companies making its customers hunt for?  What are we hiding away under lock-and-key that could potentially facilitate a more elegant experience with the products or services that we represent?

Few things are simultaneously more appreciated and resented than being provided with a quick tip, lesson learned, or best practice that immediately simplifies and improves your experience, only to make you wonder why in the world you had to make do for so long without it.  Tracking down such buried treasure in our own organizations and proactively surfacing it to our customers will bring rewards to all!

Jen Maldonado has 15 years’ experience in B2B customer relationship management, and has served in fully dedicated Customer Experience Management roles for the last 6 years.  A Certified Net Promoter® Associate, she is passionate about integrating the Voice of the Customer into decisions large and small, and about celebrating the successes of team members who deliver delightful experiences.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Is Your Leadership Style More Like a Cat or a Dog?

Image courtesy of Coloiris
There are cat people, and there are dog people. But when you think about your leadership style, are you more like a cat or a dog?

Never thought about cats, dogs, and leadership in the same sentence? Honestly, I hadn't either. Then I had an "a-ha" moment. A couple days ago, I was watching a cat-and-dog video, and I made the connection. The timing was great: it was right after I published my post about leadership strategy in conjunction with employee experience and employee engagement. The leadership strategy entailed "creating the right conditions to allow employees to become engaged."

So back to the video and the connection I was making. Let's first take a quick look at that video, and I dare you not to smile!


Leadership Style of the Dog
The dog's leadership style includes the following traits and qualities, many of the same ones needed to create the right conditions to allow the employee to become engaged. (There might be a few missing, but you get the idea.)
  • Loyalty: she stayed with her puppy and didn't leave him in times of trouble.
  • Encouragement: she encouraged him to keep trying and was quite persistent at that.
  • Acknowledgement: she recognized that the pup needed help, and she acknowledged him for achieving his goal.
  • Direction: she provided step-by-step (literally) guidance for how to do what the puppy was trying to do.
  • Nurturing: clearly she cares for her pup and encouraged his growth and development.
  • Trust: she instilled trust in herself through her actions, which helped to allay the puppy's fears.
  • Enthusiasm: through her guidance and nurturing, she expressed enthusiasm and the "you can do it" attitude.
  • Accountability: she held herself responsible for modeling the behavior and actions she expected from her pup.
  • Communication: she had her own special way of communicating with the puppy, to teach and to encourage.
  • Helpful: she was there, by his side, ready to provide assistance when needed.
When human leaders use these qualities and principles, they create a workplace and a culture that is beneficial to both employees and customers - and, ultimately, to the business and its shareholders.

Leadership Style of the Cat
The cat's leadership style, on the other hand, is quite the opposite; there's no guidance or nurturing. All trust is gone, especially after that little push. As an employee, have you ever felt like you've been set free, even pushed over the edge, while leadership stands idly by, observes, denigrates, and does nothing to prepare you for what's to come?
    In which environment would you rather work? Which is your leadership style? The dog's or the cat's?

    The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. -Ernest Hemingway

    Thursday, June 6, 2013

    A Customer Service Consultant Walks into Louis CK…

    Today I am pleased to present a guest post by Micah Solomon.

    Customer service consulting can be intensive.  Technical.  Highly detail-involved.

    But sometimes, the simplest things tell the most.  You don’t need to burn the midnight fluorescents huddled over a spreadsheet to discover some of the issues dragging a company down in its attempts to bond, for life, with its customers.

    For today’s example, let’s talk about timeliness.  Often the first thing I notice when I start analyzing the customer experience for a client company?  The discrepancy between the timetable the company thinks is fine and what a typical customer actually expects in the year 2013.

    The difference is, by and large, staggering. Because customers and their expectations of timeliness have changed a lot faster than the systems and standards of most businesses.  Which is a dangerous, dangerous situation for the companies in question.

    What was plenty fast this time last year feels like molasses now to the very same customers because of changing expectations brought by mobile technology, social media–induced restlessness, the incredible efficiency of vendors like Amazon.com, and other factors.  To be blunt, your business will soon be roadkill  if you don’t match customers’ expectations of what “timeliness” means.

    You can hire me to come check out how you’re doing, or you can get a start on it yourself.  Or, want to try to do your own customer service consulting, and avoid my fee?  Here are two quick reality-checks you can do on your own company.  No fuss, no muss:

    1.  Fill out and submit an inquiry form on your own website.  How quickly does someone respond to your web inquiry?  36 hours?  That may have been fine in 2004, but a 36-hour response time is something like a hundred and eighty-nine Internet years.  You may as well not even bother at that point.

    2.  Try to find out some simple but important info from your own company without contacting a human being. (The kinds of simple information I’m talking about: hours of operation for holiday weekends, for example, or GPS coordinates for driving, or the file formats that are acceptable for upload, or… –whatever is germane to your business and likely to be searched for by your customers.) Don’t phone, don’t email.  Just try to get this info from easily available sources: your site’s FAQ’s, for example.  I’ll bet you’ll find the info either isn’t there, or is incomplete.

    This is bad news.  Because a customer’s impression of your company’s timeliness is destroyed when they have to contact you for what I call Stupid Stuff: for example, the questions customers are forced to call you with after they’ve searched for the answers to those same questions on your website or your mobile app—and found them nowhere. Or phone calls they have to make to your reps because your product keeps breaking on them in the exact same way, but word isn’t getting to your engineering team to get the update out that will fix it. These impositions on your customers are all what caused me to coined the term “Stupid Stuff ™’’ (although depending on the squeamishness of the client and the absurdity of the context, ‘‘stuff ’’ might or might not be the actual ‘‘S Word’’ I use).

    No matter how otherwise-perfect your product or service is, in the eyes of the customer it’s broken if you either deliver the product or service late, or make it hard to find the information that would make the product or service easy to purchase and use. Worse, on-time delivery is the most movable of moving targets. What seemed speedy last year may seem snail-like today.

    I know it’s not fair.  I know, quite frankly, that customer expectations can feel a bit ridiculous. Which brings me to the portion of this article sponsored by Comedy Central. I take my hat off to Louis CK for comedically skewering the endless, escalating expectations of customers – in his routine he reminds people to cut their smartphones some slack during the split second it takes the data to bounce off a tower or satellite:

    "Give it [your smartphone] a second. Would ya? Could you give it a second. It’s going to space. Can you give it a second? From space. Is this speed of light* too slow for you?"

    * I know, gentle geeks: “speed of light” is  [sic].

    Well, good luck, Lucky Louis.  I don’t think customers are going to relax their absurdly escalating expectations.  So it’s up to the merchants, the vendors, to adapt to these escalations. Companies in today’s marketplace need to come up with solutions that stay in step with customers’ ever more extreme perception of what ‘‘in a timely fashion’’ means. Because if they don’t, their competition will step in to fill the timeliness void.

    This post was originally published on Micah's blog and is reprinted here with his permission.

    Micah Solomon, author of “High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service," is the business keynote speaker, author, and customer service consultant termed by the Financial Post ”a new guru of customer service excellence.” Solomon offers speaking and consulting on customer service issues, the customer experience, and company culture — and how they fit into today’s marketing and technology landscape. An entrepreneur and business leader, he previously coauthored the bestselling “Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit.“

    Tuesday, June 4, 2013

    Is it a Cartwheel or a Tumble?

    I'm putting my customer hat on today to share my initial thoughts on a new tool from Target called Cartwheel. Have you tried it yet? I'd love to get your thoughts.

    Last Thursday morning (7:18am), I received an email from Target that announced a new tool they were launching. The subject line said, "Shh. This special invite is just for you."

    As I read down that email, I saw this:


    "... before everyone else." Wow, very cool. I feel special. I'm not sure how they determined I was one of their best guests, but I do have Target cards and accounts, so I assumed they based this status on at least one of those.

    But imagine my surprise when I logged onto Facebook a couple hours later and saw them announce Cartwheel to the world (or at least to their 21 million + followers). OK, I felt just a little less special.

    [Update 6/4/13 4:30pm PST: I just found out that Cartwheel actually launched three weeks earlier, on May 8. Target needs to rethink their messaging - or am I just hyper-sensitive because I look for stuff like this?]

    Nonetheless, I wanted to check it out. I was hoping this app was going to solve a need that I've had for quite some time now: I want to load my coupons on my grocery loyalty cards - or onto my REDcard somehow. Why can't I do that? Why can't manufacturers and/or grocery stores just apply their coupons to my loyalty cards? Why do I have to clip, sort, find, carry, fumble, etc. coupons every week? AND use my loyalty card on top of that to get additional "preferred savings?"

    Perhaps Cartwheel is the answer! I couldn't wait to see what it was all about. As I started looking around, my initial questions were:

    1. Why do I have to log in with my Facebook account? I have a Target account and a REDCard; why can't I use either of those accounts to log in? Not everyone wants to log in everywhere with Facebook or some other social media account, and not everyone (shock!) has a Facebook account.

    I researched this, and using your Facebook account is the only option today.

    2. Where is the app? Ha! This is a big downer; there is no mobile app. To use it in the store, you have to go to their mobile site, and that is less than ideal. Actually, it is not user-friendly at all.

    I researched this, too, and a mobile app is on its way this month. Thank goodness!

    3. Are Target stores prepared to use this? My main concern with anything new like this is that store employees haven't been trained on it or have no idea what it is. I'm speaking from experience with other new tools. Researching this, my fears were confirmed.

    4. Why do I need one more thing? Now that I know what it is, I'm assured that this has not solved my pet peeve with coupons and loyalty cards - if you have store (or manufacturer) coupons, just put them on my card, not on yet another app or account.

    5. Why did they make it sound special? I like the idea of being a charter member or getting early access or a first look. To me, that says that a limited number of people are getting access. That makes me feel special.

    6. Why didn't they just tell me it's a beta? In that initial email, there was no mention of this being a beta, and the website in those early hours made no mention of being in beta.  First impressions are everything. I might not go back and use it again, if it fails or doesn't meet expectations out of the gate. Why not be transparent and tell customers that all the bugs haven't been worked out yet? When I went back later, though, to start researching for this post, I noticed that they had added a "beta" superscript to the logo. But prior to that, I went to their Help pages. Why do I have to go to there to get answers to obvious questions? Why didn't they just communicate these things clearly in that initial email? Or on the splash page when you first create your account?

    I think they missed an opportunity or two here (missed the target?), and I hope they (a) truly do incorporate customer feedback, (b) make some changes (quickly), and (c) communicate to their customers proactively about those changes.

    Never underestimate the power of communication.

    The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. -Hans Hofmann

    The main goal is not to complicate the already difficult life of the consumer. -Raymond Loewy