Thursday, March 27, 2014

Can Customer Experience Be Managed?

Today I'm pleased to present another guest post by Gregory Yankelovich.

Most Customer Experience professionals would find this question to be ludicrous, but in the article "Is Customer Experience Manageable? An Industry Pundit Says No," Esteban Kolsky lists 5 arguments to convince them otherwise.

It is critical to start any discussion with definitions of what is being discussed in order to prevent this discussion to become as pointless as debate about the gender of angels – as engaging as it may be, there are very few practical implications.

There are a few definitions for Customer Experience, but this is sufficiently appropriate for the discussion:

Customer experience (CX) is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods and/or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier. This can include awareness, discovery, attraction, interaction, purchase, use, cultivation and advocacy.”

There are many more definitions for “management,” such as:

"Management in business and organizations means to coordinate the efforts of people to accomplish goals and objectives using available resources efficiently and effectively. Management comprises planning, organizing, staffing, leading or directing, and controlling an organization or initiative to accomplish a goal."

Any definition of organizational management that includes the word "control" supports Esteban's position: Customer Experience cannot be controlled by a company. However, if we agree that management means coordination, planning, etc., then Customer Experience is absolutely manageable.

A Twitter exchange with @billholland inspired me to think about it a little deeper than usual, where he pointed out that...


The objective of Customer Experience Management is very similar, if not identical, to original objective of Customer Relationship Management efforts – to allow an organization scale fast without losing its focus on customers. CRM has promised a 360-degree visibility of a customer and failed miserably to deliver it, sidetracked by inability to break organizational silos beyond Sales, Customer Service and Marketing. Specialization helps organizations to scale very fast and very efficiently, but the price it pays is a loss of effectiveness as every department is focused on their domain, while the goal of business gets out of focus completely.

Today, Customer Experience Management faces the same challenges and experience of CRM veterans, like Esteban, is very valuable. This is what he has to say (in bold):

1. Customers are not listening to what you have to say. This is because Social Media gives them more authentic, informative and relevant information about your company and your product.

2. Customers know more about your business than you do. In this chapter Esteban specifically questions value of "Customer Journey." I agree with him that too many customer experience professionals focused on customer journey too much – often to the detriment of the overall objective, like many CRM professionals before them, who proudly delivered glorified contact management to celebrate a "mission accomplished" moment. Personally, I think that customer journey charting is a valuable exercise, for some businesses more than others, to get better empathy and understanding. Just remember that customer journey is a relatively small subset (interaction management) of overall effort.

3. Customers create their own experience. Customers can create their own experience just as successfully as companies can control it – it is not possible. The experience is created mutually by all parties to this relationship. The more flexible and better informed the parties are, the better likelihood of the great experience for all parties involved. Today, customers seem to be better informed than manufacturers and retailers participating in the process of delivery.

4. Customer interactions are complex and unpredictable.

5. Customer (and user) communities are where the knowledge is at.

I am not convinced that the last two chapters gave good reasons to throw a towel on attempts to manage efforts for improvement of customer experiences. One thing to remember is – don't stop trying just because you cannot provide the best experience for your customers. That is not the goal. The goal is to provide better experience to your customers than your competitors provide to theirs, and live to fight another day.


Gregory Yankelovich is a Technologist who is agnostic to a technology, but "religious" about Customer Experience and ROI. He has solid experience delivering high ROI projects with focus on both Profitability AND Customer Experience improvements, as one without another does not support long-term business growth. Gregory currently serves as the Customer Experience (CX) Whisperer at Amplified Analytics, provider of software as a service for Customer Experience Measurement to support Strategic Marketing and Brand/Category/Product Management applications.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

CEM Toolbox: Employee Experience

Have you considered that employees are a tool in your CEM Toolbox?

Continuing my CEM Toolbox series, which follows my CX Framework and builds out tools to facilitate the framework, the next stage is all about focusing on the employee experience.

But employee experience is a tool, you ask? Yes! Employees are actually your most important tool! Remember that the employee experience drives the customer experience; if your employees aren't engaged, it will be very difficult for them to delight your customers; in very simple terms, this describes "the spillover effect." Here's some evidence - as if you needed more!

Companies in the top quartile of engagement scores had 50% higher total shareholder return than the average company. -Aon Hewitt

Companies with highly engaged employees score 12% to 34% higher in customer satisfaction ratings. -Vance

Each incremental percentage of employees who become engaged predicts an incremental 0.6% growth in sales. -Aon Hewitt

There are a few different ways to not only ensure employees are a part of the overall customer-centric culture but also to ensure that employees have a great experience.
  • Hire the right people
  • Provide a clear line of sight to the customer
  • Plot the employee lifecycle and map the employee journey
  • Gather feedback from your employees, both solicited and unsolicited
  • Empower employees by unleashing ownership and accountability
  • Show appreciation, recognize greatness
What tools does that require? I'll briefly touch on some, as well as more details for each.

It all starts with hiring the right people. In addition to ensuring that we hire for attitude (because we can train skills), we need to ensure that "right people" is defined as those who are aligned with what we are trying to achieve. Alignment in this regard means they share the brand's values, passion, and purpose. Employees want to work for companies with which they are aligned.

The tools we need include a clear job description, a solid understanding of the brand's values and purpose, and an open mind. Why an open mind? Because the right people aren't always the most experienced or the most obvious ones, either. Consider hiring someone outside the norm of what you usually hire. Think of it as a fresh approach. But just make sure they're a good fit - for the position and for the culture.

Your onboarding process is critical to getting the new employee off on the right foot. You can’t just hire people, set them free, and think they’ll understand what’s expected of them. By “knowing what’s expected of them,” I don’t just mean knowing what to do in their new roles. Yes, obviously explaining the job, the benefits, and where to find the paper clips are all important to the onboarding process, but what I’m referring to is that they must know what it means to be a part of your organization, i.e., knowing your brand promise, values and commitment, what it means to live the brand, and where the priorities lie.  In other words, define the culture.

A tool that is helpful with both onboarding and ongoing training, as well as with providing a clear line of sight to the customer, is the customer journey map. It helps the employee connect the dots and make sense of how cross-functional teams work together to deliver the customer experience, and it provides a clear understanding of how what the employee does contributes to that experience. It helps them understand how their work matters. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on customer journey mapping as a training tool.

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

In addition to a customer journey map, companies need to look at the employee experience by walking in the employee's shoes, i.e., they need to create an employee journey map, too. This has all the same benefits for the employee as it does when we create a map for customers. Don't overlook this important tool. An employee journey map clearly outlines the employee experience for you from end to end, helps to identify moments of truth and areas for improvement, and brings awareness to the good and the bad parts of the employee experience. The journey map will facilitate a culture transformation.

Similarly, communication and performance feedback are important tools for creating a great employee experience. Executives build alignment through constant communication: to educate, inspire, share the vision, and teach employees how their actions impact the customer experience. A culture of transparency – one of open, honest, and candid communication – will yield amazing results.

Communication also includes feedback, whether it’s ongoing feedback to the employee about performance or from the employee in the form of a survey or some other listening approach. (I'm a fan of stay interviews - so we can avoid exit interviews!) As a follow-on to - and an integral part of - the map, be sure to listen to employees, capturing their feedback in a meaningful way and in a timely manner. Feedback, like communication, is a two-way street. And it needs to be acted on. Do something with it. If something's broken, fix it!

"Employee empowerment" is one of those phrases that is over-used in conversation/theory but under-utilized in reality; I am referring specifically to unleashing a sense of ownership and accountability from within them. How? Feedback and coaching are probably the best tools.
  • If employees receive direct feedback about their performance, they need to own it and correct it.
  • If a customer has a bad experience directly related to the employee's service, they need to be held accountable. Coach them; let them learn from it and improve.
  • If a customer has an issue, encourage employees to step up and come up with creative solutions to fix it.
  • If employees have ideas on how to improve the customer experience, they should be encouraged to share with the team - own it and do it.
Employee ownership means your people are invested in the company emotionally. Employee ownership also means that employees are involved in decisions about how to improve the customer experience - and the company culture is such that this is allowed, supported, and applauded. Employee ownership also means that the executives are no longer in charge; the employees are. They think and act like they own the business.

And, last but not least, rewards and recognition for a job well done must be a part of your culture. Praise for delighting customers should always be given. Showing a little love and appreciation goes a long way toward building a great employee experience. Use a tool like Kudos to facilitate this piece.

One final note about the employee experience. Putting employees first is a lot of work. There’s a lot to it. An organization that puts employees first is not simply giving out t-shirts and having foosball tournaments. There’s a concerted, concentrated effort, day in and day out, to do the right thing and to build the right culture. Leadership plays a huge role in making sure this happens.

There is a chain of cause and effect running from employee behavior to customer behavior to profits. -HBS Working Knowledge (1999)


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Why is Great Service Hard to Find?

Image courtesy of aboutthenet
If you're like me, you're probably constantly scratching your head and wondering: "Why is great service so hard to find?"

Last week, I wrote about why companies should give a hoot about delivering great customer service to their customers. In today's post, again from Zingerman's Guide to Giving Great Service, I answer the question about why great service is hard to find. It baffles me because it seems so obvious that great service - and a great overall experience - will have customers coming back for more. Let's see what Zingerman's has to say about this. In his book, Ari Weinzweig provides eight reasons or answers.

1. It's unfamiliar. We didn't grow up with it. Our parents didn't point it out to us when it happened. They pointed out other things that were important but not great (or bad) service. (I really think our generation will turn this thinking around and call it out. I do. I hope others do, too.) So nobody really knows what it looks like. The fix here is setting clear expectations and providing lots of training.

2. It's not respected. That seems contrary to popular belief, no? But I like what Ari says here; in a nutshell, Americans look down on those who provide service. "Although everyone says they want to get great service, far fewer want to actually give it. The truth is that if you're a service provider, it's more than likely that you're considered by at least part of your peer group as something of a 'failure.' Successful people simply aren't supposed to end up working in service jobs." I can't argue with that perspective.

3. It requires more work in the moment. It takes a lot of work and focus to deliver great service day in and day out. If you're not willing to put in the time and effort, it won't happen.

4. It's hard to get John Wayne out of the way. It's hard to change behaviors and perceptions among people who were raised to be strong, fight for their rights, stand up for what they believe in, and don't take crap from anyone. As you know, to deliver great service, you need to forget all of that.

5. It's not fair. If you were raised with the notion that life is fair (um, I wasn't), then you'll be quickly disillusioned. Customers are rude to you; you're nice to them; they continue to be rude to you. That's not fair. As Ari points out, often, customers who are rude and complain often get more attention than those who are considerate and don't complain. Ari says that he tells his employees that "Fair is another planet. And we, unfortunately, are not on it." Reminds me of what my uncle used to say: "The fair is in Pomona." (For those of you not in SoCal, the LA County Fair takes place in Pomona, CA.)

6. There's plenty of good talk but also bad walk. This one cuts to the heart of leadership and how leadership models behaviors for their employees. If a store manager walks past a customer without acknowledging him or without asking if he needs help, that sends the wrong message to employees.

7. Reward systems don't reinforce it. And if they don't, then your employees will be unlikely to deliver great service. Leadership must recognize great service, both through kudos and thank yous and through financial rewards.

8. It's not defined. This is probably one of the top reasons, if not the top reason, great service is hard to find. If it's not defined, employees have no idea what it looks like or what is expected of them.

I think this is a pretty comprehensive list of reasons. Can you think of any others?

You’ll never have a product or price advantage again. They can be easily duplicated, but a strong customer service culture can’t be copied. -Jerry Fritz


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

CEM Toolbox: Making Sense of Your Data

How do we take all the data we have and make some sense of it?

Continuing my CEM Toolbox series, today I'm sharing some tools to inventory and to bring your disparate data and data sources together in one place, to facilitate achieving that single view of the customer.

In my previous post, I wrote about tools to help define the customer experience. This stage is about more than just surveys; it's about any and all data that pertain to the customer and the customer experience: structured or unstructured, solicited or unsolicited, competitive data, customer behavioral data, other customer data, and operational and financial metrics - data about customers, employees, partners, the market, the business.

Tools to Turn Data into Insights
It's worth noting that the data itself are a tool, but it's not in its final state. Data are just data until you do something with them. You must be able to turn data into insights into action. I'll write more about that in an upcoming CEM Toolbox post, but for now, let's focus on finding all the data.

Customer Feedback Map: This is the one tool that you'll want to start with as you go through this phase of your design work. Think about the many customer touchpoints of your organization, and then think about the various departments in your organization that might be asking customers for feedback at each of those touchpoints. It can be quite overwhelming — for you and for your customers! To make sense of it all, compile a feedback map.

Data Management Strategy: It is important to understand the sources and quality of your data, your data architecture and integration, and how you'll pull it all together to create a single view of a customer. This is a project all on its own, but it's ultimately an important component to an overall customer experience management strategy, of which VOC is one piece.

Surveys: Yes, they are a tool, too. Listening to customers - understanding who they are, what job they are trying to do, and how well you're performing - is probably one of your most important tools. It should be noted here that other listening posts are equally valuable.

EFM Platform: A VOC strategy is no time to try out or to use a simple online survey tool; if you're going to undertake this type of initiative, you'll need a scalable platform or solution that allows you to not only set up and deploy your surveys but also has tools to analyze the data and distribute it to those in the organization who then need to act on it. An EFM platform includes that and more, including the ability to bring many disparate data sources together into the one platform for deeper analysis and insights.

Other tools that might or might not be a part of the EFM platform include: text analytics tools, social media listening and analysis, and various statistical and analytical approaches (e.g., key driver, predictive, root cause, so-what, 5 whys, linkage, etc.) to tease the story out of the data.

CRM System: Clearly you need to capture everything that you know about the customer, including purchase and other financial or behavioral data, in a central location. (I use "central" loosely here because I have worked with too many clients where this is not the case and, more often then not, there are multiple systems in play.)

Other analytical tools: Analytical/statistical software programs like SPSS, R, SAS, etc. are valuable for deeper, more robust analysis of your customer data.

Analysis Plan: It wouldn’t hurt to think about how you want to analyze the data before you actually do it. I don’t see many clients going through this exercise, but an analysis plan will help to avoid analysis paralysis, or number crunching just for the sake of crunching.

What am I missing?

We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us. -Marshall McLuhan


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Why Bother Giving Great Service?

Image courtesy of gordon2208
What's it all about? Why is it so important to give great service?

Can you believe this is a question that some people still ask? I can't. But the good news is, it presents an opportunity for me to write a blog post to help convey the message about delivering great service and, ultimately a great overall experience.

A couple weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Zingerman's Guide to Giving Great Service. Zingerman's is short for Zingerman's Community of Businesses, a collection of eight different (specialty food) business units in the Ann Arbor, MI, area. They are known as much for the quality of their foods as they are for the quality of their customer service. The book has a ton of valuable teachings, but I loved the section on "why we give great service." The following is a recap of the eight reasons they give to answer that question.

1. Great service makes us something special. Ultimately, great service, going the extra mile, and leaving a lasting impression are huge differentiators in a sea of sameness.

2. Great service is sound marketing. When you deliver great customer service, your customers will talk about you. Word of mouth marketing is the best kind of marketing.

3. Good service keeps customers coming back. Customers love good service! And they'll come back for more of it.

4. It yields better bottom-line results. The book states the following linkages: increased sales, repeat business, reduced errors and waste, and reduces the number of problems and the time spent fixing problems, to name a few.

5. It makes for a better place to work. When you're doing great things for your customers, it lifts everyone's spirits. Courtesy, friendliness, and a focus on giving are all infectious.

6. It helps you attract better people to work with you. Having a reputation as a fun place to work and as a place that cares about its customers is also infectious. "Good people want to work in a good place."

7. It's easier. It's easier to do things well and make things right for the customer than to fight it or to allow a mess to happen that needs to be cleaned up later.

8. It's the right thing to do. Plain and simple.

I love how those align with what I've written about a few times in the past, as I've described what your raving fans will do for you. And if you consistently deliver a great experience, you will have raving fans! They...
  • Are less price sensitive
  • Will pay a premium for a better experience
  • Stay longer, spend more, churn less
  • Expand their purchases/relationships to other/new products or services you offer
  • May overlook product shortcomings
  • Are more likely to forgive occasional/infrequent service shortcomings (just make it right, though!)
  • Cost less (e.g., marketing, advertising, promotions)
  • Have fewer complaints
  • Provide feedback and want to help you improve and succeed
  • Become technical support for you by helping other customers (answer questions, solve problems)
  • Will evangelize the brand for you
In an upcoming post, I'll answer the question, "Why is great service hard to find?" - also from the book.

People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. -John C. Maxwell


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

CEM Toolbox: Defining Your Customer Experience

I originally wrote today's post for Delight's blog on May 9, 2013.

In my previous post, I talked about the tools that you’ll need to facilitate the first step of your VOC strategy, Setting the Stage. In today’s post, I’ll offer insights to help as you take on the next step, defining your customer experience. This step involves outlining the customer experience from a variety of angles, including defining who your customers are, identifying and prioritizing customer segments, outlining the customer experience lifecycle, and mapping the customer journey.

I’ve provided some links to sample tools and documents, where appropriate, and given very rough estimates for timing to complete each. Of course, timing depends on availability, resources, and support – hopefully my last post provided some ideas to help on that front.


Tools to Define the Customer Experience
Customer Personas
: Personas are characters you create to represent the various types of customers that (might) buy from you or that use your products or services. These personas are built based on conversations or interviews with customers and prospects. The interviews allow you to learn more about the customer: his needs, goals, behaviors, demographics, motivations, etc. Importantly, you are trying to understand what jobs they are trying to do with your company. Each persona is described in detail based on the unique characteristics that comprise it. Once you understand who your customers are, you are better able to create and target messaging, design products and services, and deliver a more-personalized experience.

HubSpot offers some great details about personas, sample interview questions, and a persona template. Defining your personas could take several weeks to complete, depending on how quickly you can complete your customer interviews.

Customer Journey Map: A map (many maps) that outlines the customer lifecycle or stages that a customer goes through – and the touchpoints they interact with – with your company (i.e., brand, product, service) as they are trying to achieve some goal or do some job; it is created from the customer perspective. Know that you could actually create hundreds of maps to represent your customers’ journeys with your organization, but you’ll likely create one master map (with many sub-maps) and prioritize customers/journeys to focus on. Customer journey maps are the backbone of your entire customer experience management strategy.

A great online tool for building customer journey maps is Touchpoint Dashboard; I’ve used this platform, and it’s extremely user-friendly and intuitive, yet powerful. Building a journey map is not a “one and done” effort; it’s an ongoing process, so it’s tough to put a timeframe around this. To build the original strawman version of the map, especially using a tool like Touchpoint Dashboard, might take you a day. To build out the map with all of its components might takes several weeks to complete.

Other Maps: Service blueprints and process maps are also great tools to use during this stage. Process maps outline the back office or backstage processes to what customer's experience along the customer journey and can be part of service blueprints, which, according to Service Design Tools, are operational tools that describe the nature and the characteristics of the service interaction in enough detail to verify, implement and maintain it.

Program Roadmap: This document outlines how you’ll design and execute your VOC strategy – how you’ll get from where you are to where you want to go. It will house all the details you’ll need to build the framework for your efforts; as a matter of fact, you’ll put the outputs or deliverables of most of the tools already mentioned (and those yet to be addressed) into your roadmap. It will also include this next tool…

Project Plan and Timeline: Fail to plan, plan to fail. Without solid documentation of how you’ll define and design your efforts – and a timeline to drive to – you’ll most certainly fall off the tracks somewhere down the line and be forced to start over. I’ve used tools like ProjectManager.com and MS Project in the past to create project plans and timelines. A project plan can take a day or two to create, but it’s also a living, breathing document; it needs to be updated as deadlines are met or missed.

You don't build it for yourself. You know what the people want, and you build it for them. -Walt Disney


Thursday, March 6, 2014

If You're Not Scared, Try Harder

Today I'm pleased to present another guest post from Sarah Simon.

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." -Nelson Mandela

What the Mountain Teaches

The sky warms rosy as we ascend through the trees, the crunch-crunch-crunch of spring snow under our clunky boots. Exiting the forest into the krummholtz, the terrain evolves into wind-whipped sastrugi dotted by boulders and stunted, tortured dwarf trees. We kick our way into the Boulder Field, then round the corner into the Chasm Lake basin under The Diamond – the imposing ease face of Longs Peak. Strapping on crampons and rounding the lake, we begin our ascent of Lambs Slide, a famed couloir accessing The Loft between Longs Peak and neighboring Thirteener Mount Meeker. The ascent gradually steepens, but the snow fails to soften. Kicking steps yields little purchase; even in full-shank mountaineering boots, the snow gives little, offering scant security. I  have plenty else to focus on, like keeping my heart rate below “crazy,” my legs pushing upward against the resistance of the slope, fueled by puffing lungs and pounding heart. “Let’s head to these rocks and take a break!” my partner shouts. I notice older steps exiting instead to the left; I have my doubts on his route choice, but I’m too winded to protest, and I follow his lead into increasingly steeper, more serious terrain. Soon I’m dry-tooling (using my ice axe on bare rock) on slender, icy holds to surmount the rock outcrop, only to find the going gets more serious from here onward. 

I loathe traverses; they are my climbing Achilles Heel. On rock or snow, my mind deals well with moving directly upward or downward, but struggles with the extended tension and prolonged exposure of lateral motion steep on a mountainside. Soon I find myself on the dreaded down-angling traverse, which requires me to make handholds out of the tiny steps I had previously kicked with my feet, moving downward in a diagonal fashion. “This is absurd,” I say out loud to myself. A slip here means rapidly picking up speed for a potentially long ride down a steep, hard-packed snow slope if the climber fails to very promptly arrest. I stare down at the gaping crazy openness under my feet.  “Just shut up and focus on what you are doing, you idiot,” my inner voice reprimands, and so I obey my rational self, shut down my fear and push on. Soon the slope angle relents, and I find myself moving on easier terrain toward the high saddle known as The Loft. The remaining ascent to the rocky, open summit of Mount Meeker is uneventful. Also uneventful is the descent down The Loft Route to Chasm Lake (minus me snagging a crampon point on my pant-leg and almost careening to my demise down the cliff face and ledges, which is another matter).

As a climber, it’s easy to stay well within your comfort zone; maybe a little too easy. We become lazy, complacent, a bit too comfortable taking on “challenges” well within our wheelhouse. The only way to become a better climber is to push our limits! In alpine skiing, people say: "If you’re not falling, you’re not trying hard enough." Well, climbers don’t really want to fall; falling is one thing, it’s the impact after the fall that can kill you. But what we do need to do is stretch our limits, scare ourselves a bit. Was there anything to be worried about during that steep traverse in Lambs Slide? Possibly.  But more importantly, all I had to do was take skills I already had in my possession, combine those skills with the ability to keep my nerves stable, and push onward. To grow as a climber means challenging your fears, not avoiding them. 

What This Means to CX / VoC
Maybe you work for a blue chip company with Marketing and Finance at the helm or a technology start-up where Engineering and Sales dominate, but chances are likely that if your title has “Customer Intelligence” or “Customer Experience” in it, you do not wield limitless power within your organization. Despite years of claims of customer-centricity and valuing customer feedback, old habits die hard and new-comer VoC / CX teams are too often understaffed teams of one, under-authorized matrixed guerilla units or officially sanctioned departments that are unofficially at the mercy of stronger departments. The result is many VoC / CX practitioners play a painfully safe hand of cards that can result in slow or no progress to improve the customer experience.

Playing it overly safe may feel comfortable, but it hinders progress. Being timid may keep you out of harm’s way, but how can you knock down roadblocks to customer improvement in duck-and-cover mode?  I’m not advocating running out and playing the role of Chief Bull in China shop. Being a rough rider is counter-productive, politically; it rubs people the wrong way. But I am saying you need to step out of the role of complacent order-taker and provider of customer data dumps and be a bolder advocate of customer engagement. If you want to succeed on behalf of your customers, you need to step out on a limb, take chances, and stick your neck out. It’s going to be scary. But getting scared now and then by pushing corporate cultural limits is the only way you’ll make the impactful changes your customer deserves.

I challenge VoC / CX practitioners: If you are too comfortable, growing complacent and not a bit scared – you are not trying hard enough to improve your customer experience. Step out of your comfort zone and try harder. Go ahead and push yourself and others within your organization. I promise it will be scary – and rewarding all the same. To grow as a VoC / CX practitioner means challenging your fears, not avoiding them.

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, March 4, 2014

CEM Toolbox: Setting the Stage for a VOC Strategy

I originally wrote today's post for Delight's blog on April 29, 2013.

I started a CEM Toolbox series a year ago and only dabbled in it a couple times. Today I'll pick up with a post that was published on Delight's blog and will strive to add to the toolbox a few more times this year.

Facilitating Your VOC Strategy
Listening to the voice of the customer is more critical now than ever. Pulling together a VOC strategy and executing on it has many companies baffled, while only some have figured out exactly what they need to do. Let’s assume you’re one of the former, although you might still learn a thing or two if you are one of the latter.

We write a lot about the components of a great VOC strategy, but less time is spent describing the tools needed to facilitate a successful strategy. We talk about why we need to listen to the voices of the various constituents and the steps to do that, but we spend little time on what you’re going to need in order to accomplish this. That’s where I come in; this article focuses on the tools of the trade.

Tools to Set the Stage
Setting the stage is all about creating awareness and getting buy-in, not only from the top but from across the organization. It’s about making sure the organization is ready to embark on this journey and about clearly outlining what that means, who will be involved and how, and why. This is a crucial part of the effort because it lays the groundwork for the success of your customer listening efforts. You’ll see there are a lot of tools for this stage; it’s critical to get things right from the start. I’ve provided some links to sample tools and documents, where appropriate, and given very rough estimates for timing to complete each. Clearly, timing depends on stakeholder availability and willingness to participate.

Customer Experience Maturity Assessment: This is a great place to start to understand if the customer currently has a seat at the executive table, and if not, how ready you are to listen to customers and their needs going forward. It will be a read on where the organization is currently lacking (or not) and can be very eye-opening. It’s a great benchmark that can be revisited and re-measured to gauge progress over time. An example of a Maturity Assessment comes from Temkin Group. This document will take you 10-15 minutes to complete. I would recommend having others in the organization give their thoughts on it, as well.

Current State Analysis: Similarly, a current state analysis will be important to understand what initiatives are already underway so that you don't move forward with disparate and disjointed efforts. This analysis might include creating a feedback map that charts the various sources of customer data, direct, indirect, attitudinal, and behavioral.

Org Chart: The diagram of the structure of your organization will be helpful to identify department heads and people who need to be involved at different levels. While I don’t have an example of an org chart to share with you, you can usually get one from your HR department. This is a living, breathing document, as employees are hired or leave all the time, and occasionally there are reorgs.

Stakeholder Interview Guide: Used to conduct stakeholder interviews, which will have a variety of objectives, including: understanding the needs of your stakeholders as it relates to the VOC strategy, gauging individual readiness, and establishing a rapport and connection with the individuals as it relates to this ongoing effort. It’s also your chance to make some connections and find some champions to help with the naysayers. Designing your interview guide will take about a week. You’ll want to put some thought into it and get input from your program team.

Stakeholder Analysis: Used to summarize stakeholder attitudes about the VOC efforts, to prioritize stakeholders according to how they will be impacted and how they can have an impact, and to determine who is on board and who needs to be won over. A stakeholder analysis can be prepared in a couple of different ways, including in a table format or as a map/quadrant chart. Once the interviews are complete, and depending on how many you have to review, it will likely take you a day or two to compile the analysis.

Success Metrics: How will you know if your efforts are successful if you don’t define what success looks like? How will you measure success? Of course, first you must define the business issues and desired business outcomes.

Brand Promise: It sets expectations for your customers about all interactions with your people, products, services, and company; it drives everything the organization does, and it should be apparent at every interaction at every touchpoint. Every employee should be armed with, and live, your brand promise. Check with your CMO, if you don’t know your company’s brand promise.

Communication Plan: Used to outline how and when you’ll communicate your efforts and results to employees, customers, partners, and other stakeholders. The communication plan is created in conjunction with your Marketing team, and given their willingness and readiness to define and execute it, could take a week or two to create.

Business Case: This is a well-written document that outlines for both believers and naysayers the reasons for undertaking the VOC efforts. It will define expected outcomes, typically based on fact (e.g., case studies, pilot tests, or other steps taken to prove your point), as well as a clear path for achieving those outcomes. Detailing how to achieve a return on investment will be important.

Pre-Mortem: While these are typically done for projects (and we all know that customer listening is not a project but a journey), I think this is an excellent tool to force you to think about what could go wrong and how to get out ahead of things before they go awry. While it’s more than just a risk analysis, it is a great way to mitigate risks and take preventative actions before you begin. You’ll assume you failed and then take a look in the rearview mirror to understand why this could have happened. This HBR article offers more details on conducting a pre-mortem, and this deck on Slideshare provides some templates to help you conduct this meeting. Plan about two hours for the meeting itself, but you’ll want to do some prep work to come prepared with your own thoughts on risks and potential points of failure.

In my next CEM Toolbox post, I'll address some tools for Defining the Customer Experience.

You can't expect to meet the challenges of today with yesterday's tools and expect to be in business tomorrow. -Raina Chapman