Thursday, January 29, 2015

Why Customers Really Leave

Image courtesy of James Cridland
Have you ever wondered why customers say they buy your products based on price - and then, in the end, they also stop buying because of price?

What's that phenomenon all about?

In a nutshell, the answer lies in the value received (a) for the price paid and (b) relative to the competition or to alternative products.

How is value defined? Well, that's a good question. Straight from the dictionary, Merriam-Webster defines it, among other ways that aren't relevant, as: a fair return or equivalent in goods, services, or money for something exchanged.

My answer: It's defined however the customer wants to define it. Having said that, for customers, it typically has two components: quality relative to price or benefits relative to costs; ultimately, customers choose the option with the best cost-benefit ratio.

So let's go back to my original question about buying and leaving based on price. Here's what I see happening: Companies offer coupons, discounts, and other low-price strategies to get customers in the door. They even close the deal. But they can't deliver. And in the end, those loss leaders and pricing tricks to acquire more and more customers bite companies in the ass. Why? Because they can't deliver.

Why do I keep saying that? What aren't they delivering? Yup. Value.

How aren't they delivering? In the form of a dreadful experience.

They then become stuck in a never-ending, vicious cycle: Acquire. Churn. Acquire. Churn. Acquire. Churn.

Stop the insanity!

Is it stoppable? Can we get off this bus? Yes! How? Focus on the experience. The experience speaks for itself. The experience becomes your biggest asset. The experience reduces acquisition costs. The experience sells. And, most importantly, the experience retains. The experience delivers value and that, in turn, hits your bottom line, in a good way.

According to the American Express 2014 Global Customer Service Barometer:

More than two thirds of American consumers say they’re willing to spend 14% more on average with a company that they believe delivers excellent service.

Value means the benefit (far) outweighs the cost. And guess what? Customers will even pay companies to deliver a better experience! We've all heard this statistic:

81% of customers are willing to pay more for a superior customer experience, with 44% willing to pay a premium of more than 5%. -Oracle

But seriously, customers shouldn't have to do that. Instead, companies need to think value. Your customers are your customers for a reason. You sell a product or service that they want/need. Why should they have to pay extra for it to actually work the way it's supposed to? Or for your employees to be kind, helpful, and empathetic when customers call them. How are you ensuring that the benefits customers receive from you and your products far outweigh the costs?

Another Oracle report states: Businesses can lose 20% of revenue from poor customer experiences yet many are stuck in an execution chasm.

Ouch. They're not delivering.

How can companies help their customers realize (better) value? How do they get out of the buy-on-price-leave-on-price cycle? The obvious answer is to deliver a better experience, but they need to understand what that means. They need to understand that different customers have different needs and different expectations. They need to understand their customers. But, beyond that, what else is there? In a nutshell, get out of the price game. Get out of relying on discounts to do all the work for you. Get rid of hidden fees. Be transparent. Remind customers what they are getting for the price paid; sometimes they forget - sometimes they wish they could forget. Create and deliver quality products and services. Don't take advantage of customers. Don't treat your existing/tenured customers differently (read: worse) than your new customers, practically giving away products to new customers vs. gouging your tenured customers. Review usage history to ensure that customers are using the right product or are on the appropriate plan. To name just a few ideas...

That got me thinking about trust. And living up to your brand promise. And doing right by your customers. Imagine that. So stop selling and competing on price. Stop focusing on price. And start focusing on delivering value. The first step in doing that is to find out how your customers define value. Find out what value means to them.

Stay tuned. In the next week or two, I'll write about how discounts play into the price/value equation and how they impact or sabotage acquisition and retention efforts.

Value is more expensive than price. -Toba Beta, Master of Stupidity


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Other Golden Rule

Image courtesy of cgrantham
Today's post is a modified version of a post I originally wrote for Confirmit in September 2014.

We often hear customer experience professionals talk about the fact that there's a great emphasis to - and a greater return if we - focus our efforts on the customer experience for B2C companies. There's this notion that it's not as important for B2B companies, that it can't be impacted, or that it doesn't matter because B2B is just a different beast.

I disagree.

While the two are different, to some degree, what do B2C and B2B companies have in common? The knowledge and the fact that listening to their customers is paramount to delivering a great customer experience. And the knowledge that a great customer experience yields great benefits for the company. There may just be slightly different approaches to getting there.

For B2B companies who deal with consumers via partners or resellers, the focus has traditionally been on the relationship with the partner, often with very little visibility into the end-customer experience.  This is definitely changing and we’re seeing a new trend in the marketplace: the shift from B2B to B2B2C.

Why? Because of one simple rule: the Golden Rule. No, not that Golden Rule. The other one. The one that reads: He who holds the gold makes the rules. Whoever has the money, has the power; in this case, it’s your customers. Customers have the power. They talk to each other. They share experiences. They are much more informed than they’ve ever been, and they have higher expectations.

What do customers want from companies like yours? They want you to know them. They want personalized experiences, where you anticipate their needs. They want companies that provide both proactive service and innovative products. They want effortless experiences, so think “ease of doing business.” They want cutting-edge products and are looking for the next best thing. They want consistency across channels – and don’t want you to ask things you (should already) know. And they want it now!

To get all of this, some of the onus must be on the customer. With that power comes some responsibility. It comes at a cost: customers must allow companies to know them. Time to open up, drop the privacy walls/concerns a bit, and let companies in. Let them get to know the customer – likes, dislikes, preferences, needs, what customers are trying to achieve, and more.

Of course, customers are only half of the equation. Companies are the other half. In this age of the powerful customer, companies must adapt to the customer. How do companies win? Which companies win? Those that…
  • Are forward-thinking and innovative
  • Take the time to know and understand their customers - listen and share insights throughout the organization
  • Utilize predictive capabilities to anticipate – and adapt to – customer needs
  • Develop strategies to deliver on those needs
  • Utilize human-centered design, i.e., collaborate with customers to design their products and services
  • Understand the need for speed of innovation – it’s no longer acceptable to take years to develop new products or to upgrade existing ones
  • Talk with customers, especially early adopters, to keep themselves ahead of the curve
What’s the point? Why is this shift from B2B to B2B2C – a shift where companies that focus on the partner experience now look beyond to the end customer instead - important?

The bottom line is this: You can have all the OEMs and partners you want. You can satisfy their needs all you want. But if the product you manufacture doesn’t add value, doesn’t sell, or isn’t something the end customer cares about, both you and your partners are going to go out of business.

How do we do that? How do we add value for our partners and help them be more successful?

Simple. Don’t be so far-removed from the end customer. Don’t just rely on what your partners are telling you about the customer – you’ll need to do your own research, your own listening, to get ahead of the game. Work with your partners to listen to the voice of the end customer. Understand who they are, how they use your products now, what jobs or tasks they are trying to achieve – and then use that information to shift gears to better meet their needs in the future.

Your customers will thank you. Your partners will, too.

I have something that I call my Golden Rule. It goes something like this: 'Do unto others twenty-five percent better than you expect them to do unto you.' … The twenty-five percent is for error. -Linus Pauling


Friday, January 23, 2015

A Confused Customer Buys Nothing

Image courtesy of CollegeDegrees360
I originally wrote today's post for Intradiem on September 25, 2014.


Are your customers confused? Do you even know what that means? And do you know what the implications of customer confusion are?

There's a marketing maxim that states:

A confused customer buys nothing.

This isn't a good thing, from a variety of angles. Think about that for a minute. And while you're doing that, let's start with defining what a "confused customer" looks like.

The following outlines how you can identify confused customers; they...
  • Can't find their way around your store or your website
  • Can't find what they are looking for
  • Find what they're looking for but don't understand product details, pricing, or discounts
  • Have an issue with your product or service and can't understand why you can't resolve it
  • Don't understand your jargon
  • Think your products can do something they can't
  • Have too many choices
  • View your brand, products, or services no differently from your competitors
  • Don't understand the difference between your product offerings
  • Have too much information, none of which is or may be relevant to the task at hand
  • Have too much or the wrong information to make a decision
  • Don't have enough information
  • See inconsistencies in the brand, brand purpose, product, services, etc. 
  • Find brand messages inconsistent with brand experiences
  • Don't understand what your brand stands for - what your purpose is
Would you add anything else to the list? Does this describe what your customers experience?

What does that mean for you? Well, just as the maxim states, confused customers won't buy anything. They won't return - at least not without a lot of effort from you and, perhaps, from their friends - and they won't recommend you either. On top of that, they develop this dissatisfaction that leaves a general bad taste in their mouths about your brand.

But wait. Why are customers confused? Yea, there are two parties to this equation! What are companies doing to create that confusion? They are...
  • Sending brand messages that are no different from their competitors'
  • Creating websites that are not clear and not easy to use
  • Making store layouts and displays convoluted
  • Developing pricing and discount strategies that require an MBA in Finance to understand
  • Imitating rather than innovating
  • Offering too many products
  • Creating line extensions that don't jive with the brand
  • Not training staff adequately to be able to answer customer questions or to address their issues
  • Speaking in jargon rather than in customer-friendly terms
  • Trying to be all things to all people; as a result, they aren't meaningful to anyone
What else are companies doing to create confusion for their customers?

What should companies be doing to eliminate any confusion to begin with? There are some basic strategies and practices that ought to be in place to avoid customer confusion. Some of them begin with their employees and their own internal messaging: clarity is required for employees to know what is expected of them, both in their roles within the company and how what they do contributes and relates to the customer experience. That means that communication is probably the most important tool in order to provide clarity of:
  • Purpose
  • Vision
  • Values
  • Brand promise
  • Goals
  • Expectations
When employees have clarity, it translates to clarity for customers, as well. Why? Because employee know-how and the employee experience drive the customer experience. They take their knowledge and clarity into everything they do, including developing brand strategies and communications, pricing and discounts, marketing messages, products, product information, websites, customer support experience, and more.

Another way that companies can reduce customer confusion is to eliminate operational and process inefficiencies. The best way to do this is to inventory touchpoints, and map the journeys that  customers take for the various tasks that they are trying to achieve, products they are trying to buy, etc., and identify where the journey breaks down. From there, fix the operational and process issues that lead to confusion and pain. Think simplicity. Think effortless. Think ease of doing business. Think process improvement.

Are your customers confused? You want them to buy, right? So, how and where can you eliminate confusion for them?

There’s nothing worse than a sharp picture of a fuzzy concept. -Ansel Adams


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Is Your Brand a #CX Earworm?

Image courtesy of Sam Droege
What on earth is an earworm? And what does it have to do with customer experience?

The first time I heard this word, I had a completely different idea of what it was. I had to look it up.

So what is an earworm?

According to Wikipedia, it is: a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person's mind after it is no longer playing. It's usually a hooky song (think Vanilla Ice's Ice Ice Baby, for example) with that addictive verse or lyric that you just can't seem to get out of your head.

According to the top definition on Urban Dictionary, the only way to get rid of it is to replace it with another one.

So I started thinking about whether this was a thing for customer experience professionals. Is there something we say - inspiring, annoying, or otherwise - when we talk about the customer experience that sticks in our colleagues' brains? Is there something we should be saying to make sure it sticks in employees' heads as they are delivering the experience?

Better yet, and more importantly... is there something your company does that sticks in your customers' ears or brains? What do you do that's memorable? (Remember that "memorable" doesn't mean good or bad; it could be either, though I know we prefer it to be good.) What is it that makes customers think of you constantly and talk about you to their friends? If you can't answer those questions, perhaps it's time to start thinking about that.

Consider this: researchers uncovered that recent and/or repeated exposure is/are associated with earworms. They also found that there are different types of memory triggers (a place, a point in time, a sign, etc.) and emotional states (happy, sad, connected, lonely, etc.) that result in earworms.

When it comes to the customer experience, perhaps connecting on the emotional level is the way to go. Here are some thoughts on things that can facilitate that; your company...
  • Purpose aligns with who your customers are
  • Supports a cause that aligns with their values, their lives
  • Is local, localizes, and supports the community
  • Creates a community or a sense of belonging; customers feel part of something bigger
  • Doesn't brag, it just does what it knows is right
  • Puts the customer above all else (after employees); no distractions
  • Does those little extras that create surprise and delight
Are there brands that have become customer experience earworms? Absolutely. Think of the usual suspects: Zappos, Apple, Nike, Ritz-Carlton, Amazon, etc.

Need some help figuring out how to achieve earworm status? I'm immediately reminded of lagniappe and purple goldfish. Check out that link for some great ideas on how to make your customer experience memorable.

If you're afraid of being forgotten, do something memorable. -Unknown


Friday, January 16, 2015

Do Your Customers Talk About Your Products or Your Ads?

Image courtesy of Carli Jean
Are you delivering a great customer experience - or are you just relying on advertising to create awareness and sell your products?

On the eve (sorta) of the biggest day of the year for the advertising industry (OK, for commercials... we love to watch the Super Bowl commercials), I thought I'd share some thoughts on the common disconnect between advertising and the customer experience.

Or, as Robert Stephens, co-founder of Geek Squad has been known to say: Advertising is the tax you pay for being unremarkable.

Let's start with a good definition of what advertising is. Entrepreneur magazine offers up this:

Advertising provides a direct line of communication to your existing and prospective customers about your product or service. The purpose of advertising is to:
  • Make customers aware of your product or service;
  • Convince customers that your company's product or service is right for their needs;
  • Create a desire for your product or service;
  • Enhance the image of your company;
  • Announce new products or services;
  • Reinforce salespeople's messages;
  • Make customers take the next step (ask for more information, request a sample, place an order, and so on); and
  • Draw customers to your business.
Hmmm... convince customers, create a desire, enhance the image...

Those all make me think, why not let the customer experience speak for itself? Or let your customers speak for you?

If companies spend more time focusing on designing and delivering a great customer experience, they'll surely spend less money on advertising. Why, then, do companies spend millions on advertising every year? Why are their ad budgets and resources so hugely disproportionate (to CX strategy budgets) or so misplaced? Quick answer: advertising gets eyeballs and awareness, assuming people pay attention. And it's tangible. It's familiar. It's measurable. It's what we've always done.

I hate that last statement.

What does a great customer experience get you? Word of mouth. And that's much more valuable and has a greater return on investment than advertising. According to Nielsen's Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messaging report, 84% of customers cite taking action on word-of-mouth recommendations, while 68% say they take action some of the time on TV ads.

Companies should reallocate funds from their advertising budget to the budget for improving the customer experience to see a greater impact on the bottom line.

Forget the advertising. If you're seeing fewer customers, and year-over-year sales are down, take a good look inside. (And outside. What are your customers saying about the product and the experience?) Why on earth would you throw money at some huge ad campaign that will only result in even more dissatisfied customers in the end? Fix the experience. Make it great. If you’re doing remarkable things, then you don’t need to spend millions on commercials. Your brand speaks for itself. Or your customers speak for you. Or everyone in the industry talks about you. (Think Zappos, Amazon, Ritz-Carlton, Apple, etc.)

I think companies are slowly starting to get a clue that customer experience is important because I've recently seen and heard commercials that mention "the customer experience." That doesn't make it right or mean that they actually understand what that means; as a matter of fact, it makes me laugh. Don't advertise it. Just do it. (Apologies.) Actions speak louder than words.

This video, aptly named "The Break Up," reminded me of my post, How to Lose a Customer in 10 Days. It personifies advertising and what companies do to, well, lose customers. Have a look, and tell me you didn't laugh or nod your head in agreement at some point during the video.



We want consumers to say, "That's a hell of a product" instead of, "That's a hell of an ad." -Leo Burnett


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Customer-Driven Transformation via Walking in Customers’ Shoes

Image courtesy of mattlogelin
I originally wrote today's post for Confirmit in August 2014.

There is an old saying: "You can't really understand another person's experience until you've walked a mile in his shoes.”

This statement is really the foundation for designing a great customer experience! There is no customer-driven transformation (and it must be customer-driven) without really understanding your customers and what they go through when interacting with your organization.

What does that mean? It means that, if companies are to design and deliver a great customer experience, they must first know who their customers are, what customers are trying to do with their products or services, what they are going through in order to achieve that, and how the experience went.

So, let’s start with first things first…

Who are your customers?
Many companies talk about developing products and designing experiences for their “target customers,” but what can you really do with knowing that your customers are “males, 18-49?” Targets are too high-level and meaningless when it comes to customer experience innovation and design; they don’t provide details about needs, goals, attitudes, behaviors, or emotions, and are just too far from reality and from what the customer is actually doing.

Personas, on the other hand, are up close and personal – literally. Personas are fictional characters used to describe an ideal prospect or an actual customer going through some scenario with your company. They outline motivations, goals, behaviors, challenges, likes, dislikes, objections, and interests that drive buying decisions or whatever it is that your persona is trying to achieve.

Using personas to define your customers allows you to shift from target-thinking to a more actionable definition or view. If you really want to develop a personalized experience for your customers, you need to do your homework and develop personas. Personas take you one step closer to a customer-driven transformation.

Once we know who the customer is - whose journey we are going to focus on - we can take the next step: map the customer journey with the organization. We need to focus on mapping very specific jobs to be achieved by the customer. You’ll find out very quickly that it’s going to be much easier and much more meaningful to map at the persona level than for some high-level, meaningless, inactionable target demographic.

There are many approaches to mapping – outlining an approach is a blog post on its own. Don’t get so lost in the HOW that you forget the WHY.

Why should we map?
If there’s going to be any customer-driven transformation, we need to think about the journey, not just about individual, singular touchpoints. Customers just don’t think about things that way – they think about your company and your brand overall. When your product quality stinks, you stink. When your service is bad, you are bad. As a result, you need to take a more holistic view of the experience. Remember, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. So, understand your individual touchpoints, but think in terms of journeys. Also know that much of the experience often happens between the touchpoints, i.e., those things that happen behind the scenes as well as those that are out of the control of the customer and the company, like economic or political factors, traffic on the way to the store, or the lack of parking spaces – which are difficult for organizations to measure directly.

McKinsey found that organizations that focus on the entire experience (rather than just managing individual touchpoints) benefit through enhanced customer satisfaction, reduced churn, increased revenue, and greater employee satisfaction. These organizations have broken down the proverbial silos and found effective ways to collaborate across departments, another benefit of taking a more holistic view/approach.

Transformational thinking
The great thing about journey maps is that you’re going to use them to not only transform the customer experience but also to transform organizational thinking – in order to transform the customer experience.

How?

Let’s start with one of the most important things: maps help to ensure that the entire organization is on board with the common goal, improving the customer experience.

One approach to achieve that is to use maps for employee onboarding and continuous training. Maps help the employee connect the dots and make sense of how cross-functional teams work together to deliver the customer experience, and they provide a clear picture of how what the employee does contributes to that experience. Maps help them understand how their work matters.

Maps provide employees with a clear line of sight. When employees have a clear line of sight, it means that they...
  • know how they contribute to the common goal (this is especially important for back-office employees who often feel like they cannot impact the customer experience)
  • know what it means to deliver a great customer experience, and ultimately
  • are given the tools and training - and are empowered - to do so
“Customer empathy” is the latest buzz phrase, but it’s not just a buzz phrase, it’s a reality and a necessity. It’s all about understanding and sharing the needs and feelings of others. To walk in another's shoes is to understand and live what they are doing, thinking, and feeling; these details are all part of the journey mapping process. When employees are able to empathize, they can deliver a great customer experience for every customer with which they interact.

And finally, we all know how detrimental silos can be not only to the customer experience but also to an organization. When the organization is siloed, information is not shared, the cross/multi/ omnichannel experience is a mess, and the organization as a whole is not really focused on the end game. Cross-functional involvement is needed to build the maps and to ensure ownership of the touchpoints; as such, they become that tool to help break down the silos. Breaking down silos means that data and information flow freely across the organization, without any barriers. When those silos exist, a customer’s end-to-end experiences with the organization are fragmented and painful.

As you can see, maps are quite valuable and not only transform the organization but also your culture, the way you do business, and ultimately, the customer experience.

Empathy depends not only on one's ability to identify someone else's emotions but also on one's capacity to put oneself in the other person's place and to experience an appropriate emotional response. -Charles G. Morris


Thursday, January 8, 2015

"Be Positive" is Not a Strategy

Image courtesy of Will S.
Have you ever felt like the picture to the left describes your workplace?

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. -Thomas Jefferson

When I was in sports in high school, I was told that a positive mental attitude was everything - you can't win without it. I agreed, and I still believe a positive mental attitude has many benefits. You have to agree that moping around, being a Debbie Downer, and thinking you can't do something will certainly set you up for failure. And, quite frankly, that's depressing. It's way more fun to be happy.

OK, so let's think positive for a minute. Or forever.

Let's think about your workplace and your culture within. Assume it's a stressful time - the winds of change are swirling about at tornadic speeds. There's little clarity in your role, and no clear vision has been communicated to the company at large. Everyone knows that it's a challenging time for the organization, and yet you're silently pulling for the good guys. You know they can do this.

Then one day, finally, you get a message from company leadership. Yay! It's the clarity you've been waiting for!

You read the message, and it says, "Be positive."

You sit there, perplexed. Your mind begins to swirl with that same tornadic speed as the winds of change. This is going to be our big change strategy? Everyone needs to be positive?

This is a problem because, when everyone is/acts positive, we...
  • fake greatness
  • sweep the dirt under the rug
  • have no problems (right?)
When in reality, it's just a mask, just a cover-up. There's no...
  • root cause analysis to understand the issues
  • addressing the root cause(s)
  • real clarity for the organization
  • vision to follow
  • leadership accountability
It's all a sham. With hopes that "positive will be the new black." After all, isn't that the goal? Employee happiness? So if you want to be happy, be happy - damnit!

There's a quote from Ralph Marston: Being positive in a negative situation is not naive. It's leadership.

I get it.

And I get that being negative is easier than being positive. Human nature has us focusing more on the negative, for whatever reason. Misery loves company, I suppose.

But in a company with 1,000 employees, for example, I can guarantee you that less than 10% are true leadership material. And for the other 90%, being positive in a negative situation feels naive. For them, seeing leaders being positive in a negative situation feels a little phony, no?

I'm reminded of the Titanic: the deck is clean, the rats are gone, and the band is still playing. Can't be all bad, right?

So let me get to my point: "Be positive" is not a directive that facilitates or creates engagement. Being positive is not an employee engagement strategy, a leadership strategy, or a directive to drive culture change. Being positive without considering or acknowledging reality is dangerous. Ignoring reality doesn't make it go away. Positivity without reality can only yield a bad outcome. While it makes for a nicer, friendlier environment to be in - in a fake sort of way - I think it's shortsighted and ignores the obvious - that positive energy does not fix what ails you.

What we have here is a leadership problem.

I'm reminded of this statement - "We have a crisis in leadership in this country" - that Bob Chapman (Chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller) made in his Tedx presentation. Take a look at my post about his talk; he says: "7 out of 8 employees believe they work for a company that doesn't care for them." The reason: leadership and leadership's misguided focus. Looking at the scenario I describe above (tornadic winds), I believe the company doesn't care about its people.

I think positivity is a good thing, has its time and place, and takes a real leader to (know how to) pull it off during hard times, but when employees know that the ship is sinking, telling them to "be positive" either makes them think that you're stupid or that you don't care about them. You pick.

Don't pretend there are no issues. Or don't try to mask the fact that there are issues. Don't avoid the issues when asked about them. All of these are almost worse than having issues.

What can be done?
  • Uncover the root causes
  • Address the root causes
  • Solve the problems, eliminate the negative
  • Communication often
  • Communicate openly, candidly, and transparently
  • Communicate in a timely fashion
  • Communicate to get ahead of the curve and ahead of the negativity
  • Communicate with details, not with half details or teasers of what's to come
  • Communicate when you know something, when a concrete decision has been made
  • Make sure communication is meaningful
  • Provide clarity
  • Don't leave employees hanging
  • Be proactive
  • Answer employee questions about the situation in a meaningful way, not in a way that creates more angst
  • Ask employees for their feedback
  • Trust employees
  • Empower employees
  • Celebrate the good, the wins
  • Provide as much guidance as you can, but don't micromanage
  • Don't give employees a reason to focus on the negative 
  • Give employees a reason to focus on the positive
  • Give them a positive (many positives) to focus on
As you can see, communication is probably the most important tool you have in your toolbox to overcome some of the angst and anxiety that your staff is feeling. (I should add: meaningful communication is key.) Keep the lines of communication open; allow it to flow both ways. Don't hide in the ivory tower. Give employees a reason not to focus on the negative.

Fix what ails you. And communicate while you're fixing it.

Instead of leaving you with a quote today, I thought I'd share this brief Monty Python video. Enjoy.



Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Look Back to Look Forward

Image courtesy of Gerard Fritz
It's that time of the year again... 

Pundits are making their predictions about customer experience, marketing, and more:  what's the next big thing coming in the new year and what should everyone be focusing on. As you know, these predictions are made every year, late in the year and as the calendar rolls over into the new year.

While I'm a fan of looking ahead, staying on top of the latest trends, being innovative and cutting edge, and getting out in front of things, it's important to remember this: just because the calendar flips to a new year doesn't mean everyone has a new-found appreciation or excitement for all things CX.

And while looking ahead is an important part of planning, there's also a lot of value in taking the opportunity to stop, reflect, and look back on:
  • what was on our to-do list for the year
  • what we accomplished
  • what we did not accomplish
  • where we've been
  • where we are now
Having said that, here are some of my thoughts on customer experience in 2015.

When we make predictions, we need to consider the various customer experience maturity levels. There's that top 5% - the CX Leaders - that get it, are on it, and know what they need to do today, tomorrow, and next year. When we make predictions, I think we speak to these folks because our predictions tend to be about the "what's next" or the "what's going to take the CX/CX strategy to the next level" or the next whiz-bang thing. There's nothing wrong with that, but for someone who hasn't even started yet, it's daunting. Or worse yet, they think they need to start there - now - when we all know there are steps we must go through to design and ultimately deliver a great customer experience.

The companies we should be focusing on in 2015 are the ones who haven't even started yet or who are just getting started. These are the folks who need to know how to get started or how to do best what they are doing today in order to move to the next level, respectively. There are so many companies who still need help getting the basics right - including getting executive buy-in - that thinking about emotions or proactive service or the Internet of Things is only on their wish list - or not even in their vocabularies. They'll get there, but they need to put one foot in front of the other, first. Baby steps.

The other piece that I think is a must-have for 2015 (as it should be every year) is a focus on the employee experience. There is so much data out there that shows employee engagement levels to be at their lowest ever, and yet there's also tons of data that supports the fact that employee engagement drives business results. What are companies doing wrong? (I've written a post for Intradiem this month that answers this question. Stay tuned for that.) We know that a bad employee experience and employee disengagement lead to churn and a whole host of other problems, not the least of which is a bad customer experience. Let's resolve to fix this this year!

Shifting gears to what's in store for customer experience professionals, I think we need to (a) make sure customer experience is clearly defined and (b) lose "customer experience" as the label for everything now, i.e., it's become watered down. "Customer experience" should not be a catch phrase or a phrase of the day/moment. How do we get companies to stop misusing it, to stop calling every position they are trying to fill a "customer experience role?" It dilutes what we are trying to do, and it doesn't help our cause.

Perhaps I've taken a simplistic viewpoint for moving forward this year, but if we don't get the basics right and if we don't look back on how we got to where we are, then I don't believe we can move forward in an efficient or effective manner.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. -Søren Kierkegaard


Friday, January 2, 2015

Knowing is Half the #CX Battle

Image courtesy of FORMULa_24
I originally wrote today's post for Intradiem. It appeared on their blog on August 21, 2014.

If knowing is half the battle, what's the other half?

In the 1980s, there was a G.I. Joe cartoon series for kids that embodied good vs. evil. At the end of each episode was a public service announcement (PSA) that would answer various questions and teach kids some valuable lessons. Each PSA ended with, "Now I know! And knowing is half the battle!"

This got me thinking. In a customer experience sort of way.

Knowing really is half the battle. You want your employees to deliver a great customer experience for your customers, right? What do you need to tell them? What must they know in order to deliver the experience customers expect?

Here are a few topics that are pretty important to know.

Customer Understanding: Listening to customers and ensuring that their feedback is shared and acted upon throughout the organization helps connect the dots for employees, who hear how what they do translates into the customer experience. At the same time, the knowledge must go beyond listening to really understanding who your customers are and what they are trying to do.

Customer Journeys: A customer journey map is the ultimate tool to help connect all employees to how they impact the customer experience. Knowing the customer journey helps your employees understand what the customer experiences while trying to complete a task with the company. It helps create a clear line of sight for all employees, frontline and back office, to the target/goal: a great customer experience. It helps them understand when, where, and how their contributions matter.

Customer Experience Vision: Your CX vision will be inspirational and aspirational; it will outline what you see as the future state of the customer experience. (Of course, it will be rooted deeply in customer understanding.) It will briefly describe the experience you plan to deliver. And it will serve as a guide to help choose future courses of action. Your CX vision statement will connect the dots between what you’re doing and for whom you’re doing it, in addition to creating alignment within the organization.

Brand Promise: A brand promise is the expectation you set with your customers; it's a promise you make to your customers. Everything you and your employees do should reflect this promise. Consistently. It’s a combination of the brand purpose and the reality of what the brand can deliver. In most cases, defines the benefits a customer can expect to receive when experiencing your brand at every touch point. For example, JetBlue's brand promise is "You above all." If I'm working for JetBlue, that's a clear message to me that I the customer comes first.

Core Values: Your core values are guiding principles for your employees; they outline which behaviors and actions are right and which are wrong, both for your employees and toward your customers. Everything you do must be aligned with your values, and they should be integrated into everything you do.

Purpose: It's your reason for being, your Why. Customers buy from brands with which they align; similarly, employees want to work for companies with which they are aligned. Make sure everyone in the organization understands your Why.

Empathy:  Teach employees to really pay attention to what the customer is saying, both verbally and through body language. Anticipate customer needs/emotions/reactions, and recognize when/how to use empathy. Role play for employees to really make it click; teach them the cues that signal it's time for empathy to kick in. Show them that it's important to always be listening and be prepared to respond in the way the customer needs you to respond, not in the way a script tells you to respond.

There's more, but I think this covers the major categories.

How do you then ensure your employees are in the know? Maybe you need your own PSA? There are a lot of different ways to get your employees on the right page. The primary vehicles for delivering this knowledge are:

Onboarding: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; explaining the job, the benefits, and where to find the paper clips are all important to the onboarding process, but 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, where the priorities lie, and how to deliver a great customer experience. This is a great time to set the tone for the culture.

Continuous training: You also can't expect that as both the business and customer expectations evolve, employees will automatically know and adapt/evolve, too. There must be ongoing training to ensure that employees are kept abreast of changes in the business, expectations, and more. It's always wise to provide refreshers and reinforcement of the things that are most important for employees to know.

Communication: What gets shared and communicated regularly is viewed as important to your employees. Not only does communication lend clarity, it is critical to a clear line of sight to the goal. Communication must be open and ongoing.

Culture: While this isn't technically a vehicle for delivering knowledge, it is the guard rail that helps keep employees within the yellow lines. As Herb Kelleher said, "Culture is what people do when no one is looking."

If we provide employees with clear guidelines and expectations, recognize and reward the right behavior, and allow them to learn from their mistakes, they're covered for half the battle.

So knowing is half the battle; what's the other half? Technically, fighting. But in our story, I would say it's making sure you hire the right people, i.e., having the right people on the frontlines to fight the good fight.

Hire for attitude - train for skill. Those are the two halves of this battle.

Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge. -Plato