Thursday, June 22, 2017

6 Steps to Help You Put Customers at the Center of the Organization, Part 2

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I originally wrote today's post for Clicktools. It was published on their blog on October 25, 2016.

In this second part of a two-part series, I continue detailing some important ways to ensure that your company is putting the customer at the center of all it does.

In Part 1 of this two-part series, I left off with Step 3: Outline the Customer Lifecycle. In today's post, I'll pick up with the next step, mapping the customer journey, an important tool that helps put the customer front and center.

Step 4: Map the Customer Journey
Journey mapping is a way to walk in your customer's shoes and chart his course as he interacts with your organization (channels, departments, touchpoints, products, etc.) while trying to fulfill some need or do some job within each stage of the lifecycle. It allows you to identify key moments of truth and to ensure that those moments are executed smoothly. Maps are created from the customer's viewpoint, not yours, and look at each and every step a customer takes in order to achieve some task, i.e., calling support, ordering a product, etc., with the company. They describe what customers are doing, thinking, and feeling at each step in the journey. They’re not linear either, nor are they static. They become the backbone of your customer experience management efforts.

Why do you need a customer journey map? Journey maps provide clarity for the entire organization, helping to provide that clear line of sight to customers and ensuring that each employee understands how he impacts the customer experience.

Step 5: Listen to Your Customers
While VoC stands for “voice of the customer,” I like to use it to refer to “voice of the constituents” because there are so many voices that companies should be listening to as part of their efforts to improve the customer experience: voice of the customer, voice of the employee, voice of the partner, voice of the market, voice of the business, and the list goes on.

Traditionally, most of these voices have been captured through surveys or some other structured form that was initiated by the company, i.e., companies asked customers to provide feedback. Today, listening has become a better term to use, as customers also provide feedback on their terms, in their preferred modes, typically initiated by them in response to some stimulus or interaction. While asking puts the onus on the customer to respond, listening puts the onus on the company to be wherever customers voice their opinions. Examples of listening posts include things like social media (Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc.), customer immersion, customer advisory councils, voice of the customer through the employee (sales, customer service, etc.), CRM data, and more.

It’s important to listen to customers, but equally or more important are the actions you take on what you hear because, when you do, the benefits to the company - as a result of an improved experience for the customer - include:

•    A reduction in churn
•    An increase in saved customers
•    Stronger customer relationships
•    Potential new business from existing customers
•    Process improvements
•    New features and product enhancements
•    New product ideas
•    Recommendations or referrals from existing customers

Harvey Mackay says: You learn when you listen. You earn when you listen - not just money, but respect. I can’t argue with that. If you listen to your customers, if you use their feedback to not only make fundamental improvements to the experience but also to innovate, if you deliver a great customer experience - then the business, and the profits, will come.

Step 6: Socialize the Insights/Findings
You've done the work to understand the customer; now it's time to ensure that he's front and center. It's time to socialize the feedback and findings so that the right people act on the right insights at the right time.

Here are just a  few things you can do to infuse the customer into everything the organization does. Key to this is to start at the beginning, i.e., start with the first day an employee starts working for your company. (Even better: start with the first day you start your company.)
  • Onboarding: Showcase your customer-centric culture during the onboarding process so that new employees knows what that means. This is a great time for them to learn 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. Don't have a formal onboarding process? It's time to get one! This is a great time to set the tone for employees.
  • Ongoing training: You can't expect that, as both the business and customer expectations evolve, employees will automatically know what to do and adapt/evolve, too. You need to train employees regularly to ensure they are kept abreast of new customer insights and new approaches to delivering a great experience. Be sure to provide refreshers and reinforcement of anything you've learned about customers, the jobs they are trying to do, and their expectations.
  • 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 needs to be open and ongoing. Share customer feedback with employees; don't keep it from them. Tell customer stories and stories of great experiences to teach and to inspire employees to deliver the experience they need to deliver.
  • Rewards and recognition: When you recognize and reward those who consistently delight customers, you are reinforcing the behavior you expect from your employees, further confirming and solidifying the importance of putting the customer at the center of all you do.
For a list of tools to put the customer at the center of the organization, check out Tools to Put the Customer at the Center of All You Do. I outline six tools that will absolutely help you put the customer front and center for the business.

My favorite? I'm a fan of having a chair for the customer in all key decision-making meetings. There's no better way to draw attention to the customer and to ensure that all decisions made and actions taken are done so with the customer in mind. Try it for a while and see if it makes a difference in your company.

Are you using some of these steps? All of them? If not, when will you get started?

It is so much easier to be nice, to be respectful, to put yourself in your customers' shoes and try to understand how you might help them before they ask for help, than it is to try to mend a broken customer relationship. -Mark Cuban

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

6 Steps to Help You Put Customers at the Center of the Organization, Part 1

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I originally wrote today's post for Clicktools. It was published on their blog on September 28, 2016.

In this first part of a two-part series, I'll outline some important ways to ensure that your company is putting the customer at the center of all it does.

Why are companies in business? For customers, right? To create and to nurture a customer, to be specific. And, yet, we still see some dismal statistics about how many companies don't focus on the customer experience or think they focus on the customer experience but really don't. In research published by Bain, they reported that:
  • only 50% of management teams tailor their products and services to the needs of customers
  • only 30% organize the functions of their company to deliver superior customer experiences
  • only 30% maintain effective customer feedback loops
Temkin Group recently reported that 67% of large companies rate themselves as being good at soliciting customer feedback, but only 26% rate themselves as being good about making changes based on the insights.

These are dismal statistics. How do we turn this around?

If you haven’t yet started to focus on the needs of the customer, where should you begin?  What can you do to turn the tide?

First you must decide. And then, when you’re ready to put the customer at the center of all you do, there are six important steps to take to get started:

1.    Identify the customer
2.    Understand the customer
3.    Outline the customer lifecycle
4.    Map the customer journey
5.    Listen to your customers
6.    Socialize the insights/findings

Step 1: Identify the Customer

Knowing who the customer is seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised by how many companies have never gone through the exercise of identifying the customer. In a B2B organization, for example, customers can be many and varied; look within each customer or partner organization at the people you interact with, e.g., purchasing, product, support, accounting, end-users, etc. to identify your customer. The company is not the customer; the people you interact with within the company are. Not having a clear understanding of who the customer is hampers any further steps in this process.

Step 2: Understand the Customer
Once you’ve identified who your customers are, you must understand them and their needs. How do they interact with your organization? Why do they buy products and services from you? What are their needs? What problems are they trying to solve? What are they trying to achieve?

A tool to use to answer all of these questions is personas. Personas are fictional characters created to describe your ideal prospect or actual customer. They are derived through primary research - research that can then also be used for your customer journey maps in Step 4. They are specific to your business, not to the industry. The descriptions include vivid narratives, images, and other items that help companies understand the needs of the customer (contextual insights) and outline feelings, motivations, goals, behaviors, challenges, likes, dislikes, objections, and interests that drive buying (or other) decisions. Each persona includes a human face and name. Used properly, personas keep the customer alive and front and center for the entire organization. They tie in nicely to your journey maps and are necessary to begin that exercise.

A hardware client of mine developed supplier personas in order to better understand the different supplier personnel with which they interact. Different supplier types and different roles within a supplier company have different needs and interact differently with your organization; understanding those then allows you to create a better experience for all involved. For their personas, we looked at the different roles within supplier companies and came up with six primary personas: operations management, logistics, production schedulers, inventory management, shipping, and accounting. A lot of research went into defining these personas, which were then used to develop journey maps that laid out the experience they had when trying to achieve whatever it was each did with the client. These personas were then used to better manage supplier relationships and to design a better supplier experience with the client, one more personalized to each specific role/persona. The client saw a remarkable uptick in supplier satisfaction, and hence retention, as a result of this increased understanding.

Step 3: Outline the Customer Lifecycle
The lifecycle map shows the phases of the customer's relationship with your company. It's high level and good for understanding the overall relationship the customer has with the organization, from before he's even considered a customer through when he is no longer a customer. It typically includes these stages: Need, Awareness, Consideration, Selection/Purchase, Experience, Loyalty, Advocacy, Engagement, Raving Fans. And, unfortunately, Exit. It's not necessarily linear and often circles back on itself.

It's great to understand the lifecycle at this high level before moving on to the next step. Lifecycle maps, while important to nurturing the overall customer relationship, are a natural first step to identifying listening needs along the lifecycle; however, to get to the heart of the matter, to really understand when and where to listen and to really design a better customer experience, you must dive deeper into the lifecycle stages, inventory the touchpoints, and map the customer journey, which I'll discuss further in Step 4.

In my next post, I'll wrap up the other three steps you can take to ensure that customers are front and center in your organization.

When a brand connects with their customer, that in some ways is the easy part, the hard part is keeping the customer at the center after the success/profits comes flooding in. Success can breed complacency, success can breed arrogance. -Anna Farmery

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

6 Things You Can Do to Advance Your Career in the CX Profession

Image courtesy of Pixabay
What can I do to advance my career in - or to get started in - the customer experience profession?

I'm asked about this on a regular - quite frankly, almost weekly - basis. That's exciting because I love when people see this as a great career progression or a field to they want to get into. The more people we can have on the customer's team, the better.

After responding so frequently to this question (or questions - one version is how to get started, one is how to advance) lately, plus hosting a CX Expert Office Hours session at the 2017 CXPA Insight Exchange on this very topic last month, I thought it was time to document some of the advice I give on this. So, in no particular order, here on my thoughts.

1. Build your personal brand
Whether you're just entering this field or looking to advance your career, having a personal brand that speaks to your passion and expertise in customer experience will take you far. There are a lot of different ways you can build your personal brand. I was almost 20 years into my career in this space before I started writing my own blog, but I had written for my employers' blogs prior to that, and I had been interviewed for articles, podcasts, etc. and spoken at industry events. (Note: Not all employers are thrilled about you building your personal brand, even though it aligns quite nicely with your role and area of expertise.)

There are a lot of different ways to build your personal brand, including: creating your own blog and writing articles on a consistent basis, getting those posts syndicated across a variety of other sites and media, guest posting for like-minded sites/bloggers, doing interviews/being interviewed, publishing case studies of your work, conducting webinars, speaking at industry events, answering questions on industry forums, participating in Twitter chats or Google Hangouts about customer experience, and more. Market yourself. Put yourself out there. Get your voice and your expertise heard.

If you're relatively new to this field - let's say you've been on the frontlines for the last couple of years - and want to branch out to consult, my advice to you is this: consultants in this field are a dime a dozen; find your niche, build your brand, and help others understand how you're different and why they should hire you.

2. Get/have client-side experience
Being on the vendor side and getting consulting experience in this field is awesome. It provides a breadth and depth of knowledge that you can get in no other way. But having client-side experience, being a practitioner and having done the work, is an even better calling card. It's great to not only have CX experience on the client side but to also have had some cross-functional experience and to have experience across multiple companies and industries.

3. Educate yourself
I cannot say this enough: read, read, read. Books like the Ultimate Question series, Outside In, and Jeanne Bliss' books about the Chief Customer Officer role are great resources. Attend webinars. Sign up for blog newsletters. There is no shortage of CX resources out there!

And don't go to just one source. Don't settle for just one perspective; keep an open mind and decide for yourself. It's OK to read and to understand opposing views. I was once lambasted on Twitter because I shared a view that opposed the mainstream position on NPS. Sometimes I share these kinds of articles because it's OK for people to consider other views and perspectives. NPS is not for everyone; we know that. So do your homework and go into this with an open - and educated - mind.

Read about, or attend, Disney U. Take the Zappos tour. Study companies with great customer experiences (like Amazon, Apple, Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton, Warby Parker, etc.) and identify and understand what they do to stand out.

Participate in the CXPA Mentor Match Program. I'm a mentor, and I must say that I love teaching, but I also love learning from my mentees. It's a two-way street, for sure.

Take a course with one of CXPA's Authorized Resource & Training Providers. They are a network of independently-provided resources designed to help candidates prepare for the CCXP exam. They provide training and educational resources on the six core competencies of customer experience.

4. Network, network, network
There are no more-helpful peeps in this world than fellow CX professionals. We are all facing the same challenges and are happy to share with one another our experiences and provide resources and guidance about our favorite topic. Reach out to your network; share and learn from each other. Find a mentor who can guide you on your journey (know that that may come at a cost).

5. Promote yourself - literally
No CX role in your company? Build the business case for customer experience. Take ownership. Show some quick wins and identify a framework for a sustainable CX strategy. Sell it up the chain. Get executive commitment. Get yourself a promotion - or a second day job!

6. Check your skills
As a CX professional, you must have a wide range of skills. You will be a coach, a trainer, a teacher, a communicator, a salesperson, and an advocate. You have to be well-versed in change management. You must have the patience of a saint, be an influencer, and be persistent, politically savvy, flexible, adaptable, and tenacious. You've got to have a strong will. And you must have thick skin and be able to handle rejection, yet at the same time know how to stay the course and come back even stronger. If you fall short on any of these, get some help shoring up your weaknesses.


These are just some of the things to consider; I know there are others. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.

Identify which part of CX inspires or excites you. Which of the six core competencies of customer experience do you want to master? Then go master them using the steps above.

Experience is one thing you can't get for nothing. -Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Rise of the Customer Experience Executive

Image courtesy of GMC Software
Do you need one? A customer experience leader, that is.

There's an alphabet soup of letters thrown together to title the customer experience leader role, whether it's CCO, CXO, CCXO, etc. They all lead to the same definition: the C-level executive who champions, or advocates for, the customer and his needs throughout the organization.

Why is this position necessary? Quite simply, it's time to create memorable customer experiences! And the customer needs someone in the executive suite who represents him and his needs. Without that representative dedicated to shepherding the voice of the customer and the needs of the customer throughout the organization, it's really difficult to transform the organization's culture to one that is customer-obsessed or to redirect the focus onto the customer as opposed to solely on the business of creating shareholder value.

I recently finished writing an eBook for GMC Software titled Rise of the Customer Experience Executive: How CX Earned a Spot in the C-Suite. In the eBook, I go more in-depth on whether every company needs a CXO and answer other questions, including:
  • What are the CXO's critical success factors?
  • What are the biggest challenges to success?
  • Why do you need a CXO?
  • and more...
I also interviewed five global CCOs to get insights into how they landed their roles, their key challenges and how they overcame them, and advice for current and future CX executives. I was honored to speak with:
    • Christine Corbett, CCO, Australia Post
    • Nick Frunzi, CCO, Esri
    • Ingrid Lindberg, former 4-time CCO, most recently with Prime Therapeutics
    • Isabelle Conner, CMO/CCO, Assicurazioni Generali Spa
    • Donna Peeples, CCO, Pypestream
    Take a moment to download the eBook. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy some great advice from these thought leaders! Thank you in advance for reading it!

    If it's a pain point for your customers, it is generally a pain point for your people. -Christine Corbett

    Wednesday, May 31, 2017

    To Tip or Not to Tip?

    Image courtesy of Pixabay
    To tip or not to tip, that is the question.

    I just returned from a trip to Sydney, Australia, where I keynoted an event and also conducted a journey mapping master class. It was my first time to Australia, so before I traveled, I did a little homework on what I needed to take along, what to expect while there, etc.

    One of the interesting things I learned was that it's not necessary to tip; Australia has a non-tipping culture. There is no expectation of a tip at all: not from the cab driver, the bartender, the waitress, the bellhop, or anyone else. In restaurants, for example, the wait staff is paid a solid hourly wage ($15-$18/hour) versus the minimum wage (or in some cases, less) received by wait staff in the States.

    I also learned that customers most likely only tip in a fine-dining restaurant, but even then it's not mandatory, and the gratuity amount for great service is usually 10% (versus 20% for the best service in the States).

    A few years ago, I wrote a post called Are Gratuities an Expectation? and explored what that meant. When I arrived in Australia, I was really curious to find out how this would affect the customer experience. How would a non-tipping culture fare against what I was used to?

    "How was the service?" you ask.

    Well, let's just say that it wasn't consistent across the board, but it was pretty disappointing. My first cab driver was quite rude and not helpful at all, and I was warned afterward that that was the norm. At several restaurants, I sat for a long time just waiting for a waiter to take my order or to (re)fill my glass. Not only did I wait, but at two restaurants (because it had been so long) I got up to find waiters and wasn't able to find a soul! Those experiences would rarely/ever happen in the States; certainly not as often as they did in the week that I was in Sydney.

    Would it be different if there was the expectation of a tip for great service delivered? I think so.

    What do you think?

    Here is the simple but powerful rule... always give people more than they expect to get. -Nelson Boswell

    Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    How to Engage Employees in Your Customer Experience Strategy

    I originally wrote today's post for Clicktools. It appeared on their blog on August 29, 2016.

    Quite simply: without employees, you have no customer experience.

    The linkage between employee engagement and experience and the customer experience has been proven. It's real, and your employees matter! If your employees aren't engaged with your improvement efforts - or engaged overall with the organization - it will be very difficult for them to delight your customers and deliver the experience they expect.

    As customer experience professionals, we talk a lot about gaining executive buy-in and commitment, but there's a lot less talk about employee buy-in and commitment; this is equally as critical to the success of your customer experience strategy.

    Employees are critical to the customer experience, which is critical to the success of the business. But what tools do we give to employees to prepare them to deliver a great customer experience? What tools do we give them to help them understand why being customer-focused and customer-centric is paramount? How do we sell the concept to them?

    The following summarizes several tools and approaches to use to get - and to keep - employees on board. It should be no surprise: you really need to start from the beginning. When you're recruiting, you can start to set and frame expectations so that candidates and new employees understand what they're signing up for, what kind of company they'll be working for, and what the brand represents.

    Job Descriptions: Any company that is focused on the customer and expects employees to deliver a great experience will mention this in job descriptions. Set expectations early. Let employees choose if your company is the kind of company they want to work for. My hope is that candidates are thrilled to know that customer experience is a clear priority for a company, but then I'm a little biased!

    Interviews: Be clear with candidates that the company is customer obsessed and that the role, frontline or back office, they are interviewing for impacts the customer and her experience. The customer experience is everyone's job. If the candidate is on board, then frame interview questions around understanding how the employee would take ownership.

    Vision - Company and Customer Experience: Your company vision is an inspirational and aspirational statement that outlines what the company is trying to achieve near-term and long-term; it also guides decision-making processes and subsequent, resultant courses of action. Your vision will (a) draw the line between what you're doing and for whom you're doing it and (b) create alignment within the organization. Your customer experience vision and company vision are always linked, and often one and the same. Without this north star, employees can easily go off track and focus on projects or ideas that aren't critical to what the business is trying to do.

    Core Values: Your core values are beliefs that guide the organization in identifying 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 core values, and they should be integrated into everything you do. When in doubt, ask: "Is this the right thing to do? Does it fit with our core  values?" I like the idea of involving employees in the development of those core values.

    Brand Promise: A brand promise is the expectations you set with your customers.  It’s a combination of the brand purpose and the reality of what the brand can deliver. It defines the benefits a customer can expect to receive when experiencing your brand – at every touchpoint. It's meant for both customer and employees, as employees at all levels, frontline and behind the scenes, must live - and deliver on - the promise.

    Customer Feedback: Listening to customers and ensuring that their feedback is shared (and acted upon) throughout the organization helps connect the dots for employees - they hear how what they do relates to, and translates into, what the customer experiences. I don't think organizations do enough of this; feedback often remains with those who are listening or with those who need to act on it, but fails to make it into the hands of those who need to hear it most: the employees who delivered the evaluated experience.

    Rewards and Recognition: These are often tied closely with customer feedback. When we recognize and reward employees for doing the right thing or for delivering a great experience, we reinforce the behaviors we expect. We also continue to make that connection for the employee to the outcome, i.e., to how they contribute to the customer experience and, ultimately, to the success of the business.

    Role Play: When we role play, we model behaviors that we expect from our employees. We teach them what it looks like to deliver a great experience. When employees are in the know, they can commit and take ownership. Knowledge is power!

    Journey Maps: A customer journey map is the ultimate tool to help connect all employees to how they contribute to - and impact - the customer experience. The map is the backbone of the customer experience, and while it details what the customer experiences as he's trying to do some job, it's important to include when, where, and how employees contribute at each step along the way. This is powerful; when employees see how they impact the experience, how their contributions matter, they can take ownership of those moments.

    Communication: This is really a precursor - or a critical component - for all of the items listed above. It's important on its own, but it must also be used in conjunction with each of the tools above. What gets shared and communicated is viewed as important to your employees. And communication lends clarity, which is critical to engagement and to providing a clear line of sight to the target, your customers and the customer experience.

    Customer Ambassador Program: An ambassador program cements employees' commitment to the customer and to the overall customer experience strategy. It not only celebrates those who deliver (or support those who deliver) exceptional experiences but also shows the organization's commitment to the customer and his experience. Ambassadors carry the message and the great work that the core CX team is doing throughout the entire organization. Think of it as a grass roots effort to drive culture change and to execute on process improvements. Ambassadors will help to get all employees engaged in your customer experience strategy.

    One final thought: You'll be much more successful in gaining employee commitment and in executing your CX strategy if you engage employees in the decisions and the design along the way rather than forcing initiatives and changes on them. Employees get engaged when they are involved in the decision-making process, when they feel like they can add value, and when they feel that they matter.

    There's no success without commitment. -Tony Robbins

    Wednesday, May 17, 2017

    How Do You Know When It's Time to Redesign Your VoC Program?

    Image courtesy of Pixabay
    I originally wrote today's post for Clicktools; it appeared on their blog on July 26, 2016.

    Last month, I wrote about 20 tips to design better customer surveys. That post ought to be helpful whether you're designing a new survey or redesigning existing surveys. But what if you've been listening to customers for years? How do you know when it's time for a refresh or a complete VoC program redesign?

    When was the last time you took a long, hard look at what you've been doing in terms of listening to customers in order to figure out if it's time for a redesign or a major overhaul? Have there been personnel changes on your team? Have you acquired other companies? Are the people who originally designed the surveys still with the company? If they aren't, is there anyone else who  recalls the original objectives? If they are, do they recall the objectives, the overall roadmap, the reason for the approach, etc.?

    Either way, it's likely that it's time to revisit your customer listening efforts to ensure they meet today's standards and requirements. Businesses change, acquisitions happen, new products are developed, customers change, customers' needs evolve, the jobs customers try to do change, the industry grows and advances, new competitors enter the marketplace, etc.

    It's important to regularly revisit your listening efforts to ensure that you're listening to all customers and in a manner that they prefer or in a manner that ensures you hear what they want/need you to hear.

    Have you mapped your customer journeys? Have those maps identified new listening needs or opportunities that you hadn't considered? The customer journey can be improved through listening and identifying areas where the journey is failing or causing customers to look for alternatives. Don't ignore the learnings and outputs of this exercise.

    How do you know when it's time to redesign or to update your customer listening efforts? It might be time if you...
    • Don't (or no longer) understand why you're doing what you're currently doing
    • Don't know/remember the original objectives
    • Haven't achieved your original objectives
    • Have nothing to show for the feedback you have received
    • Have seen a drastic drop in response rates
    • Only use the feedback to report one or two numbers; the rest of the data isn't looked at or acted upon
    • Only have one person (yourself) looking at the feedback, and even then, it's infrequently at best
    • Have had major staffing changes within your organization
    • Work with a vendor who has had staffing changes on your account team
    • Have experienced staffing changes within both your organization and your VoC vendor's organization
    • Have acquired - or merged with - new companies and brands
    • Have rebranded your products
    • Have changed your product focus or your audience focus
    • Have changed your business/business model
    • Are not listening in a mode preferred by your customers
    • Aren't listening via social media
    • Have new competitors
    • Haven't had any actionable insights or results in years
    • Notice that recommendations for improvement haven't changed
    • Aren't making improvements based on the feedback
    • Discover that what you are currently doing is not/no longer working
    If you've been doing the same thing for forever, it is seriously time for a refresh. Data collection methods have changed. Respondent preferences (for completing surveys) have changed. VoC has changed and now includes more than just surveys; it's not just about asking customers but also about listening - wherever your customers want to speak and voice their opinions. Key metrics for your business may have changed. There are new analytical tools that require actionable inputs - not that previous tools didn't have the same requirements, but the new tools make this requirement that much more evident!

    There are a lot of things that have changed over time; but if your approach to VOC - not just the way you capture feedback but also the way you distribute it, analyze it, strategize and operationalize it, and communicate improvements - has remained stagnant, you're not only wasting money, you're doing your customers and your business a huge disservice.

    Ultimately, if your customers continue to complain about the same issues and if your employees still feel shackled by the same tools, policies, and procedures - if you feel like the experience hasn't improved and you don't know how to fix it - it's time to rethink how you're listening to customers.

    Your customer listening efforts shouldn't follow a "set it and forget it" approach. You should take a look at your approach on an annual basis. Review what you're doing and update or modify as needed.

    Does your VOC initiative suffer from any of the symptoms listed above? If so, it is definitely time for a redesign!

    You need to have a redesign because familiarity breeds a kind of complacency. -Timothy White

    Wednesday, May 10, 2017

    What Motivates Employees?

    Image courtesy of Pixabay
    What motivates you to go to work every morning?

    What drives you to do good work every day? What motivates you to want to work for your employer every day? What are the things that your manager and your executives do that encourage you to work hard for them every day?

    What motivates your staff? Do you even know? Have they ever shared with you what their motivators are? Have you ever asked them?

    Not everyone is motivated in the same way, so you need to be prepared to use different tools and approaches; you need to personalize or customize the experience to the individual.

    Hmmm. That sounds familiar. We talk a lot about that when we describe customer experience design.

    Let's use that same mantra ("personalize the experience") to describe some approaches to use when we need to design the employee experience. In this case, I'm writing about designing an employee experience that moves your employees to deliver a great customer experience! How can we motivate employees to drive change within the organization that allows them to deliver the experience your customers desire?

    Consider the following ideas when you want to move your employees.

    The most important tool to motivate employees to act on customer feedback and insights is communication - clear, ongoing communication that supports the actions and the outcomes. You can't act on what you don't know or don't understand. Share the feedback. Tell your teams what's been uncovered in the data. Help them understand current state and future state. And help them understand the why.

    Use storytelling. I've written about it before, but it's a Trojan horse for learning. You can tell stories, and people will listen; they won't even know that they're (supposed to be) learning! Stories allow you to deliver a message in a way that engages people, inspires them, and helps them understand a desired or intended outcome as a result of a series of steps or actions taken. Tell the stories in your data.

    Give employees ownership; if you provide leadership opportunities and hold employees accountable, they'll want to engage - to act - because they feel like they own it. There's a lot of pride in ownership, and when they understand what that means, it's a great feeling.

    Similarly, if we involve them in the change process rather than forcing actions and change on them, we make some quick allies who want to be a part of the implementation and the improvements. Educate and empower them - and then set them free to act.

    Employees need to be bought into the cause and why the actions they take matter to them and for the intended audience. Why should I act on these findings? What's in it for me? What's in it for the customer? How does my action or inaction impact the customer?

    Listen to employees. When you listen to them and not only take their feedback into consideration but also use it, they feel valued. That motivates them.

    Training, coaching, and development reinforced by rewards for being accountable and for acting on opportunities identified in the data can also drive employees to do good work. Clearly, growth opportunities motivate many employees, and rewards are always appreciated.

    Collaboration gets people to work together toward a common cause; many are motivated by what motivates others. Before collaborating, though, they need to clearly understand the cause, and they need to clearly understand expectations and outcomes. Collaboration often motivates people who aren't motivated on their own. And since we want everyone marching to the same beat, collaboration makes for a more cohesive organization and outcome.

    Leadership is motivating. Employees are moved by leaders they like to work for and who inspire them to do what they might not otherwise do. These leaders must be trustworthy, transparent, open, and candid; they must communicate, mentor, coach, and be a positive influence.

    Don't discount the fact the employees are motivated when they are doing interesting work or fun projects, especially those that are aligned with their own values, purpose, and passions. Make sure they understand where and how the customer fits into all of that.

    Knowing that their work matters and that it has a positive impact on the business, on customers, and on society is a motivator. Let employees know how what they do impacts all of their constituencies. Make sure there's alignment. I suppose this is a good time to reiterate that you should hire for attitude and train for skill.

    Oftentimes, when a project or an assignment challenges employees and provides real growth opportunities, it is highly motivational. Mind you, though, this definitely does not work for everyone. Some will be discouraged; others will be encouraged.

    And last but not least, when we celebrate successes and contributions, those being celebrated and often their co-workers, as well, are encouraged to do more.

    Notice that I didn't mention any financial motivators. That's intentional. As with the customer experience, in the absence of value, price (pay) is important; when value is present and apparent, price (pay) is less of a driver.

    If people are good only because they fear punishment and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed
    . -Albert Einstein

    Thursday, May 4, 2017

    Today is Day One!

    Today is my Day One.

    Back in 2011, I started blogging at CX Journey when I was between gigs. I wanted to build my personal brand, and I felt like I had a lot in my head to share with others after (at that time) a 20-year career in this CX space.

    Those first months of writing were pretty interesting. If you ever plan to start blogging, do not - let me repeat - do not watch the site stats. They can be very depressing!

    I could only dream of what happened, though! People read what I wrote. And they actually liked it! I started getting accolades and recognition. And I met new people. And clients. And event organizers. And lots of amazing customer experience professionals. (I look forward to meeting and working with many more!)

    It has been quite the journey. And it has only just begun.

    Today is my Day One.

    What is Day One? It's the first day or the very beginning of something.

    Enough "One day... ." It's time to jump in with both feet!

    And, so I have.

    Yesterday was what I hope is the last day I ever work in the corporate world - at least in someone else's corporate world. Today, I am officially launching my own corporation: CX Journey Inc. I'll be expanding on the work that I've been doing and will be focused on helping clients ground and frame their customer experience strategies in/through customer understanding.

    The month of May is already shaping up to be a busy one, but over the next few weeks I'll be updating this site to reflect the various services I'll be offering. And, yes, journey mapping is, and will continue to be, one of those offerings.

    Thank you to everyone who has been on this journey with me over the last several years. I hope you'll continue to travel with me for years to come. I'm grateful for all of you!

    Not all those who wander are lost. -J.R.R. Tolkien

    Tuesday, May 2, 2017

    Take Action on Your Customer Data!

    Image courtesy of ARMLE
    Are you taking action on your customer data?

    I like to write about taking action and actionable insights because there's a serious lack of action when it comes to customer feedback. I've witnessed it for far too long.

    I've written about this topic a few times in the last several months:

    The Definition of #CX Insanity
    Do You Employ Actionability Thinking in Survey Design?
    The Future is Now: Take Your Customer Data to the Next Level
    Two Major Flaws of Your Customer Listening Efforts

    It's a problem.

    From the 2016 Temkin Group State of Voice of Customer (VoC) Programs Infographic:
    34% of companies reported making changes to their business based on customer insights.
    That should read, "only 34%..."

    That's a pretty embarrassing statistic. You know that almost every company in the world listens. Your doctor, the grocery store, the library, your veterinarian, and on and on and on. What on earth do they do with your feedback?

    Well, you know, it's likely they are just chasing the score. Sadly.

    How can we shift the thinking? How can we turn data into actionable insights - and hopefully convince the score chasers that this is a better approach? It's important that we start at the beginning.

    I don't necessarily believe that the items listed below will convert the score chasers, but for those on the edge and for those not sure how to turn data into something actionable and consumable, here are some things to consider as you think about analyzing and acting on your data.
    1. Objectives first: Always, in anything we do, why are we doing this?
    2. What is the target? What are the outcomes you're solving for?
    3. What problems are you trying to solve?
    4. Ensure that you have multiple streams/types of data for more-robust analysis. Survey data isn't enough; you need to include customer data: demographic, psychographic, behavioral, transaction, interaction, and more. But...
    5. If you want actionable outcomes, ask actionable questions in your surveys and use actionable data. Not all data is good data.
    6. Heed the evolution of analytics. It has occurred for a reason. Use predictive and prescriptive analytics to ensure you uncover actionable answers to work with.
    7. Know your customers. Segment them, as needed; get down to more consumable, relatable segments of insights that can be applied to the right customers.
    8. Know your consumers, i.e., those who are consuming the insights. What do they care about? What is relevant to them? How do they learn? What motivates them to act? A story?
    9. Keep the insights consumable. Smaller chunks are easy to consume. Identify the top three things to focus on, rather than overwhelming with a dozen to-dos. More than three, and you'll begin to lose your audience.
    So, it's not just about the data. As Lolly Daskal has said - and I know I've quoted this before, but it rings so true: Insight alone does not cause change. Change requires action. You may be in charge of uncovering the insights, but you need to figure out what makes the consumers of your insights move. Speak their language. Motivate them. Help them be successful.

    Action is the foundational key to all success. -Pablo Picasso

    Wednesday, April 26, 2017

    Customer Surveys Are as Important as Ever!

    Image courtesy of m kasahara
    I originally wrote today's post for Clicktools. It was published on their blog on July 6, 2016. I've made slight modifications.

    Some pundits would have you believe that surveys are dead, that they are no longer important for customer listening and understanding. I beg to differ.

    Yes, there are several other ways in which companies can listen to customers and learn how well they’re delivering on the experience, but surveys aren’t going anywhere.

    The good news is that companies are listening through surveys. The bad news is, they’re often doing nothing with the feedback. Shame on them! Since I’ve already focused on the action part in a previous post, I’ll focus today’s post on the listening and understanding part; specifically, I’ll focus on designing surveys to which people will want to respond.

    Despite the fact that getting people to respond to your surveys is harder today than it’s ever been, many of the same general design principles from years ago still apply. The major differences today really have to do with simplification.

    Here are my thoughts on designing surveys in and for simpler times in order to get people to respond.

    1. Open your survey with a brief introduction paragraph, stating your objective (in customer-friendly terms) and purpose, as well as any specifics on how the feedback will be used. Respondents want to know why you're conducting this survey and what you're doing with their responses. Don't set expectations about actions and follow-up here that you won’t be able to execute on. And give an honest assessment of how long the survey will take to complete.

    2. Think about survey/question flow. Start with questions that warm up the respondent to the topic or experience. As you dive into the survey, put questions in a natural, logical flow and in sections rather than jumping around in some illogical sequence.

    3. Be mindful of survey length. Transactional surveys can be brief, i.e., 10-15 questions max, whereas relationship surveys can be a bit longer, i.e., 50 questions (albeit respondents see only those questions relevant to them, in essence making the survey shorter). Depending on the relationship with the customer and the experience being evaluated, length could vary.

    4. Use attribute grids to logically (questions that belong together) group questions with the same rating scales.

    5. Use realistic progress meters to let respondents know where they are and how much longer.

    6. Ask a mix of closed-ended and open-ended questions. It isn’t necessary to ask an open-ended question after every closed-ended question, e.g., every rating question. Limit the number of open-ends, but make sure you have at least one.

    7. Don't ask the customer questions about things you already know about him, e.g., last purchase date, product purchased, date of support call, reason for call, etc.

    8. Only ask questions that are relevant to that customer and his/her experience, i.e., don’t ask about a product the customer doesn’t own or about marketing materials in a support survey.

    9. Don't allow other groups or departments to commandeer the survey by adding questions that are not relevant to the survey objective.

    10. Use smart survey techniques to skip questions not relevant to the individual respondent based on responses to previous questions.

    11. Don't use company or industry lingo/language that your customers don't know or understand.

    12. If your survey is going out to a global audience, be sure to offer respondents the option to take the survey in their preferred languages.

    13. Set the incentives aside. The best incentive (and indicator that she’ll continue to respond to surveys) is to thank the customer for her feedback, use it to make improvements, and let her know what you did with it. If she comes back and keeps experiencing the same issues, you won’t have to worry about survey responses; you’ll have to worry about keeping the doors open, instead.

    14. Design the survey with mobile in mind; optimize for mobile, since 30-40% of surveys are completed via mobile devices.

    15. Test your surveys often – make sure your surveys work – on all devices, all browsers; nothing kills your response and completion rates like messed up surveys.

    16. Similarly, spell check and grammar check your surveys. Surveys filled with typos are a turn-off, too.

    17. If you’re administering a post-transaction survey via a URL on the receipt or packing slip, make the URL easy to enter online.

    18. Use carefully-crafted email invitations to invite customers to participate. Ensure the emails get delivered by using the right words and avoiding others (e.g., free, win, survey, etc.) to stay out of spam filters.

    19. Send a reminder 7 days after the original invitation. Send just one reminder.

    20. Keep survey frequency in check. Customers are inundated with surveys from every website, retailer, service provider, restaurant, grocery store, etc. that they visit. Don’t over-survey any one customer.

    Remember that surveys are one of your customer touchpoints, as well. So make sure your surveys deliver a great experience, too. Don’t give your customers yet another excuse to roll their eyes and wish they hadn’t wasted time with you. Surveys are as important to your listening and understanding efforts as ever.

    We all need people who will give us feedback. That's how we improve. -Bill Gates

    Wednesday, April 19, 2017

    Why People Leave Managers

    Image courtesy of pedrosimoes7
    Do people leave managers or do they leave companies?

    My last few posts have focused a bit more on culture and leadership (or lack thereof); in today's post, I'll continue the trend with a focus on management sins. I found three separate items that I wanted to share with you, all quite interesting, some with overlap.

    The first is a whitepaper I recently came across titled 7 Deadly Sins of Management™. It comes from the Management and Leadership Network (MLN) and the Center for Competitiveness (CforC). They conducted research among executives in Northern Ireland to determine if there was a common understanding or thread as to why businesses in the region fail. Apparently, there is a "management and leadership deficit"in the UK. According to their research, the following leadership behaviors cause a business to under-perform or to fail.
    1. Lack of vision (No desired future state identified to be working towards)
    2. Lack of focus (Lack of focus on the areas of the business which add most value)
    3. Inappropriate role model (not leading by example - actions not matching words, not open to learning, not taking ownership)
    4. Not close enough to the business (lack of understanding of markets, customers, staff or product evolution)
    5. Lack of accountability or discipline (no action for non-performance, chaotic/fire-fighting environment, too fluid)
    6. Lack of constancy of purpose (Not staying the course because of the distractions or opportunities which causes the “eye to be taken off the ball”)
    7. Too much focus on the numbers (short-termism, lack of patience, mechanistic environment, blame culture)
    Without a doubt, these behaviors are 110% detrimental to any business. When there's no clarity for employees, when they see leaders fumble around trying to figure out next steps, and when they feel like leaders don't understand the business itself and what they're supposed to be doing, employees begin to question whether they want to continue to work for these folks. And worse, employees decide to leave.

    The next item I found was Dr. W. Edwards Deming seven deadly diseases of western management, which he notes are:
    1. Lack of constancy of purpose
    2. Emphasis on short-term profits
    3. Annual rating of performance: “it is purely a lottery”
    4. Mobility of management (i.e., job hopping)
    5. Use of visible figures only, with little or no consideration of figures that are unknown or unknowable
    6. Excessive medical costs
    7. Excessive legal damage awards swelled by lawyers working on contingency fees
    For any business to be transformed, for businesses to survey, clearly these diseases need to be cured. The first five are his original "diseases," and he added the other two later.

    And finally, the third item is a book by Dr. John Collis, The Seven Fatal Management Sins | Understanding and Avoiding Managerial Malpractice, in which he calls out and defines the following sins:
    1. The character flaw: erosion of trust and integrity
    2. Blind ambition: focus more on managing your career than managing the organization
    3. Short-term scare mentality: managing for survival
    4. Indecisiveness: unclear on when and who decides
    5. Blurred focus: the fuzzy vision
    6. Employees perceived as an expense, not as an investment
    7. Managing unchecked: lack of real accountability
    Pundits actually ponder if people really leave managers, not companies. With traits like those listed, why would an employee want to stay. An interesting observation is that none of these three really put a heavy focus on employee development; each one stated only one sin that pertained to the employee, although, ultimately, they all impact employees,

    From these lists, some of the deal-breaker behaviors for me - ones that I've witnessed fairly consistently over the years, unfortunately - include:
    • Lack of vision
    • Lack of focus/constancy of purpose
    • No real accountability
    • Too much focus on the numbers
    • Not leading by example
    • Lack of trust and integrity
    • Managing for survival
    Based on your experience, what else would you add to the sins outlined by the three sources I've noted? What sins have you seen your managers or leadership team commit? What are your deal breakers?

    So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work. -Peter Drucker

    Wednesday, April 12, 2017

    Ready. Fire. Aim.

    Image courtesy of prairiemomof2
    Have you heard the saying, "Ready. Fire. Aim?"

    What does it mean?

    Shoot before you aim. Shoot (or do anything) before you think or before you think it through. Shoot before you know what you're shooting at. Shoot before you know why you're shooting.

    Take your pick.

    The saying has a few different definitions, but I believe it refers to taking immediate action, or just reacting to something, without even thinking through the options or the implications. Oftentimes, we take immediate actions that are usually based on wrong assumptions or previous experiences that might not apply to the situation at hand.

    Some believe that's a good way to operate, but others believe it's a business killer. While I'm all for being agile, doing what's best in the moment, and asking for forgiveness later, I typically tend to lean to the other side when it comes to strategy and decision making, being a bit more methodical and stepping back, looking at the big picture, and understanding implications of the decision or action. I've seen the opposite happen too often, and typically with negative outcomes.

    If you've ever worked with or for someone who reacts before getting all the facts and before thinking things through, you know what I'm talking about.

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

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

    3. When a customer asks for something that seems out of the norm for what you do - or you simply don't know how or if you can do it - is your knee-jerk response to say, "No?"

    4. If a customer is rude, is it your immediate reaction to be rude back?

    The Ready. Fire. Aim. approach to decision making happens at both strategic and tactical levels. Regardless of level, it can be dangerous. Buy yourself a little bit of time and think about what your response means to the business, to employees, to customers.

    I recently stumbled upon a UPenn online book called Going through the goop: An introduction to decision making. It provides a lot of examples on decision theory and how to make the best decision.

    They define decision as a situation in which:
    • You have more than one option.
    • The option you choose can have some effect on the outcome.
    • You can think about which option to choose.
    What I like is the concept of GOOP, which stands for the four things you need to consider when you're making a decision:
    • Goals: Goals result from decisions. What is the (desired) result of the decision?
    • Options: Options affect outcomes. What are the alternatives to reach your goal? What else could you do?
    • Outcomes: What are the potential and alternative outcomes, given those options?
    • Probabilities: How likely is each outcome?
    Clearly, all four are critical to decisions and decision making. It's really tough to think about those four in the split second that you say, "Ready. Fire." Perhaps it's time to reconsider your approach - and Aim first.

    Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind. -Lucius Annaeus Seneca

    Wednesday, April 5, 2017

    The 10 Commandments of Customer Experience

    Image courtesy of Castles, Capes & Clones
    I originally wrote today's post for Clicktools. It was published on their blog on June 7, 2016. I've made slight modifications.

    Are you following the 10 Commandments of Customer Experiences? Or is it time for a confession?

    In May 2016, I spoke at CallidusCloud Connections (C3); if you've never been to this event, be sure to check it out this year! The topic of my session was The 7 Deadly Sins of Customer Experience. With the topic of today's blog post, I seem to be on a bit of a spiritual customer experience journey.

    In thinking about the customer experience, there are at least 10 Commandments that must be adhered to as you embark on your customer experience journey. These are essentials to ensure a successful customer experience transformation. Here's what I've come up with, in no particular order.

    1. Thou shalt listen to customers and act on their feedback.
    This is probably two commandments, but you really can't do one without the other. Listening to customers is, without a doubt, important to designing a great experience and to business success. Without understanding customers, their expectations, and how well we perform against those expectations, we can never correctly or appropriately redesign the experience to meet their needs. But too many companies forget that the "work" doesn't end with listening. It's only just begun! You must act on what you hear.

    2. Thou shalt map the customer journey in order to understand the experience.
    You can't transform something you don't understand. If you don't know and understand what the current state of the customer experience is, how can you possibly design the desired future state? Take the time to map it, and make sure you map it so that it's actionable: map it from the customer's viewpoint and be sure to bring in artifacts and data that bring the journey to life.

    3. Thou shalt put employees more first.

    The link between the employee experience and customer experience is real. And yet, many companies still refuse to make the employee experience a priority, focusing instead on shareholder value, the bottom line, or customer experience without considering the implications a poor employee experience has on all of the above. Yes, you're in business to create and nurture customers. But without your employees, you have no customer experience. If employees aren't happy, satisfied, and engaged, it will be very difficult for them to delight your customers. This is known as the spillover effect, i.e., “the tendency of one person’s emotions to affect how other people around him feel.”

    4. Thou shalt define and communicate the brand promise.
    A brand promise is, well, a promise to your customers. Everything you do should reflect this promise. It sets expectations and defines the benefits customers can expect to receive when they engage in your services or use your products, when they experience your brand. It's not a mission statement or a brand position. It's meant for employees and customers. Employees at all levels live the promise and deliver on it. In order for employees to deliver on it, they must know it, i.e.,  it must be clearly communicated to them and reiterated often.

    5. Thou shalt hire for attitude and train for skill.

    Hiring the right people for your company is always a challenge, but it's critical. Get the right people in the door - not just those folks who fit your culture or your values but also those who truly want to be there, for the right reasons. Define what "right" means for your company. And when you have the right people, they will attract other "right people." While you need to define what your culture fit looks like, typically hiring people who are positive, passionate about what you do and what the role entails, and love talking to and being around people will set you on a good path. With enthusiasm and passion for the brand, employees are eager to work hard and do what it takes to contribute to, and ensure, its success.

    6. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's experience.
    Imitation is the death of innovation. When imitating, there's no need for innovation, right? Get motivated by what your competitors are doing, but don't dwell on them. Don't try to be just like them; nobody wins when you imitate. Instead, competition drives innovation, and vice versa. And innovation drives success, simply because it allows you and your competitors to offer a variety of products to meet your customers' varying needs. When that happens, the customer wins. And then you do, too.

    7. Thou shalt not proceed without getting executive commitment.
    If your executives aren't on board with developing a customer-focused and customer-centric organization, then forget it; it won't happen. You might have localized or departmentalized efforts, but those will be siloed efforts that translate to siloed experiences for the customer. You must have global, cross-functional executive commitment; and most importantly, the CEO will lead the charge. Just know that, without executive commitment, you'll never get resources - human, capital, or other - to execute on your customer experience strategy.

    8. Thou shalt empower employees.
    What does it mean to empower employees? Empowerment is all about responsibility, ownership, and accountability. It's also about trust; the employee is given the keys to the castle and trusted to do what's right for the customer and for the business. Empowerment means they never have to ask, "Is it OK if I do this for my customer?" Empowerment means not having to ask for permission. Because employees know. And why do they know? See the next commandment...

    9. Thou shalt define a purpose, vision, and strategy.

    Your purpose is your why. Why do you do what you do. Your vision is where you're headed; the corporate vision must be aligned with the CX vision. The CX vision will be inspirational and aspirational; it will outline what you see as the future state of the customer experience. 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 strategy is how you'll go about delivering on that vision.

    10. Thou shalt communicate, communicate, communicate.

    This one seems like such a no-brainer, but it's one thing that folks need to be reminded of regularly: communication is critical to the successful execution of organizational and customer experience  transformations. Communication is a key leadership skill that must be mastered. With communication, we can instruct, motivate, convince and align the audience, drive open and candid discussions, share, and set expectations. It's the most valuable tool in any relationship.

    Bonus. Thou shalt kill bad policies and rules.
    There's one more commandment that I thought was worth adding as a bonus. In order to transform the organization and the experience, it's imperative that we lose the "we've always done it that way" frame of mind. Question everything. Is there a better way to do something? Is there a stupid rule or policy in place whose origin cannot be recalled by anyone? Are there rules that make it painful for customers to do what it is that they're trying to do? Are bad policies making it painful for employees to do their jobs well or to deliver the desired customer experience? Never let "that's just how it's always been done" get in the way of doing things more efficiently and with less effort.

    Without a doubt, there are more customer experience commandments! Perhaps I'll write about others in a future post. How many of these commandments have you fallen short on?

    Some rules are nothing but old habits that people are afraid to change. -Therese Anne Fowler

    Wednesday, March 29, 2017

    Creating a Culture that Delivers Results

    Image courtesy of hundrednorth
    I originally wrote today's post for Clicktools. It was published on their blog on April 26, 2016.

    I recently came across some research conducted among customer experience (CX) practitioners that found that their #1 challenge this year is creating a customer-first culture. I'm an "employees more first" advocate; so while I understand their point and this challenge, I'd still like to see more focus placed on employees. It all flows together in the end, though: creating a customer-first culture requires making the employee experience a more-first priority. You know by now, of course, that the employee experience drives the customer experience.

    How does an organization create that customer-first culture? Well, it's a huge undertaking. Know this: just because you say it is so doesn't make it so.

    I'll take you through some steps you can take, and I'll start at the top. Literally.

    Executives are key to success of any culture transformation. Without them, it won't happen. Executive commitment, not just buy-in, is a must. Not just one executive, all of the executives: the CEO and her entire e-staff. Without their commitment, you won't get the resources (human, financial, etc.) to get things done. Without every executive across the organization, there will be barriers that will inhibit any progress toward a cohesive, consistent culture, and ultimately, experience for the customer. Without executives setting the tone and the direction, change will not happen.

    A set of values, or guiding principles, also needs to be defined and communicated. Values 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. If employees ever question what they should do, or if what they're planning to do is aligned with the organization's expectations, they can refer back to these values.

    By the way, those values will also guide how you hire. And hiring the right people is key to building and maintaining that customers-first culture. Imagine running a service organization and hiring people who don't like talking to or helping people. Yikes.

    Not only do you want to hire with the culture in mind, you also need to make sure these people have the right tools and resources to do their jobs. So onboarding, ongoing training, setting clear expectations, providing ongoing feedback and coaching, and communicating openly and transparently are important components of this culture you're creating.

    Employees in a customer-first culture know how their work matters, and they know how they contribute to the customer experience. (Journey maps are great tools to help with this.) Employees are recognized and rewarded for actions and behaviors that create delight for their customers.

    Another thing that's important with regards to employees and the culture transformation is that you'll want to get buy-in, commitment, and adoption from existing employees. Involve employees in what you're doing as you transform the culture. Invite them to be a part of the transformation; don't just force it on them. And then, if you find that someone is no longer a fit, perhaps it's time for them to move on. You need everyone on the bus; for those who chose the wrong route, it's time to get off.

    Leadership is key, and it's different from being an executive or a manager. Sadly, some executives and managers don't have great leadership skills. Hire the right people, trust them, listen to them, empower them, and let them do what they need to do; be their guide but set them free. They were hired for a reason. Set the course, outline the vision and the purpose, and then let them execute based on the bumper guards you've provided them.

    Communicate! The things you talk about are deemed important; those you don't talk about, aren't. So talk about customers. Share their feedback, their painpoints, and their stories. Talk about great customer experiences, what went well and what delights customers.

    Give the customer a chair. In every meeting, in every decision. Don't do anything without asking, "How does this impact our customers?" "How will this make the customer feel?" "What does this do to the experience?"

    Make sure everyone knows your brand promise. If employees don't know what it is, how can they live it? How can they deliver it? The brand promise creates alignment. The smart CEO uses the brand promise to align all of the activities of the organization; that promise guides people, processes, products, systems, etc. Everything you do must support and reinforce the brand promise: every product, every person, every interaction, every touchpoint, all of it. Every time.

    There's more, but these are the basics. None of this is easy; and it takes time. Just get started. Make sure you have the right people on board and then begin to lay the right foundation, and you'll reap the rewards soon enough!

    If you quit on the process, you are quitting on the result. -Idowu Koyenikan

    Wednesday, March 22, 2017

    Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment

    Image courtesy of lambert03
    Is your work environment toxic?

    You wake up every morning and drag yourself into the office. You know there's a reason you drag and don't skip. The thought of being in your office makes your stomach turn, and you wake up every morning checking your temperature to determine if today might be a sick day rather than a work day.

    Don't worry. We've all been there!

    I recently read an article in Forbes titled 5 Signs You're in a Toxic Workplace. I'll briefly summarize the five here:
    1. Narcissists on top: Leaders believe they can do no wrong and don't believe the rules apply to them. They seek perfection from others, even though they don't meet those standards themselves. And they believe disagreement is defection: it's my way or the highway.
    2. Commiserating colleagues: Employees drown out the bad environment by listening to music with earbuds in their ears and then commiserate about their leaders through chat or text. When their bosses aren't around, employees happily interact, gossip, and count down the hours til the days is over.
    3. Lack of transparency: Are your performance expectations clearly defined? Do you know how your performance will be measured? Do you know what your position entails? Is there a clear job description for your role?
    4. Inconsistent rule book: This one's pretty self-explanatory; rules aren't applied equally across all staff, including the leadership team.
    5. The place is sick, literally: Employees are often calling in sick, fighting off colds at their desks, etc.
    A few years ago, I wrote a post called A Culture of Distrust. It lists 19 signs that you're in a culture of distrust and even includes a couple of the items mentioned in the Forbes article. Take a look, as this type of culture is definitely toxic.

    Shortly after writing that post, I wrote another one about culture issues called Circle the Wagons and Shoot Inward. My favorite lines from that one?
    What happens when they circle the wagons and shoot inward? It's exhausting. And quite toxic.

    What does that look like? It's like an autoimmune disorder, where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, thinking it's an antigen. Quite simply, the culture and the employee experience are a mess.
    So why am I writing about this yet again? Nothing much has changed since 2014, right?

    Exactly. Three years later, employee engagement is still dismal, and you hear more and more stories about toxic workplaces. Have you read about Uber's culture lately? That's not a unique story, sadly. Stories like that bring to light other, uglier issues that make the workplace quite toxic.

    I've been thinking about more about this topic and wanted to add a few more signs to the lists in my earlier posts. I may have mentioned some of them in the previous posts, but if I have, it just means they're worth mentioning frequently! Here goes...
    • You're not having fun. (Listen. You spend a third or half of your day at the office; you need to have some fun there, too.)
    • Missing: sense of humor! You're not allowed to laugh, be playful, or make jokes (at your own expense or anyone else's). 
    • There's a lot of anger and yelling. And name calling.
    • And bipolar behavior. How are employees or leaders going to act today? Will it be the same as yesterday or the polar opposite?
    • Oftentimes, conversations with managers and leaders can be described as patronizing and disrespectful.
    • Men and women are treated differently. I'm not just talking about pay; I'm referring to assignments, respect, appreciation, inclusion, harassment, and more.
    • Employees avoid each other or their managers.
    • There's no appreciation or recognition or acknowledgement for a job (well) done.
    • Emails to/from colleagues go unanswered. People don't care or don't want to help each other.
    • Employees no longer collaborate.
    • But they do gossip.
    • The company (seems to) lack direction, purpose, a mission, and a vision.
    • There's infighting among the leadership team.
    • Employees are monitored. Office arrival time, departure time, emails, work from home time, etc.
    • Trust is broken. Or non-existent.
    • There's a clear lack of meaningful and transparent communication, i.e., information about the company and how the business is faring, from leadership is sparse or lacking.
    • Accountability is missing, especially among leaders.
    • Negativity abounds.
    Doesn't sound like a great place to be everyday, does it? I'm sure it's not. There have to be great places to work. And there are. These great places build cultures that encourage trust, pride, collaboration, and fun.

    Take a look at a post I wrote several years ago about about defining your employee-centric culture, which can be described as having strong leadership, trust, respect, communication, collaboration, empowerment, appreciation, recognition, and a solid understanding of vision, goals, and objectives. That's a complete 180 from working in a toxic workplace!

    To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace. -Doug Conant