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