Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Straight from the Horse's Mouth

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I originally wrote today's post for CallidusCloud. It appeared on their blog on March 22, 2018.

Naysayers have been shouting "Surveys are dead!" from rooftops for a couple of years now. Well, they're not dead (yet), but companies are certainly looking for alternative approaches to customer and employee listening in light of the fact that survey burnout is a real problem.

As a result, there's been a greater focus on qualitative research and listening approaches lately. Which ones, you ask? Here are a few options.

Customer Advisory Boards 
Advisory boards offer benefits to both customers and to your company. You get feedback and can shore up relationships, while customers are heard, get face time with your executives, and are viewed as thought leaders. CABs typically meet semi-annually, hopefully giving you enough time to act on what you heard and to then come back six months later with improvements in hand.

Employee Advisory Boards
Employee advisory boards typically meet on a monthly basis to provide feedback to employers about the employee experience, benefits, culture, and more. Employees get their voices heard, and employers can be more agile when it comes to addressing emerging trends that could lead to dissatisfaction and attrition.

Focus Groups
This is definitely a traditional qualitative listening approach. The format is different from CABs, but focus groups are still a great way to get customers in a room and delve deeper into various topics, get product insights, etc. Focus groups typically required skilled moderators to keep the group on task and to make sure everyone gets a chance to share thoughts.

1:1 interviews
This approach is unique and often used by B2B companies to probe for feedback on relationship health and more. Managers use these with employees as well; those discussions are often referred to as stay interviews. There's no better way to let a customer or an employee know that you care than to have a 1-on-1 discussion, except to have a follow-up chat to let the customer or the employee know what you did with the feedback!

Voice of the Customer Through Employees
VoCE includes feedback and insights about your customers that have been gathered by your frontline staff (call center, sales, account management, etc.), the folks who interact with - and talk to - them the most. Formalize the process for employees to capture the pain points and sources of frustration that they hear about from your customers. This is a rich source of information, without a doubt.

Online Communities
I wrote about online communities before, but at that time it was more about using them for support, i.e., customers helping each other solve product issues. Online communities are also a great way to test product concepts and to get feedback about the customer (or the employee) experience.

Social Media
In this category, I'll include not only Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., but also online review sites like Yelp, OpenTable, GlassDoor, and TripAdvisor. There is a ton of feedback on these sites; the real challenge is wrangling it, making sense of it, responding to it, and doing something about it.

Immersion Programs
Walking in customers’ shoes has become a cliché in our world, but that’s what customer immersion programs are all about. They allow executives to experience what customers experience when they (try to) do business with you. Company executives embed themselves into their customers’ lives to gain a better understanding of how they live, work, and do the jobs they need to do - with your products.

Journey Mapping
If you don't think of journey mapping sessions as a way to capture customer or employee feedback, unfortunately, you're wrong. When you map or validate current state maps with customers - and when you co-create and develop future state journeys with them, you are about as close to the customer and the customer experience as you can get without actually being there yourself. And the customer is right there in front of you, telling you about the experience. It's a moment of clarity, and it puts the experience and the feedback side by side, allowing you to immediately take it and design something better.

The next time someone in your organization groans at the thought of doing more surveys, consider one or more of these options. You'll come away with some rich data - straight from the horse's mouth - that can be put to good use immediately!

If you don't get feedback from your performers and your audience, you're going to be working in a vacuum. - Peter Maxwell Davies

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Transforming Your Culture with the Help of a Culture Committee

Image courtesy of Pixabay
What is a Culture Committee? And do you need one? (The short answer is "Yes!")

Last month, I wrote a two-part series about how to stand up your team of CX Champions. Without a doubt, they are an important part of the customer experience transformation governance structure and transformation success.

Another team that's important to your transformation is a Culture Committee. While executives must ensure core values are established and communicated and the associated behaviors are modeled, they can't promote culture and drive culture change alone. Similarly, culture cannot be assigned to - or be driven by - HR. But culture doesn't just happen, either. There must be a grassroots effort among employees - a groundswell of sorts - to create and then to perpetuate and live the desired culture.

This is where the Culture Committee comes in to play.

What is a Culture Committee?
A Culture Committee is a group of cross-functional employees who meet to identify, discuss, and plan ways to promote and to drive the desired culture throughout the organization. You must have cross-functional representation on the Committee, as that diversity ensures that no one area of the company has greater influence over culture development and change than any other.

What traits or qualities do Culture Committee members have?
Committee members are well-respected and are often recognized as role models when it comes to living and breathing your core values and the culture. They are company advocates and love to talk about where they work, are strongly aligned with the company purpose, and want to see the business succeed. Similar to the CX Champions, they are team players, work well with others, and have – or can build – strong cross-functional relationships. They are excellent communicators. They are influential in their departments and, perhaps, across the organization.

What does the Culture Committee do?
The Committee helps to create that groundswell of adoption of the culture traits as defined by the core values and guiding principles through (a) communicating and modeling the values and (b) brainstorming and developing programs, actions, and events that support the company's mission, purpose, and values. (These programs or events might be fun, educational, and healthy/wellness events that bring employees together, again, in support of the company's purpose or values.) The Committee may even help to define (or revisit) the core values.

One of the things that Committee members must do is talk to fellow employees to keep a pulse on the culture and what's happening in the workplace. Do employees feel like the culture is evolving or eroding? What's working and what's not? What matters to them? This is important information to bring into the Committee meetings so that members can identify ways to support the evolution or mitigate the erosion. They may also review feedback from employee surveys to identify opportunities to shift the behavior and the thinking.

Note that the Committee isn't a skunkworks project or team; it is a dedicated group of employees who have the support and commitment from executives. The Committee advises the executives on culture matters and initiatives, and executives must review, approve, and pony up the resources for any programs or events initiated by the Committee.

How many Committee members are there?
That depends on how many cross-functional departments you have. And if you’ve got multiple business units, is there a corporate shared services group from which you can pull folks? If not, be sure to get business unit representation, too. If you’ve got global office locations, you’ll want to consider representation across the globe.

Who does the Committee report to?
Typically, HR will organize and host the Committee.

How do you find Culture Committee members?
There are at least two approaches to finding your Culture Committee members. (1) You can set some parameters and definitions (are they a good culture fit? do they ooze your company DNA? etc.) and then ask for volunteers based on that; or (2) you can accept nominations based on those same parameters.

How else can I identify these folks?
You might already have some people in mind as ideal Culture Committee candidates. To confirm, you can ask these individuals what they like and don't like about the company's culture and why culture matters.

Why do I need a Culture Committee?
Your Culture Committee brings together employees from across the company to provide a more-organized and holistic approach to driving culture change and other culture-focused initiatives. Executives, HR, and Customer Experience leaders can't change culture on their own; the cross-functional Committee members can help with that. They can facilitate speeding up the transformation because they are your boots on the ground around the company helping the change initiatives move forward and advocating for and promoting culture change organization-wide. They are living the change; they are living the culture. And they are helping to weave fun and wellness into the culture.

How often does the Culture Committee meet?
I've seen the cadence vary, for sure. In some companies, the Committee meets every other week; in others, it meets monthly. Early on, they should meet more frequently (i.e., weekly or bi-weekly); as they start to establish how they will work together and what they will do, perhaps the frequency can shift to monthly.

Who attends the meetings?
In addition to the Culture Committee members, typically the head of HR (or the head of People & Culture) attends. The Customer Experience team also has a presence. And, ideally, the CEO will also participate in some of these meetings.

For how long do they serve as Committee members?
Some organizations engage their Culture Committee members for two-year terms. As with the CX Champions, I suggest keeping the initial set of Committee members on the team at least long enough to gain a foothold in the movement or transformation, which tends to be about two years. Subsequent members may be limited to one-year terms to keep the ideas fresh and to give more employees the opportunity to be a part of this Committee.

On what do we need to train the Culture Committee?
Culture Committee members should be trained on what culture is, and they must know what your core values are. Likely, they already know these things, but it's good to revisit to ensure everyone is on the same page. You might also want to give them some guide rails within which they can plan events and programs, propose initiatives, etc.


In a nutshell, the Culture Committee will be your culture champions or your culture cheerleaders. They might plan wellness programs and events, company outings, and other fun events inline with the company culture. They might also assist with new employee orientation and onboarding to help indoctrinate new employees into the new culture. And they might suggest developing a culture book similar to what Zappos does every year so that all employees have the opportunity to share what the culture means to them.

In addition to getting feedback from employees around them, the Committee members can also help by answering a few questions themselves, including:
  • What does culture mean to you?
  • And, more specifically, what does our culture mean to you? How would you describe it to someone outside of the organization?
  • Do you believe employees are living the core values?
    • If not, what's keeping them from doing so? 
    • Ask them to identify something in their daily work that is inconsistent with your core values.
You might also ask them to participate in a culture mapping exercise to understand the culture and what the workplace is like for employees and to identify where improvement opportunities exist.

Suffice it to say there are a lot of ways that the Culture Committee can promote the current culture or help to transform the culture to what you/employees desire and need it to be.

Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first. -Simon Sinek

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

How to Create a Brand Identity Your Customers Are Most Interested In

Today I'm pleased to share a guest post by Lexie Lu of Design Roast.

Coming up with a brand identity isn’t an easy task. You have to consider the message you want the world to take away from any interaction with your company, and you have to think about what your target audience cares about. Ideally, a strong brand identity will mesh both your needs and those of your customer.

77 percent of B2B marketers say that proper branding plays a big role in company growth. Some key factors play into your brand identity and whether or not it’s one that consumers can relate to.

1. Keep Marketing Simple
Small businesses don’t always have a huge marketing budget. Keep things simple at first, and keep the focus on your main message as a brand. If you’re on a limited budget, study your analytics and where most of your current website traffic comes from. If most of your traffic is from Facebook, throw your advertising dollars there.

On the other hand, if you’re on a tight budget and want to do local advertising, you can do a lot of inexpensive things to reach new customers. Set up a booth at small festivals or hang door hangers in neighborhoods, for example.

2. Find Your Target Audience
Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Instead, hone in on your core audience and what they’re looking for from a company. Does your brand identity tie into those wants? For example, millennials care deeply about the causes a company stands behind, while baby boomers might be more likely to look at overall reputation. Once you know who your target audience is, it’s easier to come up with the ideal branding message.

Tide does a good job of speaking to the innovation and convenience that millennials love. They explain in detail why their Tide pods work so well and are so convenient. The use of simple images and bold colors also attracts the younger generation.

3. Take Part in Trends
If you want to reach your target audience with the things they’re most interested in, you have to stay up on the trends and be willing to try new things. For example, experiential design brings an entirely new look to a storefront or event venue. Around 89 percent of consumers pay little attention to ads. However, environmental graphics are still new enough to grab their attention.

4. Choose the Right Font
Figuring out which font matches your brand's personality and message is challenging but well worth the effort. The right font has a tone that matches your brand’s identity. If your company is young, hip, and fun, you don’t want a classic font without much added interest. On the other hand, if you run a financial company and need to send the message of stability, then you don’t want to go with a font that’s too frivolous.

Virgin has a unique-looking font for their logo. Richard Branson's brand has a young, fun vibe, and the font used for Virgin's logo is hip, fresh, and reminiscent of travel and fun.Since his brand includes a lot of travel-based investments, such as Virgin Hotels and Virgin Atlantic, it makes sense that the font would have a fun personality along this vein.

5. Learn to Engage
If you want site visitors to turn into raving fans, you must first engage them. This process occurs through a variety of methods, including in-store interaction, emails, and even responding to social media posts. Twitter is an excellent platform on which to engage with others. If a customer takes the time to mention your brand in a tweet, make sure you reply. You'll also want to connect with influencers in your industry and reach out to local media.

6. Offer Transparency
One survey indicated that 94 percent of people are loyal to brands that commit to transparency. Don’t try to hide your flaws, but embrace them and explain why you’re still the best choice anyway. If you donate a certain percentage of profits to charity, share exactly how much money that translates into and where the money went. Be open and honest with consumers, and they’ll be more likely to remain loyal to your brand.

Buffer prides itself on a company culture devoted to transparency. They run their business on 10 core values aimed at being open and honest both internally and externally. Those values include concepts such as embracing positivity, listening first, showing gratitude and defaulting to transparency.

7. Be Flexible
About the time you think you have your brand identity and how to market it figured out, you can be certain that something will shift, and you’ll have to adjust. Don’t get into a mindset that doesn’t allow for some flexibility.

If your goal is to offer the best customer service in your industry, but you have a major issue with quality, then your identity may temporarily shift to transparency and emergency control. That doesn't mean you can't move back to your main focus later, but if you want your business to survive, there will be times when your focus needs to change.

8. Create Authentic Content
Consumers want and expect content that’s reliable and authoritative. About 80 percent of people say content that’s authentic influences their decision on whether to follow a brand. If you're seen as a credible authority, then people will trust and follow what you have to say on a particular topic.

Image credit: Burger King
Burger King highlights the fact that more of their restaurants have burned down than any other chain. Since they’re known for their flame-grilled burgers, the idea of a restaurant going up in flames seems to fit that overall theme. The ad campaign pictured above won an award and features different restaurants that have burned down since the company’s inception in 1954.

9. Pay Attention to Images
Every single thing you put out into the world reflects your brand’s message. Pay attention to more than just the text you use but also to the images on your website, what you include in an email, and what is posted on social media. Images should be relevant and high-quality. If possible, they should be personalized, but if you're just starting, a related stock photo works, as well.

10. Be Consistent
Presenting your brand consistently time after time results in 23 percent more revenue. Figure out how to display your brand consistently no matter where you're marketing. If you put a sign in your storefront window, it should follow the same tone and style as the ads you post on social media

11. Go for Boldness
Don’t be afraid to be a bit bold in your branding efforts. Consumers see hundreds of ads in a given week, if not more. If you want to grab their attention, you must do something different that shocks, grabs attention, evokes an emotion, or draws them in somehow. Don’t be afraid to do something a bit unexpected. Just make sure it aligns with your brand’s personality and underlying values (see #10 above).

Your Customers Are Key
If you want your brand to speak to your customers, you have to invest time into figuring out what they want and how your company can deliver. Once you understand your typical customer, work toward creating a brand they’ll flock to. If they love you enough, they’ll help you get the word out by telling their family and friends about your amazing company. Your customers truly are the key to your success.

Lexie is a web designer and typography enthusiast. She spends most of her days surrounded by some HTML and a goldendoodle at her feet. Check out her design blog, Design Roast, and follow Lexie on Twitter.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

When a Customer Wins, Nobody Loses, Right?!

Image courtesy of Gerry Brown
Today I'm pleased to share a guest post by Paul Laughlin, Chief Blogger at

In today's post, Paul shares a book review of Gerry Brown's book, When a Customer Wins, Nobody Loses.

As I’ve shared before GDPR should be a positive customer benefit. As well as being a business benefit, when approached in the right way, GDPR is at root about empowering people/customers.

But, more widely, all is still not well in the CX garden. Despite what feels like a lifetime of various Customer Experience events, books, and consultants – all too often we still experience bad service.

That is the theme of this latest book from Gerry Brown.

I love it, and let me share with you why I think you might enjoy it too.

It’s funny we still need to make the case for "The Customer Wins"
The first positive to express about this book is Gerry’s candour and humour. With a gentle (mostly) and dry Canadian wit, Gerry exposes the first secret of CX: in most cases it ain’t yet working.

Much of the first half of this book is a combination of calling out that "the emperor has no clothes" and sharing buttock-clenching stories of all-too-common bad service. His points are well made.

Much more than fine words and strategy statements are needed to fix the most common customer irritants.

Gerry has been around the block enough, to put things simply, to cut through the latest Digital-Customer Self-Actualisation jargon and to make clear the basic building blocks that are needed to get started. This he does with both practical advice on influence and strategy, followed by tackling some of the barriers you are likely to face.

To achieve the Customer Wins requires technology and people
One of the strengths that Gerry brings to this conversation is his combination of IT expertise and people focus. This enables him to avoid two common pitfalls: too many CX speakers mislead their disciples into believing it is either all about technology solutions or all about people/culture. All businesses who’ve succeeded at CX have developed both.

Gerry explains some interesting back stories to the approach of Four Seasons, amidst other brands, as well as his personal experience with one Holiday Inn. These examples help ground this book in practical examples, showing what businesses need to manage in practice, not just aspirational statements and PR.

Beyond that, Gerry also engages with the work required in both technology and people departments. From cloud computing solutions and use of big data to organisational alignment and Bring Your Own Attitude. There are lots of practical tips to be picked up here.

As I write this post, I’ve just suffered another frustrating experience at a Novotel hotel. This is a brand I want to like, as their design and proposition work for me – but getting the basics wrong (like air conditioning) and hearing frontline staff powerless to do anything about it – confirms so many of Gerry’s points. Technology alone will not deliver CX nirvana; you need the right recruitment, training, and examples to deliver people who care and are empowered to ensure good customer outcomes.

Four principles to ensure the Customer Wins every time
As well as the many practical examples, from firms like John Lewis, Zappos, and Autoglass, Gerry also shares some models and theories. These help provide a framework and approach for those pushing for improved CX in their businesses. There’s more advice than I can simply summarise in this post (including the meaning of the CARE acronym at Four Seasons), but his central four are worth sharing.

In chapter 9, Gerry outlines these four principles to ensure Customers Win:
  1. Culture: beyond mission statements to how organisations have got ‘customer first’ into their DNA.
  2. Commitment: from the top down, demonstrating and expecting everyone to care about and ensure good CX is delivered.
  3. Community: from public visibility to community engagement and social care benefits.
  4. Communication: keeping the CX journey alive, so everyone can see progress and ideals.
Gerry also has some typically frank and useful advice on metrics, including why NPS or CES are not enough; you need to think more carefully about metrics and customer insight.

Case studies on how the Customer Wins
Compared to so many other CX textbooks, one of the reasons that I am happy to recommend Gerry’s book is its real world pragmatism. This is a book and consultancy approach grounded in what is actually being achieved as well as problems often faced. It helps so much that Gerry continues to see things through a customer lens and complain when things go wrong.

In keeping with the many examples, shared throughout this book, Gerry concludes by sharing three short case studies, bringing the challenges and principles to life in the businesses of HomeServe, Autoglass & Metro Bank. Here is a link to see the GoodReads preview for this book.

Do you have any CX books that have helped inspire you or guide your work? If so, please share in the comments below and perhaps Paul can publish one of your book reviews on his blog.

Paul Laughlin has over 20 years experience of leading teams to generate profit from analysing  data. Over the last 12 years he’s created, lead and improved customer insight teams across Lloyds, TSB, Halifax and Scottish Widows. He’s delivered incremental profit of over £10m pa and improved customers’ experiences.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Paving the Path for Positive Customer Journeys

Image courtesy of Adam Toporek
How do you deliver a Hero-Class® experience for your customers?

It's a great question, and, fortunately, I know someone who can answer it for us. Adam Toporek, who I'm proud to not only refer to as a customer service expert but also as a friend, took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for me.

I'll get to the interview in a moment; let me set this up first. Adam is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero, a book with "real world tips and techniques for the service front lines." I'll be joining Adam (and hundreds of other folks) in Austin in October for CCWAustin, but he'll be getting on stage; I'll be on the sidelines.

Before we meet up in Austin, I thought I'd ask him a few questions about the book and about his keynote at CCWAustin. Here's what I learned.

Why did you write this book?
Be Your Customer’s Hero was born out of my frustration owning businesses and leading frontline employees. Coming from small business and retail franchising, I saw firsthand how frontline employees struggled to deliver great experiences. They struggled when things were easy, and they would fall apart when things got hard. 

As a leader, I wanted a single resource that I could hand to a frontline employee and say, “Here is almost everything you need to know to succeed with customers.”

And while there are a lot of great customer service books out there, I couldn’t find one that did that - so I wrote it.

What does it mean to be your customer’s hero?
To me, a hero is someone who is there when you need them. A customer hero is no different.

To be the customer’s hero means one thing above all else: It means being there when the customer needs you and making your personal interaction with the customer as memorably positive as possible.

Now, being a customer’s hero doesn’t mean you can always give customers what they want, but it does mean you always give them your focus, your understanding, and your best efforts.

In a nutshell, what’s the secret to delivering a Hero-Class® customer experience?
To me, you only need to do three things to deliver a Hero-Class® experience:
  1. Meet and, whenever possible, exceed expectations.
  2. Provide a hassle-free, frictionless experience.
  3. Do both of the above consistently.
I’ll be talking about all three in Austin, but my main focus will be on that second dimension — how we can identify hassle and eliminate it from our customer journeys.

Can this concept apply to the employee experience, as well? Can a manager be her employee’s hero, or is that another book?
One of the biggest surprises for me after the release of Be Your Customer’s Hero was the number of people who commented that they used it with their internal teams. I didn’t write it with that in mind, but, as you might imagine, many of the techniques that help you communicate and interact more effectively with external customers can help you do the same with your internal customers.

When I talk about customer experience leadership, I talk about the strategies and techniques you need to be your team’s hero.

And I’ll say this, because it relates to what we’re going to talk about at CCWAustin: One of the most important things you can do to be your team’s hero is to constantly improve the customer experience, because when a customer experience breaks down, when we fail our customers, who feels it the most? Our teams.

Designing a hassle-free customer experience is an integral part of being your team’s hero.

What’s your favorite tip from the book?
I can’t say I have a favorite; I love all of my children equally. :) However, the tip I think that has really been revolutionary for so many frontline representatives and leaders has been to let customers punch themselves out — which, in short, means to let customers vent fully. This can be challenging in any setting but can be particularly difficult in contact centers, where agents might be focused on handle time.

The reason the technique is so powerful is that it is counter-intuitive. Our natural reaction is to interrupt the customer, both to stop the venting and to offer a solution, but when we do that, we are focused on solving the customer’s problem and not resolving the customer’s feelings. And when we have an upset customer, it is the latter that is almost always the most important.

Can you give me the inside scoop on what the audience can expect from your afternoon keynote at CCWAustin? (How cool is it that you’re onstage right after happy hour!)
Hilarity will ensue! Isn’t that what they say?

My goal for every keynote is to make the audience laugh, make the audience think, and help them find one or two actionable ideas they can put to use immediately when they return to their organizations.

In keeping with this year’s theme of speed and efficiency, I'm going to talk about the operational aspects of hassle, which is how we all generally approach this topic, but I'm also going to take a different approach and talk about how hassle relates to customer emotion. I'm going to delve into the “why” behind making hassle reduction a strategic priority.

Plus, I’ve got a story about someone throwing up on a roller coaster you don’t want to miss.


I bet Daymond John, who will be the morning keynote on the same day, can't hold a candle to that story!

Customer Contact Week (CCW) is October 9-12, 2018, in Austin, Texas. If you're planning to join us there, use my discount code (2CCWA_ANNETTEFRANZ) for 20% off your registration!


Adam Toporek is an internationally-recognized customer experience expert, keynote speaker, and customer service trainer who helps organizations transform their relationships with their customers through better strategy, training, and communication. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero, the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog, the co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast, and the creator of the virtual training course, How to Deal with Difficult Customers.