Wednesday, May 16, 2018

7 Customer Experience Strategies You Can Hack from Amazon

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Today I'm pleased to present a guest post by Jason Grills with ProProfs.

Ever since 1994, Amazon has been spreading its impact and dictating trends in the e-commerce industry. If you’ve ever used its services, you’ve probably had the chance to directly witness one of the crucial reasons for its success.

What makes Amazon a market leader with constantly-increasing revenue is the relationship that this company builds with every single customer. According to Statista, 67% of US Amazon customers were very satisfied and 28% rather satisfied with the customer support provided by Amazon as of March 2017.

So, if you’re interested in building a customer experience that will keep your customers coming back, it’s beyond convenient to adopt the extraordinary customer experience practices developed by Amazon. This is the reason I'm revealing some of the most important hacks for creating a superior customer experience in this article. Read on and find out more!

Hack #1: Customer Experience is a Reflection of Employee Experience
In other words, if you can’t keep your employees happy, they won’t be interested in keeping your customers happy. This is especially important to recognize when it comes to the employees in customer support, such as live chat agents, call center operators, etc.

According to Glassdoor, 74% of employees would recommend Amazon to a friend, which is definitely an important factor to consider. And this is not a surprise if we consider the fact that Amazon Career Choice program invests up to $12,000 in the employees’ education and certification.
Keeping these facts in mind, it’s obvious that Amazon employees are highly motivated to provide the best possible results and keep the customers happy. So think about the ways to make your employees happy and ensure they are well-trained for interacting with your customers. Your customers will definitely appreciate it.

Hack #2: Forget about Competition
Unless you’re trying to copy their good practices when it comes to the treatment of employees and customers, stop overthinking your competition. Once you realize you’re not in the game to compete with another brand but to make the ones who rely on you as happy as you can, you’ll be able to provide a better customer experience.

As Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has stated for US News, if you focus on your competition, you’ll always be waiting for them to do something that you should react to. And that behavior reflects a passive approach that you should avoid. On the other hand, if you focus on your customers’ needs, you’ll always be working on new ways to keep them content and loyal. Practically, you’ll be the one to innovate and dictate new trends.

Hack #3: Help Your Customers Help Themselves
Taking up every query can be a hectic task for your support agents. And this can be due to various reasons.
  • There are days when too many customer queries flow in at once. Therefore, it can be tiresome for them. Plus, there may be questions that are frequently asked by visitors. To cater to customer needs and to ensure that agents are able to deliver answers instantly through a live chat support system, it is essential to create FAQs that fill the need for instant answers efficiently.
  • A shortage of customer support agents can also put a lot of pressure on the existing team. There could be scenarios where the entire team is not present. Although the other members do take the charge for a chat, it still puts them in a spot to perform well and provide every customer a delightful experience. But this can be resolved if a knowledge base is integrated into the process.
With knowledge base integration, you not only help your customers get instant answers but also achieve the following benefits. You'll create...
  • a more-efficient live chat support system, since agents will only deal with issues that cannot be solved among fellow customers;
  • a collaborative customer community that will strengthen their mutual bond, and, therefore, the bond with your brand by creating that sense of community and facilitating their interactions; and
  • an interactive, publicly-accessible knowledge base (a forum, a discussion board, or a group) that you can save and promote to help future customers find information easily, as well.
Hack #4: Provide a Responsive Help Center
The key advantage of great customer support is a well-developed help center that allows customers to look for the information they need. By introducing a help center that’s well designed and meaningfully organized, you will:
  • save your customers’ time, and 
  • increase the efficiency of the agents working in your live chat customer support by eliminating interactions when there’s no need for them.
If you’ve ever visited Amazon’s Help, you’ve probably realized that it’s got a large number of topics and subtopics with numerous articles offering concise information; however, even though the content is what matters the most, the minimalist layout that keeps you focused on finding the answers to your questions is equally important. And that’s definitely the way to go if you want to improve your customer experience.

Hack #5: Provide Easily Accessible and High-Quality Live Support
Not only is it important for you to provide a thorough help center, it's also necessary to make it easy for customers to get in touch with your support staff. At Amazon, customers are rarely put on hold, no matter whether they’re contacting the representatives using live chat or by phone.

Apart from providing a quick response, what makes Amazon the first-ranked company when it comes to customer satisfaction is the fact that they invest a lot in the employees’ education in the field of CX. According to Jeff Bezos, call-center training is an obligatory part of annual training not only for support staff but for all employees at Amazon, including managers. This way, the risks of delivering poor customer service are reduced, and managers are indoctrinated into the mindset of not only listening to but also understanding their customers.

Hack 6: Take Good Care of Your Customers
Regarding taking care of customers, I'm not only talking about responsiveness and 24/7 availability but also about providing the best purchase experience. So what did folks at Amazon do to deliver a great purchase experience? They implemented the innovative "One Click" solution that enables an incredibly fast purchase.

Amazon realizes that the idea of storing customers’ data to save time when making another purchase isn’t the best option for all of their customers. They understand that some of their customers prefer a traditional shopping basket purchase, particularly when it comes to multiple-item purchases. Accordingly, they’ve continued nurturing both shopping options, letting customers choose the shopping approaching they’re more comfortable with.

Hack 7: Use Abandonment to Your Advantage
Cart abandonment is a common issue that keeps e-commerce retailers preoccupied. Amazon takes a different approach; knowing that an abandoned purchase doesn’t always mean that customers don’t need a certain product anymore, Amazon has developed a well-planned system of subtle email reminders for each abandoned purchase. They help customers get back to the site in case they just got distracted during the process and still need to make the purchase. This way, Amazon gets the most out of "sales in process," which is a great way of improving business results.

Accordingly, if you want your customers to finish a purchase, make sure to get in touch with them and check if they need any help. You may be surprised by the number of customers willing to buy something even after they’ve abandoned your site.

How to Create a Business Strategy Inspired by Amazon
As you can see from these hacks, Amazon has developed a business model that clearly focuses on customers and the customer experience. To create a business environment where your customers will feel comfortable and appreciated, you must:
  • keep your employees motivated to provide better results and make a stronger connection with your customers;
  • stop thinking about your competition’s next move and start providing superior service by actively listening to your customers’ needs and demands; and
  • provide high-quality support based on the use of live chat customer support, a well-structured help center, and a community of/for your customers.
Finally, deliver a personalized and proactive experience; for example, find ways to address the customers who abandon the purchase process before they buy a product. Not only will they appreciate your willingness to help them out if they get confused during the purchase, but they’ll also become aware that you pay attention to their needs, which can only make them more satisfied and loyal.

Jason Grills is a Sr. Technical Writer with ProProfs. He enjoys writing about emerging customer support products, trends in the customer support industry, and the financial impact of using such tools. In his spare time, Jason likes traveling extensively to learn about new cultures and traditions.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

On Which Does Your Company Focus: Customer Acquisition or Retention

Image courtesy of Quadient
Where does your company put a greater focus, on acquiring new customers or on retaining existing customers?

It seems there ought to be a balance, or a shift in balance, no?

The old debate stands: should companies focus on customer acquisition over retention? Despite the fact that the cost of bringing in new customers is much higher than the cost to keep existing customers, companies place a disproportionate focus on marketing and advertising in order to attract new customers. In doing so, they create what’s called “the leaky bucket syndrome,” i.e., as fast as companies are bringing new customers in the front door, existing customers are running out the back door. Should companies plug the leak or keep filling the bucket?
The debate about where brands should focus their energies and currencies is strong. Despite the statistic that acquiring new customers costs 5-25 times as much as retaining existing ones, marketers (and, generally, their CEOs, as well) believe that resources should be spent on acquiring new customers. Why? Well, I wrote a whitepaper for Quadient recently to more deeply explore this conundrum. I'd be honored if you would download the whitepaper, read it, and give me your thoughts.

Here's my bottom line on this dilemma: Both acquisition and retention will always be important. Companies need to work on both. Without acquiring new customers, there will be no customers to retain. Without retaining existing customers, companies will suffer through the leaky bucket syndrome, and acquisition costs will be outrageous. So there needs to be a better balance between both, along with a strategy for how to do just that.

Make a customer, not a sale. -Katherine Barchetti

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

CX Journey™ Musings: A Lesson in Living Your Core Values

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Have you seen Jeff Bezos' annual shareholder letter for 2018?

Within the last few weeks, Bezos released his 20th annual shareholder letter. Each year the letter is filled with strategy lessons about customer experience, employee experience, leadership, innovation, and culture. And I love how he always attaches his very first shareholder letter to each year's letter. (Because it's always Day One at Amazon.) It's been great to follow and to see the evolution, maturity, and growth in him, his thinking, and the business.

Bezos writes in a style and a tone that is likable and relatable - not in corporate speak but in human terms, words we use every day. That alone wins him major points!

There seemed to be an even stronger obsession for all things employee and customer (if that's possible) than in the past, and I felt that he was really trying to convey a powerful message to teach others about how to do business right. Retailers are already on red alert - as more and more shut down - but there's a lot to be learned from Amazon. Retailers - and other businesses alike - can survive and grow in today's environment, if they have a similar obsession.

While I understand that not everyone has an amazing experience with Amazon, my own personal experience has always been that when it's wrong, they make it right. No business is perfect, but I would imagine that any other company that gets it right 98% of the time would be pretty pleased. And so would their customers.

As I read this year's letter, I thought it was heartfelt and had a slightly different approach from previous letters. It became apparent to me a couple paragraphs in that it was written through the lens of Amazon's core values, or leadership principles as they are now referred to.

As you read the letter, think about their 14 leadership principles, quoted here from their site:

Customer obsession
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don't sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say "that's not my job."

Invent and simplify
Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by "not invented here." As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.

Are right, a lot
Leaders are right a lot. They have strong business judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

Learn and be curious
Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

Hire and develop the best
Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.

Insist on the highest standards (this was a major focus of the letter)

Leaders have relentlessly high standards—many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high-quality products, services, and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

Think big
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

Bias for action
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

Earn trust
Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

Dive deep
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.

Have backbone, disagree and commit
Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Deliver results
Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

This year's letter is a lesson both in leadership and in living your core values. The two go hand in hand, without a doubt. Executives aren't exempt from living the core values, and Jeff Bezos is no exception. As a matter of fact, he's the cheerleader!

Culture = values plus behavior. The way executives communicate with their employees, their customers, and their shareholders is a reflection of the core values, and hence, of the culture.

How do your executives communicate? Is it through a lens of the company's core values?

The CEO is not in charge of the company; the values are. If, at the end of our careers, we have not passed along positive values, we have abdicated our leadership role. -Dave Logan

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

From Journey Map to Experience

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Today's post was originally written for Brand Quarterly. It appeared in their November 28, 2017, issue. It has been slightly modified.

Customers are yearning for better experiences. But what are you doing to design a better experience?

How do you know what your customers’ expectations are? What are they trying to achieve? And how well is that going for them? Are you listening to customers? Are you mapping their experiences? How are you driving the necessary change within your company?

What is Journey Mapping?
Let me start with explaining what journey maps are not: they are not lifecycle maps, sales funnels, buyer funnels, buyer lifecycles, etc. Those are marketing tools and are too high level for customer experience design. Customer experience professionals require a lot more detail at a micro level in order to understand the pain points and to, ultimately, fix them. As such, journey maps are an illustration made by walking in your customers’ shoes to capture their steps, needs, and perceptions for some interaction they had with your company, some journey they were taking to achieve some outcome.

Journey mapping is a creative process that allows you to understand – and then redesign – the customer experience. The output is not just a “pretty picture;” once the map is developed, it is meant to be a catalyst for change.

Why Map Journeys
Mapping isn’t just a lame exercise; it’s a learning exercise. Companies learn about their customers and about the experience they put them through to interact with the business.
Done right, maps help companies in many ways, including to…
  • Understand experiences. You can’t transform something you don’t understand, is what I like to say. Maps bring understanding. They highlight and diagnose existing issues and opportunities; at the same time, they capture what’s going well, too.
  • Design experiences. Once you understand the current experience and moments of truth, maps help you prioritize and rethink existing processes and/or create new ones. 
  • Implement and activate new experiences. The maps become blueprints or statements of direction for the work to be done to improve and to redesign the experience. 
  • Communicate and share experiences. Maps are great communication and teaching tools. They can be used during onboarding, training, and other ongoing education opportunities to unite the organization around the customer, to teach employees about the current and the future experience, and to further ingrain the customer-focused culture of the business.
  • Align the organization. Use the maps to get executive commitment for the CX strategy, get organizational adoption of the customer-centric focus, provide a line of sight to the customer for employees, and help employees understand how they impact the experience.
One thing to note is that journey mapping is not just for customers but for all constituents, including employees, vendors, partners, franchisees, licensees, etc. It’s a tool - and a process - to design a better experience for anyone who interacts with your company.

The Benefits of Mapping Journeys
There are a ton of benefits of mapping customer journeys. They can probably best be summed up in the following five categories, which clearly overlap with the reasons you should map.

1. Align the organization
  • Executive and employees, as well: get everyone on the same page about the importance of delivering a better experience
  • Break down silos: get people collaborating and sharing data for the benefit of the customer
2. Understand the customer and his experience
  • Build empathy for the customer: when executives see the steps they put customers through to do business with the company, it’s an eye-opener!
  • Improve the experience: understand the customer, what she’s trying to do, and how well the company is performing against that so that you can redesign a better experience
3. Identify experience and process efficiencies
  • Identify and remove ineffective touchpoints
  • Kill inefficient rules, policies, processes
4. Optimize channels
  • Learn about the different steps customers take to purchase or use the channel that they use so that you can be prepared to deliver the expected experience at the right channel at the right time for the right persona
5. Shift the culture and the organization’s mindset
  • From inside-out to outside-in: maps are created from the customer viewpoint and are validated with customers; bringing their voice into the organization is the first step toward shifting that mindset
  • From touchpoints to journeys: think about the entire customer journey, the entire relationship with the organization; realize that journey thinking means to consider both what happened prior to this interaction that you’re mapping and what the customer will do next
A Catalyst for Change
Based on those benefits, you can really start to see how maps are a catalyst for change. There are so many different ways to use them as part of your overall people-focused culture transformation.

As you can imagine, this is a good spot to jump in and write about how to go from journey maps to a great customer experience. Let me start with some of the things you need to do before you even begin mapping:
  • Make sure you have the right people involved in creating the map. First and foremost, your customers must be involved; this can happen either during the initial mapping session or later, when you ask them to validate what we call an assumptive map that was built internally based on what we know and have heard from customers about the experience. Second, make sure you’ve got the appropriate stakeholders in the room, as well. No excuses; they must be there. Include folks from various departments in the room because you need to take into account what’s happening upstream and downstream from the interaction you’re mapping. And they need to have a reasonable level of influence on what actions need to be taken as a result of the workshop.
  • Similarly, ensure that they are committed to act on what they learn. I don’t really need to explain this one much more than that. If there’s no commitment to act, change, or improve, you’ll be wasting everyone’s time. 
  • Select the personas for which you’ll be mapping the experience. Personas are research-based representations of the customer type for whom you’ll be mapping; customer experience personas differ from marketing personas as they include details around problems to solve, pain points, jobs to be done, tasks they are trying to achieve, etc. 
  • Select the journeys to map. You’ll be mapping a lot of journeys over time, but select the most impactful ones to begin with. Where’s the low-hanging fruit? What journeys cause the most pain for your customers today? Where can you make the greatest impact?
  • Hold a prep meeting with stakeholders. Get everyone in the room before the session to ensure that everyone understands what you’re doing and what their role is/will be.
  • Outline the scope, objectives, and desired outcomes. Make sure attendees know what they’ll be mapping and why. And, most importantly, what they’ll be doing with the output.   
  • Give attendees homework. Have them start thinking about the journey and what the potential steps are. Have them “mystery shop” the journey themselves, if they don’t yet have a full picture of it. Ask them to get feedback, comments, and insights from their employees about the journey. They can also gather any customer feedback, insights, behavioral data, and emotional data about the journey. And have them bring to the session any artifacts (documents, audio files, videos, images, etc.) that support the journey and bring it to life.
  • Begin to formulate a plan for next steps. Go into the session prepared. What happens when you leave the room? How will you operationalize the findings? How will you assign ownership? Who is responsible and accountable? How will you manage the improvements going forward? Etc.
  • Line up process mapping or value stream mapping sessions. Process mapping should be done in conjunction with journey mapping. You can’t fix the front-stage/on-stage experience if the backstage processes aren’t efficiently and effectively supporting it.
Taking Action
I could write another full article on where to go after the mapping session is over, but I’ll give you a couple high-level bullets to get you thinking of where to go next.

Meet after the workshop internally to debrief on how it went, what people heard, action item brainstorm, ownership, action plan, etc.
  • Gather on a weekly basis to discuss quick wins, action plans for longer-term fixes, next steps, success metrics, etc. This is important to keep the momentum going, to lend oversight, and to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
  • Identify the key moments of truth, those make or break moments during the journey that must be executed well in order to satisfy – and to keep – the customer.
  • Take the break points and prioritize in a systematic way; factors considered include: time to fix, cost to fix, impact on the customer, and impact on the business.
  • Assign ownership and teams for the improvement items. Develop project plans for each improvement initiative.
  • Get commitment from executives to assign resources.
  • Develop a service blueprint and a process map relevant to the journey you've mapped. Journey mapping can't be done in a vacuum; in order to fix what's happening onstage, you must understand and improve backstage and behind-the-scenes at the same time.
  • Map the future state to design the new experience – with customers.
  • Design the new processes to support the experience from behind the scenes.
  • Implement changes.
  • Pilot. Test. Fix. Roll out.
As you can see, there’s a lot to mapping and redesigning the experience. Don’t let that be daunting. It’s actually a fun process that has very tangible outputs and outcomes. When done right.

Never confuse movement with action. -Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

CX Journey™ Musings: A Trojan Mouse and Your #CX Strategy

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Are you challenged in your efforts to implement organization-wide changes to improve your culture, the employee experience, and the customer experience?

Have you considered how a Trojan Mouse might help you gain traction in these efforts?

Trojan Mouse. What is it? And how does it differ from a Trojan Horse?

Well, right off the top of my head it seems like "Trojan Mouse" elicits an image of smallness, speed, and agility, while "Trojan Horse" makes me think of a larger undertaking that is a bit slower and more labored - in both planning and execution - and likely rejected.

Let's start with what a Trojan Mouse is. From
Much change is of the "Trojan Horse" variety. At the top of the organisation a decision is taken to introduce a strategic change programme, and consultants or an internal team are commissioned to plan it down to the very last detail. The planned changes are then presented at a grand event (the Trojan Horse) amid much loud music, bright lights, and dry ice. More often than not, however, a few weeks later the organisation will have settled back into its usual ways and rejected much of the change. This is usually because the change was too great to be properly understood and owned by the workforce.
Trojanmice, on the other hand, are small, well-focused changes, which are introduced on an ongoing basis in an inconspicuous way. They are small enough to be understood and owned by all concerned, but their effects can be far-reaching. Collectively a few trojanmice will change more than one Trojan Horse ever could.
What do you think of that?

I am immediately drawn to these two sentences: More often than not, however, a few weeks later the organisation will have settled back into its usual ways and rejected much of the change. This is usually because the change was too great to be properly understood and owned by the workforce.

Trojan Mice seem like a great approach to implementing change for a variety of reasons:
  • Trojan Mice address the last point in that second sentence - they are small enough to be understood and owned.
  • We often talk about quick wins and showing some successes before we do a full roll out of a CX strategy. Those small wins, those quick wins, are great examples of Trojan Mice, allowing for gradual adoption of - and engagement with - the larger journey.
  • Making small, nimble changes also limits risk or makes risk more tolerable as you design a new experience, develop new products, and find creative solutions to old problems. Think: fix fast, fail fast, fix fast.
  • You can deploy various changes at the same time, which means you can test which ones work and which don't - allowing you to quickly retract the ones that won't have the intended impact, learn from them, and redeploy with updates. Again: fail fast, fix fast.
  • Given that these changes are small and nimble, they will certainly help increase speed to market, i.e., you can get the solution out there quicker.
  • Small changes that are quickly accepted, understood, and owned will add up and make for a bigger impact quickly - and over time - than rolling out a Trojan Horse that baffles people and is immediately rejected.
People hate change. And if they don't know what it is or why it's taking place, they ignore it; they certainly don't want to be a part of it. Why not break it down for them, simplify it, and help them understand and own it.

As I've said before, improving the customer experience happens in baby steps; Trojan Mice - small, yet impactful, examples with tangible value - may just be the quickest way to successful adoption of the CX strategy and to transformation success.

Fail often so you can succeed sooner. -David Kelley, Founder and Chairman of IDEO