Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 5 Blog Posts of 2011

I started this blog two months ago, and I've really only just begun.  I've got a ton of topics jotted down for 2012, and I'm excited to share those with you in the coming months.  In the meantime, here are the Top 5 blog posts for 2011, based on views and retweets.

1. Customer Experience Lifecycle
2. Trust and the Customer Experience
3. CX Journey Maps: Plotting the Customer's Journey
4. Customer Feedback Map: Charting Sources of Customer Data
5. Employee Experience Lifecycle

2011 has been a great year, but I'm excited to see what 2012 holds. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Employee Experience Lifecycle

In my post about Engaging Employees, I pointed out that one of the things to consider as part of that step in your VOC initiative is the employee experience lifecycle - from Need through Exit. Plotting the employee experience lifecycle will guide you in a variety of different ways, not the least of which is in helping to determine what types of surveys you might conduct and, more importantly, what types of metrics to track. Remember that this is the employee experience lifecycle,so it's diagrammed from the employee's point of view.

In this post, I'll describe the various stages of the lifecycle, as depicted in the image below. You'll notice that the employee experience lifecycle has stages similar to those in the customer experience lifecycle I wrote about previously. I'll explore these more as I define them below, but to some degree, the employee's lifecycle with the company is similar to a customer's, odd as that sounds.

As with the customer experience lifecycle, the employee experience lifecycle begins with a Need: the need for a job.  If the employee has previously worked for the company, Need becomes the first step even as a rehire. Need is not in the lifecycle graphic above, as sometimes it comes before Awareness and sometimes after.

From the employee's perspective, here's how the lifecycle stages are defined.

Awareness: This is when prospective employees first become aware of your brand; this might or might not be as a result of the Need for a job. This Awareness might be created by your marketing or advertising efforts, job postings, or word of mouth/referrals from a friend, recruiter, or employee.

Consideration: Now that prospective employees are aware of your brand, it becomes one of the brands in their consideration set for employment. This means that they'll research and investigate your company to find out if you are a worthy employer. Interviewing with the company also falls into this stage.

Selection/Rejection: Once the interview process is completed, the employee is either selected or rejected; it could also be a case in which the employee selects or rejects the company. Note that this might be the end of the employee experience lifecycle for some, and yet that end may only be temporary, as the candidate might choose to seek employment with the company again in the future or vice versa. This is also a good time to note that the lifecycle is not necessarily linear and potentially has twists and turns to it.

Experience: During this stage, the employee becomes a part of the family: they go through orientation and training, do their jobs, have performance reviews, are offered career development opportunities, etc.  And ideally, if they are satisfied with the experience because their basic employment needs and expectations have been met, they move into the next stage.

Loyalty: During this stage, employees are happy with their employment, and, as a result, make a conscious decision to remain an employee rather than look elsewhere for a new job opportunity.

Advocacy: If employees reach this point, they are committed to the organization, respect leadership and the vision, and enjoy being a part of the company so much that they want their friends to become a part, as well. They open up to their networks and refer friends to work for the company.

Engagement: Employees have achieved that emotional bond with the company in this stage. They enjoy the culture and their work, and their friends work there with them. They take pride in what they do and feel ownership in the company. They feel the company does great things, including the things that aren't necessarily tied to revenue, i.e., community involvement, corporate/social responsibility, etc.

Raving Fans: And finally, I believe that the ultimate employee experience yields Raving Fans. They are passionate about the company, the people, the products, what the company does, and why the company does it. These employees feel they are part of something bigger, align with the company's core values, and feel part of a community striving to do something great (purpose-driven); they show an outward expression of their devotion to the company. They become brand ambassadors. If you offer these employees the choice of cash to leave versus staying to be a part of something cool, they choose to be cool.

The last part of the employee experience lifecycle is Exit. I don't show it in the graphic because it might not happen at the end of the continuum - it could happen sooner. Also, if they Exit, they could be rehired at some point in the future.

This is a great quote from Herb Kelleher; it is his response to being asked his "secret to success:" “You have to treat your employees like customers.” 

I'll write more about the employee experience in future blog posts.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Key Components of a CX Framework - Part 4

This is the fourth post in a five-part series about the key components of a CX framework.

Engaged Employees
The fourth component of the CX framework is the employee. Employees cannot be forgotten, as they are a crucial part of the success of your CX transformation and this new customer-centric culture!

Remember that the employee experience drives the customer experience; if your employees aren't engaged, it will be very difficult for them to delight your customers; in very simple terms, this describes "the spillover effect."

I've been talking about this concept (not with that specific label) since my days at J.D. Power and Associates 20 years ago, and yet, in the heat of VOC/CX design, employees are forgotten: "Oh, we'll collect feedback from employees later. We'll incorporate employee data later. Let's start with customers." No more; that is just not acceptable. Without your employees, you have no customer experience. Bruce Temkin recently wrote about findings from his latest research in which he took a look at the linkage between CX and employee engagement. It's real, and they matter!

There are a few different ways to look at ensuring employees are a part of the overall customer-centric culture.
  1. Consider the employee experience and plot the employee lifecycle
  2. Gather feedback from your employees, both solicited and unsolicited
  3. Hire the right people
  4. Empower employees by unleashing ownership and accountability
  5. Show appreciation
Employee Lifecycle
I will devote a future blog post to defining the employee lifecycle, but it is important to understand it before you consider what types of surveys you might conduct among your employees and what types of metrics you will want to measure and track.

Employee Feedback
Employee feedback needs to be both solicited (e.g., lifecycle or ad hoc surveys) and unsolicited (e.g., a "suggestion box" or other mechanism for employees to provide feedback). Employees need to feel comfortable that the feedback they provide is anonymous and confidential - and that it comes with no consequences other than corrective actions by the organization to fix the wrongs and praise to recognize the rights.

Outside of these more formal mechanisms, a truly open-door policy for discussions about issues, suggestions, etc. is certainly a great policy. Not only should it be a policy, it needs to be a reality. A lot of organizations talk about this, but it's never really embraced as such. And if it is embraced, it often ends with some sort of retribution for the opinions provided.

Gathering the right feedback from employees will help to ensure that they have the training, tools, and resources to do their jobs and do them effectively. Having an HR steering committee in place to take ownership of the feedback and the employee experience will ensure that no ideas are ignored and all feedback is acted upon in a relevant way. A closed-loop process is as much a part of a VOE as it is for VOC. Communication is key. Employees need to know that their feedback is valued - and used.

HR Practices
This culture is not only about collecting and using employee feedback but also about the people themselves! Regarding hiring practices, you need to make sure to hire the right people for this customer-focused culture. Hire nice people, hire for attitude. Skills can be taught - nice cannot! Hire people with service backgrounds, especially those who have worked for companies best known for their service cultures. (That may not always be possible but great to strive for.) And, once hired, every person in every role must have an understanding of his/her impact on the customer experience.

In addition to hiring, you'll need a solid employee onboarding process to showcase the customer-focused culture of the organization; it will open new employees' eyes to what that means and the freedom they are afforded, which is a good segue into the next topic.

Employee Ownership & Accountability
In order for employees to live this culture, they must be empowered. While "employee empowerment" might be one of those phrases that is over-used in conversation/theory but under-utilized in reality, I am referring specifically to ownership and accountability. I think employees can relate to what that means, but your onboarding process should certainly clarify that for them.
  • If they receive direct feedback about their performance, they need to own it and correct it.
  • If a customer has a bad experience directly related to his/her service, be accountable. Learn from it and  improve.
  • If a customer has an issue, step up and come up with creative solutions to fix it. (The culture of the company must allow for this. Ever heard of Zappos?)
  • If employees have ideas on how to improve the customer experience, they should be encouraged to share with the team - own it and do it.
Employee ownership means that employees are involved in decisions about how to improve the customer experience - and the company culture is such that this is allowed, supported, and applauded. And employees must understand their roles and their impact on the customer experience in order to deliver great experiences and increase loyalty. I'll spend more time on employee ownership in a future blog, but the important takeaway here is that the culture must be there and not a barrier to allowing this to happen.

Show Appreciation
And, last but not least, rewards and recognition for a job well done must be a part of your culture. Praise for delighting customers should always be given. Showing a little love goes a long way toward facilitating and nurturing employee engagement.

The final post in the series is coming soon!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Key Components of a CX Framework - Part 3

This is the third post in a five-part series about the key components of a CX framework. 

Gather Data
The next key component of the CX framework is the data. For whatever reason, every time I hear the word "data," I am reminded of a scene in a Jimmy Neutron episode where he has an exchange with Sheen that goes something like this:

Jimmy Neutron: Well, the data seem to support this hypothesis.
Sheen: Never... argue... with... the data.

And there you have it. You now know everything you need to know about data!

OK. All kidding aside, this is the critical part of the CX framework. The Voice.

The Gather Data stage is, oftentimes, where companies stumble. Because this stage is about more than just surveys; it's about any and all data that pertains to the customer and the customer experience. This is also where the multi-channel experience gets tripped up because of disparate systems that make sharing of the customer data across the various channels impossible.

So let's look at some of the sources of customer data.  Keep in mind that, as I mentioned before, "customer" data also includes VOP, VOM, and VOB. Just as critical to include is VOE.
  1. Structured, solicited feedback: This typically comes in the form of a survey. I would strongly advise that you create a customer feedback map at this point to identify the various places within the organization that you are collecting such feedback from your customers. Time for a concerted effort!
  2. Unstructured, unsolicited feedback: Unstructured feedback is open-ended comments in a survey, while unsolicited feedback is also usually unstructured, coming from social media, blogs, and online forums and communities.
  3. Competitive data: This data takes the form of competitive benchmark surveys or secondary market research. It can be unstructured or structured.
  4. Non-survey customer data/metrics: Operational and financial data such as FCR, call handling, abandon rate, profitability, revenue, etc. is what I'm referring to here.
  5. CRM data: While #4 refers to company operational data, i.e., data from the company perspective, CRM data refers to the data from the customer perspective, so to speak. Purchase frequency, profitability, last purchase data, products purchased, last service call, etc. are examples of CRM data.
Compiling all of this data into one place is a real challenge. I'm not sure that anyone has mastered this. But in order to deliver a successful multichannel/omnichannel experience, all of it needs to be present and accounted for... analyzed with insights clearly spelled out... and easily accessible to your front-line employees in a format that allows them to deliver an exceptional experience for your customers. Without pushing relevant data and insights to employees - and a culture that supports data as a tool to deliver the best experience - talking about it is useless. And speaking of employees, they're up next in Part 4 of the series.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Customer Experience Lifecycle

In a previous post, I mentioned that you need to outline the customer experience lifecycle - from Need through Departure - in order to understand the relationship stages or phases that customers have with your brand. (Note: this is the customer experience lifecycle, i.e., from the customer's point of view.)  In this post, I'll describe the various stages in the lifecycle. The image below depicts the lifecycle, minus the start and end point, which I'll refer to as Need and Departure and define below, as well.

Before I begin talking about the stages that are shown above, I must first talk about the glimmer in the customer's eye before he/she even reaches brand awareness... that first spark is Need. It's not part of the traditional customer experience lifecycle, but Need (i.e., a solution to a problem) often begets the rest of the cycle. (I say "often" because sometimes Need happens after Awareness.)

Here's how the rest of the stages of the lifecycle are defined, from the customer's perspective. Note that this lifecycle is not necessarily linear and could potentially circle back on itself. That's an important consideration to keep in mind.

Awareness: This is when customers first become aware of your brand, which might happen as a result of your marketing or advertising efforts or word of mouth/referrals from a friend.

Consideration: Now that they are aware of your brand, it becomes one of the brands in their consideration set. This means that they'll research and investigate your products and services, along with those of your competitors.

Selection/Purchase: Once customers have done their homework, they are ready to select and purchase your products or services.

Experience: During this stage, customers learn how to use and consume your products or services, training, support, etc. Ultimately, if they are satisfied with the experience because you've met their basic needs and expectations, it leads to the next stage.

Loyalty: During this part of the the lifecycle, customers feel comfortable with the brand experience, and, as a result, continue to use your products and services and will even broaden their purchases to other products or services that they haven't used in the past.

Advocacy: If your customers reach this point, you're starting to get into exciting territory. This is when customers become an extension of your sales force and recommend your products and services to their friends and colleagues. They've had nothing but exceptional experiences to this point.

Note that a lot of customer experience lifecycle definitions stop here. I'm going to add two more.

Engagement: While you've reached a pretty solid stage in the relationship when your customers hit Advocacy, Engagement brings in that emotional bond. Now we're talking Love and Trust. They can't live without your products or services.

Raving Fans: And finally, I believe that the ultimate customer experience yields Raving Fans. These customers have gone beyond Engagement, beyond that emotional bond. Is that possible?  Yes! Consider those brands where customers feel they are part of something bigger, where they show an outward expression of their devotion to the brand: they tattoo their bodies with the brand logo or even name their children after the brand!! You know the examples: Apple, Zappos, and Harley Davidson are just a few!

A man who has never lost himself in a cause bigger than himself has missed one of life's mountaintop experiences. -Richard Nixon

OK, after all that happy talk, I do still have to bring up the the very last part of the customer experience lifecycle: Departure. Obviously, this is the one stage of the lifecycle that companies hope customers never achieve, but, as you know, it happens. Departure can take many forms: churn, cancel, die. (But know that, short of death, it really doesn't have to end here; a customer who has left or has stopped using your products or services may consider you again in the future!) You can't control the latter, but the former two are in your hands. How will you ensure that your customers never reach that stage?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Key Components of a CX Framework - Part 2

Image courtesy of Liam Liberty
This is the second post in a five-part series about the key components of a CX framework. 

Earlier this week, I began a series on the "Key Components of a CX Framework" with a graphic of the components and a description of the first step, Set the Stage.  Today I'll continue the series with a summary of the next step, Define CX.

Define CX
This step involves outlining the customer experience from a variety of angles. This is an extremely important step in the process (not that the others aren't), and you'll want to spend some time on these items to ensure you've done a thorough job. Remember that different types of customers will have different experiences with your company; and you'll want to devote different types of effort and resources for different customer segments.

Remember that, while you're considering the following items from the company perspective, you'll want to keep the customer and the customer's perspective front and center.
  1. Define your customer: Who are your customers? Why do they buy products and services from you? What are their needs? What problems are they trying to solve? What are their personas?
  2. Identify your customer segments: Are they new, returning, tenured, inactive, canceled? Have they bought certain types of products or a variety of products? Are there important psychographic segments to consider? What is their annual $$ spend? Are they profitable for you or not? Are they key/strategic, mid-market, smaller, self-service, etc.?
  3. Outline the customer experience lifecycle: What are the stages of the customer's relationship with your brand, from Awareness through Departure?
  4. Create a customer journey map: Refer to my previous post on this topic for more details on what that entails, but in short, you want to identify each of your customer touchpoints and understand both the customer-facing interactions and the behind-the-scenes efforts for each touchpoint along the CX journey.
Each of these items will guide you as you consider the next component of the CX framework, Gather Data.

Note: as part of your VOC/CX initiative, you should consider partners, franchises, etc. as customers, as well, and go through the same exercise for them. Any solid VOC initiative will also include VOP (partner), VOM (market), VOB (business), and VOE (employee) inputs. I'll consider these more as I write about the next step.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Key Components of a CX Framework - Part 1

This is the first post in a five-part series about the key components of a CX framework. 

Over the last 20 years, I've helped design many, many VOC (Voice of the Customer) and CX (Customer Experience) initiatives for my clients. As such, I came up with the following graphic that shows the key components required for a successful go at it. Honestly, it's not just an "initiative;" it's a cultural transformation.

Throughout this series, I'll define each component; as I move through the series, I may come back and update previous posts.

I'd like to call out that when I say "Voice of the Customer," I'm not simply referring to a survey.  There are so many other sources for the customer voice than a survey, and any VOC initiative involves so much more than just the feedback itself. It doesn't just have one person overseeing the effort; it takes a village, er, an entire company. VOC is an important piece to the overall effort of an organization to be more customer-focused. It is one of the tools to help you deliver the optimal customer experience. There is no end point; focusing on VOC and the CX are ongoing -- remember, this is a journey.

As I define each of the items in the graphic below, keep in mind that the customer will always be at the center of every conversation, decision, or plan that is a part of the transformation.

Key Components of CX Framework
Let's start at the beginning...

Set the Stage
Setting the stage is all about creating awareness and getting buy-in, not only from the top but from across the organization. Some of the things that are addressed during this stage are:
  • Does your CEO support the VOC/CX efforts? Has an executive sponsor or lead been determined?
  • If you don't have executive buy-in or support, how will you get it? What quick wins can you create to show the impact of a VOC/CX focus?
  • Is there a CX champion at the C-level, someone who owns the initiative? Perhaps you have a Chief Customer Officer?
  • Will the customer have a seat at every executive management and board meeting?
  • What's the organization's current level of maturity when it comes to customer-centricity?
  • Is your entire organization aware of your brand promise?  Your brand promise sets expectations for your customers about all interactions with your people, products, services, and company; it drives everything the organization does and should be apparent at every interaction at every touchpoint. (For more details on what a brand promise is/does, check out this post on Branding Strategy Insider.)
  • Do you have clearly-defined objectives for your VOC/CX efforts?
  • What are your key success metrics?
  • What is your communication plan? How will you communicate your efforts to employees, customers, partners, stakeholders, etc.?
This is also a good time to start thinking about the tools, data, and people you'll need to engage in order to make the initiative successful. Success comes in the form of aligning the right culture, the right tools, the right people, the right processes, and the right data - all at the right time.

In my next post, I'll explain what I mean by the next step, "Define CX."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Customer Feedback Map: Charting Sources of VOC Data

This blog was originally published by me on 10/18/2010 at

On the heels of my recent paper, Customer Data: The Essential Element of Your Enterprise Voice of the Customer Program, here is an exercise that you can use to identify all of the sources of customer data in your organization, specifically, the sources of customer feedback data.

Every department in your company thirsts for feedback from customers to help  measure brand awareness, design products, improve service offerings, understand satisfaction levels, and more. Unfortunately, more often than not, there is no concerted effort across the organization to ensure that (a) customers are not over-surveyed – which can be defined either as being surveyed too frequently, i.e., no touch rules, or asked the same or similar questions by different departments – or (b) the feedback is collected, analyzed, and used in a cohesive fashion.

In a previous blog post, I talked about creating a CX Journey Map. Think about the many customer touchpoints of your organization, and then think about the various departments in your organization that might be asking customers for feedback at each of those touchpoints. It can be quite overwhelming — for you and for your customers! To make sense of it all, you should compile a Customer Feedback Map to accompany your CX Journey Map.

Creating a Customer Feedback Map can be a daunting task, especially in very large, disparate, and/or siloed organizations, but the benefits – not the least of which is financial – are endless. For example, if you have nine different departments all working in a vacuum, including licensing nine different survey, EFM, or text analytics platforms, consolidating the data can reduce costs and improve the way the company listens to the voice of the customer. Other benefits include reducing/eliminating respondent fatigue, increasing response rates, and improving the actionability of the data.

The Customer Feedback Map should first identify your touchpoints and the corresponding departments that support each. Start with a Customer Lifecycle Map that outlines high-level touchpoints within each stage. Then list:
  • All forms/sources of customer feedback at each touchpoint
  • Other feedback that’s not directly linked to a touchpoint
  • Owner of the feedback
  • Audience for each piece of feedback
  • End user (internal) of the feedback
  • Objective/purpose of the feedback
  • All resources used for feedback/analysis (software, tools, etc.)
  • Other desired sources of feedback (if any are missing)
The next step is to consolidate. Centralizing to one department both the ownership of your VOC efforts and the platform used to collect, analyze, and respond to the feedback eliminates redundancies, creates efficiencies, saves money, and ensures a cohesive approach to your VOC initiative overall and, ultimately, to the customer experience.

Identifying the various sources of customer feedback within your organization is a valuable exercise. You may just discover some very scary information:  how much your customers are being asked to provide feedback – and just how little of that is actually being used in a meaningful way.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Trust and the Customer Experience

Image courtesy of thorinside
Have you built a culture of trust within your organization? What does that entail?

Trust is an important part of the customer experience equation. It is such a powerful quality to have and to hold. 

Think about this. For a unique and remarkable customer experience to occur, each of the following must ring true:

  • A company must trust its employees.
  • Employees must trust their employers.
  • Companies must (empower employees to) trust customers.
  • Customers must trust brands/companies.
One company that is built on trust is Zane's Cycles. This story is shared over and over again, but it's a great example of how trust is key to a great customer experience and, hence, a successful business venture. Chris Zane allows people to test drive his bikes (for 30 days, no less!) without requiring a driver's license or some other form of collateral, and his average loss is only five bikes per year (with 4,000 sold per year).

His philosophy is, “If you can shift your thinking away from merely selling and into building trust instead, even if it costs you a few bucks in profit, you’ll begin to see opportunities you never imagined once you understand what it means to ‘wow’ that customer by giving them more than they expected.

So the reason I chose to write about trust this week doesn't have anything to do with buying a bike. No, it actually comes from a very unexpected source that pleasantly surprised me: McDonald's.

Earlier this week, I had taken my boys to Taekwondo. The weekly routine after the Tuesday night class is to pick up McDonald's for them. I pulled into the drive-thru, ordered their items, and drove to the window to pay for the order. I reached into my purse and realized I didn't have my wallet with me (because I had switched purses at the last minute before we left the house). In the moment I realized this, a variety of thoughts ran through my head, not the least of which was two famished boys in the backseat anxiously awaiting their dinner and the chaos that would ensue if I didn't hand them some food in the next two minutes.

I asked the cashier if I could just give her my credit card number, since I have it memorized. She went to get the manager, who informed me that they could only enter the card numbers with a swipe of the card. And then, wait for it... she surprised me! She said that if I promised to return to pay for the order, I could take it without paying now. WOW! I promised I would and off we went. Thirty minutes later, with two boys with full tummies, I returned to pay for the order.

It's been said that trust can be defined as "need intersecting with belief." I thought this was an interesting way to look at it. And I understand it now.

He who does not trust enough will not be trusted. -Lao Tzu

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Thoughts on Benchmarking

This blog was originally published by me on 08/24/2010 at

My Facebook status today reads, “I’m hoping this morning’s travels will inspire another interesting blog post.” Right after I posted that, a thought popped into my head:  it’s not my travels today as much as my destination that has inspired me. I’m on my way to our HQ in Utah to meet with my team for our Quarterly Business Reviews, which got me thinking about how our clients review their businesses, especially as it pertains to their VOC initiatives.

Gathering feedback from your customers helps you understand what you’re doing well and not so well for them. However, if that’s all you do, it’s like living in a bubble. It’s interesting and inspirational to put all of your scores and feedback into the broader context – how well do you do stack up against your competitors? This applies not only to financial/operational metrics but also to  your VOC data.

I’m talking about benchmarking, which means making comparisons to help you understand the perception of your business relative to the competition in the minds of your customers.

1. Competitive Benchmarking helps you determine your performance relative to a primary competitor or a set of key competitors. Competitive Benchmarking data can be obtained in several different ways.
          Third-Party Surveys:  Engage with a third party to conduct a blind competitive survey. This is the cleanest survey approach, but it’s also the most expensive.
          Your Surveys:  Add some questions to the end of your relationship survey that ask your customers to rate one or two of your competitors with which they’ve done business. This approach is a little less clean and perhaps even a bit biased because you’re asking these questions only of your customers. As long as you view the responses in that light, you can still get a decent benchmark.
          External Metrics:  Get access to syndicated results for ACSI, JDPA indexes, NPS, Forrester CxPi Customer Experience Index, etc. that are relevant for your industry, product, etc. Ask a comparable question or set of questions in your own survey(s) to benchmark.

2. World Class Benchmarking is a slightly different approach where you’re not necessarily interested in benchmarking question to question or score to score. In World Class Benchmarking, you ask your customers to tell you about a “world class experience” they had with another company – any company, regardless of industry. What you’re looking for is a way to identify who your customers look up to when it comes to service, products, literature, training, etc. You then study that company – you might even partner with them or find a mentor in that organization, depending on who it is – to identify best practices or approaches that inspire different customer experience improvements or initiatives in your company.

My final thought about how clients review their businesses brings me to Internal Benchmarking, which entails taking the feedback you’ve gathered and comparing scores, ratings, or indexes internally – within your own business, i.e., benchmark business units, locations, sites, etc. against each other. Identify your stars and your dogs, compare practices, and have your stars mentor your dogs.

Ok, it’s time to go update my Facebook status to “another one’s in the can.”

Update (12/06/2011):  I stand by my previous post about being remarkable and finding something that is unique to your brand.  Benchmarking is great to get that relative perspective, but you really need to take that information for what it is and figure out what makes your company unique. How can you be different?  How can your company become the one that others strive to be like? What about your business approach excites customers to consider your products and services first?

Friday, December 2, 2011

On Being Remarkable

I’ve stumbled upon several items this week that called out to me to write about the importance of being different, standing out from the crowd, and not being a “me-too” when it comes to your CX Journey. Customer experience statistics continue to be dismal, which really leaves the door wide open for more companies to rise above it all and delight customers in their own unique ways.  When will that happen?!

Here are just two examples of #cx statistics I read this week that make me cringe.
  • 86% of customers stop doing business with a company because of bad experiences (Harris Interactive, Customer Experience Impact Report). <-- How many companies create bad experiences?
  • @Vivisimo tweeted this week that “61% say #CX has NOT improved over past year, 14% say it declined.
There's nothing remarkable in that.

Tom Peters Video
Earlier this week, I saw this video of a presentation by Tom Peters, which included the following quote:

"I hate benchmarking. Benchmarking is stupid. Why is it stupid? Because we pick the current industry leader, and then we launch a five-year program, the goal of which is to be as good as whoever was best five years ago five years from now. Which to me is not exactly an Olympian aspiration."

Definitely thought-provoking.

My experience with benchmarking has been that companies want to do it because “that’s what everybody does.” I think they really just want to know where they stand, to keep score.  The problem I see is that benchmarking is the least of their worries because so many companies have to fix the basics before they can even dream of being, or offering experiences, like Apple or Zappos.  

If you want to benchmark to keep score, great, call a spade a spade.  If you want to benchmark so you can figure out how you can stand out from the rest of the crowd, awesome. I’ll post a blog next week on benchmarking.

Tom Peters includes this quote from Seth Godin in his presentation, as well.

"You cannot be remarkable by following someone else who's remarkable."

Someone else already did the thing that’s remarkable… now you’re just being a copycat. If you’re going to benchmark against another company, take what they’ve done and do it better, add your own twist of remarkable, make it unique to your company in a remarkable way. Or just go do something completely different, that’s unique and remarkable on its own. Stand out from the crowd. Customers appreciate that and will share it with their friends!

Robert Stephens Quote
After the Tom Peters video, I started to think about something that Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad, said at a conference I attended last year:

“Advertising is the tax you pay for being unremarkable.”

Wow, doesn’t that ring true. If you’re doing remarkable things, then you don’t need to advertise. Your brand speaks for itself. Or your customers speak for you. Or everyone in the industry talks about you.  How many people are sick of hearing about @Zappos during the #custserv chats?!

Go and do great things!

Gapingvoid Gallery Email
The next day, there was this picture in an email from gapingvoid gallery in my inbox. If you can’t read what it says at the bottom of the image, there are two quotes:  “Don’t try to stand out from the crowd” and “Avoid the crowd.”  Be the guy in blue --> do something different. Be remarkable in your own way. Step away from the crowd.

Andrew McInnes Presentation
And finally, that afternoon, I was watching a recorded webinar by Andrew McInnes (@apmcinnes), and the chart below was on one of his slides.  And while it’s encouraging that three-fourths of companies want to have a differentiated customer experience, I appreciate the honesty of the 23% who want to stay where they are or keep from falling behind even further.

What are you doing to ensure that your customers have a remarkable experience?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Black Friday vs. the CX Journey

Aaah, Black Friday… the day (or day and a half, whatever it's turned into now) when shoppers attack each other to buy toys and electronics at bargain basement prices (or, are they?), and retailers smile from ear to ear as they get back in "the black."

Unfortunately, Black Friday is really a brand/customer experience nightmare. And it’s a nightmare for those of us in the #CX industry who preach that companies need to be more customer-focused.  By pure definition, Black Friday is NOT about the customer at all but about the company – about getting their bottom line back on the positive side.

Is there really an opportunity to develop relationships with your customers on Black Friday?
I probably don’t need to answer this question.  This one’s a clear case of “a picture is worth a thousand words”…  well, or just one… NO.

But, having said that, there is the opportunity to delight... always! I'm wondering if any of the customers in the picture above were delighted.

Are these customers the type of people you want to develop relationships with?
OK, it’s time to pull out the Apostle Model quadrant chart.  If you’re not familiar with the Apostle Model, which was developed by Thomas Jones and Earl Sasser from the Harvard Business School, I'll give you a quick overview and will save the details for a future post. The Apostle Model is a different way (as opposed to NPS) to segment your customers for the purpose of understanding loyalty and driving customer-centricity in the organization. This model uses two questions (overall satisfaction and likelihood to repurchase) instead of one to create the segments. The graphic below gives you a quick look at the segments and how they are defined.

Black Friday always reminds me of the Apostle Model; the people who are shopping these crazy sales are classic examples of “mercenaries.” Mercenaries, as shown in the lower right-hand quadrant above, are defined as customers with high satisfaction and low loyalty.  They are in your store because they are driven by price. On Black Friday, they achieve at least short-term high satisfaction because they bought something they want/need at a reduced price; however, they are not committed to your company, hence not likely to purchase again. (See one my previous post's here – I’m definitely considered a “mercenary” in this case, although I'm only satisfied because I got a great price.)

Mercenaries are not customers for life.  You have not created a relationship with them. You have not connected with them. They have not connected with you.

(O sure, there are exceptions… but for argument’s sake, let’s just go with it.)

What sort of example have you set for your customers about your brand experience?
Simply put, the Black Friday experience sends the wrong message about your brand.  Does it say anywhere in your brand promise that you’ll make sure that, once a year, customers can kill each other over doorbusters? The brand experience needs to be a consistent one. All year long. 

Don't get me wrong; I’m all for saving money. But we have to remember that, for retailers, Black Friday is about this moment. It’s all about bringing in the money today. It’s not about the customer. It’s about competing for customers’ dollars.

Unfortunately, it also blackens the door to the Christmas season.  

>> I know that this post doesn't apply to all retailers, but it's the few that create that image in our minds of what Black Friday is really about. I'd love to hear about any retailers you thought actually stayed true to their brands and provided an awesome experience on Black Friday.

Monday, November 28, 2011

CX Journey Maps: Plotting the Customer's Journey

This blog was originally published by me on 10/18/2010 at's-journey/. It has since been modified.

I say “to-may-to,” you say “to-mah-to.” I say “CX journey  map,” you say “customer interaction map” – or customer corridor map or … well, you get the idea. Whatever you call it, it plays a crucial part in defining your overall VOC initiative.

So, where do we begin? Let’s go back to a blog I wrote previously about the brand promise. Recall that the brand promise is the expectation that you set about your brand with your customers. Each of your touchpoints reinforces and fulfills the brand’s promise. Creating a CX journey map forces you to think about the customer lifecycle and to consider or visualize the experience at each touchpoint – and ultimately, it identifies where the brand promise is broken.

During this process, it is important to remember that the customer should always be at the heart of any decisions made or actions taken by your company.  The experience cannot be designed without giving the customer a seat at the table.

Before you begin to create your CX journey  map, you must first identify and understand who your customers are. What jobs are they trying to achieve or needs are they trying to fulfill when interacting with your company? Do you cater differently to different types of customers? Do different customer types have different interactions or touchpoints with your organization? Will the map look different for different customers?

Next, identify the stages of your customer lifecycle. Start not with the purchase, but long before that – when you’re just a thought in the customer’s mind, part of the consideration set. End with the customer’s exit or cancellation; remember that, even when a customer cancels your services or terminates usage of your product, it is an important interaction to do well.

Then, think about the touchpoints along the customer lifecycle. A touchpoint is generally thought of as any point the customer touches the company, e.g., call center, sales call, packaging, etc. Interactions are what happen at those touchpoints.

Finally, identify the following for each individual touchpoint. Lay out the map in such a way that you identify which of these are customer-facing and which are behind-the-scenes.
  • what the customer's expectations are for the touchpoint, what he is trying to achieve
  • what the current process is that the customer goes through at the touchpoint
  • which specific interactions occur at that touchpoint
  • what the ideal customer experience ought to be
  • what the customer's painpoints are when trying to achieve his desired outcome
  • what feedback you've received about interactions with the touchpoint
  • what your score is for the interactions and the touchpoint overall
  • which channels the customer has used/can use to achieve the desired outcome
  • which processes support that touchpoint
  • which people support those processes
  • who owns the touchpoint and its related interactions and processes
  • who the customer interacts with
  • what the specific outcome for that touchpoint should be
  • which tools are used during the interaction at the touchpoint
  • what customer data are gathered at the touchpoint
  • which metrics are tracked at the touchpoint
From a practitioner’s viewpoint, this map clearly helps you understand when, where, and with whom interactions occur; it’s important to do prior to designing surveys (both customer and employee) for each touchpoint. It also helps you to identify other customer and operational data that you’ll want to pull into the initiative in order to make your surveys, analysis, and action planning more relevant, personalized, and actionable. It might also identify other customer feedback inputs besides surveys (e.g., online communities, tech support forums, support calls, etc.) that should be tied back to the survey data for that touchpoint.

The CX journey map is important to introduce as you roll out the CX discipline to the larger organization. It can help the various departments and business units understand the customer lifecycle while helping to break down silos and pull the organization together to work toward one common goal: a superior customer experience.

It’s simple. Start with the brand promise, identify touchpoints and determine which are most important/influential (not all touchpoints are created equal); outline the optimal experience (from the customer’s perspective) at each; and rally the organization to deliver it!

Update: If you're looking for a great tool to streamline and simplify your customer journey mapping exercise, check out Touchpoint Dashboard. I think you'll be impressed by how powerful this tool is.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Are You Delivering on Your Brand Promise?

This blog was originally published by me on 08/09/2010 at

I’m a little late working on this blog post because of a family emergency, but it seems fitting that I write it this morning – and on this very topic – as I fly from Long Beach to Salt Lake City, using both this airport and JetBlue for the first time. After driving 40 miles to the airport, I’m hoping for a smooth experience as I make my way through these “firsts.”

As JetBlue is well known for its brand promise of bringing humanity to air travel, I am looking forward to the “JetBlue experience,” to find out what it’s all about. The company touts more legroom, free DIRECTV and XM Satellite Radio, and free-flowing snacks at no charge. (What? No WiFi?) It also has a Customer Bill of Rights, should we be delayed and stuck on the tarmac for some reason. (I hope we don’t have to experience that portion of the promise.)
So what’s all the hubbub about a 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 must be delivered consistently at every touchpoint so as to create predictability. Customers will select your brand because they know that, every time they choose your brand, they will have the same experience. This doesn’t happen on the first interaction – it takes many interactions for customers to begin to trust your brand.
And that introduces another concept related to the brand promise – trust.  The brand promise sets expectations, and expectations are aligned with trust. Predictability begets trust, and trust begets loyalty. Over time, I expect that I will trust JetBlue to deliver the same excellent experience every time.
Expectations are an integral part of your customers’ satisfaction levels. As a matter of fact:

Performance - Expectations = Satisfaction
Let’s think about that for a second. Customers try your brand with a set of expectations (your brand promise) in mind. How you perform against those expectations leads to some level of satisfaction. If performance meets or exceeds expectations, then customers have a higher level of satisfaction and/or loyalty. If performance is less than expectations, then the brand promise has been broken – no explanation needed on what that means for your company. One sidebar to note here: consumers have higher expectations of iconic brands.
A critical and required component of delivering on the brand promise consistently is to socialize it with your employees. We have all heard that engaged employees drive engaged customers.  In order for employees to hold up their end of that deal, they must first know and understand the brand promise. It needs to be communicated to employees (starting with the employee onboarding or orientation program), and it must be reinforced regularly.
JetBlue’s brand promise is to bring humanity to air travel.  I read that the company defines humanity as friendliness, flexibility, and caring.  JetBlue’s founder and former CEO David Neeleman was quoted as saying, “The JetBlue brand promise dictates how employees execute at the various stages of the customer experience, from the time customers check-in at the gate to the time they land and claim their luggage. And consistency in the experience is key, or else the brand suffers.”
Has JetBlue lived up to its brand promise for me? Well, as I said earlier, it takes time and several interactions before you feel that brand predictability. It’s too early to tell. The flight attendants are friendly, but their service hasn’t really been unique relative to other airlines I’ve flown recently (including Southwest, Continental, Delta, and American). As I write this, about half way into the flight, the DIRECTV system is still not working…stay tuned!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Journey

Image courtesy of kevinthoule
I follow Simon Sinek on Twitter and on Facebook. He sends out daily "Notes to Inspire," and yesterday's Note struck a chord with me with regard to getting this blog off the ground; but it also relates well to companies and their CX Journeys.

"The hardest part is starting. Once you get that out of the way, you'll find the rest of the journey much easier." - Simon Sinek

A lot of companies struggle with how or where to start with their CX Journeys. Just start! Take the first step. It may not be a perfect go of it right out of the gates, but at least you are putting forth the effort.  At the same time, though, don't just do it for the sake of checking the box. There's a balance there. Be sincere with your efforts.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Call For Service ... If You Dare!

I had an interesting shopping experience today, and I knew in the midst of it that it would turn into a blog post.  It was a great example of why certain retailers are where they are in the customer experience rankings.

It's a bit of a story, so grab a cup of coffee and join me on this journey!

I'll start by saying that I don't often, nay, ever shop at Kmart, but I wanted to buy an air hockey table for my kids for Christmas, and I stumbled upon a pretty good deal (with great product reviews) on a table that was sold at Kmart. My attention was drawn to this one by, who is awesome at leaking all of the Black Friday ads before next Friday; the table is on sale for $99 on Thanksgiving Day.  Well, the chance of me going to Kmart is zero (see previous comment), and even less likely on Thanksgiving Day! So I figured I'd just order the table online and have it shipped, until I discovered that it would cost $90 for shipping!  OK, on to Plan B, which was to go to the closest Kmart (20 miles away) and just buy it there. And this is where the fun really starts.

I arrive at Kmart and go to where the table should be, but it's not there, even though their website indicated this morning that they had four in stock.  I wander around for several minutes trying to find someone to help me and finally do, but she doesn't know Sporting Goods and needs to find someone else.  She comes back with the store manager! Cool. Now we're getting somewhere!

And this is where things start to go downhill.

The store manager tells me that he had two in stock (recall the website said "four"); he just put one on layaway for someone, but there might be one over in the Gardening area, where they keep all the oversized items. Bottom line: I'm supposed to go to the opposite end of the store to figure out if there's one there, but hey, if it's there, he wants it (so he says to me, half joking).

Customer Service Tip #1: Walk your customers to where the product is.  Find it for them. Don't make them do the work. Help your customers.  SERVICE your customers!

OK.  So I wander off to the other side of the store, fully expecting that there would be someone in Gardening who could help me.  I enter the Gardening area, and it's like a desert wasteland... not a soul in sight.  But, I do see the floor model of the air hockey table and have hopes of finding one in a box that I can buy.  Voila!  I do find one.  AND, it is marked on sale for $99! Woohoo!  Jackpot!  I would get the Thanksgiving Day price after all, until I noticed the fine print, which indicated that the item was on sale for that price last week.  (More on that in a minute.)  Knowing the thing weighs 70lbs and will not fit into a shopping cart, I head back to the other end of the store to find someone who can bring a flatbed cart to transport the thing to my car.  One of the cashiers says she'll send someone to Gardening with a flatbed, and I happily return to Gardening to wait for said individual and cart.  And wait.  Five minutes later, I hear the cashier page for "any available associate to Gardening to help customer."  Nothing.  I look around and see this "call for service" button and push it. Five minutes later, I here, "Nick to Gardening to help a customer." I wait five more minutes.  I push the button again.

Customer Service Tip #2: Performance - Expectations = Satisfaction. If you're going to offer a "call for service" button and set that expectation, then you need to be prepared to act on it! Oh, and clean the thing, too. It's nasty.

Finally, 20 minutes after I entered the Gardening department, three employees who probably had no idea that I was waiting for someone to help me, wandered into the area. The name tag for one of them read ASM (Assistant Store Manager); I didn't catch what was on the name tags for the other two.  One of them immediately asked if I needed help and apologized profusely for my wait.

Customer Service Tip #3: A sincere apology will always help to diffuse the situation and calm the agitated customer.

Customer Service Tip #4:  Expediting the process from this point on will also help to ensure the experience ends positively.

I appreciated the apology and the initiative that all three of them took to help me immediately. Within five more minutes, I paid for the table and was out of the store!  But before we get to that point, there were a couple more things.

Recall that there was a $99 sale sticker on the box. When we got to the cash register, of course, the table did not ring up at $99, but they did honor the price.  Yay!

Customer Service Tip #5:  If you have the wrong price on your product, that is not the customer's problem.  You must honor it.

The cashier gives me the final price, and I try to swipe my credit card in the card reader but can't proceed until I take a survey! I must first answer my likelihood to recommend Kmart before I can complete the transaction. Are you kidding me?

I get it. I'm in the industry. You want to collect data from every customer, but let's think about why you are asking LTR at this moment. Is it really meaningful? NO. Is it just a number at this point? YES. Will you capture any meaningful information about why I was not likely to recommend? NO. Will you slow down MY transaction as well as that of anyone who is waiting in line behind me? YES.

Customer Service Tip #6:  Don't ask LTR before a transaction is complete, i.e., at the credit card terminal. It's not meaningful. It's just a number. And that means that Kmart focuses on the number and not on the customer. And honestly, that (i.e., not focused on customer) was extremely apparent throughout most of this experience.

Kmart, I appreciate that some of your employees were doing their best to make this a great experience for me. The recovery was good. Two of the employees even loaded the table into my car for me. But it didn't really change my opinion about Kmart, unfortunately.

How likely am I to shop at Kmart again? It's still "Highly Unlikely." If this blog post ends up in the hands of someone at Kmart who cares about the customer experience, they'll know my score (even though I canceled out of the survey)... and why!

P.S. When I got home, I did take the online survey that was on their receipt ( Like their customer service, it too needs a good overhaul.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Employee Satisfaction Surveys – Should Managers Be Rewarded on Results?

This blog was originally published by me on 07/19/2010 at

For any VOC initiative, it is just as critical to conduct employee surveys as it is to survey customers.  Employee engagement drives customer engagement, and without understanding the hearts and minds of your employees, your VOC initiative will be incomplete.

Conducting employee surveys within your organization presents opportunities for you to show employees that you care about them and their needs. At the same time, it provides employees an avenue for providing feedback about the company, culture, management, tools, resources, training, and more.  For survey results to be most effective, employees need to trust that they can provide candid feedback in an anonymous fashion without retribution.

Even more important than conducting these surveys is to act on the results – and then to hold managers accountable for creating action plans and executing on them. However, is it a good or standard practice to compensate managers based on their employee satisfaction scores?  This is a practice that is difficult to support, given the following complications caused by providing incentives to managers based on the satisfaction of their employees.
  1. Any time you tie survey results to a bonus plan, managers will waste time and energy trying to find fault with the overall program design, survey questions, or data quality – instead of taking the candid feedback at face value, taking ownership, and putting the feedback to work. 
  2. Tying compensation to employee feedback also leads to situations that I refer to as the “car dealer syndrome,” which includes gaming the system, bribes, and other seedy behavior.
  3. The potential to earn more money because of these results can also lead to retribution for low scores and poor feedback; employees need to know they can provide feedback without fear of recourse for negative feedback.
If you want to reward your managers, use objective measures, such as employee turnover, that can’t be tinkered with.  If you feel the need to reward managers, do so based not on the scores and the feedback, but on the execution of action plans created as a result of the feedback.

Having said all that, I do believe that company executives should certainly have a portion of their bonus plans tied to both customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction scores.  Creating a customer-centric culture begins when you first focus on your employees and make their satisfaction a priority.  That focus can only be   driven by those at the top.