Friday, August 31, 2012

Innovate - Don't Imitate

Does "chasing the competition" describe your approach to product, services, or customer experience design? Are you more focused on what your competitors are doing than on your own business and your own customer experience strategy?

If you answered "Yes" to either of these questions, you seriously need to rethink your approach. Read on. (And even if you said, "No," please read on!) You're doing your customers and your organization a serious disservice.

So let's start with this: When it comes to your customer experience, are you innovating or imitating?

1. Do you dwell on what your competition is doing?
2. Is your approach to designing products, services, and the customer experience fresh and innovative?
3. Or did you take the Zappos tour and decide to replicate their model?
4. Are you looking for new and creative ways to meet customer needs or solve their problems?

Much like raising a child, i.e., what works for some kids (discipline, learning styles, medicine, etc.) doesn't work for others, leading and growing your business is going to require a different approach than what your competitors are doing. Why? Well, for one, you are not the same companies. You don't know all of the ins and outs of your competitors' businesses and why they do what they do. They could be doing it all wrong but using great messaging and marketing to make you think they've got it right. Build your own company. Execute your own strategies. Your customers will appreciate it.

'Focus on competition' has always been a formula for mediocrity. - Daniel Burrus

Listen. Nobody wins when you imitate. When there are clear, differentiated choices of products, services, and/or experiences in the marketplace, the decision is made easier for your customers. Bring your own unique value to the table. When customers' experiences with one company stinks, they have the ability to go purchase from someone else. Let them decide.

"No man was ever great by imitation." -Samuel Johnson

Imitation is the death of innovation. When imitating, there's no need for innovation, right? Take your inspiration from other industries, if you have to. Get motivated by what your competitors are doing, but don't dwell on them. Competition drives innovation, and vice versa. And innovation drives success, simply because it allows you and your competitors to offer a variety of products to meet your customers' needs. When that happens, the customer wins. And then you do, too.

Even in the face of massive competition, don’t think about the competition. Literally don’t think about them. Every time you’re in a meeting and you’re tempted to talk about a competitor, replace that thought with one about user feedback or surveys. Just think about the customer. -Mike McCue

Why would you create a customer experience strategy that mimics your competitors'? Why do you care what they are doing? Shouldn't you just conserve your energy and focus only on what you are doing or need to do to deliver the best experiences possible? The simple answer is: Yes, you should be aware of your competition and what they're doing, but your business strategy shouldn't be a "me too" or driven by "how can I take my competitors' customers." That's not a win-win for anyone. And that's certainly not a customer-focused culture.

Not all experiences are created equal. When you design your customer experience strategy, good guidelines to live by include:
  1. Define and communicate your brand promise
  2. Understand your customers: who are they? what do they buy? what problems are they trying to solve? why do or don't they buy?
  3. Identify your customer segments: do different customers have different needs?
  4. Define your moments of truth: think about your customer experience lifecycle and your various touchpoints and interactions
  5. Map your customer journey
  6. Understand the marketplace: yes, be aware of competitors and what they're doing, but don't imitate
  7. Listen to your customers and prospects
  8. Define your customer experience: innovate, get creative, add value to the marketplace
  9. Hire the right employees for your brand experience
If you're a regular follower of my blog, you know that I like to end my posts with a relevant quote. Today, I wanted to share several quotes that are relevant and inspirational to the topic at hand. It was tough to pick just one, so I opted to share them all!

If we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we'll turn out all right. -Jeff Bezos

It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. - Herman Melville

Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those who we cannot resemble. -Samuel Johnson

To refrain from imitation is the best revenge. - Marcus Aurelius

This one made me laugh, but it is so true! Instead of playing to win, I was playing not to lose. It reminds me of a story I once heard about two friends being chased by a bear, when one turned to the other and said, "I just realized that I don't need to outrun the bear; I only need to outrun you. - Sean Covey

Competition is healthy. Especially when all your competitors are unhealthy, and hopefully sick and absent during the competition.
 - Jarod Kintz   

Anytime you find someone more successful than you are, especially when you're both engaged in the same business - you know they're doing something that you aren't. -Malcolm X   
I’ll insist my competitor is the greatest, so that when I beat him, I won’t be calling myself the greatest—I’ll be proving it through my actions.
 -Jarod Kintz

Competition brings out the best in products and the worst in people. -David Sarnoff, Founder, RCA

Competition is a rude yet effective motivation. -Toba Beta
It's less distracting to chase a dream than to chase the competition. Besides, wouldn't you rather reach your dream than reach your competition? -Simon Sinek

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Customer Experience Lessons from Neil Armstrong

Image courtesy of Recuedos de Pandora
What can Neil Armstrong teach us about customer experience? I took some liberties with his most-popular quotes and applied them to our world.

Having just recently visited the NASA exhibit at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, the early days of the space program were fresh in my mind when the news of Neil Armstrong's passing hit us last week. (And I'll refrain from dating myself and not state where I was when he made that spacewalk that is forever etched in our memories.) He was one of several astronauts from my home state of Ohio, but he was one of the more humble and private astronauts, despite his historical mission to, and walk on, the moon that could have easily caused an inflated ego. Many consider him a hero.

I thought I'd take his most-famous quotes and apply them to the world of customer and employee experience. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.
"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."
Without a doubt, this is his most famous quote. In an article about the lunar landing, I read that the quote happened as follows, after he had thought a long time about what he was going to say when he made that historical step. "'That’s one small step for a man.' I paused, and for a split second, I thought about how many people had worked their entire lives to make this possible. Moreover, how lucky I was to be here. 'One giant leap for mankind.'"

Yea, that's how the customer experience works, too. The customer experience is created as a result of the work of a lot of people, all working together for a common cause or purpose.
"We had hundreds of thousands of people all dedicated to doing the perfect job, and I think they did about as well as anyone could ever have expected."
It takes the entire organization - not just the frontline but the executive team and everyone behind the scenes. Every single employee, whether he or she knows it or not, impacts the customer experience. Customer service (and the customer experience) is not a department, it's everyone - it's your culture, your  way of doing business. I think it also takes a wise leader to recognize and acknowledge this.
"I think if there was anything I learned from our skipper was that it's not how you look; it's how you perform."
Performance is critical in the customer experience, whether it's how the product performs or how your people perform when they are servicing your customers.  Make sure your people have the right training, tools, and culture to perform at their peak.
"Start at the end and work back."
This is classic. Think about your objectives, your outcomes, and work backward to figure out what you need to do to achieve them.
"Pilots take no special joy in walking. Pilots like flying."
Know your customers. Simple as that. Understand who they are and what their preferences are. Experiences or products may need to be adapted to different customer types or needs.
"It was the lowest-paying job that I was offered coming out of college, but I think, in retrospect, it was the right one."
When you're happy doing what you're doing, it's not like work after all. When you're passionate about what you do, it makes all the difference in the world. And passionate employees, who are aligned with the mission or the purpose of an organization, tend to be more productive, more focused (on what they do and on the success of the business), want the business to succeed, and will do anything to ensure it does.
"Geologists have a saying - rocks remember."
Customer experience professionals have a saying - customers remember.
"Machines are getting better and better, but fortunately, there's still a place for us homo sapiens, some reason for us to continue to exist."
Look no further than the recent post by Bob Thompson of CustomerThink asking the question, "Can technology create customer delight?" When you read the post, you'll find my thoughts, as well as those from other CX professionals, on the subject. In a nutshell, people buy from people, and technology can facilitate the experience being delivered.
"Research is creating new knowledge."
Research is used for product or service innovation and to learn more about your customers. Without it, we're  stabbing in the dark. Knowledge is an important part of delivering an excellent customer experience.
"In much of society, research means to investigate something you do not know or understand."
Conduct research to not only better understand your customers but also those who aren't your customers. Why don't they buy? What problems are they trying to solve that we can't? How could we meet their needs?
"Well, I think we tried very hard not to be overconfident, because when you get overconfident, that's when something snaps up and bites you."
Keep a straight head on your shoulders and stay focused on the mission at hand. Being the leader of the pack in your industry is a great place to be, but always be humble and always strive to improve. There's always someone else out there either catching up or figuring out how to overtake your position.
"I guess we all like to be recognized not for one piece of fireworks, but for the ledger of our daily work."
Don't forget to appreciate, praise, and recognize your employees. Don't just celebrate them at monthly or quarterly meetings, appreciate them every day. Use a tool like Kudos and change the world and your culture one thank you at a time. 
"I fully expected that, by the end of the century, we would have achieved substantially more than we actually did."
I think many of us expected that we'd be further along and have better customer experiences by now, but unfortunately, the metrics and the stories prove otherwise. There's still a large gap in what executives perceive their companies are delivering and what customers are experiencing.
“The important achievement of Apollo was demonstrating that humanity is not forever chained to this planet and our visions go rather further than that and our opportunities are unlimited.”
OK, maybe a stretch but a good reminder that customers are not chained to your brands. One bad experience or a string of bad experiences can cause them to look elsewhere. And when innovation and marketing create stories that compel customers to consider other brands, opportunities are unlimited.
“Shoot for the stars but if you happen to miss shoot for the moon instead.”
If there's a problem, apologize, ask for forgiveness, and do your best to fix the issue. A swift and strong recovery is critical. Always strive to deliver the ultimate customer experience. It's a journey, not a destination.

"Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed." R.I.P Neil Armstrong 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Are We There Yet?

Image courtesy of music2work2
Nothing brings a nice, relaxing vacation to a screeching halt like a crappy return flight experience. Are we there yet?

I recently wrote a blog about my booking experience for some summer travel with my two boys. We finally took that trip, and the travel, for the most part, was much less painful than that booking experience. But, let's not get too excited! You can always count on the airlines for some customer experience "don'ts!"

I wrote about United Airlines in an earlier post (The Experience Speaks Louder than Words) in which I outlined their values, as noted by their CEO, Jeff Smisek:
  • Doing what you say you're going to do
  • Doing your very best to deliver on it, and
  • Recognizing your mistakes
He summed these up as dignity and respect, treating each other like we liked to be treated.

Fair enough. I like those values. Now tell me if you think they lived up to them with this experience.

During our travels back home, we had a layover in Houston. We landed 30 minutes late after circling the airport for as long because of storms. After we landed, I turned on my phone and saw an email notification from United, letting me know the flight was delayed roughly an hour and why (our crew had not arrived yet). For once, it was fortunate that our connecting flight was delayed because we never would have made it to the other end of the airport in time to catch it. While we were waiting to board, the flight was delayed one more time by 15 minutes, but we boarded as if we were still on track for the first delayed departure time, 15 minutes earlier.

Once everyone had boarded, one of the flight attendants announced that she wanted to be very transparent with us. She let us know the pilot and crew had landed; however, they were at the other end of the airport, and we'd depart as soon as they made their way to our gate. We were otherwise ready to go.

Wow. That sounded great. Imagine the thought of transparency in such a situation! How delightful.

O wait. Not so fast!  Incredibly enough, that was the last we heard from anyone until we were in the air. Yes! Until we were in the air! Here's what happened for the 45+ minutes after that "transparent" announcement and before take-off:

* The flight crew boarded. There was no announcement.
* More passengers boarded. There was no announcement that we were waiting for delayed passengers to arrive.
* We sat on the runway waiting for our turn to take off for 35+ minutes. There was no announcement about why we were just sitting there.

Now, where is the transparency? Where is the communication? Where is the treating each other like we liked to be treated?

We got none of that. Instead, what I got from two impatient boys who were tired and ready to get home: "When are we taking off? What time is it now? Why aren't we taking off? Why are we just sitting here?" Yea, inquiring minds want to know. And it wasn't just my kids with those questions. Unfortunately, I had no answers.

Three things that are important to a great customer experience:
  1. Setting expectations (often in the form of your values, brand promise, etc.)
  2. Communication, and
  3. Delivering on those expectations
As I've written in the past: "Expectations are an integral part of your customers' satisfaction levels. As a matter of fact: Performance - Expectations = Satisfaction. Communicating with your customers openly and honestly sets their expectations and allows for a great experience to unfold, assuming you meet (or exceed) those expectations; failing to communicate simply leaves them in the dark.

The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place. -George Bernard Shaw

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Building the Button to Nowhere

Image courtesy of sergiosantos9 with Review Connection
Have you ever heard of the Bridge to Nowhere? I think most of us have; if you haven't, you will momentarily.

I recently discovered the Button to Nowhere. Have you ever had this happen while using a software platform or a mobile app: You click on a button that seems clearly and intuitively labeled, fully expecting it to do one thing and, instead, it did something else? Or, maybe worse, it did nothing?

My experience was the latter. I recently tried a new software platform and had an interesting experience. I was viewing some graphics on the page, when I saw a button at the top that said, "Email." I clicked it, thinking I was going to be able to email the information that I was looking at to someone who might be interested. But instead, when I clicked the button, it simply opened an email in my email program; there was no image, no link to the page, no nothing. Now, what's the point of that?

So I asked.

And the response was: "Our CEO wanted it." Uh...

I was speechless.

So I decided to call it the Button to Nowhere. And that made me curious to look up the definition of the Bridge to Nowhere on Wikipedia (verbatim):

A bridge to nowhere is a bridge where one or both ends are broken or incomplete and does not lead anywhere. There are three main origins for these bridges:
  • The bridge was never completed, because of the cost, or because of property rights.
  • One end or both end has collapsed or have been destroyed, e.g., by earthquake, flood, or war.
  • The bridge is disused, but was not demolished because of the cost. For instance, the bridges on abandoned railway line.
I think we need to add a fourth origin to this list: Someone forgot to ask the customer where he/she wanted to go.

"As consumers, we are incredibly discerning; we sense where there has been great care in the design, and when there is cynicism and greed." -Jonathan Ive

If you have features on your products that...
  • haven't been vetted with customers,
  • have no seemingly-obvious or intuitive purpose, 
  • don't solve a problem but create one, or
  • don't do what a customer would expect them to do (again, intuitively)
... then it's time to rethink your design process. It must include the voice of the customer, in whatever form that happens.

Designer Massimo Vignelli said, "There is no design without discipline. There is no discipline without intelligence." That intelligence must come from listening to your customers: defining personas, understanding their needs or problems, and listening to how they would use the product.

There are those who believe that Apple doesn't do any kind of research with customers about its products and would counter my point above about the source of intelligence (because they want to be the next Steve Jobs?). I say Apple does. I know it takes all the mystique and magic out of all that is Apple, but trust me, Apple listens to the voice of the customer. And you should, too.

Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said, 'Faster horses.'” Just remember that there are different approaches, other than conducting surveys, to listening to the voice of the customer. There are a variety of methods for uncovering needs, expectations, painpoints, and problems to solve.

Products are created to fill a need or to solve a problem, not to create a problem. Going back to the design process, Jason Fried says, "The design is done when the problem goes away." Amen to that.

Does your product have any Buttons to Nowhere?

People ignore design that ignores people. -Frank Chimero

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Planning for a Successful Customer Experience Journey

Image courtesy of I am Mike's photos
This post was originally published as a guest post on Jim Tincher's Heart of the Customer blog. I have updated it for this repost. As we close out the summer of 2012 travel season, I thought this was a fitting time to share this whimsical post on planning your Customer Experience Journey.

A customer experience strategy is just a strategy, a roadmap that outlines your approach to creating a customer-centric culture. It takes the entire organization to successfully execute a customer experience strategy, not just the executive team, not just the frontline, and not just the CCO and her team overseeing the strategy. This strategy drives the customer-centric culture.

Customer  centricity is a way of life, a way of doing business, a journey. It’s not just a project or something to check off your “To Do” list for this week. It’s woven into the fabric of everything you do as an organization.

What are some of the things you should consider as you make this journey? Well, glad you asked. Buckle up and join me for the ride.

Plan Your Journey
Without a doubt, you’ll want to begin with a plan. Fail to plan, plan to fail. You need to spell out clearly-defined objectives that need to revolve not only around the success of the business but around the customer – and how the two relate. And don't forget your employees.

Start with your brand promise and your purpose. How will you socialize that with your employees so that they live by – and deliver to – it? What’s your purpose? Why are you in business? What’s your story?

Hire a Driver
Executive buy-in, commitment, and oversight are imperative. Leadership is about setting examples and expectations, communicating the vision, steering the ship, providing direction, and setting the tone for the customer-centric culture. Provide the tools and the guidance for what is expected, and let your people work together to create and deliver those memorable customer experiences. Here’s a novel idea: hire a Chief Customer Officer and really put your money where your mouth is! Demonstrate to the organization and to your customers that the customer The executives should be as concerned about the employee experience as they are about the customer experience. Start with hiring the right people: for leadership, frontline management, and frontline positions.

Draw Your Map
You can’t get where you’re going without a map, and you can’t ensure consistent, positive experiences across the organization without understanding the customer experience lifecyle – and all of the touchpoints along the way. In order to do so, create a customer journey map that looks at the customer experience at each touchpoint, each interaction and look at each role/person, each process, each data input, each system… you get it… everything that supports that customer touch, that moment of truth. You’ll want to consider your competitive position and understand your competitors’ value propositions, as well.

Design and outline the experience you want to deliver to customers - the experience your customers expect. Orchestrate the experience so that employees know what they are expected to do.

If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else. -Yogi Berra 

Research Your Destination
Understanding your customers and listening to the voice of the customer is mission critical. Carefully design your VOC process to ensure you are collecting feedback from the right customers at the right time using the right channels. At the same time, ensure that you are not only collecting feedback but actively disseminating it throughout the organization, responding to it, and using it to make tactical and strategic changes to your business. Your efforts should cover the following voices: customers, employees, partners, market, and business.

Invite Friends
Just as important as leadership buy-in is employee buy-in. It’s important that employees understand their role in driving the customer experience (seems like a no-brainer, no?) and how that links to the bottom line. Employees should understand the brand promise and what is expected of them in order to deliver on that. Don’t skimp on employee onboarding and training or on regular communication with your employees.

At the same time, the employee experience is mission critical.  As I’ve written about in the past, it’s time to focus on their experience. It’s important to create a culture or environment that facilitates employee engagement. If employees are not emotionally connected with the brand (and its purpose and promise), then the customer experience will be less than stellar. An employee’s engagement drives his/her motivation and behavior, which in turn drives the customer’s satisfaction and resultant behavior.

Buy Your Gear
What kinds of tools will you need to facilitate this journey? What will you need to listen to the voice of the customer, employee, partners, the market, the business, etc.? How will you bring all your customer data together into one place? How will you analyze the data to glean insights that will drive corrective actions and continuous improvements? How will you disseminate customer data to the frontline so they can act/react properly?

Check the Car
Make sure you’ve got the right people, the right culture, the right tools, the right data. Do you have metrics in place to ensure that you are meeting your goals? Are you focused on the score and not the experience? If so, then rethink your strategy – it’s not about the score.

Pack the Car
Let’s put it all together and get ready to go. Communicate what you're doing and why to both internal and external stakeholders.

Hit the Open Road
Once everything is in place and you’ve got a plan for how to deal with risks and issues as they arise, you’re ready to get on the road. Ensure that you are continuously collaborating, innovating, communicating, and improving. Design your products and services from the customer’s point of view.

Call Your Mom
Along your journey, know that communication is critical. Keep in touch with those that are most important to your business: your employees and your customers. Communicate to set expectations, respond to inquiries and issues, train and educate, recognize and appreciate, etc.

Create Memories, Tell Stories
Execute. Delight. At every touchpoint. During every interaction. Consistently. On message. Create memorable experiences and share stories of your successes.

Plan Your Next Trip
It doesn't end there. Your industry, your organization, your customers, and your approach will constantly adapt and evolve. Never rest on your laurels. If you don't provide a great customer experience constantly and consistently, someone else will.

Enjoy the journey!

CX Journey: Customer experience success is a journey, not a destination.

"It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end." -Ursula K. LeGuin (some also attribute this quote to Ernest Hemingway)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

More Customer Experience Lessons from the Olympics

Image courtesy of Nick J Webb
Can you handle one more post about the many lessons learned from the Olympics?

Personally, I love it. I'm glad that so many people are inspired by the athletes; the discipline needed to qualify, compete, and achieve their goals; their performances, and the Olympics overall.

Here's my final contribution to lessons learned from the Olympics. It is by no means an exhaustive list.

Start with setting your goals. There are a lot of great examples of this among the Olympians, not the least of which is to qualify for the Olympics! Anything you set out to do, have a reason for it, a purpose, and a goal. Clearly-defined objectives.

Think about how you are going to deliver your best performance at the right time. In any athletic competition, you know the athletes need to dial in their training, their diets, and their focus all at the right time. They need to be on their game, at the top of their game, at the moment that matters. In the CX world, we talk about the importance of doing the right things to ensure an outstanding customer experience, like having...
  • the right people and leadership
  • the right data and insights
  • the right processes
  • the right tools and technology
  • the right culture
... all at the right time. Basically, the planets, moons, and stars are all aligned. Having competed in track, cross country, 10Ks, and bodybuilding, I can very easily sit here and write that all of the right conditions must come together in order to be at your peak performance at the right time.

Training is so important. This is the hard part. But without it, you cannot achieve your goals. Be disciplined, and stick with it. Put in the effort required to reach the goal. Nothing comes easy. Do and give your best or forget about it; otherwise, why be there. I probably don't need to say this, but if you're not prepared, don't show up. How about in your business? How do you train your employees?  Is your training a continuous effort?

Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential. -Winston Churchill

Passion. Need I say more? These athletes are passionate about what they do. When you're passionate about something, you put forth the effort to succeed. How many people believe that Michael Phelps has really retired and can stay away from the pool? Natalie Coughlin, at 29, says she'll probably be back. She loves the life. She loves the training. She loves the pool. How about your employees? Your leaders? Are they passionate about what they do?

I believe grace, composure, and how you handle the pressure (and the press) are important to both customer experience and to leadership. Remember when Jordyn Wieber didn't qualify for the women's individual all-around? She fell apart after the heartbreak, but she regained her composure and congratulated her teammates. In the heat of the moment, is your frontline yelling at customers, or are they prepared to deal with whatever gets thrown at them?

I was reminded about consistency, too. Are you always on your game? Are you always giving your best performance, day in and day out? Let's look at the Andy Murray - Roger Federer tennis match. A month prior to the Olympics, Murray lost to Federer at Wimbledon; but he beat Federer at the Olympics. There were plenty of other athletes who were expected to win the gold but ended up missing it by nanoseconds or by a mile. What does that inconsistency do to the athletes? What does it do for your business? How does it affect your customers? Do you have fair weather fans, or do your fans stick with you through thick and thin?

Throw in the unexpected. I think there were a lot of unexpected results, but one of the unexpected things that we saw in this Olympics was the Paralympic runner from South Africa, Oscar Pistorius, now dubbed "Blade Runner." While he didn't medal in the Olympics, his debut has created a heightened interest in the Paralympics, which will be held in London later this month; a surge in ticket sales has been seen.

And then there are your competitors. Sometimes you win not because you gave your best performance but because someone else gave their worst. Or vice versa. If you didn't win, it's because someone did it better. We saw this happen a few times at the Olympics. Is this happening in your business? Do you have your pulse on your competition? Be aware of what your competitors are doing, but keep your eyes on the ball, on your business. Be more focused on what you are doing. Be more focused on the experience you deliver; don't give your customers a reason to stray to the competition.

Finally, as Peter Drucker said, "What gets measured gets managed." Athletes live by this, whether their performance and their improvement gets measured by a clock, a scoreboard, or a measuring tape. Measuring performance is the best way to track improvements and progress toward your goals. It's also a great way to keep everyone focused on the goal. Companies should (and do) measure and manage, as well: retention, attrition, satisfaction, engagement, repurchase, etc. Pick your metric. If you don't know where you started, how will you know where you stand - and where you need to go?

Some great words of wisdom, tweeted by @Scott_Juba earlier this week, paraphrasing a quote he saw: "Act like you're in first place, practice like you're in second."

And one more, tweeted by @doug_picirillo: "To 'Usain Bolt' something or somebody: To achieve unprecedented domination in some competitive endeavor."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Greatest Customer Experience on Earth

Are there customer experience lessons to be learned from the circus?

Yes, the circus, of all places!

I took my kids to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (aka The Greatest Show on Earth) over the weekend at the Honda Center. The boys are about the age that I was when my parents took my siblings and me to the circus. It's one of those memories that has stayed with me, and it's an experience that I knew I wanted to share with my kids some day. Well, that day came. And the boys said it was the Best. Day. Ever! They didn't want it to end - and wanted to go again the next day. There were lions, tigers, elephants, dogs, cats, ponies, llamas, donkeys, clowns, high-wire acts, dancers, shaolin kungfu fighters, and dragons... o my!

And there were pooper scoopers.

"You saw what?" you say. Yup. Let me tell you about pooper scoopers. Honestly, it's a long-standing family joke and probably one of the reasons that my circus experience stuck with me as long as it did. Warped? Yes. But listen, I grew up on a farm; being a pooper scooper is just part of farm life. So when I was a kid, and we saw those guys and gals cleaning up after the horses and elephants on the show floor, well, my dad dubbed them "the pooper scoopers." (It was long ago. Trust me. He could well have been the person who coined that phrase. LOL.) And there it is. Three days ago, I proudly passed on that term to my own kids.

Now, I know you're thinking, "How on earth does that relate in any remote way to the customer experience?" Yea. I don't really have to repeat the fact that I can find a CX story in anything, do I?

I was amazed. No, it wasn't the shaolin breaking sticks and metal blades on their heads. Or the guy on a motorcycle on the high wire, spinning around like a top. Or the woman who was hanging upside down and  holding - by her hair! - another woman who was spinning on a hoop. Or the eight motorcycles in the steel ball, going round and round and round. (OK, those things amazed me, too.) But what really amazed me were those things that went into creating the experience.

As my kids sat and watched the show with their mouths wide open, I watched the show, too, but I also watched the things happening behind the scenes right in front of our eyes. My kids probably never noticed this stuff, and that's exactly how it's meant to be.

The entire show was cleverly orchestrated so that nothing ever detracted or distracted from the actual experience. I'll get back to the pooper scoopers in a moment, but here's what made the experience.
  • Communication. Right before the show started, there were announcements designed to set the stage and to set expectations. The announcer warned about the darkness, i.e., for your safety, don't get up and walk around when the arena is completely dark, about strobe lights, and about the smoke that would be used during the show being non-toxic. 
  • Engaging the audience. The actors in the show, from the clowns to the shaolin, kept the audience engaged and involved, whether that meant clapping, cheering, yelling, or singing.
  • Leadership. The ringmaster did what ringmasters do: not only did he keep the audience engaged, but he filled the voids, made introductions for upcoming acts, sang, and kept the show moving along.
  • Teamwork and precision. It was very clear that, regardless of performer type, i.e., animal trainers, shaolin, trapeze artists, clowns, etc., the groups all worked together to ensure not only each other's safety but also the overall quality of the experience for their guests.
  • Customer service. Even the concession sales inside the arena were well planned. The concession workers only walked the aisles before the show and during intermission, so as to not get in the way of viewing the show (and for their own safety). During intermission, we were on a mission to find cotton candy, but concession sales in the outer arena were backed up. We walked back to our seat area and waved down a concession worker in the next section. He was polite and motioned that he'd come our way after he was done with his current customer. In the meantime, another worker come up our section with cotton candy and was already prepared with change for a $20 bill. 
  • Focus. It was apparent that they wanted to ensure the focus was on the entertainment and not on the scene changes that were happening in front of our eyes. Whenever there was a set change, the lights went down, screens went up to mask the lower portion of arena; images and video danced across those screens, and the action moved to a different area of the arena, whether it was in a different ring or high above the arena. It was so well orchestrated that, if you didn't know it, it all happened magically before your eyes.
So, what about the pooper scoopers, you say. Well, they are absolutely the unsung heroes of the circus! I would equate these men and women to the shelf stockers, janitors, and other behind-the-scenes staff in your organization. Their roles are not glamorous, but they are mission critical. Not only did they scoop the poop but they also set the stage, modified sets, and were like puppet masters for some of the acts. The really cool part is that they were dressed in black so as to not distract from the show. With a black floor and a darkened arena backdrop, these men and women were barely visible. They made the experience magical. Who are similar unsung heroes in your organization?

And finally, to further support that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is focused on the customer experience, they asked for feedback. Upon entering the arena, we were handed all kinds of cards and brochures. Among them was a card that read, "We are all ears! Please call us with your comments." They provided phone numbers to call to provide feedback. (My only recommendation: offer other modes to provide feedback, too.) The back of the card reads:

"We hope your experience with us reveals our excellence in performance, product, and service. We are so confident in our products that we guarantee your purchase for two years. We greatly appreciate the feedback we receive from our guests. Your comments are always welcome! Please call our number 24 hous a day or write to us at: xxx."

Interesting guarantee...

From a CX perspective, could this really be the Greatest Show on Earth?!

Men who drive sharp bargains with their customers, acting as if they never expected to see them again, will not be mistaken. They will never see them again as customers. People don’t like to pay and get kicked also. -P.T. Barnum

Thursday, August 2, 2012

20 Signs That It's Time for a VOC Redesign

I recently met with a company that has been a client of ours for the last five or six years. During that time, there have been personnel changes on our team and on theirs. As a matter of fact, none of the original players on either side is involved any more. As we talked through our account review, it became painfully obvious that it was time to scrap what had been designed long ago and start over. It's time for a refresh.

When was the last time you and/or your VOC partner took a long, hard look at what you've been doing for years to figure out if it's time for a major overhaul or a redesign?

Well, it might be time for a refresh if you... 
  • Don't understand why you're doing what you're doing
  • Don't know/remember the original objectives
  • Haven't achieved said forgettable (or original) objectives
  • Have nothing to show for the feedback you have collected
  • Have seen a drastic drop in response rates
  • Only use the feedback to report one or two numbers; the rest of the data isn't looked at or acted upon
  • Only have one person (yourself) looking at the feedback, and even at that, it's infrequently at best
  • Have had major staffing changes within your organization
  • Work with a vendor who has had staffing changes on your account team
  • Have experienced staffing changes within both your organization and the vendor's
  • Have acquired new companies and brands
  • Have rebranded your products
  • Have changed your product focus or your audience
  • Have changed your business/business model
  • Are not collecting feedback in the mode preferred by your customers
  • Have new competitors
  • Haven't had any actionable results in years
  • Notice that recommendations for improvement haven't changed
  • Aren't making improvements based on the feedback
  • Discover that what you are currently doing is not/no longer working
If you've been doing the same thing for umpteen years, seriously, it's time for a refresh. Data collection methods have changed. Respondent preferences (for completing surveys) have changed. VOC has changed and now includes more than just surveys. Key metrics for your business may have changed. There are a lot of things that have changed over time; but if your approach to VOC - not just the way you capture feedback but also the way you distribute, analyze, act on it, and communicate improvements - has remained stagnant, you're not only wasting money, you're doing your customers and your business a huge disservice.

Go now! Review what you're doing. Does your VOC initiative suffer from any of the symptoms listed above? If so, it is definitely time for a redesign!

The more you engage with customers the clearer things become and the easier it is to determine what you should be doing. -John Russell, President, Harley Davidson

If you get honest feedback and do nothing about it, then the feedback will stop. -Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford Motor Company