Friday, December 28, 2012

Customer Experience Lessons from the Fiscal Cliff

Yes. I had to step in this one! Time to share some customer experience learnings from the Fiscal Cliff. Ironically, there are a lot of lessons to take away here. Let's dive in!

I don't profess to be an expert on financial policy or even know all the ins and outs of this looming Fiscal Cliff, but based on what I've heard and read, there are several simple lessons to pass on.

Fail to plan, plan to fail
Plan ahead and don't wait for the moment of crisis. Don't wait for the moment when you'll be put to the test. Plan. Prepare. Be ready. The point of my post Are You Ready for Black Friday was not specifically about Black Friday but for every day. If you're doing things right all along, then there's no pressure.

Government is "of the people, by the people, for the people." So is your business. You can read more about my views on transparency here.

You'll get a lot more accomplished if you work together, within your team and/or across departments or business units. It will make for a much better experience for your customers if everyone throughout the organization is on the same page. Break down the silos and work toward a common goal.

In public policy and in customer service, sometimes you have to compromise. Sometimes you'll need to make some concessions to keep your customers happy.

Sense of urgency
When interacting with customers, work with a sense of urgency. Let them know they are the most important thing on your plate right now.

Don't kick the can down the road
If there's an issue, fix it immediately. It won't go away. No one goes on vacation til the issue is resolved. Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

Don't play the blame game
The customer is always right. I know; some folks don't agree with that. But in the interest of the customer experience, would you rather have your frontline argue with the customer? A classic example is the Nordstrom tire story.

Public opinion matters
Listen to your customers.

Know your customers
Rich, poor, or otherwise - know your customers and understand the impact of your policies and decisions on each. Understand their needs and their unique journeys.

Consumer anxiety is real
When there are issues, whether it's a product recall or a service interruption, calm the fears and anxiety that this creates for your consumers. Fix the problem quickly, and communicate your progress.

An organization's leadership must be unified and have a clear vision with shared goals. If they're not all on the same page, you've got a mess. Everyone needs to be marching to the beat of the same drummer. They cannot effect real change if they cannot come to a consensus. Leadership sets the tone for the rest of the company; what they project either instills confidence or kills it.

Data is important to decision making
Use the data you have about your customers, both attitudinal and behavioral, to make wise decisions about product development, service offerings, process improvements, future strategies, etc. Use it to take action, as well.

Failure is an option
Yup, sometimes bad decisions are made. They hurt all of us. We learn from them, and we move on. I can think of a few airlines to draw examples from for this lesson. The important thing is that you've learned from it.

Change has to happen
Without a doubt, regardless of the resultant fiscal policy, change will happen. Good, bad, or ugly, it will happen. Earlier this year, I wrote a post that questioned what it will take to make customer experience change happen. Odd as it sounds, even if you do nothing, change will happen; it won't necessarily be a good change, but things will be change.

Sometimes you can talk an issue to death
And get nowhere.

The legacy you leave
What legacy do you want to leave behind with your organization? As a leader, what do you want your employees to remember most about you? How do you want your customers to think of, and to remember, your brand?

Fix your structural issues
Sometimes a looming Fiscal Cliff is the sign of trouble elsewhere in the organization, too. It's probably time to take a closer look at all of your processes and policies to make sure they align with your customer-centric culture.

It's time for process improvements
Assess processes that affect both employees and customers. If they hinder the experience, it's time to change them.

Bad policies do no good
Bad policies will be the bane of your existence. Review all of your policies; ensure they support your customer-focused approach to business. Get rid of policies that make no sense or that make the customer experience painful. Remove policies that don't allow employees to do what's in the best interest of their customers.

Innovation is important
It's time for some fresh thinking. The old way got us here. And if you keep doing what you've been doing, you're going to keep getting what you've been getting. If your customer experience continues to fall short of expectations, time to come up with something new.

Can't please everyone or be everything to everyone
In the end, whatever the outcome of the Fiscal Cliff, not everyone will be happy with the result. Bill Cosby said, I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” Know your purpose, your focus, and what you're trying to achieve, i.e., your Why, and let that be your guiding light. Do what you do - always in the best interest of your customers. If you live by that, the rest becomes quite simple.

What other lessons can you think of?

Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don't interfere as long as the policy you've decided upon is being carried out. -Ronald Reagan

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Today's VOC Program Challenges

Image courtesy of Pixabay
As we wrap up 2012 and think about how we're going to do things better or differently in 2013, I thought I'd summarize some of the challenges those listening to the voice of the customer continue to face. You're listening, right?

As technology and the flow (flood? influx?) of data evolve, so must your VOC efforts. These and other aspects of a changing business world create challenges that must be addressed, and adaptations that must be made, in order to stay on the cutting edge. Pay attention to these items to ensure that you're getting the most out of your customer feedback.

Unless you have 100% customer satisfaction…you must improve. -Horst Schulz

Timeliness of surveys: In this day and age, it's hard to believe that companies still don't ask for feedback in a timely manner, i.e., sending survey invites days or weeks after a transaction.
Length of surveys: Gone are the days of the 50-page surveys; today's surveys must be very short and relevant, i.e., asking about the specific topic at hand, not five other things because you have the customer's attention.
Preferred listening method: Companies must offer a way for customers to provide feedback through their preferred channels. Don't ignore mobile; it's not going away.
Other listening posts: Surveys are no longer the only way to listen to the voice of the customer; consider customer advisory boards, social media, frontline employees, product reviews, etc.
Other voices: Listening to the voice of the customer is critical, but so is listening to and incorporating the voices of your employees, partners, market, and business.
Silos: Do you have too many hands in the surveying pot, i.e., every department wants to survey, but there is no central management of survey campaigns, communication, etc.?
Checking the box: Companies are still conducting feedback to "check the box" rather than for meaningful listening and acting.

Accuracy: A lot of customer contact information is still incorrect or outdated. You can't solicit feedback or follow up with customers if you can't contact them.
Large volumes, social media/unsolicited, and unstructured: I'll lump these three together because they tend to require the same solution, i.e., the right tools in place to handle, manage, synthesize, and analyze.
Disparate sources and silos: These challenges tend to go together, too, as they require not only tools to facilitate breaking down silos, e.g., journey maps, but also tools to facilitate cross-silo compilation, communication, and sharing, in general. Cross-channel data must be funneled and combined in such a way that allows for a cohesive, consistent multichannel customer experience.

Tools: Organizations must have the right tools in place to analyze their mounds of data, but they also need...
Personnel: Software is not the only tool needed here; having the right skillset (person) in-house to know what to do with those tools is equally important. And these analytical minds must also deliver...
Insights: And while tools and people are part of this challenge, understanding their outputs and gleaning insights and stories to tell from those outputs are just as critical.

Silos: Feedback collected and analyzed in a silo'd manner is not shared or distributed to those who need to act on it.
Employee recognition or coaching: Feedback about outstanding customer experiences is not being tied to employee recognition; on the flipside, employees also need to hear the negative feedback and then be coached on aspects of their performance that hinder the experience.
Closing the loop: Companies are still not closing the loop with customers who provide feedback, whether through surveys or some other format, e.g., social media. If your customers take the time to tell you how you're doing, you need to take the time to respond and to let them know they've been heard.
Communication: Many companies are still failing to communicate before, during, or after they send out surveys (or use other listening posts); let customers know why you're collecting feedback and what the resultant improvements are.

Notice that "silos" is a common theme throughout. I know that breaking down silos is a hard thing to do, especially in large organizations. And some would argue that silos are a good thing. I don't agree. The only common theme throughout the organization should be "a relentless, cohesive focus on the customer." Now that's a good thing.

These are the challenges that I continue to see with VOC initiatives today. Will they be tomorrow's challenges, too? I know. It's a tall order to fix all of these things. It's not too early to start chipping away at them for a better outcome in 2013.

If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting. -Stephen Covey

Friday, December 21, 2012

Customer Experience Lessons from The Voice

The third season of the hit series The Voice just ended this week, and I've been sitting on a blog post for my "Customer Experience Lessons... " series since the previous season. For obvious reasons. I started to create my own TV series about The Voice (of the Customer) for the post; that didn't quite work but isn't dead yet! I've rewritten the post three times! Here's what I've ended up with.

There are three key constituents of the show: (1) coaches/mentors, (2) artists, and (3) the audience. Each one plays an important part in the show.

In your business, there are many stakeholders, but the three key constituents of the customer experience are (1) employees, (2) customers, and (3) leadership/executives. You could make the connection that the coaches/mentors are the leadership or management team, setting the example for the rest of the organization, driving the customer focus and culture; the employees are your artists; and your customers are your audience.

In the early stages of the show, the coaches each choose the artists that will be a part of their teams. Once the teams are set, they coach and mentor their team members, giving them advice and sharing best practices and secrets to success.

Coaching is critical to the growth of your employees, as well to their alignment with the customer-centric focus. Role playing, sharing your expertise, providing feedback, offering opportunities for career development, and recognizing a job well done are all part of coaching. In addition, creating a relationship of mutual trust, showing employees that you stand behind them, and expressing your commitment to their success will improve the employee experience, which, in turn, yields a much better customer experience.

The artists spent a lot of time doing their homework, learning their songs, and practicing in preparation for the show every week.

Your employees must and will do the same. Don't assume that they know how to deliver great service, especially to your company's standards. Assume that you need to clearly spell out for them your expectations on how they will interact with your customers and then train them on those expectations. Employees should constantly be learning about your products and services and updating their skills in general, as well, evolving and growing with the business.

While only one person wins The Voice, the artists are split up into teams. Each individual on a team forms a close bond with the other members of their team over the course of their time on the show, as well as with their team leader, their coach. 

The same is true for your employees. They are part of a team, whether its their individual departments or the company as a whole. A team collaborates and works together toward a common goal.

Every artist on The Voice has an interesting life story, whether it's a personal tragedy or just an awesome lifelong dream to become the next big pop star. The backstory is part of what creates that connection for the audience with the artists.

In the customer experience world, there are two types of backstories:
  1. The Customer's Story. Every customer is unique. You can't meet their needs until you understand who they are and what their needs are. 
  2. The Company's Story. Your company's story is its history, its purpose, its reason for being. Everyone, both customers and employees, need to understand the company's story.
As with the artists, these backstories form the foundation for the connection between the customer and the brand.

The show itself is obviously a competition. Artists compete with other artists, but they also compete against themselves, striving to always do better than the previous performance. Coaches and the audience remember.

Customers have choices. Customers remember. Don't dwell on what your competition is doing; instead, dwell on what you're doing.

The Voice is all about the performance, about artists giving their best performances every time they're on stage.

Your customer experience is only as good as your weakest link, right? Make sure every link, every touchpoint, is delivering a perfect 10 performance. Just like in The Voice competition, consistency is only important once you're performing at your absolute best, better than everyone else. Once you reach that level, the experience your customers have with your organization must consistently exceed their expectations.

The artists were missing their families and friends, but they needed to remain focused on the task at hand.

For your business, that focus needs to be on delivering the best customer experience possible. End of story.

Every single competitor had a goal: to win The Voice. They had dreams of being the next big thing. Many overcame obstacles to be there, to stay true to their dreams, and to achieve their goals.

The goal of a customer-centric organization is to not only meet but to exceed customers' expectations. Turning customers into raving fans is the ultimate goal. Make sure employees are in alignment; to do so, fall on your brand promise. As I wrote previously: "The brand promise aligns all of the activities of the organization; that promise guides people, processes, products, systems, etc. Everything you do must support and reinforce the brand promise: every product, every person, every interaction, every touchpoint, all of it. Every time."

An important component of a music competition is listening, i.e., for the coaches and the audience alike. Coaches are typically listening for pitch, tone, runs, etc., while audience members are listening for great-sounding voices and songs that make them feel something.

You cannot have a customer-centric culture without listening to your customers. Or without really hearing what they are saying.

The Voice contestants were constantly receiving feedback about their performances from their coaches and from others around them.

As an organization, you should be encouraging and receiving feedback from your customers. As an employee, you should be receiving feedback from your mentor/manager and from your customers.

The Voice
The name of the show is, obviously, The Voice. Ultimately, the coaches and the audience are looking for the winning voice, the best-sounding artist from all the choices they have. The coaches' initial votes are truly about the individual voices, as they have their backs turned to the contestants and cannot see them. They hit their buttons to weigh in, to select an artist for their teams. Artists have a choice, if multiple coaches hit their buttons.

Your customers have a choice. Actually, they have lots of choices. They don't have a button, but they get to weigh in. They get to vote with their wallets.

Your customers have a voice. Bring that voice into all aspects of the organization, to every touchpoint. Make sure it's heard. And acted upon.

The Journey
The artists who make it into the top 10 have quite the journey - behind them and ahead of them. The journey behind them is much shorter than what lies ahead. Even if they didn't win the show, they have built a fan base over the weeks and months that will stay with them well into the future. Those artists in the top 5 - 10 will do well and have great careers ahead of them.

The customer experience is a journey, as well. And just like the artists, your company's journey behind is much shorter than what lies ahead. What lies ahead is a lot of hard work and focus, a lot of learning and improving, a lot of adapting, a lot of communicating and sharing. It's never-ending. It's not an easy road, but those that stay the course find that the reward far outweighs the effort to get there.

When people talk about successful retailers and those that are not so successful, the customer determines at the end of the day who is successful and for what reason. -Jerry Harvey

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Customer Experience Lessons from the ABCs of Life

There are a lot of general life lessons (I called  them common sense in a previous post) that can be applied to the world of customer experience. Let me know if you agree.

A couple days ago, I went to dinner in Laguna Beach with a good friend of mine. Before dinner, we wandered around town and visited some of the local shops, doing some last-minute Christmas shopping. If you've ever been to Laguna Beach, you know it's a very artsy beach community, with a ton of art galleries and a lot of fun shops to check out.

In one of the shops, I saw the plaque shown in the image above. I couldn't help myself; I knew I had to snap a picture and use it for one of my "Customer Experience Lessons from..." blog topics. I'll try to apply as many of them as I can, but I think I can get through all 26! (It was either that or a CX rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas... and, wow, that was really going to be a stretch! But I haven't deleted that idea from my Drafts folder just yet!) Here goes...

Accept Differences:  Customers are different. They have different needs, and different types of customers interact differently with your brand. Segment customers and interact with them in ways that are meaningful and preferred by them.

Be Kind: Rule #1 when it comes to customer service.

Count Your Blessings: Be thankful for the customers you have. Focus more energy and effort on retaining them than on bringing in new ones. They will help drive new business.

Dream: Dream and dream big! There's nothing wrong with thinking differently and wanting to provide an experience that's better than what the competition offers. Dream it, discuss it, and deliver it!

Express Thanks: Without a doubt, always say "thank you for your business." And always show your employees how much you appreciate them and the value they bring.

Forgive: Customers can be cranky, rude, and impatient. Forgive them for this. Put yourself in their shoes, put a smile on your face, and deliver the best service you know how to.

Give Freely: There are many ways that you can give to your customers without spending a dime. There are things you can do that cost nothing - but that make customers feel like they are kings. I love the recent example of the Rejection Project and the Krispy Kreme experience. This didn't really cost Krispy Kreme anything; the employee was creative and obliged the customer's request. And it made his day. Give freely, and you will have riches in return.

Harm No One: This is the ultimate goal for a business, the frontline, and customer service in general. Do no harm. Don't take advantage of your customers. Resolve issues. Don't make them worse. Don't create problems. Hire the right people, with great attitudes, who will send your customers (who've made purchases) off with a smile.

Imagine More: Never stop imagining. Never stop innovating. Get creative. Do great things, different things. Stand apart. Don't just imitate. Be remarkable.

Jettison Anger: Anger has no place on the frontlines or in the customer experience. Get it out of the workplace. Hire people with great attitudes. Hire happy people.

Keep Confidences:  Create a culture, an environment, that encourages openness, trust, and transparency. In a culture of transparency, share as much as you can share. But as I mentioned previously, be smart. There are things that don't need to be shared.

Love Truly: Love? Yes. Love your customers. Love your employees. Communication, trust, integrity, respect, and loyalty are all important parts of growing and maintaining these relationships.

Master Something: Master the art of delivering both a great customer experience and an excellent employee experience.

Nurture Hope: Your customers have a lot of hopes and expectations. Meet and exceed those expectations at every opportunity.

Open Your Mind: Consider the point of view of others, in this case, your customers. Listen to your customers and learn to understand their wants and needs. Be open to their needs and their expectations.

Pack Lightly: Make it easy for your customers to do business with you. Understand what's important for your customers and what's not. Do those things that are important to them, and do them well; skip or lessen the priorities around those things that don't revolve around your customer focus.

Quell Rumors: The best way to quell rumors is to never let them begin. In order to do that, transparency in your business dealings and customer interactions is required.

Reciprocate: If your customers are passionate about your brand, if your employees are passionate about what they're doing, show them some love in return. Show that you care about them just as much. Never forget to say "thank you." Do something that will truly delight them. In addition, communication is another area where reciprocation is critical in a customer experience. Relationships are about give and take. Don't just take; give something in return.

Seek Wisdom: When all else fails, ask for help. Nothing wrong with that.

Touch Hearts: This is a no-brainer in the world of customer experience.. Do something for your customers that is unexpected. A simple gift or gesture, some type of delighter. Go the extra mile.

Understand: Another no-brainer. Understand your customers. Understand their needs. Understand how they interact with you. Understand the customer's perspective all around is an important part of being able to deliver a great customer experience.

Value Truth: Truthfulness and honesty are necessary for a culture of transparency, which I wrote about recently. Some of the attributes of an organization that values truth: open and honest communications internally and externally, honesty and integrity in dealing with customers, sincerity of your frontline team, and fairness in all interactions.

Win Graciously: You win when your customers win. Fairness and integrity in all interactions at every touchpoint facilitate the win. Train your frontline to always be thankful, kind, courteous, and compassionate.

Xeriscape: Yea, I had to look this one up, too. Practice corporate social responsibility. Customers like to buy from companies who care about more than their bottom lines.

Yearn for Peace: Your  business is never more at peace than when customer happiness levels are at their highest.

Zealously Support a Worthy Cause: One brand came to mind immediately as I thought of this statement: TOMS. "With every purchase, TOMS will help a person in need. One for one."

Don't let the original thoughts behind the ABCs get lost in my translation. They are valuable lessons, too.

Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple. -Dr. Seuss

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Customer Experience Lessons from Elf on the Shelf

Image courtesy of mbaylor
Do you have an Elf on the Shelf? If not, do you know the story behind the Elf? You'll be surprised to learn that the Elf can actually teach us a thing or two about customer experience.

A quick summary of the purpose of the Elves before we begin: In a nutshell, Santa sends and Elf or two to your home to watch over your children, and the Elf/Elves report back to Santa every night about whether the children will make the Naughty or Nice List.

Santa sent two elves, Jingle and Jangle, to my house to watch over my kids. The Elves can be quite mischievous, though I've not seen ours do anything as crazy as what they do at other homes. Jingle and Jangle suggested that I write a post this week about what they can teach me (and you) about the customer experience. There might even be some tips for the employee experience, since they, ya know, work for the Big Man.

Rules: There are no rules for Elf on the Shelf - well, just one: you can't touch the Elf, or he loses his magic.
Don't let rules and policies hold your employees back from delivering the best experience possible. Shun the policies and empower them to do the right thing.

Memorable Moments: Having an Elf on the Shelf is about creating magic and memorable moments for your kids.
Creating magical and memorable moments for your customers is what the customer experience "discipline" is all about. Make every interaction, every experience, remarkable - in a good way. Have your employees done anything magical for your customers lately?

Naughty and Nice Lists: The Elves travel to the North Pole every night to report to Santa about your children: did they make the Naughty List or the Nice List today?
Unfortunately, we're finding out that most companies are making the Naughty List when it comes to customer  service and customer experiences overall. Jeannie Walters gives us some great examples and statistics in this infographic.

Excellent Listeners: Your Elf will be constantly listening for things your kids say, good and bad. Are they rude or respectful?
This one's a two-way street, which I've written about before. Your employees should be listening to customers, to hear what they are saying and what they are not saying. In return, they should be responsive and respectful.

Great Observers: Your Elf will also be a constant observer, always looking for behaviors to report back to Santa, good or bad.
Your frontline, your people who interact with the customer directly, need to be keen observers. They need to be perceptive and base their next actions on what the customer has already said or done; be proactive. Watch what customers are doing and be one step ahead of them.

No Good Deed Goes Unnoticed: If your kids behave well, they end up on the Nice List.
And so should your employees. Thank and recognize them for a job well done. Let them know they add value. Don't forget about the customer experience; it's just as important, if not more so, than the customer experience.

Take Their Jobs Seriously: The Elves love what they do.
You know the drill: hire for attitude, train the skill. Hire the right people. People who are passionate about your brand and about what they were hired to do. They take their jobs seriously, but they also like to...

Have Fun: The Elves play games every day. It makes their jobs fun.
Employees need to take a break and have some fun at work, let off a bit of steam. We work long hours; let's not be miserable! It shows. To your customers. And yet, because passionate employees love what they are doing, they really are having fun.

Tell Stories: The Elf on the Shelf was originally a book. The Elf elicits further stories.
I read this post yesterday about Using Journey Maps to Tell a Story. Know who your customers are. Tell their stories throughout your organization. Get everyone on the customer-focused bandwagon. And don't forget to share stories about remarkable experiences. I bet Zappos has a ton of stories to tell!

Unique: Each Elf is different and special in his/her own way.
Your organization is unique because you come at your business from a different point of view than your competitors. Your customers are also unique. They each have their own stories. They have their own needs or problems that need to be solved by the product you offer. They have different personalities and different ways of handling situations. Employees should be trained on customer diversity. It's a good thing.

Great Helpers: Your Elf is busy helping Santa every day.
Your frontline staff should be great helpers, too, helping customers and each other every day. My post about my experience at Living Spaces gives some great tips on being helpful.

Motivation: Elves are motivation for kids, to behave and to stay off Santa's Naughty List.
Figure out what motivates your employees. Zig Ziglar said it best: "Motivation gets you going and habit gets you there." Once they are motivated and passionate about what they do, once they see that they belong to a culture that focuses on them and their experiences as much as the customers', the rest is easy. The hard part is understanding what motivates them. This post sheds some light.

Competition: The Elves are certainly raising the bar on elf mischief every year!
And last, but not least, know what's going on with your competition. Don't dwell on them, but instead figure out what makes your brand and your customer experiences more unique and more magical than anyone else's. Consider this quote from Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian C. MacMillan in an HBR article: "You can't outperform rivals if you compete the same way they do." Game on, Elves!

When I think of magical service, I think of Disney. Magical and Disney go together, always. As such, there's only one quote I can end this post with:

Do what you do so well they want to come back and bring their friends. -Walt Disney

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Listening to Customers & Employees During Times of Change

Image courtesy of neinarson
Has your company been acquired, merged with another company, ousted its executive team, or just been wading through changes that executives are trying to instill across the organization?

If you've answered "Yes" to any of these, then my next question for you is, "Prior to this, were you collecting feedback from your customers?" And, "Were you surveying employees?" Followed by, "Are you continuing to?"

In the last few months, I've spoken to clients and prospects who recently went through, or are in the midst of, some very transitional times as a result of acquisitions and mergers. They've questioned whether they would continue collecting feedback from customers during these times for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to: concern for what customers will say about the organization.

Imagine that! Isn't that why we gather feedback and listen to the voice of the customer?

Quite honestly, customer feedback is most critical during times of change. Don't drop the ball now. Keep listening. Keep the conversation going. Why? Most importantly, it lets customers know that they are still at the center of your business, that your focus hasn't changed. Doing that affords the business a lot, including allowing it to:
  1. Listen to customers' concerns during the transition
  2. Monitor the impact of the change on customers as you move through it
  3. Gauge the impact on the marketplace, in general
  4. Understand customers' needs
  5. Feed the sales pipeline by identifying interest in new products or offerings
  6. Use the feedback as a "binding agent" to bring the organization together
  7. Remind employees the reason for being in business, despite the changes
  8. Identify emerging trends, problems, etc.
  9. Ensure no one or nothing falls through the cracks
Benefits or outcomes include:
  • Reduced churn/saved customers
  • Strengthened relationships
  • Possible new business from existing customers
  • Process improvements
  • New features/product enhancements
  • Subsequent messaging to the marketplace about the transition (through the eyes of customers)
  • Recommendations or referrals from existing customers
Of course, it goes without saying that collecting the feedback is one thing, acting on it is completely different. You must act on the feedback. Use it to guide your customers through turbulent times.

Let me shift gears, for a moment, to your employees. Listening to employees during times of organizational change is just as important, if not more so, than listening to customers. Ask them what worked well previously and what didn't. The two-way street of communication will go a long way here to getting buy-in and to calming anxious employees. Many of the same benefits or outcomes listed above for customers will apply to your employees, as well. Listening to, and acting on, employee feedback helps reassure them that the company is focused on their best interests, their success, too. And their success = your success.

All great changes are preceded by chaos. -Deepak Chopra

Thursday, December 6, 2012

How Convenient are Your Customer Conveniences?

Have you taken a look at some of the conveniences that you offer your customers to see if they really are as convenient as you had meant for them to be? Is it time for process improvements? Is it time to clean house?

I wrote a blog post on Black Friday called "Are You Ready for Black Friday?" The point of the post was that you shouldn't have to "get ready." You should always be ready, regardless of the time of year. And this is probably not a good time of year to introduce some major new process that you thought was all cool when you came up with it.

The story I'm about to tell makes about as much sense as this Savage Chickens cartoon.

On Monday night, I was shopping for a gift that shall remain nameless because I know that certain little eyes occasionally read my blog post. The item was nowhere to be found at a price less than an arm and a leg, and I thought, "Oh boy. I'm THAT mom. The one that didn't plan ahead and either doesn't find the gift or pays the exorbitant price as her penance." I checked with my best friend, knowing she had recently purchased said gift, and she told me to get it at GameStop, where she got it for what appears to be the best price in town.

I went to the GameStop site, and there it was - still listed at that price. But, sigh, not available. Out of stock. OK, here come visions of me doing the math, making the trade-offs in my head, etc. I refuse to pay the exorbitant prices. There must be a better way. AHA! I see this option on the page: check availability to PickUp@Store.

Yes! Yes! From the comfort of my sofa, I can find a nearby physical store that has it and then go pick it up. I typed in my ZIP code and up popped a few stores. Definitely not the ones closest to my house, but if it meant not having to do the math and making some shopping trade-offs, I would drive a little further. I assumed they showed the stores with availability, and those closest to me just didn't have anything in stock. Fair enough.

The stores that were presented to me showed up with "Low Stock," but when I submitted my request, I got to select a primary store and a secondary store. Good to have a back-up. I selected my two stores, entered my contact information, and submitted the page. The next page indicated that I'd get a confirmation email for my request, which I did. (Product redacted in image below for prying eyes. :-))

Search Request Received Email
Whew. Tragedy averted. I would sleep well.

The next morning, within minutes of each other, I received both an email (shown below) letting me know that the item was being held at my second-choice store and a call from the store letting me know that the item was available and being held for me. I let the woman who called me know that I'd be in that day or the next. She confirmed that that would be fine. She told me that they didn't have the item in black but in white and asked if that would be OK. Yes! Great! I'll take the purple polka-dotted one!

Ready for PickUp Email
It turned out that I was able to go to the store that afternoon.When I arrived at the store, I let the guy behind the counter know that I had come to pick up an item that I had been called about earlier. He found my "reservation" in the computer and started to run through some upgrade options with me. It wasn't a hard sell, but I just needed to pick up and go. He rang up the item. And THEN I found out that I wasn't actually picking it up at the store. He started talking about free shipping, with the item arriving in 5 to 10 days. Whoa, whoa, whoa! I'm here now. To pick it up. What do you mean "free shipping?" It was an hour of my time plus the gas for the trip. The item wasn't physically at the store.

Where's the product? It's called "PickUp@Store," not "Drive2Store2Pay&Wait4Shipment." He said, "Oh, someone else asked about that earlier." Gee, ya think? He then explained that it was a new program but didn't go into too much detail about why the product wasn't at the store. Honestly, I was so disgusted that I didn't even ask. I didn't want to hear him make up excuses for something that he clearly had no control over.

All I asked was his opinion on the benefit of this process, if I had to drive all the way over to the store, anyway. And mind you, there are several GameStops closer to my house. His answer? "Free shipping." Given the choice and weighed against my time and the gas to get there, I'd have paid for the shipping.

Why couldn't I have gone through the same exercise at the GameStop that's about 1.5 miles from my house? Why couldn't I have just done the same thing through the website? Why couldn't I pick up the item at the store?

I went home and pulled up their website. I wanted to see if I had misread something.  Did I not read clearly how this works? Nope. I don't think I read it wrong. You tell me...

And to make matters worse, the item was available again on their website! And still is right now. In black.

I've used similar "ship to store" options in the past, and they worked out just fine. But GameStop messed up.
  • Don't introduce new processes during high-volume times, like holidays, new product launches, etc.
  • Don't introduce new processes without first testing them to make sure they work and/or make sense. 
  • Think about the customer experience.
  • For the woman who called me: Be honest with your customers. Provide all the details.
  • For the man behind the counter: Know your customer. Be upfront about the details that matter. Don't upsell me. Give me what I came for.
When was the last time you reviewed your processes to ensure that they still make sense and that they make for a great customer experience?

I hope GameStop fixes this process in the near future. For now, this process and this experience was, as my kids say, an epic fail.

"Every process in your organization has a customer, and without a customer a process has no purpose." -Unknown

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Customer Experience Lessons from Zig Ziglar

Zig Ziglar, as you know, passed away last week. He wrote many books and received a ton of accolades for his work as a motivational speaker, author, and so much more. He was "the salesman's salesman," according to his website. What can he teach us about the customer experience? He's taught us a lot!

The quotes attributed to Mr. Ziglar were as bountiful as the books he wrote and the people he inspired. I've taken several of his quotes and have made the connection between his inspiration and how they can be used to guide you in your efforts to improve the customer experience.

I'll start with his most-famous quote...

"You can have everything in life that you want if you just give enough other people what they want."

From a customer experience perspective, this is simple. Give customers what they want. They want great service. They want to be treated the way that you would want to be treated. They want it to be easy to do business with your company. They want you to stand up for integrity, honesty, and fairness in your dealings. No, the customer is not always right. But the customer is right now. Give customers what they want, and the business will win in the long run.

"There are no traffic jams on the extra mile."

There is no doubt about what this quote means for the customer experience. Every time I hear this quote, I immediately think about Stan Phelps' What's Your Purple Goldfish Project. If you're not familiar, check out the link; that quote pretty much sums up the project. Without question, go the extra mile for your customers; there's no reason not to. There's nothing standing in your way.

"Stop selling. Start helping."

Forget about selling. Think about fulfilling your customers' needs. Think about helping them solve whatever problems they are trying to solve with your products. Think about building relationships, which is a great segue into this next quote.

"People don't buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons."

Isn't that the truth. If you want customer engagement, understand what motivates your customers. Get to know them. Personalize the experience. Facilitate that emotional connection with your brand.

"Make today worth remembering."

I wrote a post a while ago about "forgettability." Make every experience remarkable. Make every experience memorable. Every day is a new day. Every day is a new opportunity to create more memorable experiences. They will pay off in the long run.

"Many marriages would be better if the husband and wife clearly understood that they're on the same side." 

You might scratch your head at this one, but don't do it for too long. Really, relationships are all the same, regardless of which two parties are involved. There are common themes and tenets that make for a solid relationship of any kind: communication, trust, integrity, respect, loyalty. These are good segues into the next quote, as well, but first, if customers know you are looking out for their best interests, then the relationship is much better!

"The foundation stones for a balanced success are honesty, character, integrity, faith, love and loyalty."

See previous paragraph. Incorporate these qualities into your culture and into your customer dealings, and success will follow. 'nough said.

"Attitude, not aptitude, determines altitude."

We always say to hire for attitude; skill can be trained, attitude cannot. This quote sums that up nicely. The attitude of the person you hire, the person who is interacting with your customers, not only determines their own greatness (altitude) but also the greatness of the customer experience.

"Among the things you can give and still keep are your word, a smile, and a grateful heart."

Words for not only your frontline - but also the entire organization - to live by. Honesty and integrity. A smile. And gratitude. Qualities of a great customer experience.

"Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days."

Solid leadership and a clear purpose are key. Once you have both of those, use your time wisely. While everyone has 24 hours in a day, you don't have that much time with the customer that is standing in front of you. Make the most of that time. Leadership gives employees the tools and the guidance to do the right thing. Connect with the customer and take care of him/her.

"When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal; you do not change your decision to get there."

"People do not wander around and then find themselves at the top of Mount Everest."

"You cannot consistently perform in a manner which is inconsistent with the way you see yourself."

I lumped these three quotes together. They all relate to having a purpose and to focusing on your purpose. Define your purpose, communicate it to your employees, and stick to it. Hold them to it. It will guide you in all your decisions. It will guide you in what is in the best interest of your customers.

"You don't drown by falling in water; you only drown if you stay there."

Mistakes and bad things happen. Customers won't let you forget the mistakes. You shouldn't forget them either. But they don't define the brand or the organization. Apologize. And move on.

"Statistics suggest that when customers complain, business owners and managers ought to get excited about it. The complaining customer represents a huge opportunity for more business."

I don't think any of us can question the importance of the voice of the customer, regardless of whether the voice is a complaint or a compliment. Listen, learn, act, and grow!

"Motivation gets you going and habit gets you there."

And finally, it's exciting that there is so much focus and emphasis right now on understanding what customer experience means and what it will take for companies to make improvements to theirs. But it's important to remember that it's not a "one and done." Hold on to that motivation. Don't let it fade. Customer experience is a journey. It's not a department; it's everyone's job. Every day. It's becomes a habit. And that's when good things start to happen!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Define Your Employee-Centric Culture

A lot is written about how to build a customer-centric culture, but I'd like to focus on an employee-centric culture in this post. And yes, employee focus is part of a customer-centric culture, but let's zoom in on the employee experience here.

So that there's no confusion, perhaps we should just call it people-centric, to encompass all humans - customers and employees - as Bob Chapman, chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller Companies, Inc., states in Truly Human Leadership.

Usually when we write about employee-centricity, we talk about it from the company perspective: companies should do this or companies should do that. Let's take a look at it from a different angle. What does an employee-centric culture look like from the employee's perspective?

Yes, my perspective.

I have a lot of thoughts running through my head in terms of the approach to take with this blog post, but I'll start with something that I noted in Thursday's post, that I would share a personal story in my next post about a culture of transparency that created employee engagement. I think that will help explain where I come up with my thoughts on how to define an employee-centric culture.

Many years ago, I worked for an organization that I refer back to frequently when I talk to people about this very topic. I'm often asked why I liked working for this particular company, and I summed it up with the following.

Communication: The information was free-flowing from the top down and from the bottom, and I always felt like I was in the know about what was happening in the company, whether it was about the product, the financials, issues, or staff. This was the poster child for transparency.

Vision, Goals, Objectives: I suppose this could fall under the broad umbrella of Communication, but everyone knew the vision and objectives of the company, and we all felt really good about working together to make sure the business was successful.

Appreciation/Feeling Valued: I always say that I enjoy working for small companies because you can make a difference. Your ideas, suggestions, thoughts, and opinions are valued, taken into consideration, and often implemented. (OK, that doesn't happen in every start-up or every small company.) That was definitely the case with this company.

Recognition: Employees were recognized for their contributions on a regular basis. There were celebrations for achievements and for jobs well done. We all knew where we stood. We all knew how we contributed to the bigger picture. With that came a sense of pride among the employees that we were building something great and cool.

Camaraderie and Collaboration: I'll lump the two of these together. While they don't necessarily (have to) go hand in hand, it's easy to write about the two of them together for this company because we were a pretty close-knit family. We worked together, we played together.

These are all things that were important to me at the time, and they still are. And even through some rough patches, those were the kinds of things that held the company together. But I realized that there was more, which is why I ended up leaving. The following were there at some point, but eventually there was a gaping hole.

Trust: This one's important. A lack of trust between employer and employee, manager and staff, really just results in disaster. This is a two-way street. I say, trust until you have a reason not to trust (or be trusted). Then it's probably time to move on.

Respect: When the trust fizzled, so did the respect. Or maybe vice versa. No longer were we advocates for what we were doing and what we were building. No longer were we passionate about the cause.

Leadership: Hire the right people and let them do what they need to do. They were hired for a reason. Set the course, outline the vision and the purpose, and then set them free to execute. Sometimes the leader isn't a (good) leader after all. And you no longer trust him/her. You no longer want to be a follower.

Customer-Centricity: Yea, this might sound a little strange, but stick with me. Companies are in business for a reason: to fulfill the needs of their customers. This is also about integrity and about doing the right thing. When the company loses sight of that, or when the company no longer operates with the customers' best interests at the core of what it's doing, then it's time to move on.

The bottom line is that I was, we all were, passionate about the work we were doing, passionate about what we were building. Through a series of missteps, that culture crumbled, and ironically, that company no longer exists today.

What would you add? Think about a company you've worked for where you were an engaged employee because the culture was right. I'd love to hear about it.

If you take care of the people, they'll take care of the service, and they'll generate a profit. -Bill Logue, President and CEO of FedEx Freight