Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lipstick, Lip Service, or Lips Sealed - American Responds Again

Image courtesy of Pixabay
If you've been following my blog the last week or so, you'll know that I wrote a post about the American Airlines rebrand last week and followed it up with a post on Tuesday about my exchange with their Social Media Team.

In Tuesday's post, I gave kudos to the American Airlines SoMe Team, but I said that I wouldn't hold my breath for a response back from them (via email) when I probed for further details on what they sent me.

While I'm glad I didn't hold my breath, I was pleased yesterday morning to see that I did receive a response from them. It only took a week. Now I wish I had asked more and more-detailed questions! Did I get the answers I was looking for? Would I have gotten more details had I asked more questions? Read on to see what I found out.

Remember, these questions are in response to the details they provided (the second image in my previous post), so my first question follows on from there. I've injected my thoughts and comments in between, in red.

AA: Thanks for the additional questions. We checked with the SMEs and are happy to provide more information highlighted below.

I think I asked some fair, high-level questions that, honestly, anyone in the organization should be able to answer. The SoMe Team went to their subject-matter experts. When it comes to a customer-centric culture and the customer experience, shouldn't all employees be "subject-matter experts?" Huge lesson here. Executives, go walk the halls and ask your employees (including other members of the executive team) some of these questions. If your employees aren't talking about customer experience improvements being made, what your core values are, or how you/they are delivering an awesome experience every day, you're failing. So are your internal messaging and communications.

Me: Would you mind if I share these items on my blog?
AA: Please feel free to share, along with the below info.

I jumped the gun. I couldn't wait any longer.

Me: Are you able to share any specific details around customer service improvements (other than the new technology)? Are there new approaches to recruiting or training agents or flight staff?
AA: We continually work to identify and select candidates that possess the values and customer service experience that align with the goals and values of the new American.  As an example of this, we’re welcoming new flight attendants to help bring a fresh energy to our skilled team.

My first thought is, "What are their values?" (See my next question.) My next thought is, "What is a fresh, new energy?" If that means nice people, i.e., hiring for attitude, great. If that's fresh, new, negative energy, we're in trouble. No mention of training or other things that will help employees deliver a better experience.

Me: Are there core values that American employees live and breathe? Would you be willing to share those?
AA: Simply put, the new American puts the customer at the center of everything we do. We aim to consistently deliver the predictable and empower our people to remedy the unpredictable to provide an experience our customers can trust and rely on. Through the fusion of technology and the human touch of our people, we aim to elevate and modernize the travel experience so our customers feel at ease and connected.

On the surface, it sounds wonderful. But. I feel like this statement is more the brand story they gave to their designer so he could personify the brand in his logo.

I wouldn't exactly call that their values; I had to go to their site to find those: "American Airlines core values include integrity, compliance with the law, and respect for the individual and the unique customs and cultures in communities where we operate." Meh. I'm thinking Zappos, and I got Payless. No offense, Payless. (And good lord, I hope they comply with the law. Is that really a core value?)

Me: Did you use customer feedback, or better asked... are any of the above changes as a direct result of customer feedback? I know American has a robust VOC program.
We regularly rely on customer feedback to help us improve.  We collect this through online surveys, customer focus groups, customer correspondence, social media and feedback from our frontline employees.  As a global airline, we understand and appreciate the diverse needs of our customers and we work hard to continuously listen to how those needs evolve over time. Over the past several years, American Airlines has developed and launched a variety of services and products based on customer feedback.  Some of these initiatives have included:

  •\Rainbow - Offering information on LGBT events, news and travel options (now also in Spanish and Portuguese)
  • - An interactive digital community for individuals interested in learning more about the Black travel experience
  • - A Spanish language user-content driven digital community designed to serve as a platform for sharing travel experiences
  • Baggage Delivery Service to provide our customers with yet another choice to help make their journey as convenient as possible
I feel like I just went to Diversity training! OK, in all seriousness, as I mentioned, I do know that American has a VOC program. But, my point was, did they use that feedback in their rebranding efforts? Given the non-answer, I'm going to say, "Um. No."

Again, I give the SoMe Team a high-five for working with me on this. I give their SMEs an F for failing to answer the questions.

At least they responded, which is more than I can say for Customer Service over at United.When I wrote about the faux pas that United made with their employee recognition program, I forwarded the post to United in an email (after I tweeted it, with no response from their SoMe Team). One month later, I got a lame, generic response that was really a non-response. It started off with: "I apologize for our delay in responding.  We’re experiencing a higher volume of e-mail than normal and we’re working on responding as quickly as possible." Then they directed me to submit my questions through the FAQ page of the very same lame program I had written about. Wow. I waited 30 days for them to tell me to resubmit my questions?!

But I digress...

Back to American Airlines.

I wrapped up my email of questions to the American Airlines SoMe Team with the following statement:

"Would love any details that I could share with my readers. If I call you out in my blog, I certainly want to give you a chance to share with readers the people-oriented (both customer and employee experiences) improvements. I have the eyes and ears of customer experience thought leaders, and I know we'd all like to know that American is working to move out of that last-place spot in the rankings. We're cheering for you!"

I invite you to leave a comment below and let me know what you think of American's response, the rebrand, their service in general, etc. Do you feel any better about their rebranding efforts? I like what Michele Price said in her comment to Tuesday's blog post: "If they are making improvements, wouldn't they want it said in public for applause to ensue?" Amen to that.

By the way, I think they need some new subject-matter experts.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

American Airlines Responds - Sorta

Image courtesy of Pixabay
After a Twitter exchange with, and an email from, American Airlines, I still feel like their rebranding, er, modernization, is lipstick on a pig.

I wrote a blog post last week about my thoughts on the American Airlines rebranding, which seemed to merely consist of a paint job, with nothing substantial beneath the surface with regards to the people experience, i.e., employees or customers. When I tweeted my post, I got a response from American. Sorta.

The image below shows the Twitter exchange I had with the Social Media Team at American Airlines. I must say, that team has stepped up its game. (See this interview with the @AmericanAir Team on Skift for more details about how they are handling customer service on social media.) Just a few minutes after I tweeted, they responded to me. Here's our exchange on Twitter.

Click image to enlarge
In the last tweet, they asked me to DM my email address so that they could send me more details.  I was excited to see if they would lift the hood and tell me something that would make me feel like they got it.

The image below is the email I received. Judge for yourself. It's a party line document, probably from some internal presentation or memo (notice the "see lower right quadrant" reference after second bullet point - I don't know what that refers to) that doesn't really give me anything more than we've already seen or heard in the press. So I wrote back, asking for more. I probed for specific details on "people stuff," i.e., the things I referenced in my post last week. That was 6 days ago; I haven't received a response yet. I'm not holding my breath.
Click image to enlarge
Kudos to the @AmericanAir team for being polite, responsive, and doing the best with the information they have. Shame on the executives for not being more transparent with both employees and customers about what really matters: how this impacts the employee and the customer experiences, if it does at all. The fact that they haven't shared more details (and the fact that it's not in their bullet points above) tells me that they really believe a fresh coat of paint will fix everything.

Silly me! They actually did focus on their employees. The latest on the rebrand is that the flight attendants will be getting new, designer uniforms. Ah... more lipstick...

By changing nothing, nothing changes. -Tony Robbins

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Lesson in Performance Enhancement

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I thought I'd weigh in on the issue of performance enhancement drugs and their impact on the customer experience. Bear with me. There really is a connection; more so than you probably think about or know.

Put your customer hat - or better yet, your fan hat - on for a few minutes. Think about the last time you watched a football game, a cycling event, a baseball game, a bodybuilding contest, the Olympics, etc. What did you want to see? What did you expect to see? Did you want your team to win? Did you want to see your favorite player score more points than he'd ever scored or run faster than anyone had ever run? To beat a long-standing record? Or did you want to just see some hum-drum, boring game or race? Who did you cheer for? The underdog or the guy/gal at the top of the stats? The best player? How do you define best? While watching a bodybuilding competition, did you want the smallest or the biggest, freakiest guy to win? In the Strongman contest, did you cheer for the guy who could heave those stones twice as fast as the next guy?

Yea, I thought so.

I have a ton more questions, but I'll get to the meat of the matter.

Last week, Matthew May weighed in on the Lance Armstrong story. I love Matt's work, so this is not about Matt. As a matter of fact, I thanked him for writing the piece because what he said needed to be said. But it evoked a response in me that I wanted to share - an angle or two that I don't think a lot of people think about. Here's the comment I left on his site:

I don’t condone his actions, and I’m still trying to understand why he’s even doing this now. A new book deal? A clean start so he can move on? A deal with the government (or governing body) to give up the names of everyone who ever doped in the sport? etc. But having competed in a sport (bodybuilding) whose foundation is drugs and steroids, as strange as it sounds, I understand some of his responses, i.e., to Karen’s point “because everyone else was doing it, he ‘had’ to. I competed in natural bodybuilding competitions… I chose to remain natural… but it was quite clear that some of the competitors were not natural. In the “non-natural-sanctioned competitions,” without a doubt, drug use was rampant. I saw and heard from those competitors, and it’s an interesting mentality that drives drug usage.

In bodybuilding, the choice (drug use) is condoned by the judges because they choose the winners (who are clearly poster children for the latest performance enhancement cocktail) and by the governing body (IFBB) because their drug tests are a joke. In baseball, football, cycling, etc., the fans condone this choice because we want winners, superstars, super humans, right? 

The individual is clearly accountable for his actions and choices, but there are a couple of other factors, societal issues, at play here:

1. The need to win, and the attitude of “winning is everything.” Winning over doing the right thing. Winning at all costs.
2. Drugs are OK in some sports but not others? Let’s face it. He’s not the only athlete to be extremely successful because he used drugs or some other performance enhancement tool.
3. Putting superstar athletes on a pedestal, giving them celebrity status, and making them role models for our kids – when honestly, we have no clue who they are or what kind of people they really are.

So, I ask you this - because now I need to tie this back to the customer experience! And trust me - I don't advocate drug use or cheating by any stretch of the imagination. Just playing a little "what if."

If all performance enhancement drug use ceased in professional sports tomorrow (and we gave the athletes time to get clean), how exciting would that next event be for you? (Remember, no one's reaching new heights - unless they are genetically freakishly gifted.) Yea, some people go for the game, but a lot of people put the superstars up on pedestals.

Which athletes do your kids admire? Who do they want to be like? Think about how many kids have/had Lance posters on their bedroom walls, and how many times those kids said, "I want to be just like him when I grow up."

And what impact do corporate sponsorships have on the game? Those endorsements are given to the top athletes, but at what expense? The athletes need to remain at the top of their games, right?

The game is what it is because of the fans. At what point is the customer/fan experience (or expectations) driving the wrong behavior? At what point do we demand so much out of the game, out of the player, that it comes back to bite someone in the butt? I think it already has.

Who’s going to work hard for someone who doesn’t win? -Jim Ochowicz

UPDATE (2/5/13): When I saw Jay Leno's monologue last night, I couldn't help think how the audience's reaction here supported my post. View the video here. Forward to 2:44 in the video to see what I'm talking about.

Jay: How many people think that God determines who wins a sporting event? Silence.
Jay: How many think steroids determine who wins? Loud cheers and applause.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Modernization of American Airlines - Really?

Image courtesy of American Airlines
Late last week, with much fanfare, American Airlines introduced the results of its rebranding efforts: a new logo, a new paint job, and some new airplanes. The reviews were mixed. What do you think?

Here's what I think: It's lipstick on a pig.

There was nothing wrong with the old logo; after all, despite more-frequent rebranding in its earlier days, American kept the old logo, which was designed by Massimo Vignelli, for more than 45 years. For his thoughts on the logo, read his interview in Business Week.

I get it - rebranding happens.

If you haven't seen the video introducing the #newamerican rebranding, you can see it here. It's very patriotic, tugging on the "proud to be an American" heart strings and trying to make that emotional connection.

American's explanation for the rebranding: It's time to modernize the airline. They've made investments in: new planes, new destinations, new business-class seating, in-flight entertainment, and technology for their people. "All to best serve our customers."

What I hear is a lot about the planes. Yes, won't it be great to have in-flight entertainment at every seat. If it works. New planes and new destinations. Check; that's great. New technology for their people. Check; that's definitely a necessary modernization.

What I'm not hearing is more important than what I am hearing: How about a modernization of the employee and customer experiences? (Yes, planes are part of the experience, but that's actually only a small part of it.) I've had my share of bad experiences with this airline and wrote about two of them last year (first and second American Airlines stories).

How much did American spend on this rebrand? They won't say. But some of the things I think that money would have been better spent on include:
  • New approaches to recruiting, hiring, and training their employees
  • A review of existing policies and procedures - and perhaps some new ones that allow the frontline to do what is necessary (often common sense) to improve the customer experience.
  • Retraining of existing frontline personnel on cutting-edge customer service skills and approaches
  • New approaches to personalizing the customer experience
  • Enhancements in their partner experiences
  • New measures to ensure that your baggage will arrive at the same time you do
  • New efforts to reduce flight delays (non-weather related) and missed connections
  • And more - things that are truly important to travelers
I'd like to hear that the rebranding incorporated feedback from their customers on what's important to them. Honestly, I don't care what color the plane is painted. Although, now that I've learned that painting a plane adds more weight (current AA planes have a silver body, no paint), which means it requires more fuel, prompting an additional cost that will be passed on to customers - I guess I should care about that.

As you can see from my list above, I'd also like to hear that they are focusing on their people. People make the experience. Sure, shiny new planes are great, too. But whether my butt is sitting in a new plane with two inches of legroom or an old plane with two inches of legroom, I'm going to feel the same way about the in-flight experience. Add some delighters delivered by the gate and in-flight staff - then we can talk about memorable experiences.

So what does modernizing the brand mean? Is it really just a new identity? No. A brand is not just a logo, although a logo is a recognizable feature that customers identify with. Seth Godin defines a brand as "the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer."

The brand is the promises you make and keep, right? Setting expectations and meeting them. It's not defined by you but by your customers. It's their perceptions of who you are. What emotions or memories are elicited when they hear your name or see your company logo? This is why the experience is important! Seth goes on to say: "If you’ve never heard of it, if you wouldn’t choose it, if you don’t recommend it, then there is no brand, at least not for you."

Amen to that! So why didn't American devote its efforts to just that: creating an experience (not just a video) that elicits an emotional response - one that causes customers to choose and recommend the airline for years to come? Why didn't they set expectations around the customer experience vis a vis their people in their modernization efforts? Because they can't meet them?

I mentioned that the #newamerican video pulled at the heart strings. Well, I'm keeping my emotions in check and putting my CX hat on; I'm skeptical. Poor service and a  poor overall customer experience are still poor, regardless of what color wrapping paper you wrap them up in or what color bow you choose to put on top. Here's the evidence: a report [video] from The Wall Street Journal on the best and worst airlines of 2012. You can guess where American landed; they shared the bottom spot with United (no surprise). In 2011, American was the lone recipient of that last-place ranking.

One last thing I wanted to point out from the #newamerican video. The CEO states that they are considering "a merger to build on our strengths." Which are? USAirways, like American, is certainly not known for its commitment to a great customer experience. I, for one, am not a fan of that merger; although, I suppose it is good news that USAirways has not been rated at the very bottom of the barrel in terms of "best and worst US airlines." (Sarcasm.)

Yup. Perhaps that merger is a step up for them. After all, even their pilots, while not happy about the rebranding, are optimistic about the merger. In a quote from a Yahoo! News article: "'A new paint job is fine, but it does not fix American's network deficiencies and toxic culture,' said Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association. His and other unions at American support a merger that would put US Airways executives in charge of the combined airline."

What do you think? Do you like the new logo? Do you think there's hope for updated employee and customer experiences?

A brand for the company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well. -Jeff Bezos

Friday, January 18, 2013

Ensuring Reliable Insights

Image courtesy of McConnell Center
Today I am pleased to present another guest post by Sarah Simon.

Like Annette, I cringe at the thought of introducing to a business blog any topic even remotely associated with politics; however, I stumbled upon some advice from Colin Powell on generating reliable insights that can be applied to voice of customer and customer experience improvement initiatives.   

Love him or loathe him, these insights-vetting steps from Colin Powell can be applied right away to improve the reliability of the insights you share with your decision makers.

Following these four steps* when considering customer intelligence can help ensure the delivery of reliable, timely insights to key stakeholders:

  1. Tell me what you know.
  2. Tell me what you don’t know.
  3. Then tell me what you think.
  4. Always distinguish which is which. 
Let’s put these steps into a customer experience framework.

Tell me what you know
These are your facts obtained through primary research: surveys, data mining, social media scraping, focus groups, and so forth.  We crunch some numbers, run text analytics, or analyze focus group outcomes, for instance, and out pop the facts.  It’s our responsibility as insights professionals to share “what we know” about the customer with our stakeholders.

Part of this responsibility includes sharing bad news, as soon as you become aware of it.  Are NPS numbers slipping?  Are complaints up?  Do customers hate the new product features?  Don’t sugar coat reality for the decision makers.  They need clear, honest insights delivered in a timely fashion.

Tell me what you don’t know
I think many of us, as insights professionals, forget this step.  We are so focused on presenting the facts and so hesitant to confess that we don’t have all the answers, that we are largely unwilling to proactively say “…and here is what we don’t know” when presenting our findings.  It’s OK to admit “Findings were inconclusive,” if that is the case!  It’s just as important for decision makers to have a clear idea of where the blind spots are; don’t leave them to guess.

This is going to require a change of thinking, of looking at customer intelligence like looking at an old film negative.  You need to train your mind to think as much about “what’s missing” as it thinks about “what’s there.”

There is nothing worse than a leader believing he has accurate information when folks who know he doesn’t don’t tell him that he doesn’t.
- Colin Powell

Then tell me what you think
At this stage, we are isolating our key findings and stating our recommendations.  Here we are giving the “so what” behind the facts and figures.  Machines can analyze huge volumes of data, but a skilled analyst is required to tell the story behind the raw data and turn this data into actionable insights.  An analyst pulls in outside experiences, hunches, and knowledge to turn raw data into “ah-ha” moments.

Always distinguish which is which
You can’t make good decisions unless you have good information and can separate facts from opinion and speculation. -Colin Powell

Insights professionals are deep in the trenches with our intelligence.  We inherently know the differences between “facts and figures” and “our opinion.”  Our audience doesn’t enjoy the same level of intimacy with the intelligence we gather.  Furthermore, we are trained to boldly assert our conclusions and recommendations.  Our audience can’t always distinguish fact from opinion.  We need to be clear when we are presenting fact and when we are stating opinion.

Lastly, here are two communications tips for insights practitioners and executive leaders to follow to ensure accurate, whole, and honest results are communicated.

Insights Practitioners
Practice responding to questions to which you don’t have the answers like this: "We do not have the answer to that." This is hard to do especially because, as Powell puts it, “You really don’t want to acknowledge ignorance when your boss is demanding answers.”  Do it, anyhow.

Executive Leaders
Practice not shooting the messenger.  It takes a lot of courage for your staff members to stand up and say “I don’t know” or “Your deeply held assumption is wrong.”  Set a tone of openness and appreciation for candid information sharing.  Failure to do so means executive leadership will only see what they want to see, not what they need to see.

Hopefully following these four steps, plus these two communications tips, from the military intelligence world can help you provide your decision makers with reliable insights for improving the customer experience at your organization.

* From Colin Powell's Statement on Intelligence Reform (September 13, 2004)
An old rule that I've used with my intelligence officers over the years, whether in the military, or now, in the State Department, goes like this: Tell me what you know. Tell me what you don't know. And then, based on what you really know and what you really don't know, tell me what you think is most likely to happen. And there's an extension of that rule with my intelligence officers: I will hold you accountable for what you tell me is a fact; and I will hold you accountable for what you tell me is not going to happen because you have the facts on that, or you don't know what's going to happen, or you know what your body of ignorance is and you told me what that is. 

Sarah Simon is a career insights professional with 16 years of experience in the feedback industry. Specialties include VoC architecture, journey mapping, developing linkages to business performance, reduction of customer defection, results analysis and communication, with expert survey design skills.  She is the survivor of a botched early-generation "big data mining" operation and is happy to live to tell about it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Different Look at a Brand Story

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Once a upon... 

... there was a story about your brand. 

Have you heard it?

I was talking to a friend the other day about the football playoff games over the weekend. We talked about our favorite teams - whose won and whose lost. And then he mentioned some of the other teams he was following despite the fact that they weren't "his team." He was following them because of a key player on each of the teams. Why? Because of the players' backstories.

How does that relate to brands and the customer experience? I'm glad you asked. As my friend talked more, I heard how these backstories elicit that personal, emotional connection to the player, which in turn makes him want to cheer for the team. Because of the story, he wants the player (and the team) to do well.

Facts don't persuade, feelings do. And stories are the best way to get at those feelings. -Tom Asacker

I recently wrote about backstories in my Customer Experience Lessons from the Voice blog post. There's a similar scenario with that show as there is with my friend and the football players. In that post, I wrote:

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.

I need to add another story type here...

3. The Experience Story. This is the story that your customers have about their experience with the brand. They're not always good stories and don't always mesh or align with the company's story or even with their own needs.

While the Company Story indirectly connects the customer to the brand, the Experience Story is a direct connection.

Where the three story types intertwine, that intersection, is pure bliss, i.e., brand and customer are in alignment. Customers are now a part of your story! Make sure it has a happy ending. (I could have probably drawn that intersection a bit larger, but you get the idea.)

The Story Intersection
Here's an example using Apple...

Company Story: I don't really have to explain that story, do I? Steve Jobs. Think Different. Transform the way people do things.
Customer Story: I would mainly describe their customers as people with a need for simplicity in their technology user experience. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) As a result, Apple has made them gadget junkies and early adopters, at least of their products.
Experience Story: Customers go into an Apple store, try products, get great service, learn about and experience products, and then buy them. If they want to learn more, they can call on a Genius to help them. The experience is generally positive, as evidenced by their excellent NPS.
Bliss: Customers love, love, love the products and the brand. These customers are in line outside of Apple stores days in advance of product launches; they have Apple tattoos on their bodies. They are raving fans. The products meet their needs; the experience is awesome; and they are clearly in total alignment with the brand purpose.

Make the customer the hero of your story. -Ann Handley

Key to the story is communication. By definition, a story is a narrative. Customer stories are told through data: attitudinal, behavioral, conversations, etc. They must be shared with the organization in order to ensure customer needs are met. Company stories are typically communicated through advertising, social media, customer interactions, and other methods. The stories convey the brand history, purpose, and promise. They need to be engaging in order to attract the audience, to make the connection. Experience stories are told through surveys, social media, reviews, word of mouth, etc.; they can differ by touchpoint, and it would, clearly, be ideal to have a consistent story from touchpoint to touchpoint.

These stories tend to be compelling and are woven throughout your culture. Your employees need to know, live, and breathe your brand story. They also need to know your customers and understand the customer story. Your customers align with your brand when they know your story, a story that fits well with their own.

Going back to the football conversation that started this post. The backstory is important because it creates a connection. It's not tucked away; it is read and reread. It's shared. The emotions elicited as a result of the story are what create that customer relationship/bond. That bond is what makes people want to see your brand succeed.

Know, though, that these stories don't remain static but evolve over time; brands, however, must stay true to their core values and purpose.

What do you think? Have I convoluted it by breaking it down into these three different stories, or does that make sense?

The goal of business then should not be to simply sell to anyone who wants what you have, but rather to find people who believe what you believe. -Simon Sinek

Friday, January 11, 2013

CEM Toolbox: Root Cause Analysis

Image courtesy of Pixabay
A new series that I'm starting for 2013, in addition to continuing my "Customer Experience Lessons from..." series, is "CEM Toolbox." I'll try to keep these Tool posts short and sweet, but occasionally I'll drill deeper and add more color and detail. I promise the posts will get more refined over time. The first tool that I'll write about is Root Cause Analysis.

I'll stay away from politics (I feel like I've said that in a few posts now! How am I doing?), but my first Tool was prompted by the aftermath (politically) of the recent senseless shootings in Newtown, CT. First off, my heart goes out to the families of the victims; as a mom, I am reminded daily, and especially by such tragedies, that life is precious and too short - and there's nothing more important than our loved ones, especially our kids.

But I do have a takeaway from some of the follow-up conversations on where the blame lies and what needs to be fixed. I think these discussions are a great reminder that we cannot overstate the importance of using Root Cause Analysis, in our daily lives and, especially, in our customer experience work. And, obviously, that's where this Tool takes us.

What does Root Cause Analysis (RCA) do for us? It provides us with answers - not off-the-cuff answers but drill-deep-down answers - to product or service issues. Sometimes the answers are not the obvious. We need to step back and think deeper about why things are the way they are.

Why do we need this in our CEM Toolbox? We get feedback about the customer experience. Some experiences are great, while some are not so great. We need to understand the reasoning behind the "not so great." RCA is an effective Tool to identify where process or other improvements need to be made.

One of the approaches used for RCA that I like, especially for its simplistic nature, i.e., easy to explain, is 5 Whys. How it works: State the problem and then ask "Why?" five times to drill down to the ultimate cause. It seems there's a human problem behind every (technical) issue. The good news is that you can adapt this process to your needs; sometimes asking "Why?" five times is too many, and sometimes you need to ask it more than five times.

In this video from HBR, Eric Ries explains the theory:

Here's an example of how that works.

Problem: The customer is unhappy.

Why is the customer unhappy? We didn't deliver the product when we said we would.
Why didn't we? It took longer to make than we estimated.
Why did it take longer? We didn't realize how much effort it would take to make it.
Why didn't you realize that? We didn't scope it properly.
Why not? Because we were overworked and didn't have enough time.
Why? We're short-staffed right now.
Why are we short-staffed? The company down-sized recently. 

This example could go on and on. But you get the point. 

This particular approach may not work in every scenario, but it's certainly a good place to start. There are several techniques to use for Root Cause Analysis, and I may come back and revisit this topic in the future. But for now, find an approach that best suits your needs. When there's a problem, don't jump to conclusions. You will waste time and effort on the wrong thing and end up with the same issue happening again. Ultimately, the goal is to identify the root cause and then determine how you'll correct it so that it doesn't happen again.

If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. -Abraham Maslow

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Upside Down - A Culture of Curiosity

Does your company have a culture of curiosity? If not, it should.

Over the holidays, I took my boys on a couple of science "field trips:" one to the LA Science Center to see the space shuttle Endeavour (a must-see) and one to the Sea Lab in Redondo Beach, where they got a personal tour and got to touch, and learn about, some cool sea life.

At the Sea Lab, I stood there taking pictures and listening to the kids ask questions, lots of questions. They are both "science kids" and love anything science. My older son could probably teach the folks at the Sea Lab a thing or two about sea life, and yet he's still the most-inquisitive kid.

Bear with me. I promise I have a point here.

They are always asking questions... who was X? why? how did they do that? how much longer? when? what if?  Etc. You name it, they ask it. If you have kids, you know the drill.

When we're in the car, they tend to ask me questions for which I don't have answers. If I don't have the answer, I say, "Google it when we get home." Of course, by then they've forgotten about it. It's gotten to the point where I gave them a notebook to keep in the car so they can write down the questions (that I can't answer) when they think of them. But they aren't interested in doing that. They want the answers now, when the thoughts cross their minds. Why? Because by the time we get home, they've asked me 10 more questions.

What's the point? There are three.

First, it occurred to me that their curiosity is infectious and, hey, I've learned a few things, too! They make me think of stuff I never think about or haven't thought of in years. Second, we don't know everything. And finally, we should always have an inquisitive mind in order to stretch the limits of what we know and what we're doing.

Are there things being done within, or by the people in, your company that you haven't thought about for years? Well, it's time! That infectious curiosity I mentioned is something any organization can harness, embrace, and use to excel. I'm going to refer to it as a Culture of Curiosity. (I'm sure I'm not the first.) Set aside outside-in or inside-out thinking for a moment and do some upside-down thinking. Toss everything you know on its heels and think about it in a different way.

If companies are constantly asking questions, they get to:
  1. Learn more about their customers and employees
  2. Better understand customer and employee needs
  3. Learn about partners, the market, emerging trends, etc.
  4. Ideate and innovate
  5. Create new/better products, features, and services
  6. Eliminate processes and policies that are harmful to the experience
  7. Change the way you do business (for the better)
Don't keep things status quo for the sake of comfort, convenience, or keeping things status quo. If you keep doing the same thing, you're going to keep getting the same results, right? With some of the statistics about customer experience as bad as they continue to be, I think companies are continuing to do the same thing. It's time to start asking some serious questions. And not being afraid of the answers - or the consequences and changes as a result.

Encourage open thinking and communication. Don't stifle or squash new ideas just because they aren't what "you usually do." Hire people who come from different backgrounds or industries. Look for questions and curiosity from all corners of the organization. Break the mold, turn things upside down, and stay curious!!

Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. -Walt Disney Company

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Customer Experience Lessons from Bodybuilding

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Have you made your 2013 New Year's resolutions?  Did they include any health and fitness goals for the year? In honor of that particular resolution, I thought this was a good time to make the connection between bodybuilding and the customer experience. 

Yea, bodybuilding... it's something I know a little bit about. In my younger days, I was an amateur competitor, so I'm quite familiar with that world. It's a lifestyle I still embrace today.

Here are the lessons from bodybuilding that translate well into the world of customer experience. There's actually a lot more here than you might expect!

It's not a hobby; it's a lifestyle
You don't have to be a bodybuilder to make health and fitness resolutions, but you do have to make a lifestyle change. Just like you live and breathe diet, training, and rest as a bodybuilder, so must the customer experience efforts be woven throughout your organization. It's not a department; it's a way of doing business.

You must make a solid commitment
If you can't put in the time and the effort and commit to the sport, then you better forget it. As a way of doing business, customer experience requires a day-in and day-out commitment from the entire organization, top down and bottom up.

It requires discipline
Bodybuilding requires a lot of discipline, drive, and determination. Do the right thing and make the right choices. Every day. No missteps. Ultimately, so does the customer experience.

Set goals and stay focused
Keep your eye on your goals. As a CX professional, your goals are to design and to deliver the best customer experience possible. Don't let anything distract you from achieving those goals. A lot of competing priorities may come along, but stay the course.

Relationships are important
In bodybuilding, relationships can go one of two ways: total camaraderie or full-on enemy. The former tends to be the more-common relationship; we help and encourage each other because we know what it takes and we're all trying to achieve a common goal: an awesome physique. In the CX profession, I believe we all tend to lean toward helping each other; we're all working toward this common goal of helping businesses deliver the ultimate customer experience. We'll achieve more if we work together than if we work apart.

Trust must be there
Lee Labrada, a former professional bodybuilder, was quoted as saying, "I’ve made many good friends in bodybuilding, though there are few I’d trust to oil my back.” I've witnessed this type of behavior. This is not the perception you want your customers to have about your business!

You won't go far without training
Training is obviously an important part of any sport and getting ready for any competition. Fine tuning your training at the right time during your pre-contest period is key to peak performance and appearance at the right time. Ensuring your employees have the proper training to deliver the best experience every time is important to a positive customer experience.

Well-rounded preparation is key to success
In bodybuilding, training is only one part of the prep equation. Fine-tuning your diet for optimal contest results and many hours of practicing your posing routines are also necessary to get ready for a contest. (OK, and so are shaving, tanning, and a few other things!) In business, employee training is not the only thing that's important to delivering a great customer experience. There are so many facets to creating a customer-focused culture.

The right people, the best tools
I can't say it any better than 8-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman: If you want to be the best at something, you have to pair yourself up with the best people, the best tools.

Feedback and continuous improvement are important
Even before you compete, you're looking for feedback from trainers and friends on the quality of your physique. After a contest, you learn from the judges what you need to improve upon to come in in better shape for your next one. Not all that different from your customer feedback, right?

In the bodybuilding world, this refers to the number of times you repeat a motion. In the customer experience, repetitions come in the form of consistency. Consistency in experiences leads to predictability, which leads to trust.

Don't ignore your weakest muscle groups
Don't ignore your weakest performers or your weakest touchpoints; just because they are weak doesn't mean they aren't important. Determine what's most important to your customers and focus there.

You can't convert fat to muscle
Fat and muscle are two different things. Sure, you can decrease your body fat to show off more lean muscle, but you cannot convert one to the other. While this one sounds a little strange, think of it this way: not everything can be changed. Or this way: you might be trying to change one thing when you should actually be doing something completely different to achieve your desired outcome. Figure out what you're trying to do and revisit your process for doing it. Might be time to change your processes.

Be aware of the competition
Your competition is never far from your mind when you're competing in bodybuilding, but it's also far enough out of your mind that you know you need to focus on your own performance, improvements, and physique. This is true for businesses, too. Businesses always have an eye on the competition, but they should primarily be busy focusing on their own performance.

Symmetry, shape, and proportion in all things
Three of the bodybuilding competition judging criteria are symmetry, shape, and proportion. Obviously, you need to be in great shape: lean and muscular. But your body also needs to be symmetrical and proportionate. Your body must be balanced; the left side, even if it's your weak side, must be as muscular as your right side. And all the parts need to flow together nicely and be proportionate. I can think of a lot of ways that symmetry and proportion relate to customer experience, but I'll call out two of them: (1) Employee experience is as important as customer experience (if not more so), and (2) Treat customers the way that you'd want to be treated.

You will be judged
In a contest, bodybuilders are judged both individually and in comparison with their competitors. Your customers look at your brand, your business, not only on its own merits and performance but also relative to other choices that may be available. Make sure you always put your best physique, er, foot forward.

Scoring and ranking are a fact of this life
Yea, there's a score in competitive bodybuilding, too. It's based on certain evaluation criteria. And there's a ranking of competitors, as well. Some would call this aspect of the sport highly political.

Politics are bad news
The politics of the sport are toxic. The politics in your office are toxic, too. Create a culture that frowns on office politics - one where politics aren't even part of the equation. I believe transparent cultures are less likely to be embroiled in politics.

Loyalty and your fan base 
Bodybuilders can be a loyal group - to their sport and to their fans. Notice I said, "can be;" there are some exceptions. It's important to remember that loyalty is a two-way street. There's no question about how this translates to the customer experience.

Go hard or go home
Arnold Schwarzenegger was quoted as saying, “The last three or four reps is what makes the muscle grow. This area of pain divides the champion from someone else who is not a champion. That’s what most people lack, having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain no matter what happens.” Anybody can lift weights, but what sets a competitive bodybuilder apart? Not everyone has what it takes to prepare to - and then - compete... and become Mr. Olympia.  What's your advantage? Your biggest advantage is your ability to differentiate yourself through exceptional customer service and experiences.

Look good naked
There's a quote on The Naked Corporation website that reads, "If you're going to be naked, you'd better be buff." There's no question about this in bodybuilding, but what about the customer experience? OK, your frontline's not going to be wearing teeny-tiny bikinis while talking to your customers, but transparency will serve your company and your brand well - it will show your customers how well you've prepared for their moments of truth.

There are no shortcuts
OK, some take shortcuts, but they eventually (will) pay the price. Someone once said, Bodybuilding is not a race, it is a marathon.” It's a long, hard road. Results don't come overnight. You work at it every day.  Customer experience is a journey, as well. Change and process improvements take time. Brands and businesses evolve, as do customers' needs. You're in it for the long haul!

Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift no heavy-ass weights. -Ronnie Coleman

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

SMBs, Don't Be Social Media Deadbeats!

Today I am pleased to present another guest post by Sarah Simon.

Savvy enterprises have caught onto the power of social media to interact with their customer bases, provide alternative service channels and obtain customer and market insights.  Indeed, in many (though not all!) instances, large enterprises have small armies of social media experts manning the social airwaves at all hours in multiple languages.  The large-enterprise social media veterans have written volumes on social media guidelines and rules of engagement, and have a vigilant ear to the ground in the social sphere.

But what about small and mid-size businesses?  After all, social media represents a very special opportunity for SMBs to foster a deeper relationship with their customer base.  While some have mastered the art and science of social media, many are struggling; they have gone through the motions of setting up social media accounts, but fail to activity engage their customers in the social sphere.  They are social media deadbeats.

Imagine the following scenarios:
  • A repeat customer tweets a fawning review of your one-and-only restaurant, complete with photos of his extended family celebrating a birthday only to hear…nothing.   To the owner of a small family business, what could be more flattering than a customer sharing the story of his family sharing a life-moment at your restaurant and giving you very public kudos for the opportunity to pay a three-digit tab?
  • A couple enjoys a long-weekend stay at your 5-room bed-and-breakfast, getting to know you on a first-name basis, sharing coffee and juice with you each morning and dinner each night.  Upon returning to their weekly lives, they post a mostly glowing report of your B&B on your Facebook wall, yet note that the freshly-squeezed juice ran out each day.  Here, you have not only a free public referral to your B&B, but a gentle reminder to increase the amount of fresh juice you squeeze during full-capacity weekends.
These two scenarios are pretty low-hanging fruit for SMBs dipping their feet in the social media waters.  Yet many SMBs would let such low-hanging fruit fall from the tree to rot on the ground.  It is amazing the number of small and midsize businesses with Twitter or Facebook links emblazoned upon their websites that never bother to respond to posts like these.  By ignoring customers that took the time to publically share their feedback, they are potentially burning a very valuable bridge.  Why even bother having a social media presence if your company isn’t going to use it to engage – socially – with customers?

Here are some painfully familiar SMB social media deadbeat profiles:

The bullhorn:  Engrossed in a one-way channel of communication with customers, this vendor ignores customer posts however, they are often too happy to post advertisements to their followers trying to encourage repeat business, like trying to clap with one hand.  If only they understood that their one-way communication style is actually driving a wedge between their company and their followers.

The absentee landlord:  Completely absent from the social media realm, these deadbeats register for Twitter and Facebook accounts and stick the logos and links on their websites, but do nothing with them.    Unaware of the shame cast upon them when their last post was 18 months ago, these deadbeats would do better to simply stop the “radio silence” and back out of the social media sphere until read to properly engage.  It does no good to just build a Twitter profile and Facebook page then walk away and leave them to neglect.

The broken record:  Well, at least this deadbeat is trying…sort of.  This vendor repeats the same message (often advertising) with annoying regularity.  In addition to mass tweets extolling the virtues of their offerings, if and when this deadbeat replies to followers, it’s the same thing over and over again, with no originality, no context.  Yes, there are only so many ways to say “Thank you” in 140 characters or less, but at least try.  Try pulling a little context from the customer post into your reply: “Thank you for staying at our B&B this October to enjoy the autumn leaves” “How exciting that you brought your entire family to our restaurant to celebrate this major event!”  A customer took the time to initiate contact with you via social channels; you owe them more than a canned response in return.

The gladhander:  This vendor sees the world through rose colored glasses, at least within the social media realm.  While it’s admirable to try to “keep it positive,” the gladhander refuses to face negative social feedback, responding to critical posts with a forced smile and cheer.  When the customer posts “Great service, but my steak was overdone” replying with “Glad you loved your steak and our servers really are the best, aren’t they?”  just makes your company seem tone-deaf.  Get over your fear of publically admitting fault, and offer a genuine apology to the customer.  No need to kowtow, just apologize and thank the customer (contextually!) for their business.

Indeed, some smaller to mid-size organizations have social media figured out.  What do they do right?
  • They respond in a reasonably prompt fashion.
  • There clearly is a real human being behind each post.
  • That real human being shares a passion for their product with their customers.
  • That human being believes in their product and the power of social media.
  • Enthusiastic “fan posts” are met with enthusiastic “thank you’s”!
  • Replies include contextual references to the customer post.
  • They publically apologize when things go wrong.
  • They don’t dominate conversations, but instead interact with customers.
Social media is a fact of doing business these days.  For the small or midsize organization, social media – property managed – presents a never-before seen opportunity to engage in dialogue with a specialized customer base, often spread across the globe.  Social media deadbeats, on the other hand, are doing more harm than good with their lazy (or misinformed) approach to the medium.  Doing social media right requires energy, attention and effort – much like keeping up one end of a real-life conversation – but can result in building stronger relationship with customers and engaging your customers in an online community.  Do social media right, or don’t do it at all.  Nobody wants to do business with a deadbeat.

Sarah Simon is a career insights professional with 16 years of experience in the feedback industry. Specialties include VoC architecture, journey mapping, developing linkages to business performance, reduction of customer defection, results analysis and communication, with expert survey design skills.  She is the survivor of a botched early-generation "big data mining" operation and is happy to live to tell about it.