Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hotel Manager Abandons Desk Job to Become a Customer Experience Rock Star

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

After a restful night’s stay at the TownePlace Suites in Plano Texas, I headed downstairs to drop my key and have a quick breakfast.  At the end of the hallway by the lobby stood a smiling, laughing man, cheerfully engaging customers.  “Good morning, how was your stay?” he inquired.  “Please, we’ll take your bag to the front desk and watch it while you enjoy breakfast!”  I felt like road warrior royalty!  My suitcase and laptop bag were promptly whisked away while the man introduced himself.  I recognized his name at once – Pablo Villarroel – from the friendly and welcoming letter tacked visibly on the in-room refrigerator wishing me a pleasant stay.

As manager, this man could have spent the morning hiding behind his desk, avoiding the “messy” business of dealing with customers, as staff tended to the hurried business travelers rushing to check out.  Instead, he placed himself where he knew many of us would end up – at the breakfast area near the lobby – and greeted us each with a warm welcome, a bright smile, and a handshake.  Not only does this man obviously enjoy his job but he also shares his passion for customer delight with everyone he sees!  His cheerfulness is infectious; every staff member I encountered smiled and greeted me warmly, like a friend.  The desk staff made eye contact and seemed eager to help.  The effect is to make each and every customer feel valued.

Up until my interaction with Mr. Villarroel, this had been just another very nice stay at a business hotel: clean, spacious room, friendly and helpful staff, nice landscaping, comfortable bed, etc.  So what went so right here?  Managers like Mr. Villarroel don’t grow on trees and cannot be cloned, but what about this experience could a hotel chain replicate elsewhere?   How can your hospitality company facilitate customer-focused behavior among your general managers?

1. Rethink Hiring/Promotion:  Hire and promote the right people who care about your hotel guests.  Hotel managers need a wide array of skills, and liking people and caring about their happiness and comfort should be higher on the list than I suspect many hotels place this because it’s a “soft skill.”  Guess what?  Your customers remember a manager’s smile and handshake, not his accounting or ability to process forms.

2. Sincerity through Empowerment:  The last thing Marriott or any hotel chain should try to do is issue an edict to their property general managers telling them to copy Mr. Villarroel’s behavior.  Customers can tell a lousy acting job a mile away.  You hire smart people for a reason: so you can tell them “here’s where I want you to go” and trust them to get themselves there.  Help managers set customer experience goals without dictating their behavior for sincere results.

3. Incentive Customer-Centric Behaviors:  Do your expectations of your property managers over-emphasize behaviors that have little direct impact on the customer?  If your KPIs scream “back-office busy work” and not “customer engagement,” be careful what you ask for – your managers just might deliver!  Your job description should include “customer engagement” right next to budgets, staff management, and operations skills.  Failure to make room for customer interactions means even well-intentioned managers will opt to hide at their desks doing "busy work" instead of wading into the corridors to greet hotel guests.

4. Train for Empathy:  Even for the most-seasoned road warriors, travel can be tiring and stressful.  Interrogating TSA agents, eye-rolling front-desk clerks, exhausted waitresses, and heartless hotel registration clerks can all be part of the travel game…but they don’t have to be.  Your hotel can be a sanctuary to the road-weary traveler.  When hotel managers travel for business, require them to keep a journal of particularly good and bad experiences. Ask them to put themselves in the shoes of a tired, confused, worn-out hotel guest with a lost reservation.  Maybe even arrange a “mystery shopper” experience at sister-hotels where the manager stays an evening and reports on the highs and the lows of their customer experience.  By putting the shoe on the other foot and encouraging hotel managers to see the hotel experience from the guest’s perspective, you can encourage empathy in their interaction with visitors.

5. Recognize Excellence:  Go ahead and make a case study out of your top performers!  Recognize the superb customer centricity and inspire colleagues to excel by building a case study around your rock stars, maybe having them present to colleagues or write posts to the company intranet.  Strong performers thrive on recognition for a job well done, and sharing customer success stories helps to further sow seeds toward a customer-centric atmosphere at your company.

Top-notch, customer-focused hotel general managers don’t grow on trees.  But by promoting and rewarding customer-centric behavior among your management, you can optimize the experience your guests have when staying at your properties.  Guests don’t see what happens in the back office, and nuts and bolts like “clean, spacious rooms” are easily commoditized.  But providing hotel visitors with a peaceful, friendly sanctuary where they feel right at home leaves a lasting impression.  This sanctuary isn’t built on management “hard skills” alone but requires a customer-focused gentle touch from a manager willing to leave his or her desk to extend sincere hospitality to each and every guest to make them feel at home.

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.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Only CEO Who Matters

Sam Walton once said, "There is one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else."

It is this premise that Chuck Wall personifies in his new book, Customer CEO: How to Profit from the Power of Your Customers.  This is a well-written, easy-to-read book about the powers possessed by your customers - powers you may not have considered - and about how to become a  successful, profitable business by harnessing those powers to transform the organization, the culture, and how it thinks about delivering the customer experience.

Chuck draws on his background as a marketer and an entrepreneur, along with feedback from, or interviews with, more than 100,000 customers of his various clients over the years to explain the powers and to make his point. The great thing about the companies Chuck uses as examples? They are not all "the usual suspects." He shares details from 30+ companies, some that you may not have heard of or that you may not have thought about when you've searched for examples of who gets the customer experience right. That doesn't lessen their impact and is, actually, quite refreshing.

There are nine customer powers that Chuck identifies through his research, and he explains each one using real-life examples. He then outlines how to harness each one to evolve your company into a customer-centric organization.
I'll briefly summarize the nine powers below, but before I do that, here's a quick video about the book. See if you can identify any of the powers as you watch it.

Didn't catch them all? OK, here they are.

The Power of Me: What's in it for me?
I am the customer. I am always right. I am the reason you are in business. I pay your bills. I will share my experiences, good or bad, with everyone around me. I'll even share them with you, but I expect
you to do something with it.

The Power of Value: What's this worth to me?
Value means different things to different people. Each of us decides what something is worth or what its value is based on our needs at the time. That value can be determined by both internal (need) and external factors. One thing is for certain, though. Customers don't want to pay too much or get ripped off.

The Power of Performance: Does it do what I need it to do?
This power revolves around design thinking. Better design - be it products, services, etc. - leads to better customer experiences.

The Power of the Heart: How does it make you feel?
Customers will make that emotional connection with companies and brands that understand them and take the time to really get to know them.

The Power of Simple: Why is this so difficult?
Offering too many variations, making things difficult to assemble or use, incorporating extra or unnecessary steps into a process. These are all examples of where simplification would be a customer delighter.

The Power of Yes: Why is the answer always No?
The golden rule. Treat customers the way that you want to be treated. Get it right. Go the extra mile. Do the little unexpected things. Empower employees to always do what's right for the customer. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Never allow a person to tell you 'No' who doesn't have the power to say 'Yes.'"

The Power of Platform: What about my ideas?
This power is all about how social and how vocal we've all become. We are share happy. Good or bad. Ideas, suggestions, complaints. It's all a gift from us to the companies we interact with. Our ability to share has been amplified by the platform. Companies must adapt and learn to communicate with, and respond to, customers wherever they are.

The Power of Rebellion: How do I break the rules?
There are too many bad rules and policies. What's the point of some of them? There are best practices, but who are they best for? Companies are so bland and blah. Why does everyone have to do the same thing? Which companies are going to break the mold and really set themselves apart from the rest of the pack? Who's going to create a unique and better experience for me?

The Power of Purpose: Do we share the same values?
We like to do business with companies that: do the right thing, put our best interests first, and value the same things we do. Companies that we can trust. Companies that we believe in. Companies whose purpose, whose why, aligns with our own.

Honestly, these all sound pretty reasonable to me. Nothing crazy here in terms of customer expectations. Any company that not only understands these powers but also puts them to good use is ahead of the game. Customers have a choice. They don't have to buy from your company; they can go elsewhere. Take the time to understand and to really know your customers so that you can become their primary, or even only, choice.

Chuck closes the book with this Customer CEO Manifesto, as well as a guide to becoming a Customer CEO Champion. I recommend adopting this Manifesto as your own!

The greatest assets companies possess are not their buildings, brands, or backgrounds. It’s their customers.

Remember... there's only one boss. There's only one CEO who matters.

If you don't really believe that your customers are in charge, you are being stubborn. The reality is that your existing and potential customers can choose to do business however they want. You are merely one option in lives filled with too many choices, distractions, and debt. They can live without you. -Chuck Wall

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Good Old-Fashioned Customer Service

My latest was originally published as a guest post on CustomerCEO.com on January 16, 2013. It's presented here with a few updates.

Remember the good old days, when you didn't have to pump your own gas? Whatever happened to full-service service stations?

I was watching American Pickers on the History Channel with my parents over the holidays; I noticed that the pickers seemed to be enamored by old service station memorabilia. Finding that memorabilia took them down memory lane, where they recalled days of true service stations.  I'm guessing some of my readers are even too young to remember them. For those who are, you'll appreciate this commercial!

These service stations are a great example of what service should be. At least that's how I remember them!

Let me explain. In the "old days," you could pull into a gas station and not even have to get out of your car. A filling station attendant, aka "gas jockey," would be standing there, ready to: greet you, fill your gas tank, clean your windows, check your tires, and maybe even check under the hood. And these perks were free. They were part of the service experience at these stations. You paid for the gas but not for the service. Getting gas for your car was an experience, and it took a little more time than pumping your own gas does today. The attendants actually talked to their customers and got to know them.

If you google "service stations," you come up with next to nothing. Why? Because these full-service stations are pretty much non-existent in the US now, except for in two states, New Jersey and Oregon, where it's against the law to pump your own gas. (Apologies to my readers outside of the US; I realize these full-service stations do/may exist in your country.) If you live in either of those states, let me know if the level of service you get is comparable to what was offered back in the "old days."

Watching that American Pickers show got me thinking... what was so special about service stations? And how do we bring that level of service back? What can we learn from these full-service service stations?

Well, we certainly cannot underestimate the importance of...
  • service with a smile
  • a friendly greeting
  • staff appearance
  • enjoying what you do
  • hiring people people (or is it "people persons?")
  • "I'll take care of it for you" attitude
  • knowing your customers (literally) and their needs
  • a personalized experience, including greeting customers by name
  • trust relationships (some station owners allowed customers to "charge" gas and settle their bills every month)
  • going the extra mile

I love the closing line of the commercial: "At Texaco, we're working to keep your trust." Is there a brand that uses (or deserves to use) that line today?

What happened between then and now? Why can't we get this kind of service today? Not just from a gas station but from any company with which we interact?

How do we instill this type of "at your service" attitude into frontline staff or into anyone that touches the customer? Is it a realistic expectation?

I'm of the opinion that it's all about the people you hire. That attitude can't be trained.

I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day, you bet on people, not on strategies. -Lawrence Bossidy, Former COO of GE

Friday, April 19, 2013

Where, Oh Where, Has Common Sense Gone?

Apparently it's been around for a while; the dictionary says so...
I find myself using the phrase "common sense" more and more every day... to describe the basic tenets of customer experience and employee experience... but also to describe humanity in general. Unfortunately, as I do this, I actually question it more than I praise its use.

What happened to common sense? Did stupidity really take over? Did we forget about manners? Did we really all forget what we were taught as kids? Were we not taught these things as kids? Can common sense be taught? Or are we born with it? (I don't think we were, but according to the definition in the dictionary - see image above - it's a "normal native intelligence.") Are there exercises to teach or to strengthen common sense?

Why do we have to post signs like this one? Why do we have to remind brands to do the right thing? Why do we need to tell companies to treat their employees right? Why do we have to explain that customer experience is important to the bottom line? Why do we have to remind companies not to tweet during tragedies and to not use those tragedies opportunistically? Why do we have to remind customer service reps that their job is to help people?

Yea, I'm more full of questions than I am of answers. I shake my head about this every single day.

So I started to search for an answer to my question, "Can common sense be taught?" I started my search at home. As you might already know, I have two young sons, and I can pretty much guarantee you based on this very unscientific sample size, that not everyone is born with common sense. I find myself saying, a lot, "Guys, use a little common sense." And then teaching them that, before they react, they should consider the following:
  • Think before you act or answer.
  • Does it make sense?
  • Is it the right thing to do?
  • Would I want to be treated that way?
  • Is that what you've been taught?
  • Is that using good judgment? (Yea, they know what that means.)
And the list goes on and on. Every day. Over and over again.

I'm not asking for the Mom of the Year Award here. But I will ask, does every parent do that? Did your parents do that for you? Is that how common sense is taught? So I did a little research and came across a quiz on the Discovery channel's website with some interesting facts that I think help us explain a few things, especially as they relate to customer service and the customer experience. The following items (in italics) are pulled from that quiz.

The Merriam-Webster definition of common sense specifies "sound and prudent judgment." That judgment must be based on things that are common knowledge and established facts, either by the person making the judgment or by society in general.

So, is it not common knowledge or an established fact that a customer service rep or a frontline employee is there to help customers? Is it not an established fact that customer experience drives growth and profitability?

In order to have common sense, you need to know things and be able to make deductions (reason). For example, you know that stepping in front of a speeding car is likely to get you killed, so common sense indicates you shouldn't do it. However, a 1-year-old doesn't know that a speeding car is deadly, so he cannot act accordingly.

Great. Deductive reasoning is important to good judgment. Should this be a new hiring question, test, or criterion?

The brain produces emotions faster than judgment. The region of the brain that controls emotions reacts faster than the region that controls decision-making. The difference is just milliseconds, but it could be enough for an irrational response to something.

OK, now we're getting somewhere. This is why the customer service rep made a snide remark when you got upset about something on your phone bill that you didn't expect. Emotions first, judgment second. Think about how you can factor that into your employee training.

Common sense is meant to keep us safe and living "a reasonable way," according to the Cambridge Dictionary.

I say, "Define reasonable." I think we've moved into a circular argument here.

Common sense requires social interaction. Common sense is usually connected to universal truths. If you don't have regular social interaction, you might not learn what constitutes common sense and how to use it. This is why very smart people who spend a lot of time by themselves might seem to lack common sense. 

Hmm. Does this mean we need to hire social butterflies? I think you're not going to want to be on the frontline and customer-facing if you're not social. I don't really want my employees learning common sense on the job, do I?

According to Bruce Charlton, editor-in-chief of the journal "Medical Hypotheses," people who lack common sense often have a high IQ. Charlton believes that a lot of people with very high IQs tend to ignore common sense (or learned cultural behavior) in favor of reasoning. This might seem smart, but Charlton believes it often leads to geniuses coming up with strange responses or behaviors.

There you go. Hire dummies.

Common sense is "fluid." What was common sense in the 15th century might not be common sense today. Some ideas that used to be common sense have been since proved wrong and discarded. 

Makes sense.

What is considered common sense in one country does not necessarily add up to common sense somewhere else. If you live in a city, common sense indicates that you must look both ways before crossing the street to avoid being hit by a car. But if you grew up in a rural area, you might not look before crossing because aren't used to dealing with traffic.

Makes sense, too. How will you apply that concept to your employee training programs? Your product design? Your documentation? The way you interact with customers?

Knowledge can help develop your common sense. The more knowledge you have about things, the more decisions become a matter of common sense. For example, if you know what poison ivy looks like and you know the unpleasant effects of topical contact with the plant, it becomes basic common sense not to touch it. A person without this knowledge can't make this common sense judgment.

Aha, so it can be taught!

Common sense is all learned. Common sense in humans is based on learned information, even when it seems that it's connected to innate reactions and senses. For example, you don't put your hand in the fire because it hurts. This might seem like an innate sense (we're programmed to avoid pain), but the truth is that until you put your hand in the fire for the first time (or somebody tells you why you shouldn't), you won't know.

OK, I'm definitely on the right track with my kids then. But for your employees, does this mean common sense training becomes a part of your employee onboarding and ongoing training? Read on...

Common sense can be partially taught to an adult. It's possible to teach somebody common sense, but it would require exposing that person to a lot of "what if" situations and then explaining what the common sense response would be and why.

Is this part of "hire for attitude, train for aptitude?" Does common sense become part of "aptitude?" Are you prepared to teach your employees common sense? How much are you responsible to teach them, if they're going to represent your organization? Should there be a "common sense test" as part of the hiring process?

I'm still left with a lot of questions. Would love to hear your thoughts, now that you, too, know a bit more about common sense.

The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense. -Thomas Edison

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Using Social Media to Deliver Customer Service

Today I'm pleased to present a guest post by Chris Martin.

As a business owner, you recognize the importance of good customer service. So you provide options for your buyers, offer as many amenities as possible, and get to know what your customers want and need - and do it all with a big smile on your face.

Why not use social media to help you with your goal of improving customer service? Here are a few ways to accomplish this:

Set up a different Facebook page for customer service
. This will impress your customers because they know that you are taking your service seriously enough to create a dedicated page for it. But it also helps you because it allows you to view customer feedback in one place instead of paging through your news feed of messages on your standard business Facebook page. This customer service page can be branded similarly to your main page, but it should also display frequently asked questions as well as complete contact information for customers who have a problem or issue.

Use social media to respond to complaints quickly. Setting up an alert on your Facebook customer service page will notify you when someone has posted a complaint or question. And Twitter's built-in immediacy will allow you to see a customer complaint as it comes up on your feed. But most importantly, responding quickly lets all of your social media customers know that you value their feedback and are trying hard to provide the best service possible. That in itself will help boost your online reputation.

Use social media to communicate during a crisis. Emergencies happen - like your website or e-commerce site crashing, your supply chain being disrupted, your database being hacked, or even your phone system going down. This is when you can turn to social media to alert customers to what is happening. You can use Twitter, Facebook, or other sites to provide periodic updates about the problem and keep customers informed that you are actively trying to resolve the problem. This will help give your customers peace of mind in the midst of a crisis.

Use social media input for employee training. Not only can social media act as a communication channel for customer service, but it can provide a valuable training resource as well. If you take a few examples of questions, comments, or complaints that were posted by customers on your site, you can show them to your employees and instruct them on how to properly address these issues. Then if your workers are confronted with a similar problem in the future, they will know how to handle it correctly.

Use Facebook metrics (and those on other sites) to gauge customer response. One of the great things about Facebook is that it incorporates impressive business page tools and metrics to help you measure traffic and page views. You can easily see which topics, posts, and marketing initiatives are popular with customers and which ones aren't. Twitter, MySpace, and other sites have handy metrics as well. Paying attention to them can help you tweak your overall branding and marketing strategies.

When it comes to businesses, social media isn't just for marketing and community outreach anymore. It can be utilized as a tool to demonstrate your willingness and eagerness to provide your customers with service that exceeds their expectations.

Chris Martin is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites and is also a ghostwriter for several blogs. In addition, he is an accomplished voice actor and an experienced sportscaster. Martin has also worked as a radio DJ, a traffic reporter, and a public address announcer for sporting events - and he actively monitors his online reputation on Reputation.com.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jeff Bezos is a CX Dream Come True!

Image courtesy of tsevis
Last week, I wrote about Union Bank and their "Do Right" campaign. I love the campaign, but I was left with questions as to whether employees live it and customers experience it. One company who leaves me with no such questions is Amazon.

In preparation for the upcoming 2013 Amazon Shareholders Meeting in Seattle, Amazon released their 2012 Letter to Shareholders (link will download the letter) late last week. Let's just say that it does not disappoint. Jeff Bezos continues to prove that he and Amazon put customers first. You can download and read the letter for yourself, but I'll call out some of the highlights in a moment.

What I love is that Mr. Bezos also includes a copy of the first shareholder letter he wrote, back in 1997 (the year Amazon first went public). Apparently he attaches that original letter to every year's shareholder letter, reminding us that "it's still Day 1," meaning that we still have a lot to learn and much room for growth and improvement.

This guy is a CX dream come true!

In that 1997 letter, he outlines a long list of items that summarize his fundamental approach to management and decision making. I'll call out the first and the last bullet points; all of the others (7) in between relate to investment decisions.

First bullet point: "We will continue to focus relentlessly on our customers." Yay!

Last bullet point: "We will continue to focus on hiring and retaining versatile and talented employees, and continue to weight their compensation to stock options rather than cash. We know our success will be largely affected by our ability to attract and retain a motivated employee base, each of whom must think like, and therefore must actually be, an owner." Yay!

In that letter, he goes on to describe what it means and what they had done to show they truly obsess over customers - and the business outcomes as a result of doing so. And he explains what it's like to work at Amazon and the type of employees he's looking for: "The past year’s success is the product of a talented, smart, hard-working group, and I take great pride in being a part of this team. Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com’s success."

Back to the future... let's see how he did with all of that. The 2012 letter has all the ingredients of a customer-centric company. I think it's safe to stay he's stayed on course for the last 15 years. I'll pull out some key quotes to highlight that.

"...our energy at Amazon comes from the desire to impress customers rather than the zeal to best competitors."

"...but it is a fact that the customer-centric way is at this point a defining element of our culture."

"One advantage – perhaps a somewhat subtle one – of a customer-driven focus is that it aids a certain type of proactivity."

"These investments are motivated by customer focus rather than by reaction to competition. We think this approach earns more trust with customers and drives rapid improvements in customer experience – importantly – even in those areas where we are already the leader."

"We didn’t “have to” make these improvements in Prime. We did so proactively."

"It has been a game changer for our seller customers because their items become eligible for Prime benefits, which drives their sales, while at the same time benefitting consumers with additional Prime selection."

"We build automated systems that look for occasions when we’ve provided a customer experience that isn’t up to our standards, and those systems then proactively refund customers."

"Most customers are too busy themselves to monitor the price of an item after they pre-order it, and our policy could be to require the customer to contact us and ask for the refund. Doing it proactively is more expensive for us, but it also surprises, delights, and earns trust."

"There isn’t competitive pressure to pay authors more than once every six months, but we’re proactively doing so."

"We want to make money when people use our devices – not when people buy our devices. We think this aligns us better with customers."

"Yes, we are actively telling customers they’re paying us more than they need to."

"...internal motivation – the drive to get the customer to say “Wow” – keeps the pace of innovation fast."

"Proactively delighting customers earns trust, which earns more business from those customers, even in new business arenas. Take a long-term view, and the interests of customers and shareholders align."

"We don’t celebrate a 10% increase in the stock price like we celebrate excellent customer experience."

All I can say is, "Wow!" I have no doubt in my mind about these words and what they mean; I've been an Amazon customer for a very long time. I've never been disappointed, but I've been delighted many times.

As a leader, Mr. Bezos shows that he's both the customer and the employee champion. Reading through the 2012 letter again, the following traits and qualities come to mind - all of which are certainly descriptive of a customer-centric culture:
  • Trust
  • Transparency
  • Best interest of customers
  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Not being opportunistic
  • Customers ahead of shareholders
  • Innovation
  • Passionate
  • Humble
  • Proactive
  • Delight

Do any of those describe your organization's values and culture?

I dare you to find another shareholder letter that rallies this one!

We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It's our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better. -Jeff Bezos

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Getting Used to Being in High Places

Signing the summit register on top of
Sheeprock (8,877 feet) in Colorado, USA
Today I am pleased to present another guest post by Sarah Simon.

Looking down from the top rappel anchor as
the first of our party begins the descent
This post marks another installment in my series on lessons from the high country.  In this series, I share with you some wisdom the mountains have taught me that can be applied to your Voice of Customer and Customer Experience initiatives.

What the Mountain Teaches
We are enjoying a beautiful day of climbing on Sheeprock, a bold granite dome in the South Platte region of Colorado.  Warm April sunshine rains down on us all day, and we share the crag briefly with a herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, ewes and lambs moving over challenging terrain with effortless grace.  Three pitches (sections of climbing between belay anchors approximately the length of your rope) of technical climbing bring us to a wide open rocky summit pitted with potholes full of sun-warmed water.
After a brief snack and picture-taking, we begin our descent, which will include a two-stage rappel.  The first rappel is a pleasant glide down the bulbous granite face of Sheeprock – no problems.  It was the bottom of the first rappel that things got interesting, as four of us lined up like sardines at a canning factory on a tiny little ledge.  When I say “tiny,” I mean I had to either stand on my toes or turn my climbing shoes sideways to stand on the ledge.  No one seemed to mind but me. The longer I stood there with my left calf cramping, the more unpleasant the experience became. To be honest, I wanted off that ledge "right now!" but knew I had to just be patient and tolerate the situation.  Still, waves of mild panic kept washing over me and I was clearly unhappy to be stuck like a fly on a granite wall tethered to the mountain by a mere daisy chain (a type of modified climbing sling).

When it at long last was my turn to descend from that micro-ledge, I fumbled with my ATC (rappel/belay device), setting the teeth in the wrong direction, which would have resulted in less friction and a less-controlled descent.  I finally stepped off that too-small ledge, not a moment too soon, and merrily returned to the waiting earth below.  The rest of the party soon followed and we re-coiled the ropes for the scramble back to our gear.

Beginning the second and final rappel.
The climber at top left is standing on
the dreaded little ledge
On the outhike, I did a sort of post-event evaluation to try to understand just why this incident got to me so badly.  On the one hand, it’s perfectly logical for most people to be uncomfortable 50 or so feet off the ground, literally hanging by a thread, surrounded by air.  But I’m not “most people,” I’m a mountain climber, and being perched up high in the sky on tiny little ledges is part of the game.  Quite simply, I needed to get more used to being in high places.  And as we say in the climbing world, the best way to learn to deal with exposure is to deal with exposure.  Game on!

Applying This to Customer Experience
Once upon a time, market insights professionals could hide in a dark basement office and never see the light of the c-suite.  Marketing merrily served as the conduit between the insights we generated and the decision makers that consumed them.  Marketing’s attitude toward market intelligence workers was something like, “Stay in your dark basement cave, strange little analytical one, we’ll handle the execs for you.”  In fact, some of us were mysterious, Merlin-esque business clairvoyants – pocket protectors and SPSS Syntax - who no one would dare present to the executive team.  Years ago, as a junior researcher, I attended a Burke conference during which the instructor implored us to be thought leaders and not order takers.  We looked at each other and then at him and said: Yeah, right, who are you kidding?

My, how times have changed!

Today, we are the direct conduit of insights between the customer and the decision makers.  Some of the strongest VoC / CX teams I’ve admired have a direct seat at the executive table, with a Chief Customer Officer confidently positioned among the heads of sales, marketing, operations and finance.  As the customer has migrated to the center of many business models, so has our role migrated to the front and center within our organizations.  No mere order takers, our VoC / CX strategies are used by key decision makers to drive customer-centric improvements.

But as the status of VoC / CX increases, so does the risk we as individuals expose ourselves to.  Sure, there’s glory in high places, but being way up high for extended periods of time can get a little scary.  There’s no more retreating to the dark research dungeon, no more letting marketing be our mouthpiece.  We now stand as the voice of our customer within the c-suite.  Forget blending into the warm cozy background, my friend; Customer Experience is an increasingly high-profile gig these days.

As a Customer Experience practitioner, you can’t afford to be afraid of heights.  It’s time to get used to being in high places.  Assume that airy perch with confidence.

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, April 9, 2013

What Does it Mean to Do Right?

It's strange to say that a commercial from a bank moves you, but when they pull in Maya Angelou to speak on their behalf, it raises an eyebrow or two. 

Maya is the person who is quoted as saying:

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

I could list a whole host of quotes from Maya, but you get my drift. That one, especially, is the mantra for customer experience. So, yea, wow! A bank has her hocking their wares?! Pretty amazing. 

The bank I'm referring to is Union Bank. According to their website, they operate retail locations in California, Oregon, and Washington, and they have commercial locations in Texas, New York, and Illinois. They've been around for quite some time (150 years), and I remember working with them as a client when I was with J.D. Power and Associates in the early 1990s. I don't have a relationship with this bank and never have, but I was really intrigued by their advertising in the last couple of months, particularly their new tagline and commercials that involve "Doing Right."

In the CX world, we talk a lot about doing the right thing at the right time with the right data, right tools, right culture, right people, etc. But I was curious about the "practical application," especially since Union Bank has adopted it as their tag line.

Best I can tell, they've created three commercials and a website to support this message. Here's the commercial with Maya Angelou.

Update: The commercials no longer exist on that website, but I've found one of them elsewhere: 


How does she define "Doing Right?"
  • Being honest and fair
  • Say it, show it, and don't stop
Edward James Olmos also did a commercial for Union Bank. In his commercial, he defines Doing Right as:
  • Trust
  • Integrity
  • Commitment
Union Bank also has a "generic" commercial with no actors that is called, "Doing Right. It's Just Good Business." In it, they define good business and doing right as:
  • Building long-term relationships
  • Continuing lending when customers need(ed) the money most (i.e., during the tough economic times of the last five years)
  • Not getting involved in sub-prime lending
As I mentioned above, they have a website that is all about this new branding. It further outlines what they mean by Doing Right, starting back in their early days:
  • Diversity: hired first female employee in 1890
  • Rewarding entrepreneurial spirit
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Freedom of choice: you get to design your checking account with the features you want it to have
  • Choosing long-term relationships over short-term profits
  • Partnering with small businesses
  • Doubled lending to small businesses through the economic downturn rather than cutting lending or stopping it altogether
  • Supporting the local community and encouraging employees to give through community service
  • Flexible hours so "your hours are bankers' hours" (facilitated by multichannel banking solutions)
What do you think? Is this how you would define Doing Right, for a bank or for any company? Do you have a relationship with Union Bank? Everything they say about Doing Right is great. But are they living up to these expectations?  Do their actions speak as loud as (or louder than) their words?

I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.” -Maya Angelou

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Actions Speak Louder than Words

Image courtesy of IBM Big Data
Today's post was originally published on April 2, 2013, on IBM's The Big Data Hub.

While basketball fans are deep into their Sweet 16/March Madness brackets at the moment, I was asked last week to provide my picks/brackets for IBM Big Data's The Smart Sixteen Big Data Challenge. I'm not a basketball fan and have never paid much attention to March Madness, but this intrigued me.

The image to the left shows the brackets; I selected Predicting Customer Behavior as my Top Priority, and my team has made it to the Elite 8. [Update: I am now in the Final Four!] This is where the fun begins! At the end of last week, a little challenge arose on Twitter with some of my fellow #CXO tribe mates, so I'm writing today about why, for the Marketing region, Predict Customer Behavior will womp on Improve Campaign Effectiveness to take the final win and the championship trophy.

First, a little background on the two teams :

Predict Customer Behavior: The strength of this team comes from its ability to work with a single view of the customer by leveraging data from across the enterprise (including external sources) for deeper customer insight.

Improve Campaign Effectiveness: Changing your shot mid-air takes skill. This entire team is able to determine in real-time the right message to engage customers and prospects with timely, personalized marketing.

While I see the value in being able to tweak your shots and your strategies as the game evolves, I think that if you spend your time practicing, watching films, and really understanding everything there is to know about the other team and about what your audience enjoys seeing, you'll start the game ahead of the curve.

What does it mean? It means your game plan to create a personalized experience looks like this:

1. Define who your customers are
2. Understand the problems they are trying to solve/needs to be filled
3. Identify the customer journey (use a journey map)
4. Bring together all disparate data sources
5. Create a single view of the customer
6. Analyze that data to tease out insights and deeper understanding
7. Share those insights with the people who need to use it

Customers are tired of mangled multichannel experiences and the "Why don't you know me?" syndrome that causes them to have to repeat and re-enter account numbers, contact information, and other details with every interaction. At the same time, they delight in things like Amazon's "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" feature or in businesses that make recommendations based on past purchases or conversations. While I agree that it can sometimes be creepy (like the story about Target and the pregnant girl), I believe there is more good than harm that comes out of predictive analytics.

[BTW, in some ways, I feel like predicting customer behavior is a precursor to improving campaign effectiveness; therefore, predicting customer behavior must win this championship!]

While predicting customer behavior is the framework or the foundation of the game, improving campaign effectiveness is like telling the audience why you're losing and what you're going to be doing about it.

I think this is a classic "chicken and egg" story: should Marketing prioritize messaging or should the organization as a whole focus on getting the customer experience right with every single interaction. I favor the latter because, when done right, the proper (personalized) messaging will also come out of that. Doing things right is also more cost-effective than tweaking your messaging on the fly.

I like to tell my kids, "Your actions speak louder than your words." Making customers feel like you know them is more important than the messaging, which ultimately happens organically when you get the experience right.

I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts. -John Locke

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Good Business Strategy Doesn't Always Result in Good Customer Service

Image courtesy of digit studio
Today I am pleased to present a guest post by Kena Amoah.

The competition for airlines in the US is getting smaller and smaller. Last Wednesday, the merger between American Airlines and US Airways was approved, making it the world's biggest airline. In 2010, a merger between United and Continental Airlines happened, further narrowing the playing field after a Delta-Northwest merger in 2008.

While these mergers were decided for financial reasons, there is no question that customer service is always affected when a merger occurs. Many of the airlines want customers to believe that these mergers provide more choices and better service, but the past has shown this is not entirely true. Historically, complaints have gone up significantly after a merger. According to a recent CNN Money report, when United and Continental merged in 2012, complaints went up 60%. The Delta-Northwest merger showed similar statistics, along with a decline in on-time performance during 2009 and 2010.

Some credit the rise in complaints after mergers to the difficult transition airlines face. Not only are they combining their operating systems, but the cultures are combined as well. The new hybrid culture provides for more opportunity to miss the mark on customer service. Who do passengers call? And whose guidelines are followed in the event of a complaint? Many questions need to be answered during a merger in order to maintain quality customer service.

Aside from mergers, airlines have been a huge source of customer complaints lately due to "unbundling" services. If you've flown recently, you've probably experienced this first-hand. Gone are the days where you can check as many bags as you'd like for free. Now if you want to check a bag at all, you're probably going to incur a fee. Consumers are not happy with the additional fees piling up on top of the already higher flight costs. There are a lot of such complaints on the Nevahold customer service platform.

Maybe the American-US Airways merger will set a new standard for customer service during a merger; after all, they aren't United, which now accounts for one in three airline complaints.

US Airways and American Airlines have already begun letting customers know about the upcoming transition. After the announcement on Wednesday, both airlines changed their Facebook cover pages to a uniting message.

Images courtesy of respective Facebook accounts

Good luck to them. And to us!