Tuesday, December 30, 2014

14 Worthy Customer Experience Reads for 2014

Image courtesy of Pixabay
How much progress did you make with regards to improving the employee experience and the customer experience this year?

Did you stick with all of your CX resolutions for 2014? Did you add any new ones mid-year?

As we wrap up 2014 and say "Cheers" to another year, I thought it would be fun to take a look back on the year. The 14 posts listed here  seemed to resonate with readers this year; I'm sharing them again because I think they provide some great refreshers to carry you into 2015 and the next leg in your CX Journey...

What the Hell is Customer Experience?
When customer-thinking is part of your culture, when delivering a great customer experience is ingrained in the DNA, when everyone speaks "customer," then you've achieved the "What the hell is water?" level of customer experience maturity. How ingrained is the customer and his perspective in your company's DNA?

18 Reasons to Map Customer Journeys
Have you started journey mapping yet? Or are you still wondering why it's an important tool to have in your customer experience management toolbox? Read this post to uncover 18 ways to use journey maps to advance your CX strategy.

First or Last Impression - Which One is Lasting?
As you think about the customer experience, which impression is most impactful, the first one or the last one? Which one is the lasting impression?

19 Signs Customers Are Just Not That Into You
While I had a little fun with this post, it does summarize 19 clues to watch for when you're about to lose your customers. And I list eight attributes of customers that have turned into raving fans. Which would you prefer?

Customer Experience: Art or Science?
Do you think there's a little art and a little science involved when it comes to delivering a great customer experience? In this post, I take a look at how the two go together. I don't think you can have one without the other.

Why Customers Do What They Do
Rule #1 in customer experience is "understand the customer." Understanding the customer includes listening, creating a customer journey map, and using other tools that will help you understand who they are, what their needs are, what jobs they are trying to do, what their painpoints are, and how you fit together. If you know customers well, it's much easier to meet, and especially exceed, expectations.

Journeys, Not Touchpoints
While it's important to look at the individual touchpoints, moments of truth, interactions, channels, etc., it's more important to remember the whole journey, the entire experience that the customer has with your brand or organization as he's trying to do whatever job it is he's trying to do. Focusing on the entire journey, not solely on individual touchpoints, will yield greater results for the customer experience, i.e., it 's much better for the customer.

The Five Agreements of Customer Experience
In this post, I take a look at how the Five Agreements that don Miguel Ruiz wrote about can be applied beyond your own desire to achieve personal freedom - of course, I apply them to achieving customer freedom and happiness.

The Secret to Customer Retention
What happens when companies spend huge sums of (marketing) dollars on customer acquisition when they can't even keep the customers they have because their products, services, and experience stink? What is the secret to keeping those customers?

8 Steps for Customer Experience Change Management
Dr. Kotter's 8-Step Process for Leading Change intrigued me, since it applies quite nicely to the challenges we face as we struggle to implement changes to/for the customer experience within our organizations. How well does your organization adhere to his eight steps when implementing change?

Transforming the Customer Experience with Big Data
You've got customer data. Lots of it. What do you do with it? How do you make sense of it? How do you use it to transform the customer experience? I share my six rules for doing just that.

What's the Cost of Listening to Customers?
Listening to customers - and acting on what you hear - is paramount to business growth and success. But that's not what executives want to hear. They want to know how much it's going to cost and what the return on investment will be. 

Do You Know Who Your Customers Are?
Do you really know who your customers are? How does your company define or segment them? Do you take a 30,000-foot view of your customers? Or do you drill down deeper and focus on the jobs to be done by your customers? What tools should you use to do that?

Do We Care About Brands?
Should we be worried about people not caring if brands disappeared from their lives? Do people care about brands? Can people care about brands? Companies spend a ton of money on marketing and advertising to lure customers in, and yet customers couldn't care less if most of those companies weren't around tomorrow. Are companies wasting their money?

I hope you enjoy revisiting these posts.

I get inspired to write by a variety of things, and I've had a great time writing for you all this year. I am so appreciative that you continue to read what I write. I look forward to an exciting 2015! Cheers to you!

Sometimes you have to look back in order to understand the things that lie ahead. -Yvonne Woon

Friday, December 26, 2014

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Change Management

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I originally wrote today's post for Intradiem. It appeared on their blog on July 17, 2014.

What is your company's approach to change management?

In a previous post, I wrote about the customer experience inflection point. I stated: There comes a time in every company’s history, present time, or future when it must change or adapt – or die. In order to change or adapt, there must be some systematic process in place, a process that gets everyone on board and marching to the same beat; that process is often referred to as change management.

On Wikipedia, change management is defined as: an approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations to a desired future state. In organizational change, the approach is structured to ensure changes are smoothly and successfully implemented to achieve lasting results.

Why is change management important? Ultimately, we listen to customers in order to improve the customer experience, and this really means changing how we currently do things. The best way to approach both your customer experience management (CEM) strategy and how you will improve the experience as a result of listening to customers is to have a clearly-defined approach in place.

As you start to think about the strategies and steps involved in CEM, you realize that it is a change management process in and of itself. So the steps to transition to some desired future state are probably no different than what you already know. But for fun, let's run through some of the key tenets.

Executive buy-in is a must if any organizational or other changes are to take place. To win the hearts (emotional) and minds (rational) of your executives, you'll need to build the business case, which will require some quick wins to show not only what can be done but also your commitment and persistence to achieving some outcome. As change is implemented, further quick wins may be required.

Going hand in hand with that ("some outcome") will be the need to develop an inspirational and aspirational customer experience vision; it will define and outline what you see as the future state of the customer experience. It will briefly describe the experience you plan to deliver. And it will serve as a guide to help choose future courses of action. How can you manage change if you don't know what you're changing. Define it. Communicate it. Early and often.

This will be important because you'll also need to get employee buy-in. Change cannot be imposed or forced upon employees; they must be involved in it, understand the what and the why, and help to shape the outcome. When they're involved in the changes, they are more apt to be accountable and to take ownership.

At the same time, empower employees to do what's right, and let them know that it's OK to make mistakes during this process: own up to mistakes, fix them, and move on. Reinforce the right actions, and model and recognize the desired behaviors. All of this will be a reflection of your culture and a relentless focus on a great employee experience. Changes must become a part of your DNA.

Cross-functional buy-in and commitment will also be key. If change is to happen, if the experience is to be improved, silos must be eliminated, and the organization must work together as one.

Beyond developing that framework, some other important things to keep in mind:
  • Listen to customers - past, present, and future. Identify not only their needs but the tasks they are trying to achieve. This is the groundwork that must be completed before you can begin to execute on your change management. You need to understand the present state before you can head to some desired future state.
  • Design the new customer experience based on understanding who your customers are and what jobs they are trying to do with your organization's products or services. Incorporating principles of human-centered design is a good idea at this point. Bring employees into the innovation and design processes.
  • Implement changes across the organization based on who your customers are and what they are telling you. For employee buy-in and involvement, communication and training are key, as well. And model the right - the desired - behaviors for them.
  • Measure the changes and their impact. Recalibrate and redesign as needed. You may not get it right the first time. That's OK. Speed of re-innovation and redesign are important testaments to your commitment to change. Don't sit on it.
  • Communicate. It's your best and most important tool in the change management process. Use it early and often.
  • Deal with objections. Not everyone likes change. Haters will hate - figure out how to bring them into the fold. We need everyone on board. You may have to go back to the basics, i.e., getting buy-in (hearts and minds). Socrates said: the secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new. Let's make that the mantra.
One last tip... you'll want to prioritize your changes. You can't make all of the changes at the same time; pace yourself. Remember that the customer experience is a journey...

Do you need to think about change management? I think you know the answer.

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. -Richard Buckminster Fuller

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Engage Your Audience with a Story

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Are you telling stories to engage your audience?

Over the weekend, I took my kids and my parents to the California Science Center in Los Angeles to see Pompeii: The Exhibition.

Walking through the exhibit, you see that each artifact has a placard on/near it with details about what the item is. If you'd like, you can also use an audio device that allows you to hear more details about many of the items.

Near the end of the exhibit, you come upon a room filled with artifacts, but this room has one additional feature: a storyteller - well, really a docent, who gets into character and tells the story of what the people of Pompeii experienced as Mount Vesuvius was about to erupt and rain down on the city.

Why do I bring this up?

I mentioned that you could just read the placards to get information and insights about many of the items. Well, in this room with the storyteller, there were more people gathered around the docent than there were reading details from placards.

The storyteller engages the audience. Placards don't.

Through storytelling, the docent...
  • helps the audience understand
  • conveys what the people of Pompeii thought, did, felt
  • brings the event(s) or experience to life
  • engages the audience
  • facilitates empathy and understanding
  • helps the audience/patrons connect
  • draws the audience in
  • transports the audience
  • helps the audience relate
  • teaches them
Stories are pretty powerful. You can use them to do the same for your audience.

Think about who's listening. For example, are you trying to explain to your employees what a great customer experience looks like? Or are you trying to get buy-in from your executives? Are you simply showing them charts and statistics? Are they getting it? Probably not. Consider using stories to help them better visualize the outcomes and what is expected.

Isn't it more fun to learn from a story than it is to learn from bullet points and pie charts?

Those who tell the stories rule the world. -Hopi American Indian proverb

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Gospel of Customer Centricity for Improved Customer Experience

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Today I'm pleased to present a guest post by Rohit Yadav.

The way customers interact with brands has drastically changed over the past few years. In the words of Forbes contributor Brian Walker, "Digitally empowered customers are firmly in charge, bouncing from channel to channel at the drop of a hat.”

It is now more important than ever before to intertwine marketing efforts with sophisticated customer relationship management tools to deliver a seamless customer experience at every touch point in the purchasing cycle.

The "Customer Journey" has become a common buzzword - but it can mean a lot of different things, depending on what you ask. I like to think of the customer journey as a love story between a customer and a brand, with the following stages in their journey toward the pursuit of happiness: Acquire, Onboard, Engage, and Retain.

Acquire: You briefly meet and make sure to get the customers’ name and phone number or email address.

Onboard: First impressions are important. This is the perfect time to tell customers about yourself and learn what interests them. Begin building the relationship - convince them to give you a shot.

Engage: So you had a great first date. Now what? You’ll keep it interesting with relevant, compelling conversations. And like the chivalrous type you are, you wouldn't dare forget their birthdays or anniversaries.

Retain: Every relationship has its ups-and-downs. If they’re losing interest, focus your efforts on winning them back. Remember, there are two sides to this. Don’t just ask for what you want, listen for what they need.

The price of the product, the brand value, and the other pillars of marketing are no longer the most important factors in a consumer’s selection process. At a certain level of affluence, the absolute value of experience a company is likely to deliver becomes the pivotal point in making a selection. There is a dramatic growth of consumers who are reaching - or are about to reach - that level. Therefore customer centric companies are likely to outperform their competitors, whose leaders cannot see beyond the next quarter’s financial results.

Customer Centricity is about knowing who your best customers are – beyond demographics and persona definitions. Regardless of the type of business - B2B, B2C, or any other combination of letters  - it is people who decide whether they had a good experience as your customers or if they should try someone else. These people share their opinions with others, like they always have. However, now these opinions have as much, or more, of an impact on shoppers as advertising.

According to Peter Drucker – “The customer rarely buys what the company thinks it is selling him.”
Exclusivity – it may not be politically correct or culturally easy to accept, but a company cannot deliver a top quality experience to any customer – only to those it is best focused on to serve profitably. This is better for such a company’s culture, its employees, its target customers, and the consumers at large to clearly communicate what type of customers it will not serve, because it cannot deliver the quality of experience they deserve. The best example I know is USAA, which leads every chart as the top customer experience provider but will not take your business if you are not a member of the military family.

Being customer-centric is not simply a matter of appointing a customer executive, making bold statements about differentiation based upon your customer experience, building a strong sales force,  or equipping your customer service representatives with new technology. Achieving customer-centricity means that you understand your most valuable customers intimately, you know their world and its challenges, and you are able to speak their language. It means knowing when to be there for them and when to stay away. And when you are there for them, it means delivering on your promises.

Customer Centricity is not a project or a corporate initiative; it is the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value. It’s about thinking differently, challenging tradition, adopting a new approach, developing sustainable competitive advantage, and embracing the transformative nature of the change required.

When was the last time you really put yourselves in your customers’ shoes?

Rohit Yadav is a customer experience evangelist who helps companies identify and make the best use of their key performance indicators and generate insights to improve their customer experience. He currently works at BRIDGEi2i Analytics Solutions as Solutions Manager for Customer Intelligence solution consulting Fortune 500 global firms across industries to monetize value from Analytics by analyzing information, deriving actionable insights and delivering sustained impact through operationalization of Analytics.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Secret to Customer Retention

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I originally wrote today's post for InsideCXM. It appeared on the site on September 15, 2014. 

Want to know the secret to customer retention? I'll tell you, but first a story.

I grew up on a farm in Ohio and, as a young girl, had many horses over the years. One of my horses was named Rusty, and he was what many would call "barn sour" and "herd bound;" he either didn't want to leave the barn or leave the other horses. I hadn't thought about this horse or those terms in a long, long time, until I stumbled on a story the other day about a barn sour horse.

I do sometimes find inspiration to write about both customer and employee experiences in the strangest ways, but that story got me thinking about this blog post that I needed to write about customer retention and how to keep customers coming back. For the horse, his desire to stay in the barn was clearly driven by the fact that he loved his food, his stall, and his companions. All the things that made him feel comfortable and loved.

Probably not so different from what keeps your customers coming back, too.

If only companies we do business with understood that - if only they knew what they truly needed to do to keep us coming back, to keep us feeling loved. If only they would shift the ratio of acquisition : retention focus to be more about to how to keep the customers they already have than on how to acquire new/more customers.

I've posed this question before: What happens when companies spend huge sums of (marketing) dollars on customer acquisition when they can't even keep the customers they have because their products, services, and experience stink?

I don't think I'm going out on a limb here to say: "Customer retention is paramount to acquisition!" As a matter of fact, this isn't an original thought at all. The stats speak for themselves.
  • A 5% reduction in the customer defection rate can increase profits by 25-95%. -Bain & Co/HBR
  • A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10%. -Emmet and Mark Murphy
  • The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%. The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20%. -Marketing Metrics
  • Customer profitability tends to increase over the life of a retained customer. -Emmet and Mark Murphy
  • 55% of current marketing budget is spent is on new customer acquisition and only 12% on customer retention. -McKinsey
  • It is 6 to 7 times more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to keep a current one. -White House Office of Consumer Affairs
  • A 10% increase in customer retention levels result in a 30% increase in the value of the company. -Bain & Co
  • Most important marketing objectives? 29.9% think it should be customer acquisition, and 26.6% think it is customer retention; however, 62.2% admit that they concentrate on customer acquisition, with only 20.6% focusing on customer retention. –Emarketer
  • 80% of your future profits will come from just 20% of your existing customers. -Gartner
  • A 10% increase in customer retention yields a 30% increase in the value of the company. -Bain & Co
  • Repeat customers spend 33% more compared to new customers. -Laura Lake
And yet, companies continue to focus on sales, sales metrics, and customer acquisition. It becomes a never-ending vicious cycle, if you can't keep your current customers. In talking to clients about the perils of focusing more on acquisition and sales rather than on the experience and retention, I like to say: "As fast as you're bringing new ones in the front door, current ones are running out the back door." Some refer to it as the leaky bucket syndrome.

I don't get it. Don't get me wrong; I do know that acquiring customers is important, I just wish that companies would put at least as much effort into keeping the customers they already have. If they did, they wouldn't have to work so hard to get new ones. Not that they wouldn't need them - you always need customers to keep the business alive - but your existing customers would become an extension of your sales force and do some of the work for you. And save you money!

So, what should companies be doing? Here's a hint:

82% of consumers in the U.S. said they stopped doing business with a company due to poor customer experience. -RightNow
To focus on delivering a great customer experience (which you know by now I've defined as memorable, remarkable, personalized, emotional, and consistent), companies must improve the customer experience. How? Here are some tips.
  • Know your customers. What's their story? Who are they, what are they trying to achieve with your products or services, and how are they going to do that or use them? Personalize the experience for them, as well... knowing them means never having to ask!
  • Map the customer journey. Understand the steps they walk to get the job done, to do what they are trying to do when they interact with your company. You can't improve the experience without first knowing what the experience is.
  • Be easy to do business with. Simplify the customer journey and your processes along the journey. Don't forget about the multichannel experience and the omnichannel experience.  
  • First impressions are important. Everything from truthful advertising to the greeting at the door or on the phone - if you make a great first impression, you're well on your way to delivering a great customer experience.
  • Exceed expectations. Customers have expectations about your products and services, whether those come from advertising, reviews, or what they've heard or what they know about your brand. Your brand promise sets those expectations. Without question, live the brand promise, be remarkable, delight, and do so every time.
  • Hire the right people. Don't just hire them, train them and make sure they know what your expectations are for delivering a great customer experience. 
  • Remember that the employee experience drives the customer experience. There's a ton of proof to support this premise.
  • Communicate your purpose. This simplifies the hiring process and both customer acquisition and retention. Both customers and employees want to be aligned with brands with purposes and values similar to their own.
  • Listen to your customers. Always. In whatever mode they want to speak to you or provide feedback. Pick a metric and measure it, but don't focus on the metric - focus on the improvements. Listen, learn, act, and improve.
  • Build long-term trust relationships. Not transactional or opportunistic relationships.
  • Communicate. Early, often, proactively, honestly, candidly, and transparently.
  • Quality. Don't forget that if you sell crappy products or deliver crappy services, customers won't come back. Period.
  • Be different. In a world of commodotized products, delivering a great customer experience is a differentiator. Figure out why customers (would) choose your products and services over others.
  • Last and lasting impression. Appreciate the customers you have. Always say "thank you." In words and in actions.
I know the title of this post states that I'm going to tell you a secret. Ready? What's the secret to customer retention? You need to work at it; it's earned, not assumed.

The brands that succeed wildly don’t just give people a reason to choose, they give people reasons to believe and to belong. And they work hardest of all to give people more ways to matter. -Bernadette Jiwa

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Metrics Before the Storm

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Today I'm pleased to present a guest post by Sabrina Bozek.

It was a dark and stormy survey
With questions to weigh
Like “Recommend Me?” and “¿Por qué?”
Anonymity not a card you can play.

But before the clouds roll in,
Prepare your ship for the task to begin.
Don’t be weathered by the prep at first,
Customer feedback can navigate the worst. 

So before the scores are calculated,
And the mind of management gets complicated,
Take a step back and pay attention,
To the other metrics that depict the rate of retention.

For B2B companies, it’s easy to breeze through the chore of sending a customer survey: design the questionnaire, hit send, sit back, wait for responses to roll in, and simply focus on the overall target: Likelihood to Recommend or Overall Satisfaction. CEOs certainly want to know, “How does it compare to last year?” - which is important - but don’t you want insight into the strength of the relationships with all of your customer accounts, or at least the ones bringing in the most revenue? Before a B2B company actually bases any decisions and actions on overall Recommend scores, there are so many other insights lurking in the background that are indicators of how strong customer relationships really are and whether there should be concern over churn rates.

Chances are, you already have the data just by simply running a voice-of-customer initiative! So before the scores are calculated and potentially used for improvement, look a little closer (or use a tool to expose them – more on that later). These metrics will clue you in to the full picture of your customer relationship and whether your feedback can hold back the thunderstorms.

1) Survey “Representativeness:”  Who are we talking to?
a. Unless you work for a very small company, the amount of customer survey invitations and data to analyze can be overwhelming without the proper strategy. If you’re a student of the Net Promoter System, then you know how important it is to follow-up with your respondents.  Since your customer feedback process needs to exemplify the type of experience your company aims to provide, inviting 100% of your customers at once would likely be the kiss of death – too many actionable items, too few resources to follow-up with, not to mention a poor experience with your customers that will turn them off from engaging with you. Carve out select groups that matter to your business, making sure they represent the appropriate percentage of your revenue. Do you really want to only invite your least profitable accounts? No. Then actively recruit participation from your high growth or Tier 1 segments. When the invitation strategy is sound, you lay a strong foundation in evaluating whether the data is trustworthy or not.

b. Are you hearing from the people who matter within each account?  Setting a minimum threshold for number of responses (by role) for each account is also an integral strategy in collecting trustworthy data. A large (“Tier 1”) account with 25 people that impact buying decisions cannot be accurately represented if only 2 people respond. Decisions based on such “thin” data are likely to have low confidence levels. Understand where you have strong representation, and establish a plan to go back to under-represented accounts to collect more data.

2) Do we know our customers like we thought?
a. Understanding how each person’s role in the account plays into the dynamics of the buying/renewal decisions can be critical as well for B2B companies.  You may think you know who is the Decision Maker and who is simply the End User or Day-to-Day contact, but keeping close tabs on these labels ensures there are no surprises when it comes to renewal time. Mismatched roles can create problems with how you communicate with accounts – and if a new Influencer is already discontent, you’ll need to know who is best to speak with to make it right!

b. Monitoring the bounce rate of your feedback requests is often a reported but ignored metric. But it can also be very telling because if it’s too high, then you clearly did not do your homework to actively recruit contacts from each account and your list it outdated. Do you really know your customers if you don’t even have their right email address? What else are you missing?

3) How engaged are our customers?
a. Most companies look at the overall score for NPS or CSAT, but paying attention to the rate of silent accounts can be far more compelling in the overall health of your customer relationships. If only 20% of your customers replied to your request, a whopping 80% of your customers are either too busy/don’t believe it’s worth their time/indifferent toward you – which is arguably worse than mad and the opposite of love. Before your team puts any weight on feedback as a part of your “customer health score,” take a look at the percentage of accounts from whom you didn’t see any responses.  Focus your efforts there before these accounts start jumping ship.

b. Perhaps your customers are tired of being asked for favors and simply opt-out of your emails all-together. If this rate is suddenly high, you may need to change your marketing communications, invitation strategy, or frequency - or follow-up directly to find out what the underlying issue is. Most systems will report the opt-out rate for any email communications, but most CS teams are likely not paying attention to the rate because it’s not “juicy” enough. But if you want to understand whether your VoC data is accurate, this could be an indicator that it’s not.

c. Some customers may humor your request for feedback by giving straight-line answers or “Christmas-tree” the questionnaire, as you may remember from your grade school days. Be on the lookout for answers that only give straight 8’s or 3’s - they may be half-baked scores just to get a pesky Account Manager off their back and submit a response. Of course, some customers may feel you performed the same for all answers, but if there is also a lack of open-answer comments or signs that little thought went into it (i.e., time spent answering the questionnaire), then your data may be lacking as well. This is especially important for key contacts - someone from your team (perhaps an executive, if necessary) should be following up with them to make sure everything is OK or to determine what needs improvement.

4) Are we taking action?
a. Before any weight is put on the overall customer scores, Account Managers and Success teams should be actively following up with customers to understand why the lowest and highest ratings are the way they are. Tracking the percentage of customers who received a phone call to explain their discontent is a great a way for management to know whether the scores are accurate. Did some of the most severe Detractors just submit their questionnaires after a frustrating Support experience? Or are they really upset about a long-standing product issue? The best way to get to the root cause and tell the whole CSAT story is to oversee the follow-up.

b. Teams should also be analyzing the percentage of improvement, not just with overall scores, but with each account and all repeat responders. Do scores really look the same? Or are you hearing back from totally different people each survey wave? Often times, new customers will respond with high marks because they are still in the honeymoon phase, inflating your overall scores. But if you look deeper at longer tenured customers, are they still as happy as they were in the beginning? Be careful to not just take scores at face value - there could be a much bigger story under the surface.

These metrics really only scratch the surface of measuring the customer experience. For B2B companies collecting VoC data, there are often many more facets to the story - it’s a complex, choose-your-own-adventure kind of tale! Before you start diving into scores, be sure to fully use the data you’re likely already collecting and gain confidence that business decisions based on this feedback are convincing and accurate.

Looking for a software provider that can offer this analysis easily? Shameless plug alert: TopBox is a B2B-specific survey solution that will manage the administrative side of survey deployment with a consultative setup to make sure your program and questionnaire are geared for success. This tool will also produce all the unique B2B reports you need to clearly view customers by account, segment, and individual scores, showing trends, benchmarks and x-rays into each that link to financials. Set up a demo to find out how your team can affordably conduct the proper VoC analysis your company needs.

Sabrina Bozek is the Director of Marketing for TopBox and Waypoint Group. Originally from Miami, she moved to San Francisco from New York to earn her MBA at the University of San Francisco. Sabrina is passionate about elevating and optimizing brands through consumer insights and analytics based decisions. She combines both her marketing and analytics background to make a lasting impact in customer success for the Bay Area and beyond. Previous clients include the British Virgin Islands, Nickelodeon Family Suites (Orlando), Kiva.org, GAGA Sports, and SF Office of Small Business. Sabrina also earned a Bachelors of Science in Communications from Florida State University (Go Noles!).

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Closing the Loop on CX Improvements

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Do you close the loop with your customers?

One of the most important best practices of any world-class VoC initiative is to close the loop with customers. They take the time to tell companies what they like and don't like about products and services; as a result, companies must listen and respond, both by making changes and by letting customers know what improvements have been made.

Unfortunately, so few companies actually close the loop with their customers. By now, you know the Gartner statistic: 95% of companies collect customer feedback. Yet only 10% use the feedback to improve, and only 5% tell customers what they are doing in response to what they heard. It's a statistic from years ago, but I believe that it's still representative; companies are still not telling customers what they're doing with that precious customer feedback.

Closing the loop with customers is one of the first steps in operationalizing your VoC efforts. It lets customers know their feedback:
  • has been received
  • has ended up in the right hands
  • is being used to make improvements, and
  • has been (is being) acted on (and how)
Closing the loop takes a couple of different forms, from the tactical service recovery efforts to the more-strategic product, service, and process improvement announcements. It is a valuable part of your VoC efforts because it shows that:
  • you care
  • you value your customers and their feedback
  • you do something with their feedback
Closing the loop also helps to:
  • increase future survey response rates or the likelihood that customers will provide feedback again in the future... because they know it hasn't been a waste of time, i.e., you are actually using their input to make improvements.
  • increase their likelihood to recommend, simply because it's an unexpected delighter; in my experience, when customers respond to surveys, they honestly don't expect that companies will follow up with them, even if they say they will.
I think these are key points to remember.

So, imagine my surprise when I received the following email from United last week:

While the image shows just the first part, the letter does go on to list the three themes in detail and then closes with:

We want to continue hearing from you. We are committed to creating a flyer-friendly experience for our customers, throughout all their travels and across all of their interactions with us. Again, I appreciate you taking time to let us know about your experiences via our travel experience survey and hope you continue to do so as we work to build the flyer-friendly airline that you expect. On behalf of my more than 80,000 co-workers at United, I thank you for choosing to fly with us and look forward to seeing you on board again soon.

This is a great example of how to follow up with customers after they've provided feedback!

Interestingly, I received an email from American Airlines yesterday morning with the subject line: Annette, we’re investing $2B in your travel experience; in it, they outlined their plans for "going for great." I wrote about American several times last year, as they were going through their rebranding efforts; I was disappointed then that they didn't really focus on the customer experience during those efforts. In yesterday's email, they gave a high-level overview of what they were doing to improve "your travel experience" and also provided a link to a splash page with more details. While I'm pleased that they are focusing on the customer experience, I'm wondering if they are investing in the things that matter to customers most, those parts of the travel experience that are important to you and to me. Nowhere in their messaging did they say anything to the effect of: We heard you! We're investing $2B in the things that are most important to you during your travels!

We'll see how that works out for both airlines; it'll be interesting to find out how they both rank next year in the various airline rankings. Better yet, it'll be even more interesting to compare the two airlines' travel experiences in the coming months.

But I digress...

The message here is: Listen to customers, analyze their feedback, act on it, and let them know how you've used their feedback to improve the experience.

What makes Superman a hero is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to use the power wisely. -Christopher Reeve

Thursday, December 4, 2014

First or Last Impression - Which One is Lasting?

Image courtesy of Unsplash
Which is most important: the first impression or the last impression?

As you think about the customer experience, which impression is most impactful, the first one or the last one? Which one is the lasting impression?

Let's think for a moment about the customer experience lifecycle. If we think at that high level and consider when the customer first becomes aware of your brand/products: Did he hear a good story or a bad story? Which would you prefer he hears at this point?

Consider when the customer walks into your store, goes to your website, or calls you by phone. Was that a pleasant experience? Was she greeted with a warm, friendly smile and "hello?" Was the entrance clean and uncluttered? Was the website intuitive?

Those are all first impressions. What is the first thing that you want your customers to know or to see about your brand? I can guarantee you that it's something positive. If it isn't, then the chance that they'll pursue the purchase or a relationship is slim to none. No. Let's just call it as it is; the chance is none.

Now let's think about the other end of the customer experience lifecycle. Consider when your  customers are canceling their subscriptions or memberships or when they decide not to renew their product licenses. How do you handle that? Do you say "good-bye" with grace? Or do you rake  customers over the coals and force them to pay crazy termination fees - or worse yet, simply don't let them out of their contracts and continue to deduct monthly fees?

Consider when the customer has finished his purchase on your website or is hanging up with your customer service agent. Does the agent thank the customer for his business, or does he simply hang up before the customer does? After the online purchase, does the customer get a confirmation page with a clear message stating that the order has been submitted, or does she get an error page or a redirect to some other page that has nothing to do with the transaction just completed?

Those are all last impressions. How do you want the customer to remember you when it's all said and done? Do you want the customer to do business with you again in the future, should the need arise? Yes, of course.

So, which one leaves a lasting impression?

Honestly, they both do. The first impression sets the tone for what lies ahead; it sets expectations. The last impression is what we're left with; it's probably what we'll remember most about a brand.


You won't get one without the other. There won't be a last impression if you don't get the first impression right. You know what you need to do.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. -attributed to both Oscar Wilde and Will Rogers

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Is Self-Service Good for Your Business?

Image courtesy of Unsplash
Does self-service reduce or increase effort? Not just for customers but also for your business?

I wrote about technology and the customer experience a couple times last year; after all, that's what self-service is all about: technology. ATMs, online flight check-in, self-checkout grocery lanes, IVRs, online FAQs and  knowledgebases, and more.

Technology is an experience enabler, a "supporting cast" of sorts. I think there are definitely times when customers need that human touch, that warm smile, the ability to reach out and touch someone, should they have a question or an immediate need, especially one not easily solvable with technology. I don't think the need for relationships or the human experience will go away. Sometimes you just need to have a conversation. But self-service is definitely more widely accepted and used now than it's ever been.

But what does it do for your company? How does self-service help the business?

To help answer that question, I turned to Software Advice, a customer support software comparison and reviews company, and some research they did recently; specifically, as part of their research, they addressed: How does implementation of effective self-service affect the performance of the customer service department as a whole?

The chart below, which is from their report, shows the impact. (I've added the black line so that we can more clearly gauge which items saw the greatest "considerable improvement.") First-level resolution, call abandonment rate, speed to answer, and first call resolution are the metrics that seem to be most-positively impacted ("considerably improved"). These should translate to good news for the customer, too.

Some quotes from their survey participants add a bit of color commentary and show the efficiencies that self-service can introduce into an organization:
  • [Our department has] fewer customer contacts because more information is available online.
  • We have more time to spend one-on-one per contact.
  • [We’ve seen] reduced inbound contacts, which has allowed the business to scale.
  • Self-service channels have allowed us to focus our key support resources on the more difficult issues—thus enabling faster closure.
But it wasn't all good...

When customers begin completing simpler tasks themselves, agents can face a higher incidence of more complicated issues. One participant explained:

"First-call resolution was negatively impacted because the easy calls started getting handled via the [online self-service] portal, and more difficult calls—ones needing research or engineering support—made up a higher proportion of calls coming directly to customer service technicians."

Which means that some changes will need to be made as the incidence of self-service usage increases, and especially if self-service channels/options become more and more effective...

The lesson here is that implementing self-service channels will necessitate certain adjustments to service center operations. When departmental performance indicators are impacted in unexpected ways, a careful examination of all factors should be conducted to reveal the root cause and allow for necessary adjustments.

Self-service is here to stay. As a matter of fact, it's likely only going to become more pervasive. I think about when I first wrote those posts last year and compare then to now, and I think we've already seen vast improvements in self-service offerings. If you want the business to scale, if you want to improve efficiencies and reduce call volume (to free up calls and agents for more-complex issues), if you want to reduce effort for customers (with non-complex issues), and if you want to offer customers a way to answer questions or resolve issues in their preferred methods, you'll need to: (a)  evaluate if/where self-service makes sense for your business/customers or (b) update your current self-service offering to ensure that it meets the needs of your customers. At the same time, ramp up your staff (training, skill set) to prepare for handling the more-complex issues or tasks that won't be handled through self-service tools.

Since my focus is the customer experience, back to the original question about the customer: Does self-service reduce or increase customer effort? I think the answer is, "It depends." It depends on what type of self-service, the complexity of the transaction/job/issue, the ability/willingness of the customer to help himself (e.g., not a techno-phobe), and more. If self-service tools create frustration, don't answer a question, or are too difficult and hinder task completion, then you've got a problem. Now you've gone from self-service to full service, you've increased customer effort, and you've damaged the customer experience.

Customer service is the experience we deliver to our customer. It's the promise we keep to the customer. It's how we follow through for the customer. It's how we make them feel when they do business with us. -Shep Hyken

Friday, November 28, 2014

Weathering the Negativity Storm

Smiling through the misery on summit of Ben Cruachan
Today I'm pleased to present another guest post by Sarah Simon.

This post marks another installment in Sarah's series on lessons from the high country.

What the Mountain Teaches
The weather on the lower reaches of Ben Cruachan (3,684 ft/1,126 m) seems reasonable enough: cool and overcast, pretty typical for Scottish mountains.  Reaching the Cruachan Dam, the air grows increasingly cooler and damper. Two young Scottish men stop their descent to warn us: we turned around; it’s awful up there (pointing toward the mountain). Convinced no Scottish Highlands mist is a match for three hardened Colorado mountain women, we soldier upward.

Midway up the rocky gully toward the col, the mist condenses to rain and the bogs grow to an intolerable, boot-sucking mush. We don our rain coats only, too lazy to trouble ourselves with our rain pants, too. Grass gives way to rocky alpine talus, and water courses down the mountain in runnels. We push on, undeterred, past two questioning sheep giving us perplexed looks in exchange for our foolishness.  Above the high col, the rough footpath we had followed disappears, and we wander with drenched map and compass across slick rock in pea-soup clouds and steady rain to the obscured summit. Morale, you see, has reached an all-time low. Soaked and shivering, we barely celebrate reaching the top of this Munro with withered high fives and stiff summit photos before (finally) wrestling our way into our full waterproofs and beating a rapid retreat from our new-found North Atlantic hell.

Upward through the bonny Scottish weather
A chilly, damp drive on the strange side of narrow country roads returns us to our rented rural cabin where we bake our sodden clothing and bodies in front of a chock-full wood stove, warmed by homemade dinner and copious pours of red wine.  We weathered some truly miserable north Scotland mountain weather and made it out mostly intact. The next day, on the country highpoint Ben Nevis, believe me when I tell you we changed into our full waterproofs at the first sign of precipitation (and rejoiced on the summit in cold but pleasant conditions with a globally diverse extended family of mountain lovers).

What This Means for VoC and CX
For customer experience practitioners, storms of negativity most often come in the form of little dark clouds known as colleagues.

"What’s the point of this customer experience junk?  Don't you know I've got a day job?"
"We don’t need a survey. If the customer has an issue, they’ll call!"
"I'm late to the party / skipped your meetings / blew off the offer to review your survey draft, but I'm glad to critique all your hard-earned plans now!"
"Ok, but this is how we did it at my old company..."
"My team is the top performing team in our division, and we don’t have time for this nonsense."

Of all the challenges to CX success, colleagues who are bitter, cynical, passive aggressive, or just plain mean can derail your program with frightening, chilling speed. How can you push your program upward to the summit without feeling drenched, tired, and defeated by their negativity?

Proactively Prepare
Have your waterproofs in your pack and put them on before you get wet.  It will save you a lot of misery.

Negative people are going to happen. Like bad weather, they rain on your day despite your best plans and intentions. Expect them, and you won’t be disappointed.  Prepare for them and better weather the storm.

  • Clearly state and communicate your goals, and ensure your efforts and allies are aligned with these goals.
  • Obtain executive sponsorship early in your efforts, and maintain their good tidings.  It’s not cheating to have some firepower in your corner; it’s merely good sense.
  • Clearly outline your program plans, and state the anticipated or target ROI.
  • Generate excitement and energy surrounding your customer experience initiative to help repel and counter negativity because it can just be too much trouble for all but the most obstinate contrarian to swim upstream.
Put your waterproofs on before you get wet! Don’t wait until a member of the pooh-pooh club challenges you to justify your existence.

Keep a Calm, Positive State of Mind
The middle of a cold, driving rain is no place to freak out. When people panic in the mountains, accidents happen. Getting hurt or lost in bad conditions can lead to hyperthermia and grim outcomes.

When the stuff is hitting the proverbial fan, whether in the mountains or in a meeting, I remind myself of the advice of dog trainer Cesar Milan to project "calm assertive energy."  Both panic and aggression come from the same place: fear.  Fear can well up when we are being attacked by our coworkers.  It’s tempting to get angry, bare our teeth, and fight back.  But before biting your coworkers (literally or figuratively), take a deep breath.

Smile. Be pleasant. Take the moral high road. Resist the temptation to escalate. You have worked hard to make your CX program what it is today, investing time, budget, and creativity, and it hurts when someone with much less investment made criticizes your work. It takes strength to stay calm, but don’t squander energy on negativity. Make it clear you will keep your course in a calm and positive fashion.

Invite Your Dark Cloud to Contribute
Bad conditions in the mountains can bring out the worst in people, but involving a scared or angry climber in the solution-building process can refocus their energies to a positive outcome so everyone gets home safely.

It’s easy for a black hat thinker to criticize what others created, but more difficult for that person to state what should be.  Challenge your negative thinker to be creative and propose a solution. At best, you build an enhanced solution in response to their honed, critical eye.  At least, you gently and calmly sooth the complainer’s voice long enough to allow progress to take place. Alleviate fear or feelings of powerlessness by focusing the complainer’s energy on constructive - or at least non-destructive - efforts.

Cautionary Reminder: It may be best to “confront” your negative critic one-on-one in a neutral setting far from the spotlight.

Valid criticism of your customer experience efforts should be welcomed and handled with grace. But chronically negative critics are bullies that can derail your hard work if you let them.  Be prepared to face dark clouds of negativity in a proactive, positive, productive fashion.

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, November 25, 2014

15 Brand Trends for 2015

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Another year almost gone, and it's time to start sharing trends and predictions for 2015!

Last year, I shared Brand Keys' Robert Passikoff's 14 Brand Trends for 2014. This year, Robert again put together his proposed trends for the upcoming year. He again shared his thoughts on the numerology, as well, this time, obviously focusing on 15: In numerology 15 is the combination of the number 1 (representing leadership and forward movement) and the number 5 (numeric for business and finance), thus 15 becomes the fusion of leadership and forward momentum for brands and marketers.

Let's see what Robert predicts for the new year.

1. Every One of a Kind: Consumers want and expect customized and personalized products, services and experiences, fueled by...

2. Magnified Human Technology: Digital and mobile will fuel the sense of empowerment and possibility for the individual consumer.

3. Real Brand Engagement: Marketers will link “engagement” to how well the brand is perceived versus its’ category'’s Ideal, rather than counting “likes” or just trying to leverage imagery.

4. The Everything Expectation: Brands will need to accurately measure unarticulated and constantly-expanding emotional consumer expectations in order to provide significant advantages to engage, delight, and profit.

5. Real Time Becomes Real Important: Expectations of real time everything will increase and influence purchase decisions.

6. It'’s Still The Brand, Stupid: Increased consumer expectations will be accompanied by enhanced perceptions of products and services as commodities. Differentiation and ‘standing for something’ meaningful, emotional, and important to consumers will be paramount.

7. Category is King: To engage those smarter, high-expectation consumers, brands need to be smarter about their own category-specific emotional values that they can leverage and own.

8. Brands Will Get Emotional: Successful brands need to identify the emotional values in their categories and make them the foundation for meaningful positioning, differentiation, and authentic storytelling.

9. Non-Fiction Storytelling: The stories brands tell must reflect real brand values and category realities and meet consumers'’ believability criteria.

10. The Closing of the Showroom: Consumers will use five or more online sources to facilitate purchase decisions, reducing reliance on traditional brick-and-mortar retail.

11. High-End Shoppers Expect High-Tech Shopping Experiences: Watch for more RFID, beacons, and touchscreens to supercharge the shopping experience.

12. Much More Multiculturalism: As ethnic groups grow, brands and retailers will integrate a sense of culture and culture-specific brand experience with all forms of outreach.

13. Online Authenticity: As ‘The Internet of Things’ matures, consumers will expect greater security of personal purchase data, which will act as a confidence builder for online sources and the brands using them.

14. Dead-On Digital: Brands will shift their digital platform question from, "Should I be here?"” to "What should I do now that I am here?"” Success will be linked not only to outreach alone but also to  contextual relevance.

15. Going Native: Content marketing will continue to become a specialty unto itself while tools like the Digital Platform GPS will optimize placement and resolve issues related to native advertising, digital delivery platforms, and shorter consumer attention spans. Metrics will move away from counting the number of views, shares, and likes toward real brand engagement (see Trend #3).

Do you have a favorite? Or one that you'd like to add?

It’s always about timing. If it’s too soon, no one understands. If it’s too late, everyone’s forgotten. -Anna Wintour

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What the Hell is Customer Experience?

Image courtesy of Pixabay
How ingrained is the customer and his perspective in your company's DNA?

I recently came across an article/speech by the late David Foster Wallace; it starts with the following story.

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

David Foster Wallace's interpretation of this story is: the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.

While I don't disagree with that, my interpretation is: we have forgotten about the water because it's what we "live" or "live in" every day. It's just natural for us and not something we think about.

That translates nicely to customer focus and to delivering a consistently great customer experience.

I believe that every company should strive to achieve this level of customer experience maturity, where we look at each other every day and say, "What the hell is customer experience?" Why are we even talking about customer-focus or customer-centricity or customer listening or improving the customer experience? It's ridiculous. It should be what every company lives and breathes every day. There should be no concerns over executive buy-in or battles to build a business case and prove return on investment. This is a no-brainer.

Instead, we have companies/executives that...
  • still need to be sold on employees first, customers second, shareholders third
  • focus more on acquisition than on retention
  • share nothing but sales metrics in company meetings
  • sell things they shouldn't sell, just to make your numbers
  • focus solely on making their numbers
  • talk about nothing but sales metrics in executive meetings
  • don't listen to their customers
  • or listen to customers but don't act on the feedback (only listen to check a box)
  • don't make decisions based on what's best for customers
  • don't include some reference to customers in job descriptions for customer-facing positions
  • don't train employees on what it means to deliver a great customer experience
  • don't teach employees how to deliver a great customer experience
  • don't create a clear line of sight for employees to the customer so that they understand their roles in, or contributions to, delivering a great customer experience
  • don't communicate their brand promise to employees
  • don't communicate openly and transparently with employees
  • who then can't live the brand promise and deliver on it
  • don't explain their vision or purpose to employees
  • don't understand customers or their needs
  • listen to customers but only focus on the metrics, not on improving the experience
  • develop products without understanding customer needs
  • are focused on shareholder value
  • don't make the employee experience a priority
  • don't hire the right people 
  • don't celebrate achievements or customer experience greatness
  • have siloed organizations
  • ... and the list could go on...
What's the purpose of a business? To create (and to nurture) a customer. Enough said. Everyone should be marching to those orders. Every decision we make should focus on and lead to that outcome. First.

When customer-thinking is part of your culture, when delivering a great customer experience is ingrained in the DNA, when everyone speaks "customer," then you've achieved the "What the hell is water?" level of customer experience maturity. Here's to hoping that that's not too far off for your company.

When you’re trying to make an important decision, and you’re sort of divided on the issue, ask yourself: If the customer were here, what would she say? -Dharmesh Shah

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Are You Putting Marbles in a Bowl?

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Are you listening to act - or are you just putting marbles in a bowl?

Probably the most important component of listening to the voice of the customer is acting on what you hear. In order to do that, we must first optimize how we are listening.

What do I mean by that?

When we ask customers for feedback, it's imperative that we make the most of that conversation. I'm specifically referring to surveys, but I suppose this could apply to other listening posts. We must ask questions in a way that gets us the information we need in the clearest, most-detailed way possible. We can't improve the experience if we don't know what's wrong. We can't coach our employees if we don't know what to coach them on, nor can we praise and recognize without knowing what or why.

I recently attended a conference where, after some of the presentations, attendees were asked to rate the speakers. In order to do so, we were told to use marbles; as we left the room, we could pick a colored marble that matched how we felt about the session: green for spot on, yellow for OK but missed the mark, and red for not so much. After one particular session, I saw that the bowl contained quite a few more yellow marbles than green ones.

This got me thinking, as these things often do.

How on earth does this tell the organizer how or why this particular speaker or presentation missed the mark?

Listening is great, but listening without understanding is pointless. Marbles might tell us sentiment, but they don't tell us why. Using marbles might be a creative way to measure performance, but that's all it is. It's not insightful at all.

That brings up a few important points to remember when you're designing a survey:
  • Worry less about how it looks or how fun it is and more about what it will tell you
  • Ask the right questions; ask for understanding
  • Probe for details; don't just focus on that "one number"
  • Always offer a text box that allows respondents to provide feedback in an unstructured way
  • Don't focus on the metric; focus on the customer and how to better the experience
  • Assign an owner to each question and hold that owner accountable for actions on that feedback
  • Ask questions in a way that ensures the feedback will be actionable
Any initiative to improve the customer experience will be unsuccessful without understanding the customer and his needs. To do that, we must have the right data at our fingertips.

Want more tips on survey design? Take a look at this post: 22 Tips for Proper Survey Design.

Statistics were magic like this: they could tell you with near-certainty that a thing would occur, without a hint of when or where. -Hugh Howey, Shift

Friday, November 14, 2014

Customer Experience: Art or Science?

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I originally wrote today's post for InsideCXM. It appeared on their site on August 12, 2014. 

Do you think there's a little art and a little science involved when it comes to delivering a great customer experience?

I do.

I read recently that "art is reason applied without limits, geared towards an ideal and guided by the practical," while "science is reason applied within a framework, geared towards the practical and guided by an ideal." What do you think? Does it apply here?

Artists have a goal in mind, and they are free to use their creativity to achieve that goal, e.g., create a painting. They are not stifled by rules or guidelines. Scientists have a framework within which they must work, right. They have guidelines and research and theories, and they are limited to staying within that box.

As I thought about how this relates to customer experience, I decided to differentiate art and science a bit further. Can the two work together? Do they belong together?

can be taught (skills).
Art is within you (attitude).
So hire for art and train for science, right?

Or said another way…

Science is hard skills, i.e., those things that can be taught.
Art is soft skills, i.e., those things that lie within us, like personality, attitude, and professionalism.

Science is rules, processes, policies, data, and tools.
Art is the person, who you are, what’s within you.

Those rules and tools are necessary for the person to do the job, but it’s who they are that will dictate if or how they use them to deliver a great experience.

Science is the script.
Art is going beyond the script and being human; it’s how you treat people.

Perhaps we need the script simply as a guideline, but we allow employees to go beyond the script and do what’s right for the customer in the moment.

Science is training and education.
Art is creativity and common sense.

Employees must know what it means to deliver a great customer experience, but absent that they should also be able to apply common sense to do so. This is better explained as knowing the right thing to do and doing the right thing.

Science is practical. It’s taking what you’ve learned and applying it.
Art is ideal and idealistic. It’s OK to think outside of the box, go the extra mile, and do the little extras to delight the customer. It’s also about knowing what delights some and doesn’t delight others.

Science is known laws, facts, and reason.
Art is creativity and emotions.

These two together would make for a great customer experience. Again, science becomes the guidelines, while art allows the employee to do what they need to do for each unique individual and individual situation.

Science is cold and impersonal.
Art is warm and personal.

I’d much rather be on the receiving end of a customer experience that comes from art than from science. Perhaps this is one dichotomy where the two don’t work well together. Or perhaps the art tempers the science in this instance.

Science is technology.
Art is human.

The technology facilitates the customer experience that the employee delivers.

Science is data driven.
Art is emotion driven.

Take what you know about your customers and use that to create a personalized, empathetic experience. Science is customer understanding, while art is its application.

Science is metrics and KPIs.
Art is a smile, a happy customer.

When the business focuses on the science side of things, they focus on the metrics; when they are truly customer-focused and customer-centric, there’s art to that because we focus on the customer rather than on moving the numbers.

Science is objective.
Art is subjective.

Science is numbers-driven and not influenced by human feelings or emotion. Art is quite the opposite: personal, individual, emotional. Combining the facts with the emotions makes for a good customer experience. Said another way…

Science is rational.
Art is emotional.

Both are necessary to deliver a great customer experience. You want your frontline to take a rational approach to how they interact with customers, yet apply emotion and empathy to personalize and humanize the experience.

Science is metrics.
Art is stories.

In order to sell the importance of focusing on the customer experience to your executives, you’ll need both.

Based on these comparisons, it seems that customer experience requires a solid mix of both art and science. It’s not just one or the other; it’s both working hand in hand. They’re the yin and yang of customer experience. They complement each other.

Consider the framework under which you ask your employees to deliver a great customer experience. Have you provided them with some bumper guards (the science) but allowed them to unleash their creativity (the art) to do what’s right for the customer?

What do you think?

Science provides an understanding of a universal experience, and arts provides a universal understanding of a personal experience. -Mae C. Jemison

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

18 Reasons to Map Customer Journeys

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Have you started journey mapping yet? Or are you still wondering why it's an important tool to have in your customer experience management toolbox?

I've written and talked about journey mapping so much this year, even suggesting back in January that we make it the year of the journey map. I think customer experience professionals have made huge inroads in that regard this year. I hear so many people talking about mapping and so many prospects and clients asking about it. Progress. And yet, there are still plenty of folks who don't understand how powerful the maps can be/are as a CX tool.

Throughout the year, I've written about different ways that maps can help you advance your CX strategy. I thought I'd compile them all here in one place.

Use journey maps to...
  1. get executive buy-in to focus on the customer experience
  2. get organizational buy-in for customer focus and customer centricity
  3. understand your customer and his interactions with your organization 
  4. build empathy for the customer and what he's going through as he interacts with your organization
  5. shift CX thinking from touchpoints to journeys
  6. shift CX thinking from inside-out to outside-in
  7. align the organization around a common cause
  8. provide a clear line of sight for employees to the target: customers
  9. help both frontline and back office employees understand how they impact the customer experience 
  10. influence talent requirements and hiring decisions
  11. train and coach employees about the customer experience
  12. onboard employees and indoctrinate them in the CX culture
  13. speak a universal language (customer)
  14. break down organizational silos
  15. get a single view of the customer 
  16. identify moments of truth and performance measurement opportunities
  17. design/improve the customer experience (foundation for CX strategy)
  18. identify and update/fix/kill inefficient touchpoints and processes, rules, policies that don't make sense
What am I missing? If you've mapped customer journeys, what other activities have you used your maps for? What other benefits have you witnessed as a result of mapping? How do you use the maps?

Remember, don't map for the sake of mapping. We're not just checking a box, to say that we created maps. They are not the endgame; they haven't been dubbed "the backbone of customer experience management efforts" for nothing. Journey maps are a valuable tool in your company's effort to improve the customer experience.

A closing thought... maps aren't just for the customer experience. Map the employee experience, the partner experience, and the experience of any other constituent with whom you interact, including your internal customers.

A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected. -Reif Larsen, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

Thursday, November 6, 2014

CX / VoC: DIY or Hire a Guide?

High on Iztaccihuatl, after a successful summit bid
Today I'm pleased to present another guest post by Sarah Simon.

This post marks another installment in Sarah's series on lessons from the high country.

What the Mountain Teaches
Eyeing an aggressive objective that might be slightly out of reach, mountaineers are faced with a choice: do we hire a guide or go it alone?  This isn't a decision made lightly. All of the rational factors to be made get muddled with emotional meddlers like pride, hubris, and daring blended with apprehension, worry, and fear.  Attempting to brush matters of the heart and the ego aside, climbers take several factors into consideration before deciding whether to hire a professional guide or attempt a climbing objective unassisted.

This past February, my climbing team faced this "hire some help or go solo" decision when attempting a few central Mexican volcanoes, including the famed Iztaccihuatl (17,159 ft / 5,230 m); the snowy white woman sleeping east of Mexico City.  Here are some of the factors we weighed, considerations we batted around, and decisions finally made.

Q. What technical challenges does this climb pose and does our team have the technical ability to achieve this safely without putting ourselves at risk?

A. Our climb requires minimal technical skills that all mountaineers should possess. Some easy 3rd class scrambling, crevasse-free glaciers, and snow slopes gentle enough to require crampons and only one ax.

Conclusion: Skill requirements don’t warrant a guide.

Q. Does everyone in the party have the required gear and the experience to use it effectively?  Do we bring our trusted old personal gear or rent and abuse someone else's?  Furthermore, do we even want to haul all this crap from the States to our jump off point?

A. Gear required for this trip is moderate and can fit in one large per person duffel to be checked with the airline. Basic outdoor layers including light climbing bibs and mid-weight full-shank mountaineering boots, one alpine ax, light crampons, glacier goggles, and backpacks are all that is needed.

Conclusion: Gear requirements don’t warrant rental or a guide.

Time to Plan and Execute
A. How many days exist between now and our climb date? Do we have time to pull all these planning pieces together or do we just hire a guide on short notice?

Q. Among us we have two family men, two career people, one small business owner, and a so-called “dirtbag climber” working at least two jobs to make ends meet. (For the record, I have yet to meet a dirtbag climber who takes offense to this title.)  No one has time to explore thousands of hotels in Mexico City and beyond, obtain park climbing permits, or plan driving and climbing routes.

Conclusion: For our own sanity, we should hire a guide.

Cultural Considerations
Q. Who speaks the language here? What cultural faux pas do we need to avoid? Could some of our everyday dress or our behavior offend? What food is safe to eat? Do we tip? How much? Will our favorite trail foods be available?  Would the cartel target us for kidnapping?

A. Two of us speak elementary Spanish, while the other two speak Bosnian first, English second, and not a dribble of Spanish. The mountains we are targeting will take us out of the big city and into the hinterlands. One of the volcanoes we have our eyes on lies right on the border between “safe” and “cartel” according to the CIA.

Conclusion: Guide, please!

Knowledge of Terrain
Q. Who knows these mountains?  What conditions are the approach trails?  How steep is the snow and in what condition this season? Are we ready to navigate the roads out of Mexico City into the boondocks surrounding this gigantic metro area?

A. I have never climbed Iztaccihuatl or any of the other mountains on the itinerary, nor have anyone else on the team, and that’s sort of the whole point of this adventure - to climb a few peaks new to us all.  More to the point, none of us knows our way around the roads of this beast known as Ciudad de México.

Conclusion: Guide, please!

Q. Does Mexico City even have winter?  Will our mountains be accessible this time of year?  Will the roads be open?  What about extreme heat or wildfire?

A. Sure, there are wet and dry seasons to worry about, but some mountains pose seasonal challenges more extreme than this one, and as it stands, we're visiting during a mostly warm, dry period – prime climbing season for these volcanoes.

Conclusion: Who needs a guide?

Q. A cash-centric cost-benefit analysis takes place before a climbing party makes the decision to hire a guide or forego the guide to head off alone, and this trip is no exception. We consider costs for ground transportation, including rental cars, hotel rates, and park fees, never mind the “special fees” also known as bribes that one tends to be ordered to pay in certain locations.

A. On the surface, a guide seems like an expensive luxury we can do without.  However, our guide nabs deep discounts on hotels, drives a van with plenty of room for gear, sparing us a rental, and even serves as our de facto translator and BS negotiator.  His value is worth his weight in golden pesos.

Conclusion: It’s false economization to forego a guide.  Hire!

What This Means for VoC / CX
In-house customer experience teams face a similar dilemma when deciding whether or not to hire a vendor or consultant and to what degree.  Here are some factors to consider when faced with the “DIY or hire” decision.

Q. Does your team have an evangelist?  A data analyst?  An insights story teller?  What about VoC program architects?  Survey methodologists, statisticians, sample designers, marketing communications experts or project managers?

A. If your team is well-stocked with all requisite skills for program success, go for it (in-house). Otherwise, augment your internal skill set with third-party talent, as needed.  Flexible a la cart options are typically offered by vendors, meaning you don’t need to buy the entire ranch to get the solution you need (unless you want to).

Q. What VoC / CX technology and tools does your team own?  Which do you want to buy and which do you want to rent?  Do the members of your team possess the skills to utilize these tools effectively?

A.  Tools of the VoC / CX trade vary but can include technology to facilitate database management, data analysis, survey design and deployment, web programming, and Mar Comm tools.  Make a careful assessment of costs to acquire technology before doing so and be sure to consider the total cost of ownership, including staff training and ongoing operation costs.  Bear in mind that often the purchase of a consultant's time comes equipped with their expert use of various VoC and CX tools.

Q. How is the bandwidth on your team?  How far out are your projects scheduled?  Is your team able to take on new projects or learn new skills?  Who on your team has time to roadmap and communicate your customer experience vision and execute the comprehensive VoC strategy to inform that plan?

A. If personnel resources are plentiful, then executing VoC and CX efforts in-house can be quick and efficient.  Be realistic, though, measuring goals against actual and forecasted bandwidth.  Good intentions don’t matter if staff hours are tight.  Don’t wait for bandwidth emergencies to engage a vendor.  A solid relationship with a consultant with an intimate knowledge of your program and your organization can be critical in times of need.

Cultural Considerations
Q.  Take an honest look at your organization’s culture.  Are you extremely confident navigating your corporate political environment?  How engaged with your customer experience initiatives are your colleagues across functions?  Would a consultant be well-received for their expertise or sniped at as an outsider?

A. Your team has a gut-level knowledge of your corporate culture that no vendor rep could ever match. You’ve also spent time and energy fostering internal relationships on a daily basis.  That being said, vendors typically function in a wide range of corporate cultures and can bring loads of experience applicable to navigating the political waters of your organization.  CX consultants can also help you bolster the reputation of your team and your program through the development of an internal communications plan. 

Terrain Knowledge
Q.  How many employees work for your organization?  Is your reach global, regional, domestic, or local?  Is yours a standalone, office of the Chief Customer Officer organization or bundled within another function like marketing, general business intelligence, or customer support?

A. I've asked clients to explain to me where their teams fall in the corporate family tree, and my jaw drops as they effortlessly draw a tangled family tree that’s Greek to me. On the client side, you inherently own a terrain expertise that no consultants will ever posses.  Far from needing a guide to navigate your internal terrain, you’ll find yourself in the role of guide helping a vendor to understand the internal workings of your organization.

Q. Is budget scarce or plentiful?  Are people in your organization feeling innovative or fearful?  Is everyone scurrying around busy, or is there some cross-functional bandwidth?  What about recent management changes?

A. Though it does your CX program no good to wait around forever, some corporate seasons will be more forgiving than others.  A consultant can help you identify which variables to assess, but taking a close look at the general mood of your company is best handled by an insider.

Q. What type of budget is available for Customer Experience efforts and which team will foot the bill?  What hurdles exist to obtaining your target budget?

A. After reviewing a vendor RFP, an in-house solution may appear cheaper on the surface, but carefully consider the total ownership costs of a DIY solution.  A certain number of “boots on the ground” are required to execute effective VoC and CX within your company, though building an in-house team entails fully-loaded staffing costs, tools, training, development, staff retention, and team management.  Vendors are never cheap, but they can help you leverage their staff and technology for a good value to your organization.  A vendor can also assist with an ROI model that helps justify your CX budget. 

Deciding whether to build your own CX program, fully outsource the project, or find a hybrid middle ground isn’t an easy decision. Be certain to put aside emotionally charged matters like pride and fear and cautiously weigh the practical pros and cons of skill, tools, time, culture, terrain, season, and budget. Careful cost-benefit analyses will guide you in deciding “build or buy?” when it comes to creating and augmenting your infrastructure.  Be flexible in exploring hybrid options and keep your VoC / CX climbing objective in sight to stay the course.

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.