Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why Are Fire Engines Red?

Image courtesy of freefotouk
Do you know why fire engines are red?

When I was a kid, my siblings, cousins, and I used to have fun tripping up on the answer to this riddle (or anti-joke, as it's apparently referred to) about fire engines. Have you ever heard it? It goes like this.

Why are fire engines red?

Well, books are read, and magazines are read, too. Two plus two is four. Four times three is 12. There are 12 inches in a ruler. Queen Elizabeth was a ruler. Queen Elizabeth was also a ship. Ships sail in the sea. Fish swim in the sea. Fish have fins. Finns fought the Russians. Russians are always red. Fire engines are always rushin'. And THAT is why fire engines are red.

Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

I used this riddle recently to address a situation that had gotten a little out of control. The initiative appeared to be humming along smoothly on the surface, but when you peeled back a few layers, it was actually a mess.

And that's what the riddle represents: those layers - those non-cohesive, disjointed layers - of a project, a program, an initiative, etc. In this case, of course, I'm going to tie it to your efforts to improve the customer experience and your customer-focused culture (or lack thereof).

What are my takeaways, from both the riddle and my situation that sparked a trip down memory lane?

Leadership is key. Someone needs to champion the effort and inspire action. That's the CEO.

In line with leadership is overall governance. Any effort to improve the customer experience requires involvement from an oversight committee and executives from across the business.

There must be a clear line of sight between what you're doing and what the customer is experiencing. I'll write more about "line of sight" in an upcoming post, but this was the one topic that really stood out for me in that riddle: there's a goal there (identifying why fire engines are red), but it's a pretty muddled path to get to it.

And yet, did we really get to it? Do we really understand now why fire engines are red? Be sure to understand and outline what the desired business outcomes are as a result of your efforts.

At the same time, priorities should become clear. What's our purpose? Why are we doing what we're doing? Why do we care if fire engines are red?

Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all. -Peter Drucker

The riddle also made me think about process efficiency and customer effort. There's a better way to get from Point A to Point B. Don't make your customers (or your employees) jump through hoops to get a job done.

Simplify. OK, this is similar to process efficiency, but in all things, keep it simple. Less is more.

Communication is one of your most important tools. Answering questions and simply having a conversation both become more difficult when you can't say what you mean in a clear and concise manner. Communicate with clarity and with transparency, otherwise, your employees and your customers will be as confused as you are.

When you start getting answers to questions like in the fire engine riddle, perhaps it's time to do some real root cause analysis.

And sometimes, just sometimes, common sense prevails.

It is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises, but only performance is reality.  -Harold Geneen

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Perception is Nine-Tenths of the Law

Image courtesy of quinn.anya
Did you know that perception is nine-tenths of the law?

I know. I know. The saying goes, "Possession is nine-tenths of the law." I like the perception version, though, when it comes to the customer experience.

According to Wikipedia, "possession is nine-tenths of the law" means: in the absence of clear and compelling testimony or documentation to the contrary, the person in actual, custodial possession of the property is presumed to be the rightful owner.

Then I think "perception is nine-tenths of the law" means: in the absence of clear and compelling testimony or documentation to the contrary, the person in actual, custodial possession of the belief or perception is presumed to be the rightful owner; it is his reality.

What, then, is a perception? According to Oxford Dictionaries: perception is "a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression."

There's perception, and then there's reality. Are they two different things? Not necessarily. (Note I didn't flat out say, "No.") My perception IS my reality.

So, if the customer's perception is his reality, is it your reality, too?

Your perception may be different. But is that OK?

If there are opposing perceptions, then clearly your reality is out of alignment with your customer's. Why? Read on.

How are those perceptions formed? Through expectations (brand promise, marketing, word of mouth), many of which you set, and performance (actual interactions with the brand), which is on you.

Does the company have perceptions about how it's performing for the customer? Sure. Are they accurate? Probably not - not without the customer's perceptions! Especially not when we have statistics like this:

80% of big companies described themselves as delivering “superior” service, but only 8% of customers say they’ve experienced “superior” service from these companies. -The New Yorker

So what's my point? Just that - your company may think that it's delivering a great customer experience, but instead, the customer's perception is opposite, and it prevails. Why? Because he's the customer. Because without the customer, you have no business.

To confirm the discrepancy between perceptions (or in realities), we need to listen to customers through various channels.

In the customer experience, the customer's perception is not only their reality but also yours. And if we're going to change perceptions, then we need to change reality.

How do we do that? By turning customer listening into insights into action. Acting on the voice of the customer means taking customer perception, understanding it as his reality, and either accepting it or improving it. If I were you, I'd focus on the latter. Perception is nine-tenths...

There are limitations, for sure. Is the customer always right? No. But he is the customer, and you must always do right by him.

All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth. -Friedrich Nietzsche

Your intentions don't matter. Perception is reality. If people perceive you the wrong way, it doesn't matter what your intentions are. -Unknown

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The 6th Sense of Customer Experience, Part 2

Image courtesy of SnaPsi Crankep
There are three ways that the sixth sense can be used in designing and delivering a great customer experience. What are they?

Last week, as a follow-up to my post about The 15 Senses of a Great Customer Experience, I wrote a two-part series about one of those senses, the sixth sense. In Part 1, I shared why the sixth sense is important to the customer experience and mentioned that there are three ways this sense is used. I focused that post on the first way: proactive service.

Today, in Part 2, I write about the second and third ways to apply the sixth sense. I think you'll like these two! To learn what they are and to find out more about each of them, please check out the post I wrote for

 Note: The views expressed in this post for are mine and do not necessarily represent the views of SDL/

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tools to Deliver an Amazing Customer Experience

Do you know what Amazement is?

A couple months ago, Shep Hyken sent me his latest book, Amaze Every Customer Every Time: 52 Tools for Delivering the Most Amazing Customer Service on the Planet. I'm making my way through some great books on my bookshelf, and today I'll share some amazing tools and learnings from Shep's book.

I thrilled that Shep chose to write about Ace Hardware. I've always loved Ace (I hated the day my local Ace closed/relocated) and believe they truly live up to their slogan: "Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks."  I was excited to dive into this book and was not disappointed.

The book contains so much insightful detail about how you can amaze your customers, and so, as you can imagine, I was really torn on which tools to write about - there are so many. Shep compiled quite the comprehensive collection of tools that drive an amazing customer experience. In the end, I decided to focus on the chapter (Culture) that outlines tools to help companies to create a service culture.

First, let me tell you how Shep defines Amazement. It is:
  • the level of customer experience that gives you a clear advantage in any economy or marketplace
  • the competitive advantage that separates good and great companies
  • the advantage that makes competitors start to think about how unfair it is to be competing in the same space as you
  • what makes it easy to stand out and win repeat business, as well as create evangelists and promoters
  • what the "best of the best" companies have figured out they need to do
How do you get to that point? Your culture, your employee experience, and your workplace in general are drivers of how well you can deliver an amazing customer experience. I'm a huge fan of putting the employee more first to ensure the customer is front and center at all times. That will be come clearer as I briefly summarize the 13 tools Shep details to create an amazing culture.

1. To be the best place to buy, be the best place to work: This concept is a great way to summarize what I just said about putting the employee more first. There is a ton of data to support that the employee experience drives the customer experience. Shep writes about being amazing from the inside out and not saying one thing and expecting or doing another. To that point, Ace employees experience helpful before they are expected to be helpful. Great approach!

2. Don't take the easy way out: Do the little extras. Pay attention to the details. Do the things your competitors probably won't do for customers. Create Moments of Magic, as Shep calls them.

3. Awesome responsibility: This is a great concept to remember. People buy from people, and that means that, to your customers, your employees are the company. That's an awesome responsibility for your employees to bear, but that means that, more than ever, how you treat and prepare them to shoulder that responsibility is critical

4. Defend the culture: When we see another employee step outside the line of the customer-centric culture, graciously and politely step in to assist. You might actually be teaching the employee something he didn't know was acceptable.

5. Shift your vocabulary: This is one of my favorites. Words are so powerful. By choosing to say the right thing or using a different tone, by changing our words, we can change feelings, relationships, and the way we do business.

6. Adopt a customer-first mindset: Delivering an amazing customer experience is everyone's job, regardless of title. Shep provides a great example from Disney of the three "jobs" every employee at the park has: the job he was hired to do, taking care of the guest, and keeping the park clean.

7. Celebrate uniqueness: Recognize that everyone is unique - personality, background, experience - and that that uniqueness is what makes each individual special. Everyone brings a different perspective to the table, allowing for growth. And in the case of Ace, it certainly helps with the local/community feel that each Ace location is allowed to operate under.

8. Great ideas come from everyone: Similar to, or perhaps because of, that uniqueness, don't be afraid to open up to everyone in the organization to solicit ideas for the business, in Ace's case, for being helpful and for solving problems.

9. Consistency: Consistency means offering quality products and service every day - in such a way that it creates confidence in your customers' minds, a confidence of predictability. Personally, this is what I like about Ace. I know that, every time I shop there, someone's going to walk up to me, greet me, and help me find exactly what I'm looking for.

10. Storytelling: Stories are what legends are made of. At Ace, the culture is driven by storytelling, by sharing stories of how someone has been helpful with a customer. Stories that support the culture are self-perpetuating, inspiring others to do the same.

11. Being a committed learner: Knowledge is power. Find a subject that you're passionate about and learn everything you can about it. I'm always amazed at how much Ace employees know. These guys are passionate about what they do and learn all they can about the topic; this effort is supported by Ace, which supports continuing education programs.

12. Mentoring: Take new employees under your wing and teach them the ropes. What better way for them to learn and to quickly assimilate into the culture.

13. Starting over: Great way to end this chapter - you're only as good as your last customer. Once you've served that customer, and he's happy, the next one is going to come into your establishment, and you begin the process of helping that customer all over again. No matter how good you think your reputation is, you need to earn/re-earn it one customer at a time.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Lots of practical tips and real-life examples of the tools that Shep outlines. They really help to put it all into context, and I have a greater appreciation for the Ace brand and for how they come to deliver the amazing service they deliver every day.

The culture is made - or destroyed - by its articulate voices. -Ayn Rand

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Talk to Your Customers!

Image courtesy of moiggi.interactive
Are you listening to your customers and really, really hearing what they're telling you? 

Don't think that's important? Then be sure to read all the way to the end of this post - the proof is in the pudding!

I got my hands on The Zendesk Benchmark Report for Q4 2013 this week. It's a global report based on actual service and support interactions with 16,000 companies in 125 countries (using Zendesk to provide customer service). The key metrics Zendesk focuses on in compiling this report are customer support efficiency, customer self-service behavior, and customer engagement. Findings were reported by country and by industry.

Satisfaction scores, which are based on aggregated responses to a question about whether they were satisfied with the support interaction, by country didn't vary much for the top 10 countries, with fewer than 10 percentage points separating #10 from #1. Norwegian customers were most satisfied.

By industry, retail and travel ended up toward the bottom of the heap during this crucial quarter for both industries. Surprising, though, are the industries at the top of the list: (4) education, (3) real estate, (2) government/non-profit, and (1) IT services/consultancy. Government? Real Estate?

Focusing on retail, we know that Q4 and the holiday season are critical for retailers. But satisfaction with the support they offered dropped not only from last year (2012) but also from the prior quarter. Zendesk took a closer look to understand this decline and discovered that ticket volume (and, hence, agent workload) increased 42% from Q3 to Q4 2013 - compared to 34% for the same period in 2012. The largest spike, not surprisingly, occurred from November to December. Retailers were clearly understaffed to handle the increased volume.

Success Stories
It's not all gloom and doom. In the midst of it all, there are always success stories. I hate to call them outliers, but there are just those companies who tend to shine - those who get it. Those companies who shore up, prepare, and can turn on a dime to handle what gets thrown their way. Two such companies are Bonanza and NatureBox.

Bonanza is an online marketplace that saw a 35% increase in ticket volume during this period. In addition to educating and empowering their staff to become subject matter experts, they listened to customers and made some improvements to the shopping experience that reduced customer inquiries and, ultimately, ticket volume. Their improvement was a small one (letting customers know when to expect their purchases) but with a major impact.

NatureBox, a healthy snack delivery subscription service, saw a 46% increase in inquiries from their customers in Q4. They uncovered the root cause and improved their support processes to the delight of their customers. Rather than diverting all communications, regardless of the mode in which they were received, to email, they called customers. Lesson learned: contact your customers in their preferred modes or how they reached out to you initially. For NatureBox, those calls had the added bonus of relationship-building - and they were able to ask customers for feedback on how to improve the experience.

Imagine that - what a novel concept: Talk to your customers! And act on their feedback!

For NatureBox, the result is truly delighted customers - and a satisfaction score that is 20 points higher than the Q4 retail industry benchmark.

What ever you do, do it well. Do it so well that, when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do. -Walt Disney

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The 6th Sense of Customer Experience, Part 1

Image courtesy of SnaPsi Crankep
A couple months ago, I wrote a post called The 15 Senses of a Great Customer Experience. The last of the 15 senses that I wrote about was the sixth sense: It doesn't hurt to be able to perceive those things that are not seen or immediately apparent. That intuition is something that will allow you to delight your customers.

What does that mean?

Let's consider first what a "sixth sense" is. As we know, we have the five senses, but many believe that we also have a sixth sense, or the ability to see or perceive the unknown or the unseen. Merriam-Webster defines it as "a keen intuitive power."

Why is that important to customer experience? I think there are three ways to look at this sixth sense. To learn what those three ways are and to find out more about each of them, please check out the post I wrote for In this first post in a two-part series, I address the first way that a sixth sense can impact the customer experience.

 Note: The views expressed in this post for are mine and do not necessarily represent the views of SDL/

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Journeys, Not Touchpoints

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I named this blog CX Journey™ for a reason - to convey that the the customer experience is just that, a journey.

What does that mean? It means that, 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. When you just consider touchpoints and single moments of truth, you're focusing on transactional relationships, not on trusted, long-lasting relationships.

Clients often ask if it's OK to only listen to customers at, and improve the experience with, the customer service touchpoint (or any other singular touchpoint). My answer is "No." Why? Because the customer experience isn't about just one touchpoint, it's about all of the touchpoints, all of the interactions, that a customer has with a company. And, for added emphasis, I like to share Chris Zane's quote: Customer service starts where customer experience fails.

Then there are those companies who listen at various touchpoints, think that their customers are happy, and yet still have dismal retention rates. What's going on there? Well, the sum of the individual touchpoints does not necessarily equal the whole. The key here is "individual." Companies are looking at these touchpoints through their silos rather than looking at the big picture and thinking about the customer journey and how all the points connect and interact.

I recently came across a report published by McKinsey that supports this thinking. Of all the content in the report, I particularly liked this chart below that shows that customer journeys are better predictors of key business outcomes than touchpoints.

The report states that companies that focus on customer journeys have the following attributes:
  • Metrics are defined for the journey as well as for the touchpoints
  • Those journey metrics - not just metrics in their control - are shared with the frontline
  • Data cubes bring together business outcomes, attitudinal, behavioral, and operations data for root cause analysis
  • Root-cause problem solving is conducted within and across functions
  • They conduct active tests, e.g., create mini labs to test solutions in cross-siloed environments, and understand the value of failures
  • A common language is used to reinforce the values of a journey-oriented culture
I subsequently found a presentation on Slideshare that further speaks to their findings, including noting that focusing on the journey creates what they call "stacked wins." i.e., improved customer satisfaction, revenue growth, reduced costs, and improved employee engagement. They also expand on the things that companies who get it right do; they...
  • Define a clear, compelling value prop that's delivered through journeys
  • Know that journeys matter and why
  • Continuously innovate end-to-end experiences
  • Use journeys to reinforce frontline culture
  • Optimize operational processes and systems to ensure consistent delivery
  • User journeys to define metrics and their governance system
What can you do? There's no better way to instill "journey thinking" than to create customer journey maps. Look at different customers, different customer needs, different jobs they are trying to do with your company, and how they are trying to achieve them. Journey maps support and facilitate the things that McKinsey says journey-centric companies do. Journey maps are collaborative and shared - they are the one tool that can help breakdown organizational silos and change the corporate mindset from touchpoints and silos to journeys.

It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end. -Hemingway

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Do You Have a 12th Man Advantage?

The original 12th man - Texas A&M
Does your company have a 12th man advantage?

On the heels of Super Bowl XLVIII, I think we're all now familiar with the term "12th Man." In case you unplugged or tuned out for the last 72 hours, here's how it's defined on Wikipedia:

The 12th man or 12th player is a term for the fans within a stadium during American football and association football games. As most football leagues allow a maximum of eleven players per team on the playing field at a time, referring to a team's fans as the 12th man implies that they have a potentially helpful role in the game. Infrequently, the term has referred to individuals having a notable connection to their football team.

 I love this concept. It's about fan participation as much as it is about fan appreciation.

And it immediately reminded me of "the empty chair" that Jeff Bezos uses to remind managers and executives attending his staff meetings about the most important person in the room, i.e., the customer. The folks over at Openview Labs had the same thought.

Also from Wikipedia:

The presence of fans can have a profound impact on how the teams perform, an element in the home advantage. Namely, the home team fans would like to see their team win the game. Thus these fans will often create loud sounds or chant in hopes of distracting, demoralizing and confusing the opposing team while they have possession of the ball; or to persuade a referee to make a favorable decision. Noises are made by shouting, whistling, stomping and various other techniques. 

The effects of the "12th man" vary widely, but can be put in two categories. The first is simply psychological, the effect of showing the home team that they are appreciated, and showing the away team that they are somewhat unwelcome. The second directly relates to the deafening effects of a loud crowd.

In addition to the empty chair, I got to thinking about the deafening noise and the idea of helping your team succeed. And that got me thinking about two things: the voice of the customer and the benefits of raving fans.

At this point, I probably don't need to tout the finer points of listening to the voice of the customer. In the case of 12th man, those voices are heard loud and clear. And they are working to help their teams succeed. Ultimately, that's what your customers do for you when they provide you with feedback about their experiences, good or bad.

The voice of the customer becomes just a little bit sweeter when it's coming from your raving fans. Why? They are so important to the success of the brand.

Raving fans...
  • want to see the brand succeed and grow.
  • are happy to provide feedback, good or bad, to ensure that happens.
  • are less price sensitive.
  • choose the brand over the competition.
  • can't live without the brand, accept no substitutes.
  • are advocates; no, stronger. They are evangelists. They spread the word about your brand.
  • wear your brand, and want to show that they are part of something bigger than themselves. Tattoos, anyone? Have their own number?
  • openly recruit new members to the community.
Bottom line: They want their teams to win. Know any diehard Seahawks fans? Google "Seahawks tattoo." Yea, they've stuck with their team through good times and bad (lots of bad). And yet, they still proudly wear their badge of belonging.

So, does your company have a 12th man advantage? Are your customers still talking about you... 48 hours later?

If you really want to 'own' a customer, if you want a booming business, you have to go beyond satisfied customers and create Raving Fans. -Ken Blanchard