Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Do you only communicate with customers when you want something?

It's primary election season here in the States, and I was just reminded of California's impending primary election when I got our election booklet in the mail last week. Along with that, I also received several pieces of marketing ("vote for me") literature from some of the candidates in my district.

Well, you know how this works by now. That got me thinking...

Why do I not hear from these candidates any other time during their terms, until it's time for re-election. How am I supposed to know who you are and what you've done for me? Or what you do for your constituents, in general?

This isn't just a problem for politicians; companies are guilty, as well.

Is yours guilty of this? You only communicate when it relates to one of these four "guilty pleasures:"
  • It's time to renew a contract
  • It's time to get paid (invoice)
  • You want to sell something
  • You want something
How about communicating with your customers about other things, like:
  • Asking for their feedback so that you can genuinely improve their experience
  • Or better yet, listening and hearing what they say (communication is more than just talking)
  • Informing them what you've done with their feedback
  • Saying "thank you for your business"
  • Sharing news about what you're doing in and for the community
  • Creating a community for like-minded, like-purposed individuals
  • You get the drift - things not related to the four "guilty pleasures" above
Here's the rub, though. Don't communicate just to communicate. We all get enough spam in our inboxes and junk in our mailboxes. Make it meaningful communication. Customers can see through marketing messages disguised as good will communications.

Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something. -Plato

And make sure you know your intended audience, i.e., tailor the message to me, to the things I care about. Oh, I guess that means you actually need to get to know me. That's another rule you need to adhere to in order to be viewed as genuine.

Don't force your customers to ask, "What have you done for me lately?" when you come around asking for things. This goes right to the heart of "value." When customers understand the value that you deliver, paying the bills and renewing those contracts become just a little easier.

You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. -Dale Carnegie

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Creating a Design Thinking Culture

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Today I'm pleased to share a guest post from Mariposa Leadership.

Catherine Courage, VP of Product Design for Citrix, joined Sue Bethanis, CEO/Founder of Mariposa Leadership, as a guest on Wise Talk, Mariposa Leadership’s monthly Leadership Forum featuring experts on cutting-edge leadership topics. Sue asked Catherine for insights on what works - and what doesn’t - when creating a “design thinking (and doing)” culture within an organization. What follows are key insights from the conversation:

Our favorite quote from Catherine:
Keeping your team inspired is critical to success. Hire a team of A+ players, and give them exciting and challenging problems; then just get out of their way. And take time to recognize and reward greatness and be sure to have fun as a team along the way.

Insights from the conversation:
Design thinking is a different mindset. In an engineering-driven company, like most technology companies are, it’s about execution and driving forth solutions very quickly. However, the design thinking approach is not geared toward execution and driving toward solutions immediately. It’s about taking a step back - looking at the big picture - because if you start with a solution in mind, you’re going to be focused on constraints and existing things that could result in only incremental improvements. You’re never going to get to that next breakthrough.

Design thinking is not only about ideation. The customer is your first focus, but it’s not about conducting focus groups with them. Instead, Catherine says spend time with customers in their world, observe them, and truly develop empathy for them. Also, listen, deeply understand their needs, and then ask, what are all the things we could possibly do based on the problems we see and our understanding from the customer? Once you have many answers and ideas around that, narrow them down. Ask, what do we realistically think is the right solution? This is when you come up with phenomenal ideas that never would have emerged otherwise.

Catherine also says as you start to refine what you want to build, keep the customer engaged and iterating the ideas. Get prototypes in front of customers; get feedback on them early and often. As mentioned, it really is all about ideation and the customer - those two are the core of the process.

What we found most interesting about what Catherine said:
Catherine mentioned the biggest barrier in the customer observation, prototyping, and iteration process was the sales team. “They disliked the idea that designers were going out and talking to the customers - they thought it would mess up their deal. But in reality, the customers love it! They love that you’re out there asking them and that you care enough and want to make their product better. It gives them a sense of affiliation. It’s usually the sales team you have to convert by getting them out to see the reaction. When they see what a huge asset it is to sales, they realize it’s like saying, ‘Our company cares about design and we care about our customers. Your voice matters and you can play a significant part in shaping your products.’”

Practical tool to apply:
How do you take the customer observation data and turn it into something tangible? It’s crucial to regroup quickly. Using whiteboards and post its, do an “affinity diagram” where people write their discreet findings and discoveries down on post-its, group them according to trends, then identify what’s repeating and what’s related. Use color coding - green post-its for the really great ideas uncovered, pink post-its for the difficult moments that uncovered things that must be fixed, blue  post-its for the innovative ideas and “aha” moments had. You will end up with a very visual map. From there, transcribe it all into a document and move to prototyping.

For more insights from design thinking and innovation experts featured on Wise Talk, Mariposa Leadership’s monthly Leadership Forum hosted by CEO/Founder, Sue Bethanis, download the free Executive Guide to Design Thinking. You can also listen in on Sue’s Wise Talk interview with Catherine.

About Mariposa Leadership, Inc.
Mariposa Leadership, an executive leadership coaching firm, has served the Bay Area’s most successful companies in Silicon Valley and the SF Bay Area since 1996.  High-tech and other demanding industries leverage Mariposa’s individual and executive team coaching programs to accelerate leadership performance.

Wise Talk is Mariposa’s monthly Leadership Forum hosted by CEO/Founder, Sue Bethanis. With more than 100 sessions recorded to date, Wise Talk’s unique dialogue via teleconference features informative interviews with selected experts from around the world and covers the latest in leadership topics such as strategy, customer experience, employee engagement, design thinking and other cutting-edge leadership content.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

You've Achieved #CX Greatness. What's Next?

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Can customer experience leaders fall from grace? How can they maintain their greatness?

Last fall, Sarah Hines wrote a blog post that posed the question: Is there such a thing as a customer experience ceiling? What happens when companies are receiving awards for customer experience? How do they take it to the next level? Is there a next level?

Sarah then  asked on Google+: Once your program is considered great [i.e., winning awards, based on her opening paragraph], what do you focus on to become extraordinary?

This is a fair line of questioning, without a doubt.

When you've achieved customer experience greatness, when your efforts have matured, is there anywhere else to go but up? Yes. Can you fall from grace? Yes.

Let me take a step back and talk a little about customer experience maturity. There are several well-known, well-documented maturity models to assess the organization's commitment to delivering a great customer experience. Here's how some of those models define the most-mature stage.

Gartner's CEM Maturity Model has five stages, with the most advanced being The Optimized Stage.

By this stage, CEM has been adopted as a working culture, not simply a set of standards which employees are expected to work to. There is no requirement for incentives or rewards to promote good customer centric behavior or working practices, and employees are now empowered to make the best effort towards improving the customer experience using their own initiative.

Temkin's CX Maturity Model has six stages, with the sixth one being Embed. In this stage, customer experience is an integral part of the company's culture and not managed as a separate activity. A great customer experience is a byproduct of focusing on the brand's mission and purpose.

Company delivers great customer experience without focusing on it explicitly. It comes as a result of the entire organization being committed to the company’s clear sense of purpose.

Forrester's Path to Customer Maturity has four phases, with the most advanced being Differentiated, where companies move beyond simply a good customer experience to a differentiated customer experience, which requires companies to operate differently. They uncover unmet customer needs and reframe problems to include those  underlying needs. They rethink their entire customer experience ecosystem, flipping it on its head to reorient it around the steps in a customer’s journey rather than around the company’s product silos or business units.

Beyond Philosophy's Maturity Path has five stages, with the most-mature level being the Natural Stage, similarly hinting at a customer focus embedded into its DNA.

Finally if you reach the natural stage, where the DNA of the customer is embedded within the organisation and employees have a natural understanding of the customer needs and emotions, and the senior leadership is putting customers in front of short term profits then you won’t need the role of Chief Customer Officer anymore nor a dedicated customer experience department.

Note that none of these models mentions anything about winning awards. (By the way, I realize that awards weren't the focus of Sarah's piece.) Then how do we know when we've arrived? Are awards the be-all-end-all signal that we're the best we can be? Speaking as a former competitive athlete, I know a thing or two about that. I can tell you that the answer is "No." Awards tell us that we did the best, better than anyone else, at the moment. At that moment, we were at the top of the game - not necessarily at the top of our game.

A winner never stops trying. -Tom Landry

Should we ever rest on our laurels? I think we know the answer to that. If we do rest on our laurels, we will surely be overrun by our competitors. Never mind that our customers will no longer want to do business with us.

So, in a long, round-about way, back to the question Sarah's blog post poses: Is there such a thing as a customer experience ceiling? No, I don't believe so. My comment on her post was: "It's a journey, not a destination. Expectations change. What delights today may not delight tomorrow. It's important to always keep your pulse on changing customer needs so that you don't reach your own self-imposed ceiling." After all, that's what CX Journey™ is all about; it's what this blog represents.

Customers change. Customer needs, desires, and expectations change. As long as that's happening - and I don't see that every changing - there's no ceiling.

You believe you've achieved customer experience greatness. What then do we focus on going forward? What's next? I hate to sound boring, but you'll keep doing the same (structural) things you've been doing to get you there:
  • Understand your customers (personas)
  • Know customer preferences
  • Treat different customers differently
  • Listen to customers
  • Watch for signs of emerging trends (industry and CX) and changing (customer) expectations
  • Measure your performance
  • Act on what you hear
  • Map the customer journey
  • Take a holistic, not siloed, approach to CX
  • Get ahead of the curve
  • Continue to innovate and differentiate
  • Improve processes
  • Hire the right people
  • Train employees on what a great customer experience looks like
  • Communicate and live the brand promise
  • Stay focused and obsessed
  • Always save a chair for the customer
Can the great ones stumble? Absolutely. Consider just one of many reasons: a new CEO or executive team with a different approach or strategy or vision comes on board and derails existing efforts. It could happen. Remember that your customer experience is only as strong as your weakest link.

No matter how much you've won, no matter how many games, no matter how many championships, no matter how many Super Bowls, you're not winning now, so you stink. -Bill Parcells

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

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What is an analysis plan? And why do you need one?

In response to my CEM Toolbox: Making Sense of Your Data post, I was asked to provide some details about an analysis plan.

What is it? It's a roadmap for how to analyze your data - and probably more importantly - why you're analyzing it. Typically, it's done for survey data, but you can compile one for any type of data that you are analyzing. For this post, let's assume it's survey data.

Why do you need one? To make sure that you ask the right questions - actionable questions - and are  actually able to solve the issues that you are trying to solve. It forces you to focus, to think about the problems and the outcomes before you waste a lot of time with analysis ad nauseum, or worse yet, asking questions that don't help solve the problem at all.

What does an analysis plan include? A lot of details. A lot of thinking about what you're trying to do. Unfortunately, very few people take the time to think about this step in the process of designing their VOC efforts, but this is why we say: "Garbage in, garbage out." Design your program, design your surveys, with the end in mind. Have a plan.

Specifically, the analysis plan is going to outline the following:

Include the following background information; it will help to keep the analysis focused on what matters.
  • Objectives and goals of the program
  • Purpose of the analysis
  • What questions you are trying to answer/issues trying to solve
  • Who owns each question being analyzed
  • Data sources (survey data, customer data)
  • Population or subsets of the population
  • Segments, how the data will be segmented
Think about the types of analysis you'll need to conduct to tease out the story from the data, how you want to prepare it, and how you want to present it.
  • How to handle missing values (and other data rules)
  • Key outcomes (dependent variables)
  • Inputs (independent variables)
  • Statistical analysis to be performed, e.g., regression, correlation, chi-squared, factor analysis, cluster analysis, etc.
  • Descriptive statistics
  • Outputs and formats, e.g., means, percents, two decimals, etc.
  • QA requirements (yes, someone needs to QA your analysis!)
For each question in the survey, you'll spell out:
  • Question text
  • Purpose of question (issue it solves)
  • Owner of the question (who's going to do something with it)
  • How you want to analyze it, e.g., crosstab by segments, correlate against dependent variable X, etc.)
  • Against what?
  • And why? What are you trying to uncover with that particular analysis?
How long does it take? Depending on the level of detail, complexity of the problem(s) you are trying to solve, and the amount of data you anticipate, an analysis plan could take several hours to a couple of days to complete.

Who should have input? Ideally, your stakeholders will have given their input during stakeholder interviews as to what problems they are trying to solve. But it doesn't hurt to run it by some or all of them again, once you've compiled the plan, to ensure you are still on the same page. It doesn't hurt to also think about what actions will be taken as a result of what you uncover. If you don't think the organization is going to act on it, don't ask the question to begin with. Confirm with stakeholders.

When should I write it? It's a good idea to think about this sooner rather than later, as it will help with survey design, too. If you think about the output and the outcomes, you will be forced to think about how you will use the question and if you need certain questions at all. Write the plan before or in conjunction with survey design.

Your biggest enemy is the unknown and assumptions. -Lt. General Claude Christianson

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Five Agreements of Customer Experience

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Have you thought about how the Five Agreements relate to customer experience management?

I've been traveling a bit lately and, as a result, have had the chance to catch up on some long-overdue reading. The book I just finished is The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz, a shaman who writes about how those Agreements can help you to achieve personal freedom.

Yes, the book title says "four," and I mention "five;" he wrote a follow-up book with his son a couple years ago that is devoted to the Fifth Agreement.

The Agreements are pretty straightforward, yet difficult for many to come to terms with. I'm not here to write about spiritual or personal freedom or to help you achieve happiness in your life, but I thought the Agreements could easily be applied to customer experience and translated to customer freedom and happiness.

Agreement #1: Be impeccable with your word.
Being impeccable with your word means (a) speaking honestly, openly, and candidly; (b) saying what we mean and meaning what we say; and (c) speaking - and acting - with integrity, all of which allow us to build and earn customer trust.

I've written about trust and transparency before. Transparency in your business dealings is about telling the truth. It's about not making misleading claims or hiding behind the truth. Openly communicating about how you do business means you're not hiding anything. Companies that openly share information so that customers can make informed decisions about their products, brands, employment, etc. are more easily trusted. Customers can more-easily decide whether they want to have a "relationship" with a company.

Words are powerful. Are you using the right words?

Agreement #2: Don’t take anything personally.
When you work on the frontline, dealing with customers every day, it's hard not to take some of the things they say and do personally. It's not about you; it is, however, about the company (your employer) and the company's policies, procedures, products, etc. It is the customer's perception, and you need to determine how much of it is the company's reality.

As an individual on the frontline, though, what you need to do is figure out how to deliver service with a smile. Listen. Empathize. Share the customer's frustrations with those in the organization who can make changes. But in the moment, your job is to take care of the customer. He's not always right, but he is the customer.

Agreement #3: Don’t make assumptions.
You know what happens when we assume, right?

Communication is important to any relationship, including the customer's relationship with the company. Ask questions of the customer. Get clarity. Don't assume you know what the customer wants, what's wrong, why she's frustrated, etc. Ask. Engage in a conversation. Listen.

Similarly, leadership must not allow employees to make assumptions of what's expected of them. That should never happen. If employees don't have clarity, and if they're not getting the information they need, they shouldn't be afraid to ask for details; but it should never get to that point. It's important for company leaders to openly communicate the vision and goals of the company and to provide that clarity.

Agreement #4: Always do your best.
When we deliver a great customer experience, we will never have any doubts about the business or where we stand with the customer. When the business always puts its best foot forward and always does what's best for, and right by, the customer, it wins.

And, as the book states, Agreements 1-3 will only work if you give them your best.

Agreement #5: Be skeptical, but learn to listen.
I'm not advocating that companies be skeptical of their customers, but I like the notion that they should learn to listen. So many still don't. They say they do. It looks like they do. But if they really did, then the experience wouldn't be so awful.

A conversation typically has two parts: speaking and listening. It's a two-way street. Or is it? Perhaps there's a third component: hearing. Yes, we talk; and yes, we say we listen. But do we actually hear what has been said? I think hearing requires a subsequent action or reaction. And in the customer conversation, that part is often missing.

By the way, these Agreements apply to delivering both a great customer experience and a great employee experience.

Which of these are you in agreement with?

The same way that you are the main character of your story, you are only a secondary character in everybody else's story. -don Miguel Ruiz

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Beware of Customer Experience Management Shortcuts

Today I'm pleased to present a guest post from Sarah Simon.

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

What the Mountain Teaches
After our winter ascent of Cooper Mountain and Ruby Mountain via the southwest ridgeline of Cooper, the plan is to descend the eastern slopes of Ruby Mountain and follow the snow-covered mining road back to the parking area.  At the summit of Ruby, my partner announces: “That descent route will take us forever and it’s getting late. Let’s descend the south ridge, it’s a shortcut.”  (Ugh, there’s that word!) Looking at the map, I agree we could cut almost two miles off of our descent by taking the more direct route but express serious concerns that, by doing so, we are heading into unknown territory and, based on the topographic map, some of the slopes in this newly-chosen descent were quite steep. We calmly argue, but argue nonetheless. “I’m not taking the original route; we’ll be here all night,” he declares and marches off into the unknown. “Great,” I mumble into the wind. The third member is on skis and has already descended via “Plan A” – I have no chance of catching up to her on snowshoes, and so I follow Mr. Shortcuts.

The descent ridge begins gently enough, but after selecting the wrong fork on the ridge, the terrain rapidly steepens and grows increasingly loose. “Rock!” I yell as fist-sized projectiles tumble down the slope from under my boots. We flirt dangerously with a snow couloir. While entering the snow would provide relief from the loose talus and scree, the slope is above 30 degrees in angle (38 degrees is considered “perfect” for a snow slide) and shows signs of previous avalanche release. A herd of bighorn sheep traverses below us, calmly observing a pair of two-legged fools. The slope momentarily relents. After catching our breath, however, we discover what lies between us and the return trail: An endless slope of medium-angle snow. Colorado is infamous for its unstable snowpack and touchy, avalanche-prone mountain slopes. “Now what?” It’s already mid-afternoon, and the winter sun is getting lower on the horizon. We agree to pick the safest line possible and begin our descent. In an attempt to minimize our exposure to sliding snow, we do our best to avoid avalanche trigger points, such as tree wells and visible rocks, and maintain a line with minimal loading above us. We are sinking up to our hips in snow; the going is agonizingly slow, and the air is tense. I utter a few choice words I would not want my mother to hear.

We sigh in relief upon regaining the trail. We move as quickly back to the Jeep as our tired legs will carry us. Our skier friend has been waiting in the cold for an hour. “What happened to you guys?” she queries, and – exhausted – we tell her all about our “shortcut.”

What This Means for Customer Experience Management
“Let’s take this shortcut.”  These words can – rightly so – put any seasoned mountaineer on red alert.  Ed Viesturs notes there are “no shortcuts to the top,” and I’ll add “there are no shortcuts back down from the summit, either.”  In the mountains, fatigue, fear, or time pressures can encourage the use of shortcuts.  Too often, these shortcuts lead, in the end, to expend unnecessary energy, enter sketchy terrain, or stay on the mountain longer than desired.

Unfortunately, I have witnessed too many customer experience practitioners opt for the proverbial shortcut with results as painful, tiring, and scary as what I experienced on the slopes of Ruby Mountain.  Here are some common CEM shortcuts to avoid.

Not outlining a program architecture
Many voice of customer practitioners rush to “get a survey out there” without considering VoC as a whole, across the organization. Instead of gaining an understanding of touchpoints, priorities, and painpoints and then prioritizing which touchpoints to measure, panicked practitioners just decide they need a survey now and launch away. The result can be a feedback initiative plagued by insights blind spots where customer priorities take a back seat to corporate concerns. Good voice of customer program architecture can be derived from service model mapping (inner-facing); even better architecture evolves from multi-faceted customer journey mapping (which includes external customer input). Even if budget or resource constraints dictate a small number of touchpoints can be measured, it is important to know what we don’t know, to identify our feedback program blind spots. Solid program architecture makes it easier to go back later, as budget and time allow, to fill information blank spots with customer, partner, and employee feedback. Practitioners skip important foundational elements like journey mapping and program architecture assessments in the name of expediency and money-savings. The truth is: laying a solid programmatic foundation can make customer experience efforts more efficient and effective in the long run.

Surveying customers with no end-point in mind
Far too many programs are still focused on capturing the customer voice with no plan in place for driving action. Plenty of energy goes into building the listening program and moving data around, but limited attention is paid to what happens next. How do we turn data into insights? What does it take to get insights into the hands of people who can make improvements and who are change agents?  How do we respond to negative survey scores, ad-hoc customer criticism, or social media complaints?  If your voice of customer program is gathering more data than your customer experience improvement efforts can digest and utilize, then perhaps it’s time to go on a data diet.  Narrow the focus on making improvements in the areas that are both high priority to your customers and have a reasonable feasibility and ROI for your company. Stop collecting data you have no time or structure to act on. Build customer surveys and other listening channels always with the end in mind.  If it’s unclear what to do with the results or if you're uncertain that the company is prepared to handle customer opinions on a tactical or strategic level, then take a step back and resist the urge to hoard customer data with the intent to act on it someday.

Not securing business unit buy-in, cooperation, and good tidings
Did you hear the story about the CEM team who does nothing but collect customer data, irrigating the corporate fields with a regular flow of analysis consumed by eager executives, managers, and front-line staff self-governing their way to customer experience bliss?  No?  Me neither.

Build it and they’ll come, right?  Not so fast.  As customer experience management practitioners, we believe in the inherent good of customer insights and earnestly hope that our colleagues in the business units and executive suite chomp at the bit for customer data, action plans at the ready.  The truth is that our internal stakeholders have day jobs and customer experience management can feel like one more burden on their heavily laden plates. Failure to secure their buy-in and sponsorship can result in apathy, indifference…or even hostility.  To overcome this, we need to build and reinforce their buy-in to our customer experience improvement efforts. Stakeholder interviews (initial and ongoing), transparent communication of VoC results and program changes, even business lunches or cups of coffee, all work to give your stakeholders a sense of input into the program, of insiders’ knowledge, and help them feel like they’ve got some skin in the game.

Surveys and key performance indicators aren’t aligned
When I ask clients to compare their survey questions to their key performance indicators, the results are often startling: There is little to no overlap between the questions used to solicit customer sentiment and the metrics used internally to measure success.  KPIs with no link to customer feedback result in a focus on internal processes, with a blindness to what the customer wants and needs.  A customer survey completely divorced from corporate or team KPIs is essentially dead on arrival as a tool for improving the customer experience.

For instance, let’s say the two primary performance measures for your help desk agents are first call resolution and call handling time, all captured in your issue tracking software. The analysis of your post-event technical support survey reveals that the two primary drivers of overall customer satisfaction with a support event are whether the agent makes the client feel like their issue is a priority and the client assessment of the communications skills of the agent. What a disconnect!  There’s no need to play a game of either/or, both internal process metrics and customer assessments are valid if used to drive positive business outcomes and an enhanced customer experience, but ensure that the two types of metrics harmonize to change the behavior of your employees and how you do business. Survey data and key performance indicators cannot fly in separate orbits.

Customer experience management is hard work and often it is tempting to take shortcuts.  Shortcuts seem full of promise, but frequently lead to frustrating dead-ends, fatigue, and wasted time putting the success of our program at risk.

“Let’s take this shortcut.” These words should – rightly so – put any customer experience management practitioner on red alert.

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.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Do Your Employees Have a Clear Line of Sight?

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Do your employees have a clear line of sight to your customers?

Do you know what having a "clear line of sight" means? And why it's important?

Let's start there...

In a nutshell, a "line of sight" is the straight line between you and your target. In this case, the target is the customer and the customer experience.

When employees have a clear line of sight, they...

  • know how they contribute to the customer experience
  • know what it means to deliver a great customer experience, and 
  • they have the tools and training - and are empowered - to do so
Don't know how to ensure they have that clear line of sight? In today's post for InsideCXM, I offer up six tools to help you provide clarity. Please take a look and give me your thoughts. Would you add anything else?

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


Friday, April 4, 2014

Do You Know Who Your Customers Are?

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Do you really know who your customers are? Do you take a 30,000-foot view or a more granular, zoomed-in view in understanding and describing them?

I did several workshops this week on personas and journey mapping. The two are intimately intermingled, and that's an important point to remember.

But first, back to my original question: Do you really know who your customers are? How does your company define or segment them? Do you talk about "target segments" or "target customers" or "target demographics?"

Guess what? Your customers are not target anything. If you think your customers are men between the ages of 18 and 49, for example, you're dead wrong. When it comes to understanding who customers are, what their needs are, what they're trying to do/achieve with your organization, and how you'll design a better experience, good luck with that! Targets are broad, ill-defined, and meaningless.

You can't take a 30,000-foot view of your customers, which is what targets do. No, there's a better way to describe your prospects or customers. You need to drill down deeper and develop personas, which will focus on the needs and jobs to be done by the customer.

"What's a persona?" you ask. Grab a cup of coffee, and let's dive in.

Personas are fictional characters created to describe your ideal prospect or actual customer. They are derived through primary research - research that can then also be used for your customer journey maps. Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself. They are descriptions that represent a behavioral segment and are specific to your business, not to the industry. The descriptions include vivid narratives, images, and other items that help companies understand the needs of the customer (contextual insights) and outline motivations, goals, behaviors, challenges, likes, dislikes, objections, and interests that drive buying (or other) decisions. And let's not forget that each persona includes a human face and name.

A recent, much-talked-about persona is Jennifer, the quintessential Big Lots customer. Never hurts when the CEO is on board to talk about your ideal customer to anyone, much less on an earnings call to analysts.

"Why is all this important?" you might ask next. For a variety of reasons.

  • Shift the organization's focus outside-in (on the customer), as it should be, rather than inside-out
  • Really put the experience in the customer’s perspective and make you think about the customer as a “real human”
  • Help everyone understand who the customer is and obsess about the customer’s needs
    • And keep people from forming their own opinions about who the customer really is - everyone is on the same page
  • Develop empathy for the customer
  • Bring the customer to life
  • Shift “target demographic” thinking to a more-actionable definition/view
    • Targets don’t provide details about needs, goals, attitudes, behaviors, emotions
    • Targets are too far from reality
  • Drive engagement and ongoing understanding of the customer, especially since they need to be reviewed and updated on a regular basis
I mentioned journey maps earlier. Personas and journey maps go together like peanut butter and jelly. Why? (I've intentionally repeated some of the bullets from above.)
  • Some of the research (and resultant insights) used to prepare the personas is also useful in building or enriching the journey maps.
  • It shifts the focus outside-in, as it should be, rather than inside-out.
  • Really puts the experience in the customer’s perspective and makes you think about the customer as a "real human."
    • Together they humanize the customer, making it easier to focus on emotions and empathy in designing and delivering a great customer experience.
  • Combined, they put the focus on what the customer is trying to achieve.
  • Maps provide depth to your personas by illustrating how the customer uses or experiences your products, service, or services.
  • Maps then bring to life the experience, including breakdowns and bright spots.
  • Personas help mappers stay in tune with the customer, his needs, and what he’s trying to achieve.
  • Together, they support customer-centric design.
  • They help you make improvements and more personalized to specific needs.
Together, we get a full picture of who the customer is and what they are thinking, feeling, doing – experiencing.

I've heard that storyboards don’t get read or used for a variety of reasons, so it would seem that visualizing the experience with maps simplifies the connection from the customer (persona) to the experience.
Personas are the starting point for journey maps. Are they your starting point, too?

Not all those who wander are lost. -J.R.R. Tolkien

Understanding is much deeper than knowledge. There are many people who know us, but very few who understand us. -Unknown

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

CEM Toolbox: Taking Action

Image courtesy of Pixabay
What's the next step? How do we put everything we've heard and learned to good use?

This is the last post for my CEM Toolbox series about tools for the CX Framework. In this post, I write about some of the tools you'll need in order to execute. It's time to put it all to work and to determine your relative level of progress and success over time. In this series, I've discussed a lot of the tools that you'll need to use to execute, but in this final post, I'll summarize a few things I may have already called out plus add a few other things. And by the way, just because I'm mentioning these last doesn't mean that they shouldn't already be in place or shouldn't have already been considered. This post is more about the wrappers on the whole package.

Vision: What's the vision for the effort and, ultimately, for the organization. How do you want your customer-centric focus to transform the organization and to shift the way employees think?

Goals: What  outcomes are you aiming for? Thinking about historical trends/data, other benchmarks, and reasonable improvement rates, what do you hope to achieve? It's all meaningless unless you can translate your efforts not only into improved customer experience but also to achieving your business goals and outcomes.

Governance Structure:  Outlines the roles and responsibilities of the people who not only are overseeing this entire effort but are also making decisions about how it will be defined and executed. The Structure should also outline processes that the team will follow, how they will communicate with the organization, and more. Without people - the right people, committed to making a difference - this is all not possible.

Actionable and Trustworthy Data: Without this, you've got nothing. You can make decisions by sticking your finger in the wind, but that's not really the point of all of this, is it? Understanding your customers, who they are, what they are trying to achieve - that's what your data needs to tell you.

Root Cause Analysis: To get to the bottom of things, you must have a sound way to identify why things are going well or not so well. Using a method like Five Whys is one approach. Once you uncover the root cause, you must address it and figure out how to keep it from happening again in the future. You must communicate with employees (and customers) to make sure they understand what's been done and why.

Closed-Loop Process: I’ve said before that data are just data until you act on it. Defining the  closed-loop process is an important tool to help you turn data into action. The tool outlines the workflow and the responsible party as it pertains to customer feedback. The process should outline who will own the issue and respond to the customer, how quickly the person must respond, what action they will take, and who will oversee the process in the event of negligence by said owner. This process includes frontline (tactical), middle management (operational), and executive (strategic) responses to the feedback.

Action Planning: Through this process, improvement items that have been identified through various analyses will be detailed and assigned owners. The owners will need to gain a deeper understanding of what needs to be improved by reviewing processes, policies, people, operations, etc. that impact the required improvement area and will then need to outline and execute on the plan for improvement.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): How will you measure your performance and progress? You'll need to identify the models and metrics that best suit your organization's needs and desired outcomes. Just remember: don't make it about the metrics, though; it's about improving the customer experience.

ROI Calculator: This will help you measure the Return on Investment for this undertaking. Use this tool to really help you understand how investing in customer listening and all the resultant improvements saved the company time, money, and, most importantly, customers.

Program Review: Conduct an annual review of your efforts, revisit program and business goals and outcomes, identify emerging trends (products, customer segments/personas, acquisitions, etc.) to adjust for your "Year 2" plan, and remember that it's a continuous improvement process.

Innovation: Based on customer needs and enabled by technology, innovation will be an important tool to help redesign your customer experience into something no one has ever seen before. (A girl can dream, right?)

Lean Six Sigma: Consider using Lean Six Sigma to improve business performance by eliminating waste and inefficiencies and then improving processes.

Linkage Analysis: Again, what's it all for if you can't make sense of it and understand how it matters. You can link customer and employee feedback, customer feedback to financial performance data, customer feedback to operational metrics, and more. Now you just need to get your hands on all those data sources...

Training: In order to ensure that everyone is on the same page and knows what to expect, ongoing training will help to ensure success. This is probably one of your most important tools. If employees don't understand the data, if employees don't know what's expected of them, if employees don't know what it means to deliver a great experience... then it's all for naught.

We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us. -Marshall McLuhan