Thursday, June 26, 2014

Going Off-Road with Your Customer’s Journey

Image “Barton Highway” courtesy of Bidgee
Today I'm pleased to share a guest post by Fred McClimans, Partner, McClimans Group.

In this post, Fred addresses the challenges faced today in aligning your operations to the way your customers discover, engage, purchase, use, and discard your product, and outlines five steps you can take to stay in the same lane as your customer.

Understanding the journey that a customer takes when dealing with a business or brand can be an incredibly valuable asset, allowing a brand to map their customer’s journey throughout the life of their relationship. This is true for both B2C and B2B (and potentially C2C) markets. When used properly, this helps a brand understand, and align itself, with the process that a customer follows when discovering, purchasing, and ultimately discarding, a product or service.

When the journey of a brand and a customer are aligned, the customer and the brand follow the same path, building a relationship that becomes one of transparency, understanding, and trust – each can anticipate the other’s actions, a key to enabling (and encouraging) customers to become loyal advocates. They travel the same road, with the same on-ramps, signs, rest stops, and exits.

But when there is a problem, and expectations are not met, or even established, the customer journey can quickly go off the path, becoming more of an off-road rally. Key to avoiding that 4x4 experience are some simple steps that brands can take to help keep the brand and customer aligned through the customer’s journey.

A customer’s journey serves as the framework against which they anticipate, and ultimately judge, a seller (and ultimately form a basis for a customer’s satisfaction level with the brand). It is, simply put, the complete experience of a customer with a brand throughout their entire relationship. While there are many different ways of defining the various “touch points” between brands and consumers, they generally include elements of the following: Awareness, Interest, Contact, Decision, Purchase, Usage (including deployment), Support (including troubleshooting), Disposal, and (hopefully) Repurchase (including the upsell).

Brands often use a journey map to plot out the various touch points between the brand and customer, going well beyond the metrics of the experience and delving into the “why” and motivational behavior of a customer (the triggers and expected outcome from a customer perspective).  What are some of the benefits of mapping a customer’s journey?
  • Understanding a “brand” from a customer’s perspective
  • Focusing on long-term outcomes, even when the current need is tactical
  • Anticipating when, how, and why customers will engage with a brand (and what they expect)
  • Ensuring brands have the right resources (information, product, answers – and employees) at the right time, right place in the right format
  • Predicting the “next” portion of a customer’s journey (and leading them there)
  • Converting end-of-customer events into next-path-customers (keeping, or bringing back, customers who would have otherwise departed down other paths)
Most importantly, understanding the customer journey can help eliminate friction and overhead in the dual buyer/customer journey.

Customer journeys are much like a cross-country family trip: they often take longer than expected, have their share of unexpected potholes, and can easily be disrupted by the smallest changes in behavior. Trends, such as Digital Transformation, the shift to a fast-evolving “mobile” economy, and the globalization of social/online behavior, regularly disrupt the customer journey.

New market entrants or consumer preferences can easily change the motivation of a customer, if not their level of expectation. (Consider how Zappos and Amazon have shaped general consumer behavior and expectations for online sales, requiring brands in unrelated industries to retool to meet changes in customer behavior/expectations.)

Here are a few approaches that brands can use to better understand, and leverage, their customer’s journey:

It’s not always one person, and for some markets, it’s rarely only one person. Some people buy, some people use. Some people use, while others benefit. Quite simply, there is very rarely a single “customer” who travels the entire journey, especially within the B2B market, where a buyer reflects not only their own wants/needs, but the needs of others and the business.

Often times, it is not obvious who the real influencers, or even users, of a product may be (or what is driving their needs or the company drivers). This can mean that the actual buyer may not be the person who first became “aware” of the brand or the person who continues the journey through service and support may not be the same customer.

Takeaway: Think “journeys” when mapping out your customer ecosystem - understanding not just “how” but “who” can allow you to better understand, and support, your customer through their collective journey.


We often talk about the Voice of Customer (VOC) or the Voice of Employee (VOE), but they are both part of the larger Voice of Market (VOM) that includes customers, prospects, competitors, influencers, media, etc. Why is the VOM important? Customers are influenced by much more than any single brand. Word of Mouth (WOM) continues to be a major, if not the major, influence today as brands chase the Net Promoter Score (NPS) to gauge the likelihood of a customer recommending their product.

Takeaway: Understanding who/what is influencing a brand’s customers and prospects is a critical step in understanding their behavior, their motivations for buying, and the evolution of the customer journey they anticipate.


We are a technology-driven culture, yet it’s easy for brands to become overwhelmed by the rapid pace of advancement, particularly regarding the technology available to consumers today. Technology has three main areas of impact today:
  1. tools available for a brand to sell, market, and engage with their customers (listen, support, monitor, including both active engagement tools and #bigdata / #sensordata tools)
  2. devices and networks that expand information and choices available to a customer (such as mobile devices, social networks, special-purpose/review sites, etc.)
  3. technology that changes market demand and/or market expectations (such as the appearance of video-based customer support on Amazon tablets, which will likely influence customer expectations for unrelated industries)
Takeaway: By immersing themselves in the technology and tools available to their customers, brands not only keep pace with expectations but can identify opportunities to drive engagement and touch points in new directions.

Consumer journeys are not always in a straight line, nor are they constrained to continuous communications over a single channel. Customer touch points are often multi-channel, and communications often occurs across enough channels to mimic omni-channel. The issue isn’t one of bringing all channels, but rather recognizing that the behavior and signals that a customer broadcasts may not mean the same as they used to. Looking at this from a sales perspective, the traditional sales-funnel model doesn’t always apply as it has in the past. With increasing information resources available, customers may bypass traditional touch point opportunities or processes. Recognizing how, and why, this is occurring can lead to brands and customers continuously altering or streamlining the customer journey.

Takeaway: There are more customer paths today than there were yesterday; find those that offer efficiency and increased value.

Treat the customer journey like a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end (and perhaps a sequel). Like characters in a novel, brands and customers will have many interactions in different locations with different purposes - just because two characters meet in the same place doesn’t mean they are going to talk about the same item. Interests change as characters evolve – as do customers. Understanding your customer’s story is key to understanding their behavior throughout the customer journey and also critical to understanding when stories diverge into spin-offs.

Takeaway: It’s important to remember that like a story in a book, every customer touch point should lead somewhere – make sure your customer interactions lead somewhere and give a clue as to the next scene.

Image “Barton Highway” by Bidgee, made available under Creative Commons License.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Do Customers Know What They Need?

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Do customers know what they want or need?

Let's start with some definitions.

According to Google, want means to have a desire to possess or do (something); wish for; lack or be short of something desirable or essential.
To need something means: a thing that is wanted or required, a necessity or obligation.

And a task is something that needs to be completed within a defined period of time.

Hold that thought for a moment.

Steve Jobs said: A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them. Phil Libin (Evernote CEO) said: Customer feedback is great for telling you what you did wrong. It's terrible at telling you what you should do next. And Henry Ford said: If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.

Are they right? Do customers really not know what they want? Does it not make sense to listen to customers? Should we not take customer feedback into consideration as we innovate and design new products? It's important to listen to customers; you just need to make sure to ask the right questions.

Steve Jobs also said that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it and I’ve made this mistake probably more than anybody else in this room.

I think that what he said really supports the need to understand your customers: who they are and what tasks or jobs they are trying to do. Design with the end in mind. I think design should be done with customers. As customers, we think we need this or we need that; but in the end, why do we have those needs? What are we really trying to do? Once we can answer that, once companies hear what it is that we are trying to achieve, then and only then can they begin to design products – and yes, in some cases, products that we didn’t even know we needed.

According to Wikipedia, human-centered design (or user-centered, as the redirect points us) is a process (not restricted to interfaces or technologies) in which the needs, wants, and limitations of end users of a product, service, or process are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process. User-centered design can be characterized as a multi-stage problem solving process that not only requires designers to analyse and foresee how users are likely to use a product, but also to test the validity of their assumptions with regard to user behaviour in real world tests with actual users. Such testing is necessary as it is often very difficult for the designers of a product to understand intuitively what a first-time user of their design experiences, and what each user's learning curve may look like.

The chief difference from other product design philosophies is that user-centered design tries to optimize the product around how users can, want, or need to use the product, rather than forcing the users to change their behavior to accommodate the product

I think therein lies the rub - optimize the product without forcing the user to change behavior to accommodate the product. You can't lead a horse to water and force him to drink, right? Well, I believe the rub here is that we need to understand what tasks the customer is trying to do; we're just going to simplify those tasks with a product or service we design. It means that we've taken into account what the user is trying to do when we designed the product rather than creating a need for a product after it was created, i.e., it's not backwards, as many believed was Steve Jobs intent.

People don't know what they want because they're focused on what they are trying to do, not on designing products - that's your job; if you can solve that problem for them - design a product to help them do what they're trying to do - then you'll sell some products and have some happy customers.

You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new. -Steve Jobs

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sell More by Showing Your Customers Some Love!

Today I'm pleased to present a guest post from Bob Thompson. This post was originally published on April 18, 2007 at

In my last blog, Why I Hate Sales Reps, I said my pet peeves were reps who don’t listen, don’t care about my problem, can’t be trusted, or aren’t available when needed.

But some reps are different. They love their jobs and love taking care of their customers. Here are some personal examples to illustrate my point.

My Buying Experiences

For example, when I need to buy clothes, I usually head to Nordstrom. Why? Because the sales reps are knowledgeable and helpful, and available without being overbearing about it. One time I asked one of the reps how they learned how to match ties with shirts and jackets, expecting to hear about some kind of training program. But no, the rep said she had these skills before Nordstrom hired her.

When I’m buying technology, I go to Best Buy. I think the pricing is good, but mainly I shop there because the sales staff knows the products and gives good advice. If you’ve ever tried to buy wireless networking for your home, you know what I mean.

My last car purchase, in sharp contrast to virtually every other car I’ve bought over the years, was truly a pleasure. In fact, the sales rep, let’s call him Joe, had a phrase he used whenever I asked for something: “It’s my pleasure.” And it seemed he really meant it! At the end of the process I felt good about the car, the process and now Joe is the only person I ever want to buy a car from.
Notice I didn’t say, have Joe “sell” me a car.

When I asked Joe about his sales philosophy, he explained that he tries to treat his customers “like guests” in his home: be accommodating, respectful, and appreciative. He says his number one priority is to make the customer happy, because “the only thing they never forget is how you make them feel.”

What about making money? Joe believes that if you take care of the customer, the money will take care of itself. He doesn’t pay attention to dealer bonuses or incentive programs, yet still finishes in the top one percent of new car dealer sales reps nationally, making about five times the industry average.

For B2B selling, one of the top reps I’ve known is Mike Chiappetta, who currently works for storage solutions provider Network Appliance as a global account manager. Mike handles one of Network Appliances’s largest accounts (over $30 million per year).

Over a 25-year career that includes stints at DEC and SGI, Mike has had a stellar track record, making his assigned quota about 85 percent of the time. And he’s one of the top sales producers at Network Appliance. Yet, despite all that success “selling,” he told me he doesn’t have a sales philosophy, but rather a “support” philosophy: “What the customer is really buying into is me, and the promise that I’ll be with them after the purchase, to help them if they have any problems.”

What the customer is really buying into is me, and the promise that I’ll be with them after the purchase, to help them if they have any problems.

In the increasingly commoditized world of technology, that feeling may make all the difference. Mike believes this support approach helps differentiate him and his company from other hard-selling technology suppliers.

Why don’t more reps behave this way? According to Mike, too many sales managers focus on numbers, not on helping reps build the relationship skills they need to differentiate themselves. And sales training is often more concerned with helping reps sell product features and benefits, not sales philosophy.

Gee, it sounds like reps are left to fend for themselves in some kind of a Darwinian struggle. I asked Mike what sales professionals could do to help themselves be more successful. His advice:
  • understand how to build and use relationship
  • be careful what you say and who you say it to
  • meet your commitments 100 percent
  • under promise and over deliver (within reason)
  • dry run everything with a friend, spouse, etc. (practice makes perfect)
  • use a “buddy check” with a colleague before sending something to the client
Help Me, Don’t Sell Me
These days, customers don’t want to be manipulated into buying. They want reps who are genuinely interested in helping, know their stuff, and enjoy their work.

I’m not sure how much of this can be trained, but for starters sales managers can do a better job hiring reps with the right attitude and aptitude to sell to today’s empowered buyers.

Effective selling, the customer-centric kind anyway, is not that difficult. Love your customers, and they’ll love you back!

Bob Thompson is an international authority on customer-centric business management who has researched and shaped leading industry trends since 1998. He is founder and CEO of CustomerThink Corporation, an independent research and publishing firm, and founder and editor-in-chief of, the world's largest online community dedicated to helping business leaders develop and implement customer-centric business strategies. His book Hooked on Customers (April 2014) reveals the five habits of leading customer-centric firms. For more information visit

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What Is the Purpose of a Business?

Image courtesy of Google Books
What is the purpose of a business? Not sure? Consider this.

In Peter Drucker's The Daily Drucker, which contains 366 daily insights (excerpts from his books; see original text I'll refer to from The Practice of Management in the image to the left), each one ending with an action item to put that day's concept to use, he writes:

If we want to know what a business is, we have to start with its purpose. And the purpose must lie outside the business itself. In fact, it must lie in society, since a business enterprise is an organ of society. There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.

The customer is a foundation of a business and keeps it in existence. The customer alone gives employment. And it is to supply the customer that society entrusts wealth-producing resources to the business enterprise.

Because it is the purpose to create a customer, any business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. These are the entrepreneurial functions. Marketing is the distinguishing, the unique function of the business.

ACTION POINT: Find out what needs your customers want fulfilled today. Determine how well your products are meeting the needs of your customers. That is the purpose of business.

I've written previously that your purpose is your why; it's the reason for being, the reason for doing what you're doing. It is your guiding light. Everything you do, from hiring to designing your customer experience, will be aligned with this purpose. It's your north star; it guides you when you're lost and points you in the right direction when competing ideas are spreading you too thin.

We need to forget about that 1970s mindset, that the purpose of a business is to maximize shareholder value. That's not a purpose; that's an outcome of creating customers. Being customer-focused and customer-centric translates to shareholder value. Focus on the customer, on creating customers, and the profits will come.

But you can't create - and then, especially, keep - customers without knowing who they are, which most certainly is required in order to facilitate delivering a great customer experience. Retention is key here, or you'll keep spinning your wheels. Drucker's "Action Point" is spot on. Find out the needs of your customers and what jobs they are trying to do, figure out how well you're meeting their needs or how easy/difficult it is for them to achieve some task, and correct/celebrate accordingly.

In order to better understand who the customer is, do the research to develop personas. You'll thank me for it. Personas...
  • 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
  • Drive engagement and ongoing understanding of the customer, especially since they need to be reviewed and updated on a regular basis
I think Jeff Bezos took a page right out of Drucker's book when he created Amazon. He has said: We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It's our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.

Is this thinking and behavior that your organization can adopt? It's never too late. Obsess about the customer, and the business will thrive.

Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision. -Peter F. Drucker

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Circle the Wagons and Shoot Inward

Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Does this describe your company's culture?

One of the funniest phrases I've ever heard  - and I first heard this one about 20 years ago - to describe an organization's culture was to "circle the wagons and shoot inward." You have to think about it for about a half a second, but then you say, "Oooooh, that's not a good thing." And it's not funny, either.

The concept of circling the wagons in any culture is bad enough, but to shoot inward? Unbelievable. But it happens.

Haven't heard this saying before? It's a bit of a blame game, and then some. This is how describes it: One of the most unifying factors for a group is having a common enemy. Often the purpose of business associations is to unite against some common enemy or threat. If so, that is where the energies should be focused - to shoot outwards and not inwards.

The original premise behind circling the wagons is to rally against some "common enemy," but I'd like to add that in your company, you might (hopefully) circle the wagons (unify) for some common cause or purpose - for good, not for some enemy or threat. That would be ideal.

Sometimes, though, companies circle the wagons and focus their energies on the wrong thing, don't focus on anything important, come together for the wrong internal cause, find a common enemy within, compete against themselves, compete internally against each other, etc.

What happens when they circle the wagons and shoot inward? It's exhausting. And quite toxic.

What does that look like? It's like an autoimmune disorder, where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, thinking it's an antigen. Quite simply, the culture and the employee experience are a mess.

  • Creativity is stifled
  • Empowerment is non-existent
  • Leaders don't talk to employees
  • There's no transparency
  • Vagueness rules the day
  • Shareholders take priority
  • Employees aren't appreciated
  • Failure is not an option; instead, it's punished
  • Politics are rampant
  • Employees don't support each other
  • There's backstabbing
  • Micromanagement is the norm
  • The organization is siloed/silos prevail
  • No one wants to work together
  • There's a lack of purpose and vision or neither is communicated/shared
  • Positive efforts are derailed by the negativity
  • Internal competitiveness and rivalries abound
  • There's disagreement about goals and outcomes
  • Cross-functional relationships are defined as "infighting"
  • Organizational alignment is unheard of
As a result...
  • Employees are disengaged
  • Turnover is high 
  • The culture is toxic
  • The customer experience suffers
  • And so does the business
Ultimately, we should work together, toward a common goal. A solid goal for the good of the business and for customers. A shared, communicated goal. A goal that everyone can rally around, in a good way. In order to do so, leaders must get everyone on the same page - circle the wagons for the greater good - with regard to the company's...
  • Purpose
  • Vision
  • Values
  • Brand promise
  • Goals
  • Expectations
  • Customer Experience
Circling the wagons and rallying the troops for a common cause means that the business will focus on its own success rather than on infighting and CYA (cover your ass) tactics. Isn't it better when everyone has a clear line of sight to what the business is trying to achieve - and everyone rallies (together) to ensure that the business achieves those goals and wins?

Have you seen this occur in any company for which you've worked?

Petty infighting and political agendas, arrogance, and sheer bloody-mindedness almost guarantees that the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing. -Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Does "Employees More First" Disparage Customers?

Image courtesy of Pixabay
What does "employees more first" really mean?

A while back, I wrote a post called Putting Employees More First. It's based on the well-publicized quote from Hal Rosenbluth, where he states, "... if you genuinely want to put customers first, you must put employees more first."

I agree with this thinking. Does putting employees more first disparage the customer? I think not. Neither do these folks.

Hal's not the only one to advocate this approach. In this video, an interview with Sir Richard Branson, Branson advocates the same: "Put your staff first, customers second, and shareholders third... then, in the end, the shareholders do well, customers do better, and your staff are happy."

Anne M. Mulcahy, former chairperson and CEO of Xerox Corporation said:  "Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person - not just an employee - are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability."

Tony Fernandes of AirAsia was quoted as saying: "Employees come number one. Customers come number two. If you have a happy workforce, they'll look after your customers anyway."

Herb Kelleher, Founder of Southwest Airlines, said, "If the employees come first, then they’re happy. A motivated employee treats the customer well. The customer is happy so they keep coming back, which pleases the shareholders. It’s not one of the enduring green mysteries of all time, it is just the way it works.”

Dr. Noelle Nelson wrote a book called Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy. Her viewpoint: "When employees feel that the company takes their interest to heart, then the employees will take company interests to heart."

"Whether you are big or small, you cannot give good customer service if your employees don’t feel good about coming to work." -Martin Oliver, MD Kwik-Fit Financial Services

Fred Reichheld mentioned in a 2006 Ad Age interview, "I have yet to find a company that has earned high levels of customer loyalty without first earning high levels of employee loyalty."

Howard Schultz, Chairman of Starbucks, said: "We built the Starbucks brand first with our people, not with consumers. Because we believed the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers was to hire and train great people. We invested in employees."

Danny Meyer told the New York Times: "When you really take a perspective that the customer comes second, which is counter-intuitive in a society that always puts the customer first, you also end up attracting stronger employees over time, which increases the odds that your technical and your emotional and hospitality performance are going to be competitive."
OK, you get my point. Employees are critical to the customer experience. So what does "employee more first" mean? Can I just give them t-shirts, free food, free childcare, and Friday happy hours? Is that enough?

The answer is a resounding "NO!" Those are great perks. Perks do not an employee experience make!

What about a great salary? If I pay them well, does that mean I've put employees first? 

Once again, "No." A competitive salary, at a minimum, should really be the norm, so let's take that off the table.

What, then, must companies do in order to put employees (more) first? Here's my prescriptive list. 

They must...
  • Trust and empower them
  • Show appreciation
  • Give praise and recognition where due
  • Provide clarity - of purpose and more
  • Make sure they know what is expected of them
  • Communicate clearly
  • Be transparent, candid, and honest in communications
  • Lead with integrity
  • Define what a great customer experience means/looks like, and:
    • Let employees know how their contributions matter
    • Ensure they have a clear line of sight to the target, a great customer experience
  •  Do right by your employees
  • Build the right culture
  • Hire the right people to begin with
These are all lofty prescriptions, right? Just know that perks are not a bad thing; they are just that, perks. They are not the thing that shows employees that you have their best interests at heart. Think loftier. Show you really care, that they really matter!

Our mission statement about treating people with respect and dignity is not just words but a creed we live by every day. You can’t expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don’t exceed the employees’ expectations of management. -Howard Schultz

Thursday, June 5, 2014

When You Listen to Customers, Do You Hear What They Say?

Today I'm pleased to present another guest post by Gregory Yankelovich.

The assumption that you already know how customers feel about your products or service is the first step on the path of destruction of your brand’s equity. At first, this assumption will make you subconsciously filter any information about your customers, accepting only that which supports your beliefs.

Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias) is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true. 
Source: Princeton

The marketplace changes very quickly, and if people are afraid to bring executives any new intelligence that challenges their bias, the gap between customer expectations and the experience the brand delivers can open very fast. The longer this change is ignored, the wider the gap becomes. Here are some examples:

Many brick & mortar retail executives are convinced that their problem is price competition from online retailers. Meanwhile, the customers say that customer service is the most important attribute of customer experience they hope to find when they shop at brick & mortar stores – and they don’t get it there. Below is an example of Best Buy customer feedback analysis.

As US retail executives continue to hold on to their assumptions and refuse to hear what customers really want, their stores’ traffic keeps declining, and profit margins follow the trend. The latest news is about Radio Shack closing 1,100 stores inva cost-cutting move, but they are not alone. The gap keeps widening as the ill-conceived cost-cutting measures are reducing in-store product inventories and floor personnel training. That perpetuates the self-fulfilling prophecy of losing more and more customers to online retailers who provide a better experience at the same (not lower) price levels.

Whenever company executives ask which model of their brand the customers like most, they always expect to hear that their customers love their flagship product. When customer experience research points to a “lesser” model as a customers’ favorite, most executives dismiss the findings outright, without any attempt to examine the data. The chart below illustrates the middle range Nokia Lumia 925 (NPS=73) outscores the Nokia flagship 1020 (NPS=28) in customer popularity. In our estimation, it also outsells Lumia 1020 by at least a 2:1 margin.

Data set = 2,871 customers' feedback (unsolicited)
A deeper look shows that the barely-acceptable reliability, touch screen, and web browsing experiences Lumia 1020 customers reported are the causes of the much lower Net Promoter Score.

Positioning of a product based solely on features, functions, and tech specifications - without regard for the realities of the market - reduces the value of the brand. Designation of a weaker model as the flagship product sends a signal to consumers that the company does not value the experiences of its customers. The irony is that these customers are the ones who create a value of the brand.

When I think I know enough about a subject, I stop learning. Yet, the world continues to evolve without me. – @briansolis

There is no more expensive mistake than the rejection of new findings without the critical examination of methods and data used. Continually spending money for research that confirms what you already know is a pointless exercise.

Gregory Yankelovich is a Technologist who is agnostic to a technology, but "religious" about Customer Experience and ROI. He has solid experience delivering high ROI projects with focus on both Profitability AND Customer Experience improvements, as one without another does not support long-term business growth. Gregory currently serves as the Customer Experience (CX) Whisperer at Amplified Analytics, provider of software as a service for Customer Experience Measurement to support Strategic Marketing and Brand/Category/Product Management applications.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Does It Pay to Listen to the Voice of the Customer?

Image courtesy of Unsplash/Anna Dziubinska
That's probably a silly question, but I don't feel bad reminding anyone of the answer!

Last month, I took a little bit of a different angle to this question and asked, "What's the cost of listening (or not listening) to customers?" In that post, I mentioned that if we don't understand who our customers are, what jobs they are trying to do/achieve, and how well that's going, then we reap none of the benefits of having raving fans - probably because we won't have (m)any. So does it pay to listen? That's what execs want to know!

Understanding is key. Listening is critical. Acting is imperative.

In research published by Bain in 2005, they reported:
  • only 50% of management teams tailor their products and services to the needs of customers
  • only 30% organize the functions of their company to deliver superior customer experiences
  • only 30% maintain effective customer feedback loops
Sorry that those are 2005 numbers; I'll update this if I find more-recent stats. For this post, the first bullet point is the one I'll focus on. I know there's this group of folks who subscribe to Steve Jobs' perspective that the customer doesn't know what he wants or needs, but I believe it doesn't hurt to ask. And, as a matter of fact, it's really a good thing - for customers and for the company.

In last month's post, I shared this quote from Harvey Mackay: You learn when you listen. You earn when you listen - not just money, but respect.  Ultimately, I think "you earn when you listen" is the best possible outcome you could imagine. I can't think of anyone who would disagree. So let me give you a fun example of listening that led to earning.

Last year, Hasbro crowdsourced their next Monopoly character on Facebook by asking people to vote on which character would become the next game piece. In the end, the iron game piece got the boot, and the cat was voted in, bringing pet lovers to parity; dog lovers already had their game piece.

So what did listening to customers do for them? Did it pay in the end? According to a USA Today article, Hasbro saw revenue growth in their games category and called the Monopoly character contest "tremendously successful." Apparently they're also crowdsourcing other changes to Monopoly as well as changes to other games. Is this the sole reason for their revenue growth; only they know. But what I do know is that it's a great way to (a) listen to the wants, needs, and preferences of your customers and (b) engage your customers.

If you're still building your business case for executives to help them understand that it does pay to listen to the customer, make sure you show how your efforts tie to business outcomes - show how listening and learning really do allow you to earn. When you earn customer respect, you will earn shareholder respect, too.

I'll leave you with the commercial that Hasbro used to announce the new game piece. (Yea, I love that they closed the loop with customers, too!) I'm a cat lover, so this makes me laugh every time I watch it. But the message in the last few seconds doesn't get lost on me.

This may seem simple, but you need to give customers what they want, not what you think they want. And, if you do this, people will keep coming back. -John Ilhan, Crazy John's