Friday, August 29, 2014

Nurture Partner Relationships: Tough Jobs Require Strong Partners

The famed Capitol Peak Knife Edge
 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
Just minutes out of camp, Jaimee and I are huffing our way in the pitch blackness of early morning (or what non-climbers might refer to as “the middle of the night”) toward our goal: Capitol Peak (14,131 ft / 3,307 m).  Considered one of the toughest of the beloved “Colorado 14ers” (mountains with an elevation of 14,000 ft or higher in the US state of Colorado), Capitol is no K2 nor is the standard route the Eiger Nordwand, but the easiest route on Capitol demands alpine endurance, reliable decision making, bullet-proof scrambling, and solid route-finding skills - plus a cool head for fall exposure.

Day dawns clear and bright as we reach the ridge crest and the difficulties begin; it’s at this point I realize I left my A-Game at home.  Feeling uncharacteristically slow-witted and timid, I don’t trust my route-finding in this loose and steep terrain, and soon let Jaimee knows I need to rely on her route-finding and follow her lead.  I know this is a big responsibility I place on her shoulders, but Jaimee and I have shared challenging terrain before, and I know she’s up to the task.  For my part, I place a ton of trust in Jaimee to blaze our way through questionable terrain.

A few hours of steep grunt work, vigorous scrambling, sketchy route-finding, and eye-popping exposure pass before we find our way to the summit. The route is deliciously complex, the rock unpredictable and loose, and the airiness exhilarating. But the summit is only the half-way point.  Now we retrace our route back to the saddle, finally relieved to hit “terra firma” where we can walk upright and relax a bit. Strolling down from the saddle through the wildflowers, a wide-open alpine valley below us, I thank Jaimee. I appreciate that she was on her A-Game today and that I was able to rely on her skill and trouble-shooting to get me through the challenging parts of the climb. The hike back to camp gives me time to ponder the importance of quality partners in climbing and the necessity of nurturing relationships with these people. As discussed at length in my post “Balancing Hard Skills and Soft Skills,” it can be difficult enough to find a talented climbing jerk or a nice friend with no climbing skills, so by golly when you find a level-headed friend like Jaimee with a good sense of humor who can handle tough terrain, take care of this person!

What this means for VoC / CX
If your business model relies on a distributed sales channel, value-added resellers, service vendors, or any other partner relationship, please listen up: Your VoC / CX program needs to be leveraged to enhance your relationship with these valued partners. After all, in some industries, the partner is the face of your company the client.  Here are ways to use VoC / CX to enhance and nurture your partner relationships.

1. Listen to the Voice of the Partner

It’s easy to get so wrapped up in listening to our customers and employees that we forget to listen to another key constituency: Our partners.  Partner feedback become background noise, something we’ll “get to” when we have the time. These partners deserve a voice, as well, and that voice should be acted upon tactically and woven into the corporate strategy just like we do with customer and employee feedback.

2. Listen to the Voice of the Customer through the Partner

Your partners are a treasure trove of insight about your customer base. Are you listening?  Like your employees, your partners know customer painpoints, where the service model breaks down, and your customer likes and dislikes. Listen to the wisdom your partners possess thanks to day-to-day contact with your end customers. Keep a feedback channel wide-open (think electronic comment box) to conveniently capture this feedback. Let it be known that such comments, compliments, complaints and innovation ideas are more than welcome.

3. Share VoP and VoC insights with Partners

During a recent onsite, a client shared with me the dashboards he shares with his partners. The field vendors servicing this company’s clients have access to Voice of Customer data and insights through a login to my company’s portal. Can you imagine extending this level of data transparency to your partners? Sadly, if you answer is “no way!” you are in the majority.  But I challenge in response: How dare YOU withhold valuable insights from your partners solicited from your joint customer base.  Leverage customer insights among your partner base to improve the customer experience and resist holding secrets.

4. Act on VoP and VoC insights
This summer a report drafted for a client clearly indicated their partner channel was killing their customer satisfaction and Net Promoter scores. I suggested this client take a careful look at partner relationships detrimental to their customer experience and alter or eliminate these relationships. The response from this client was to order me to remove this finding from the report. “We are not making any changes to our partner channel.” How fair a practice is it to treat quality, trustworthy, producing partners who take excellent care of your customers as equals to those partners who are killing your customer satisfaction one interaction at a time? By contrast, a highly action-oriented client informed me they actually reduced one partner’s business flow in response to weak customer feedback scores.  Which partner strategy do you predict will be most effective in the long-run?

Jaimee on the traverse
5. Express Gratitude
Just as I expressed my gratitude to Jaimee for taking the lead on Capitol Peak, please remember to say “Thank You” to your valued partners. Thank you for providing timely service to our customers.  Thank you for believing in our product. Thank you for marching in line with our vision. Thank you for driving a positive customer experience.

Good partners are hard to come by but easy to take for granted. Don’t let your business partners get lost in the business intelligence shuffle. Integrate them into your customer experience strategy and appreciate the role they play in your business model. Nurture the relationships with your partners, and they will take care of your customers in return.

Sarah Simon is a career insights professional with 16 years of experience in the feedback industry. Specialties include VoC architecture, journey mapping, developing linkages to business performance, reduction of customer defection, results analysis and communication, with expert survey design skills.  She is the survivor of a botched early-generation "big data mining" operation and is happy to live to tell about it.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

8 Steps for Customer Experience Change Management

Image courtesy of Pixabay
How well are your change management efforts going?

I recently came across Dr. Kotter's 8-Step Process for Leading Change. The steps come from his 1996 book, Leading Change, which outlines the eight critical success factors for change management.

As you can imagine, this process was intriguing to me, since it applies quite nicely to the challenges we face as we struggle to implement changes to/for the customer experience within our organizations. It got me thinking about whether I captured all of these steps in a post on change management I wrote last month for Intradiem. I think I got the general essence of the process, but I couldn't agree more with his steps I missed.

Let's take a look. Here are the steps, straight from the Kotter International website, with my thoughts  added between the lines for each one.

Step 1: Establishing a Sense of Urgency
Help others see the need for change and they will be convinced of the importance of acting immediately.

I think this is a critical component for change management for the customer experience. Getting leadership buy-in and helping them understand that the sooner the focus is placed on the customer experience, the sooner the business will benefit is an everyday challenge for customer experience professionals. At the same time, employee buy-in is also critical, as employees will be impacted by the changes and will be the ones who deliver the experience. Don't forget to keep the organization as a whole informed about the changes - why they're important, when and how they'll happen, and how they'll impact employees, customers, and the company in general.

Step 2: Creating the Guiding Coalition
Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort, and encourage the group to work as a team. 

This is where your governance structure comes into play. Changing the organization's DNA to be more customer-centric is not a project for one person to undertake; this is an organization-wide effort. As such, the governance structure is critical to the foundation of any customer experience effort. Without the core team, the steering committee with both executive sponsors and cross-functional champions, the customer focus won't go far.

Step 3: Developing a Change Vision
Create a vision to help direct the change effort, and develop strategies for achieving that vision. 

Develop a customer experience vision that will be inspirational and aspirational; it will outline what you see as the future state of the customer experience. It will briefly describe the experience you plan to deliver. And it will serve as a guide to help develop your strategy and choose future courses of action.

Step 4: Communicating the Vision for Buy-In
Make sure as many as possible understand and accept the vision and the strategy. 

Communication - early, often, and ongoing - is a critical tool to gain buy-in and to ensure success for any customer experience effort. There are many different ways to ensure that you communicate the vision and to make sure that everyone has a clear line of sight to what needs to be done; one of my favorite is the journey map.

Step 5: Empowering Broad-Based Action
Remove obstacles to change, change systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision, and encourage risk-taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions.

Are your employees unencumbered and empowered to do what's right for your customers?

Step 6: Generating Short-Term Wins
Plan for achievements that can easily be made visible, follow-through with those achievements and recognize and reward employees who were involved.

We know that winning over executives (and others) and getting their buy-in often requires the use of skunkworks projects that demonstrate those short-term wins. These projects are used to build the business case, which is often built upon quick wins to show not only what can be done but also your commitment and persistence to achieving some outcome. As change is implemented, further quick wins may be required. And I couldn't agree more with recognizing and rewarding employees for successes, not just during this quick wins phase but always.

Step 7: Never Letting Up
Use increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don't fit the vision, also hire, promote, and develop employees who can implement the vision, and finally reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents. 

I have mentioned before that the customer experience is a journey. So are organizational change efforts, as part of that journey. They go hand in hand.

Step 8: Incorporating Changes into the Culture
Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success, and develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession. 

In order to implement and to sustain the changes you'll make in order to shift to a customer-centric, customer-focused organization, the values, the purpose, and the vision must be ingrained into the DNA of the organization. That requires that policies, processes, language, hiring, training, and all other efforts and decisions the organization makes must be based on what's best for the customer. That customer focus becomes an organizational discipline, not a department. Everyone's job ultimately contributes to the customer experience; make sure there is a clear line of sight. And continue to reiterate that.

How well does your organization do in adhering to these steps when implementing change? Which of these are a challenge that you must still overcome?

If nothing ever changed, there would be no butterflies. -Unknown

Friday, August 22, 2014

What Role Does Intuition Play in Customer Experience?

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I originally wrote this post as a two-part series for InsideCXM in February 2014.

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: (1) anticipating an event or issue and addressing it before a customer knows about it or deals with it (proactive service); (2) sensing something in or about the customer in front of you (empathic  intuition); and (3) asking for a faster horse (innovation).

Proactive Service
Imagine if companies: knew what we wanted before we needed it, knew why we were calling before they even answered the phone, or solved a problem before we even knew it existed.

How many times have you called a company, entered your account information or phone number into the IVR, only to have to give it again to the person who actually takes your call, and yet again to every person you are transferred to? Why can't they just recognize who you are because of the phone number you called from? Or how about if you just entered your information once, and then someone cheerfully answered the phone, "Hello, Annette. If you're calling about the outage in your area, we've got a technician out there working on it now." Or better yet, what if they called you and told you that there's an outage, they're working on it, and they anticipate having service reinstated within two hours, all before you even knew there was an outage. O wait. Or better yet. How about if the issue never happened because they're just that good.

Amazon provides a great example of proactive service. They understand the reason for, and the benefit of, taking action for customers or before customers have to. From their annual letter to shareholders:

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


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

Target, on the other hand, recently provided an example of what not to do. In their data breach last month, they had the opportunity to do something proactively for their customers, and they failed. As soon as they knew there was a breach, they should have (a) contacted their customers (instead of having customers find out via the evening news) and (b) assured them that their cards (for REDcard holders) had already been canceled and that new cards were issued and on their way. Had they taken a proactive approach, they could have saved a lot of anxiety for customers - and saved a lot of customers and revenue for Target.

Better yet, what if they'd never allowed the breach to happen to begin with. That would be the ultimate way to delight and earn trust.

How many times have you been on a flight that was delayed, causing you to miss your connection? Or the flight was canceled, and you were stranded, fighting for yourself to get a new flight to your destination? I think the airlines are getting better about rebooking travelers in this scenario, but it doesn't always happen. What if they just kept the non-weather-related delays from happening in the first place? Is that possible?

Southwest Airlines has a team called Proactive Customer Service that works with 14 other departments to ensure operational efficiencies, effective communications, and better customer accommodations. Their job is to evaluate flight disruptions, determine the customer impact, and reach out to customers proactively so that the customer doesn't have to reach out to them.

As you can see, offering proactive service involves the confluence of several things: data, technology, people, and communication.

This type of service needs to be consistent, meet or exceed customer expectations, and be on 24/7. Once you're known for proactive service, you've raised the bar - and if you stumble and fail to be proactive in the future, you've just taken the experience from delight to disappointment.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. -Ben Franklin

Empathic Intuition
The second way we can look at this sixth sense is what I'll refer to as empathic or empathetic intuition. What is it? A gut feeling, an inner voice, an awareness, or instantly knowing what another person is feeling or experiencing.

While proactive service refers to "the hard stuff," empathic intuition refers to "the soft stuff."  The employee senses the emotions you are feeling before you even say a word. In the customer experience world, part of that comes from pure empathy, and part of that comes from having the right information at their fingertips. Why is this important? Consider this example. You just arrived at your hotel after a long day of traveling. You walk up to the desk to check-in (without saying a word about your delayed flights and other travel hassles), and the hotel rep acknowledges that you just traveled across the country (information at his fingertips before you arrive) and senses that you must be exhausted (because he would be, too, after a long day of travel); he then tells you your room is ready, your wake-up call is set, and your favorite snack and magazine are sitting on your nightstand.

That might be an easy example; there are probably a ton of easy examples. (But are they reality?) Empathic intuition refers to truly walking in your customers' shoes. It's also about doing what's right, without being asked or told and without fear of retribution. And treating the customer the way you would wanted to be treated in a similar situation.

Are you developing and encouraging this sense in your employees? Are you treating your employees with the same level of respect and empathic intuition as you’d like to see them show their customers?

Henry Ford is quoted as saying: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” The thought process behind that is that people don't know what they want or will want and that some visionary (e.g., Steve Jobs) can innovate a better product or experience. I'm all for that. Listen, if it wasn't for Steve Jobs, we'd still be carrying around a Walkman and cassette tapes - and so much more. (Eek, I just dated myself, didn't I?)

The problem is, these visionaries don't come along every day. If and when they do, I know we will all applaud them.

In the meantime, what can companies do? They need to...
  • Know and understand their customers.
  • Really listen to customers - not just through surveys but also through various channels, e.g., social media.
  • Always be listening.
  • Always be capturing transactional and behavioral data.
  • Analyze (including predictive analytics) what they know about the customer (from the aforementioned listening and data capture) and use those insights to develop personalized experiences.
  • Always be linking what they know about customers to what they do with/for customers.
  • Map the customer's journey; without knowing the journey, you won't understand what the customer is going through, what their needs will be, and where their journey might break down
  • Create process maps to go with the journey maps so that you can track the "inner workings" of the customer experience
  • Have the right tools, processes, and systems in place to automate proactive response or to prevent the need for proactive response
  • Hire the right people and develop and train them on how to anticipate customer needs and emotions - and how to act, react, and more importantly, proact
  • Always be adapting
How well is your company at anticipating the needs and emotions of your customers? Are you using your sixth sense to ensure customers have a great customer experience?

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. -Albert Einstein

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

That's How We Do Things Around Here

Image courtesy of Pixabay
How can a story about a few monkeys challenge the way we think about how and why policies, processes, and cultures are created?

When a colleague asks you why you do things a certain way, do you find yourself responding, "I don't know. We've always done it that way?"

Many years ago, I worked for a couple companies where that was the stock answer, and it was so frustrating. It's hard to believe that no one ever challenged the status quo. Or perhaps they did and got shot down with the same stock answer? Why do we just accept things as they are, right or wrong, regardless of the how or the why? Regardless of whether they are still relevant or appropriate?

Have you heard of the Five Monkeys Experiment? It's not clear if this experiment really happened or not; many refer to it as a fable or parable, but it's interesting and thought-provoking, nonetheless. In case you haven't heard of this experiment yet, I'll introduce you to it. Rather than write the story, I thought it would be more interesting to share this brief video of Eddie Obeng, a British professor and author, telling it.

"That's just the way we do things around here." Hmm. That's one of my least favorite sentences ever. It doesn't make things right, just because they've always been done that way. How can we keep doing the same things when we don't even know why we're doing them? Are we afraid to change? Or afraid of change?

I think that statement is a culture killer, an innovation killer, an employee experience killer, and a customer experience killer. Companies change. Employees change. Customers change. We need to regularly revisit rules, policies, processes, and approaches in order to ensure that they are still relevant and that we deliver a great experience for both employees and customers.

Don't keep things status quo for the sake of comfort, convenience, or keeping things status quo. If you keep doing the same thing, you're going to keep getting the same results, right? With some of the statistics about customer experience as bad as they continue to be, I think companies are continuing to do the same thing. It's time to start asking some serious questions. And not being afraid of the answers - or the consequences and changes as a result.

I wrote previously that if companies are constantly asking questions, they can:
  • Learn more about their customers and employees
  • Better understand customer and employee needs
  • Learn about partners, the market, emerging trends, etc.
  • Ideate and innovate
  • Create new/better products, features, and services
  • Eliminate processes and policies that are harmful to the experience
  • Change the way they do business (for the better)
Don't stifle or squash new ideas just because they aren't what "you usually do." Stop the trend of the blind leading the blind. Get out of the rut and start asking some serious questions.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. -Albert Einstein

Thursday, August 14, 2014

All This Aggravation Ain't Satisfactionin' Me

A little less conversation and a little more action makes Elvis - and your customers - happy campers.

Yup, Elvis! He's my latest inspiration. Actually, I've been sitting on this one for a while, waiting for the right moment or topic to come up in order to incorporate this Elvis song into a blog post. The song? A Little Less Conversation. Specifically, the chorus goes like this:

A little less conversation, a little more action, please
All this aggravation ain't satisfactionin' me
A little more bite, a little less bark
A little less fight and a little more spark
Close your mouth and open up your heart and baby satisfy me
Satisfy me, baby

O my. Where's she going with this?

Think words and action.

This week, Zendesk released their latest quarterly benchmark report, which focuses on the words used by customers, as well as by customer service reps, and how those word choices impact  customer satisfaction.

Customer Words and Action
With regard to customers, their findings suggest that customer behavior drives their own satisfaction;  specifically, customers who are polite (using words like "please" and thank you") are more satisfied. Their conclusion: If you want great service, remember that words matter: taking the time to be polite when interacting with customer service might make you happier in the long run.

They also noted, based on a survey conducted by Dimensional Research, that customers define a good service interaction as follows:

So customers like quick problem resolution, friendly reps, first call resolution, and an effective solution, i.e., quality of the resolution. These findings match what I've seen over the years with regard to service interactions; typically the two most-important drivers of satisfaction with the service experience are speed of resolution and quality of resolution.

Agent Words and Action
Zendesk dove a bit deeper to understand how customers define "friendly reps" by looking at the frequency of those polite words (please, thank you, sorry). Not intuitively, they found that satisfaction decreased as the usage of these words increased, especially when agents used "sorry" a lot. That part doesn't surprise me so much. Clearly, the interaction is not going well if the agent is apologizing profusely.

Zendesk offers this advice for the customer: If you find yourself in a prolonged customer service interaction and find that the agent is saying “sorry” multiple times, and not actually fixing the issue, you might need to take a step back and help them understand what your issue is. Be polite (see Customer Behavior above) and help them understand the problem you are trying to solve.

I would add that, if the agent is saying "sorry" a lot, perhaps the interaction isn't going well because of something the agent isn't doing or isn't able to do. Or perhaps the customer has been transferred too many times. Or they've called in several times about the same issue. I'm not sure we can put the entire onus on the customer, but it's never a bad thing to make sure the agent clearly understands the issue.

What does all that have to do with Elvis?

Maybe he was right. Maybe we need a little less conversation and a little more action - from customer service agents. Talk less. Do more to solve the problem - and get it right the first time.

What do you think of the Zendesk findings?

Well done is better than well said. -Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

You Know What Happens When You Assume

Image courtesy of LoBue Citrus
Are you setting expectations - and delivering on them?

I recently ate an interesting orange that inspired me to write this post. Yes, the image to the left is of an orange, a pink orange! (Not a pink grapefruit, which we've all heard of.)

Ever heard of such a thing? I hadn't. Until I went into the grocery store the other day and saw it in the produce department. I read the description: "Tropically tangy, yet still sweet.  Notes of cherry, raspberry, or cranberry" and thought, "Well, that sounds interesting!" But was it?

As always, that made me think of questions we should ask ourselves about the employee experience and the customer experience, like:

Does what's on the outside match what's on the inside? And vice versa?

Does your description of your culture match what your employees are living?

Does your culture match what you're telling the world? Does it sound better than what it actually is?

Is yours a culture of transparency?

Are you living your values - or just talking about them?

Are your employees living your brand promise?

Does your reality match customer perception?

Does reality match expectations?

Does your employee experience drive your customer experience?

Do your actions match your words? Do they speak louder?

Does what people know about you mask what's really happening on the inside? Or is it representative?

Do you assume that your employees know what's expected of them?

Do you set expectations, only to fall short?

Are you selling what you're advertising?

Do you assume that you're meeting employee or customer expectations? Or do you ask?

You know what happens when you assume, right?

O, and that pink orange. Well, let's just say that they missed a few notes.

Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in. -Isaac Asimov

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Why is Customer Experience a Journey?

Have you ever wondered why the customer experience is a journey, not a destination?

The best journeys answer questions that, in the beginning, you didn't even think to ask. -Jeff Johnson

I often get asked why I named this blog CX Journey and why I consider the customer experience a journey and not a destination. Most recently, in a chat with Customer Service Guru, I was asked: You place a lot of emphasis on the idea that customer experience is a journey and not a destination. What’s the reason behind this belief, and how can this perception help companies deliver a better customer experience?

“Destination” means to me that there’s an endpoint; you’ve arrived, and it’s over. I don’t believe we ever want to rest on our laurels and be satisfied that we’re delivering the best experience possible. Customer needs and expectations evolve over time – so must our efforts to deliver a great experience.

When we engage with customers (or, when they engage with us), we are (hopefully) engaging for the long-term, developing a relationship. We want customer relationships, not just customer transactions. And relationships take time and work, every day; the focus and the desire to keep the relationship alive and strong should never stop because, when it does, the relationship will end. That never-ending focus – that’s the journey.

Along similar lines, every transaction or interaction, when combined, sums up to the total experience. While we need to ensure that we deliver a great experience during each interaction, if one of those interactions breaks down, it doesn’t have to be the be-all-end-all. We don’t give up. We work to correct and recover and then do better at the next interaction. That’s the journey.

Those organizations that focus on delivering a great experience at each interaction, at each touchpoint - but, importantly, don’t lose site of the bigger picture, the journey - will find success.

And finally, the customer experience is the sum of all the experiences along the customer lifecycle, and that lifecycle is often represented as an infinite loop. We want an infinite loop; it means our customers are with us for the long haul. That’s the journey.

Read the rest of the conversation with Customer Service Guru here.

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

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Surveys Don't Sell!

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Is there anyone in your company who wants to use VoC/CX surveys as marketing tools rather than as customer listening tools?

It's a scary and sad thought, but the answer to that question more often than not is "Yes." I don't know how many clients I've had to talk off the marketing ledge and get them to focus on the task at hand: use VoC/CX surveys to genuinely listen to your customers and, of course, act on their feedback.

Hat tip to Tareq Krayim for the nudge to provide my thoughts on this topic and write today's post.

Tareq shared with me an article that suggested, nay, outright stated that "the easiest way to grow sales and double customer loyalty is to send a survey and then do nothing with the feedback." The article is based on research that was summarized in an HBR article in May 2002. O my, where to begin.

First, don't believe everything you read on the Internet. Especially from someone who admits that she is not market research savvy, as the author of that article did. Second, it's always a good idea to refer to the original source document to understand how/why people interpret what is being said. (Which is why I've only provided you the link to the HBR article; you can also download their full research findings here.) Third, in research, sample size and context are so important.

In a nutshell, two researchers conducted a field experiment among a sample of one U.S. financial services firm's customers (those enrolled in their CRM program). They had a control group and a test group, the latter of which participated in a 10-to-12-minute customer satisfaction survey conducted by phone. They were asked to rate program features, e.g., estate planning, account monitoring, and retirement planning, in addition to their overall satisfaction with the firm. The control group wasn't surveyed at all. The researchers then tracked certain metrics (purchase behavior, defection, and profitability) for the two groups for a year and found that the test group was 3x more likely to have opened new accounts, were less than half as likely to defect, and were more profitable than the control group.

How could this be? From the HBR article, their theories were as follows:
  • satisfaction surveys appeal to customers’ desire to be coddled, reinforcing positive feelings they may already have about the surveying organization and making them more likely to buy its products. 
  • surveys may also increase people’s awareness of a company’s products and thereby encourage future purchases. 
  • the very process of asking people their opinions can induce them to form judgments that otherwise wouldn’t occur to them, i.e., measurement-induced judgments, as they are called, can influence later behavior.
I would argue that the first and third bullet points could go in either direction, i.e., positive or negative feelings or judgments.

In the full research findings, the researchers spell out their hypotheses in detail and build their case, but they also spend a chunk of real estate outlining caveats and explaining that further research is necessary. Troubling to me was this (bolding is mine):

"... this research was limited to highly satisfied customers of a single firm in one industry. It is possible that these results may be subject to the vicissitudes pertaining to the firm itself or to the financial services industry more generally. Similar studies need to be undertaken across firms and in other industries to replicate our findings and to provide generalizability.

Finally, it is also important to point out that the participants of our study had a formal ongoing relationship with the firm and were among its more profitable and higher potential customers. These factors may have magnified the positive effects of satisfaction measurement on participants

It's troubling because when people take research findings at face value without knowing anything about how the research was conducted, among what audience, or what its potential limitations are, they draw broad conclusions and generalizations that can be detrimental to those who buy into them. Do we even know if this research is repeatable? It was a single industry, a single data point, a single point in time. Was this, in fact, marketing research and not a customer satisfaction survey, per se? The research was labeled as a "customer satisfaction survey," though that casts a wide net; I would argue that it would have been better labeled as a program or product satisfaction survey, which says "marketing" to me.

Back to my original question: Have you tried to design your VoC/CX surveys, only to find that your marketing department wants to sabotage the survey with marketing research or include marketing-related questions? (BTW, I'm referring specifically to customer satisfaction/experience surveys.) If this is a challenge you've had to face, here are a couple of things to keep in mind for your VoC/CX surveys.
  • As pointed out in the HBR article, selling under the guise ("sugging") of conducting marketing research is illegal. If you plan to use your survey to sell a product or service, you must disclose that upfront. And I'd argue that it's really no longer VoC/CX at that point; call it marketing.
  • Twelve years later (that research was published in 2002), customers have seen a lot of surveys; I think they know which ones are designed to genuinely gather feedback about the experience versus trying to introduce/sell a product.
  • On a similar note, if you start incorporating marketing questions alongside your CX questions in your VoC/CX surveys (and then do nothing with the feedback to the "real" CX questions), customers will see through that, and you can watch your response rates tank over time
  • Always state the purpose of your survey and what you plan to do with the feedback.
  • Surveys are a touchpoint. Make sure the survey experience is a good one for your customers. Be genuine. Ask for feedback, and use it to make changes or improvements.
  • When you design a survey, make sure that every question has a purpose. The purpose should be about the experience, and the question should be actionable, i.e., you can act on it by either improving something or recognizing someone for a job well done.
  • Every question should have an owner, too. Who is responsible for the action to be taken or the outcome of that question? Without a purpose or an owner, the question is wasting real estate.
  • Be careful even with satisfaction surveys. Ask the questions in such a way that say you're really interested in whether the customer was satisfied or not with the product, service, or experience. Don't frame it in such a way that comes across as salesy or introduces a product that doesn't exist. (We don't know how the questions were framed or asked in that research.) Better yet, ask only about products or services you know the customer owns or uses.
  • Just don't do it. Ask about the experience, and leave it at that.
  • Most importantly, after you ask, act! The article that Tareq sent me stated, "... and do nothing with the feedback." That's a big mistake.
VoC/CX surveys should not be used for marketing purposes. At all. If you are asking for feedback about the experience, stay the course and stay focused on the purpose at hand. If you want to sell more or increase loyalty, deliver a great experience and let your customers speak for you or be an extension of your sales team; don't do it in your VoC/CX surveys.

USA Today has come out with a new survey - apparently, three out of every four people make up 75% of the population. -David Letterman

Friday, August 1, 2014

Your Most Important #CX Training Tool

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I originally wrote today's post for Intradiem. It appeared on their blog on April 14, 2014.  

Can you name one of the most powerful and most important customer experience training tools available to your organization?

If you can't, I'll answer that question for you. The most powerful training tool, the one that's going to help your employees deliver a great customer experience, is a customer journey map.

Are you surprised? Don't be. It totally makes sense. Read on, and you'll see why.

So, first some basics. In case you missed all the announcements that 2014 is the year of the journey map, why, and what that means, here's a little background on journey maps.

What is a customer journey map? In simplest terms, it's a way to walk in your customer's shoes and to chart his course as he interacts with your organization (channels, departments, touchpoints, products, etc.) while trying to fulfill some need or do some job.  It allows you to identify key moments of truth and incorporate data that shows how you are performing for the customer at those moments.

There is no right or wrong way to map, i.e., how it looks, but there are some basic components. And the map is created from the customer's viewpoint, not yours. It's created through collaborative efforts. It's shared across departments, throughout the organization. It doesn't sit on a shelf when it's completed. And it's never really complete. It's not linear, and it's not static. But it is the backbone of your customer experience management efforts.

Why do you need a customer journey map? Because it helps the organization...
  • be more customer-focused and customer-centric
  • understand the customer and his interactions with your organization
  • align around a common cause
  • speak a universal language (customer)
  • break down silos
  • achieve a single view of the customer
  • improve the customer experience
For the employee, I believe customer journey maps provide clarity in a variety of ways. Most importantly, the maps offer a clear line of sight to the customer.

Why is that important?

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
How, then, is it used as a training tool?

The map provides so much great information about each touchpoint, each interaction, in order to facilitate training and coaching about the customer experience, including:
  • who the customer is
  • what the customer is doing
  • how the customer is feeling
  • who the customer interacts with
  • what the customer's expectations are in the moment
  • where things are breaking down
  • where things are going well
  • what's most important to the customer
  • if and how the employee contributes at each touchpoint
  • what processes support each touchpoint or interaction
  • which tools facilitate the interaction
It also allows employees to compare and to visualize the actual experience to the ideal experience, i.e., reality versus what it should be or what it's designed to be. The map provides a lot of information for coaching and training, really adding richness and detail that you wouldn't get otherwise. And because it's a living, breathing document, it also provides a lot of opportunities for follow-up training to support the customer-focused culture.

In addition to training, journey maps are also useful orientation tools. Can't think of a better way, during orientation, to show employees that the organization is committed to customers. What a great way to immediately let a new employee know where and how he contributes and how his contributions matter to the business. What an awesome tool to initiate an employee into a customer-focused and customer-centric culture, to help him see how departments work together, and to teach him about priorities for the business.

Are you incorporating customer experience training into your new-hire orientation as well as into your ongoing employee training? And are you using a customer journey map to onboard or to train your employees in order to reinforce your customer-centric culture? (You do have a customer-centric culture, right?) If not, what are you waiting for?

The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in combat. -military quote