Friday, November 28, 2014

Weathering the Negativity Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

15 Brand Trends for 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What the Hell is Customer Experience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Are You Putting Marbles in a Bowl?

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

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

What do I mean by that?

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

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

This got me thinking, as these things often do.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

Customer Experience: Art or Science?

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

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

I do.

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

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

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

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

Or said another way…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Science is technology.
Art is human.

The technology facilitates the customer experience that the employee delivers.

Science is data driven.
Art is emotion driven.

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

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

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

Science is objective.
Art is subjective.

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

Science is rational.
Art is emotional.

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

Science is metrics.
Art is stories.

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

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

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

What do you think?

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

18 Reasons to Map Customer Journeys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2014

CX / VoC: DIY or Hire a Guide?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Skill requirements don’t warrant a guide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Guide, please!

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

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

Conclusion: Guide, please!

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

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

Conclusion: Who needs a guide?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Do We Care About Brands?

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Do customers really care about brands?

A couple weeks ago, SDL shared a post of theirs that included 25 facts about customer experience, including a variation of this one:

Most people worldwide would not care if more than 73% of brands disappeared tomorrow. -Source: Havas Media

The question I ask is, "Why?" Is this even a thing? Should we be worried about people not caring if brands disappeared from their lives? Do people care about brands? Can people care about brands?

Consider this: companies spend a ton of money on marketing and advertising to lure customers in, and yet, we couldn't care less if most of them weren't around tomorrow. Are companies wasting their money?

I know... that's a lot of questions.

Let's start with a definition of brand loyalty, a rough proxy for people caring about brands. If you're loyal, I suppose you'd care if the brand disappeared or not. Use Apple as an example; if you're an Apple fan, would you be upset if Apple ceased to exist tomorrow? I think so. But then again, maybe not. defines brand loyalty as:

The extent of the faithfulness of consumers to a particular brand, expressed through their repeat purchases, irrespective of the marketing pressure generated by the competing brands.

Are we really "faithful" to brands if we don't care if most of them aren't around tomorrow? Is brand loyalty just a myth?

Let's assume that people can care about a brand. What are those brands doing wrong? I can think of a few things. They...
  • don't focus on the customer
  • are not providing value relative to price
  • are not providing value relative to the competition/alternatives
  • have broken customers' trust
  • don't deliver on their promises
  • don't care about customers
  • don't meet customer expectations
  • are not innovative (think "same old same old")
  • deliver a fragmented or poor experience
Bottom line: the relationship is broken.

Companies can start by designing a customer experience that's worthy of customer caring and loyalty. What are some of the attributes of a great experience? As I wrote previously, I believe a great customer experience is built on trust but is also personalized, memorable, remarkable, and consistent. I also think there's an emotional component, perhaps even a bit of nostalgia, i.e., a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

Although we think that decision-making about brands depends strongly on functional benefits, it all comes down to one question: how will this make me feel? –Kim Cramer and Alexander Koene, BR-ND 

At the same time, it is often said that customers buy from brands with which they align, whether that alignment is with the brand's purpose, the corporate social responsibility policy, shared values, or something else. Are those the only brands customers truly care about? What can companies do about that? Stop being selfish, self-absorbed, and all about the collective "corporate me." Instead, do something for the greater good. Take up a cause. Be a part of something that matters to people. Do right.

Need an example? Think TOMS One for One. They state, "We’re in business to help improve lives."

Is taking up a cause the answer to getting people to care? Maybe. Again, I think alignment is the key to caring, whether that's with a cause or a purpose or whatever. That alignment does become a part of the overall experience.

I recently saw a USAA commercial that stated that 92% of their members plan to stay with them for life.

Can you say that about your customers?

The ethics on which brands are built need to be ingrained in the business if the brand proposition is to be credible to consumers. –Paul Gaskell, brand strategist