Thursday, October 29, 2015

Top 10 Customer Service Skills

Today's post is a guest blog by Matthew Olszewski.

Strong customer service skills are a key element in the operation of every serious and successful business. Even small businesses that see an opportunity for additional earnings increasingly care about their customers and the level of service they receive.

Good customer service is good for business.

That very mentality begins to dominate over the desire for an immediate increase in profits, which often comes at the detriment of the customer. In addition, a growing number of businesses are starting to realize that lost customers don't just equate to a loss of profits from one transaction today but also from all transactions that could a customer could make in the future.

Every business owner who wants a prominent position in the marketplace must treat the subject of customer service seriously. Competition in any industry is growing, and the possibility of acquiring new customers becomes increasingly limited. Therefore, companies wanting to survive increasingly seek to create a solid relationship with their customers - and end up competing on delivering excellent customer service.

The infographic to the left is a collection of the 10 most-important (in my opinion, based on my research) customer service skills:

- product knowledge
- attentiveness
- communication skills
- patience
- empathy
- honesty
- adaptability
- work ethic
- self control

What do you think of these 10? Do you have any others that you'd add to the list?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Is the Customer Experience Really Everyone's Job?

Image courtesy of Nikolai Berntsen
Is it really everyone's job?

Pundits and experts alike say that customer experience is everyone's job. If you google "customer experience is everyone's job" and "customer service is everyone's job," you'll find endless articles, blogs, and webinars with that very title.

It's true. Technically, it is everyone's job.

The spirit of the statement, though, is this: every employee impacts the customer experience, whether he's part of your frontline interacting with customers face to face/phone to phone or she's behind the scenes making sure the website works well or designing brochures to describe your products. Every employee matters; every employee contributes.

It seems like that's just one more proof point that the employee experience comes first - and drives the customer experience.

So it kills me when I see so many job postings for "customer experience" roles. In this regard... NO, customer experience is not everyone's job. I've seen positions posted with titles of Customer Experience This or Customer Experience That. Ironically, the postings were really sales/retail  positions or call center/customer service jobs. And sadly, many of the job descriptions never even mentioned the customer! How can that be?

I am an active member (and a Board Member) of the Customer Experience Professionals Association; my colleagues and I are fighting to get recognition for the customer experience profession. This means that we're looking to legitimize, validate, or otherwise verify or confirm that if your job entails listening to the customer and using what you hear to develop and to execute on a customer experience strategy, or if you oversee a team of folks doing the same, or if you are tasked with ensuring the entire organization drives toward a better customer experience, then you are a customer experience professional. If that's the case, then your title should have the words "customer experience." (If you're a consultant who consults on one and the same, it's fine if your title contains those words, too.)

Instead, what we've found is that, with the popularization of customer experience roles and the push to improve the customer experience, everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, making it trendy to put "customer experience" in every title. Unfortunately, this simple action dilutes the profession and what we're trying to do.

The good news is, customer experience has gained attention. The bad news is, with that, it can also become meaningless. When job descriptions have a customer experience title but never mention the customer in the actual description, a major fail has occurred.

What should you do?

Do your job, the one you're hired for. You don't have to have "customer experience" in your title in order to prove that you impact the experience. If you're a true customer experience professional, one whose role is to make customer experience management an integral part of how their companies operate, do all that you can to stay true to the profession... for yourself and for those around you. For those whose job is to deliver a great customer experience, give the CX professional a chance - they are taking what they hear from customers and translating it into a story to help you deliver a great experience.

In the end, yes, we are all responsible for ensuring our customers have a great experience - title or not. How will you execute?

When it comes to creating a great customer experience, everyone within the company is committed to doing what it takes to succeed. -Quotepedia

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Leadership Lessons: Running into the Same Wall

If you ever wanted to know a little more about me - and my leadership style and challenges - here's your chance.

I was honored and thrilled when Jim Rembach invited me to join him for a chat on his FastLeader Show. I've known Jim for a few years; he's a great guy, and he knows his stuff. And he knows how to host a fun podcast. It was an energetic conversation from the moment we started!

Jim's interviewing format is unique. He starts with the interviewee's bio: his approach is to not just list what you've done; it's more about who you are and what makes you, well, you. From there, he delves into leadership beliefs and then into the all-important story or challenge that made you who you are as a leader. He follows that up with your epiphany and what you did to overcome your leadership challenge.

In closing, he does a hump day hoe down. It's as fabulous as it sounds... six questions, in rapid succession, with a spin toward advice for other leaders or aspiring leaders. Questions include:
  • What's holding you back as a leader?
  • What's the best leadership advice you've ever received?
  • What's one secret to your success?
  • and more!
To listen to our interview, please set aside about 20 minutes, and click here.

A couple of noteworthy things, according to Jim, that I said during this interview, include:
  • Speak your mind; your opinion matters.
  • When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
  • Do your homework, and be prepared.
  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • Leadership is about a lot of different things.
  • You can only blame yourself for where you are today versus where you want to be.
There's one thing I said that didn't make the final podcast cut, but I think it's worth mentioning. Jim asked about how I balance all the things on my plate. My response/advice was to prioritize and to...
  • Always make time for things that are important to you.
Hope you enjoy our conversation!

The supreme quality of leadership is integrity. -Dwight Eisenhower

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Reduce Employee Effort for a Great Customer Experience

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I originally wrote today's post for Intradiem. It appeared on their blog on April 23, 2015.

There's a lot of talk about how much effort a customer is required to put forth in order to complete some task with an organization, whether it's to buy a product, to get an issue resolved, or to do something else. There's even a away to measure this effort, using the customer effort score (CES). If you're not familiar with that, it's a metric created by CEB, based on the following questions, using a 7-point verbal scale:

Please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with the following statements about your service experience, overall:
- The company made it easy for me to handle my issue.
- It took less time than I expected to handle this issue.

Through their research, CEB discovered that service interactions are four times more likely to create disloyal customers than loyal customers.

From their site:
This is because 96 percent of customers who put forth high effort to resolve their issues are more disloyal, but only 9% of those with low effort interactions are more disloyal. Creating low effort customer interactions is the clear goal for the service organization.

Well, all this focus on customer effort got me thinking about the spillover effect between employees and customers. What about employee effort? How do we measure that? And how does that impact the customer experience?

I'm not talking about the (discretionary) effort that the employee puts into his or her work every day. I'm referring to the effort it takes for the employee to do his job, i.e., are there processes that hinder their ability to do their jobs in an efficient manner?

I started wondering...
  • What's keeping employees from delivering the great experience that your customers deserve?
  • How can we simplify workflows and processes?
  • Can we cut out three steps from the nine required to do something?
  • How can we become easier to do business with - internally?
  • How can we make it easier for employees to do what we ask them to do?
  • How do we make it easier for agents to deliver a great customer experience?What complexities, complications, and bureaucracy can we remove?
  • How do we reduce effort for employees and then, ultimately, for customers?
When we make it difficult for employees to do their jobs, it translates to the experience they deliver for their customers. Even if the task the employee is trying to do is not directly related to a customer and his experience, the frustration that effort evokes will manifest itself in the employee-customer interaction somehow.

Why do we do this? Why do we hire people to fill a role or to do some job and then make it nearly impossible for them to succeed?

I have a few suggestions on how to turn things around for your employees, and ultimately, for the customer.

1. Walk in your employees' shoes
To really understand the effort they must put forth every day, you do have to walk in their shoes. To do this, create: (1) employee journey maps, a subject about which Intradiem and I did a webinar, or (2) your own undercover executive type program, where executives take on the role of the employee. What an eye opener that can be! Once you understand the effort, you'll uncover inefficiencies and be equipped to improve the process.

2. Pay attention to your employees
Listen and observe. Listen to what your employees are telling you. Watch how they work. If they say a process is painful or pointless, fix it. Don't brush it aside. If you get feedback, do something with it. If you ignore it, employees will resent you.

3. Listen to what customers are saying
When customers provide feedback that their issues were not resolved promptly or properly or that  employees seemed hostile and unwilling or unable to help, perhaps this is on you. Perhaps this is due to processes set forth within the organization. Perhaps it's due to inadequate tools or training. Perhaps there are other root causes that hinder the employee's ability to support that customer in the manner in which he should.

4. Ensure employees have the tools
Clearly define their roles and set expectations. Make sure employees have the knowledge, skills, training, and resources to do the jobs you hired them to do and to deliver on what you're expecting of them. Without this, they'll attempt to forge their own path or come up with their solutions - which isn't necessarily a bad thing - but could instead end up needlessly spinning their wheels.

5. Similarly, clearly define what a great customer experience looks like
When employees are spinning their wheels, trying to achieve some moving or unclear target, the effort is extreme and unwarranted. Give them a clear line of sight to the target (customers) and help them understand how to get there.

6. Provide ongoing feedback
How does feedback reduce effort? The answer relates to #2. If they keep doing what they're doing and are continuing to get the same (wrong/bad) results, first of all, that's the definition of insanity. You don't want to drive your employees crazy! Second of all, if they're doing it wrong and continue to do so, what does that mean for the amount of effort they're exuding? Giving employees feedback - and ongoing coaching - helps to guide them in the right direction, to do things better, to do the right things.

7. Lose the script
While that seems like a solution that contradicts simplicity, it really can be the root of all evil. If employees stick to the script, they may not really be listening to what customers are saying. Instead of being flexible and personalizing the experience for the specific customer/customer interaction, they are forced to work within this box (script), which really can make it more difficult to deliver a great experience or to find the right solution for the customer.

8. Communication is key
I think a common thread throughout many of these items is communication, plain and simple. Listen to employees. Talk to employees.

I mentioned at the beginning that there's a metric called customer effort score. Is there an employee effort score? Not that I'm aware of. But why should that stop us from measuring and understanding the employee effort. We should ask employees a variation of the CES questions; how about something along the lines of...

Please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with the following statements

- The company makes it easy for me to do my job.
- The company makes it easy for me to handle customer issues.
- The company makes it easy for me to deliver a great customer experience.

I'd include an open-end question so that employees can provide details about their responses and  offer up suggestions for improvements. What else would you add?

Sometimes it's just easier to sit around spinning your wheels than it is to move forward...but you never get anywhere. -Susan Gale

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Hey! You Got Your Metrics in My Journey Map!

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Today's post is a modified version of a post I originally published on Touchpoint Dashboard's blog on June 11, 2015.

Remember the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercials from the ’80s? The ones where two people – one eating chocolate, the other holding a jar of peanut butter – collide and exclaim: “Hey! You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” and “Hey! You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!”

At the time, I suppose they were two things that we traditionally didn’t believe went together (yea, right!) – a bit like how many think about metrics and journey maps.

As long as we’re talking about traditional thinking, when we talk about the traditional approach to mapping, images of butcher paper and Post-It Notes come to mind. This approach to mapping is still widely used today, but it has some flaws, not the least of which is that it’s difficult to analyze and prioritize touchpoints and improvement opportunities. Why? Because there’s no way to easily and efficiently assign data to each touchpoint, a precursor – and a requirement – to said analysis and prioritization, and you can’t easily crosstab and modify views to do the analysis.

In a previous post, I mentioned that mapping tools had to evolve because people failed to see the value in mapping with the then-current approaches; in addition, maps were not proving to be that catalyst for change that they are designed to be. In order to be that catalyst, maps have to be actionable. And the only way they can be actionable is if you have some data to support or to drive that action. Executives love data and metrics, right? Data-driven decisions are all the rage, and rightly so.

Where do the data and metrics come from? And what kind of data?

There are two types of data that will be critical to include in your maps:
  1. Customer data: this is your voice of the customer (VoC) data and metrics, including satisfaction, importance, NPS, customer effort score, and verbatims/comments about the experience.
  2. Business data: for a lack of a better way to label it, this data is all about the business impact; it’s revenue, profitability, retention, cost to fix, time to fix, effort to fix, impact to fix type of data.
When you assign these types of data to each touchpoint (for which you have it and where it makes sense), you are setting yourself up to make data-based decisions around prioritizing improvements. You’ll be able to determine if you’re making improvements that are most important to your customers, while also understanding the cost or the effort to do so.

You’ll also be able to build your business case for these improvements. You’ll easily be able to answer questions such as: “If we fix this, how will it impact our customers?” and “If we fix this, what is the business impact?” and “Why should we fix this?”

Just like the Reese’s commercial ends with, “Two great tastes that taste great together,” metrics and maps are two great tools that work great together. Once you put them together, you’ll wonder how you were ever able to do your job without them.

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together. -Vincent Van Gogh

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

63 Ways to Improve the Customer Experience

Image courtesy of eurobasefulfillment1
Looking for some suggestions on how to improve your customer service and the overall customer experience?

We know that delivering a great customer experience is critical to the success of a business. Without customers, what's the point?

Customer service is one component of that customer experience, albeit a major customer touchpoint.

In honor of Customer Service Week last week, OneReach asked 63 industry influencers to weigh in on the #1 way that companies can improve customer service. I was excited to be asked for my thoughts, and my response probably won't surprise anyone: fix the employee experience first. What I loved seeing is that this was the top theme among the group. The chart below shows how the recommendations broke down.

Source: OneReach The Influencers: Customer Service Report 2015
By the way, I love that the second most-frequently mentioned suggestion is to walk in the customer's  shoes. That would be #2 on my list of things to do, as well.

To get the specific recommendations made by each influencer, download the report.

By treating employees well, you end up with a first-class workforce that will, in turn, demonstrate a good work ethic and great customer service. -Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines CEO

Thursday, October 8, 2015

5 Basic Journey Mapping Principles

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Today's post is a modified version of a post I originally published on Touchpoint Dashboard's blog on May 29, 2015.

There are five basic principles that journey maps must adhere to. What are they?

Once upon a time (and still today), journey maps were created on butcher paper with post-it notes. I’ve used this approach to create journey maps in the past, and while it's a valid and viable methodology, it makes it difficult to share the maps, to administer updates, and to transfer knowledge. It’s also time-consuming and fosters that one-and-done attitude that becomes the death knell of journey mapping.

Then we started using tools like Excel, PowerPoint, and Visio, which prove to be expensive, and the output is static and two-dimensional. Plus, these tools are also time consuming; you end up spending hours drawing – time that could or should be spent on strategy and execution.

Mapping tools had to evolve. Why? Because nothing was being done with the maps. People failed to see the value in this very important exercise. We are asked often, “So what? I mapped. What do I do with it now?” Maps are supposed to be that catalyst for change both throughout the organization and for the customer experience; without adhering to some basic principles of mapping, maps become useless. (Side note: Touchpoint Dashboard was purpose built to help with those principles and to ensure maps are that catalyst for change.)

What are those basic principles of mapping? Other than the obvious, which I've written about recently, five important principles to adhere to include:

1. Maps must be collaborative/collaborated.
To break down those organizational silos and to get buy-in across the organization for the change that must happen, cross-functional collaboration is necessary. This collaboration is a great reminder to the various key stakeholders that the customer experience isn't one dimensional, i.e., just because the customer calls support doesn't mean support is the only department involved in that interaction. This collaboration also facilitates the assignment of owners to the steps in the journey so that we know who to call on when something is broken. And finally, customer collaboration is key; customers must validate the maps you’ve created.

2. Maps bring the journey to life.
Maps help bring the customer experience to life. To amplify this, you'll want to add visuals – images, audio, or video – of what the customer is doing, thinking, or feeling. And bring customer feedback and data into the touchpoints. Attach any artifacts to the map or to a touchpoint to add greater understanding about the customer journey.

3. Maps should allow you to analyze and prioritize touchpoints and improvement opportunities.
Map your customers journey using a tool that's data driven. The more data you bring into the map, into a touchpoint, the better your ability to analyze the journey and to prioritize improvement opportunities. And the better your ability to drive change. When you can analyze your touchpoints, it’s more likely that the map will not just sit on the shelf or just hang on the wall and fail to be the catalyst it’s supposed to be.

4. Maps must be shared.
Once a map is created, it can't just sit on the desk of the person who created it. It must be shared throughout the organization in order to tell the customer’s story, to get buy-in for the experience and its improvements, and to educate employees about the customer’s journey.

5. Maps should be updated.
As improvements are made to the experience and as the experience evolves, you need to be able to update your maps in order to reflect the latest current state. From there, you'll iterate, continue design efforts, and cycle back through these five principles. Continuously.

When you adhere to these basic principles of mapping, you can be certain that your maps become the catalyst for change that they were meant to be!

Every contact we have with a customer influences whether or not they’ll come back. We have to be great every time or we’ll lose them. -Kevin Stirtz

Monday, October 5, 2015

So, You've Got Executive Commitment...

Are your executives on board with your desire to improve the customer experience? 

When I'm asked about the largest impediment to a successful customer experience transformation, my answer is always this: a lack of executive buy-in and commitment.

By the way, "buy-in" isn't enough; it's commitment that you really want and need. Buy-in means they like your idea; commitment means they'll put their money where their mouths are. 

If company leadership isn't on board with focusing on the customer experience, then forget it; it won't happen. 

I'll go one step further and call out your CEO. She must be the first one to step up and say that the customer is going to be the priority for the company. The rest of the executive leadership team must then jump in line and support that directive by championing the message (and subsequent initiatives) throughout their organizations.

Most of the time, though, things happen a bit differently, i.e., the CEO doesn't just announce: "It's time to focus on the customer; it's time to improve the experience." (Ah, wouldn't that be nice!) There are usually some other efforts underway long before that happens. Here are two examples of those efforts; there may be others.

1. You have to prove it
It's a known fact that the CEO and the rest of her team need to know why any major resource expenditures are necessary. Yes, she wants/needs to see the numbers, the ROI. This means that, as a CX professional, you know you need to start by building the business case and earning your CEO's commitment.

Need some help getting that commitment? I've written a few posts on this topic, but these are two of my favorites:

Help! My Execs Don't Get It! 
Aligning the Organization Around the Customer with Customer Rooms

2. Someone down the ladder gets it
Sometimes well-intentioned middle managers who want to do the right thing by and for the customer begin some localized or departmentalized efforts to improve the experience. Unfortunately, these efforts are typically silo'd and translate into silo'd experiences for the customer. And that's not the transformation you, nor your customer, are expecting

Revert back to scenario #1. In walks the CX professional to recommend a different approach that turns these efforts into a solid business case that then garners CEO and organization-wide commitment.

Speaking of organization-wide commitment, need some ideas for getting employee buy-in, too? Here's a post I wrote on that topic:

Getting Employee Buy-In for Your #CX Transformation

(By the way, I haven't forgotten about the importance of the employee experience in this equation. For the purpose of this post, know that it's baked into everything we're doing.)

Let's assume we've earned that oft-elusive commitment. From everyone. What's next?

We need a few things...
  1. CX Vision
  2. Strategy
  3. Governance structure
... pretty much in that order.  Without a vision, we have no direction. Without a strategy, we have no plan to execute on the vision. And without a governance structure, we might as well be herding cats; we perpetuate silo thinking and fail to achieve cross-functional alignment, involvement, and commitment that is also critical to a successful customer experience transformation.

Here's the bottom line. Having executive commitment ensures you'll get resources - human, capital, or other - to execute on your customer experience strategy. Employee commitment means employees are on board to delivered the desired experience. Your CX vision will get everyone on the same page, focusing on the right outcomes. For the customer. And for the business.

Nothing stops an organization faster than people who believe that the way you worked yesterday is the best way to work tomorrow. -Jon Madonna

This post is part of the Customer Experience Professionals Association's Blog Carnival "Celebrating Customer Experience." It is part of a broader celebration of Customer Experience Day. Check out posts from other bloggers at CX Day Blog Carnival. See more at:

Thursday, October 1, 2015

If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going…

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Today's post is a modified version of a post I originally published on Touchpoint Dashboard's blog on April 15, 2015.

Yogi Berra once said, "If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else."

This is true in life and in any project you undertake. It’s also - rather, especially - true for your customer experience transformation efforts.

This is where customer journey mapping plays a huge role. And yet, I’ve seen folks dive into mapping exercises only to get stopped in their tracks because they hadn’t done two crucial things before they got started: (1) they didn’t identify the objectives for the map, and (2) they didn’t define its scope.

Let’s start with objectives.

You know the saying: garbage in, garbage out. Like any other research you do, you have to start from the beginning, knowing the why. Why are you mapping? What are your objectives? What business problems are you trying to solve? What value will the map bring to the organization? What are your intended outcomes? What changes will you make as a result of its findings?

And then, don't forget to ask: Is the organization prepared to make those changes? How will the outputs be applied? And by whom?

In case you need some examples of objectives, I've listed a few here; map to…
  • Better understand the customer/employee experience
  • Identify where you’re falling down
  • Improve the customer/employee experience
  • Identify key moments of truth – those make or break points
  • Identify additional areas to solicit feedback/listen
  • Look for under-performing channels
  • Train and educate employees so they can deliver a better experience
  • Develop new products
  • Move into new markets
  • Plan a new communication program or campaign
I think you get the idea. Be sure to outline your objectives and then communicate them to key stakeholders. Build those objectives into your story as you share the map with the organization.

Yogi also said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

So you start mapping, and then you find yourself at a particular step in the journey saying, “If this, then that.” You came to a fork in the customer’s journey. Which way should you take the map? Or should you even have to decide, i.e., just map all of it, every variation?

If you clearly define the scope of the map, if you define your start and end points from the outset, you won’t have to wonder which way to go. Map Point A to Point B now and then come back and map the forks, or the micro-journeys, later.

Other items to consider when you’re defining scope:
  •     For which persona are you mapping?
  •     Which channels will you include in the map?
  •     What other aspects are you mapping?
    • Are you only mapping what customers are doing, or also what they are thinking and feeling?
    • Are you mapping onstage and backstage, or just onstage?
    • What do onstage and backstage encompass?
    • Are you mapping who owns the step/touchpoint?
    • etc.
Answering these questions will help you determine the best framework (columns and rows) to use. There are a lot of frameworks out there, but once you define your objectives and scope, you’ll likely create your own framework, one customized to your specific needs and objectives.

We’re lost, but we’re making good time. -Yogi Berra