Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Did Your Company Make the #CX Naughty List This Year?

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I originally wrote today's post for Intradiem; it appeared on their blog on December 16, 2014. Two years later, it's still relevant!

'Tis the season... Santa's making his lists and checking them twice.

Oh no! Your company shows up on his CX Naughty List! What did you do wrong this year? In short, a lot.

There are (at least) five categories in which companies continue to fall down when it comes to the customer experience. For each category, I'll call out some of the most egregious reasons for being on Santa's CX Naughty List. Trust me, there are a lot more reasons; I could write a book about all of them.

1. Customer Culture
Customer Culture is all about setting the stage for successfully designing and delivering a great customer experience. If you don't have a leadership team who supports and drives a customer-centric culture, forget it; it won't happen. Here are a few things your company did or didn't do around developing a customer culture this year that caused you to land on the Naughty List.
  • You still don't understand the importance of focusing on the customer experience: your executives don't get it, but there are plenty of examples and statistics as to why focusing on the customer experience pays in spades.
  • You think and operate inside-out rather than outside-in: your focus is on processes that are designed and implemented based on internal thinking and intuition. The customer's needs and perspectives do not play a part in this type of thinking. You make decisions because you think it's what's best for the business.
  • You don't make the employee experience a priority: employee engagement is down, turnover is up, and you still question why you should focus on delivering a great employee experience.
  • You still think the purpose of a business is to maximize shareholder value: so that's how you prioritize your decisions and investments in the business, based on delivering a great rate of return for your shareholders. The real purpose of a business is to create (and nurture) a customer.
2. CX Strategy
CX Strategy refers to your approach to delivering a great customer experience. Some of the reasons you may have landed on Santa's Naughty List this year include:
  • You listen to customers but only focus on the metrics: instead of taking what you heard from customers and improving the experience, you decided to focus on the numbers and what moves the numbers. You promised your customers free oil changes if they rated you all 10s!
  • You don't have a customer experience vision: without a vision, you're left short-sighted when it comes to the customer experience.
  • You believe you already deliver a great customer experience: honestly, this is about short-sighted and egregious as it gets. Why? Because you don't.
3. Constituent Understanding
Do you know who your customers are? They might be partners and/or end customers/users. Why do they buy products and services from you? What are their needs? What problems are they trying to solve? What are they trying to achieve? You made the Naughty List because of the following.
  • You don't listen to your customers (or other constituents): you either don't understand why you should listen, or you don't care.
  • You don't know who your customers are: you've decided to focus on target segments instead of personas, when personas will get you closer to the customer and to a better customer experience design.
  • You don't map the customer journey: without mapping the journey, you truly don't understand what your customers are experiencing, which means "empathy" also isn't part of your vocabulary.
4. Analyze
Analyze is all about how you tease out meaning from your customer data. The following behaviors got you on the Naughty List this year.
  • You don't analyze unstructured data for insights and sentiment: there's so much richness in that unstructured feedback, but you've chosen to ignore it because it seems like too much work.
  • You focus on the wrong outcomes: there are a few different ways to look at this one, but in your case, you decided to focus on growing referrals, when it's not all that relevant to your business.
  • You don't tell a story with your data: you deliver dreadful charts and statistics to your employees, hoping they'll know what it means and how to apply it to delivering a great experience.
5. Operationalize
This is where the rubber meets the road. It's time to execute. It's time to improve and to deliver a great customer experience. You made the Naughty List based on this category due to a few shortcomings
  • You don't train employees on what it means to deliver a great experience: if they don't know what it means or what it looks like, how can they deliver it.
  • You develop products without understanding customer needs or what they are trying to achieve: you haven't listened to customers or tried to learn more about them; as a result, your products don't meet needs and frustrate customers.
  • You spend a lot of money on marketing to acquire new customers but can't keep the customers you currently have: it's a lot cheaper and easier to focus on the customers that you have than it is to acquire new ones; if you focus on delivering a great experience for the customers you have, they will help you acquire new ones.
  • You do nothing with the valuable feedback that your customers provide. Enough said.
Santa's hoping you'll do better next year! Focus on the things that matter to your customers and to your employees. Address the issues outlined above. And let's see if you make it to the Nice List in 2017.

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right. –Oprah Winfrey

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Value of Connecting with Other #CX Professionals

Image courtesy of Noel Dela Cena
I originally wrote today's post for the CXPA blog and have modified it slightly since then.

Simon Sinek said: A community is a group of people who agree to grow together. I think that describes the customer experience profession, and especially the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), quite well.

There’s a lot of value in connecting with other customer experience professionals, whether those connections are made through the CXPA or not. As you know, this customer experience profession is relatively new, having been formalized and validated five years ago by the formation of the CXPA. (Yes, I know, you may have been a customer experience professional longer than that.) Given that, plus the challenges newbies to this field experience (were you plucked from another role or department to tackle CX?), connecting with other customer experience professionals who have faced the same opportunities, challenges, and victories as you have is actually quite rewarding, for a variety of reasons… not the least of which is, as Simon states, growing together.

I can sum up the benefits of connecting with other CX professionals in two words: (1) education and (2) support; in some ways, they can both be lumped together and defined as:
  • learning from each other, 
  • having someone who understands what you’re talking about
  • having someone who can answer questions about the same challenges or experiences you’re having, 
  • bouncing ideas off each other, 
  • sharing failures and best practices, 
  • mentoring someone with less experience or knowledge, 
  • having a shoulder to cry on and also one to pick you up and help you along,
  • and more.
We are all still learning! Even after almost 25 years in this space, I learn new things from other CX professionals every week. As this field and this profession evolve and as we continue to define what it means to be in this CX profession, know that your professional connections become even more important.

Take the time to reach out to other CXPA members, join the discussions on the Discussion Forum, share your experiences and best practices or offer up resources that have worked well for you, and ask questions of the CX Experts. And if you're not already a member, join this growing community!

Get involved and connect with other CX professionals. Grow with other CX professionals. You will not regret it!

The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity. -Keith Ferrazzi

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Why Your Company Needs a Journey Room

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Today I'm pleased to share a guest post by John Zilch with Dun & Bradstreet.

A few years back, I was working at a mid-sized software company and was part of a project team looking to overhaul our pricing and packaging. The initial stages of the project involved speaking with customers, researching the competition, and performing the math necessary to hone in on the correct pricing. Then we built packages around the pricing, which was a way of bundling features and products together at an aggregated price to meet customer needs. (Note: The most difficult part of this exercise were the names themselves. Like most companies, we were boring, using the periodic table to find the right precious metals to name our packages.)

With these hurdles leaped, we believed we’d hit the homestretch. However, when we began buttoning up the customer experience around the forthcoming changes, we realized we’d only hit the tip of the iceberg.

No one across the organization seemed to be thrilled about the execution of the pricing roll out. Sales wasn’t keen on our communication strategy. Marketing needed to make website changes. Product didn’t trust the current upsell/cross-sell machinations for the new stuff. Support freaked out over the whole darned thing. The pricing/packaging looked great. And the customer experience was going to be a disaster if we didn’t get our act together.

So, we mapped out the customer journey… on paper. We jotted down every known detail on a whiteboard, and then invited folks to review and provide feedback and questions. We did many rounds of this, often with the same people. The more we met with different teams in our little huddle room, the more we added to the customer experience mapping up on the wall. Before long, we needed a bigger wall.  Hey, would the Red Sox mind if we hung a few items from the Green Monster during the All-Star break?

Ultimately, we created what we called a “fishbowl” (which I’ll refer to as a “journey room” for the sake of this article) in the middle of our office. The journey room was a common area with a series of white boards where we published the entire customer experience as a series of workflows and diagrams. (This was somewhat intimidating and looked a little like a circuit board upon first glance.) We provided Post-its to encourage our coworkers to leave suggestions, questions, ideas, and corrections. Our UX design team assumed the role of journey room owners. They’d answer any questions and take action on feedback. 

It didn’t take long for various folks from various teams to congregate and contribute. Having the customer journey posted in a physical, central location meant folks saw it every day. They saw their friends hanging out. They debated and worked together to tackle problems. Most of the office contributed. For all we knew, Matt Damon came by after hours to mop and figured some stuff out.

As changes were made to the board, pieces were finalized and individual teams took away action items to implement in advance of the changes.

Before long, we’d optimized the customer experience and successfully completed our pricing roll out. Then something interesting happened: the journey room stayed open. As new insights were made or projects were started, folks used the room to further improve the lives of our customers. Then we started charging money and people came from far away to see it! Okay, I made the last part up.  However, the journey room did serve as the record of truth and a living document of our customer’s experience from their first website visit to product adoption.

We are in the midst of a digital revolution, and it's remarkable how we can get closer to - and further from - the customer at the same time. How many websites do you visit today where online assistance is provided through a chat window? How confident are we that “Susan” is a real person and not an algorithm guided by artificial intelligence? Personally, I’m less confident, but only because “Susan” recently mentioned lunch with her friend “Siri.”

Customer-centricity is strangely both “top of mind” and “under attack” in the digital world.  Documenting, publishing, and maintaining a consistent, effective customer journey reinforces the importance of customer empathy.  So, find a room, map the customer experience, and see what happens. You’ll be surprised who shows up.

John Zilch is Director of Product at Dun & Bradstreet, helping marketing and sales drive revenue through effective data management and analysis. John is also the creator of the growthandgrit blog where he shares his experiences building products and growing businesses.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

When #CCM and #CX Collide

Image courtesy of GMC Software
What are you doing to bring your customer communications into the 21st century and into alignment with customer expectations?

Companies are making a huge effort to move their customer communications from traditional channels to the digital and social realm, while continuing to use and maintain offline communications, as well; however, there's a disconnect between the voice, tone, style, and messaging that is used in digital channels versus in traditional media. This is a problem.

Communication is important in any relationship, and it's no less important in the relationship that you have with your customers. Communications are an important component of the customer experience that are often overlooked but are, ironically, the one aspect of the experience that seem fairly straightforward when it comes to executing and improving. The right cross-functional teams need to be involved to ensure that disparate voices, systems, and channels don't sidetrack the brand messaging and, hence, the experience. Consistent messaging, just like consistent experiences, builds trust. Trust keeps customers coming back. Communications support both the brand promise and the customer experience.

When it comes to the customer experience strategy, efforts tend to focus on frontline communications – training and coaching employees regularly on how to best speak (and interact) with customers. Yet, customer communications such as contracts, call center inquiries, customer correspondence, emails, welcome kits, invoices, and statements, are equally important to the overall customer experience. These communications must all mesh with the messaging that you're using in the digital world.

It is this - the convergence of traditional and digital communications - and how they impact the customer experience that became the premise for the second whitepaper that I wrote for, and in conjunction with, GMC Software: The Convergence of Customer Communications Management and Customer Experience Management.

Download the whitepaper and find out...
  • How to give CMOs and CXOs visibility into all customer communications
  • What tools are available to align the operations folks with those in charge of delivering seamless branding and experiences for the customer
  • How to reduce the friction between operations and experience professionals
  • How organizations can come together in the name of a better customer experience
GMC's unique software platform combines customer communications management (CCM), customer journey mapping (CJM), and customer experience management (CEM) all in one place, allowing you to ensure that all of your messaging is aligned and cohesive.

There is a real need to have such a centralized system to (a) map the customer journey, being sure to call out communications along the way, and (b) ensure all communications, regardless of medium, deliver a seamless brand experience for the customer. Having the right people, the right systems, and the right strategy in place will go far to give you a leg up in this new world of communications - and in designing a great experience for your customers.

The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate. -Joseph Priestley

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Saying "Thank You" - Today and Every Day

Image courtesy of _D.s.G._
How do you thank your customers?

On this Thanksgiving week here in the United States, it's a great time to pause and give thanks for all of the good things in our lives.

It's also a great reminder to say "thank you" to your customers, as well, now and throughout the year. Without customers, you wouldn't be in business. Saying "thank you" is an essential part not only of your relationship with your customers but also of the overall customer experience. When you express gratitude, written or spoken, it should be:
→ Sincere
→ Timely
→ Personalized
→ Consistent
Companies must appreciate the customers they have, saying "thank you for your business" at every available opportunity; if they don't do this, customers certainly have a lot of other options to choose from, competitors who will appreciate them. Remember, retention is more important (and less costly) than acquisition, so appreciate the customers you have.

There's no need to offer discounts or freebies. A thank you is a thank you. It doesn't have to be about getting more business down the line. It's about appreciating the business you already have. And if you get the experience right - expressing appreciation simply supports what has already been done. And the business will come.

Express appreciation for their business not only when customers walk in the door (acquisition) but also when they leave (cancel, churn). Manners and etiquette go a long way toward building, securing, and solidifying a relationship. And yes, even (especially) when customers end the relationship, be sure to thank them for their business. It leaves a great last impression, which in turn becomes a lasting impression.

Thank yous don't just belong to customers; you need to be thanking your employees, as well. Gratitude goes a long way for employees: knowing they add value, knowing what they do matters, knowing that their work is appreciated, receiving recognition for a job well done - those are all factors that play into employee engagement. Make a point to let them know they are appreciated.

Thank you for always taking the time to read my blog. If you didn't read, I wouldn't write. So thank you.

Give thanks for a little, and you will find a lot. -Hansa Proverb

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Be a Customer Experience Leader. Measure the Right Way.

Today I'm pleased to share a guest post by Martha Brooke of Interaction Metrics.

Are you achieving your goals for the customer experience? If not, you’re probably not measuring in the right way. Learn what that way is.

Companies want to give and get value through the customer experience - what are your goals? Some companies seek to deliver proactive customer service. For others, it’s about increasing customer loyalty or selling more through each customer interaction.

To achieve your goals, you’ll need to measure the fine-grained elements of your customer interactions. Only an up-close view - not a high-level view - will show you how to actually improve.

Where most companies get it wrong (really wrong) is they spend copious resources tracking the consequences of their customer experience (dashboards, Net Promoter Scores, etc.). But, they barely consider the factors that cause those experiences.

Outcome Metrics: They’re Indicators…But Too Simplistic
Outcome metrics are your results. For example, after a hotel stay, you might get a survey with the Net Promoter question: “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague?” Your answer - if you answer at all - will be a result of your experiences at the hotel.

Outcome metrics, whether satisfaction or Net Promoter Scores, allow you to track progress over time. They’re indicators of general performance, but they’re too simplistic - and they don’t show you how to improve.

Elemental Metrics: The Actionable Alternative
The customer experience is complex. It consists of broad factors, such as connection and timing, which break down into smaller elements: smiles, frowns, word choices, answer clarity, and more.

These small elements comprise the customer experience - and they’re what you can actually change.

To uncover gaps, opportunities, and areas to improve, you need metrics that track your performance with specific elements.

Quick Example:
Imagine you own a coffee shop and want to sell more coffee. A number of factors and elements are involved:
  • Product: Do customers like the coffee? Is it burnt or bitter?
  • Timing: How long do customers wait? Is there music in the background, so it doesn’t seem so long?
  • Connection: Did the cashiers focus on each customer? Or were they busy talking to each other?
  • Competition: Was a coffee shop on the next block offering free pastries?
You’ll increase sales revenue if you improve underlying factors like coffee quality, wait time, and cashier attentiveness. But if you only look at your sales numbers, nothing will change.

Think of it like training to run faster.
To get results, you have to improve factors like flexibility, endurance, and nutrition.

Each factor is comprised of myriad elements. For example, flexibility depends on muscle strength, activity level, and body temperature. Improve each element, and you’ll run faster. But simply measuring your speed (the outcome) won’t tell you what - or how - to improve.

While you CAN’T run faster overnight, every day you CAN add 20 minutes of endurance training, 15 minutes of stretching, and eat healthier foods.

Satisfaction vs. Wow:
To manage the customer experience, you’ll need to work at an elemental level - but how often you examine your elements depends on whether you seek to satisfy or wow.
  • Satisfaction: If you’re the market leader, achieving satisfaction may be enough - and while you’ll monitor your performance on key elements, a quarterly review is probably sufficient.
  • Wow: In a competitive market, or if customer experience is one of your differentiators, you’ll have to “wow” your customers. This requires measuring and optimizing the fine-grained elements of your customer interactions - and doing so at least monthly.
Bottom Line: To lead through the customer experience, you’ll need to stop relying on outcome metrics and embrace complexity by using elemental metrics.

Martha Brooke is the Chief CX Analyst and Founder of Interaction Metrics, a customer experience agency that dramatically boosts the value of surveys, customer service evaluations, and other CX methods. Interaction Metrics offers a free MetricsLAB™; it’s a great way to learn about the pros and cons of various metrics, and the best ones to achieve your goals.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

7 Steps to Get Executive Commitment for Your #CX Transformation

Image courtesy of hkricharusf
You know that your customer experience initiatives will die in the planning stages if you don't have executive commitment, right?

I've written several times about the importance of having that executive buy-in and commitment for your customer experience transformation.

Help! My Execs Don't Get It!
Kicking the #CX Can Down the Road
So You've Got Executive Commitment...

I've called it a Deadly Sin if you don't have your executives on board, supporting and driving the culture change and the improvement efforts. Without them, you'll never get resources - human, capital, or other - to execute on your customer experience strategy.

So I was thrilled to get an email from Zarina de Ruiter, editor of CX Network, that included a whitepaper written by my friend, Ingrid Lindberg, founder and CXO of Chief Customer and
former Chief Customer Experience Officer for both Cigna and Prime Therapeutics. If anyone knows about executive commitment, it's Ingrid; in this paper, she writes about seven key steps for customer experience leaders to take to gain senior management buy-in. I'll highlight them for you, but be sure to get your hands on this report to get the details.

1. Start with understanding where the company needs to go
Yogi Berra was the one who said: If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else. That's what we're talking about here, i.e., creating a Future State Architecture Map that spells out the path to what you're trying to achieve as a company.

2. Understand the lifetime value of your customers
Customer lifetime value helps you understand how and when a customer becomes profitable. Ingrid advises that if you correlate the projects you're trying to fund to the profit of the company, i.e., using math, not passion, then people will listen.

3. Customer experience leaders don't need to drive the actual projects
This is a big mistake. As a CX leader, you cannot, nor should you, do everything. Instead, you should be influencing others to do the work they are ultimately accountable for. This not only spreads accountability, but it also spreads the funding. And Ingrid notes that no CEO wants to give all the money for projects to just one person.

4. If you aren't at the table, find sponsors
If you're not on the executive team, find a champion who is. He or she may not have the data to support a transformation, but you as a customer experience professional likely have a lot. Work together to get what you need.

5. Find ways to tie the customer experience work into existing projects
Companies typically have dozens of projects going on at one time. These are opportunities to bring in the voice and the needs of the customer. Any new project or effort is a chance to do things right for the customer.

6. Tell an epic story
When you tell a story, you can really grab someone's attention. Ingrid has learned that data are not always the answer; sometimes, telling an epic story is. Especially when you bring the story to life with real customer examples or real customers telling it.

7. Help the CEO understand the impact
Set expectations with your CEO. Let her know how long the improvement initiatives will take. And then let her know the impact on the customer and the business overall. The other side of this is to take advantage of your CEO's competitive nature, letting her know what your key competitors are doing and how well they've fared as a result.

Take a look at the report for more details, plus find out about the five stages that customer experience (or any organizational) buy-in and transformation follow.

If your organization requires success before commitment, it will never have either. -Seth Godin

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The CX Journey Continues...

Image courtesy of GiancarloReporter
CX Journey™ turns 5!

This week marks five years since I started blogging at CX Journey. It's been an amazing journey so far! I started the blog as a way to share what I've learned over the last 25+ years, and I can honestly say that, through this process over, I've learned so much more.

I've made some new friends, worked with some new clients, and have just had a great time! I'm looking forward to working with more new clients and meeting and learning from more brilliant customer experience professionals going forward. This profession has advanced immensely, even just in the last five years, and I'm looking forward to where it will be five years from now.

Thank you to all who continue to read what I write. I appreciate the comments, the feedback, the encouragement, and the sharing of my posts. If my readership didn't continue to grow, I'd probably stop writing. I remember that first month, that first year, wondering if anyone cared about what I had to say. Thank you for caring.

I thought I'd share your top five posts over the last five years...
... as well as five other favorites of mine that you might want to revisit...
It was hard to stop at five, but I'll let you be the judge. If you have a favorite post of mine from the last five years, please feel free to share it in the comments below.

The only impossible journey is the one you never begin. -Tony Robbins

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Understand The Current State of Your Customer Experience - Without Hiring a Consultant

Image courtesy of cheryl1906
For today’s post, it was my pleasure to collaborate with Ben Motteram to compile some ideas you may not have considered with regards to ways you can measure  how well you're delivering your  customer experience - without hiring a consultant to do the work with or for you. For over 20 years, Ben has been developing customer acquisition and retention strategies for a variety of industries; he is currently a customer experience consultant in Australia.

There are three main components of any good CX strategy:
  1. An understanding of where the company is today,
  2. The desired future state, and
  3. A plan for how the company will get there.
A wise person once said: “You can’t transform something that you don’t understand,” and she was absolutely right. If you want to improve your CX, the best place to start is to assess the experience you’re customers are having now.

Some businesses will pay a consultant to do that for them, and no doubt, they will get a great report on where they stand. But you don’t have to pay thousands to take the temperature of your business. Don’t let that be the thing that keeps you from listening to and understanding your customers and the experience they expect.

Here are some activities you can undertake without a consultant in order to understand the experience that you’re currently delivering to customers.

Mystery shop yourself

There are many different ways to do this work yourself. It will be eye-opening, and it will allow you to see firsthand what the experience is truly like for customers. You just need to remember to wear your “customer hat” and walk in your “customer’s shoes.”

– Your physical premises
: Either disguise yourself Undercover Boss-style or get a friend or family member to do it for you. Was the site neat and clean? Were there weeds out the front of your office? Were staff smoking at your front door? Was it easy to get in or did someone have to come and let you in? Once inside, did you feel welcome or out of place? Did the first employee you saw quickly acknowledge your presence, smile, and look you in the eye? If you have a waiting area, spend time there. Is it the kind of space you’d be comfortable in?

We suggest conducting this mystery shopping during your busiest period. If staff can remain calm, courteous, and professional when they’re flat out, they’ll certainly maintain good customer service standards when they’re not.

– Your call center: Call your own contact center both during a slow and a busy period. Was your call answered by an agent or by an IVR that required you to work your way through a myriad of self-service menu options before you could finally speak with a human? Were you kept waiting for long? Were you given an indication of when your call would be answered? Were you offered the opportunity to leave your details so someone could call you back? What was the hold music like?

Was the agent that took your call engaging or reading from a script? Did she take the time to really understand the problem you were trying to solve?

– Online: Take a look at your company website with a fresh pair of eyes – your customers’ eyes. When was the last time you updated the information on it? Take the five most-common questions people have when they call into your contact center or the five most-common tasks people are trying to achieve when they go to your website: how easy are they to answer/perform? Do you have quick, easily-found links to them?

If your company is on social media, how up-to-date is the information you have on your profile pages? Is the company contact information on your profile? Have you deleted any potentially offensive comments on your Facebook page lately? Are there any unanswered questions or requests from customers?

– Read your own process manuals: We know, reading process manuals is  about as enjoyable as reading the 4-point font fine print of a certain software company’s User Agreement, so keep that in mind during this exercise because your customers enjoy it just as much. Start by taking a single process and reading the manual for that. Who is the manual geared toward? For whom was the process designed? The company or the customer?

Get customer feedback online

Discussion forums are a great source of feedback, as are review sites, such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, or Urban Spoon. For the telecommunications industry in Australia, for example, search your company name on Whirlpool. Find the relevant discussion forum for your industry and see what people are saying about you.

Google yourself. Set up a Google Alerts on your company name so you’ll get notified whenever you get mentioned online. Search Twitter for mentions. Search YouTube for videos. For negative feedback, try typing “sucks” after your company name (prepare yourself for what you may find after hitting ‘Enter’).

Get direct customer feedback
You don’t have to create a survey to get customer feedback. Stand outside your store and ask store visitors/customers, call the CEO of the company that spends the most money with you, spend some time on the phones in your contact center.

You’re looking for answers to questions like: Why do you do business with us? How easy was it do business with us? How would you rate the person you spoke with today? What was one thing we could have done better?

Get employee feedback
Companies will often say that their greatest asset is their people, but when was the last time you asked employees for their opinions. Frontline staff are a goldmine of information about your customers. Encourage employees to share customers stories, whether successes or pain points, to drive home the customer experience.

The benefits of asking your staff for feedback are twofold. Firstly, you’ll get some great insight into your customers, and secondly, staff will be more engaged if they know you care about their opinions. It’s a win-win!

Immerse yourself in your customers’ world
Walking in customers’ shoes has become a cliché in our world, but that’s what customer immersion programs are all about. They allow executives to experience what customers experience when they (try to) do business with you. Executives embed themselves into their customers’ lives to gain a better understanding of how they live, work, and do the jobs they need to do. This type of research is called ethnography and you can read more about it here.

Create a Customer Advisory Board
Customer advisory boards (CAB) offer up benefits for both members and the company. The company benefits from feedback, stronger relationships, and more, while the customer gets access to key executives, gets her voice heard, and is viewed as a thought leader. For more information on how to found a CAB, click here.

As you engage in these efforts, take a methodical approach. By that we mean: have a plan. Start with goals and objectives. Identify what you’ll do with what you learn. And get to it!

Effective questioning brings insight, which fuels curiosity, which cultivates wisdom. – Chip Bell

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tools to Put the Customer at the Center of All You Do

Image courtesy of reynermedia
Trying to ensure the customer gets the attention she deserves within your company?

Striving to make yours a customer-centric company? How does the customer become the center of attention for your organization? What tools should you have in your customer-centric toolbox?

There are many, but one of my favorites is "the empty chair," which is a seat at the table for the customer and a reminder that we should always be considering if the decisions we make are in the best interest of the customer or of the business.

Jeff Bezos is the one leader who is well known for regularly having an empty chair in meetings to represent the customer, i.e., "the most important person in the room." Why does he do that? Because you ought to be making decisions about the business based on what's best for the customer. After all, you are in business to create and to nurture customers.

While the empty chair is a great approach to making sure management thinks outside in versus inside out, there are other tools that can be used, as well. Here are a few others:
  • Personas on every wall: these help to remind employees who the customer is, what she's trying to do, her pain points, what delights her, etc. - again, keeping her front and center in all you do
  • Customer cut-outs: place these around the office - and especially in meeting rooms -  to keep the attention on who really matters; they should include details of who the customer is and what she thinks and feels about the current experience
  • CCO/CX professionals: in key decision-making meetings, especially, there needs to be a representative from the CX team present to represent the customer voice and perspective
  • A real customer: imagine that! ask a customer (or multiple customers) to attend a meeting in which you'll be making decisions critical to the customer experience
  • Customer feedback: have you gotten feedback about the product or the touchpoint you'll be discussing; share it with meeting attendees so they understand how customers feel about the current experience
  • Journey maps: this might seem like a stretch, but if you can show executives/employees how the changes they plan to make impact the experience through truly walking in customers' shoes, then that's a powerful tool to have at your disposal, too
How many of these has your company adopted? To build that customer-centric culture, to get the entire organization to live and to breathe the customer, you should really be using all of them. And more.

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Two Major Flaws of Your Customer Listening Efforts

I originally wrote today's post for Clicktools. It appeared on their blog on March 31, 2016. I have modified it slightly since then.

Are you listening to your customers? What are you doing with what you've heard?

In order to transform the customer experience, it's critical that you listen to your customers. Unfortunately, customer listening has two major flaws - or, more accurately, companies have two major shortcomings when it comes to customer listening.

The first flaw is: lack of action. You've got tons of feedback, tons of data, and you do nothing with it. What a shame! You really are just "collecting" feedback, like you collect stamps, as I like to say. Like those stamps, the data sit on the proverbial shelf and age and get dusty. Stop the madness! Your customers have given up their precious time to tell you what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong. They're trying to help you. And yet you waste that feedback by doing nothing with it. It becomes worthless.

Why? Here are some issues that lead to inaction. You...
  • don't know where to start; you know you're supposed to listen but don't know where to go from there.
  • haven't outlined clear objectives for your listening efforts.
  • haven't engaged with stakeholders to find out what they'd like to learn from customers.
  • haven't asked questions in a way that they are actionable.
  • haven't asked the right questions, so the data itself isn't even actionable; specific improvements aren't apparent.
  • haven't assigned owners to questions to ensure you know who's accountable for each feedback item.
  • haven't asked open-ended questions, which can add rich commentary and details to help you hone in on specific issues.
  • don't analyze the feedback/data.
  • analyze the data but don't link it with customer data existing in your CRM system, bringing the customer to life and allowing for more customized, personalized improvements.
  • don't know how to analyze the feedback to tease out the story, the actions to be taken.
  • don't know what the analysis means, assuming you analyzed the data, or how to interpret it to make it actionable.
  • don't know how to share the data in a way that it can be acted upon.
  • don't share the data with those who need to act on it.
There are more reasons that customer feedback goes stale and isn't used. I'll leave it at the for now. If you think of other reasons, please leave them in the comments below.

Let's move on to the second flaw.

Have you ever heard of Goodhart's Law? It states: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. According to Wikipedia, its origin lies in finance and economics:

The original formulation by Goodhart, a former advisor to the Bank of England and Emeritus Professor at the London School of Economics, is this: "As soon as the government attempts to regulate any particular set of financial assets, these become unreliable as indicators of economic trends." This is because investors try to anticipate what the effect of the regulation will be, and invest so as to benefit from it.

You probably already know where I'm going from here. The second flaw is: the metric, not the customer, becomes the focus.

This is a big problem, and quite honestly, it's also one of the issues that should be added to the list above of what causes inaction. Companies focus on the metric, on moving the metric, and not on the customer and the customer experience. Listening becomes all about "How do we rate today?" And while it's good to gauge your performance, the movement of the metric is an outcome down the line - the first area of focus ought to be: what's going on with the customer experience and how do we improve it. Instead, too many conversations start with, "How do we improve the metric?" not with "How do we improve the experience?"

A metric is just that, a metric, a way of measuring your progress. If you make it the endpoint, you'll fail at the journey.

Metrics can help to rally the troops around the customer – but that’s only if they're presented in the right context. It’s not the right context if you…
  • mention the score without even talking about the customer and the customer experience (yes, this does happen!)
  • game surveys (selecting certain customers, surveying at a specific time when you know scores will be better, offering incentives a la "the car dealer curse," etc.) just to get a score
  • threaten disciplinary action or lost compensation if an employee doesn’t achieve a score, especially if the employee doesn't have a clear line of sight to his impact on the customer experience or understand what the score links to
  • do tactical things to move the needle rather than big picture thinking about how to improve the experience
How can you avoid the metric becoming the target rather than the indicator? Consider these suggestions:
  • Talk about customers and what your customers are saying about the company and its products and services
  • Make the metric the last thing you talk about – or don’t talk about it at all
  • Tell stories about customer successes and customer painpoints
  • Focus on employee behaviors and what it takes to improve the experience
  • Share customer feedback, verbatims, emotion, and what's important to customers
  • Act on the feedback
  • Coach and praise based on feedback and the experience the customer had
  • Focus on customer outcomes first, then business outcomes
  • Ensure that employees have a clear line of sight to the customer
  • Give them a clear understanding of how they contribute to the customer experience
  • Build a culture where the customer is at the center of all you do and no decisions are made unless we ask, "What would the customer think of this?"
Don’t measure for the sake of measuring, and don’t listen just for the sake of measuring. Listen because you want to understand the customer and where the experience is falling down (or standing up). And then act on what you hear. Don’t just focus on improving the score; improve the experience, and the numbers will follow.

If you reject feedback, you also reject the choice of acting in a way that may bring you abundant success. -John Mattone

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Companies Must Invest in Their Employees Now!

Image courtesy of dushy4
I originally wrote today's post for ICSA as part of their blog carnival and celebration of National Customer Service Week. It appeared on their blog on September 5, 2016. It is a modified version of a post that I wrote for CX Journey back in 2012.

National Customer Service Week is just a month away; it's awesome to set aside time to recognize and to celebrate those employees who work hard every day of the year to support customers. It's also a great reminder that customer service is a critical aspect of any business. With this post, my focus will be more so on the employee, on your customer service representatives, than on the customer.

There is a clear linkage between the employee experience and the customer experience. We know this, and yet many companies still refuse to make the employee experience a priority, focusing instead on shareholder value, the bottom line, or customer experience without considering the implications of a poor employee experience to all of the above.

It’s time for companies to think about their employees first. I love this, from Tom Peters: “CEO Hal Rosenbluth chronicled the incredible success of his travel-services firm, Rosenbluth International, in The Customer Comes Second. Love that title! Who comes first? Don't be silly, says King Hal; it's employees. That is – and this dear Watson, is elementary – if you genuinely want to put customers first, you must put employees more first.”

It's time to invest in your employees now! It's time to make sure they have a great experience so that they deliver a great experience for your customers, but more importantly, so that they don't leave. Churn is a big problem in the customer service profession. But it doesn't have to be.

Here's an interesting thought: Why do companies conduct exit interviews when employees leave, but they don't conduct stay interviews to understand why employees stay? Or what would get them to stay?

I don't even think I need to pose this question, but why focus on employee retention instead of turnover or churn? Without a doubt, employee turnover is costly - not just in terms of the costs of recruiting, hiring, and training a new person but also in terms of the knowledge and productivity that just walked out the door.

As an employer, it raises a few concerns. Namely, what company wants to incur the costs associated with hiring new employees every year (or more frequently)? And the impact on the customer experience every time you lose a more-seasoned employee and have to start over again with a new one is huge. Plus, the time invested in training and developing the employee also becomes costly. But, then I'm reminded of the saying...

    What if we train employees, and they just leave?
    What if we don't train them, and they stay?

... and so that cost needs to be absorbed, either way.

Let's go back to my question about exit interviews. In an exit interview, we typically ask what went right and what went wrong. (I'm over-simplifying, but you get the point.) At this juncture in the employee-employer relationship, where the employee has checked out, the employee has no vested interest (usually), and either doesn't provide any information worth acting on (sometimes for fear of recourse) or does such a huge dump of things gone wrong that you find it hard to believe, i.e., is it vendetta or truth? It's typically too late to save the employee, which can be a costly mistake. Honestly, I'm not so sure that an exit interview is a good use of time and resources. I do, however, like the concept of the stay interview.

Why don't we ask, on a regular basis, where employees stand; how they feel about the organization, management, culture, and vision/direction; and if they have everything they need to be successful in their roles? You might say, "Well, I do an employee satisfaction survey. Isn't that good enough?" I say "Bravo to you!" if you do conduct employee satisfaction (engagement, culture, etc.) surveys! You're ahead of the curve already! Stay interviews are a bit different, though, and supplement your annual or semi-annual employee survey. They are more conversational in nature and are conducted between manager and employee, perhaps during weekly 1:1s.

While exit interviews are more like autopsies in nature, stay interviews are more like your wellness visits, focusing on what current employees enjoy about working for the company, as well as on aches and pains and what needs to be fixed. As an employee is walking out the door, there is really nothing that a manager can correct immediately to keep him (and throwing money at them is really just a temporary bandage), while employees who are staying can be reassured that they are appreciated and can witness their feedback being used to transform the organization and its culture.

Key to this process is that managers are trained on how to conduct the interviews and on how to address concerns and feedback. Also important is the need to close the loop and keep employees abreast of improvements and changes as a result of the discussions. Changes, if needed, must be made in order for this to be a successful initiative. In addition, these discussions must happen on an ongoing basis. Paramount to everything else is a culture that accepts the feedback gleaned from these interviews without recourse and embraces employees who are open and honest, in the spirit of success of both the employee relationship and the company.

Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago. -Warren Buffett

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Weology: We Comes Before Me - Part 2

Image courtesy of Peter Aceto
This is Part 2 of a two-part series on my discussion with Tangerine Bank CEO, Peter Aceto.

I left off on Part 1 of my conversation with Peter Aceto with questioning why so many leaders still don't get the importance of focusing on the customer and customer experience improvements.

In this second part, I'll share the rest of our discussion, which revolved around change and change management, business leaders Peter admires, companies who have adopted Weology, success metrics, and more.

Let's waste no time continuing the Q&A!

Change Management
My next question to Peter was about change and what a real transformation takes. Specifically: Early in the book, he states: "Changing the way people think about things, influencing them and seeing what comes out of it gives me great joy." It's a challenge that customer experience professionals face as they attempt to get executive commitment, transform the organization's culture, and more. It's all about changing the way people think. What advice would you give to these professionals to help them help others (especially executives) change the way they think about things? I, personally, love the concept of "Involve me, and I will understand." That works for employees but what about executives?

Peter started by saying that he had learned a few things about change and change management since he wrote the book; many of those things came from his Chief People Officer. A few nuggets revolve around connecting with people, earning trust, eating with employees, and showing vulnerability. When they trust, they follow and question later. The luxury he has with the Tangerine business model is that he doesn't have employees all around the nation or the globe; it's a direct company, and as such, all of the employees are together in one location. That affords him a lot in terms of connecting with employees.

Also, change is a process; there really is a methodology to it. "Involve me" is the essence of that process. Change is about communication, but it's not about leaders saying, "Hey, let's have a town hall, and I'll tell you stuff" type of communication. It's about involving people early in the change process. And it's also about knowing your audience. Different people are accepting of change in different ways, and different people are more receptive to different ways of communicating. They communicate, listen, and hear differently - in different time frames. Oftentimes, people have questions and need time to process and think about what was just shared with them before they can accept it. It becomes the leader's job to bring that change along and do it as quickly as possible. It's important to know that you can use a process that involves people - on their own terms - to make sure change happens as quickly as possible. Sounds complicated, and it is; it takes a lot of time and energy, but you want everyone bought in, committed.

The sad part is that most change initiatives don't succeed, so they're a waste of money. That creates a bit of skepticism: "Oh great. We're doing this again; it failed last time." There's a vested interest in getting the process right. It's a learning experience, for sure.

Admired Business Leaders
I know that Peter is a huge fan of Muhammad Ali, based on the number of times he was mentioned in Weology. So I asked, Which business leaders do you admire for their customer-centric vision? What have you learned from them?

Peter responded with three great entrepreneurs:
  1. Arkadi Kuhlman. Arkadi is the founder of ING Direct and a banking industry visionary. He hired Peter 25 years ago and took a risk in doing that, as Peter tells it. It's a great story about how they met and why Peter was instrumental in pioneering online/direct banking and the business model that Arkadi envisioned; you'll have to read the book. But Arkadi had a vision to differentiate from his competitors via the inside the company, i.e., the culture. To have that idea 20 years ago was truly amazing. He got it before everyone else got it. As a result, he created value not only for shareholders but also, especially, for 20 million customers in nine countries around the world.
  2. Elon Musk. He doesn't necessarily admire Elon for his approach to culture and the employee experience - the essence of Weology, after all, is around your people - but for being a visionary and re-imagining an entire industry. (You can see the connection there; it's just like he and Arkadi did for banking.)
  3. Tony Hsieh. It's easy to understand his admiration of Tony. If you read Part 1, you know that Peter studied Tony's approach to building a business. He loved that Tony took culture to the next level.
  4. Entrepreneurs. Because Peter works in a larger organization, he enjoys staying close to more entrepreneurial people, to people who think differently. Doing so creates energy and challenges his thinking - especially because most entrepreneurs are client-experience focused
Weology Adoption
I was curious to find out if Peter knew of any companies that had adopted Weology. You'll be surprised at his response. It's the only company he mentioned, but when you read the book, you'll see the details behind this. The name of the company? Guinness.

Why Guinness?

Guinness was a pioneer in prioritizing culture long before culture was cool! Back in the early 1900s! They had a gym and a swimming pool for their employees. You think today's Silicon Valley tech start-ups have perks? Guinness had a savings and loan division for staff, hospital and hospice stays were paid for, and employees received two-thirds of their salary if they were out sick. They received free medical and dental services and free prescriptions. They paid above-market salaries and guaranteed lifetime employment. And much more.

But we know that culture isn't solely about perks. Guinness was a pioneer in putting people first. And they had no reason to do it, i.e., they were already the largest brewery in the world. They wanted employees to enjoy work and create better products. They wanted healthy, educated, and solvent employees working for them. When those things are taken care of, there's less stress on the employee, and he can be more productive. An important lesson, no doubt.

Weology Success
Next question: How does a leader know when she's/he's achieved Weology? What are your/the success metrics or milestones?

The best way Peter could sum this up was by citing a tweet he sent six years ago, which said: What's more important: employees, customers, or shareholders? Someone responded with something along the lines of: Turn employee passion into customer magic into shareholder cash. Bam!

A leader teaches, develops, empowers, and creates a purpose that employees are proud and excited about it when they go home. And then customers feel that and want to do more business with your company. And then shareholders benefit.

Tangerine tracks an employee engagement metric via regular surveys, but it's not just about a number. Tangerine's leaders really want to understand the degree to which employees are excited, passionate, and believe they are contributing to the bigger purpose. They measure it at the employee level and at the leader level, which allows him to coach his leaders, as well.

For customers, Tangerine measures NPS and tracks J.D. Power and Associates results; the focus with these metrics is not only about customer experience improvements but also to identify, relative to competitors, if they're exceeding expectations.

Other success metrics for Tangerine include actual referrals and a deepening of the client relationship, i.e., customers expand their business/number of products with Tangerine. These two are proof that the previous two (employee engagement and customer experience) are working.

As Peter noted, these are some very focused success metrics that reconcile to that tweet, which is the summation of Weology.

Proudest Leadership Moment
And finally, we wrapped up our conversation with this question to Peter: What is your proudest moment as a Weology leader?

Before I tell you Peter's answer, I need to say that he was a pleasure to speak with. He is genuine and totally sincere about how much he cares for his people and his customers.

On to his answer...

Peter has had the privilege of seeing someone who started in the call center, in an entry-level position, rise to a senior-level position in his organization and become a potential successor.

He gets much joy out of seeing people grow, learn, and reach their potential; it's like watching his  own kids. He won't - and doesn't want to - take credit, but he is happy to just be a part of that.

He loves to solve problems and go the extra mile. Nothing is as exciting as when customers interact with him directly on a Saturday, no less; if he can personally solve their problems by end of day, it delights them, and he loves it! It blows customers away because HE solved the problems, never mind the fact that they didn't think it could be done by anyone within the organization on a weekend.

He's received customer testimonials stating that finding Tangerine has changed their personal financial situations. And that makes him very proud.

Thank you, Peter, for your time! I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you and getting to know you a little better.

If you haven't read Weology yet, it's a must-read. You'll be inspired, and you'll put the book down and want the same for your organization!

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. -Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Weology: We Comes Before Me - Part 1

Image courtesy of Peter Aceto
Does your company practice Weology?


What is it? If you guessed that it sounds like "the study of we," you're pretty close.

The name of the concept stems from a Muhammad Ali poem, which simply goes like this:

Me... we.

Three unique letters rearranged into two powerful little words.

The concept itself, which is also the title of a book (Weology: How Everybody Wins When We Comes Before Me), summarizes the leadership style of Peter Aceto, CEO of Tangerine Bank. His approach is defined by a culture where employees thrive, succeed, and are fulfilled, happy, and growing at work - a culture where every individual in the organization, regardless of who they are or what they do, has a voice, i.e., every individual matters.

Why is this important? As Peter states in the book: Being good to your own people is good  business. When Me thrives, We benefit.

Me... we.

He goes on to say that what he calls Weology is about creating win-win scenarios. It's transparency without asterisks. It's a way of putting people first in the short term so that a company can thrive in the long term.

If you've been following my blog for some time, you know that I'm 110% on board with that line of thinking.

Hold that thought for a minute.

In early August, I shared my post titled Customer Experience Fuels Innovation on Twitter, and Peter chimed in to say, "It sure does!" I followed up and said that I'd love to hear what he's doing at Tangerine Bank, ultimately asking him for an interview. He agreed, and we spoke last week about just that.

I'm excited to share the details of our conversation, especially as we celebrate Customer Service Week and Customer Experience Day this week.

I read Weology before Peter and I spoke - just know that I nodded and smiled the entire way through the book, wholeheartedly agreeing with all things Weology - so I had a lot of great background about Peter, his career, and Tangerine Bank. When we spoke, my questions were focused on things that I felt would be helpful for customer experience professionals in the throes of culture transformations within their own businesses, with a few other questions sprinkled in because, well, I was curious.

Let's dive in.

Customer Service Week/CXDay
We started our conversation talking about Customer Service Week and Customer Experience Day. I asked Peter if he was doing anything special to celebrate the contributions of his frontline staff, and he mentioned that Tangerine Bank has created a video to celebrate employees who are dedicated to their customers; in the video, they highlight how employees feel after going the extra mile for a customer.

Customer Experience Fuels Innovation
Next, I went back to that tweet about customer experience fueling innovation. That concept seems to be the root of who/what Tangerine is. My ask of Peter: Some would say that innovation fuels the customer experience. Do you see those as two different sides of the same coin? Competing views? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Peter responded that the question itself is binary, but the answer, the result, the concept is not binary; it's just not that simple. There are a few companies (e.g., Google, Apple) showing people a new experience, an experience that wouldn't have existed without technology innovations that didn't exist 10 years ago.

Tangerine Bank's R&D team, for example, is looking at different types of biometric authentication - again, something that we didn't think about 10 years ago, much less three years ago, and something customer's haven't asked for - which will create an experience that makes people's lives easier, an experience that goes back to Tangerine's purpose to do just that.

Tangerine understands that people don't just want a mortgage/loan; they want to buy stuff. (Reminds me of Theodore Levitt's quote: People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole.) At the same time, Tangerine wants to understand the challenges people experience in their lives, as well as the goals they have for themselves; with that information, Tangerine works to design a better customer experience. In order to do that, they clearly need to think differently (especially for a bank!); they realize that they can't look at things the same way they always have. On an ongoing basis, they have an ear to clients, to the world, and to trends affecting us all - and they are continuously modulating.

In reality, they are likely two sides of the same coin. We need to understand our customers and the jobs they are trying to do while allowing the business to advance the technology that drives an innovative experience.

Being Purpose Built
In the book, Peter says: Tangerine was "purpose built," i.e., to foster and focus on long-term relationships with customers. I asked because this is a real challenge for customer experience professionals: Is that (being purpose built from the start) the only way that a company can truly be/become customer-obsessed? (I would put Amazon and Zappos in this purpose-built bucket; Tangerine seems to be on the same track as they are.)

Peter clarified that "purpose-built" for him meant having a higher purpose, i.e., to help Canadians live better lives, to empower them to take control of their finances, ultimately helping them live better lives.

Those are lofty goals, but he notes that a company doesn't necessarily have to be purpose driven or client driven/focused from the start. It's easier, but not necessary.

Having said that, Peter has studied Tony Hsieh (Zappos) and his approach to entrepreneurship and customer obsession. He noted that one of the lessons Tony learned was that he had underestimated the importance of having the right culture in place in his companies from Day 1. He started several businesses that either failed or that he ended up selling purely for the fact that he knew he needed to get culture right in the first place. In other words, he aborted the mission and started over in order to start right.

Tony is an anomaly, for sure. And his approach is one that not all entrepreneurs can - or are willing to - take. Peter's final thought on this is that a lot of companies have struggled with how to change an embedded culture; it's definitely more difficult but not impossible.

Employee Experience Drives Customer Experience
My next question to Peter: It seems simple enough: employee experience drives customer experience. Why have I been fighting that battle (getting that message across) for so many years? Why don't CEOs get it? Will we really need to wait til this generation of CEOs turns over before that message no longer falls on deaf ears?

As you know if you've been following my blog, this is a topic that is near and dear to me. So I was excited to get Peter's thoughts on this one.

One of his hypotheses on this topic: historically, business leaders are schooled and rewarded in their careers around delivering results,  i.e., short-term, profitability, financials, margins, and efficiencies, and when they get more successful, they get big offices with big doors (which Peter doesn't have; he sits out on the floor with his employees), pulling further away from the employees and even closer to the numbers and the metrics.

Peter's baffled, like I am, by this whole phenomenon. It's so obvious; why isn't this (understanding that the employee experience drives the customer experience - and then leaders doing something about that) happening faster? Despite that, he noted that people do take notice of the few companies who do it differently. So perhaps there's hope there yet.

At the same time, he's also baffled about why more employees don't walk - and why customers don't take their money elsewhere - if the experience remains business as usual.

So what's up with business leaders? Why don't executives get it? I probed further because I really want to understand this - I've pondered it before: will it take a material turnover of leaders in order for the changes we are dying to see happen? While Peter thought it was a fair question, he didn't think so.

I wish I could be as optimistic about that!

In Part 2 of my discussion with Peter, which I'll post later this week, we'll continue with questions about change and change management, business leaders Peter admires, companies who have adopted Weology (this one is surprising), success metrics, and more!

Anyone can start something new. It takes real leaders to stop something old. -Peter Aceto

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Weak Signals and Boiling Frogs

Image courtesy of jronaldlee
How do you recognize the weak signals in your business?

Have you heard the story about the boiling frog? As told in Wikipedia, it goes like this:

If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.

The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of threats that rise gradually.

Sadly, when it comes to the customer experience, organizations are the boiling frog, frantically and reactively trying to get out of hot water with their customers. The key here is that they're being reactive. It's too late. The water is already boiling; they're about to be cooked.

On the other hand, that slow boil, those threats that rise gradually? Those are also known as "weak signals." They are everywhere, and the trick is often knowing which ones to act on. It's important to be aware of them, to keep track of them, to understand them, and then to know when to act on them. Pay close attention to weak signals heard or seen about products, services, or markets that don't yet exist. (Have you ever said, "I wish someone made a product that did X?" or "Why can't this product do X?") The key here is that weak signals allow you to respond more proactively, rather than reactively.

One thing to keep in mind is that weak signals may be subtle on their own, but they can often be/become stronger when combined with additional signals. On that note...

Where can weak signals be heard or seen? Many are found in the research you conduct every day, so you need to know how to spot them, but often they can be heard on social media or on other off-the-beaten path communication channels: snippets of information that provide some insight into where and how needs are shifting. You can also observe how customers are using your products or listen to their feedback.
  • Which jobs are they trying to do or which problems are they trying to solve (that no one else is)? 
  • Have they started to hack your products to do something they weren't designed to do to begin with, simply to better meet their needs, more efficiently get the job done, or do something completely different?
  • What are their painpoints with the way things are currently working or being done?
How do businesses get ahead of the threats? There are several ways, many of which you, as a customer experience professional, are probably already doing:
  • listen to customers, non-customers, partners, vendors, and other constituents
    • listen where customers speak, especially on social media 
    • identify specific jobs to be done and corresponding unmet needs
  • understand the environment, especially:
    • financial implications, government regulations, and other environmental, technological, and social factors that impact your customers
  • keep an eye on the marketplace, specifically for:
    •  entry of new competitors or breakthrough technologies
  • watch for a decline in your sales, retention, or satisfaction, particularly as those metrics increase or remain the same for the rest of the market
  • be constantly gathering information about changing customer needs, as well as about other trends and issues in the marketplace
These listening/observing efforts may likely be happening across your organization, but it would behoove you to find a way to pool or to centralize this work so that you're all on the same page. And then communicate! Share with the organization. The folks who need to act on this information? Make sure they're fully briefed and aware of the intel you've gathered.

Need examples of companies who failed to listen to weak signals? Or who may have heard them but chose not to act? What about Blockbuster, Kodak, Sony, Sears, and others? What if they had known of looming threats ahead of time? Would they have taken the same approach, employed the same strategy? Perhaps, especially if they didn't take the threat seriously. (Actually, I think one or two of them got hit over the head, never mind weak signals, but thought they knew better.)

This reminds me of that post I wrote back in July about customer experience fueling innovation. Listen. Innovate. Or die.

Beware. In today's fast-paced, technology-driven world, weak signals become strong signals fairly quickly.

There are two kinds of idiots: those who don't take action because they have received a threat, and those who think they are taking action because they have issued a threat. -Paulo Coelho