Wednesday, October 25, 2017

CX Complacency and the Lack of a Burning Platform

Image courtesy of Pixabay
When it comes to a customer experience transformation, is there a burning platform in your business? Or is everyone happy with the way things are? No need to change how you do business? How leaders conduct themselves? How your people are treated?

I've been writing a bit about complacency in business lately, including my last post from two weeks ago, Complacency or Innovation: You Decide.

As I'm working with clients through their transformations, I often revisit Kotter's 8-Step Process for Leading Change. I've written previously (at a high level) how that process applies to customer experience transformations.

The one step that resonates with me quite often is the first one, especially as it pertains to garnering executive commitment and, eventually, employee buy-in: creating a sense of urgency.

In his book, Leading Change, Kotter cites nine reasons for complacency, and it typically has nothing to do with inept or unintelligent leaders; instead, their focus is misplaced or misguided, they fall into a "not in my department" mentality, or they choose to believe that things will get better (seemingly on their own).

The first reason he cites is the lack of a burning platform or a major, visible crisis. What's the burning platform in your business? Customers are leaving. Employees are leaving. Costs are rising. Processes are out of whack. The culture is a mess. Bankruptcy. Impending hostile takeover.

Pick one. They are all bad. Absent all of them, you find yourself with the first source of complacency and inability to create and drive that sense of urgency that Kotter states is the first step in change management. In other words, if things aren't so bad, why should we change?

The second reason is too many visible resources. Perhaps a false sense of hope is a better name for this one. It means that there are a lot of lavish furnishings, perks, parties, trips, and events. Things must be positive because it looks like we're doing really well, i.e., we're spending a lot of money.

Low overall performance standards is the third reason. Performance standards are relative and can't be discussed in a vacuum. Your NPS may be up 3 points this year, but perhaps last year you were down 10 points from the previous year. And how does that compare to the rest of the industry?

The fourth reason revolves around organizational structures that focus employees on narrow functional goals instead of on broader business goals and outcomes. Departmental goals and metrics are fine, but they must all tie into the bigger picture, into the overall business goals.

The next one is a favorite one: internal measurement systems that focus on the wrong performance indexes. Again, they tend to focus on the department or on simplistic goals that don't necessarily tie into the big picture, giving the false sense that all is well.

Lack of sufficient performance feedback from external sources is the sixth reason. If you're not listening to customers, vendors, or shareholders and hearing from them how well you're performing, then you're missing a huge opportunity to uncover whether all really is well or not. Inside-out thinking rather than outside-in thinking rules the day. If the business is successful, leaders often get arrogant and think they don't need to listen to anyone outside of the organization. Until they need to.

I'd add here, too, that if you're not listening to your employees, empowering them, allowing them to innovate and find ways to do things better or to solve customer problems in a different way, complacency has also set in.

The seventh reason Kotter cites for complacency is a kill-the-messenger-of-bad-news, low-candor, low-confrontation culture. Any attempts to resolve reason #6 and bring in an outside perspective is viewed as treason.

Denial. Reason number eight is all about denial: human nature, with its capacity for denial, especially if people are already busy or stressed. We don't want to hear it. We don't hear it. So it must not exist. We're busy enough, so if we ignore the problem rather than doing something about it, we won't put more work on our plates. (And maybe it will just go away.) This is head-in-the-sand logic.

And, finally, reason number nine is one that I've written about before, as well: too much happy talk from senior management. The post I wrote is "Be Postive" is Not a Strategy. Your problems aren't gone just because everyone acts like they're gone.

I'll leave you with a thought from John Kotter:

Never underestimate the magnitude of the forces that reinforce complacency and that help maintain the status quo.

There are many forces... and they are strong.

It's so much easier to do nothing, sadly. And, oftentimes, fear of change rules the day.

But remember that what got you here won't get you there. The world is changing. Your customers are changing. Their needs are changing. The industry is evolving. New competitors (disruptors) come along all the time.

Executives must light that fire! Create that sense of urgency (not panic, urgency). It's time for your culture, your employee experience, and your customer experience to change!

Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well. -Theodore Roosevelt

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Preparing Employees to Deliver a Great Customer Experience

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I originally wrote today's post for CallidusCloudCX. It was published on their blog on April 24, 2017. 

When you think of the phrase "inside out" relative to the customer experience, you probably cringe. This is not a phrase that customer experience professionals take lightly.

Inside out means companies focus on processes that are designed and implemented based on internal thinking and intuition. The customer's needs and perspectives aren't considered in this type of thinking. Company leaders make decisions because they think they know what's best for the business, not for the customer. There's a conscious decision to make process, policy, people, systems, or other changes that:
  1. Don't improve the customer experience at the same time
  2. Are about maximizing shareholder returns, not about benefits for the customer
  3. Improve internal efficiencies but to the detriment of customer interactions
  4. Are cost-cutting measures that also negatively impact the  customer experience
  5. Might be the wrong process, policy, people, or systems to change
On the other hand, outside in means that executives look at the business from the customer's perspective and subsequently design processes and make decisions based on what's best for the customer and what meets the customer's needs. They make decisions based on what they know is best for customers - because they've asked/listened.

So imagine my surprise when CallidusCloud CX started talking about "inside-out CX." It made me pause for a moment; but when you hear them define it as "how employees impact customer satisfaction and, ultimately, the customer experience," that makes a whole lot of sense. That does not make me cringe. Employees are critical in the customer experience equation.

Let's think about this for a minute. What exactly does that mean?

It can really only mean one thing: you better make sure that your employees are prepared to impact customer satisfaction, to deliver a great experience!

But employees need the right tools and the right information to do that.

Like what?

First and foremost, they need to know what it means to your organization to "deliver a great experience." Without that information, they will always fall short. How do we ensure that employees are informed and ready? How do we ensure that they know what's expected of them? How can we be sure they know the difference between right and wrong actions, behaviors, and more?

Let's take a look at some of the tools that will address those questions.

Core Values: Your core values are guiding principles for your employees; they outline which behaviors and actions are right and which are wrong. Everything they do must be aligned with your values, and those values should be integrated into everything employees do. If employees ever question what they should do or question if what they're planning to do is aligned with the organization's expectations, they can refer back to these values.

Brand Promise: Make sure you've clearly communicated your brand promise to employees. If they don't know it, how can they live it? How can they deliver it? The smart CEO uses the brand promise to align all of the activities of the organization; that promise guides people, processes, products, systems, etc. Everything the organization does must support and reinforce the brand promise: every product, every person, every interaction, every touchpoint, all of it. Every time. This is probably one of the key tools for your employees when it comes to delivering a great customer experience.

CX Vision: Your customer experience vision is an inspirational and aspirational statement that outlines what you see as the future state of the customer experience. It briefly describes the experience you plan to deliver. And it serves as a guide to help choose future courses of action. It should align with your corporate vision. The hope is that this vision fuels innovation and reminds employees that there's a human being on the other end of your CX strategy and transformation.

Corporate Vision
: Your corporate vision not only outlines what the company is trying to achieve but also guides decision-making processes and the resultant course of action. It not only spells out what you're doing and for whom you're doing it but also creates alignment within the organization. Your corporate vision and CX vision ought to be closely connected, if not one and the same.

Customer Understanding
: Employees need to be well-informed and well-versed on who your customers are and how they impact each customer and his experience: provide persona definitions, journey maps, and customer feedback. The better employees understand customers and the current experience - alongside the desired experience - the better they are able to adjust course and deliver the experience that is expected of them.

Training and Communication
: I'll lump these two together because they go hand in hand but, individually, are equally important. Training and communication begin at the point of hire, with a solid onboarding program and communication around the importance of customers and the customer experience to the organization; if you don't have an onboarding program, it's time to develop one. Then throughout the life of the employee's employment, provide regular training opportunities (especially as customer feedback, customers, and the experience evolve), communicate and set clear expectations, and provide ongoing feedback and coaching about how well the employee is delivering on those expectations.

Not sure where to begin? It might be a good idea to start with an Employee CX Assessment to identify what employees know and don't know about your customers and the customer experience. This assessment is time well spent by the entire organization, not just frontline staff. You'll use the results to better frame training efforts and to provide the right tools needed to ensure employees have a clear line of sight to customers and are equipped to deliver the experience you need (and customers want) them to deliver.

If you’re not serving the customer, your job is to be serving someone who is. - Jan Carlzon

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Improving the Respondent Experience

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I originally wrote today's post for CallidusCloudCX. It appeared on their blog on March 24, 2017.

There's a lot of talk about improving the customer experience.

And there's a lot of talk about using surveys to listen to customers so that we know where we need to improve the experience.

But have you ever considered that those very surveys are another touchpoint in the customer experience? That the experience with the survey must be considered and improved as much as the experience with any other touchpoint?

If you haven't, then it's time to start thinking about your surveys differently.

What are some of the areas that you need to consider as you design the survey experience? Read on, as I've put them into somewhat chronological categories to help you walk through the experience yourself. It wouldn't hurt to actually map the survey experience from the customer's perspective.


Like with any other experience you're going to design, you want to make sure you personalize the survey experience to the audience. So, first things first: make sure you've got the right people in your respondent pool. And then make sure the topic and the questions are relevant for the audience.

As you think about the audience, also consider how often you will survey them. You'll want to make sure that the survey cadence is just right, e.g., don't survey one customer more than once every six months, and that you prioritize that cadence across surveys, too. In other words, if you're fielding multiple surveys at a time, ensure that the touches and the frequency are prioritized so that one person does not get multiple surveys too frequently within a specified period of time.


Multichannel doesn't just apply to customer interactions; your listening posts (all, not just surveys)  should also be multichannel. Offer up a variety of ways/modes for customers to provide feedback. Let them provide feedback via whatever mode or channel is easiest for them. Make sure your surveys are mobile-friendly/responsive.

Speaking of modes, don't forget to listen and to ask; there's a difference.

Survey Design
When creating your surveys, make sure you use survey design best practices. There are many "rules" to consider, but start with:
  • Keep surveys short and simple.
  • Ask questions that are  relevant to the audience.
  • Ask unambiguous (clear, not double-barreled) questions.
  • Don't use corporate language and acronyms; instead, use customer-friendly language that they can easily understand.
  • Speaking of languages, if you serve a global base, offer up your surveys in various languages.
  • Make sure each question is actionable. If the survey isn't actionable, you're wasting your customers' time.
  • Make the survey easy to use; in other words, check for grammar, make sure skips aren't broken, etc.
  • Ask open-ended questions (not too many) to allow respondents to share thoughts about things that you may not cover in your closed-ended questions.
  • The look and feel of the survey should match your branding; don't confuse customers (and possibly scare them away) by using a look and feel that doesn't align with your corporate branding.
This may seem like something that doesn't impact the respondent's survey experience, but it does. Make sure you survey the customer in a timely manner. If you send a survey about an experience that took place six months ago, the customer will be frustrated because he won't recall the details of the experience. Be timely in your deployments.

While you might also think that Act has nothing to do with the respondent experience, it actually has everything to do with it!

Why are you asking for feedback? Why are you listening?

You need to use that feedback; do something with it. Action takes place at strategic, tactical, and personal levels. (The latter includes not only personalizing experiences but also conducting follow-up/service recovery calls as a result of survey feedback.) And then let customers know what improvements you made as a result of the feedback and how those improvements will impact them. That communication is important to the experience. When customers know how you used their feedback, they feel like they didn't waste their time providing it and will, as a result, likely continue to tell you how you're performing in the future.


Respondents often provide feedback about your surveys that should be considered in order to improve the respondent experience. They may not understand the point of a question, may have gotten questions not relevant to them, called out ambiguous questions, told you about broken links, etc. These are easy fixes to make in order to improve the experience.

In addition, as you make improvements to the experience about which you're receiving feedback, the survey should be changed to reflect and to measure those improvements. Read verbatims and capture any emerging trends or issues about which you'd like to learn more; incorporate those into your survey or listening posts going forward.

And you thought surveys were just as simple as set and forget! They really aren't. A lot of care and thought needs to be put into designing surveys so that they, too, are a great experience for your customers.

The more you talk about them, the more important they will feel. The more you listen to them, the more important you will make them feel. -Roy T. Bennett

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Complacency or Innovation: You Decide

Image courtesy of Pixabay
How can anyone become complacent about running a business? or about winning at business?

It happens!

It's a broad question, but if you think you're going to become complacent about the customer experience - and think that's OK - then you might as well be complacent about your business, in general.

I was recently asked for suggestions on how to prevent different business units and divisions from becoming complacent when they are performing well based on their customer experience metrics. In other words, their scores, e.g., NPS, are high, so they act like "the goal is met, and there's nothing more that needs to be done about the customer experience."

I've written a post on that (complacency about metrics), which I'll share in the future. But it got me thinking beyond metrics to the broader customer experience. A lot of the same logic applies (that I mention in that post), but I'm stepping back to take more of a big picture look.

If you rest on your laurels, you will, without a doubt, be overrun by your competitors. Never mind that your customers will no longer want to do business with you. (Right, Blockbuster?!)

Remember: customer experience is a journey, not a destination; once you've improved it, you've got to keep improving it. Continuous improvement is key to this journey, to staying ahead, to winning at customer experience, to winning at business!

Here's what happens and why your work is never done:
  • Expectations change. What delights customers today may not delight tomorrow. It's important to always keep your pulse on changing customer needs.
  • Customers change. Old ones go, new ones come along. New ones may have different problems they are trying to solve or jobs to be done.
  • Customer needs, desires, and expectations change. As long as that's happening - and I don't see that every changing - there's no resting on laurels.
  • The business changes. New products are launched. Acquisitions are made. Growth happens.
  • New competitors enter the marketplace, and industry trends emerge.
  • Weak signals become strong signals.
Companies will not become complacent if they develop a customer-focused and customer-centric culture. Some would argue that customer-obsessed, like Amazon, is the better way to go; you will certainly never have to worry about complacency, if that's the case! But when the customer is at the center of the business, at the center of all decisions that are made, in your entire company's DNA, then you'll never be complacent about customer experience. It's impossible.

When you become complacent about customer experience, it is no longer your competitive advantage.

If you become complacent about the customer experience, just know there's always a competitor or a disruptor in the wings, waiting with the next big thing. That disruptor swoops in and does the employee experience and the customer experience far better. If you think that doesn't happen, think about these brands:
  • Netflix
  • Apple
  • Uber
  • Airbnb
  • Warby Parker
  • Rent the Runway
  • Virgin America
  • and more!
As Tom Fishburne says: If you want to remain number one, you have to think like number two. Check out his post on "Where complacent brands go."

What can you do?

Listen. Listen to customers. Listen to employees. Listen to the market. Listen to the industry. Pay attention. What are you hearing? What are the emerging needs? What jobs are your customers trying to do? Can they be fulfilled elsewhere? Can you innovate and fulfill better? What are the weak signals? How weak are they, really?

Create a culture of innovation that allows employees to be creative and entrepreneurial. Don't stifle new ideas and innovation. Allow employees to pose, develop, and try new ways of doing the same old thing. Encourage efficiency, simplicity, and killing old rules and making new ones. Stifling creativity, growth, and innovation is painful and kills employee engagement quicker than anything - and then there goes your customer experience.

Make sure there's a sense of urgency around this, not just around innovation but also around the need to act when signals and trends are identified. Urgency is kryptonite to complacency!

Always do what's right for the customer; ask, "How does what I'm doing right now impact the customer?" And never forget that the customer experience is a journey. Don't be content with what you're doing today; always be innovating and improving. If you don't, your customers will go elsewhere.

The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic. -Peter Drucker

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Break Down #CX Barriers with Storytelling

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Have you used storytelling in your customer experience management journey?

The art of storytelling is an important one in the customer experience world. Storytelling is a great communication tool and an awesome teaching tool, as I wrote about in my post titled Storytelling is a Trojan Horse for Learning.

When you tell stories, people listen, and they don't even realize that they're (supposed to be) learning! Stories allow you to deliver a message in a way that engages people, inspires them, and helps them understand a desired or intended outcome as a result of a series of steps or actions taken.

Storytelling delivers an impact from both the emotional and the rational perspective, capturing both the hearts and minds of the intended audience.

Whether you're just launching into your customer experience journey or are well on your way, storytelling is a valuable tool. It serves as a great way to deliver your message, to overcome the barriers to success of your journey, and to motivate and inspire those who will be a part of the journey. In short, stories are used to...
  • Inform, i.e., help people understand the what, why, where, how, and WIIFM  
  • Motivate employees to take action
  • Build trust in the storyteller, presumably your CEO or CCO
  • Build trust in the company
  • Build trust in the journey
  • Convey the values
  • Inspire collaboration
  • Share knowledge
  • And more
There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place. -J.K. Rowling

As you begin your journey, it's going to be important to tell a story about the company, its employees, and its customers: past, present, and future. Talk about where the company has been, where it is today, where it needs to go, and why. Paint a picture that connects the employees to yours customers and, ultimately, to a profitable, solvent organization.

How do you do that?

I found the concept of the Story Spine several years ago, and I've been waiting to put it to good use. It's a excellent tool to use to learn the art of storytelling, but it's also a practical outline to tell a great story.
Image courtesy of Kenn Adams and aerogrammestudio
It's pretty straight forward, and you can see how the story builds. One piece missing from this image is the addition of "And the moral of the story is..." at the end.

So, imagine if you will...

Once upon a time... there was a company that was losing employees, customers and, ultimately, money.

Every day... the leadership team became more and more frustrated, not understanding what was happening.

But, one day... they heard about successful brands that talked about (and focused on) employee experience, customer experience, customer-centric culture, customer-focused culture, and other key words and phrases that linked to business outcomes such as employee retention, customer retention, and revenue growth.

Because of that... they hired a Chief Customer Officer and a Chief People Officer.

Because of that... they were able to transform their culture to one that not only focused on - but also obsessed over - employees and customers.

Because of that... they created an advantage that was unmatched by their competitors.

Until finally... their customer and employee retention figures went through the roof, and their market performance surpassed that of other companies in their industry.

The moral of the story is... focus on employees, and they'll make customers happy; make customers happy, and they'll return. And your shareholders will be quite pleased.

It's a simplistic version of the Story Spine and how to use it to tell your culture transformation story, but I think you get the picture. Or the story.

 How do you tell the story of your customer experience transformation.

Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal. -Dr. Howard Gardner, professor Harvard University