How to tell if an organisation is serious about the customer experience

Richard Branson serving customers on a Virgin flightThe best way to improve the end-to-end customer experience is to pay attention to it.  This is much less trivial than it sounds. The more senior this attention, the more chance we have of success.

A lot of blather has been written about companies offering a good “end-to-end” customer experience. Most of us can agree that it is something to which companies can, and probably should, aspire. Yet for most companies, it is something which remains resolutely beyond the horizon.  This is not for want of trying.

Most companies begin their thinking about end-to-end customer experience by “mapping the customer journey”,   identifying the things which make it go wrong and putting in things to fix these. This is relatively easy and results in some improvements – for a while.

Some companies (often those infected by consultants) try to redesign such processes to create a coherent whole. They back these changes up with a painful project, like corporate root canal, where they implement new systems (consultants again), have lots of workshops (consultants once more) and (probably) put some posters on the wall exhorting staff to Think Like A Customer, or some such.

Thousands of hours and millions of pounds spent – with, usually, very little long-term difference, because, most of the time, such efforts fix the symptoms, not the real cause, of poor customer experience.

Why do organisations grow up, develop, and operate without putting the customer at the heart of the business? For one reason only: they have being paying attention to other things.  The drivers of the business, the things on which organisations focus day-to-day (and the things which, more often than not, have been the basis of the organisation’s success) have been things other than the customer.

In other words, the organisation, especially at the top, pays attention to things other than the customer and its metrics, numbers, activities and reward systems show this.

Customer initiatives have the best chance of success when the CEO and her top team pay attention to customer performance in the same way, and with the same regularity, as they pay attention to revenue or EBIT. We know they are serious when they accept, for example, a hard customer metric in their bonus package. When they pay attention to the customer as routinely as they do to the production numbers, the rest of the organisation does too.

Inevitably, this means that customer experience improves.

As do revenues.

As do costs.

As do profits.

If we want to fix things for the customer, end-to-end, we need to make sure that the people in our organisation who have overall responsibility for our business, end-to-end, are paying attention to the customer, with the same priority, as the other aspects of the business to which they pay attention.

Otherwise, we are going to find life very hard. Because, when push comes to shove, hard numbers drive out soft.

People have only so much bandwidth and they will focus on those things which organisational behaviour reveals as the most important – those things which get senior attention. And while most organisations claim to want to put the customer at the heart of their business, the things to which the business truly pays attention – the hard numbers, if you like –  push other priorities to the side.

Customer experience is rarely in this top list of priorities unless it has been baked from the start as part of the core ethos of the company. So, if we want our organisation to make things better for the customer properly, the first step is to make sure that the top team really pays attention to the customer.

Get this right, and everything else becomes much, much easier.

 

Clayton gets it right

Clayton_Christensen_World_Economic_Forum_2013In this interview, Clayton Christensen spells out some ideas which are so right that they almost have the force of Laws for Business.

Clayton Christensen is the godfather of innovation. His books define how people think about innovation, education and disruption (and more recently, values).  Strategy + Business, the management journal from Booz and Co., published a great interview with him here.

In it, he says two things that ring so true that I think they deserve to become laws of business, especially when looked at through a customer lens.

The first concerns decision-making:

“When you make a decision based on expediency—because you think you can get away with paying only a smaller, marginal cost—you always pay the full cost in the end.”

He’s talking here about our personal lives, but it applies in spades in the customer world.  The contact centre which drives agents to keep calls as short as possible for cost purposes almost always pays a higher eventual cost in terms of customers calling again, customer dissatisfaction, agent retention and customer churn.  The website which skimps on early customer testing during the design phase will almost certainly have to spend a fortune in redesign once it goes live and customers don’t like it.

So, if I may, Christensen’s First Law:

If you skimp on things early, you pay much more later. Every time.

The second quote is more substantial, but even more fundamental:

“You might also ask, “What is the job to be done?” Every company needs a robust theory of the job that it’s facing. At the fundamental level, most jobs don’t change very much, even though the technology does. When he was the emperor of Rome, Julius Caesar had to exchange messages rapidly with his far-flung governors. He used horsemen with chariots. Today, we have FedEx, but the job hasn’t changed. If you’re focused on the job that has to be done, you’ll be more likely to catch the next technology that does it better. If you frame your business by product or technology, you won’t see the next disruptor when it comes along.”

Who is doing “the job?” The customer.

And so to Christensen’s Second Law:

Focus on the job to be done or you’ll be beaten by someone who does. 

It’s a short interview, but full of good things.  Read and enjoy.

(Tip of hat to Petrina Alexander, who first drew my attention to the article).

(Image credit: Remy Steinegger, World Economic Forum under Creative Commons License)

The customer revolution begins…at start-up

Customer rockLean Start-Up methods offer an overwhelming case for working with customers as early in the product cycle as possible. This lesson applies to all of us, not just start-ups.

Eric Ries, the author of Lean Start-Up, worked with Steve Blank while he was forming his ideas.  Steve has just posted on the HBR blog a phenomenal summary of the lean start-up approach and why it, as he says, “…changes everything.”

Lean start-up relies on a number of tools – experimental design, minimum viable product and so forth – but if I read him right, one of the central concepts which makes it work is this: the only authority is the customer.

This idea runs through the process like a name through a stick of rock.  Involving the customer in the design process, getting to customers early, behavioural (A/B) testing – the whole lean start-up gamut begins with the customer and how propositions can only succeed if they are designed with and for the customer from the get-go. At all stages, the primary decision driver is what the customer tells us (or better, shows us).

Build it like this, and the customer experience is not an overlay to be applied afterwards, nor is it something ‘fluffy’ or intangible or unimportant – instead, the proposition and the customer experience become the same thing.

Even more interesting is the lean start-up promise that doing things this way will get our propositions to market MUCH more quickly and (probably) more cheaply than the alternatives.

Thinking this way changes everything.

Does it apply only to start-ups?

I don’t see why. Are there really any barriers stopping the rest of us from applying these ideas in our organisations right now?

I didn’t think so.

The Case of the Cashless Customer

ImageAs some of you may know, I have spent a little time in the arcane world of mobile payments.  Dave Birch is one of the good guys in this space (an excellent mix of enthusiasm and scepticism in equal parts).  In this piece, he shows (with tongue firmly in cheek) what happens when new technologies hit the market but the preferred customer experience is still being worked out.

All you need to know is that he doesn’t want to pay with cash. If you like this kind of thing, read on…

 

How do you know your strategy is working? You say no.

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The Separation of the Sheep and Goats,
Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, c540AD

A good strategy sets out our priorities. Priorities, however, are only valid when we know what we won’t do.

In my experience, organisations are full of managers willing to claim that “…X is our top priority.”

It is much harder to find managers willing to say  “…X is our top priority, so we won’t do Y.”  Which is funny, because this is what top priority means: other things won’t get done. And this is OK, because we are putting our resources and attention into the things that matter most instead..

What tells us what matters most?  Our strategy. If our strategy is clear, we know which markets, customer, products, services and capabilities are most important to us. By implication, we also know which are not.

For those of us interested in customers (and I assume that is pretty much all of us), then if our strategy is any good, we have to make some tough calls.

For example: Are all our customers equally important?

For most organisations, the answer is probably no.   So the next question follows. What are we doing to make sure that our most important customers get the service they need and expect?  And what are doing to make sure that lower priority customers do not get service or resources at the expense of our top priorities?

This is often a tough call. But organisations which genuinely answer these questions can be very successful. Apple, as one example, do not seem interested in mobile phone customers on tight budgets, and they are doing all right. Low cost airline Ryanair, as another, are interested only in the budget customer – and they are one of the most profitable airlines in Europe.

Setting strategy is easy. Doing it is hard. And our willingness (or otherwise) to use strategy to set high and low priorities is one of the one of the reasons why.