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Today, I am very pleased to present a guest post by Jim Lucas of Lucavia.
Music, math, foreign language, computer programming. Have you ever wondered whether subjects like these can be learned or if you simply have to be “born with it”? A brief query shows a usual pattern. You’ll find a debate about the role of hard work and dedication versus natural talent, and then a consensus emerges. It takes hard work and dedication to become proficient or to master a subject (think: Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule). But to achieve at the highest levels requires more of the same plus a generous helping of natural talent and luck—where only the truly gifted achieve genius.
From a management point of view, simple knowledge of a subject is not interesting; only its application and performance matter.
For example, think about retail customer service. Virtually every businessperson claims to know all about customer service and yet the quality and depth of customer service varies wildly between companies—and even within the same company from store to store and from experience to experience. So, why is it that customer service is so well understood and yet so poorly performed?
The answer is that most retail businesses do not have knowledge of customer service; they have opinions. What’s more, instead of performing customer service they constantly improvise, both as organizations and individuals. It is little wonder when an organization uses their 10,000 hours, practicing customer service 10,000 different ways, that customers perceive it as chaos.
The remedy to this situation is, as they say, simple to understand but difficult to master.
The first thing is to define customer service from your customer’s point of view.
The second thing is to write down the steps in your customer service experience including the standards of performance you demand for its proper execution.
Thirdly, systematize how you present this information to your staff—and be careful to select candidates for their aptitude to learn and to be passionate about delivering it.
And, finally, rehearse. One doesn’t become an Emma Kirby by performing only in front of a live audience at the Royal Opera House. You have to train, refine, and improve offstage to earn your standing ovations.
(Image credit: Susan Huseman (USAG Stuttgart))
When we want to change anything in an organisation, we will meet the Grumps. Grumps are colleagues who appear to support the project (and who may actually believe that they are acting in the project’s best interests) but whose presence is toxic to success.
The most telling sign that someone is a Grump is to note their effect on the energy of others.
If their presence adds to the energy of the team – if they are ‘radiators’* – then they are probably not Grumps.
If, however, their presence sucks the energy from the room – if they are ‘drains’ – we need to be careful.
How they speak is often a giveaway. Grumps are people on the ground who reveal themselves in meetings and emails and water-cooler conversations when they say things like:
“…I’m not saying this is a bad idea, but…”
“…We’ve tried this already and…”
“Let’s be realistic, here…”
“…we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater…”
Or (as I have genuinely heard in more than one company):
“…we have to be careful not to trust customers too much…”
…and similar statements which have the facade of reason but really reflect fundamental antipathy.
Grumps slowly strangle customer experience projects.
They raise seemingly legitimate objections which are never about the intent of the project, always about the implementation. Before long, the team is spending more time and energy managing concerns raised by Grumps and less in delivering the project. Slowly, imperceptibly, Grumps force us to move our focus away from making things better for customers to trying to keep the Grumps happy.
And so the project fails – or more typically, fades away, as the effort needed to deliver something good gets brought down by the drag of managing the Grumps.
These three steps can help us beat the Grumps:
Good customer experience projects are all about leverage. They seek the places and strategies which yield maximum results in the fastest time. Grumps kill leverage, by forcing us to consider their objections instead of the customers, slow us down by distracting our attention and diverting our resources, and kill our projects by slowly sucking out our energy and momentum.
But if we can identify Grumps early and adopt the right practical strategies to prevent the damage they can cause, we remove one of the biggest barriers to customer experience project success.
Have you had the misfortune of working with Grumps? What Grump warning signs have you seen? Let us know in the comments below.
**’Getting them off the bus’ is a CEO strategy recommended in Jim Collins’ excellent book, From Good to Great (p.56)
Image credit: David Stowell, licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.
Radiator image courtesy of Dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Drain image courtesy of Winond / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I set up MikeAndTheCustomer to help companies to make things better for customers.
Four principles which would drive what we do here. I consider these to be the most important factors in shaping the customer experience.
To me, they pretty much describe the whole customer experience ball game.
Let me explain why I chose these principles to guide what we do.
In my view, no matter what business any of us are in, the customer experience we offer is determined by what our customers value and how we choose to address these. These are the things that matter. Some examples:
This principle means not trying to make every customer experience brilliant, or memorable. It means instead paying attention to those that make a difference and figuring out how make these good for the customer. And, after all, isn’t this what motivates many of us – to make a difference?
Whatever we do – buy, sell, deliver, support – we have to do it right. Who determines what is right? The customer. Our customers are the arbiters of what we do, and if we do it right, we deliver the value which they expect.
This means that when our customers change, or evolve, or want new things, we take the trouble to learn with them so that we continue to do it right.
To do so, we have to be with our customers, learning with them, and about them, as much as we can.
Doing it right also means doing it as efficiently, consistently and systematically as possible. That way we minimise error, we minimise costs, we maximise speed and we maximise the ability, as we grow, to have colleagues do it right as well.
I honestly believe that speed is the single most important factor in turning customer experience into a competitive advantage.
If we can deliver what the customer wants, instantly, then that means we can impress the customer with our service, we can find out from them straightaway if we are on the money and if we are not, we can fix it immediately.
The speed with which we deliver is the speed at which we learn. The faster we do both, the better we will be, and the better will be the customer’s experience.
This one needs a little more explanation..
I wanted a way a capture the spirit of good customer experience that did not involve telling stories about the virtues of Zappos or Nordstrom or John Lewis. Unless we work for one of these paragons of customer service (or, sometimes, even if we do) the effect of such stories is just to make the reader feel guilty that they aren’t doing better
The more I thought about it, and the more I recalled the companies I knew who really try to make a difference for their customers, the more I realised that the essence of good customer experience is about one thing. It is about being honourable.
What do I mean by honourable? I mean this:
Honourable offers the key test when we think about doing a new thing: is what we are thinking of doing, and the way we are thinking of doing it, honourable? Unless it is, then the answer is simple: we should not do it.
I believe that an organisation which follows these principles cannot help but offer a great, trusted, customer experience. What is more, they will continue to do so as customers, markets, technology and people change.
But this is just me.
What do you think? Do you agree with me? Or is there something I’ve missed, or with which you disagree? Let me know.
This is important to me, and I would really value your comments or thoughts.
Image credit: The Pillars of Creation in the Large Magellanic Cloud, NASA
Ian Golding, the customer experience consultant has an enviable CV and an excellent blog (which I strongly commend). Last month, he posted a great article about the customer experience offered by Sports Direct, a UK budget sporting goods store.
The point of his post was that Sports Direct offer a poor customer experience because, in effect, their goods are so cheap the customer experience doesn’t matter.
Ian also suggests that Sports Direct are effectively playing the same role in high street retail as Ryanair play in air travel.
A conscious choice
As regular readers of this blog will know, I have written about the Ryanair customer experience here and here. I think that there may some significant differences in the ways in which they think about the customer experience when compared with Sports Direct.
I suspect that the biggest difference is that Ryanair understand the things which make the biggest difference for their customers. As a result, they manage their customer experience to be good along a very few dimensions (on time, seen to be low-cost) and explicitly limited in others (no refunds) in order to to support its business model.
Sports Direct, however, appear not to manage the customer experience, but instead to allow it to be an unconscious side-effect of their low-cost operation.
Is simply cheap sustainable?
Because they seem to compete solely on cost, Sports Direct may be vulnerable to another company offering a similar cost proposition with a better customer experience. Ian muses if Sports Direct’s low-customer-experience is sustainable in the face of new competition such as that offered by French sports shed operator Decathlon.
Ryanair, on the other hand, I don’t think are so vulnerable to attack on this front. Two factors argue for this.
The first is that Ryanair actively manage their customer experience and know which aspects of the experience make the biggest difference to their customers. As a result, if they needed to dial elements of the key parts of the customer experience up or down, I am sure they could.
The second factor is more pragmatic. As I mentioned in my post, Ryanair: Kings of the Customer Experience, Ryanair compete as a low-cost airline because their business model is ruthlessly designed round the limited customer experience they choose to offer. Other operators do not seem to have the single-minded strategic will to make similar choices – and so they live with business models which are intrinsically more expensive to run.
What you pay attention to, you get
The takeaway, I think, is this: every business, whether it thinks about it or not, offers their customers an experience which reflects the things to which the company pays attention. If a company focuses solely on least cost supply and appears to pay little attention to the customer experience, then customers get an experience akin to the ‘dark cave’ which Ian describes as being offered by Sports Direct.
Such companies are vulnerable to competition from others which do pay attention to the customer experience and design their low-cost operation around the experience they actively choose to offer.
In short, if we don’t pay attention to customer experience in the boardroom, we shouldn’t surprised if, in return, customers stop paying attention to us.
In an earlier post (How Big Data will change marketing (part 1)) I wanted to introduce the idea of Big Data in practical terms. My take on Big Data is not in terms of volume, velocity or variety, (as coined by Gartner analyst Doug Laney) but in terms of what it is in practice and how it might encourage action.
In my view, Big Data has seven characteristics:
For marketers, the looming presence of Big Data is likely to change many things, including these:
Scientific method The scale and nature of Big Data are making marketing a rigorous, experimental discipline. We are getting the means to interrogate very complex data sets very quickly to decide which marketing idea works best. This is already happening online. Disciplines such as A/B testing and the thinking embodied by Eric Ries’ excellent Lean Start-up are already in action in many places. Examples include Amazon offering A/B testing as a free service to android developers and Barack Obama using it to raise $60m. (See also my post, ‘Let’s go hippo hunting‘). This thinking is rapidly moving offline. Marketers will have to master strict, efficient scientific method to succeed in this new world.
Attitudinal marketing is dead Well, if not dead, then it’s about to enter life-support. The quantity and predictive value of behavioural and activity data means that what people think or feel about a product or brand will become increasingly irrelevant. We are already finding this on the web. If A/B testing shows us that consumers prefer to press a red button, and not a blue one, then we are better served by changing all our buttons to red than spending a fortune trying to understand why. This thinking will soon apply everywhere.
Prepare for the segment of one Big Data will enable us to direct contextual, customised marketing directly at individuals based on such things as (say) their mobile GPS history, online and social media activity, and offline behaviour. In effect, a marketing campaign for one person. One implication of the segment of one is that a consumer marketing operation may well need to deliver a million tailored campaigns a year.
This is not just an automation problem.
To run at this level, with minimal errors, cost-efficiently, means the winning marketing operations will be those which adopt and implement the Lean manufacturing disciplines which enabled car manufacturers to deliver a batch size of one, with a cycle time approaching zero. (See my earlier post – SMED: The secret sauce of customer experience, for a related discussion).
We are all going to become Lean, people.
Create platforms, not campaigns The role of the creative will change. Increasingly, we will need our creatives to design communications platforms, rather than individual campaigns. These platforms will have to flex in innumerable ways to meet the contextual demands of the segment of one.
Brand as algorithm Brands will be formulated into heuristics – rules which can drive real-time decisions to enable real-time marketing. The automated brand is coming.
Source, don’t build, your data By definition, Big Data is a mix of different data sources. Very few organisations have the capability to assemble, structure and support such heterogeneous sets of data and stay sane (and profitable). Ignore the Big Data hype about the need to build Hadoop clusters and recruiting data scientists. This isn’t how it is going to go.
Here is how it might. Companies are going to realise soon that they will be better off working with trusted data intermediaries rather than trying to build their own Big Data. They will pose questions to these intermediaries, such as “….what is the best way to segment the market to identify the people most likely to buy our stuff?…”, or “…when in the customer’s day are we most likely to get positive attention for our proposition…?” or “…who could be our next customers….?”
These intermediaries will orchestrate data sources quickly to get the best answers to these questions. They may already own some data, some data they may rent, some they may commission and some will come from their clients – but such tasks are best left to specialists. There is no need to build your own data engine. Spend your time instead trying to understand the questions you need to answer to get to market most effectively.
Of course, for companies which specialise in data harvesting, brokerage, mashup and orchestration, this intermediary role will be a lucrative opportunity. For the rest of us, being able to use such services intelligently will become an increasingly important skill.
Big Data is going to change marketing. But those marketers who do embrace this change will become hugely more effective, productive and influential.
It will be marketing, Jim, but not as we know it.