Category Archives: customer experience

No-one Knows How

suit-673697_1280 reverseIn Toulouse on a quick, one-day assignment to work with the WW management team of a tech company. I dined out last night when I arrived at an open-air bistro by the leafy cobbles of the Place Wilson. Outstanding food, a half-bottle of a ’98 Medoc: a pleasant evening – even if I was dining alone.

I’m here because my client, a multi-billion dollar company that led the world in its field, has lost its way and is looking to set a new direction – while trying to make enough money to stay in business while it sorts things out. In short, they’ve been losing money and need to get better at making it. The problem is: they know what they need to do – they just don’t know how.

They are not alone. It’s an epidemic.

No-one knows how.

Cut costs in rational, practical ways that reduce deadwood and improve efficiency? Absolutely. Identify new markets and develop new products to meet the new demand? Damn straight. Create a customer-centric organisation that delivers ever-better products with consistent speed and quality? Ohhh yeah….

Knowing what to do? That’s the easy bit. How to do it? That’s a different question.

If I am the CEO, I can read the books and go to the business schools and pay the consultants their big fees but I’m worse off than when I began because now I know what I should do, I really do. But thinking about how we can do it is much harder – and it’s a wet Monday morning in February and the numbers are down and the Finance director is quitting and the IT guys are telling me that our great white hope of a CRM system is becoming a great white elephant and there’s a quality problem in Kuala Lumpur and I know that my North American Operations Director is bucking for my job and my inbox tells me I have 223 unread emails and I’m late for the plane to Osaka and any hope I have of thinking about how I solve my real problems is washed away by this daily torrent – and I know Tuesday will only be worse.

I don’t need people to tell me what to do – I need them to tell me how, because I don’t have time (or, often, the capacity) to work that out for myself. And almost all the consultants out there offering to help don’t get this.

Most offer ‘solutions’ – like a new computer system has ever saved a company. (Has one, ever? I’d be delighted to hear about it. In my experience, a new system is more likely to kill, not cure).

If they can’t offer me an IT solution, I can always rent their brains, because they’re so much smarter than me about my business, aren’t they? (huh?) After all, I’ve outsourced everything else, why not outsource my thinking? They’ll write the reports, make their slick presentations, then leave me to get on with it (But I still won’t know how, because they don’t know).

And if this doesn’t work, they’ll offer to do the job for me. Good grief, if I’ve outsourced my thinking, I may as well outsource my role while I’m about it. So they flood us with lots of green, smart-suited graduates with condescending smiles who run around analysing here and workshopping there and (if we let them) eventually running the show with their procedures and their metrics and their systems.

And I still won’t know how to change the business to make it better. (And you know what? Neither will they. If they really wanted to run a business, they would be managers, not consultants…)

The only sustainable way for a business to succeed is for its people think better, more efficiently and more productively about the things that matter – and to do so in ways that drive effective action.

It’s hard and it hurts and most people and most organisations will do anything to avoid to doing it. But it is the secret to cutting through the daily noise and stuff.

To think clearly about issues and, even more importantly, about how to resolve them is, I believe, one of the biggest challenges of leadership.

But if we do it and – better – if we help our colleagues to do it, it’s also among the most enjoyable, interesting and valuable things we can do in business.

And today it is Toulouse.

A bientôt.

Image credit: Ryan McGuire (https://pixabay.com/en/users/RyanMcGuire-123690/)

Ten customer experience predictions for 2015

get-excited-and-change-the-future

A crystal ball (with a pinch of salt)

It’s the time of year when people make predictions about the coming year. Here are my predictions about what customers will see differently in 2015.

I have based these on nothing more than some experience and conversations with interesting people, so take them with whatever amounts of salt you like.

Privacy will matter less than trust.

Customers will increasingly accept that companies will know more about us than we would like. But in return, we will want companies to prove even more that we can trust them with our data.

Mobile payments won’t fly in 2015

The new iPhone 6 includes the ‘Apple Pay‘ mobile payment facility. It is due to launch in the spring of 2015.

But it won’t have us all pay by mobile all at once.

Why?

Because the customer experience for card payments is still better than the mobile alternative.

Card out, put in reader, type in four numbers, done. Easy.

Mobile out, tap button to wake up phone, find payment app, confirm amount, confirm authorisation again, await confirmation of payment on phone, give up, take out cash…

And that’s not all. Not enough shops will take mobile payments, but they all take cards. They will need a compelling reason to change.

And, even if we want to pay by mobile, with dozens of payment apps available, the chances are that a given shop won’t take the specific app that’s on our phone.

As Google and many others have found, and as Apple is about to find, the business of payments is hard. This one is going to be slow, people.

Our buying experience will start to be simpler and more relevant

Want to buy something? There’s too much choice.

Any major decision – holiday, car, house, furniture, white goods, television, PC, phone, school – now needs detailed online research, investigation of reviews and trawling of social media.*  It’s so much work that that buying stuff now feels like it costs as much in effort as our research saves in money.

Many sites, such as those in the travel industry, can ask us for some preferences to simplify our journey by filtering choices, it is still a chore.

It is only a matter of time before some sites simply use our social identity, online behaviour, some statements of preference and history of other purchases to predict the best purchase solutions for us and offer a focused choice that’s right for us, based on who we are.

More than a search based on budget, distance from home, type of hotel preference and preferred flight times, this is a search based on what we genuinely want and like, evidenced by our behaviour.

This is, I believe, the kind of thing that will be enabled through the data gathering and machine learning capabilities of facilities like Google Now or Amazon Echo.  I think we will start to see these services being offered in 2015.

Before long, we won’t be typing in “…washing machine reviews…” when we want to think about replacing our white goods. We’ll simply muse out loud, in our living room:  “Alexa?  What washing machine would be best for me?”

We will start to see fresh food delivery online at scale from non-grocers

Building a distributed, refrigerated real-time supply chain to distribute fresh food is expensive and difficult. This has acted as a major barrier to entry for online players. It has kept traditional grocery supermarkets in the game and let them sell us all the other household stuff we need routinely.

But Amazon are starting to trial fresh food delivery and many consumers will begin to use them for their shopping. I think we will start to see the grocers’ monopoly on our weekly food shop starting to erode in 2015.

At least one traditional supermarket will experiment with a alternative models

Of course, traditional supermarkets are no mugs. They will experiment with new ideas to ‘lock in’ our weekly shop and keep it away from online pretenders. Tesco already have a subscription model for online delivery charges. I would be surprised if they, or their competitors, didn’t come up with an alternative. A single monthly subscription that delivers a weekly food shop, for example?

Health insurers will offer discounts for customers to upload their health data activities.

This one is, I think, already happening. Wearables, and the health monitoring facilities offered by the iPhone 6, all gather data about our long-term lifestyles.

Health insurers are beginning to incentivise us to upload this data to the cloud. Health insurers will analyse this data and give us bespoke cover at tailored premiums. And we will like it. (unless we’re fat, or sedentary, in which case our premiums will shoot up).

Wearable tech will cause at least one Big Data / privacy scandal

Wearables are probably the first tech innovation designed from the ground up to enable ‘Big Data. Just by wearing a watch or wristband, our movements yield long-term telemetry data.

Where we go, what we do, who we meet, what we are interested in, when we do things, how we get there, what we buy, how we pay and who we tell – this so-called ‘digital exhaust’ trails behind us as we live.

This data is so complex, so large and so intimate that it will not be possible to protect it fully, certainly not at the start. Sometime in 2015, we will have the first leakage of such data and what it will reveal about what is known about us will be scary.

Buyers of customer experience management software will get wise to the idea that there is no such thing

The notion of customer experience has become polluted by vendors selling ‘customer experience software’. There ain’t no such thing.

Leading, managing and operating an organisation to offer a good customer experience is not about software. It is a matter of principle, strategy, practice and attention. I expect that more companies will understand this in 2015.

Banks will claim to be customer-centric but scandals will continue to disprove this idea

Banks will continue to try and show that they have genuinely changed their stripes. That they have,learned the error of their ways and are driven by the interests of their customers.

But I fear that this hope will founder, for two reasons. First, a typical bank IT system is a messy legacy stack that is hardwired around products, not customers. These systems are too big and too complex to change without eye-watering expense.

Second, the majority of banks continue to reward their people to focus on short-term revenues for the bank, regardless of the interests of the customer. Because these rewards are so big, they will continue to distort banker behaviour away from the customer.

This toxic culture is so ingrained that it will take a generation to fix – so while I have little hope of customer-centred progress in 2015, I feel sure that more banking scandals will emerge.

Some brands will begin to function as marketing algorithms

The lines between ‘pure’ marketing and customer experience continue to blur. Marketers have been trying for years to personalise their messaging to individual consumers. I think this year, we will start seeing the first marketing content, bespoke for individual customers, automatically generated by what marketing systems know about each customer.

What will make these communications different? They will be driven by specific parameters that properly reflect the intent of the brand.

The content of marketing emails may be different, depending on what else they know about us. (Depending on the ethics of the company, this could  be much more than just the information we gave them when we opted in for their marketing – assuming we did at all).

While the content of all these emails may be different for EVERY customer, each will reflect the presentation, tone of voice and content of the brand. The brand will have become an algorithm, driving content.

What are your predictions?

So these are my predictions for the year. Things will, I think, get better in incremental ways for the customer as more companies recognise the competitive advantage this gives them.  We’ll see a few new things, and some ideas will fail (and that’s ok, failure is the overhead of innovation and the cost of progress) and a number of things will surprise us.

What do you think? What do you predict customers will see differently in 2015?

*The link takes you to a cool interactive tool by Google that shows how the purchase journey varies for customers in different market segments and countries. Fun to play with (if you like that kind of thing).

54 ways to make the customer experience better

Happy customer

We were snowbound at a corporate retreat in Princeton, New Jersey.  We had exhausted the formal agenda and were waiting to hear if the snowploughs had freed the I-95 so that we could get to the airport and go home.

So we were having a few beers and having a general discussion about what works for us in business when Kevin, an experienced colleague who worked in our manufacturing practice, said something so true and so simple that it has stuck with me at every step of my career since.

We were talking about creating and keeping customer relationships, and he said: “Every time I’m going to meet someone for business, before I go in,  I ask myself, ‘how can I create value for them in this meeting?’  If I can do this, I know they’ll want to meet me again.  They’ll learn to trust me.  And, when the time is right, they’ll buy from me.”

The snowploughs came and we put down our beers and caught our planes home, but his simple mantra – ‘how can I create value for my customers each time we meet?’ – has served me well since then.

Because this is the secret of customer experience.

If we want to make the customer experience better, it’s simple. We make every customer encounter something that our customer values. Then we repeat for every step of the encounter.

Find this value and maximise it. If the encounter doesn’t add value, don’t do it.  That’s all.

What’s value?  It’s whatever the customer thinks it is. Things like:

Treating them like a person

  1. Displaying courtesy and good manners
  2. Smiling when we see them
  3. Pitching things in their  terms, not ours
  4. Treating the customer as someone who  is valued and not a potential thief or fraudster (Banks, are you listening?)
  5. Recognising them when we see them again
  6. Recognising them and rewarding them for coming back
  7. Apologising (and not with the weaselly “I’m sorry you feel that way”)
  8. Understanding their problem before offering a solution
  9. Making the customer look good (always a good thing to do)
  10. Showing we are thinking about them, and what matters to them,  even when they aren’t there
  11. Being respectful – of the customer, of our colleagues, of the competition
  12. Being kind.

Making it easy

  1. Taking away something that is inconvenient for them
  2. Simplifying the transaction (or better, simplifying the customer’s situation)
  3. Offering control to our customer (of the conversation, of the transaction)
  4. Making it so that there is only one way for the customer to do something – and it’s always good
  5. Being patient
  6. Making it easy to pay
  7. Making it easy to get money back
  8. Pricing fairly
  9. Being consistent
  10. Making it easy to talk to a person (if that is what our customer wants)
  11. Making it easy not to have to talk to a person (if that is what our customer wants)
  12. Making it easy for the customer to change their mind
  13. Welcoming returns with a smile
  14. Improvising if the customer needs it
  15. Anticipating their questions (nicely)
  16. Listening to them. REALLY listening.  (Note: this one is hard).

Being honest

  1. If we can’t do it, saying so
  2. If someone else can do it better or cheaper, saying so
  3. Pricing things in ways that are clear and easy to understand
  4. No surprises – being up front with bad news and what we are doing to fix it
  5. If there is a quick or cheap fix for their problem, solving it for them
  6. Refusing to sell them the wrong thing
  7. Keeping our promises, no matter how small (especially the small ones)

Being interesting

  1. Being funny (but not offensive)
  2. Speak about their problems more than our solutions

Helping

  1. Explaining what is happening and what will happen next
  2. Putting ourselves in their shoes
  3. Giving them meaningful choices
  4. Tailoring what we do to what they want
  5. Keeping their anonymity (if that is what they want)
  6. Reassuring them
  7. Taking responsibility for sorting things out, even if it is not our fault
  8. Solving their problems quickly and consistently

 Giving them something

  1. Offering something extra (a lagniappe, for example)
  2. Giving away  insight or knowledge because the customer needs help
  3. Letting them take the credit
  4. Giving them things because we think they might like them
  5. Making it cheaper because they’ve come back
  6. Accepting that if they have got things wrong, it’s our fault for allowing it to happen

Speed

  1. Being fast
  2. Being instant
  3. Letting them be slow. Waiting for them. Patiently. And with a smile.
  4. Being convenient in ways that matter to them
  5. Asking them how quickly they want it and getting it to them whenever they say

Each of these will make the customer experience better.  Better, customers will value dealing with us. And if there’s value, they’ll be willing to buy from us.  And they’ll want to do it again. And this is the bottom-line reason why customer experience matters.

(Photo credit: adapted from ‘Happy Customer’ by Dan Taylor, https://www.flickr.com/photos/dantaylor/, modified under Creative Commons license) 

Five things Game of Thrones can teach us about customer experience

game-of-thrones-logoThis is a bit of shameless puffery on the back of the Game of Thrones (GoT) season finale tomorrow. But I make no apologies: GoT offers a number of useful lessons for those who want to make the customer experience better.

1 What customers like is not necessarily what customers need.

197kv319iaqtcjpgGoT kills off lots of people, including many characters we like. The death of the Red Viper two weeks ago at the end of Tyrion’s trial by combat has left fans reeling, with howls of outrage echoing across the internet.

But this is, of course, one of the reasons we keep watching: because we know that no-one is safe. We may not like it when a character dies, but it makes the show more compelling.

In business, also, we need to concentrate on giving people what they need, and sometimes this comes at the cost of what we want. Virgin media, for example, has designed its business to deliver broadband services at competitive prices.  When something goes wrong, they will do their best to fix it. Drop them an email and they will respond quickly.

But not by phone.

Apparently there are numbers with which to contact Virgin media by phone for support, but I’ve never found them.  And I understand why.  It would add a layer of complexity and cost which would compromise their business model.  Virgin gets it. They give us what we need, but not everything we want.

2 How you do it matters as much as what you do.

game of thrones mainGoT is magnificently shot.  Recent scenes have featured Tyrion languishing in the dungeon while awaiting trial.  Typically, these scenes have opened with a slow shot revealing Tyrion lit from the side, one half of his face in light, the other in darkness; a perfect photographic study and (I daresay) a visual metaphor for his uncertain fate between light and darkness.

Detail.

Richness.

The GoT team are plainly thinking not just of getting through the words that are on the pages of the script, but on how the scene is to be experienced by the viewer.

A relatively recent phenomenon is the rise of YouTube videos which show the unwrapping and unpacking experience of new pieces of (usually) technology.  Luxury goods companies have known this for ever (jewellery is always sumptuously packaged).  Apple is the tech company that pioneered taking this thinking to their products, so now their competitors are doing so as well.

Why? Because packing things nicely makes unpacking them a pleasurable part of the customer experience? Yes, but also because it shows that they care about the details. ‘If they think this much and put so much effort into packaging my product,’ thinks the consumer, ‘the product must be good. They must be good.’

3 Inject some personality and, if possible, fun.

GoT is many things, but fun?  Well…yes.

Earlier this season,  a Meereenese rider was challenging Daenerys’ champion. He shouted an intimidatory, bloodcurdling set of insults in one of the invented GoT languages, Low Valyrian. What he was saying was, in truth, borrowed from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when the French knight pours scorn on King Arthur from the castle walls, saying things like: “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.”

Meerenese insultWas doing so essential for the customer experience? Not a whit. But fun and enjoyable for the cast, crew and writers (and now the fans)? Of course.

As, for example, Virgin Group demonstrates, if your employees enjoy their jobs then your customers will have a better experience. Happy employees = happy customers.

4 Use lean storytelling:
make your story do some work

A GoT season is only ten episodes long.  For those of us raised on television seasons that last thirteen or twenty-six episodes, this isn’t enough. We want more.

But with only ten episodes to cover the many, many stories typically developed in a GoT season comes discipline: tight editing, quick plot progression and rapid character development. Each scene does at least two tasks – to progress the story but also to deepen (or sometimes end) character.

For example, in episode eight of Season four, Ser Barristan confronts Ser Jorah about a letter that pardons him as a reward for spying on Daenerys. The scene contains little explanation, instead directing the characters’ attention (and ours) to the consequences of the revelation and so helping us to understand what is going on. Not a word is wasted in flabby exposition.

got-game-of-thrones-34466376-500-250

Explaining things to customers is boring for us and for them.  But we often need to do so.  Perhaps we should take a leaf out the GoT writers’ handbook and see what extra value we can add to the message make it more valuable, like Virgin America do here – boosting their brand while explaining the boring stuff.

5 Use a long story arc

GoT has several LOOOONG story arcs working in background at any time. The opening scene – even before the credits – of Episode 1, Season 1, reveals white walkers doing bad things to people.  “Winter,” we hear, “is coming.”Winter is coming

Well, it’s the end of season four and there’s not much sign of snow south of the Wall.

As I said: long.

This means that behind every story line and scene is our understanding that some longer stories are playing out.  It makes for a richer experience and means that if, sometimes, some scenes don’t excite as much as others, we accept it, because we know more is coming.

The holy grail of customer experience so to create an enduring relationship with a customer, where both we and our customer knows that each transaction is part of a bigger story.   This what drives Zappos’ success. They demonstrate complete trust in the customer – help when choosing, unlimited free returns and pretty much endless telephone support. Why? Because Zappos don’t want to sell you a pair of shoes.  They want to sell you lots of shoes. And tell your friends.  So if one pair doesn’t work out, that’s ok: they’re with you for the long haul.

The season four finale is tomorrow. I can’t wait to see what happens and I know I will enjoy it.

Wouldn’t it be great if our customers felt like this when they think about buying from us?

Enjoy the show.

Image credits:

Game of Thrones logo: Geek News Network – http://geeknewsnetwork.net/2013/11/21/rumor-telltale-games-is-working-on-game-of-thrones-game/

Game of Thrones death map: Via Jesus Diaz at http://sploid.gizmodo.com/all-the-killings-in-game-of-thrones-in-one-gigantic-glo-1472181613

Tyrion picture: Via http://nerdapproved.com/misc-weirdness/a-new-game-of-thrones-trailer-means-the-season-premiere-is-coming/

Meereenese rider: Timelord at http://timelord903.tumblr.com/post/85416706750/have-you-planted-any-easter-eggs-in-the-show

Ser Jorah and Ser Barristan: Via http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/game-of-thrones/images/34466376/title/barristan-selmy-jorah-mormont-fanart

White walker: http://imgur.com/gallery/zahDJCr

 

How to transform the customer experience without a transformation programme

Welder

Make it better

In my last post, I described ten ways we can make the customer experience better.

Here they are again, framed from the customer’s point of view.

  1. You’re quick.
  2. You are easy to deal with.
  3. You get it right.
  4. You care if something isn’t right.
  5. You prove that I can trust you.
  6. You trust me.
  7. You are honest about what you can’t do.
  8. You act in my interests.
  9. You are professional.
  10. You are honourable.

*Sigh*

That’s a big list.

Let’s get real. We can’t fix everything.

But we do need to make things better.  Customers expect it. Our competitors are doing it.  We need to act quickly, sustainably and now.

And here’s the thing.  It costs very little to make each of these better. Without investing in technology. Without employing expensive consultants.

It just requires our attention.

Our people are already busy. They have to pay attention to the day job and to keep the lights on.  Most folk (and most organisations) can pay attention to no more than two or three things over and above this.

The trick is to choose the things to which we pay attention.

How?

Here is an approach I have found useful. I use it to make a difference quickly for customers. I find it especially helpful when I don’t want to wait for the promised new IT system to fix everything (which it can’t) or for the consultants to transform our processes for the better (which they don’t) or for the programme office to get its act together to deliver its big ‘transformation programme’ (which it won’t).

We talk to our customers. Better yet, we have our people (you know, the folk who actually do stuff for customers) talk to them.

We find out from our customers the things they would like us do better. We prompt them with questions drafted from the set above.  Keep the questions as open and simple as possible.  We’ll get a big list.

It’ll feel bad to see all the things we do badly for customers.

But that’s ok. Because now we can start to make things better.

We talk to our people who are responsible for the things that customers would like us to get better. Have them pick one or two or three things from the list.  No more than three.  Picking one or two is fine.

The criteria for they should use to pick out things from the list are these:

  • We can make it better.
  • We can make it better in ways that make a noticeable difference to the customer.
  • We can make it better within 30 days
  • We can make sure it stays better

Once they have made their choice,  we stand back and give our people license to do what they need to do. We help them when they need it, especially to remove sources of delay. Speed is the key, because we want to pay attention to this to make sure it gets better, and to keep paying attention is hard.

So: speed.

After thirty days, we (or better, the people doing the work) check back with customers about the difference they see.  We share this with everyone.

We test with our people that they can sustain the improvements they have made.  The only real test is this question:  if all our people changed jobs or moved on and were replaced, how do we know that our service would stay improved? If we can’t be sure, then let’s fix it so that we can be sure.

Go back to the list.  Ask customers again.

Repeat the next month. Pay attention to the new thing.

Repeat, repeat and repeat again.

Watch things get massively better for your customers. Let’s give it a go.

What I’m saying here is not original.  It’s just a version of continuous improvement, or Kaizen, or Agile or Lean.

Nor is it intellectually difficult.

And it won’t fix everything (so yes, sometimes, we do need that big IT system or a process redesign, but less often than we think).

But over (say) a year, it will make a huge difference.

And that’s what it’s all about.

So come on.  Let’s make things better for our customers.

(Image credit: USAF photo by Kurt Gibbons III) 

Ten ways to make the customer experience better

two on the beach LomoYou can’t control the customer experience.

You can’t control customers’ feelings, or their personal circumstances, or how much attention they are going to pay to you.  Their experience of your brand, or your product, or your service is down to how they feel. And you can’t control their feelings.

But you can make it better

You can control how you maximise the chances that the experience is positive.

Here are ten examples of what I mean, described, of course, from the customer’s perspective. If you make any of these better, your typical customer’s experience will improve.

  1. You’re quick.  Waiting is a cost to me, the customer. It’s a cost that I don’t want to incur.  Whatever I want, I want it now. The more you can get me what I want straightaway, the more I like it. (Delay also makes it more likely that things will go wrong, and I don’t like that).
  2. You are easy to deal with.  Whatever I want to do is so easy I don’t have to think about it.  I get the information or the product or the service or the support I want in the ways that I want it.
  3. You get it right. What you sell me is what I want.  And what I want is what I get. And it doesn’t go wrong.
  4. You care if something isn’t right.  If it does go wrong, I want you to know before I do. I want you to fix it with no inconvenience on my part. And I want you to put right anything that went bad because your product went wrong, before I have to ask.
  5. You prove that I can trust you. I want to know, before I buy, that I can trust you. You give me value anytime I engage with you, whether I am buying from you or not. If every encounter with you provides insight, advice or help in ways that matter to me, then I’ll trust you with my money when it’s time to buy.
  6. You trust me. You don’t behave as if I am a thief or a fraudster. You acknowledge, listen and act on what I tell you. If you need to do things to make things secure, you explain why and you do your best to make it easy and trouble-free.  You take my side.
  7. You are honest about what you can’t do.  If you can’t help me then you let me know so I don’t waste time or have incorrect expectations. And then you help me in whatever way you can.
  8. You act in my interests.  If something is better for me than what you are offering or what I am requesting, you let me know and you help me with it.
  9. You are professional. You treat me with respect. You show courtesy and good manners. You treat your employees with respect and courtesy as well, as they represent you (and, of course, it is the right thing to do).
  10. You are honourable.  You don’t hide things from me in small print. You make promises and you keep them.  You don’t make promises you can’t keep.  And you do what’s right, regardless of policy.

Improve any one of these things and you will make the customer experience better. In addition, you will cut your costs of sale and service and make your people happier. Improve all ten, and the experience you offer may well become the stuff of legend.

(I wrote this and then discovered Seth Godin’s wonderful post: Your call is very important to us which covers related ground, but with added goodness (I love the idea of routing delayed calls to the CEO’s spouse…)  Enjoy).

Image credit: Mike Bird

Why our customer experience is damned

Hellfire and Damnation

You can please some customers all of the time.
You can please all customers some of the time.
But you can’t please all of your customers all of the time.

(With apologies to Abraham Lincoln and John Lydgate)

Here’s the thing: I hate to be helped in shops. I don’t like it when an assistant approaches and asks “Can I help you?”  That’s just me. Maybe it’s because I live in England.  I want to make up my own mind and seek help from an assistant when I want it.

My friend, on the other hand, likes an assistant to help him. He resents it when he sees staff standing around, not offering to help. He wants them to come up and ask.

What’s a shop to do? The customer experience they offer is damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Many companies try to please everyone. They try to cover all the bases. They attempt to offer an experience that handles their main set of target customers and the others, the exceptions. Result? The experience they offer is confusing. They serve neither set of customers well and both groups of customers become unhappy and leave.

In our businesses we want to avoid this. We must analyse customer data to get insight into what matters to our target customers. We must combine this insight with our own understanding of what we are good at, to think about the experience we want to offer.

Then we must choose to provide the experience that works best for the customers we want to get and keep.

When we do, we know that such an experience won’t work for all customers. But we accept this because we will be confident that it will work for the majority of those we want to serve.

The customers we lose are the price we pay to enable us to offer a great experience for our target market. Why is it worth paying?

Because if we can truly offer a great experience for their target market, then we have a real edge over the competition. We will secure a greater market share. And we can seek higher margins as our customers accept that higher value justifies higher prices.

Even better, we save money. We won’t waste time, resources and attention on exceptions and variations for customers whom we are not targeting and from whom we will get little return.

Of course, the bright reader (and all my readers are bright) will have spotted what has happened here. The quality of customer experience we offer corresponds directly with the quality of our business strategy.

If we have made clear strategic choices about the customers we want to serve, we can confidently provide an experience that they will value.

If our strategy is unclear? Then we can only offer a confused or ambiguous customer experience.

So yes, our customer experience is damned. But it can happen in two ways. It can be damned because we choose to serve our target customers brilliantly and with confidence because we know who they are. By doing so, we are willing to accept that some current customers won’t value the experience we offer and may leave. And we accept this cost, because the payoff for our core customers – and for us – is so great.

In this case, our customer experience is a clear expression of our organisation’s strategic intent.

But the second path to damnation is far, far worse. It happens when we try to please everyone, because we don’t know (or are unwilling to choose) which customers we want to serve. Then we can’t offer a winning customer experience because we have to compromise to try to keep everyone happy.

In this case, the customer experience we offer is equally an expression of our organisation’s strategic intent. But what it expresses is ambiguity and confusion.

Keeping everyone happy may be a good intention, but it is also the road to Hell.

So maybe we have to accept that our customer experience is damned. But let’s choose how we want it to happen. For when we do, we give ourselves a chance to give our customers an experience that will make a real difference to them and to us.

(Image credit: Hellfire and Damnation by Jocelyn under Creative Commons License)

The art of customer experience

Jete - statue at Millbank, London

“Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

(Steve Jobs’ pitch to John Sculley, then CEO of Pepsi,
to persuade him to become CEO of Apple in 1983).

Every day for the past few months, I have walked past this statue of the dancer, David Wall, by Enzo Plazzotta. You can find it outside a block of upmarket flats on Millbank in London. The title of the piece is Jeté, a ballet term that refers to a leap.

Honestly, for about a month, I hated it.

David Wall’s face is set almost in a pout and his hair – well, it would do well in American Hustle.

But I am a sucker for excellence. It grew on me.  I noticed the precision that the sculptor used.  I started to look at the figure of the dancer himself. 

The sculpture, magically, captures the dancer in the air.  His leading foot turns, just so, to maximise extension and clarity of line.  His rear foot also turns, but differently.  

His fingers, at the end of his immaculately extended arm, are all where they need to be. His trailing hand makes the line of his leap perfect.

This figure in metal, like, I imagine, the figure in the flesh, transforms from something lumpen and heavy to something free, elegant and apparently effortless.

Which, I know, is the exact opposite of the truth.

EVERYTHING about this leap is deliberate. The turn of the ankle, the angle of the leg, even the spacing between the fingers.

Everything.

Deliberate effortlessness like this is only possible through untold hours of training, development of technique, feedback and coaching, just to produce an instant in the air which, were it not been captured in sculpture, might go unnoticed.

The purpose is not just to make the leap, but to strive to make it perfect, even if the only person who knows that it is perfect is the dancer himself.

This is, I suppose, what art means: to conceive of what might be right and then set oneself to achieve the impossible standards that it demands.

And the same applies to business. The best businesses, the ones we love, the ones we welcome into our lives, exist because the people behind them want to do something, to achieve something, to make a difference.

They focus on doing the right things, as well as they can, to the best of their ability.  They might be making cars or phones, or flying planes or driving trains, or making television programmes – or the ads that come in between.  What we perceive, as customers, as buyers, as people, is a sense of excellence.

And so we buy.

And we enjoy buying.

And we keep buying.

Because these companies exist to make things better for their customers and they, and we, succeed when they do.

Do these companies make money? In the main, yes.

But that is not what they are in business to do. (and which is why, sometimes, their investors get grumpy).

The money they make is a side-effect.  They make money because they are doing the right things.  Because they (and their customers) in what they do.  They believe that taking infinite pains to get things right; taking deliberate care about every last detail; and striving for a vision that has meaning, are things worth doing in themselves.

But, like an artist who prostitutes himself for money, as soon as a company forgets this, its art suffers.

I was once asked by the CEO of a multi-national tech company what I thought might be the difference between a ‘good’ company and a ‘bad’ one.  I said that I thought I could see one core difference.  A ‘good’ company’s primary concern is its business and how it can do better; a ‘bad’ company’s primary concerns are ‘the numbers’ and how it can make them better.

And companies that focus on their numbers aren’t focused on the customer.

Customers don’t buy numbers.  They don’t experience numbers. They don’t want numbers.  They want the stuff that a company does that solves their problems, gives them value and makes them feel good.

My months of walking past Enzo Plazzotta’s sculpture have taught me something about business. The simple delivery of business, doing it better and making some cash – this is the craft of business.  But striving to create and run a business which customers enjoy, which employees want to drive to greater heights and which makes a genuine difference to people’s lives – this is the art of business.  This makes being in business worthwhile.

It’s open to all of us. If we can conceive of greatness, if we take deliberate pains to get it right, and if we set and meet impossible standards, then we too might create something wonderful.

I believe that, if it wants to, any business can achieve wonder.  Can make customers want to be part of their adventure. Can have their people achieve amazing things just to be able to say, “…we did that”. Can have customers enjoy, and value, what they buy.

This is why I spend my time with organisations to make the customer experience better. Because it is at the point when customers experience what we say and what we do, that, perhaps, we make masterpieces.

Say it with deeds.

Chicken rhyme

The Language of Love

Words need to match expectations if we want our relationships to succeed.

Valentine’s Day reminds me how much the language of love corresponds to the business of engaging with customers.

Love is about building enduring relationships, where both parties feel like equals, where they each give and get something from the relationship. It is about two-way communication.  It is about trust. It is about wanting to invest our time in the relationship, because doing so rewards us now and because we want it to do so in the future.

For most organisations, this also describes the relationship we would like to have with our customers (and more importantly, the relationship we would like them to have with us).

But, as many of us have learned to the cost of our broken hearts, this isn’t easy.

Chores vs Candlelight

While people can say the right things, what we say through the candlelight over dinner with a nice wine can be very different to what we do on a wet Wednesday evening when the chores need doing and we’re both tired after a long day at work.

And if we can take out the rubbish without being asked, or do the dishes and still smile because we want to cheer our partner up and maybe feel a little better ourselves, then – while candlelit dinners are all very nice – it is when we stand in the rain by the bin or at the sink up to our elbows in dishwater that we don’t just talk about love, we show it.

And showing our love is what counts.

Caring is Doing

We can love our customers during the sale, as we smile and show them our brochures and we give them the pitch and they get excited that maybe the thing we are offering might be the one, the thing that they are seeking.

But are we ready to work at this relationship? To show our love rather than just talk about it?

We do so when we let them call us for help and we answer in person, not with a computer; when we design our website to make it easy for them to do what they want, rather than just get what we want to tell them; when we remember their name and know what they have bought from us and recognise that even the smallest thing can cause frustration; and when we say “don’t worry about it” and give them their money back with a smile when they tell us they aren’t happy.

The experience we offer our customers shows how we care about them much more than any words we use.

Real relationships don’t happen just because we dress up nice and say we care, they happen because the things we do in the weeks and months and years after that first date show we care.

It’s true for our partners.  It’s true for our customers.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

(Image credit: Quickmeme.com at http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3pf2)

What if our customers wrote to Santa?

Santa in a chair

A Customer Christmas Experience

It is the week before Christmas and all through the store

Run thousands of shoppers seeking presents galore.

But in the B2B office, few carols are singing;

the email’s gone quiet; the phones have stopped ringing.
 

We have time to reflect; to review – with some cheer? –

When customers bought, or did not, or promised: “next year.”

Some of them stayed, for that, let’s be festive.

Others, they left us, they churned or were restive.
 

Let’s picture a scene. What would they have said

If sending letters to the man dressed in red?

So let us wonder – what’s on their Christmas list?

What would they like? What have we missed?
 

Some savings? Of course, but we think that we’ll find

That customers come to us with more on their mind.

Customers know that what’s often lost

Is value, if you focus only on cost.
 

Innovation, perhaps? Thinking out of the box

Could be the thing that blows off their socks.

Well, we’ll do what we can, but we might only regret

promising things we’ve not thought of yet.
 

Let’s read again their note in the chimney

And learn what tickles our customers’ whimsy.

What’s on their mind? What’s their concern?

What is it they want Santa to learn?
 

Perhaps it’s Big Data? That’s big this year.

But do customers care? In a pig’s ear.

What’s top of their list? What’s top of the stack?

What can we do to have them come back?
 

When you see it, it hits you, like God dropped a bus.

What matters is thinking of them, and not us.

Do what we can to make it about them.

Like: don’t sell a solution if you don’t know their problem.
 

Or using their language, (‘cos jargon sounds funny);

Or saying “resources”, (while they’re thinking money).

It’s the experience, you see: what they feel, what they sense

Is what matters; what makes the big difference.
 

So while we reflect on the things we might say

About 2013 and customers who strayed,

There are things we can do to be sharper and better

Regardless of channel – web, phone, email or letter.
 

First we need to begin – this isn’t new news –

By putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes.

Yes, we can tie ourselves up with journeys and maps

And maybe these might prevent customer mishap.
 

But if we want to do more (and we certainly do)

(Something pragmatic? Perhaps something new?)

Then I have two things that I would like to suggest.

Neither are radical, but don’t get distressed.
 

Both of these work and are shown to be

Helpful indeed towards customer victory.

The first one is simple, but quite hard to try:

It’s getting it right – but in the customer’s eye.
 

It means changing our work and even our brains

To get it right straightaway, again and again.

The second is tough, but it’s a critical need:

For all of our customers, what matters is speed.
 

So let’s resolve, in 2014

To do more for our customers, be they passive, or keen.

Let’s get things right in the ways that they like

And let’s do so quickly, so they don’t take a hike.
 

So, St Nick, from us here’s our letter:

Next year, for our customers, we want to do better.
 

Thank for reading throughout the year. Happy Christmas.
 

(Image credit: Nicklolas Muray, 1958, George Eastman House Collection, http://www.eastmanhouse.org/inc/collections/photography.php).

Customer experience without competition

Water skiers on the OzarksThe only sustainable competitive advantage

If our business has to compete in the long-term, there are (with apologies to Michael Porter and his chums in the business theory business) really only three ways to do so – and just one that endures.

There’s no point in competing solely on price because that kills margins and can’t be sustained.  And there’s no point in competing just on innovation because sooner or later everyone catches up and no-one, no matter how good, can churn out new technologies on a treadmill forever.

Which is why so many companies now choose to compete on customer experience.  It’s one of the few ways an organisation can offer genuinely sustainable differentiation and protect margins; it makes for more enduring, loyal customers; and it is very effective in building a strong, sustainable brand.

The purpose of customer experience

But most government departments don’t have competitors.  Their customers typically have to use them, whether they want to or not. So does this mean that public sector organisations can ignore customer experience? Or should they, if they want to minimise costs? After all, it’s just another management fad, right?

Quite the opposite. Competitive advantage is not the goal of customer experience – it is merely an excellent side-effect.  Let’s not forget that the main purpose of any organisation is usually to offer a product or (more usually for public sector organisations) a service that their customers value.  If an organisation can offer a good customer experience, this enables that organisation to do what it exists to do – but better.

This applies just as much whether an organisation is selling cars, building houses, collecting taxes or handling planning applications. The only difference is that in the public sector, value to the taxpayer is paramount and the purpose is service, not profit.

The return on customer experience

The benefits of offering a good customer experience have particular resonance for the public sector.  Benefits such as these:

  • Fewer people complain, so an organisation saves on resources it would otherwise spend on handling exceptions and resolving issues.
  • A good customer experience relies on consistent service delivery (how else does an organisation keep its promises?), enabling organisations to benefit from reduced variation, lower complexity and more economical  service delivery.
  • Better and more fundamental understanding of the customer, so organisations learn how to adapt and learn faster and more flexibly.
  • And organisations that offer a good customer experience are usually good places to work, so they keep good people and help them to stay motivated.

The public sector payoff

Any organisation would value such returns. So would their customers.  And for public sector organisations, these translate into two other, distinctive benefits.

First: any public sector organisation that delivers services well, efficiently and in ways which its users value – this  immediately reflects well on the elected officials responsible for it. This political dividend has unique value in the public sector.

And second: we are all invested in public services, as taxpayers and users – so when a public service delivers an excellent customer experience with all the return that we see here, we all benefit.

And that has to be a good thing.

This is slightly revised version of a blog I originally posted at Business Value Exchange; a site well worth a visit.

(Image credit: Ralph Walker, Commerce and Industrial Development Collection, Missouri State Archive, Public Domain).

 

There’s an elephant in the meeting room, and it has many names.

Elephant in the Room - BanksyFor every complex problem, there is a simple solution –

– and it’s wrong.

(H.L. Mencken)

 

Elephants with many names

Let’s stipulate that most businesses aren’t charities.  They exist to make money.

With that in mind, what do the following have in common?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Balanced Scorecard, Management by Objectives (MBO), Lean, Cloud Computing, Total Quality Management (TQM), Human Capital Management (HCM), One-Minute Management, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), Management By Walking About (MBWA), Matrix Management, Activity-Based Costing (ABC), Core Competencies, The Learning Organisation (TLO), Competitive Advantage, Benchmarking, Social Media, Organisation Development (OD), Net Promoter Score (NPS), Scenario Planning, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Web 2.0, Business Process Re-engineering (BPR), Situational Leadership, Management of Change (MoC), Theory of Constraints (ToC), Just-in-Time (JIT), Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED), Statistical Process Control (SPC),  Data Warehousing, Projects in Controlled Environments (PRINCE), Big Data, Six Sigma, IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), Myers-Briggs, Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) and – even – Customer Experience?

That’s right.

They are all management fads: labels for bundles of fashionable ideas, or processes, or technologies all sold on the promise that they will improve the business.

Most are based on some nuggets of common sense.  Some can point to businesses that will testify that they adopted the idea / technology / process / philosophy and things got better.

And yet, and yet…

The money problem

If you remember, we stipulated that businesses exist to make money.  If so, then the rationale for these silver bullets has to be that, in the end, the businesses which adopt them make more money.

In my experience, for most companies, these fads almost always end up being things which businesses do instead of making money.

If you add up the cost of the investment in technology, consultancy fees, corporate effort, time and disruption of attention associated with each fad listed above, across all the companies which have tried them, then I wouldn’t be surprised if the total spend per fad was some way north of billion dollars.

Each.

In some cases, much more.

I would be also be very surprised if the return per fad was anything like as big, even if we only look at those which have succeeded.

And this is before we take into account that most such management initiatives fail.

We need to do something different, to make things better. We adopt one of these labels, dress it up as an initiative and believe that it will give us a solid business return – but most of the time, it won’t.

This is the elephant in the meeting room. We think that doing these things will make our business better.  It’s the other way round: if we need to make our business better we should do whatever helps us get there best, and not just assume that management fashion will be the simple silver bullet we need.

I’m not saying that any of these initiatives are bad things. They almost always are are based on some nuggets of common sense or insight and a few can point to some companies that will testify to the results they achieved.

A hidden law of business

So what is wrong?  I think that what these good ideas into money pits, that they fall foul of one of the hidden laws of business.   Managing a business of any size is so complex, demanding and fluid that  success requires significant intellectual effort.  But this is where the law comes in:

Most people will do anything – including sustained hard work – rather than think.

Thinking about something – trying to work out the right thing to do, or solving a persistent problem, or trying to determine the best way to proceed, or working out what needs to be done if we are to succeed – all of these are very difficult.

This thinking is just hard.  So hard that most companies and most people find it easier to lose sight of the bottom-line returns they are seeking, and focus instead on successfully completing the big tangible milestones which each fad entails.

  • CRM system installed? Check.
    More sales as a result?  …err…
  • BYOD policy in place?  Check.
    Staff working more productively as a result?  Whoops.
  • Net promoter score programme installed?  Check.
    Customers staying with us longer and spending more as a result? Who knows?

It is just so much easier to focus on the deliverable, rather than the outcome.

Outcome-based thinking

How can we beat this problem?

Begin with the outcomes.  Before committing to any of these things – or any other change, we need to list the three to ten things which fit under this heading:

By the end of this activity / initiative / project, we will have..

For example:

  • By the end of this CRM implementation, we will be using it to increase sales revenues by 15%.
  • By the end of this Lean project, we will have applied it to reduce unit costs by 20% .
  • By the end of this customer experience programme, we will have increased customer lifetime revenue by 50%.

Not systems installed but systems used.

Not stakeholders trained, but stakeholders doing.

Not stuff delivered but value achieved.

Once our outcomes are clear, then we can by all means adopt the initiative we like; we just have to make sure that the focus is on the outcome, not the groovy new jargon / framework / system that the consultants are proposing or the technologists are selling.  And if our focus is on the outcome,  we can pay attention to other work we have to do if our project is give us the value we want.

Of course, I may barking up the wrong tree.   So please:  prove me wrong.  Are you implementing one of these fads (or some other)?  Do you recognise this problem?  If so, how have you overcome it? If not, what are you doing to ensure that real value is delivered?

Please do let me know – and good luck.

(Image credit: Elephant in the Room by Banksy, taken by Jdcollins13 and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

 

If we don’t trust our own people, why should our customers?

3491629234_bb118fe645_oA gap in trust

When customers complain, they expect that the people to whom they speak will be able to handle it. But this can only happen if our organisations trust customer service agents  to use their judgement, initiative and discretion to do so.

But this is rare.

How do we know it’s rare?

Because too many times the agent has to hide behind phrases like: “…it’s our policy, I’m afraid,” or “…these are the only options I can offer you,” or “…let me speak to my supervisor.”

In other words, our people could resolve the problem, but our policy and procedures get in the way.

Why do we do this?  Because we don’t trust our people.

  • We don’t trust them to do the right thing, so we constrain them by procedures.
  • We don’t trust them to do what is necessary to fix things, so we require them to escalate to supervisors.
  • We don’t trust them to make the right decisions, so we remove their discretion.

Our agents become a barrier between the customer and resolution of their problem. Worse, agents know this, so they feel frustrated and grumpy.

Does the customer pick up on this? Of course they do.

So, instead of making things better for the customer, we make it more likely that we will make an already unhappy customer even more unhappy.

The trust trade-off

Yes, of course, there is a need to have consistent processes so that we can offer consistent standards of service quality.  And, yes, I know that service is a cost and we need to make sure that we manage our costs with discipline and attention.  And yes, of course, we know that if we give our agents free rein, we might incur liabilities and risks which may not be acceptable.

So we accept these constraints. And we require that our people work to them.

And by doing so, we assume that value we gain in meeting these needs outweighs the damage these constraints cause to trust: damage to our trust in our people, and damage to our customers’ trust in our brand.

And yet. And yet…

A different trust model

Is giving agents discretion over customer interactions very different from offering a quibble-free guarantee for returns as offered by (say) Marks and Spencers, Lands’ End or (most famously) Zappos?

Not in intent.  Yes, such guarantees open these organisations up to abuse, but their  success shows that losses through abuse are more than outweighed by the increase in brand perception, trust – and sales.

Perhaps we need to think about this trust thing differently.

So come on. If we want customers to trust us, then maybe we need to think about trusting the people we employ to work with customers to make things better.

Trust is earned – so let’s earn it.

(Image credit: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress), Senator Atlee Pomerene meets first US Secretary of Commerce, William Cox Redfield, c.1910). 

How we train our customers to go to our competitors

Angry customer

A customer complaint is a favour

Customers complain about every business.

If we are lucky, customers complain to us.  Then we can put things right, help fix their problem and learn things which make our business better.

If we are not so lucky, our customers complain to their friends, or to people they meet, or to their followers on social media.  The result? Our reputation is damaged,  we  lose revenues and we open the door to competitors to show our customers how much better they are.

We train customers not to complain to us

Why don’t customers complain to us? Because we train them not to.

Huh?

Let me explain some of the ways we do so:

We make it hard to complain
Many organisations seem to do their damnedest to make it hard for customers to complain.  Typically we do this to save money.  Most of the time this is a false economy.  Some examples:

  • We don’t make it clear to customers how they should communicate with us.
  • We make it hard for customers to contact a real person.
  • We require customers to fill in forms.
  • We require them to have their account number / service id number / customer reference number before we can help them.
  • We make them wait on hold.
  • We push them to use email (which is slower) and hide our service telephone numbers.

All of these measures stop customers complaining. Result? They (and their sales revenues) go elsewhere.

We are slow to respond
We seemed to move fast enough when we were selling our product to the customer, didn’t we? So why don’t so many organisations respond as quickly to a complaint? Sure, we may have excuses:

  • Perhaps we don’t want to talk to them before we have sorted everything out.
  • Perhaps we are having trouble working out who should be dealing with the complaint.
  • Or, perhaps, we don’t know who in our organisation has the job of keeping the customer informed.

Customers don’t care why we’re slow.  They just want it fixed – NOW. If we don’t show the same sense of urgency as they are feeling, we are showing that we don’t care.

When a complaint disappears into a black hole, we cannot be surprised if we have lost the customer by the time the complaint emerges.

We respond in ways which do not respect the customer
(Warning: linked article contains profanity)

Customers making a complaint are unhappy.  They are often angry. Often, this is the fault of something we have done or failed to do.  And they have bought things from us in good faith.

At the very least, we should treat them with respect. What does respect for the customer look like?

  • It means listening to the customer; showing that we have heard them.
  • It means we don’t make them repeat themselves.
  • It means we keep our promises  – to look into their problem or to speak to a colleague, or to put it right.
  • It means we don’t make promises we can’t keep.

And, above all, it means treating the customer as a person, and treating them as we would want to be treated.

We treat the customer as a suspect
All too often customer services go wrong because they have been designed from the outset to treat the customer with suspicion.

The result is a customer experience based on one or more of these assumptions:

  • We haven’t made a mistake, you have.
    “No-one else has complained.”
  • Our products aren’t stupid, you are.
    The instruction on paragraph 6.4.2 of the user manual is quite clear: to restore the service you have to hold the product upside down and press reset button on the underside for between 4 and 7 seconds. You mean haven’t done that?
  • We think you’re trying to cheat us.
    Yes, I know that this is our product and it shouldn’t be broken like that, but unless you have your receipt we can’t help you“.
  • We think you’re lying.
    The system can’t crash like that. Are you sure that’s all you were doing?”

Occasionally, of course, customers do behave badly; but if we start from here, the experience we offer our unhappy customers is very likely to make them feel worse.

Even if we fix the problem, we are likely to lose the customer.

It is much better to think about helping customers on the assumption that they are correct and that they have a valid reason for complaint.

After all, something has  made them want to get in touch, so something about what we are doing must be wrong.

Moreover, a complaining customer is one who is engaged – isn’t that what most of our companies want? Engagement with the customer?

Why not begin instead by designing our service operation from the assumption that we want to help people?

Then, after we have done this, we can put in place some reasonable safeguards, just in case the problem really is on the customer side.

But let’s stop doing it the wrong way round.

Think afresh about complaints

We need to think about complaints differently.  A customer who complains is giving us a gift.

They are giving us another chance to get their custom; they are giving us a chance to restore – or maybe enhance – our reputation; and they are giving us a chance to learn from their experience to make things better for others.

It’s a gift we need to be better at taking.

(Image credit: Lythia Scott Eiler, US National Archive)

Five customer experience lessons from fringe theatre

Stage set of The Bevellers, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, 2007

The fringe of experience

A long time ago, I directed a range of fringe theatre productions.

As a training ground for management or innovation, it could not be bettered. Consider what we had to do: select a cast and crew, motivate them around a vision, handle multiple egos under stress, capitalise on a diverse range of talent of every sort, generate and build on new ideas, conduct marketing, PR and sales campaigns and deliver something which we hoped would be wonderful.

And all by a fixed and imminent deadline: first night.

A Brazilian challenge

One production required that we interrogate a reformed murderer in a Brazilian police cell, have a dinner party in a Sao Paulo penthouse, attend a US evangelical revival at a jungle plantation, and have helicopter gunships attack a native village in the Amazonian rainforest.

Did I mention this was fringe theatre?  Our vision may have been limitless but our budgets were trivial. And so we struggled as the scale of our vision foundered on the rocks of penury.

A change in perspective

In first weeks of rehearsal, we focused on the script and tried to think of ways of making the production real.  But we got nowhere.  The cast was frustrated, the crew even more so.  People were fractious and unhappy.

First night loomed like an iceberg in the night, getting ever closer.

Then, in a blinding flash of the obvious, everything became much easier.

What was different? We stopped thinking about making the production real.

Instead, we started thinking about the experience which we wanted our customers, the audience, to have. What did we want them to feel? To think? To take away?

Thinking like this, from the audience in, rather than from the production out, unlocked our creativity.  Suggestion, not realism, became our driver.

  • The prison cell became one man lit by a single light in the darkness, shining through bars.
  • We painted the black interior of the studio theatre – set and auditorium – with foliage and vines like a jungle so that the audience entered the rainforest as soon as they came through the doors.
  • We placed the dinner party table on a dais in the middle of the stage and lit the background dimly so that the rainforest was only hinted in the shadows.
  • For the plantation, we lit both the dais and the rainforest, placing it in the jungle.
  • And we turned the lights of the helicopters onto the audience and played the sound of machine guns with the bass turned up to insane levels so the audience heard gunfire through their ears and felt it through the floor.

Total cost of the set? £200.

We opened on first night with a slick, professional production that was very well received.

Innovating success

Five lessons from my theatre experience have stood me in good stead in business and innovation ever since.

  • The greatest creativity comes from the greatest constraints.
    Three things govern all projects: time, cost and performance.  If time is fixed and costs are limited, then the only way to achieve breakthrough performance is through creativity and innovation.  Having limits drives creativity.
  • Think from the customer inwards, not from the product outwards.
    We only got traction once we started thinking from the audience inwards.  Our only arbiter of success is the effect on the customer, not the features of our product. What do we want the customer to think, to feel, to take away? Having these as our goals frees us to be creative.
  • Recruit for attitude and energy.
    We chose people for our production not only for their talent but for their enthusiasm and willingness to try.  We only succeeded because all of us – cast, crew and production – contributed to the creative process. As a result we generated many more ideas than we could use, so we could pick the best ones.
  • Leadership is about trust.
    The Director may have a vision for a show, even if s/he does not quite yet know how this vision will be realised.  The Director has to trust the cast, crew and production team to come up with good solutions to the many, many unanswered questions with which any production begins.   They in turn have to trust the Director to make the right decisions about which ideas will work. And it is only by trusting each other that they find ways to make them work.
  • Nothing drives creativity more than urgency.
    First night is a fixed and unforgiving deadline.  Such deadlines offer an imperative focus for a team.  Knowing that a deadline is real, and that it matters that the deadline is met, drives the delivery of new ideas better than anything else.

In my experience, when these drivers have been in place, I have only ever seen business innovation projects succeed. Where I have seen innovation failure – or deliver mediocrity, which is worse – one or more of these factors has been missing.

Always.

How about you?  If you are innovating for customers, do you recognise these? Let me know what you think.

(Image credit:  Blurredyvonne at en.wikipedia, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license).

Buccaneers, banks and the customer experience.

A new market

Imagine for a moment that we make swords for a living.  We need a market for our  product.  Where are the opportunities?  After extensive market research (in our local cinema and some classic books) we find our target customer segment.

641px-Pyle_pirate_captain

Pirates.

A dynamic and exciting market.

Needs? Simple enough: a blade to carry between their teeth as they swing onboard a victim’s ship and something to parry other swords during spectacular duels.

But a standard cutlass already does this job pretty well.  If we try to compete just by selling these, then pirates will just choose the cheapest ones.  And we can’t compete on price with low-cost blacksmiths working on the Barbary Coast.

We need pirates to see our swords as better than those of our competitors. Do we need to offer a better sword?  Perhaps something incorporating the latest technology?

Perhaps a multifunctional sword?

Swiss Army Sword

We don’t know.

We need to know what matters to these buccaneers. What are their problems?  Their aspirations?  How can our swords can help them address these?  And how can they do so do so in ways which pirates value and our competitors find hard to copy?

Market insight

So we blow the rest of our market research on more movie tickets and popcorn.

What do we find? Pirates are fundamentally conservative and don’t want radical new sword designs.  They don’t want the equivalent of a sword iPad or a swiss army sword.

Other pirates would laugh at them.

Robert Newton as Long John Silver

Worse, so would their victims.

Is our venture doomed?

Not in the least.  For this finding shows us a real customer need that we can meet.

Pirates don’t just want a sword which slashes through the air;  they want to look good. A pirate has to look…dashing.

Errol Flynn as Captain Blood

They want others to tell stories about their exploits.  Sea voyages, even for pirates, are long, and stories told during endless night watches become legends told in taverns on shore.

And every pirate wants to be a legend.

A unique customer experience

And so we see that our swords have to be special.  Sharper than anyone else’s, with blades black as midnight, maybe, with handles encrusted with cabuchons and rubies and trimmed with gold.

Each as unique as its dashing and charismatic owner. Each a sword fit for a legend.

And each sword has to be challenging to get, so that each owner not only gets their sword, but a tale as well.

In short, we need to offer our pirates not only a distinctive product, but a unique customer experience.

So we select our distribution channels very carefully.   Caves on obscure islands, perhaps, or at the top of distant mountains. Then we throw in some traps, some quicksand and some fire swamps for good measure.

We prepare to go to market with a below-the-line PR budget to plant rumours of mysterious and wondrous swords in taverns, and above-the-line marketing through publication of obscure and blood-stained treasure maps (strictly limited edition).

Treasure map

And we make sure that the price for each sword is at least a treasure chest full of gold doubloons.

So now we know how we are going to get rich.

A time for thinking of risks

And it is at this point that we begin to think about the risks.

What kinds of risks? Pirates aren’t particularly trustworthy, so we’ll need to make it hard for them to double-cross us. We’ll need the ability to check treasure chests for poison needles among the doubloons. We’ll need good protection for our supply lines.

We will do all these things and more, but we do so knowing that the thing that matters is the customer experience we offer and how it meets their needs.

And while we act to address these risks, we don’t lose sight of what we are in business to do, or what our customers want, or the business model we have designed around meeting the needs of our customers by giving them a unique customer experience.

We think about our customers and how we will do business – and then we seek to manage the risks.

…And this is why banks will never get the customer experience right.

Banks begin with risk

Most businesses succeed by thinking about customers and the opportunities which these customers represent.  They look for ways to help customers overcome their problems and achieve their aspirations. They try to align what their businesses do with what their customers want.

When businesses do this well, they become customer-centric businesses; when they do this badly, they find it hard to keep customers and grow.

Most businesses – except banks.

Banks begin, not by understanding customer needs and aspirations, but by considering customers as risks.  They begin by assuming that customers will lose the money that banks make available to them, either through fraud or theft or poor money management or bad investment.

So when they consider the services they offer or the customer needs they will meet, banks start by seeking to minimise the risk which their customers pose.

So they make it hard for customers to become customers, because each new customer is a risk.  They make it difficult to change between products as changing products carries a risk that something will go wrong.

Where possible, they try to offset such risks, usually through fees or charges.  In effect, they ask customers to pay to cover the risk of their own untrustworthiness.

And they love being in the middle of deals as this enables them to offset risk at one end against risk at the other (and doubles their fees).

Bankers are proud of this. Speak to them and they tell you that a bank’s core competency is the quantification and management of risk. A key element of this is customer risk.

And so banks are hard-wired against innovation, because innovation requires both leaps of faith and a willingness to consider new ways of working with customers. These are, by definition, risky.

And, unlike the customer-centric businesses to which we refer to earlier, banks, because of this mindset, cannot align their businesses with their customers; instead they require that customers align their businesses with the bank.

A matter of trust

Banks can’t help being like this.

It’s not their fault.

It’s just that no matter what they do, they can never become customer-centric.

This is the effect of beginning with such risk thinking.  It means that banks, unlike every other business, start thinking about what they do from a different first principle:

Do not trust the customer.

This is why, for example, banks find it so hard to offer good customer service when things go wrong. As their business is predicated on pushing risk and liability onto the customer if something has gone wrong, the working assumption is that it is the customer’s fault.

And when things go systemically wrong (LIBOR, PPI, money-laundering, credit card insurance) it is only after huge fines and new laws that banks  accept that maybe it was their fault and that the customer might have been right after all. (Although they don’t really believe it).

Banks aren’t bad.  (Most) bankers aren’t evil people. They are trying to do the right thing, most of the time.

Pushing uphill

But when your business is designed from the ground up on the assumption that you can’t trust customers, making your business better by aligning yourselves better to customers is going to be difficult.

And so while there are now many people all over the World in banks doing great work to try to make the customer experience better, their prospects for long-term success are limited.

Because no matter what they do, the customer experiences they create can only be an overlay on a business designed not to trust customers.

Any successes they have can only be maintained by rigorous and sustained attention to the customer experience.  And when cost-cutting, new regulations, new systems or some other stress hits (as routinely happens in banks), their eye will leave the ball and the fundamental customer attitudes which underpin the banking model will kick back in and all their good progress will inevitably unwind.

Because, under stress, we all revert to the behaviours where we feel most in control and have greatest comfort. For banks, this is thinking about the customer as a source of risk.

A choice of experience

As far as I am concerned, I want to make things better for customers.  So, in the main,  I think I’d prefer to be in the sword business, selling to pirates.

And, thinking of the customer experience, wasn’t it a pirate who made famous the line: “As you wish*” ? – which is as perfect a customer experience philosophy as is possible in three words.

Yet for the life of me, I can’t think of any famous quotes from bankers about customers at all…

For a video of our target market, see here:

or here:

* Dread Pirate Roberts, in The Princess Bride.

(Image credit: Swiss Army Sword by Glenn Roberts, http://dribbble.com/shots/1207517-Swiss-Army-Sword?list=users)

4 steps to customer performance

Today, I am very pleased  to present a guest post by Jim Lucas of Lucavia.

US Army gym workout

Top performance is earned

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.

Opinion is not knowledge

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.

Four steps to customer performance

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.

Jim Lucas and Lucavìa Consulting are located in the San Francisco Bay Area. They believe entrepreneurs need partners to help them turn their ideas into businesses.

(Image credit: Susan Huseman (USAG Stuttgart))

How to do customer experience: 3 ways to beat the grumps

Grump Street

Beware of the Grumps

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.

Grump damage

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.

How to beat the Grumps

These three steps can help us beat the Grumps:

  1. Get them off the bus**  We don’t let a Grump be a member of our project team. It doesn’t matter how technically or managerially skilled they are, the drain on energy and time will not be worth it.  Much better to work with less-skilled colleagues who are radiators with the energy to succeed than let Grumps drain everyone’s momentum.
  2. Don’t give them a veto  It is a mistake to seek a buy-in from a Grump (or anyone else for that matter) unless their approval really matters to the success of the project.  For if they object, as a Grump will, we now either (a) divert resources and time to overcome their objections or (b) ignore their objections and go ahead, alienating them even more.  And if their approval is not needed, why did we seek it?  (Sigh: So many companies get this one wrong).
  3. Surround them with success  When we change to make things better for customers, the Grumps come last.  We begin by making the changes work with colleagues who are prepared to give them a go, ignoring the Grumps.  Once we have proven that the changes make a difference, then we make it work with the Grumps.  Grumps seek support for their belief that the project won’t succeed.  Proven success defuses such support.

Delivery de-Grumped

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.

*The idea of ‘Radiators’ and ‘Drains’ comes from Julian Fellowes in his book, Past Imperfect. I came across it cited in an article in Gretchen Rubin‘s blog, The Happiness Project.

**’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

4 pillars of customer experience

PIllars of Creation, Large Magellanic Cloud, NASA

Four pillars

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.

  • Do what matters.
  • Do it right.
  • Do it fast.
  • Do it honourably.

Let me explain why I chose these principles to guide what we do.

Do what matters

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:

  • If customers value getting in and out of a grocery store fast, then this speed of purchase matters to the customer experience
  • If customers value having a chiropractor talking with them to understand their issues, then perhaps understanding the customer matters more to the customer than speed.
  • And if hungover customers are buying their first coffee of the day, then maybe a quiet transaction with minimal conversation matters more to them than a cheery shop assistant who loudly wants them to have a great day with a bright smile.

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?

Do it right  

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.

Do it fast

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.

Do it honourably

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 is about good manners and courtesy.
  • Honourable is about only making promises we can keep, and keeping them – as people used to say, it is about keeping our word.
  • Honourable is about doing our best for our customers (and our colleagues, and our suppliers).
  • Honourable is about being honest about what we will, and what we won’t, do.
  • Honourable is about respecting our customers, our colleagues, our suppliers and our competitors.
  • Honourable is about being proud of what we do, about what our colleagues do, about what our company does and the experience our customers receive.
  • Honourable is about caring when things don’t go well and doing our absolute best to put things right.
  • Honourable is about admitting we got it wrong and saying sorry – and making sure that it won’t happen again.
  • Honourable is about celebrating when our customers, our colleagues or our suppliers succeed.
  • Honourable is about selling honestly and pricing fairly.
  • Honourable is about helping.
  • Honorable is about holding ourselves to high standards because they are the right things to do.
  • Honourable is about aspiring to be better, all the time.

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.

Thanks.

Mike

Image credit: The Pillars of Creation in the Large Magellanic Cloud, NASA