Category Archives: customer experience

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.

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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)