Category Archives: cycle time

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) 

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Clocks. Not Calendars.

F18 breaking sound barrierThe Need for Speed, my latest guest post for HP Value Exchange, has just been published.  Read it to find out why I think that the speed of the technology organisation is a key factor in setting the competitive advantage of a business.

For customers, for colleagues, for growth: faster is better.

About the Business Value Exchange

The Business Value Exchange is an editorial Web site that focuses on presenting different perspectives on challenges faced by senior business and IT leaders, to help them drive more successful business outcomes.

The customer revolution begins…at start-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thinking this way changes everything.

Does it apply only to start-ups?

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

I didn’t think so.

SMED – The secret sauce of customer experience

pressSMED proved that if you remove the big bottlenecks which slow down your ability to respond, you can revolutionise the service you offer you customers.  

SMED: one of the reasons Toyota became a powerhouse global auto manufacturer. SouthWest Airlines, Tesco and UPS all apply its principles, even if they don’t know it.  It governs agility, speed, cost and enables the customer experience.

SMED? Single Minute Exchange of Dies.

Say what?

Stay with me as I explain.  It’s worth it.

In the sixties, auto manufacturers had to operate long production runs. They produced the same car, over and over, offering customers a limited choice. If customers wanted more options, they couldn’t get them.  The reason? Setting up a production line to produce different variants of car was HARD.  Machine tools had to be recalibrated, components all along the line had to be replaced, and hardest of all, dies had to be changed.

Dies are the blocks which stamp blank sheets of steel into the shape of the  car body.  They weigh many tons, are very difficult to manoeuvre, and have to be  consistent to within a fraction of a millimetre.

Changing dies typically took  between 12 hours and three days. So changing the line meant stopping production for at least this long. Change them more often than once a week and the factory could spend more of the year idle than making cars.  In effect, too much choice would make the company bankrupt.

Then Toyota employed Shigeo Shingo to help solve this problem. He and his team observed and measured every aspect of the die change process.  They filmed changeovers.  They looked at non-manufacturing examples, like Formula 1 pit crews.

And then they changed things. They reduced human error by using precision metrics.  They prepared each exchange of dies in advance, dedicating and scheduling equipment and resources.  They  clarified roles so everyone involved could, as it were, “do it by the numbers”.

And while they never quite got it down to a minute, they got it down to less than ten. On average, Shingo and his team cut the time to change dies to one fortieth of what it had been before.

The result?  Toyota could offer customers what they wanted, not what the manufacturer hoped they might want.  Toyota could slash costs, as they no longer needed to hold so much inventory and WIP (work in progress). And they could improve quality, as smaller production runs enabled more rapid, cheaper fixes.

It could be argued that SMED enabled the revolution in manufacturing quality, processes and techniques which have transformed our lives since the sixties – what is often referred to today as “Lean

Most of us don’t have to swap dies weighing tens of tonnes in and off a production line. But many of our businesses have big things which slow down our ability to respond and make it hard to give customers what they want.

Some companies have put in the focused effort necessary to transform these things. Doing so has greatly strengthened their ability to compete both on costs and customer service.

SouthWest airlines revolutionised budget air travel, in part by being ruthless about minimising aircraft turnaround time on the ground between flights.  Quicker turnaround = more flights per day, more customer choice and more efficient customer management.

Tesco dominates the UK supermarket scene in part because they worked out how to get goods (especially perishable goods) from source to store in hours instead of having them languish in warehouses; in many cases, the lorry is the warehouse.  A faster supply chain is a cheaper supply chain, gets fresher goods to the customer and can respond more quickly to customer demand.

UPS has put significant effort into minimising the time a parcel just sits. By putting in more dynamic sorting, smaller dispatch sizes and smarter routing, they can offer delivery times and service quality unheard of even ten years ago.

SMED thinking is one of the keys to customer service transformation.  Think about your business.  There must be one or two ‘big things’ which make it hard to flex the business, take time away from delivery or make it slower to respond to customers. What if you put real, rigorous effort to redesign these things, drawing on thinking like Formula 1 pit crews? What if you gave yourselves an unreasonable goal for improvement – like cutting cycle time by a factor of forty?

Wouldn’t that be brilliant? For your business? For your customers?

Go ahead. SMED.

How Amazon turned a chore into a positive customer experience

five acesReframing the experience can make things better for customers.

About fifteen years ago, a client in the US told me how her company had improved the customer experience – by making their service worse.

Their call centre’s promise to pick up any customer call within three rings was key to the company’s competitive positioning. It was fine most of the time – but at peak periods, it was a promise they could not keep.  The delays weren’t bad – four or five rings at most – but they were breaking their customer promise. Result? Unhappy customers.

My client tried the usual things: rejigged rosters to provide extra agent cover, optimised call routing and, despite tight budgets, hired a few more agents to cover peak periods.

Ring, ring, ring, ring….Three-ring nirvana seemed as far away as ever.

Then an agent, at home on her time off, called to make an appointment with her doctor. Waiting on the line, she noticed – nothing.

More precisely, she noticed that she only became irritated by the delay on the line once she heard the ring tone. Waiting for the phone company to connect her call, however, she didn’t mind at all. She discounted this ‘dead time’ when she heard nothing as acceptable, while a ringing telephone line was a failure of service by the doctor’s receptionist.

Her company acted on her observation. They suppressed the first two rings on the line while the customer was waiting, so the customer thought that the call was still trying to connect.  Agents now had five rings in which to answer, while customers on the line heard only the last three rings.

The average time it took to answer the phone did not change. But the customer experience did. Customers were impressed by the speed of response they perceived: “Wow! You answered even before the phone even rang!” was a typical comment.

Was this sleight of hand? Perhaps. Did it matter? Perhaps not.  Customers got the service they wanted and were happy. Nothing wrong with that.

Nowadays, Amazon does something similar. Normally, paying for things online is a pain. We’ve filled our shopping cart and we want to order. So we have to sign in with user name and password, get out our credit card, type in the number and details, fill in the delivery address and wait for payment to be authorised.

Amazon’s great secret is that they get us sign in to browse their shop when we arrive. We do so happily to get offers and ‘Personalised recommendations.’  But this sign-in process also sets up payment and delivery. So we think we’re signing in for a personalised experience, but we’re signing in for payment.

So when we want to buy, we pay by ‘One-Click‘ and think how great it is (cycle time of zero, anyone?). We don’t associate the chore of signing in with the business of payment. Like my client, they are employing customer experience sleight of hand.  And it’s so good they licensed it to Apple to use on iTunes.

Customers hate waiting on a ringing telephone line and they hate signing in to pay.  By reframing how customers perceive such things, we can transform the customer experience.

Question: is there anything which your business does now which your customers hate? Could you could reframe this to make into a good experience?

And if you have to use sleight of hand, don’t worry: I won’t tell.

In praise of unreasonable

inspiration-mars-spacecraftCustomers aren’t reasonable – and our customer strategies shouldn’t be either.

Dennis Tito (the man who paid $20m as the first tourist in space) has announced he wants to send a flight to Mars by 2018.  He doesn’t yet have the money, the spaceship or the crew. But if he succeeds, he hopes to inspire the World into thinking differently about our place in the Universe.

Is it realistic? Probably not – but I wouldn’t bet against him succeeding, and I would love it if he did.

If you work in a city, look around.  See the tall buildings, the shops, the underpasses? Each was once a dream.  Each began only when someone said, “What if we….?”

And each became real only when this someone ignored the toxic voices which said, “Yes, but….” or “With the greatest respect…”  or (the most lethal of all, because it sounds so very sensible) “Let’s be realistic…”

But ignore them they did. And, instead, they built the bridges, and the skyscrapers, and the health service, and Apple and Facebook and all the other, unrealistic, unreasonable things that define the twenty-first century.

No, let’s not be realistic.

Lets be unreasonable instead.

Customers are unreasonable.

If they want a product, they don’t care about our immensely complicated supply chain. They want it – now.

If they have a problem, they don’t want  it fixed within “..the contractual response time” as per the Service Level Agreement (SLA).  They want it fixed – now.

(More importantly, they don’t want it fixed, they want it never to have happened in the first place).

And they don’t care that our lines are very busy and that their call is “very important” to us. They want to talk to someone – now.

They want it perfect, they want it cheap, they want it easy and they want it – now.

…And if we can’t do these things, they’ll find someone who can.

Are these expectations reasonable? Not a chance.

But do customers care? No.

 “The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him… The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself… All progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

– George Bernard ShawMaxims for Revolutionists 

So let’s not have reasonable standards for customer strategy and service.  Lets aspire to the unreasonable.

How about an unreasonable customer cycle time? Cycle time – the time the customer experiences when we do anything which affects them: from when the customer first becomes aware of us, through to when we supply our products, from their paying us or our providing customer service.

Why not aim to have a cycle time of zero? 

Why zero? Why not? Wouldn’t it be fantastic?

Customers get everything they want, straightaway.  Our costs plummet because our supply chain is instant.  Our service is better because we can respond immediately. Our people are happier because fewer things get between them and giving the customer what they want. And our competitors are left in the dust.

Is this reasonable? God knows.

Is it desirable? Hell, yes.

Is it attainable? We’ll never know unless we try.

Because it is only by aiming for the unreasonable that breakthroughs happen. It is only by being unrealistic that we genuinely force innovation and creativity. And it is in this space – the “are you mad…?” space – that you can inspire greatness.

So let’s not be at home to Mr Reasonable.

Let’s shoot for Mars.

Let’s be great.