More Game of Thrones and the Customer…

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It seems great minds think alike.  A new article on ExploreB2B opens up about how Game of Thrones can help inform Customer Service.  Here’s the link.

I promise something different in my next post.

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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.

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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

Is transformation doomed?

Embed from Getty Images

The very nice folk at HP Business Value Exchange asked to me write a piece on transformation.  What emerged wasn’t really what they (or I) expected – but, very sportingly, they posted it anyway.

Transformation – to take advantage of Big Data or introduce cloud-based CRM or adopt Lean thinking or any of the other fashionable buzzword bingo terms –  is big business.  If we embark on a transformation initiative, we should be clear about whose agenda we are following if we are not to enter a world of pain.

Read more here. I’d really like to know your thoughts, so please add your comments there when you read it.

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.