Let’s go HiPPO hunting

Hippo“Most websites suck because HiPPOs create them.”

– Avinash Kaushik,  Web Analytics 2.0

HiPPO? “The Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion.” In organisations the tendency is to make decisions based on what the highest-paid person thinks is right. While they are often very capable, their judgement is no substitute for testing concepts and ideas with real customers in the real world.

This applies beyond website design. When we consider the  procedures and policies which we use to serve the customer, how many if these have genuinely been designed to be ideal for the people who buy from us? Compared with how many have been designed to optimise the process for the organisation instead?

To talk to my telephone operator provider, for example, I need my “customer number” and my “area code”. I keep these in the cloud. Which means that I can’t get them when my telephone (and internet) line is down. Which is, of course, why I want to call in the first place…

Some highly paid process expert, or worse, a CEO, (a HiPPO) will have designed these processes, not for the customer, but almost certainly to optimise the internal technical operation, probably on the grounds of cost and efficiency.

If they had worked with customers to get behavioural data to help them design and test the these processes, they might even have been able to turn contacting the service operation into a positive experience.

Yet I am sure that instead, the costs in agent time, customer frustration and, ultimately, customer churn will almost certainly outweigh any savings made by using a special “customer number” to identify customers.

For this is one of the great secrets of customer experience. A good customer experience is almost always more cost-efficient than the alternative.

Fewer customers complain, sales become easier, and we spend less money and time on workarounds and fixes. In turn, this frees up our resources to spend on positive things that matter to our customers so we can sell more. Cost reduction, revenue growth – a better bottom line.

And this is one of main reasons we need to go HiPPO hunting. Because if we listen to the HiPPO, as opposed to our customers, then pretty soon our customers won’t be our customers any more.

Next time you find yourself face-to-face with a HiPPO, go armed with the most potent data of all: how customers really want to behave.

(If HiPPO hunting is new to you, then this Wired article is worth a look, and I also commend Avanish Kaushik’s blog, Occam’s Razor).

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Release the brilliance of your colleagues

Team GB Olympic Track Cycling teamGood customer experience is a result of great people doing great things. Luckily, your colleagues are great.

Think about the people you meet in the workplace. In almost every case, from the janitor to the CEO, two things are true. The first is this:  your employer believes this individual is the best person for that role whom they can get. If they weren’t, your employer would get someone else. Second, this person believes that this is the best job for them. If they didn’t, they would go get a better one.

That’s right: pretty much most of the time, you are working with great people in great jobs.

I have been lucky enough to have worked around the World with almost a hundred companies and in my experience this is overwhelmingly true: your people are brilliant.

But so many companies don’t believe this.  They seem to expect that their people are unmotivated and are doing mediocre jobs. So that’s how they manage them and guess what? That’s what they get.

But mediocrity is not what we promise our customers.  If we want to do things better for customers, it isn’t good enough.

So let’s not manage for mediocrity.

Let’s manage for brilliance.

How do we this?

Here’s what we don’t do.  We don’t police our people’s activities to catch them doing the wrong thing.  We don’t set up elaborate reporting of pointless metrics which make no difference to the customer.  We don’t have a big kick-off meeting with a motivational speaker and hope that this is enough.

Instead? We set important goals (maybe unreasonable goals?) and standards for performance. We do what we can to make achieving these goals as easy as we can. We give people what they need, pay attention to how well they are doing and look for ways to help them.

Then we keep paying attention so that they continue to  know this matters: to us, to the customer and to them.

Then we get out of their way.

Brilliance will happen, I promise you.

Your people will love making the difference.

And your customers will love what results.

 

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.

Marco Polo’s compass

compassA compass, more than a map, will help your customer strategy to succeed.

The 13th Century explorer, Marco Polo, faced many obstacles on his way from Venice to Kublai Khan‘s court in China. His maps were rudimentary and on many occasions he found himself literally in uncharted territory. So how did he know the paths he should take? How did he know he was taking the right course?

He had a compass.

His compass told him which way was East, so that no matter which obstacles he faced, he knew the direction to go.

A good customer strategy is like Marco Polo’s compass. If we set it well, then everyone in the organisation knows which way to go.  So if we need to do something different for a customer or overcome a customer problem we haven’t seen before, we know what kinds of solutions we should consider. If we understand the customer strategy, we know that when they meet these new problems, our solutions will be the right decisions for the customer – and for the business.

Let’s say, for example, that our organisation sets a strategic goal. We want to move more customer service enquiries from the phone to online, reducing costs, increasing ability to scale and – crucially – reducing customer time to resolve. We create detailed plans to deliver this strategy. These plans are costed, scheduled and resourced as perfectly as possible. Then, in line with conventional best practice, we give the plan to a carefully selected cross-functional team to implement.

And within two months the plan is hopelessly off course. Why? Because everyday customer service gets in the way.  Everyday customer service is about handling the new, the unplanned, and the exceptional things that get between a customer and what they want to do.

Our service agents handle such issues by going the extra mile for customers with workarounds and informal fixes which ourcustomers need.  But if our agents aren’t guided – or enabled – to do so by helping customers to go online, then we will help their customers without thinking online. And our great online vision comes to naught.

Our strategic plans – our maps – don’t determine the success of our customer strategy. They help, sure, but unless we know how make decisions for the customer in the direction we have set – unless we have a compass – our plans will fail.

We may set a strategy for the future; but it only counts in the ways it makes a difference to our decisions today.

So if your customer strategy is falling short of its goals, can I suggest this? Look at the decisions that affect customer service: the choices your agents make and how they are empowered; the people you recruit and the metrics to which you pay attention.  If the choices you make about these things today are not guided by the future you want for your customers, then you are already off course.

Reset your compass.

You found us…

Dread Pirate Roberts…what took you so long?

Seriously, thanks for dropping by.

Mike and the Customer is about stimulating fresh thinking about the customer. Many people offer advice and good practice on customer service, customer experience or customer strategy – and when I come across it, I’ll mention it here.

Everybody’s favourite screenwriter, William Goldman, said about Hollywood that “nobody knows anything”.  In the realm of the customer, this is often true, with one proviso: while everyone has some notion of what needs to be done to make things better, very few people know how to do so.

At Mike and the CustomeI hope to help redress this.  My goal is to offer you things that are practical; things you can use to make things better for your customers.  The how, if you like.

Sometimes, however, the path to how is rocky. Sometimes we need a Dread Pirate Roberts to poke us severely to change our thinking before we can see fresh ways to do things.  So, sometimes, I may put something up to provoke an argument and stimulate new thinking. If I do, forgive me – and let me know how what I am saying is wrong and what I should do to correct it.  If you play nice, who knows? We both might learn to do things better.

Whatever happens, I hope you find what you find at Mike and the Customer useful and enjoyable. I love making a difference for customers, and I love helping people to do so for theirs.

Let me know what you think