Tag Archives: Customer experience

Ten customer experience predictions for 2015

get-excited-and-change-the-future

A crystal ball (with a pinch of salt)

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

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

Privacy will matter less than trust.

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

Mobile payments won’t fly in 2015

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our buying experience will start to be simpler and more relevant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least one traditional supermarket will experiment with a alternative models

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some brands will begin to function as marketing algorithms

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

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

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

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

What are your predictions?

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

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

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

54 ways to make the customer experience better

Happy customer

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

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

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

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

Because this is the secret of customer experience.

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

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

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

Treating them like a person

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

Making it easy

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

Being honest

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

Being interesting

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

Helping

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

 Giving them something

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

Speed

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

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

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

How to transform the customer experience without a transformation programme

Welder

Make it better

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

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

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

*Sigh*

That’s a big list.

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

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

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

It just requires our attention.

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

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

How?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So: speed.

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

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

Go back to the list.  Ask customers again.

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

Repeat, repeat and repeat again.

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

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

Nor is it intellectually difficult.

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

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

And that’s what it’s all about.

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

(Image credit: USAF photo by Kurt Gibbons III) 

Ten ways to make the customer experience better

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

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

But you can make it better

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

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

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

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

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

Image credit: Mike Bird

Why our customer experience is damned

Hellfire and Damnation

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

(With apologies to Abraham Lincoln and John Lydgate)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The art of customer experience

Jete - statue at Millbank, London

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

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

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

Honestly, for about a month, I hated it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything.

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

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

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

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

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

And so we buy.

And we enjoy buying.

And we keep buying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Say it with deeds.

Chicken rhyme

The Language of Love

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

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

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

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

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

Chores vs Candlelight

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

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

And showing our love is what counts.

Caring is Doing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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

What if our customers wrote to Santa?

Santa in a chair

A Customer Christmas Experience

It is the week before Christmas and all through the store

Run thousands of shoppers seeking presents galore.

But in the B2B office, few carols are singing;

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

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

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

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

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

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

If sending letters to the man dressed in red?

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

What would they like? What have we missed?
 

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

That customers come to us with more on their mind.

Customers know that what’s often lost

Is value, if you focus only on cost.
 

Innovation, perhaps? Thinking out of the box

Could be the thing that blows off their socks.

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

promising things we’ve not thought of yet.
 

Let’s read again their note in the chimney

And learn what tickles our customers’ whimsy.

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

What is it they want Santa to learn?
 

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

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

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

What can we do to have them come back?
 

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

What matters is thinking of them, and not us.

Do what we can to make it about them.

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

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

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

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

Is what matters; what makes the big difference.
 

So while we reflect on the things we might say

About 2013 and customers who strayed,

There are things we can do to be sharper and better

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

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

By putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes.

Yes, we can tie ourselves up with journeys and maps

And maybe these might prevent customer mishap.
 

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

(Something pragmatic? Perhaps something new?)

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

Neither are radical, but don’t get distressed.
 

Both of these work and are shown to be

Helpful indeed towards customer victory.

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

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

It means changing our work and even our brains

To get it right straightaway, again and again.

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

For all of our customers, what matters is speed.
 

So let’s resolve, in 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Thank for reading throughout the year. Happy Christmas.
 

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

Customer experience without competition

Water skiers on the OzarksThe only sustainable competitive advantage

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

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

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

The purpose of customer experience

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

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

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

The return on customer experience

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

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

The public sector payoff

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

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

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

And that has to be a good thing.

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

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

 

How we train our customers to go to our competitors

Angry customer

A customer complaint is a favour

Customers complain about every business.

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

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

We train customers not to complain to us

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

Huh?

Let me explain some of the ways we do so:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think afresh about complaints

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

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

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

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

Five customer experience lessons from fringe theatre

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

The fringe of experience

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

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

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

A Brazilian challenge

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

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

A change in perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total cost of the set? £200.

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

Innovating success

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

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

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

Always.

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

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

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

Grump Street

Beware of the Grumps

When we want to change anything in an organisation, we will meet the Grumps. Grumps are colleagues who appear to support the project (and who may actually believe that they are acting in the project’s best interests) but whose presence is toxic to success.

The most telling sign that someone is a Grump is to note their effect on the energy of others.

If their presence adds to the energy of the team – if they are ‘radiators’* – then they are probably not Grumps.

If, however, their presence sucks the energy from the room – if they are ‘drains’ – we need to be careful.

How they speak is often a giveaway. Grumps are people on the ground who reveal themselves in meetings and emails and water-cooler conversations when they say things like:

“…I’m not saying this is a bad idea, but…”

“…We’ve tried this already and…”

“Let’s be realistic, here…”

“…we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater…”

Or (as I have genuinely heard in more than one company):

“…we have to be careful not to trust customers too much…”

…and similar statements which have the facade of reason but really reflect fundamental antipathy.

Grump damage

Grumps slowly strangle customer experience projects.

They raise seemingly legitimate objections which are never about the intent of the project, always about the implementation.  Before long, the team is spending more time and energy managing concerns raised by Grumps and less in delivering the project.  Slowly, imperceptibly, Grumps force us to move our focus away from making things better for customers to trying to keep the Grumps happy.

And so the project fails – or more typically, fades away, as the effort needed to deliver something good gets brought down by the drag of managing the Grumps.

How to beat the Grumps

These three steps can help us beat the Grumps:

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

Delivery de-Grumped

Good customer experience projects are all about leverage. They seek the places and strategies which yield maximum results in the fastest time. Grumps kill leverage, by forcing us to consider their objections instead of the customers, slow us down by distracting our attention and diverting our resources, and kill our projects by slowly sucking out our energy and momentum.

But if we can identify Grumps early and adopt the right practical strategies to prevent the damage they can cause, we remove one of the biggest barriers to customer experience project success.

Have you had the misfortune of working with Grumps?  What Grump warning signs have you seen? Let us know in the comments below.

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

**’Getting them off the bus’ is a CEO strategy recommended in Jim Collins’ excellent book, From Good to Great (p.56)

Image credit: David Stowell, licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Radiator image courtesy of Dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Drain image courtesy of Winond / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

4 pillars of customer experience

PIllars of Creation, Large Magellanic Cloud, NASA

Four pillars

I set up MikeAndTheCustomer to help companies to make things better for customers.

Four principles which would drive what we do here.  I consider these to be the most important factors in shaping the customer experience.

To me, they pretty much describe the whole customer experience ball game.

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

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

Do what matters

In my view, no matter what business any of us are in, the customer experience we offer is determined by what our customers value and how we choose to address these.  These are the things that matter. Some examples:

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

This principle means not trying to make every customer experience brilliant, or memorable. It means instead paying attention to those that make a difference and figuring out how make these good for the customer.  And, after all, isn’t this what motivates many of us – to make a difference?

Do it right  

Whatever we do – buy, sell, deliver, support – we have to do it right.  Who determines what is  right? The customer.  Our customers are the arbiters of what we do, and if we do it right, we deliver the value which they expect.

This means that when our customers change, or evolve, or want new things, we take the trouble to learn with them so that we continue to do it right.

To do so, we have to be with our customers, learning with them, and about them, as much as we can.

Doing it right also means doing it as efficiently, consistently and systematically as possible.  That way we minimise error, we minimise costs, we maximise speed and we maximise the ability, as we grow, to have colleagues do it right as well.

Do it fast

I honestly believe that speed is the single most important factor in turning customer experience into a competitive advantage.

If we can deliver what the customer wants, instantly, then that means we can impress the customer with our service, we can find out from them straightaway if we are on the money and if we are not, we can fix it immediately.

The speed with which we deliver is the speed at which we learn.  The faster we do both, the better we will be, and the better will be the customer’s experience.

Do it honourably

This one needs a little more explanation..

I wanted a way a capture the spirit of good customer experience that did not involve telling stories about the virtues of  Zappos or Nordstrom or John Lewis.  Unless we work for one of these paragons of customer service (or, sometimes, even if we do) the effect of such stories is just to make the reader feel guilty that they aren’t doing better

The more I thought about it, and the more I recalled the companies I knew who really try to make a difference for their customers, the more I realised that the essence of good customer experience is about one thing. It is about being honourable.

What do I mean by honourable?  I mean this:

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

Honourable offers the key test when we think about doing a new thing: is what we are thinking of doing, and the way we are thinking of doing it, honourable?  Unless it is, then the answer is simple: we should not do it.

I believe that an organisation which follows these principles cannot help but offer a great, trusted, customer experience. What is more, they will continue to do so as customers, markets, technology and people change.

But this is just me.

What do you think?  Do you agree with me?  Or is there something I’ve missed, or with which you disagree?  Let me know.

This is important to me, and I would really value your comments or thoughts.

Thanks.

Mike

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

Sports Direct: the Ryanair of the High Street?

Sports Direct store in Crown PointPile ’em high, sell ’em cheap

Ian Golding, the customer experience consultant has an enviable CV and an excellent blog (which I strongly commend). Last month, he posted a great article about the customer experience offered by Sports Direct, a UK budget sporting goods store.

The point of his post was that Sports Direct offer a poor customer experience because, in effect, their goods are so cheap the customer experience doesn’t matter.

Ian also suggests that Sports Direct are effectively playing the same role in high street retail as Ryanair play in air travel.

A conscious choice

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have written about the Ryanair customer experience here and here.  I think that there may some significant differences in the ways in which they think about the customer experience when compared with Sports Direct.

I suspect that the biggest difference is that Ryanair understand the things which make the biggest difference for their customers.  As a result, they manage their customer experience to be good along a very few dimensions (on time, seen to be low-cost) and explicitly limited in others (no refunds) in order to to support its business model.

Sports Direct, however, appear not to manage the customer experience, but instead to allow it to be an unconscious side-effect of their low-cost operation.

Is simply cheap sustainable?

Because they seem to compete solely on cost, Sports Direct may be vulnerable to another company offering a similar cost proposition with a better customer experience.  Ian muses if Sports Direct’s low-customer-experience is sustainable in the face of new competition such as that offered by French sports shed operator Decathlon.

Ryanair, on the other hand, I don’t think are so vulnerable to attack on this front.  Two factors argue for this.

The first is that Ryanair actively manage their customer experience and know which aspects of the experience make the biggest difference to their customers.  As a result, if they needed to dial elements of the key parts of the customer experience up or down, I am sure they could.

The second factor is more pragmatic. As I mentioned in my post, Ryanair: Kings of the Customer Experience, Ryanair compete as a low-cost airline because their business model is ruthlessly designed round the limited customer experience they choose to offer. Other operators do not seem to have the single-minded strategic will to make similar choices – and so they live with business models which are intrinsically more expensive to run.

What you pay attention to, you get

The takeaway, I think, is this:  every business, whether it thinks about it or not, offers their customers an experience which reflects the things to which the company pays attention.  If a company focuses solely on least cost supply and appears to pay little attention to the customer experience, then customers get an experience akin to the ‘dark cave’ which Ian describes as being offered by Sports Direct.

Such companies are vulnerable to competition from others which do pay attention to the customer experience and design their low-cost operation around the experience they actively choose to offer.

In short, if we don’t pay attention to customer experience in the boardroom, we shouldn’t surprised if, in return, customers stop paying attention to us.

Image credit: Betty Longbottom under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Ryanair’s customer experience revisited

Ryanair passenger numbers
Ryanair passenger number growth, CAPA Centre for Aviation

I wrote Ryanair: Kings of the Customer Experience to challenge the blind orthodoxy that offering a perfect customer experience should be the aspiration of every business.

This may be true if you run a seven-star hotel complete with customer butlers, but it does not apply, I believe, for most companies. Most of us need to trim our ambitions to focus on things which cause customers most pain or friction and on those things which customers most value.

An excellent response

Jim Lucas of Lucavia read my post about Ryanair, the Irish-based European budget airline,  and wrote an excellent article in response: The Real Ryanair, Please Stand Up.

Jim and I violently agree that Ryanair have set out strategically to offer a service based on the core things which their customers value: “…Low cost, on time, with bags, that’s it.”

Jim, however, then goes on to say:

‘…To me, Ryanair hasn’t, “…Designed a customer experience to compete strategically.” Their customers don’t care about it and they know it. Instead, Ryanair has chosen a low-cost, high-efficiency strategy vis-à-vis their competition to meet the needs of the utilitarian traveler. (Jim’s emphasis)  In that space customer “service” is all that is required and an experience isn’t a consideration.’

I think Jim’s view is one that many customer experience practitioners share: that customer experience is something separate from the service a company designs and offers.

The whole of the experience

I don’t share this view. I believe that everything that we do which affects the customer is part of the customer experience.  This includes offering the service, yes, but also the things we do which affect how this service is perceived: (I refer to this in another post when I refer to the qualia of customer experience).

Hence my use of Ryanair as an example. What they seem to do, explicitly and intentionally, is manage the customer experience to diminish expectations around anything which lies outside of their core offering.

Get you there on time? Sure.

Cheaply? Yes.

Refunds? Don’t bother.

This setting of expectations is, I believe an absolute part of the customer experience, which Ryanair actively manage in order to support their highly successful business model. This is a strategic choice which, judging by Ryanair’s business success, seems to be working very well.

Good is better than nice

From this choice came the other point of my earlier Ryanair article: “Customer experience is not about being nice, it is about meeting strategic goals.”

Talking to some marketing folk the other day at the IQPC CMO Customer Exchange Event a couple of weeks ago, I found myself reframing this statement so that it became:

Customer experience is not about being nice; it’s about being good.

I think this is profoundly true. Customer experience is not simply an offshoot of the customer service skills industry, as many people seem to believe.

As an air passenger, for example, I value getting to my destination on time, with my bags, more than I value a customer agent’s smile if my bags have been lost.

Yet many organisations, judging by the way they run their services and where they direct their investment, seem to put this the other way round. Yes, being nice is, well, nice – but it is less important than being good at the things for which the customer is paying.

What Ryanair do, better than any other organisation of which I am aware, is to deliver on the stuff that matters to their customers while at the same time actively managing down customer expectations – and delivery – of other stuff.

They are, I believe, managing the customer experience, and doing so very well.

Which is why, while I may not like Ryanair,  I have to admire them.

(My thanks again to Jim for his cogent and considerate response to the original article. His blog is well worth a read).

Image credit: Ryanair passenger growth numbers: CAPA – Centre for Aviation

The bank customer experience that’s 3 times better than Apple

Red TapeBanks offer a specific customer experience three times better than that offered by Apple, because, it seems, Apple have let lawyers dictate it.

Red tape redux

I want to buy a house. I need a home loan for £250,000.  I approach First Direct, a direct retail bank in the UK, owned by HSBC.   I know that I will have to accept from them a comprehensive and rigorous set of terms and conditions.  After all, I am borrowing a quarter of a million pounds and mortgages in the UK are highly regulated.

First Direct’s terms and conditions for my mortgage are a comprehensive, rigorous and exhaustive 4,480 words.

To have some music to play while I move house, I want to download Our House by Madness, on iTunes.

And here is where things get cockeyed. To download the nutty boys’ masterpiece, I have to read and accept iTune’s terms and conditions.  These run to 14,451 words.

Apple expect me to plough through 3 times more verbiage than was needed for my £250,000 mortgage, just for a 99p song.

This can’t be right.

A novel experience

Legally, I am supposed to read Apple’s terms and conditions before I can install iTunes. But, like most of us, I haven’t.

Who has the time to read lawyer-speak that runs almost the same length as the first third of Kurt Vonnegut’s great novel, Slaughterhouse 5?

If I have that kind of time available, I’ll read a book.

It gets worse. Every time Apple updates iTunes, every couple of months or so, they require that I read these conditions again. This is neither practical nor reasonable.

Lawyers: enemies of customer experience

So First Direct, a UK retail bank, is offering a customer experience three times better than Apple’s. What’s going on?

The most obvious explanation is that Apple has let their lawyers off the leash. This is bad for the customer experience because most general counsel are required to think of the customer as the enemy. Corporate lawyers stay awake at night making sure customers don’t sue or rip-off or defraud or have grounds for compensation.

Giving the customer a good reading experience is not top of their insomnia list.

Something better

Someone, however, is doing something to make this particular experience better for customers of a range of companies, including, they say, Apple.

Terms of Service: Didn’t Read (ToS:DR) offers a free plug-in to browsers that rates terms and conditions on a five point scale (A- Green to E- Red) depending on the degree to which a particular set of terms and conditions require us to sign away our rights. It ‘s like a Reader’s Digest version of the terms and conditions to which we have to agree.

This seems to me to be an eminently sensible solution to this problem. I will sign up to ToS:DR straightaway – just as soon as I read their terms and conditions (409 words)…

So it goes.

PS Some may think that I am singling out Apple unfairly.  Perhaps, but by way of comparison, Google’s terms and conditions of service come in at 2,966 words, Facebook’s are 4,643 and Amazon, 5,269. (Word counts come courtesy of my browser’s cut and paste function and MS Word’s word count facility).

PPS This post comes in at 539 words.  If this was iTune’s terms and conditions, you’d be only 5% of the way through by now…

Image credit: Rosser 1954, released into the public domain.

Ryanair: kings of the customer experience.

Image of Michael O'Leary 2/06/2011Silver tongued charmer

“You’re not getting a refund, so **** off. We don’t want to hear your sob stories. What part of ‘no refund’ don’t you understand?”

“People say the customer is always right, but you know what – they’re not. Sometimes they are wrong and they need to be told so.”

“Mother pays £200 for being an idiot and failing to comply with her agreement at the time of booking. We think Mrs. McLeod should pay €60 [just] for being so stupid… Thank you, Mrs. McLeod, but it was your ****-up. We’re not changing our policy.”

“We already bombard you with as many in-flight announcements and trolleys as we can. Anyone who looks like sleeping, we wake them up to sell them things.”

Michael O’Leary is the CEO of Ryanair, a European budget airline headquartered in Ireland. The quotes above are some of the things he has said at press conferences and results announcements over the years; this thinking is reflected in the uncompromising ways in which the company operates. In many ways, he is the antichrist of orthodox customer experience thinking.

The Ryanair Customer Experience Paradox

According to much customer experience orthodoxy, Ryanair should be in serious trouble. Poor customer experience should result in customer dissatisfaction, disloyalty, social media backlash and poor brand reputation.

And it does.

In spades.

But here’s the thing.  The customer experience Ryanair offers does not  affect the bottom line. In fact, one might argue that it is a major reason for Ryanair’s consistent, spectacular bottom line growth.

Ryanair has just announced yet another set of stellar annual profits. To March 2013, the airline made  operating profits of €718m ($924m) on revenues of €4.88bn ($6.28bn), up 11% from last year.  And this is no flash in the pan: Ryanair consistently grows revenues and profits every year. Ryanair is a company that likes recessions.

Something is amiss.  And on the basis of the company’s sustained growth and returns, it doesn’t look like it’s Ryanair. So is received customer experience wisdom mistaken?

And if so, does this mean that we should abandon our efforts to improve the customer experience?

Just the opposite.  Ryanair succeeds (and its CEO is noteworthy) precisely because it is one of the few companies to have understood exactly the customer experience that it needs to compete strategically – and then makes sure this is what it delivers.

Ryanair proves the strategic case for customer experience

Ryanair is a lean, low cost airline.  It sets expectations for customers about how it works and what it will and (and particularly) won’t do.

It does not burden itself with the very high costs associated with exceptional customer service, because it offers very little by way of customer service.  This is why O’Leary is so uncompromising about refunds – because if Ryanair compromise on this once, they will have to do it again.  And then they will need to employ people to manage refunds. And they will get more complaints, because customers will think that they might get something by complaining.

So Ryanair will have to staff a complaints department.  And this will lead to escalations, and reporting, and budgets, and bureaucracy, and management’s attention will get distracted by customer issues, and this will take their eye off the ball of running things very cheaply and efficiently.

And at that point, their cost base will have ballooned and they will no longer be competing on cost.  (And then their competitors will kill them by competing on service).

Instead, Ryanair are very explicit about the customer experience they offer.  They are low-cost. They will get you there, on time. With your bags.  That’s it.  No other promises. They deliberately limit the customer experience and manage it tightly because doing so is essential to their strategic success.

And against these things – the things which, because they really understand their customers, they know are most important to them – Ryanair are among the best in Europe.

And this is the lesson Ryanair teaches all of us about the customer experience.

Customer experience is not about being nice,
it’s about meeting strategic goals

We must not fall into the trap of blindly accepting that our goal is to make things a great as we can for customers. This is not the purpose of customer experience transformation.

Our purpose is instead to specify, build and deliver the customer experience we need in order to meet our organisations’ strategic goals.  And then we must drive this experience as ruthlessly and singlemindedly as Michael O’Leary drives Ryanair to succeed.

Ryanair and Michael O’Leary are, in effect, posing each of us a very challenging question:  what is the customer experience our companies need to offer so that we can best meet our strategic goals?

PS I hate flying by Ryanair, but I do so when I have to. 

(Image credit: ilovemyirishculture.com under a Free Art License)

The customer experience is about more than fixing things.

Perusing books at Selfridges 1942It’s about employees

At the start of the year, Forrester Research‘s Kerry Bodine and colleagues made some predictions about the areas which will grab attention in the customer experience space this year.  One prediction was that employee engagement will be “…white-hot…” in 2013.

They may be right.  The good folks at HCL have been making this point for some time and attribute their startling growth to an “Employee First, Customer Second…” approach.  In 2010, their CEO, Vineet Nayar, even wrote a book about it in 2010.

Unusually for a CEO these days, at the time of writing some three years later, Mr Nayar is still in post and the HCL stock price appears to be doing very well. Perhaps there is something in what he says.

The core idea, I think, is this: employees are the company.  They make the difference for customers.  If they are happy, motivated and enabled to succeed, then a good customer experience may be possible.  If employees are unhappy, unmotivated or not equipped to succeed, then nothing we try for the customer will really make much difference.

It is in our control

For those of us interested in customer experience transformation, this perspective offers another potential bonus: while we cannot manage our customers, we can and should manage our people. The challenge of working with our people to make things better for customers is in our hands, no-one else’s.

I believe that how company drives its people to make things better for customers indicates whether a company regards the customer experience as an overlay on their “core business’ of selling, shipping and service – or if their approach to customers reflects serious strategic intent.

As Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, said in his letter to stockholders a couple of months ago:

“One advantage – perhaps a somewhat subtle one – of a customer-driven focus is that it aids a certain type of proactivity. When we’re at our best, we don’t wait for external pressures. We are internally driven to improve our services, adding benefits and features, before we have to.”

Proactive customer experience is a strategic choice

This idea of proactivity is the whole game, right there.  Organisations which are serious about the customer experience proactively drive their people to seek to make things better before customers see reasons to complain.

Sure, there are companies which are doing good things by listening to customers and putting in improvements to fix things which customers don’t like.  This work is valuable, and good, but it does not address the real challenge.  If we simply fix things about which customers complain, then we are  playing catch-up. We are saying, in effect: “we aspire not to make customers unhappy.”

The difference is in the bottom line. Jeff Bezos again:

“Proactively delighting customers earns trust, which earns more business from those customers, even in new business arenas. Take a long-term view, and the interests of customers and shareholders align.”

Customer experience is much more than fixing things for customers. It is about making a strategic choice to be proactive in making things better for customers, it is about reflecting this choice in the ways we guide and enable our people to make things better for customers – and it is about doing so because it is the most effective way to grow and sustain the bottom line.

How do our companies measure up?

(Image credit: Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The qualia of customer experience

Red rose in snow picWe cannot truly understand what our customers experience. But we can understand how they behave. If we want to make things better for them, we will be better off observing what customers actually do, not trying to work out what we think they are experiencing. 

I can’t get into Joe’s head

My friend Joe cannot see the colours red or green – he is colour blind. My colour vision is normal. Science explains this by saying that some of the cone receptors at the back of Joe’s retina are different from mine.

But when I try to understand what Joe sees when he looks at, say, a grassy meadow, I am unable to do so.  His experience of the greenness of the grass is different from mine.   I cannot put myself into his head.

Qualia are what we experience

Philosopher Clarence Lewis in 1927 coined the term qualia to describe the distinct subjective experiences we each have when, for example, we smell a rose, see the white of snow or taste a lemon.

Qualia (singular: quale) are the essence of experience.  They are also pretty much inexplicable by science.  Science – cognitive psychology, neuroscience, physiology – has pretty much nothing to say about what Joe experiences when he sees a blue sky and how that compares with what I experience when I see that same sky.

If you don’t believe me, imagine trying to explain the greenness of a meadow to someone who is blind from birth.

Scientific methods

This is, in part, why understanding the customer experience is tough.  Each customer’s experience is different. If we ask them about their experience – to describe the qualia of buying – we can only get a limited understanding of what they experience.

How does science address the problem of qualia?  It ignores them. Instead of seeking to understand what we experience, scientists instead focus on what they can observe. In particular, they focus on behaviour.  Rather than investigating what  people experience, scientists explore instead what people do when they experience X or see Y.

This is a good principle to adopt when working on customer experience.  Trying to understand the experience of customers is likely to be less valuable – and less effective for guiding our actions – than observing what they actually do.

The perfect, but useless, manuals

This is shown by the PC manuals fiasco. A few years ago a major PC manufacturer took great pains to consult with customers so that  the manuals for new users to set up their PCs were as well-written, user-friendly and accessible as possible. For several years, users rated the manuals as the best in the business – they even won awards.

But it wasn’t until the company undertook some studies into what new PC users actually did that the truth emerged.

More than 95% of users never opened the manual at all.

They turned on their PC and assumed that the start-up process on-screen would take them through set-up. And if it didn’t, they got very unhappy indeed.

The company had made the mistake of asking customers what they thought, instead of  observing what they actually did.

The colours of marketing

Leo Widrich of Buffer.com has written a great article for Fast Company on the science of colours in marketing. In it, he explains how colours can influence customer behaviour.  He also describes an experiment by Hubspot to understand if customers prefer to press a red or a green button on-screen (read the article to find out which button won :-)).

The folks at Hubspot just needed to know which colour encouraged more customers to press the button. They did not need to know why.

As Leo Widrich says in his article: “…data always beats opinion, no matter what.”

And if we are to make things better for customers, it is probably best for us to adopt the same attitude. Let’s worry less about understanding the customer experience and worry more about observing the things customers show us they prefer.

(If you want to find out more about qualia and why they pose a problem for science, the best source is Daniel Dennett, a terrific writer on philosophy and cognitive science.  His 1991 book, Consciousness Explained is a good first port of call; a more technical discussion can be found in his article, Quining Qualia, (in A. Marcel and E. Bisiach, eds, Consciousness in Modern Science, Oxford University Press 1988)).

(Image credit: Paulis under Creative Commons Attribution license)

Your competitors are not who you think they are

bad_spellers_untie_postage_stamp-p172016310883664861uuftb_216Customers don’t compare the online experience they get from us with that from our competitors. They benchmark instead against the best they have seen, regardless of sector. We have to understand this if we are to use customer experience to help us sell and keep customers.

Don Peppers is one of the pioneers of the customer experience industry. In a recent LinkedIn post, he  tells the story of a bad customer experience a colleague had with Stamps.com when trying to unsubscribe from their service.

The customer horror story, however, was less interesting to me than that he (like we all do) compared this experience with Stamps.com with that offered by another company – and found Stamps.com wanting.

That company was Amazon.

Amazon does not sell anything which Stamps.com sells.  Amazon is not seeking to take customers away from Stamps.com. I would be astonished to find that Amazon features in any strategy document which Stamps.com use to understand their competitive landscape.

In the traditional sense, they are not a competitor.

But when you think in terms of the customer experience, are they a competitor?

Damn right.

Customers do not compare the online experience they get with one company with the experience offered by competitors in the same sector. Instead, they compare their experience with the best experience they have had online, regardless of sector.

If we do not offer an experience  which measures up to the best experience which our customers have had elsewhere, then we will have unhappy customers.

It’s not fair, I know.  Customers are not even comparing apples with pears; they are comparing stamps with books.

This really matters.  Because if we aren’t aiming to be cheapest (and very few of us can, in the long-term) and if our market is crowded with me-too products with pretty much the same features (as in almost every consumer market sector), then how do we compete?

The experience we offer our customers, that’s how. When we make it easier, faster and more pleasant to buy and use our products, we win and keep customers.

If this is how we choose to compete, we need to understand that our ‘competitors’ aren’t our competitors.  As far as our customers are concerned, our competitors are everyone who is offering a service, or a sale, or an experience which follows the same grammar of customer engagement that we do. And if we aren’t competitive when compared with these, we won’t get or keep the customer.

Worse, as Don Peppers is showing, they will tell the World about how unhappy we have made them.

But, as Amazon demonstrates, if we choose to compete in this space, with the right attention and commitment, then maybe we could become the benchmark: and that is a very powerful place to be.

(Picture courtesy of Zazzle.com).