Improving customer experiences: when WOW! stands for Waste Of Work

In seeking a point of differentiation, the creation of a Wow! moment in the customer experience is an admirable strategy.  But whatever makes us say “Wow!”, what is more likely to be the differentiator is all the basics being done well and consistently.

 

The reasons why we as consumers switch between companies is rarely because of the absence of anything that “delights and surprises” us.  It’s much more likely to be because of smaller things, the cumulative impact of niggles and gripes that we expect to be done right.10434205_s
It’s easy to see why organisations are seduced into the idea of creating powerful emotional connections;  ones that that drive memories to keep customers coming back, spending more and telling everyone they know to do the same.  However, Wow! moments are not an automatic ticket to differentiation.

 

For example, when travelling through an airport, my research shows that people simply want them to be clean, friendly, easy and calm.  Only then will we start to worry about self-drop baggage check-ins and architectural aesthestics.  Travelling by train, I just want somewhere to park my car, somewhere to park my backside and some wi-fi.  Pouring billions of pounds into taking 10 minutes off the journey can wait.

 

So one – or even several – Wow! moments doth not a customer experience make.  Especially, when focusing on the emotive aspects comes at the cost of being functional or easy.  Often it’s because companies use technology for technology’s sake; there are personal agendas at work or there is an obsession with process efficacy and metrics.  The telecoms company I’m with recently provided a perfect example.

 

I’ve been a customer of theirs for years.  I really like them and their people. They create “fans”, sponsor major events and have an edgy but professional brand. It works and so I rarely have anything contact with them.  Except in the last two days, where I had two different experiences, both of which made me say “Wow!” but for the wrong reasons, based on a lack of the basics.

 

Firstly, out of contract I wanted to see what my options were before I look around for a new handset and tariff.  On their website, in the phones and tariffs page there is – hidden, well down the page – a “How to buy” number. In the IVR I’m asked for my number and whether or not I’m an existing customer wanting to upgrade.  I am, so assume I’m through to the right place.  Nope.  When I’m connected the agent fumbles around and has to pass me to the “new sales” team.

effort

All I then hear is the noise of a busy office – people chatting loudly to customers and to each other.  Eventually, I hear a timid “Hello?”.  I make my presence known and the agent launches into the prepared script as if that was a perfectly normal way to start.  I go through the request again and ask what the tariffs are for a particular handset.  There’s a long pause, the sound of keyboards being tapped and then I get a confusing deluge of text, megabite and minute options.  I ask the difference between two different handsets.  More clicking and rambling answers.

 

I’m asked if my account with them really is out of contract.  I thought if anyone should know, they should.  To be certain, he gives me a number to text a keyword to.  We wait with baited breath for a message to come back.  “You ain’t got nuthin’ yet?  Oh, you need to write the keyword in capitals, sorry”.  I try again and again I get nothing back. We struggle on but when he asks if I can call back in 15 minutes my patience runs out.

 

I know this particular company can do better, a lot better.  We rate customer experiences on three dimensions;  how easy was it, did it do what I set out to achieve and how did it make me feel.  On none of those levels did the company score well at all, the effort amplified by the fact that it should have been so easy.

 

The next day, coincidentally or not, I received an invitation from them to become part of a customer panel. “Help define our future, we want your thoughts on how we can work better for you” and so on.  It’s nice to be asked, so I clicked the email link to join. I get taken to a pre-qualification web page.  Am I male/female? Date of birth? Which region/postcode do I live in?  All of which they know already, surely. Then I’m asked my household income and nature of my business.  Having gone through all that I then get a message pop up to say they already have too many people like me so they don’t need my views:
response
What a waste of everyone’s time, it didn’t make me feel particularly warm to the brand and I’m curious as to why they would push away someone who is happy to help them. Such is life.
 
I wish those in the board room who sign-off the high-cost Wow! investments that few are asking for could experience the customer journey of the low-cost, invaluable basics being done badly for so many.  These are basic expectations, the bar of which is rising faster than the bar of Wow! expectations.  The irony is that a customer experience with all the basics in place, done well time after time creates more differentiation, more loyalty and itself becomes the “Wow!”.

 

Jerry Angrave
Founder, Empathyce
+44 (0) 7917 718 072
@Empathyce

Are we talking the right language of customer experience?

Many customer experiences simply happen because when it comes to the attitude and processes, we hear people say “We’ve always done it this way”.  And if it works today, why not?  Well, for a start things could be so much better.  Maybe – and I’ve often seen – things aren’t actually working in the way your customers want.  The consequences of complacency are huge yet that word rarely, if ever, makes an appearance on the “risks and issues” log.

There’s an equally risky parallel in the language of customer experience; the risk being that we have all adopted the phrases and platitudes over time to the extent where if we’re all thinking the same way, having the right and differentiated customer experiences will be so much harder to achieve.  I’ve written before on the need for differentiated experiences from differentiated thinking.

For example, in a workshop where you have people from Operations, Marketing, Sales, Finance and Legal teams, many of them will be seeing this stuff for the first time.  They might be cynical, they might be enthusiastic but they need to hear and understand with absolute clarity the words being used.  Here are some examples, with some suggestions where the vocabulary could be different in order to get people in the right mind-set to bring about better outcomes. They’re not going to become mainstream and you will have your own thoughts, but the idea is to avoid the risk of undifferentiated stakeholder experiences because the language being used internally is itself undifferentiated

 

Customer Experience or Customer Memorylanguage of customer experience

To talk about “experiences” has become commonplace and inevitably perhaps, it is diluted in its impact.  To those keen to pile in, it suggests that our focus should be mostly just on the “what happens”.  Our thinking becomes limited to the very functional aspects of what we do because that’s the tangible bit.  Yet we know that what affects the likelihood of someone coming back to us next time, spending more more often and telling everyone else, is what they recall when they’re about to do that – their memory about how easy it was and how it made them feel.  Another post looks at that “customer memory” in more depth.

 

We need a customer journey map for that! or We need a customer story for that!

This often-heard comment in meetings is followed by someone retrieving a linear process map to use as what they see as an acceptable alternative.

To create a customer journey still implies a simple A-B set of interactions but the very use of the word “journey” still suggests a functional, linear approach.  What we need to know and create is the story that a customer will tell someone else.  We’re all people, we’re all customers;  when we do business with a company or go to a restaurant we don’t consciously set out to go on a “journey” but what we then think and talk about in terms of what it was like becomes very much a story.

 

The end-to-end journey or From last time to this time to next time

Having an end-to-end journey helps fit with the logical side of our thinking.  Conveniently, it also fits the left to right concept that is perpetuated by PowerPoint and Excel.  I’m guilty, I’ve created loads in my time but it still is not reflective of how our customers – or us when we’re going about our daily lives – really think about things.  Maybe we need a pyschologist to really create accurate representations of what it’s like to be a customer.  But while I’m all for keeping things simple, end-to-end still suggests a definitive start and finish point.  If we really want to understand our customers then we need to think way beyond those boundaries.

 

The voice of the customer or What people think

Talk to a room of people about the “voice of the customer” and there are sage nods and chatter about feedback surveys.  Again though, it risks limiting the understanding of what we’re really driving at here. It’s not just about hearing what our customers are saying, it’s about understanding why people think and feel the way they do.  It’s also not just about sharing what customers think, it’s very much about our own employees too.  After all they are the ones who are making the the experience what it is and are often the ones who know what to fix. However, no-one has listened to them or has acted on what they said because business leaders are focused solely on turning the “voice of the customer” into a higher net promoter score.

 

I have the privilege of working across a variety of markets with talented people in all sorts of organisations and with an infinite number of challenges.  One common theme though, especially when people are going on their own personal journey of customer experience familiarity is that the language becomes a proxy for leadership of the customer agenda.  Giving it the clarity and relevance it deserves, thinking about it differently to your competitors who are reading text-books and listening to career consultants will give you the differentiation your organisation needs.

 

 

 

 

Will thinking like a retailer improve customer experiences?

“We need to think like a retailer”.   Really?

In listening to those who are looking to improve customer experiences, I’ve heard two very different opinions from the aviation industry this year on where the aspirations lie.   The airline: “We should think like a retailer who happens to run a fleet of aircraft”.   The airport:  “If you think like an airport you’ll never really understand your customers”.   As a passenger, I know which way of thinking I’d rather be on the receiving end of.024

To those organisations in any industry who aspire to think like a retailer (code for “sell more”), I have a suggestion.  Why stop there?  Why not have the aspiration to make your customer experiences so easy, consistent and cost-effective that it is the retailers who are the ones who look to you and say “We need to think like them”?

One of the biggest challenges we see in creating a truly customer-focused business is the lack of clarity among employees about the overall strategy.  Or, a brand that creates expectations but then has little robust structure to deliver what it promises.  Whatever market we operate in, an aspiration to improve is of course admirable.  But we need confidence in our own business model.  Surely, we don’t want to give our employees the impression that we don’t back ourselves so we’re going to act like someone else.  That message, intended or not, isn’t what will drive the right behaviours and engagement.

It’s a similar risk with searching for and emulating best practices carried out by competitors.  In reality, it’s never that straightforward but if we replicate what they are good at we will, by definition, only be the same as them.  And in today’s world, we need to be different and distinctive.  The bar of expectations is rising relentlessly so yesterday’s best practice quickly becomes today’s norm.  And it’s not always about the “Wow” moments – getting every basic element right every time is, for sure, a best practice that others will aspire too.

I hear a lot about the need to think like a retailer and I applaud the intent.  Retailers have some great experiences but they have a lot of very average ones too.  Yes, they sell stuff and most organisations are looking for ways to increase revenues.  But I’m still firmly of the view that while we can learn from others, it is critical to aspire to get the customer experience right for our own business first.  In doing so, we then become the one that everyone else looks to as the role model.

 

Customer Experience: blink and it’s there.

First impressions.  The subtle, vital but often over-looked human gateway to achieving corporate objectives such as long-term customer relationships and profitable lifetime value.

For many, the starting point for mapping customer journeys conveniently begins at the first ‘touchpoint’;  the call centre or website visit where funnily enough, processes also start.  The very language suggests a physical contact has to be the trigger and yet getting to that point is highly likely to be the consequence of what a customer has seen or heard in the past from others’ experiences.firstimpression

Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink – the power of thinking without thinking” is a rich seam of though-provoking insight into which any self-respecting decision-maker and leader should tap.  It articulates the world of instinctive reactions;  the crucial sub-conscious responses we make every day yet we are unable to explain how we do it.

What does it mean for improving customer experiences?  I’d say it’s about upping the ante before competitors do;  treat every interaction as if it’s the one that creates the first, the most important and longest lasting impression.

 

1  A relationship over the long-term can be over in milliseconds

Organisations strive to build lasting and profitable relationships by investing finite budget in retention activity, loyalty rewards and referrals.  But it is that gut instinct, that very subjective and emotive feeling created in a flash of a chemical impulse that shapes the memory to which the rational side of the brain will turn next time there is business to be done.

Take, for example, Twitter.  Yesterday, a Marketing agency I followed published a tweet pouring scorn on a family-favourite TV chef.  No reason, just “We’ve never liked him”.  My reaction, deciding to unfollow, was over before I’d realised it.  Tap and gone.  I’d given it no conscious thought;  in hindsight there was just something about it that wasn’t professional and in today’s world that’s simply not tolerable.

 

2  Contempt is in the eye of the beholder

No company in its right mind would set out to show a customer contempt, the consequences being all too obvious.  However, that is exactly what happens when customer experiences are left unchecked, processes take priority over people and metrics matter the most.

To précis the research from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, a large study of conversations between married couples was undertaken in order to try and predict the likelihood of the relationship surviving.  The most striking common denominator among those that ended in divorce was the presence of contempt, whether unintended or not.

This again shows the need to keep a focus on the little, subtle things, without which the ‘WoW’ factors are a “Waste of Work”.  Contempt is something that’s felt and attacks the very core of our own values.  Whether it’s unintended or not, whether those in the Board room know it or not, if I pay for a meal at a decent restaurant and the waiter shows no sign of thanks or even eye contact, that to me might be a sign of contempt.  Note to self: not going there again.  I might treat myself and pay extra for a first-class rail ticket.  But when there’s standing room only or no wi-fi, my note to self says: drive the car next time.  I order an item online accepting that it’s “due in stock by the end of the month”, only to find that it never was due and there’s no knowing when it will be in, yet my money is paid.  Note to self: get a refund and never go back there.

If we are serious about developing long-term relationships, then the conversations around the Board table need to be every bit about how we make our customers feel as about what we do.  Because if we don’t, in the time it takes to blink our customer will be gone.

 

Differentiated customer experiences require differentiated thinking

Organisations waste time, money and effort if their approach to creating differentiated experiences is based on the very undifferentiated “Let’s walk a mile in our customers’ shoes”.   Inspiration for better and more valuable experiences comes from those who experience things differently.


 

When teams set out to map customer journeys there’s often a familiar reminder of the need to “Put ourselves in our customers’ shoes”.  Assuming that the journey being mapped is a strategic priority and there is an ability to act on the findings, it’s a concept that’s logical and, to a degree, works.

However, that very familiarity is also its Achilles heel.  If we and our competitors are looking at things in the same way, the chances of creating differentiated experiences with undifferentiated thinking are not looking good.  In the journey mapping workshop, everyone nods and agrees that it’s the right thing to do but exactly what it means and why it’s important can get lost in the enthusiasm of being away from the day-job and amid the swarm of post-it notes.WallaceSpace

It’s all good and valid work, but it’s highly likely to produce a sanitised and generic version of the journey.  Putting ourselves in customers’ proverbial shoes cannot tell us what our customers think when they are in their own shoes;  however hard we try, it will still be us pretending to be them.

Even if we create a perfect vision of what the journey should be, by starting with us as a proxy for the customer, by the time any innovation has found its way through the corporate filters of business cases, project scope alignment and demands for “What’s the ROI?”, what were great ideas become diluted.  Had the vision been a little more ambitious and creative to start with, our diluted outcome would be stronger for it.

And so for those who want to take things a step further the approach needs to be stretched.  When we learn to negotiate, if it’s for a 5% budget increase we will probably try starting with +8%.  Swimmers train with weight-belts, motor-cyclists are taught to stay focused on the vanishing point of the road and not to stare at the front tyre.  It’s that thing about reaching the moon by shooting for the stars.

There is one group of people to whom we can turn to for inspiration in so many ways, including here.  They are ordinary human beings who live with some kind of mental or physical condition that we tend to label as having a disability or special needs.

In the UK, over eleven million people have a limiting long-term illness or an impairment of some kind according to the Government. It’s not unreasonable to assume that each of those individuals has at least two people who have been through the emotional highs and lows with them and sacrifice a lot to help them get through their daily lives.  Even if we rounded the numbers and said that 30 million people – nearly half the UK population – are affected, the chances are that we all have such customers. Next time you think a customer is over-reacting to not getting a call back as promised, it might be because they’ve been up all night trying to calm an apoplectic 12-year old who is unable to talk and explain what the problem is.

To help those mapping out customer journeys, adopting the persona of a typical customer type is a step in the right direction.  But, by seeing things from the perspective of someone who interacts with the world in a very different way, it can really sharpen up the process.  Take, for example, a team who wants to make the airport experience better.

The type of hand-drier in the toilets might not seem to be a particular issue.  But for someone with autism, hyper-sensitive emotions and a need for predictability, loud and sudden noises created by the blast from the current wave of dip-your-hand-in driers can at best be deeply distressing.  Creating a situation where your customers run among other customers, screaming and with their hands over their ears is, I’m sure, not an intentional experience. But there’s also a financial impact;  I know people who avoid one major airport for that very reason.

Addressing that particular issue also creates a calmer environment for everyone, something that is high on the list of unprompted things that passengers of all abilities value. Those anxious people who go on a fear of flying course do so because they thought it was the flight, not the airport, that would be stressful.differentiated

Many companies will proclaim they want to make things easy for their customers.  And people will quietly tolerate the niggles of call-centre on-hold messages or staff who close up their shop five minutes before time.  If we’re journey mapping by putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes, those are things we might not be bothered by and so we unintentionally assume our customers won’t either. But, look at it from the perspective of someone with depression, who has taken days if not weeks to build up the courage and mental energy to call only to be told to wait even longer;  the stroke sufferer who wants to ask a simple question but has problems speaking and being understood.  Or, the parent who can’t remember the last night of unbroken sleep, when they last woke up without being woken up and what life was like before washing bedroom walls became a daily task.  Many employees in a call-centre or retail space may not have had the life-experience of interacting with people for whom living independently – or living at all – is a major achievement.  Surely if we made things easy for them, everyone else benefits too.

Another example.  A common gripe is the ability to understand the bills we get, especially from utilities. I was with an energy-company client recently listening to customer calls and had to stifle a chuckle when the exasperated customer declared “I’ve a master’s degree in physics but I don’t understand this bill”.  Imagine then, what it is like if you have any kind of mental disability or a condition such as dyslexia.

Likewise, if a toy gets delivered and it’s the wrong one, do we assume that people will see it as a minor inconvenience and so we’ll be ready when they call up for a replacement.  Or, because we acknowledge that a parent or carer might have to explain that to a distraught child using Makaton sign-language, we fix the process that causes the problem in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many companies doing small and discrete things that make a big difference.  To provide a balance, Manchester airport publishes a guide specifically for those with disabilities and their carers; Birmingham airport has staff who will recognise signs in body language that suggest something is not right and they’re trained to do something about it. Monarch is replicating the London 2012 Games Makers training for its staff.

There are altruistic and – because of the world we live in – commercial reasons for taking this approach.  But, if we stretch our customer thinking in a different way to our competitors and we design journeys around real people, not the processes we force them through, empathy and ease translates smoothly into a better business for everyone concerned.

Thank you, let me know what you think.  And if you’re interested in helping to improve customer experiences for people with special needs, please join my group over on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Improving-Customer-Experiences-People-Special-4583395/about.

 

 

Creating the right customer experience is all about leading by example

To have any credibility when talking with others about how “customer experience” can improve a business, it’s an obvious understatement to say that leading by example – understanding their issues and what they value – is imperative.

And so hosting an event on the subject, quite rightly, sets the bar of expectations very high.

That’s the position Ian Golding and I were in this week in London when we held Custerian’s seminar on “Your journey to map their journey”.  In its simplest form, the aim is to share our knowledge about the strategic, operational and tactical side of customer experience so that attendees know what to do next, why and how in order to bring about quick but lasting change.

We always say that the right customer experiences and obsessive attention to the basics helps create the holy grail of differentiation – it was time to put our money where our mouth is and do things a little bit differently.WallaceSpace

In the week leading up to the seminar, I spoke with each delegate individually.  I wanted to understand more about their motivations for attending, why now was the right time, what their challenges were and what they wanted out of the day.  It meant that the seminar would only cover relevant ground.

A similar discussion happens in the weeks after the seminar;  I speak to, or visit, everyone who attended (with their teams if it’s appropriate) and talk about how they are getting on implementing what they learnt within their organisation.

But for the day itself, the last thing we wanted was a “turn up and be talked at” windowless conference in the bowels of an obscure hotel somewhere.  We’ve all been there and we all don’t like it.

Our location of choice was WallaceSpace in Covent Garden.  It’s an old chandelier factory but has been turned into the most fantastic venue – light and airy, calm but funky, relaxed but professional.  We could have found somewhere else, but our basic expectations are for a good environment in which people can learn and be thought-provoking.  Windows, fresh coffee, an energetic vibe, sofas for break-out sessions and friendly staff are not much to ask but are a lot to be without.  If they did an NPS survey on our delegates and us, they’d be getting 9s and 10s.me talking

At a pace everyone was comfortable with, we explored the Why, What and How of mapping customer journeys.  Why is customer experience important to a business strategy?  Attendees were shown the consequences of having – and not having – prioritised activity based on creating a clear line of sight from what the customer experience should be, though the customer strategy, brand strategy, business objectives and to the reason the business exists in the first place.

What do we do next? The middle section was the nuts and bolts of journey mapping; about proven methods, robust frameworks and reliable measurement to give fact-based insights about what needs changing.  And the final piece, How do we make change happen? looked at how to be organised with the right governance structure and examples of how companies are working internally to bring their customer experiences to life.

Yes, I’m blowing our own trumpet a little but it’s coming from a position of genuine pride in how we do what we do and not sales-led arrogance.  The feedback we had plays a better tune anyway, and so here are some of the comments (and not just because of the moleskin notepad and sweets we provided!)

“Enthused. Educated in a practical approach”  SD

“Excited to go back to base and spread the word”  RS

“Informative and a clear, concise strategy and framework on how to map the customer journey and the importance and benefits of doing so”  HT

“Content – spot on. Learned some great tips & techniques to help me embark on my own journey”  DH

“Felt inspired by the knowledge shared. Allowed me to think about the bigger picture and generate ideas”  GF

 

Did we lead by example? Well, these comments suggest we got a lot of things right but we’re also very aware that there’s always room for improvement as that bar of expectations edges ever higher.  The proof will be in the way of thinking and in the ability of these customer experience practitioners to go back to their office and understand the journeys they themselves and their company are on;  to understand the journey their customers and colleagues are on and then to talk with authority and credibility within and across functions to bring about the change their organisation needs.

And not least, there’s a huge opportunity to be recognised as the one who is the catalyst for creating greater value from having the right customer focus; not a bad conversation to have in the year-end performance reviews.

We’ll be running the seminar programme again soon so tell us if it’s something you’d be interested in.  But also let us know what you think about the best and worst events you’ve attended and why. It will be great to hear your thoughts on leading by example.

Jerry

+44 (0) 7917 718 072

www.empathyce.com

 

For improving customer experiences I’d rather have Right Data than Big Data

On my first day of my first proper job in the UK they called me “New York”.  Not because I was energetic, intriguing or that I never slept but because, when it took me a while to understand what was apparently an hilarious corporate joke, I was – in their words – “five hours behind”.

And many (very many) years later, so it seemed with my understanding of what has been given the label of Big Data.  I see it written about everywhere, something that self-proclaimed experts talk of as the latest critical key to a sustainable business.  However, I seemed to have missed the briefing about what exactly it was and why it was apparently so vital to our future existence.  The cynic in me was muttering about new clothes and Emperors but also part of me didn’t want to miss out, just in case…

Recently then, I was looking forward to catching up with the rest of the world and be able to converse like an insider when it comes to the subject of big data.  Within the space of a week, I had the privilege of chairing a retail analytics event in London and speaking at a conference in Barcelona on creating efficient airports through a focus on customer experience.

What was clear from both is an insatiable appetite for more data.  What is less clear is whether the ability to capture and analyse more and more information is generating the contextual knowledge that businesses need to bring about the change their own business plans demand.

Never before have we had this amount of information available at our fingertips.  True, it means that where once we relied on modelling and forecasting from a small amount of transactional data, we can now reduce the risk by removing the need for so many assumptions.  But does that automatically mean we have the right knowledge to support our business and customer strategy?

For airports, efficiency is everything but that can come dangerously close to putting passengers’ real needs in the blind spot.  Research I’ve carried out shows that customers in an airport put cleanliness, friendly staff and clear signage at the top of the list of the things they value. And yet, they rarely make it to the Exec team’s dashboard.  People do have a choice and they do go to the next airport if their expectations is one of an experience they are no longer prepared to tolerate.

It is unfair to single out airports; many organisations in many markets become (admittedly sometimes unintentionally) very metric-led.  Balanced scorecards thrive on them but it easily drives the wrong behaviours.  Vendors at the airport conference proclaimed that their products offer – and I quote – “first-class passenger processing”.  There was a sense that if it moves it can be processed, if it can be processed we can bar-code and measure it and if it can be measured we can create more metrics to grow our pile of data.

Take, for example, the “How was it for you?” array of good / ok / bad buttons having just gone through airport security.  It’s data in the making but on its own, apart from regulatory reporting, for what real purpose?  If 100% of people hit the red “It was bad” button, how can the airport know what to do differently without any supporting qualitative information?  Depending on how you look at it, while this piece of data adds to the big picture, it is either a costly activity with little return or a missed opportunity as the infrastructure is there anyway.

In the retail world, the amount of transactional information is certainly impressive.  One Turkish supermarket chain had made a huge success of it.  What is worrying though, is the apparent disconnect between all this data and business improvement.  When I asked the retail analytics delegates what value their work adds to the business, there were puzzled looks and absolute silence.  Slightly surprised, I then asked how they would respond if their CEO asked how the data they present helps achieve the business plan.  Eyes down, awkward shuffling and more silence.

Does this mean that in our relentless surge to generate bigger and bigger data because we can, not only are we making it more difficult to sift out the right information but that we’re losing sight of why we’re collecting any information in the first place?

A piece of research just released talked about the gap between companies’ intended customer experience programme and their lack of effective implementation.  One reason may be that the quest to understand everything about everything and to amass oceans of data has overshadowed the importance of having the skills to find the right information and how to be organised to then do something about it.

There was another corporate saying that took me a while to understand.  It was the one about “Don’t boil the ocean”.  We couldn’t anyway back then but metaphorically, maybe now we can.

That said, just because we can, still doesn’t mean we should.

 

 

 

 

Would changing the name from Customer Experience to Customer Memories make us better prepared?

We have Customer Service;  it’s what companies do to or for their customers.  We have Customer Experience;  you could say it’s what it’s really like to be on the receiving end of the service.  Done the right way though, understanding all that gives us powerful information.

Yet there is also a risk that our focus on the here-and-now can give us a distorted view of the very thing we’re trying to improve;  the likelihood of our best customers coming back, spending more and telling everyone else to do the same.

When we’re about to buy something, it’s basic human behaviour to recall what it was like last time and then to decide whether or not we go ahead or go somewhere else.  We dip into our memory bank to make the right decision, based on what happened back then and what we’ve heard and learnt since then.

But as far as organisations are concerned, I’ve seen that over the last few years the focus has been increasingly on the experience or service that is given to a customer today, more so than the impact that last experience has when it comes to the next purchase.  There are subtle, but important, differences.106

The point is, when we’re about to choose, use, buy or sign-up, it’s our memory that will determine whether we stay “loyal” or we try elsewhere.  Customer advocacy has its place, don’t get me wrong.  But while the wow factors were front of mind when I did that customer survey the day after I last had anything to do with the company, twelve months on I might have a stronger recall of the lacklustre service I’ve had since.

The term “Customer Experience” has served markets very well in raising the bar of how businesses treat their customers.  But internally, organisations have struggled and still do so today with what Customer Experience is.  Is it a new fluffy label from Marketing for what everyone knows as Customer Service?  Or a strategic way of thinking? Absent any real customer-based, cross-functional objectives “We do that already” is a common riposte, along with “It’s too expensive” and “Where’s the benefit?”.

Every organisation has a customer experience whether they know it or not and that may be one of the reasons why it doesn’t get the attention internally that it deserves.  Giving a jolt to the system and talking about influencing Customer Memories demands a different perspective; the future poking a stick at the past.  It’s like asking “What can we do that will increase the chances of you buying again?” instead of “What should we have done that would have prevented you from being really hacked off?”.  A story about horses, gates and bolting comes to mind.

Arguably, the higher the value of the purchase the less frequently we buy and therefore by definition, the time between one purchase and the next can be significant.  I’m no psychologist, but even if it’s a more regular or ad-hoc purchase I know our memories and perceptions change over time.  I might have had a hassle-free experience and at the time was a real fan, but if I’ve since heard other stories or there’s been a change in my circumstances, my attitude or needs may be completely different.  That customer feedback I gave last time is no longer relevant but unless the company asks me again just before I choose next time, they will be acting on the wrong information.

Whether we’re renewing an annual contract, buying a holiday, a car, clothes or using professional services, at that specific point in time the thing that determines what we do next is what our memory tells it was like last time;  not how likely we were to recommend the company to someone else one day after we last did the same thing.

In the name of Customer Experience, organisations understandably have an insatiable appetite to canvas opinions within days, minutes or even as it happens.  That information is used as a proxy for brand strength and to forecast the likelihood of repurchases.  But if that repurchase is weeks, months even years away, how accurate can it be?  It’s obviously easier to ask a customer how it was just after they’ve been in touch as there is a definitive trigger point for feedback.   Just because the timing of the next interaction is harder to predict though, that shouldn’t stop us seeking such valuable information.

It seems to make sense then that we should, in addition or as an alternative, track what a customer feels and thinks much closer to the point at which they make their next decision.  We would still keep the metric-obsessed folk happy with a quantitative score in answer to a question such as “Based on what you remember about last time, are you likely / not sure / unlikely to use us next time?”.

Importantly though, we would also still get the gilt-edged qualitative information about what can be reinforced at that pre-purchase point in time and not afterwards when it might be too late.  And it would still be the case that if we get the experience right, the metrics will look after themselves, not the other way around.

It’s great to see customer strategy and customer experience being discussed in the Board Room.  In the main however, there is still a focus on what customers say just after purchase or the “experience”.  By the time the customer is in a position to make a choice next time, the things that drive that new decision may be very different and are purely in the memory.

And I for one would give ten out of ten for tapping into that.

 

B2B or B2C, it’s all P2P to me

In an age of big data and a seemingly endless capacity to produce and absorb information, one could be forgiven for believing that the end of the TLA, the three-letter acronym, is nigh.  It should be, particularly for the subject of this piece, but for different reasons.

Popping up everywhere in emails and presentations, these TLAs quench our thirst to save time and effort by cutting short the unnecessary detail.  And while they have a place, the complacency of their continued existence with no challenge as to what they are shorthand for, hides humbling messages for those leading customer agendas.

In following the well-trodden path of segmentation protocol, the terms B2C and B2B have been adopted to help define target audiences and brand positioning.  Fair enough.  You might want Mrs Angrave to renew her mobile phone contract with you or you might be providing the software to the mobile phone company to facilitate said renewal.

By definition though, segmentation is built on a specific set of needs and therefore must change too if the needs of that segment change.

Yet despite everyone saying the world is changing in front of our eyes, our beloved segmentation model of B2B and B2C is cast in reinforced concrete – and therefore, worryingly, so too can be our thinking.

The biggest of these changes is, ironically, simply the re-emergence of something we’ve known for years;  that people buy from people.  And while that has been the guiding light in the B2C world, the same should apply in the B2B sector.

Take but one classic B2B example.  A law firm pitching their services to an industrial giant might focus on having been in business for 100 years, having 200 highly qualified lawyers to call on and having the flexibility (depending on how you look at it) to bill by the hour.

The general counsel on the receiving end of that spiel though is a real person, having their own real-life experiences and interactions.  Their favourite restaurant makes them feel welcome, nothing is too much trouble.  Last week on the anniversary of moving house, they had a pleasant surprise when their estate agent sent a new battery for the smoke alarm.  And, using a tablet on the train into work today, they sorted out a problem with their online banking, wrote several emails and booked a table at that restaurant, again.

The point is, although they work for a huge business, they are nonetheless consumers themselves who live in the real world.  That is where their benchmarking will stem from. So going back to that law firm pitch, the number of years in business and the number of partners is largely irrelevant.  Would that turn a consumer’s head if it were the USP (there we go again) plastered on the window of a high street store?  I think not.

It’s about relevancy.  Imagine that when the GC got home last night, a local locksmith had to be called out to fix a jammed lock.  So today, why wouldn’t they expect a law firm to be at least as responsive.  The pitch is to a person, not the robotic facade of an organisation.

They are putting their personal reputation on the line by hiring us so they will want confidence that the right people are there to do the job, that whoever does the pitch remains the main contact and that the law firm will spend time (and not charge for it) to really understand them and their issues.  And the less we say about billable hours the better.

It’s important because they are the ones who need convincing we are going to do a great job for them.  If they are not fully on board, they are hardly going to be in a position to win-over the procurement team, let alone the CEO.

Sticking with a B2B mindset then, carries a potentially critical flaw.  I therefore suggest we all ditch the acronym B2B and replace it with P2P – people to people.

In fact, I’d strongly advocate we go one stage further.  It shouldn’t matter who the customer is, simply drop the acronyms and instead focus on building the right buyer experiences around what’s important to them and what’s important to your business.

Until next time, TTFN.

Customer experiences highlight the danger of businesses taking relationships for granted

The sage advice “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” needs no introduction but it clearly infers that one party is more needy than the other.

It’s a sentiment that’s always been true in a commercial context since the earliest days of trading.  In today’s world though, while the business side is becoming increasingly reliant, the experience they present in search of short-term results can push their customers away rather than bringing them closer.  What’s worse, is that it’s especially magnified – not to say ironic – when the hand that’s doing the feeding has made a commitment, with the inevitable result that the business gets dropped and the customer turns away to move indifferently on.

The very mention of a “relationship” conjures up different meanings to different people yet it is a ubiquitous byword for underpinning success.  Our focus on customer experience, on what it’s really like to do business, is helping to explain why that potential misunderstanding can have serious consequences.Customer Experience vs Customer Service

Let’s be honest, it is really only the organisation that wants or even talks about the proverbial relationship.  The P&L and share price are much more dependent on their customer than the other way around.  At its core, it means that the client simply plays along until a better offer appears or they have reason to suspect a lack of value, trust or respect.

What is intended by one party as a commitment to be in it for the long-haul can be seen by the other as an opportunity to take advantage of, worrying about tomorrow, tomorrow.  Harsh?  Well, customer experience feedback is showing that even where – or because – a client does commit, they are made to feel that the business is a bit too needy, being greedy, embracing the relationship with the grace of a pick-pocketing bear-hug.

Whether necessitated by the economic environment, organisational complacency or driven by the personal short-term agendas of those in charge, there are signs emerging where such conditions serve only to increase the likelihood of a customer choosing an alternative next time, defeating the point of a business creating the relationship in the first place.

To illustrate the point let’s take two examples.

Firstly, legal services.  There are many law firms and other B2B companies who are exemplary at managing their client experiences and will do so for a long time.  There are some however, who, having worked hard to win a new contract, will try to extract as much revenue from that arrangement as quickly as possible because it might not be there in three years when it’s due to be renewed.

Patently, that short-term approach of ignoring what clients really value – things like charging hourly rates for what should be fixed-price work, showing a lack of understanding and having nasty surprises or a lack of information on invoices – is a self-fulfilling prophecy and will actually make sure the client will not renew in three years.  At best there won’t be a happy exchange of testimonials and worse, the client may pull the plug before the contract expires and explain why to all of their contacts.

Secondly, rail operators.  One would think that securing a fixed-term franchise is great news, and it should be.  A foot in the door for all those future contracts too.  But reading passenger reviews of one particular rail company in the UK reveals evidence that one person’s short-term is another’s long-term.  Investors rightly expect a return on their investment but those behind the franchise operators may have tipped the balance in extracting so much jam today that they now risk having no bread and butter tomorrow.

If their trains are filled with more people than there are seats, is it because their passenger experience is so good or because there’s a coach missing as a result of cheaper but longer maintenance schedules?  Or, that they don’t care about charging full price to stand for an hour in a draughty, noisy place?Mind the gap between Service and Experience

For some, the basic but unmet needs of reliability and cleanliness are still objectives and talking points for franchises rather than being the norm.  And, despite broadband wi-fi being available everywhere from my local café to an Airbus A380, we were told yesterday that rail companies in the UK should be able to offer wi-fi by 2019.  I know that’s more of a capital-intensive offering than getting staff to smile but still, 2019?

So, while some operators have fans rather than passengers, why is it that others are failing?  The word on the seats about this one major operator is that service has not improved noticeably since the franchise began – there are still broken doors on carriages and paid-for extras don’t materialise.  Even worried staff are saying everything’s on hold until (if) it is renewed, due in a year.  It’s easy to see how even just an ‘ok’ service then in turn breeds a shared cynicism;  it is also believed, rightly or wrongly, that a key metric in that renewal pitch is on-time arrivals – something that’s easy to achieve high scores on if you’re also in control of the timetable.

We know that with the right experiences, customers will choose to come back next time and it is that – the accumulation of many very short-term affirmations – which gives longevity to what businesses see as the elusive relationship.

So even where a contract, commitment or lack of choice exists, the company being fed would do well to act as if there is no long-term nature, no assumption about next time.

Their customers don’t make rash assumptions or see it that way;  what they do see is that on the other end of the hand that is doing the feeding they also have a pair of legs, ready to run at the first sign of a bite to a more appreciative recipient…