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Is now an appropriate time to Spring-clean our Customer Experience programmes?

People in Customer Experience roles are an energetic, passionate bunch. They are also resilient and persevere. Nonetheless, in the last few days I’ve been approached by a couple of Customer Experience teams who are feeling a little lost right now. They were asking for examples of practical things they could be doing in these uncharted times.

Of course the wider context is that many friends and colleagues have been laid off, furloughed or have been assigned to other roles for the foreseeable future. It may, understandably, be the least of your or their priorities right now. Our collective health and well-being is what matters right now.

But, if you are in a Customer Experience role and your thoughts turn to making the best of a bad situation, I hope these suggestions may help a little. It’s based on my own experience and on what I hear others are doing. Please add your thoughts to the LinkedIn post on what else you are focusing on.

Customer engagement

There have been some great examples of how businesses are acknowledging that we’ve suddenly entered a very different and uncertain world. They are sincere and not making a thinly-disguised sales pitch. Your Sales or Marketing team may be under severe pressure to wring out every last revenue opportunity; if that’s the case at least get them to be very transparent and honest. We’re all customers in our own right and we’ll remember how we were treated through this period.

We’ll remember we felt in the UK when we heard the National Trust was opening the doors to its parks and grounds for free. It was a necessarily short-lived but hugely well-intended gesture. We appreciate supermarkets telling us what they’re doing and how we can help them help us. We doff our hat to people like Joe Wicks who give us exercise classes every morning for free. But we’ll also remember what we thought of Sports Direct when the leaderships team tried to make a case that they were essential and must stay open for business.

Employee experience

There are tough times all round at the moment. If you haven’t lost your own job, chances are you know someone who has. Sparks of positivity can easily get smothered in a blanket of uncertainty.

More than ever before we must look out for each other. A quick call, an email or text just to check-in. In the work context, keep spirits up by sharing stories, reliving examples of brilliant customer experiences. Keep talking about what made / makes your organisation different and special.

Draw out the positives from the current situation such as creativity and camaraderie but don’t ignore the signs of people who might be struggling.

Beyond that, engage as best you can, asking them what they need from you as leaders, what would make them (even) prouder, how would they improve communications and what tools, focus or information do they need to deliver the right customer experiences.

Review VoC and Metrics

Now is not the time for process audits disguised as customer surveys. It never has been. There are many positives to be coming out of this situation especially around humanity, kindness and creativity but if it helps rid us of pointless ‘surveys’ that’s no bad thing either. For most companies it’s not really practical any more to ask “How was it?” or “You’d recommend us, right?”

More so than ever before, customers have questions even if they are not buying.  We need to listen and listen-up well. How can you adapt your listening posts to ask customers what they need from you? How are you reviewing your understanding and reporting? If you’re not doing so already, close that loop; let customers know you’ve had their feedback and what you’re doing about it.

With one eye on the future, review your complete Voice of the Customer programme and think about what you ask customers, how you ask them and what you’ll do with what they tell you. Be clear on why you are asking any questions. Do you make your customers wade through 15 questions about income, postcode and their favourite film, before asking them what the experience was like and why, just to satisfy a hunger for data?

There may also now be an opportunity to set up that customer panel you’ve always wanted; another way of keeping customers engaged.

And once the CX Vision and Strategy is defined, will you carry on measuring the same stuff because it’s easy? Or, can you switch to measuring the things customers value the most and that are aligned to delivering on the strategy? Why measure advocacy rates to three decimal places when the strategic vision is, for example, all about making things more convenient and friendly? Why not plan to measure and report on those things aswell/instead? Is it a convenient time to shake off the obsession with the numbers and get the leadership team to focus instead on the qualitative drivers.

It might also be the time to address the persistent “what’s the ROI of customer experience?” question. Engage the boffins to see if they can calculate the correlation between better experiences, higher lifetime values and commercial performance indicators.

Personal development

Keeping match fit in terms of thinking and planning is essential right now. We need to hit the ground running when we come out of this or put ourselves in a prime position to secure a new role.

Look at what other companies are doing to stay engaged with their customers and learn from the good and the mistakes. There are plenty of resources, podcasts and discussion forums such as those from Ian Golding, Jeanne Bliss and the CXPA. And of course, CX competency coaching and for the CCXP exam is still available remotely if you’re looking for a professional qualification.

As CX professionals it’s essential we have a commercial leaning in our conversations and actions. So snuggle up to your Financial or Commercial team to see what their challenges are, how the business makes its money and what language they use. Share a virtual cup of coffee with a Programme Manager to see how best to get the customers’ perspectives into decision-making. Spend time with the analysts to understand how they turn data into insight so you’re better positioned to challenge their thinking and pre-empt questions you may get from the Board.

Stakeholder management

In a similar vein to the personal development, get in touch with the leaders of your organisation, colleagues in other functions or third-party partners you’ve always meant to engage with but always had an excuse not to.

Understand their role and challenges. Help them understand the value of having a focus on Customer Experience. Invite them to be part of your workshops and updates and welcome them into gang of internal CX champions.  Nurturing those relationships now will pay dividends in the weeks and months to come when initiating the connections may be harder to do.

Journey Mapping

If you’ve not done any journey mapping before it’s an insightful eye-opener and story-finder.  It can still be done remotely. It may lack the immersive nature of onsite workshops and ethnographic studies but the output will be better than doing nothing. It’s a great way for people across the business and partners to come together and learn more about their own organisation. Make sure that once you’ve looked at things from a customer persona’s perspective, you have the clarity of direction and governance to prioritise what should be done next.

If you’ve already carried out journey mapping, now is maybe the time to look at those micro-journeys or other personas. For example, an airport might look at what it’s like for a family to arrive at 3am in the pouring rain, what happens when bags are lost or flights are diverted. A housing association or local council might review the journey of someone who’s reported a faulty door lock. Or a SaaS company may map the journey of its own Customer Success managers.

CX Maturity Assessment

This takes a real step back from the day-to-day business to contemplate your customer centricity. Seek views from colleagues on whether they know what the CX vision is and whether they’re clear about the role they can play. If there’s not a CX vision then prepare one as part of the CX Strategy – how good do you want to be and how committed are you? What does that look like on a day-to-day basis? What will you always do and never do?

Is the brand promise to “put customers at the heart of everything we do” just convenient rhetoric we have no intention of, or ability to, deliver on?

It’s also worth reviewing your internal governance, the beating heart of your CX programme. Were the right people involved and did it have a strong mandate? Was it working effectively and cross-functionally in prioritising and assigning actions? Was it good at finding practical ways of sharing stories throughout the organisation and bringing it all to life internally? What leaderships behaviours were present or absent in supporting the customer-led goals?

Future planning

There’s clearly a crisis to get through first and it may seem a little odd to plan for a new normal when we’ve no idea quite what that will look like.

Nonetheless, history teaches us that we will recover and will be back up and running at some point. When that time comes, we don’t want to sit there looking at our competitors with envy and wishing we’d thought of that, wishing we’d made better use of our time. What can we do in future that is right for us and our customers? How can we change things and innovate in a way that means our competitors will be looking to us with envy?

The commercial reality is that the companies who stand the best chance of survival are not just the ones who are financially, strategically and operationally well-managed. They also have loyal customers and emotionally-engaging relationships. They empathise with how they fit into their customers’ lives and give customers no reason to go anywhere else.

There’s nothing to say something like the virus won’t hit again and there is no shortage of evidence to show the positive commercial impact of better customer experiences. So when the dust settles, organisations will look to have absolute clarity of direction and to strengthen the customer experience as a way protect themselves against any future such events. The Zappos mindset – “We’re in the people business, we just happen to sell shoes” is one that many more organisations will need to replicate in times to come.

 

It is not an exhaustive list but I hope it helps is some small way. Please add your thoughts about what else are you doing or plan to do between now and when things return to some kind of normality.

But as I said at the start, I’m very aware that many friends and colleagues are losing their jobs or changes at work mean much of this may be academic. My thoughts go out to you. We will get through it. I know that when we have to dig deep it’s surprising how deep we can go. In the coming days and weeks there will be opportunities to regroup, reset and reboot.

The global community of CX professionals is fantastic at sharing and caring and it’s great to know they are out there. In that spirit, if I can be a sounding board for any questions around customer experience do let me know – message me on LinkedIn or email [email protected]

 

When the sales experience falls into, rather than bridges, the gap

Depending on your definition of a customer, their experience starts well before they actually buy anything.

It might be what they’ve heard from others or what they’ve seen in the news. But if the brand comes knocking on their door that first impression is also a critical experience. Many get it right because it’s based on a real empathy with those they are trying to engage with.

However, it’s not always the case. Absent a clear customer experience strategy, what we think do as a business often looks very different when looked at from the customers’ perspectives.

 

For example, if any CEO is wondering why their Sales teams are not getting better results, maybe a quick look at how their initial engagement makes yet-to-be customers feel will give some big clues.

The quotes below are all real examples I’ve had in my inbox just this last week. There are others and I’m sure you’ll have your own ‘favourites’.

They are not trying to sell me something I don’t want. In fact, I could be interested. Just not with them. If I was ever asked for feedback about the Sales experience (a rare thing indeed), it might go along these lines:

  • Putting “Our 9am meeting” in the subject heading doesn’t spur me into replying out of panic.  Sorry to burst your bubble Sales folk, but changing it to “Our 10am meeting” in the follow-up really doesn’t make any difference either.
  • Saying “I’ve tried to reach you” is just lying – technology is quite good these days so I know if you’ve tried to get in touch as often as you claim. And when your colleagues use the same line every week, several times a week, it becomes very transparent.
  • Gasping “I can’t believe you’ve not signed up yet” and “I’d hate for you to miss out” is at best patronising and lacks any sincerity.
  • What’s more, should I be interested a reply to the email will go into a generic mailbox, not to the person who is (presumably) trying to create a relationship. It just shouts even louder about how you really don’t care if I get back in touch or not.

Does somebody seriously believe this type of approach is going to create an experience I want to repeat, share and pay a premium for? If these companies had any genuine interest in what I do and how they might help me achieve success, they’d look at their Sales activity as a meaningful experience not a bullying, volume-led, can’t-really-give-a-**** transaction.

I often come across businesses who fear the Sales team always over-promise because of the way they are rewarded. They then disappear off the face of the planet while everyone else tries to rally-round, clearing up the mess to deliver something close to an unrealistic promise.

On the flip-side, maybe the Sales team is frustrated that everyone else can’t keep up. Maybe they’re just doing what they’ve been told is best. But to create a first impression experience that is confrontational, misleading and deceitful creates no trust, no relationship. No commission.

They say the experience on the outside reflects the culture inside and they’re right. In the middle of a busy day, to be on the receiving end of these type of messages says heaps about what it must be like to work there. No clear strategy, just a numbers game where some very talented people will be wilting under the stress.

Intended or not, what they are saying to me is that it’s clear their focus is just on revenue, not on me as a potential customer. They don’t care if I buy or not, there are plenty more fishes in the sea. Friend and colleague Ian Golding wrote about a similar mindset very recently in this blog.

These companies are not some anonymous outfit in a far-off land that’s acquired an email list; often they are large, global businesses who should know what they are doing. These companies will make some money for sure but that short-term approach breeds complacency and stores up problems for down the line.

If they applied a dose of customer experience thinking they could, however, make a whole lot more money. If only they didn’t push their potential customers away before they’ve even got close.

 

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Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you enjoyed it and found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in Customer Experience roles do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional), a CX consultant and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation.

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718072

Lessons in how to embed Customer Experience

At the recent CXPA networking event in London hosted by Pen CX, the world of the CX professional was thrown into the spotlight. I wanted to share thoughts from two of the presenters, who reminded us of some of the practical yet vitally important things we need to do to bring about the right change.

First, Ali Lawrie, Head of Customer Experience at Akzo Nobel, owners of the Dulux paint brand among others. Ali talked about the challenges of bringing the customer agenda to the fore in a B2B organisation which, understandably, has had a keen focus on technical product development and the sales supply chain.

A lesson she’d learned early on was to not underestimate the time it takes to win stakeholders round where they have their own priorities. Perseverance and resilience are essential qualities of the CX practitioner.

It’s time well-spent though and an investment that pays dividends. Getting the attention was also helped in no small part by demonstrating the reality of today’s experience using customer verbatims.

To see a metric that says customers are waiting three minutes for a call to be answered may not be a catalyst for instant transformation.  But hearing the direct impact on the customer, who might be an architect about to see a key client or a hospital property manager reaching out for some quick advice, expressed in their words with the emotion that goes with it, is infinitely more powerful.

Furthermore, it can show how a company’s brand and advertising is potentially being wasted because the experience does not deliver the promise of (a variant of) “We put customers first”. It’s a valuable and necessary conversation to have with the Marketing team.

Journey mapping provided many of the insights for Ali and those exercises also created six key stages of the experience, each now represented by an icon. Bringing to life the customer experience is at the heart of an effective CX programme and so the more visible it is the better. Sharing the icons and explaining the stages now references any activity to a specific part of the journey, has helped engage and involve colleagues and makes communications clearer.

Empathyce

Your CX momentum will take off, eventually

Creating a stronger business by using Customer Experience thinking will not happen without complete engagement right across the business. To engage not just those who are customer-facing but also those who are back-office or in management roles is a big stretch for many fledgling CX teams,.

So Ali’s advice is to spread the message and create movement from within through the extended use of CX champions – finding people from all parts of the business who take an interest, want to be part of the movement and see it as a good development opportunity. They will be the eyes and ears of CX inside and across the proverbial silos.

Mike Bellis of Pen CX and formerly of Pfizer, then reflected on how he changed his approach to win people round. “I started by highlighting issues that were affecting customers and trying to get them fixed, but this was seen as creating new problems within the organisation rather than trying to fix those which were perceived to be there already”.

As this approach wasn’t developing very much engagement, Mike quickly changed tack. The new approach was to understand internal stakeholders’ issues first and then show how a focus on Customer Experience could help overcome them. Before long he was everyone’s best friend. The momentum grew as colleagues from around the globe came knocking on his door for his methodologies and thinking.

 

Anyone who works as a CX professional will know how hard these things are to do. It’s therefore reassuring to hear that with persistence they can still make a difference.

As Mike Bellis summarised, “In principle, Customer Experience is simple. It doesn’t mean it’s easy though”.

Thanks to Ali and Mike, also to Neil Sharp of Pen CX for organising and hosting the event.

If you’ve any thoughts on what can be done at a practical level to help a business become more customer-centric, please share them!

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Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in Customer Experience roles do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation. I founded Empathyce after a long career in CX and Marketing roles and am now a consultant and trainer. I give CX professionals the skills, tools and confidence to be the ones to drive their Customer Experience efforts forward.

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718072

 

Customer Experience says mind your own business

So we now know that United breaks customers as well as guitars.

customer experience risks, customer experience consultancy, customer experience trainingKnowing how your business treats its paying customers is one thing; understanding the impact it has on them is quite another. If the organisation is focused primarily on operational logistics, load factors and revenue per mile then such practices are going to be carried out regardless.

But, there’s a real disconnect when, as the airline states, it wants to be a leader in the industry and its goal is “to make every flight a positive experience”.  I doubt anyone at United has set out to design a customer journey that involves losing blood and teeth but comments by CEO Oscar Munoz, that it will prove a “watershed moment”, acknowledge the need to be much more aware of the unintended consequences of how they operate.

 

United’s most recent problem was exacerbated because they had too many people wanting to be on that flight. At the other end of the spectrum is a UK-based airline whose problems appear to arise when there are too few passengers. Bruce Temkin recently published a report into the best and worst customer experience companies in the UK. One of the brands towards the bottom of his list is a well-known regional airline. For years the word on the street (and I can vouch for the experience) is that they have a reputation for delaying or cancelling flights. At the gate, the message is that the aircraft has a technical problem but anecdotally passengers say it often coincides with less-than-full flights. Such is the regularity of schedule changes that many now choose an alternative route and carrier if they really, really need to get from city A to city B at the agreed time.

It must be hard for loyal employees to take the criticism and yet the practice continues. Maybe it’s a cost-led strategy rather than customer-led, which is fine if that’s your choice of how to fly. Maybe.

 

A few months ago I was presenting research findings back to a Board. It wasn’t all good news. “That was spectacularly uncomfortable to hear” – the words of a Chief Marketing Officer in response to learning what his customers really thought. Thinking I was about to be shown the door, his comment was followed by “Thank you for telling us, we needed to hear it”.

That conversation stuck in my mind, serving as a warning bell about complacency; if we don’t understand our business from our customers’ perspective how do we know we’re anywhere near where we think we are? We do, absolutely, need to mind our own business.

 

I love facilitating customer journey mapping workshops. Not least, because I always ask for people to share stories about great and awful experiences they’ve had. Sadly, when it comes to bad experiences it’s often the same brands who crop up time after time.

One of those is energy company npower. I’m one of their customers and to be fair, I haven’t had a bad experience with them until now. I do, however, expect anyone in business to get the basics – such as my bills – right. But after my own first tangible experience, amplified by their reputation for customer service, I’m now heading for the switch button.

I’m a dual-fuel customer so I get two annual statements through the post – one electricity and one gas (I had asked for e-statements but that hasn’t been actioned, that’s another story). It’s a weighty envelope so I assume they’ve stuffed it full of newsletters, offers and new terms and conditions. Inside are indeed two annual statements but then each has an exact duplicate. Not only that but there is a third duplicate of each where the only difference on that version is that the amounts are all set to nil.

So if anyone at npower is wondering why their costs are heading in the opposite and wrong direction to their customer satisfaction scores there’s a big clue, right there. How do you do that? In 2017 how do you get it so wrong? I’m assuming they don’t know as I’ve had nothing by way of apology or clarification. But then if they are not so customer-centric in the first place maybe I shouldn’t expect anything.

 

In a meeting with a subscription services provider recently I was asking about how processes worked. For customers who turn up, buy and go again, everyone was all over it with metrics galore. But enter the world of the ‘What-if’ scenario and things rapidly became less clear. “If I’m this sort of customer, can I do this?”. “Do I need to do that first or do you do that for your customers automatically and if so, do they know that?” “What does this bit mean?”. And so on, all met with lots of “Umm…” and “I think…”.

I make no apology for mentioning again an example of one of the most head-the-sand cases I’ve come across. A utility company I did some work for had, according to its leadership team, very high employee engagement. It followed that while they believed their processes could be better the problem wasn’t their people. On investigation, it transpired the people were totally and utterly disengaged. They didn’t care about fixing customers’ problems and did just enough to get by. They were intelligent people but were fighting a lost cause. If they met someone in a pub who asked where they work, they were more likely to say they were unemployed or make something up than admit to working at the brand. They’d told management time and time again what was going wrong but nothing had been done. And the reason why the employee engagement score was so high was because they deliberately ticked the 10/10 box, thinking that if they didn’t say they were fully engaged they wouldn’t get a bonus. The leadership team had no idea of the extent of the true levels of engagement.

 

And that’s the point. When we take an operationally-led view we know where we think we’re at because we’ve built the processes, plugged in our systems and measured what we think is right. But look at the same processes from a customer’s perspective and we have a very different view of our world.

If we don’t know our own business, we can’t be confident about understanding how we are making our customers feel. They determine what a customer will do next and how they’ll talk about us to others. It has a real commercial impact and so we need to understand both the experience and the consequence.

We should, literally, mind our own business before our customers are the ones who bump us off.

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Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in Customer Experience roles do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation. I founded Empathyce after a long career in CX and Marketing roles and am now a consultant and trainer. I give CX professionals the skills, tools and confidence to be the ones to drive their Customer Experience efforts forward.

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718072

 

Who hangs around longer: complacent employees or valuable customers?

In the world we live in it seems to be very easy to over-complicate things; to make a cottage industry out of lots of stuff.  Inside a large corporate recently I saw a project managed by several highly-paid people whose goal was to document all the organisation’s other projects.

So it’s not surprising that when people talk about customer experience there are some who roll their eyes and want to get back to their day-job.  It’s seen as interfering with running their bit of the business. Or it’s too expensive and “we’ve got more important things to worry about”.  They’re the ones who will say, “It’s ok, we’re making money, we’ve got customers, why do anything differently?”…042

Ian Golding wrote an emotional blog last month about why Ritz Carlton has the reputation and repeat business it does.  Yes, Ritz Carlton is at the premium end of hotel accommodation but the core of the experiences they offer is not expensive; it’s a mind-set and an attitude that’s as easily and as effectively adopted by a hotel chain as a telecoms business, utility or a local café.

The point is that not only does it cost very little, the flip-side is that leaving such basics untendered can cost huge amounts in revenue, profit and customer loyalty. Putting a poster on the wall, a powerpoint slide or a statement on the website proclaiming that “We put customers at the heart of everything we do” is easy.  It’s not easy to do but it’s not impossible either.

At the risk of being accused of being a grumpy old man take, for example, common courtesies.  A “Thank you” here and a “Please” there.  Are they a consistent part of our customer experiences? They often won’t feature in any journey mapping exercise because they are so basic.  Of course that happens all the time, doesn’t it?

I know it’s not the case for two very well-known food retailers.  One sets out its stall to “give excellent customer service with an emotional benefit that feels good and feels right”.  The other has “a renewed focus on the consumer …to achieve success”.  The reality though is somewhat different.

I live in an urban area where I’m lucky to have had these two chains within walking distance for many years.  Despite the high turnover of staff in that time, by and large the people have always been polite.  In both stores though, things have changed and increasingly the people there are rude and contemptuous.  They are not offensive, but there is the impression of complete disinterest.

Where once we would get “That’s £5.10 please” followed by “Thank you” as they hand me my change, I now hand over my goods and get an impatient look back.  Apparently, I’m magically supposed to know exactly how much I owe them without them telling me or moving the lottery cards stand out of the way so I can see the display on the till.  Having had to ask what I owe, the change is unceremoniously dumped into my hand with no comment, let alone it being counted out with a “Thank-you”.

Instead, I find myself saying thank-you to them, then cursing myself as I leave, knowing it should be them thanking me for paying their wages.

If it happened once I could dismiss it as someone having a bad day.  We all do and there are more important things in life to worry about.  However, to happen each time creates a real feeling of being treated with a lack of respect.

Contempt is a corrosive thing in any relationship.  If either side senses it exists, the going of separate ways becomes an inevitability.

As it happens, one of the big-four opened one of its local supermarket stores recently. It wasn’t needed and the arrival of one of the major players met lots of opposition.reputation

However, the local incumbents didn’t deserve the loyalty they thought they were entitled to and as a result I and many others choose the more corporate option.  Local people work in there too and they are every bit as polite and as professional as you want them to be. They say hello, smile and help make things quick and easy. Why would I choose an unpleasant experience over a friendly one?

So when it comes to designing customer experiences there are a couple of lessons here.  One, are we overlooking the things that are really important?  It doesn’t have to be complicated.

The second is that when a sceptical Operations, Sales or Finance Director asks how much it will cost to have better customer experiences there are a hundred such stories that show the cost of keeping customers can be pretty much zero yet the real cost of not having those basics in place is huge.

Unfortunately for the bottom line, complacent employees will out-last customers who would be loyal but who also have a choice. The not-so secret to the right customer experience is attitude – especially at the organisational level.

John Lewis, npower and Ford – in very different places with customer experience

 

Depending on the way you look at it, complacency is either the arch-enemy of customer experience or the reason it exists.  I’ve seen many a sceptical director shrug and say “Why bother? We’re making money so we must be doing it right”.

Yet while the heart of customer experience might be more a way of thinking than functional, the warning signs of where it’s going wrong can be very obvious and very tangible.

Take John Lewis.  Over the years it’s been one of our most celebrated brands, synonymous with straightforward, easy and helpful customer experiences.  And the partnership has seen the benefits in its commercial performance as a result.

So here’s a question:  out of 10, where 0 is rubbish and 10 is brilliant, what would you say JohnLewis.com scores on Trustpilot at the moment?  I know there have been a few issues of late but I’d have said 7s and 8s at worst.  Time to think again.

Based on over 2,000 customer reviews the average score as of this week is …..  1.4 out of 10.

 

john lewis 1.4

 

How and why did that happen?  Only those inside John Lewis know the answers but one suggestion is the outsourcing of its customer experiences.  Handing over your brand to a third party is no excuse, only a reason.  Outsourcing may promise hand-offs that are invisible to customers and a lower per-transaction cost.  However, without the controls to ensure consistency of the intended experiences the number of unnecessary contacts increase, the costs go up and customers’ loyalty goes down.  Years of goodwill being unravelled for all to see.

As with any customer measurement system, there are caveats and foibles.  But I wonder how many organisations would act differently if public metrics such as the Trustpilot score or Tripadvisor rating were more visible internally and part of the voice-of-the-customer mix.

Ironically, over in the energy sector, npower maybe further along the organisational self-awareness curve.  It’s often in the news for the wrong reasons;  scrapping its dividend payment, being fined £26m by Ofgem for failing to treat customers fairly and being told if things don’t improve they will be barred from selling their services.   And on the back of its results this week came the announcement that there will be a significant human cost with 20% of its workforce to be laid off.

With that news though came a plan, a two-year recovery programme.  So for npower, at least the reasons for its difficulties are known and it is trying to do something about them.  Lower wholesale energy prices, government obligations and a quicker than expected shift to renewables are to blame in part.  However, it is the self-inflicted broken processes and billing infrastructure that are driving many customers away.

I’m a customer of npower and of John Lewis.  For the people who work there and for my own sanity I really want them to come right.  Npower has plans but the signs are that things have a way to go.  For example, I recently received three identical envelopes in the same post.  Inside, three identical annual statements with identical supporting information notes – tripling the cost at a stroke and leaving me playing the spot-the difference, wondering if I’ve missed something subtle but vitally important.

npower statement

 

Do they know that’s happening? If not, why not?  But if they do know, wouldn’t a quick letter or email to explain that I don’t have to worry about missing something help?  It’s about knowing what the experience is like today and how it feels compared with what it should be like and having the appetite to do something about it.  Making things worse, the main call-to-action appears to be to switch suppliers so exactly what the statements mean and what I’m supposed to do next will have to be the subject of a call to their helplines…  I hope the recovery plan will be using lower customer effort as a measurement of success.

In contrast, the organisational self-awareness that Ryanair had prompted it to launch the ‘Always Getting Better’ programme.  The about-turn in being customer focused is bearing fruit in its forward bookings, load factors and customer feedback.   Meantime, motoring giant Ford meantime is also setting about the way it does things.ford wheel logo

Speaking earlier this year, Ford’s President and CEO Mark Fields talked openly about changing the culture to be more empathetic to its customers.  The mindset was no longer one of being a manufacturer or even a technology company but an innovative, user-experience company.   Ford employees are encouraged to challenge the status quo, to question tradition and to not take anything for granted.  They won’t get penalised in their performance reviews for trying something new;  the view is that succeed or fail, you learn.  And on digitalisation and data, Ford aims to identify the right experiences first then seeks the technology to deliver it.  Not, trip over itself to install latest IT systems just because it’s the latest IT system.

 

Very familiar brand names with varying degrees of organisational self-awareness.  It’s what shapes their customer experiences and as a direct consequence they will see very different results.

 


Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it interesting and thought-provoking.  I’d love to hear what you think about the subject so please feel free to add your comments below.

I’m Jerry Angrave, founder of Empathyce and an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner.  I’m now a  CX consultant and an official trainer for the CXPA’s professional qualification to be a CCXP. If you’ve any questions about improving customer experiences or CX professional development do please get in touch.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

To subscribe for future posts please send an email to [email protected]

ccxp and art

 

 

 

 

Customer experience reveals segmentation limits

By applying a little customer experience scrutiny to traditional segmentation models we see their limitations. Being more empathetic with real people rather than grouping customers with similar profiles helps turn successful short-term activity into a differentiated, more profitable and sustainable business.

 

When creating a segment there is by definition an assumption that we can find round pegs to put in the round holes we make.  We profile customers into a group that allow us to predict that they will respond in the same way to the same messages. They have similar behaviours, similar lifestyles, similar needs.  And, by and large, that approach works – but it could be so much better.Stress-testing customer experiences reveals flaws elsewhere

The principles of customer segmentation have been the bedrock of marketing activity for decades. They are used to design new customer experiences and spawned an industry where sales leads are now created scientifically by analysing vast amounts of data in the name of customer lifetime value.

The problem is therefore two-fold. On the one hand, traditional approaches to segmentation risk retaining an inward-looking business-centricity around one question: “How can we sell more?”.  Secondly, segmentation models are easy to replicate by competitors and are therefore not driving the differentiated and better experiences that are key to business survival.

That step, to move beyond the same segmentation principles as our competitors requires a different perspective;  that of the customer experience and therefore – not surprisingly – the customer.

Whichever segment a customer falls into, and let’s remember while reading this that we’re all people and we’re all customers, it is irrelevant when we’re dealing with a company.  What matters to me as a customer is that I get done what I need to quickly, easily and in a way that makes me feel I would do it all again if I had to.

Today, it’s much less about how many kids I have, which postcode I live in, whether I run my own business, what products I’ve bought previously or how I spend my spare time.

As people we all have life going on around us when we interact with a business.  It is the one small window a company has to make the right impression.  I’ve worked in and with large corporates where there is (sometimes unintentionally) a real belief that the customer’s life revolves around them.

There are over 525,000 minutes in a year. More than half a million of them.  And with many companies we do business with, they are only getting a handful of the most precious of commodities that we possess.  As customer we want to make the most of them, get things sorted when we need to and move on.  By their actions, the impression many businesses give is that customers are never far away, that customers will amble into their world, drift around their processes and then tell everyone how great it was.  That’s not the real intention but that’s often how it feels.

How do we move things on from a business driven by segmentation to one that thrives by giving the right experience?  One way to really understand what it’s like to be a customer is to (get the CEO to) become a customer and stress-test those experiences and show what it can really be like. For example:

 

  • Go without sleep for 24 hours then try and buy your product or ask a question. You’ll soon find out how easy things really are
  • Five minutes before an important meeting ask someone to look for the number and make a ‘quick’ call to your own business with what should be a straight-forward query
  • Ask someone, or put yourself in the mindset of someone, who has depression, recently had a close family bereavement or struggles to comprehend instructions and feel the impact of unempathetic employees, processes that treat people like widgets or a myopic quest to close the sale at all costs
  • Walk into one of your stores knowing that you’ve only got a couple of minutes left on your parking ticket, tell the employee and see what happens
  • Try to use your products and services while sat on your own in a wheelchair.  Then try it with a blindfold on or one arm tied behind your back.
  • Give each of the directors a task that a customer might do and make them do it irrespective of their schedule within the next 24 hours – it’s only what we as customers have to do.

 

I wrote recently about how companies can learn from those with physical or mental disabilities.  Organisations will see a benefit in all their customer experiences and therefore commercial results by stretching the thinking to understand better the world of customers who have, or care for those who have, disabilities.

It’s the same here.  Some scenarios may rarely happen but the point is that taking a genuine customer perspective and building experiences, processes and communications around that rather than limited segmentation models, experiences that work at the margins will be brilliant at the core.  It shows where the weaknesses are and where opportunities for making the right changes lie.

The insights that get flushed out help bring the reality of what customers experience to life for those who need to see and hear it. A great example I came across recently was a customer experience lead who wanted to drive the message home about the difference between what the brand promised and the appalling wait times in the contact centre.  Her Executive meeting started then immediately and to the surprise of all present was put ‘on hold’.  She played a recording of the music customers hear for the average time they hear it when they try to call to buy, or need help.  Uncomfortable? Yes.  Brave? Absolutely.  Impactful? Without question.  And in the kind of scenarios we’ve talked about here, even more effective at inspiring change.

It’s a bit like shooting for the stars if you want to get to the moon.  Segmentation will take a business so far.  But building experiences based on genuine empathy will ensure that when customers need you most, or simply they interact on a routine basis, there’s a much greater chance that the way it’s done will keep them coming back and telling others to do the same.  And that’s what it’s all about.

 


If you’d like to know more about this or any other strategic or tactical aspect of customer experience do please get in touch – I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or email [email protected].  My background is as a CX practitioner in the corporate world.  That’s the foundation for me being an empathetic customer experience consultant.  I also run workshops and speak about customer experience at events across Europe.  I’m a Certified Customer Experience Professional and a judge at the UK Customer Experience Awards.ja speaking

Thank you, I hope you found the post interesting and thought-provoking, and please feel free to get in touch or add your own views below.

Jerry Angrave, CCXP


 

 

Voting for customer experience, one small step at a time

The build-up to this week’s election in the UK has been rooted in uncertainty. If the media reports are to be believed, no single party has been persuasive enough to win over the backing of a majority for the changes they believe in. Time will tell.  It also provides topical food for thought about the role of the customer experience professional in influencing change.

 

For those leading and managing customer-led change it can be a daunting prospect. Understanding what to do and how to do it is one thing; convincing others is quite another. Metric-obsessed stakeholders, divisions that operate  with seemingly no common objectives and teams that should but don’t talk to each other are just some of the regular barriers.

Finding a little, genuine, inspiration is hard to come by. Books, budgets and “We put customers first” posters don’t change things.  People, attitudes and belief do.  And more often than not the biggest changes start with the smallest steps; people sharing their passion.books people

In my job as a customer experience consultant I get to meet many people who are pushing the agenda forward with one hand while having to pull the organisation along with the other. One example in particular stands out.

A global organisation that generates annual revenues in excess of $40 billion became complacent about its big numbers.  Unintentionally, it put increased competition and disenfranchised customers into its blind spot. Cutting margins to sell more and aggressive M&A activity only mask the underlying issues. But the passion of one of its 75,000 employees is bringing about a huge change, one that is making the company redefine and renew relationship with customers it thought it knew so well but in reality was clinging on to them by a thread.

How? Rather than try and change everything all at once, a series of small steps is leading to a giant leap compared to where they were. One individual, armed with passion, knowledge and evidence about what an authentic focus on customers can achieve commercially.  He engaged people close to him and showed how customer experience thinking can help them achieve their own objectives. He initially built a small group of highly engaged people at all levels who then in turn shared the belief about what the right changes could bring with their stakeholders.

From there, the engagement spread using sometimes brutally uncomfortable customer feedback as the catalyst. It’s just the start, but that company is changing its own culture, it is actively immersing its employees across many countries in customer experience and revising its activity plans.  If an organisation has personality, this one is showing real signs of the passion and belief of the individual who started the change.  It is starting to bring about the right changes effectively and efficiently rather than doing as much “stuff” as it can in the hope that a proportion of it lands ok.

One voice, with real belief can make massive changes with the momentum it creates. One other timely example comes from this week’s election.   The political colours of my home town Cheltenham have at various times been Conservative blue or Liberal yellow. But not the red of Labour. Having lived there most of my life I cannot even remember seeing a red poster stuck in the front window of any house at any election. Until now, due to the passion and belief of one person about doing what he believes is the right thing.

DSCN0724

The party is irrelevant; the change it represents is significant

Paul Gilbert is CEO of a successful management consultancy showing in-house lawyers around the world how to fulfill their potential and how to be better business people. But this week, Paul also steps up to be counted as the Labour party’s candidate to be Cheltenham’s MP.  As an aside, his politically agnostic post here about why voting is about us rather than a specific party is well worth a read.

This is not a blog to promote one party over another.  It is about having the confidence in doing what is right that leads to the first small signs of change.  Even Paul would admit that based on past performance the party HQ statisticians will say a victory is highly unlikely.  But in a population that looks in one direction he has managed to get some to look at things in a different way. It started with one small step; to simply talk about what he believed in and why.  His generous, self-depreciating approach hides one of the sharpest minds and the empathetic way he communicated made people sit up and take notice. As a result, he became a parliamentary candidate for the town and such is his passion that strangers are now happy to advertise to the world that they will vote for him.  Don’t get me wrong, we are not about to see a political upheaval.  The signs appearing might be few in number and small in size but they are a metaphorical sign that as daunting as changing other people’s own beliefs may be, it is possible.

In the coming days and weeks we may hear a lot more about the Citizen Experience as the election events unfold. In the meantime, the rest of us don’t need to convince a whole country that voting for customer experience is the right thing to do; if we share the passion and belief, big changes can start to happen, little step by little step.

What are your thoughts on leading the very beginnings of change?

Jerry


 

 

 

Customer Experience – what’s your problem?

What’s your problem with customer experience? Or, to put it another way, what is it that gets in the way of designing and implementing an effective customer experience strategy?

 

Such customer experience problems were the source of much debate recently when I had the pleasure of hosting the Empathyce TakeAway event in London. There were no presentations, those who attended set the agenda; we simply had rich and highly relevant conversations around the room where everyone could ja speakingoffer their insights on addressing others’ issues and get feedback on their own.

It was interesting to see further validation that whatever the sector there is a thread of common issues. My co-host for the day was good friend and customer experience specialist Ian Golding – we were joined by people who worked in B2B and B2C (or, more accurately, P2P: People to People) from markets that included aviation, travel, property development, communications, legal services and social media. And yet there was hardly a single issue that was the preserve of only one market.

Top of the list and driving everything else was culture. Especially, the gap between how customer-centric organisations tell their stakeholders and employees they are and what they are in reality. A big part of a customer experience professional’s role is to influence where there isn’t direct authority but in an ideal world that wouldn’t need to be an issue.  Having the right culture removes the need to influence others in the organisation who either can’t or don’t want to see beyond their process, metric or product focus. It’s easier said than done, it can be a lone voice to start with but is absolutely critical to any success.

Another hot topic is the conundrum created by the tension between personalisation and digitalisation. As a consumer, we want timely and relevant information but we also don’t want it cross a line into being intrusive, noisy and over-bearing. However, as a business we can be seduced by the promises of efficiency that digitalisation, self service and big data can bring. Technology allows us to make things incredibly personal, but it must be the customer’s definition of personal, not ours.

I also can’t remember a time when breaking through internal silos and aligning everything wasn’t a concern. And yet getting people in the same company to collaborate, to understand each other and to work to the same priorities remains a significant challenge. It’s another sub-set of the culture issues; there’s no point in having a customer experience team working their socks off to champion the cause if in another part of the business teams are motivated and rewarded by the ticking of non-customer boxes.take away and maxi 026

Talking of which, measurement is always a fascinating subject. Using the right type of measurement, tracking the right thing, understanding what the results are saying and sharing them in a way that brings about the right change are all customer experience fundamentals. Again, despite all the customer-rhetoric, especially in metric and process driven organisations, there always remains the risk, often a reality, of obsessing about the number at the cost of knowing what is making the numbers what they are.

Armed with endless mugs of coffee and delicious food at the fantastic (and thoroughly recommended) Wallacespace, we continued to share experiences and views on how companies address these issues and more; the psychology of queuing and its false economy of processing efficiencies, capturing and doing something about the niggles and gripes rather than just focusing on complaints and the use of social media and gamification to nurture customer engagement.

What is your problem? The issue I’ve touched on here only scratch the surface so I’d love to hear what your most pressing customer experience challenges are or how you’ve seen others overcome.

Wherever possible I’d urge you to talk to others outside your business, outside your market.  Chances are, whatever you are dealing with someone, somewhere will have some helpful thoughts.  Forgive the plug but we’ve had some great feedback about the Take Away event so if you’re interested in attending one of the next ones there are more details here.  Ian Golding is alway worth listening to about what makes good or bad experiences, what to do next and how to make the right changes so have a look at his blog over at ijgolding.com.

 

Of course talking about it is only the beginning. The real benefits start happening and problems start disappearing only when there is action; the right action.


 

The job of the customer experience manager

The need to improve customer experiences has been around since cavemen traded rocks for fish.  And as our understanding of complex customer experience issues has grown, so too have the opportunities for those moving into leadership and management roles.

Having credibility to influence change is at the heart of the job.  But in reality, it can sometimes feel like ours is a lonely customer voice at a crowded and loud business table.  Therefore to be a successful customer experience practitioner isn’t just about being good at what gets done;  it’s every bit about how it’s done too.

 

The good news is that business leaders are more empathetic.  They know the impact on customer experiences of how they think and act.  It’s important because it means they are making things better – and stopping things getting worse – for their customers and balance sheets.  Job done?  Not quite.

customer experience manager

The job of the customer experience manager

The bad news is that despite the evidence it works not everyone, sees it that way.  As a customer experience professional, we therefore need to be increasingly influential with those making the decisions.

Beneath the shiny veneer of perfect customer experience platitudes is a real world that’s arguing with itself;  relentless short-termism in one corner and profitable longevity in the other.  Sometimes, indeed often, the two protagonists are in neighbouring departments.

One CEO recently told me, in front of his team, that getting customer experience right “couldn’t be more important”.  And yet a few days later when it came to making strategic decisions, it was all about taking (not necessarily the right) costs out.  The customer’s voice was not being sought, let alone listened to.  And as a result they will continue to do the wrong things well and see managing exceptions as the norm.

It’s a stark reminder that despite the proof that improving customer experiences creates better commercial outcomes, many business people remain wedded to traditional scorecard metrics, processes and tasks.   They don’t get it, they may not want to get it or their boss won’t listen even if they do get it.

Maybe that’s our fault as customer experience professionals because our own approach has not been empathetic enough.  We believe in it passionately because it works, we just need to convince the sceptics.  It’s only part of the role, but a huge part nonetheless.  And so, from my time as both practitioner and consultant, here are ten themes that I know makes our role more effective.

  1. Hunt out your stakeholders – sounds obvious, but map the web of people (not departments) who intentionally or unintentionally make the customer experience what it is.  Whatever their level, whether they’re front-line / back-office / central support or external third parties, they should all be on your list of people you want onside.  Prioritise them, pick them off one-by-one, stay close to them and then get them collaborating with each other.
  2. Build your army – chances are you can’t bring about the right changes on your own.  You need pockets of supporters, advocates in all corners of the business who will help open doors to those stakeholders and tell you what the real challenges are.  They might spring up from the most unlikely of places but people who express an interest in what you do and why you do it are invaluable.  They’re our equivalent of finding a rare Gauguin painting at the back of the garage.  Take them under your wing and they will become the veins through which the oxygen of customer experience will flow into the business.
  3. Listen to understand – make time to understand what stakeholders see as their role in the organisation, what their objectives and challenges are and why they have the issues they do.  Observe carefully;  their most important and personal motivation is often revealed in an off-guard comment or in general conversation about the state of the nation.
  4. Make it matter to them – help them look good. Use what you hear to show specifically how better customer experiences can make their job more effective.  Show how having the right experiences can help them get a better result in their own personal and team objectives.  Give them early warning nudges over a coffee rather than surprise them in the Board Room.  Let them take the credit for being more customer-centric (your boss will know it’s you who made the difference).
  5. Map their journey – if we want to see how we fit into a customer’s world and create the right responses, we map their journeys.  Why not do the same with internal customers too?  It makes conversations much more empathetic and less adversarial.  And it’s not just about their role per se – if you are inviting them to a workshop, how can you position it and present it in a way that guarantees they turn up and contribute?
  6. Invite them in – take any opportunity to show or reinforce the customer strategy.  Have your compelling and targeted “How Customer Experience makes our business better” material handy at all times, especially in your head.  Show them customer journey mapping visuals, build a physical mock-up of a customer’s world.  Host a regular customer experience forum where you get senior people from all your stakeholder areas to share their perspectives.  Create “Customer experience for non-customer experience people sessions” to help spread the word.
  7. Make them empathetic – use real warts-and-all feedback to show them what it’s like to be on the receiving end of what they do.  Remind them that they are a consumer in their own lives.  Get them to think like a customer.  Ask them how the experiences they deliver compare with other organisations in other markets they deal with.  After all, those are the ones pushing the bar of our customers’ expectations ever higher.

    Find ways to help them help themselves

  8. Talk their language – keep it commercial.  Relate using the vocabulary of what matters to them.  Link customer experience to revenue, costs, efficiency, loyalty and margins.  And despite the fanfare around the subject, don’t start the engagement of a sceptical, process-focused but key stakeholder with “Can I talk to you about customer emotions?”.  Eyes will roll and you’ll lose them before you begin.  You know how emotions fit in the bigger picture so that can come later.  Much better to say something like “I’d appreciate your thoughts on how what we do now drives what our customers do next time”.
  9. Lead by example – be proactive and be responsive. Get a reputation for having the clearest, most unambiguous emails and reports. Little things go a long way – always turn up for meetings on time, keep promises, return calls and show an interest.  I’m indebted to David Hicks of Mulberry Consulting for a great example – my answerphone message promises to call back asap but “certainly within 3 hours”.
  10. Keep the momentum going – stay on the look-out for quick wins and use them as proof of concept.  Provide updates, share successes and relay stories of what others in other markets are doing.  Be the one to create an engaging company-wide forum focused purely on customers.  And invite yourself to talk with colleagues around the business at their team meetings.

 

There will be more ways so it will be great to hear what you think.  How do you influence and manage your customer experience stakeholders?

One last thought.  To see people, attitudes and companies change for the better as a result of what you have done can be the most rewarding job in the world.  In fact, it then no longer becomes a job.  So stay true to what you believe.  Expect progress to be slow but up the ante by planning to be quick.  Whatever happens though – and I thank Churchill for his words of wisdom – Never give up. Never give up. Never ever give up.

 

Jerry Angrave

Certified Customer Experience Professional – a practitioner and consultant on the strategic and tactical ways to help organisations improve their customer experiences