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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.

 

 

 

 

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 Experience surveys, metrics and a question of confidence

Far too often we see that organisations have a heavy, sometimes over-reliance on metric-based surveys.  In a way it’s understandable;  partly it’s about feeding the target-driven performance culture and partly it’s to have as much information as we can at our fingertips because that, in theory, makes strategic decision-making more robust.

So it was intriguing to read the latest headline about the rising confidence levels of UK businesses.  The UK Business Confidence Monitor index “stands at +16.7, up from +12.8 in Q1 2013, suggesting GDP will grow by 0.6% in Q2 2013”.

I wish to take nothing away from its credibility, accuracy and the expertise of those who know much more about economics than I, but it means, er, what exactly? Well, delve a bit deeper and the trend is confidently portrayed as being a proxy for future economic growth, of higher levels of borrowing and investment.   I’m no Smith, Keynes or Friedman but on the face of it that sounds like good news despite the fact that we may also conclude that the appetite to take on more debt is weak and fragile customer demand is still a problem.

Armed with just that though, if I was to present to the Board of UK plc, I’d fully expect them to say “And just what is it that you want us to do next?”.

It’s often the same when it comes to finding out what it’s really like to be a customer or client.  In the Business Confidence Monitor, the question that respondents are answering is “Overall, how would you describe your confidence in the economic prospects facing your business over the next 12 months, compared to the previous 12 months?”.   In consumer and employee surveys the equivalent questions might be “How likely are you to recommend us?”, “How do you rate our service” and “How satisfied are you?”.

All good questions in their own right, and also trying to predict future behaviour.  But while metrics will show a trend, on their own they don’t show why the trend is what it is, and therefore what it is likely to be in the coming weeks, months and years.  What’s more, depending on sample sizes and other mechanics of the survey, the reliability of the numbers comes with its own confidence factor of plus or minus x%.

Absent clear comments as to why respondents gave the reasons they did, there is a vacuum of context.  That means, as with so many metric-based surveys, that translating the information into knowledge upon which valuable decisions can be made still remains elusive.

I’ve always said that if organisations get the experience right first, the metrics will look after themselves.  Base analyses and decisions on the numbers alone and without any context, trends will simply continue to happen whether they’re known to be the right ones or not.

In that, I have every confidence.

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Thank you for your interest and for your time reading this blog.  I’m Jerry Angrave and I provide Customer Experience research and advisory services, most recently to the aviation, transport and legal services sectors.  If you’ve any comments or questions, do let me know, either through the blog, by email to [email protected] or feel free to call me on +44 (0) 7917 718 072.  There’s also more information at www.empathyce.com.

Remove unintended barriers to the intended email Customer Experience.

It’s an inconvenient truth that in promoting the use of email as a contact method, it is surprisingly easy to leave the wrong message.

I’m not talking about the content here, there’s plenty of focus on that.  The issue is about the realities of the customer experience when there has been a lack of thought given to the subject heading and the email address itself.

We wouldn’t set out to create an intentional experience that deliberately stops customers from being able to get in touch with us.  Not least, we wouldn’t want to be the one having to explain it to the Board.  And worse, it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have to justify it to a customer who is trying to turn to us for help.

Surely that doesn’t happen in today’s hyper-competitive, customer-hugging commercial world?  But it does, very much so, and in the process undermines all the good work created by the brand investment, employee engagement programmes and those posters on the wall proclaiming “We put customers at the heart of everything we do” (whatever that means..).

Here are three examples of where it can go wrong.  To give them context, the first one has a customer’s perspective providing the commentary:

I’ve had an email from “DoNotReply” – how do I get in touch?

Bought my tickets online. It all went well, it was easy and the people were friendly. But in the confirmation email I had there were a couple of things that weren’t quite clear and so I wanted to check some of the details. Problem was, it was from [email protected]— so I wasn’t sure what to do. There was no other way of contacting them apart from links to “Subscribe to our newsletter”, “You might also be interested in these services” and so on.  I’ve never had a good experience with their call centre either.

I went back to the company website and looked for the “Contact Us” page but knew I’d have to explain all the information again. Turns out it wasn’t a freephone number so I sent a message using one of those forms. All I’ve had back is a note saying I’m a valued customer and they’ll get back to me in three working days. I’m still waiting.

If they can send me an email, why do they make it so hard to reply to it?

 

And the point is?

Stopping people replying to automated messages might seem like an operational efficiency but there’s going to be a greater cost in, at best, handling the additional enquiry or at worst, losing the business next time. To get an email from DoNotReply isn’t very friendly language. You’re effectively saying ‘Hey you. Don’t even think about replying. Ha. We’ve got your money so we’re off trying to seduce more new customers like you”.

Either put in place a mechanism for routing emails that do come in or provide an obvious and easy alternative. By their nature, automatically generated messages that fit a template are more likely to generate enquiries from customers whose lives are not governed by templates.

You get the drift. The second and third points follow in the same vein so I’ll rattle through them.

Dear “Info”, who are you, really?
When our customers or clients put the effort in and choose to go to our website, ideally we want them to get in touch. That’s why we have a Contact Us page. How many times have we read that we only have one chance to make a first impression; that it’s the first seven seconds where people make up their minds about us?

So it seems at odds with that if the first contact we offer them is a highly impersonal [email protected]— or [email protected]—. It can also be at odds with what the brand promises everywhere else on the site about being customer-focused. Whether your customers are buying a book or chartering a luxury business jet, it’s got to be reassuring for the customer to think they are sending a message to a real person. Simply changing “[email protected]” to, say, “[email protected]” makes it so much more engaging.

I know you’re here somewhere…
Linked to the two I’ve mentioned, this one’s about customers being able to find your emails later.

Chances are that during the life of your relationship a customer will want to get in touch. And if they’ve got an account number, membership reference, a password reminder or simply want your email address, it’s very likely they’ll look up an old email from you. We all do it, and the first thing we’re likely to do is to sort our inbox messages by sender.

However, the name of the company is often elusive. Instead, we have many messages from “Customer Services”, “Info”, “NoReply” to name but three very generic addresses. We want it to be easy for people to get in touch with us and we don’t want to give them a reason to give up searching or risk going elsewhere. It’s therefore well worth thinking about using an appropriate name that will appear in the customers inbox where they expect it to.

You may have all these and more covered, in which case that’s great. But if there’s any doubt, check it out. It won’t take long and if it starts a conversation between you and your colleagues about what needs fixing and how, that’s got to be better than the alternative “Please explain” conversation around the Board table.

Interested to hear your views, thank you.

Jerry

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Jerry Angrave
Managing Director, Empathyce Customer Experience
www.empathyce.com | [email protected]
+44 (0) 7917 718 072