Author Archives: nljs

Analyzing the Customer Experience: Use Tools to Get It…

Right or Wrong?

Two of today’s hottest company interest and investment areas are the Customer Experience and Analytics. The tough economic climate and hard lessons learned as companies stem customer defections and struggle to win new ones has resulted in the growth of senior level appointments with “Customer Experience” in the job title. If companies now care more about their customers, this is truly a great thing. But it indicates that customers were a low priority were when markets were booming.

The increased availability of customer experience technology tools is not the answer because these don’t tell what really happened – just where to look. When great tools are put into the hands of the inexperienced the results are at best mediocre and, at worst, misleading.

Customers have always mattered, but many senior managers didn’t notice as they enjoyed the go for growth and cost cutting  bare-knuckle ride of the boom (or bust) years. Many companies herded customers into a one-size-fits-all process that satisfied the corporation’s needs and made little effort to address the customer’s, while few developed a close-but-respectful relationship with customers. They relied on brand strength, customer loyalty and consumer tolerance of “not quite right” as they pressed ahead, urgently feeding their own beast. Examples are plentiful as companies – utilities, banks, credit cards, airlines, government departments, TV, broadband, mobile phones and many other sectors and segments – systematically mis-sold, ignored, denied, and misrepresented to build their business, grow revenue, and hold on to the customer money they had received.

What happened next is that the economy crashed and they were caught out. Customers cut hard to make ends meet and decided that what companies provided wasn’t valuable enough. Or they fell out of love with the hype and dished a dose of reality. Or, as happened in the UK and Europe, regulators finally stopped the abuse and ordered companies to make it right with customers.

2013ter_industries1

Temkin Experience Ratings 2013

If we look at the current experience of customers in traditional high volume, low ticket price sectors, grocers, fast food chains, parcel delivery networks and retailers that have maintained a good reputation with their customers, and contrast it with the ones hit hardest during recession. As the image (right) shows, these sectors outperforms others

Today, Customer Experience managers are busy understanding what customers face when they interface with the company, and are rebuilding the business from the outside-in to simplify life for consumers and not the company. Their success is winning the affection customers who feel they are being treated fairly, and they will remain loyal for longer, and spend more of their money, and call customer service fewer times, and become (therefore) cheaper customers to support.

During the ’90s quality systems, such as ISO9001, were gaining attention. Companies believed that quality made the difference that customers would pay more for. Such systems achieved this for only a short time, but have succeeded and become integrated into businesses because they helped drive out wasted effort and materials, and enabled companies to deliver a better quality product or service for equal or lower cost.

Back to the customer experience, the tools used to boil the ocean of customer interaction data helps by identifying what customers are interested in, such as understanding their phone bill, or checking the status of their laptop repair, but it doesn’t analyse anything. It simply reports on what it sees or hears. Analysis comes through running an expert human eye over the interactions to understand what lies behind it, and to identify those improvements that remove the need for the customer to call without making their life more complicated.

Today’s Call to Action is to engineer processes, products and services with the Customer Experience in mind – as successful companies typically do already.

Customer Experience: The Problem Is At Executive Level

Very few executives ever speak to a disgruntled, or even regular, customer. That’s left to front-line staff and, by and large, they do a pretty good job. Not always excellent but we consumers get by.

Then we get to this. The article refers to two things – the absence of senior level vision, and treating average employees as a commodity, a cost to the business.

Being an executive in a big company is very tough. The pressures are incredible. But they must maintain balance between making short-term decisions to win bonuses and gain favour with shareholders and analysts, and looking after their most important asset – their front-line employees.

The front-line team are not paid a lot, but their impact is immense. They have the customer experience in their control at a point in time and beyond. They affect outcomes. Failing to invest in the front-line will adversely affect customers and your brand, making future growth reliant on heavy advertising and product price.

Word-of-mouth is off the table and there is no loyalty. Customers associate your brand with indifference.

My point is that your brand is always associated with something. Treating your front-line people and, therefore, customers as a commodity is a dangerous tactic and works against brand-building, business growth, and even increasing margins.

When executives lower their vision from the horizon to focus on improving quarterly results by a point or two through cutting front-line staff costs they are reacting and NOT managing the business. Sure, costs need to be managed but I expect that other areas exist, including executive rewards, where cutting back can be done before the lowest-paid people are individually affected.

Do remember the story of the US car executives from 2008? They asked for government money to bail them out but arrived by executive jet at a time when consumers, and their car-assembling employees, were really hurting. Fair and just?

Think first, is my advice. Two questions should be asked. Is the decision a short-term one? And are front-line people an asset or a commodity? The answers to these will affect how executives manage the business.

Working with Wood: Just like Customer Experience

This past weekend I made a wooden box during a woodworking class taught by my brother, Paul Sellers. I learned several important lessons:

  1. I didn’t know as much about wood as I thought
  2. Sharp tools are needed to avoid injury
  3. Competence and excellence in working wood come with practice and experience
  4. A wrong step can be corrected, but not if you go too far

Bear with me as I tell you what the connection is to customer experience…

Part-ready box

Picture 1 – sides jointed together, top and base shaped

Many companies fail their customers by breaking engagement up by process, and then failing to join up the processes. “Life is like wood”, my brother told the class, “because it has knots in it.” Knots are hard to avoid, hard to work with, but can add beauty to a finished piece. I took the pieces of wood that made up the box and carefully cut joints that fit together, then planed them to make them flat and smooth (see picture 1), and then assembled by gluing the sides and base and hinging the lid (see picture 2). This all took time and, whereas we can mass produce products cheaply and easily, this is like the customer experience which is unique and defies the production line approach.

Knowledge of wood’s characteristics and propensities is key to being successful because each piece acts differently as it’s worked. So too the customer experience. Knowing your customer, his expectations, environment and needs helps us define the right approach to take. Measure twice and cut once – being too quick and too coarse results in starting over again, which is costly.

Craftsmen the world over know the value of using sharp tools. Less effort is needed to cut with a sharp knife. The cut is finer and more easily placed. There is less waste. Cutting with a dull knife requires a lot of force. Using extra force achieves the cut but diminishes control. Extra effort, additional force and diminished control lead to accidents and a visit to the accident and emergency department at your local hospital. Result – out of action for a while and a badly finished job. The same applies to the customer experience – using appropriate, sharp tools results in a quicker, cleaner, more successful outcome = happier customer.

Skills don’t come overnight. Reading a piece of wood is as important as marking it clearly and cutting and shaping it with precision. The skills required to run customer service departments differ from the skills necessary to create an engaging customer experience but there remains a connection. The ease with with a craftsman can cut a dovetail joint (see the box corners) aren’t from reading a book or setting up a machine but from having done it many times before, carefully marking, paring, cutting, and shaping until things fit tightly and perfectly together. Every customer touch-point is an action in creating the right customer experience.

Completed box

Picture 2 – completed box

Finally, you can correct a bad cut or misalignment more easily if you act early enough. Re-position the saw before the deviation from the guideline gets too big. More finely chisel, shaving off one-thousandth of an inch as you get closer to completing the joint, rather than taking off an eighth with every cut. Plane with the grain rather than against it. In companies, retention departments are needed only because there was not enough early action.

It took me almost two days to make my box. Paul, can make one in less than 45 minutes. He’s had a lot of practice, uses sharp tools, and has an eye that enables him to quickly and cleanly create a unique item that will be valued for years to come.

Show Me You Care…I’ll Heal Faster

As I drove in my car the other day I heard a story about the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) that made me wonder about the state of the world. Two senior nurses, and by senior I mean really senior – at the very top, are kicking off an initiative to introduce compassionate care into today’s health service. Nursing is often referred to as the “caring profession”. So why, if not to heal the sick and make people feel well, do people become nurses? Perhaps because it’s a job, and brings in money? I don’t think the answer is quite as simple as this, but there is an underlying problem that affects all professions, not just the “caring” one, and is an indictment of the society we live in.

These are pretty ungrateful times. Trust, confidence, hope have become tainted by inappropriate litigious, performance and cost constraint behaviours. The NHS in the UK, just like teaching, policing and other public sector roles, and private sector ones too, suffers from a breakdown in common courtesy and caring.

I see a triangle between employee, customer (patient, user etc) and the company. Communication is key, of course, but also courtesy (which costs nothing) and care (which costs a little).

Let’s go back to the NHS. Imagine a huge organisation where well people are the product, hospitals are the factory, and nurses are some of the factory workers. Unwell people are fed in at one end and, in theory, healed people come out of the other. But there’s a twist. Simply pushing everyone along the production line doesn’t produce perfect results because everyone is individual. Some of their needs are locked away inside of them and not written down on the patient’s record. So a nurse plays a vital role in the well-being of the patient, not just by administering the drugs and performing other duties, but by caring for the patient. Not just following procedure but by adding a personal element, going the extra step.

Now, say you are a nurse and prepared to care more, but two other elements come into play. The patient is rude and demanding, and your boss expects that you walk faster between tasks, follow the procedure, don’t challenge the way things are done, and move on to the next task. There’s not much incentive to care, is there?

We can apply this to every single aspect of life. I spoke to my neighbour recently who is in the police force. As we talked we got onto the subject of courtesy and the way that the public treats policemen and women, which can be pretty appalling. I pointed out that police can come across as forceful (which may be a necessary attribute) and belligerent, and that this doesn’t get any conversation off to a good start. We agreed that communication, courtesy and caring works both ways.

The industrial revolution gave us low cost, mass produced products available to the wider population. Technology has enabled us to communicate more quickly and to operate more efficiently. Analytics means we can understand more about what is going on so that change can be effected. But people are not machines without feelings, needs and wants. The state (or corporation) cannot provide everything. We need to maintain a healthy human element.

I applaud bringing compassionate care back into nursing but am saddened that this is necessary. The same applies to every role, even customer service delivered from contact centres. If people are encouraged to care. If customers didn’t feel the need to bully their way to get attention. If managers lead by example and not just by numbers. People, problems, things would be better very soon and, I think, the cost of everything would come down.

Has anyone created a formula that looks at the how the cost of providing a service is affected by clear communication, caring properly, and being courteous?

[Webcast] 4 Steps to Achieving Customer Process Excellence

There are few things more satisfying for any professional than taking apart a business process and reassembling it leaner, quicker, and more effective than it was before. Sadly, few professionals ever get the chance, or have the focus, to do this in a meaningful way. What many companies don’t truly see is the impact on their business of not reviewing, changing and adapting processes when:

  • Introducing new technology tools and platforms
  • Parts of the business change
  • Regulatory compliance tightens
  • Budgets are cut
  • Sales skyrocket
  • Customers complain
  • They’ve simply been in place for a while

Continually questioning why, how, what and when is a must for any forward-thinking executive. I’m reminded of Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and Habit 2 – “Begin with the End in Mind”. This must be the regular reminder in To-Do lists, Calendars, Meeting Agendas and the like in every company, and especially those in the technology sector (being the most innovative and progressive companies in most cases).

It’s amazing that companies do not constantly measure, analyze and change processes in a joined up way. Piecemeal updates usually cause imbalance somewhere along the line and result in poor process performance. This, in turn, creates dissatisfaction and increases the cost of transaction.

With this in mind, I’m presenting a webcast with John Ragsdale of TSIA on Thursday September 27 when we’ll look at this subject. Customer Interaction Design was developed a few years ago to improve customer-facing processes. The results have been dramatic, cutting call handle times, improving customer and agent satisfaction, and delivering tangible benefits within weeks of being implemented. We’re talking of millions of dollars of improvement, and happy customers and agents, by following a four-step process.

I have a couple of case examples to share. Please join if you can…

Social Media: Full of Falsehoods and Dangers?

Anything can be used for good as well as evil. History gives us examples of inventions that were designed with one thing in mind but ultimately used for something that hurt people (for example nuclear fission created cheap energy but then used to make bombs).

The Internet, developed to speed communication and share information, was quickly dominated by pornography. Then social media arrived and has now overtaken porn, and continues to grow in use and possibilities. Sharing things with family, friends and the world is a popular pastime which, on the surface, is harmless but now harbors growing threats and challenges.

Want lots of Twitter followers? You don’t need to be a celebrity or have something worth tweeting about to achieve that. Simply pay someone to circumvent Twitter’s rules and you’re there. Want a million followers? It costs only $2450, according to the referenced article. So having lots of followers, and I assume there will be similarities in Facebook, can be achieved the honest way or the dishonest way.

Then there’s TripAdvisor. What started off as a cool portal to share your experiences about a hotel, restaurant or destination is now dogged with claims of falsehood. In this case, it’s claimed, a hotel achieved great ratings because investors were busy posting positive reviews while real guests referenced unfinished building works and similar unwelcome aspects. At the other end, small hotel owners claim that unfair ratings are ruining their business and that TripAdvisor is reluctant to investigate and correct these.

Inaccuracies and falsehoods dog social media sites. Even though they probably account for a small percentage of total transactions, the notoriety a social network or portal can achieve when they fail to do enough to deal with the problem can linger for a long time. Worse, dangers exist out there with people going beyond just using social media for bad purposes to those that are deliberately evil. Young, vulnerable, people targeted by others with evil in mind are a concern to parents and society.

So, what can be done? At an individual level, don’t waste your time and resources following links that may be unsafe. When using Facebook, Twitter and other social channels follow only valuable assets and avoid anything questionable in terms of authenticity or morality. This applies to both adults and youngsters.

At a corporate level, companies must take seriously the threat imposed by falsehoods and dangers. Not just to their corporation’s reputation and finances, but to their fans and followers. How do they do this? There are companies that will, for a fee, review content and filter out the bad stuff – images, posts, video etc. They will investigate false claims and ensure only the legal, decent, honest, truthful stuff remains available for public consumption. Technology can help too, automating much of the volume to speed up review and contain associated costs. Some companies choose to do nothing because in the eyes of the law, they didn’t know and, therefore, can’t be responsible. But the law isn’t moral and companies need to decide if they’re in or out when it comes to social media. It’s a tiger grabbed by the tail. Watch it doesn’t turn around and bite!

 

 

Progressive: Unfortunate name for a backward company

I read this with disbelief. “Progressive settles with accident victim’s family after tale went viral” is a story of amazing corporate stupidity and self-interest that exploded online. Imagine the Progressive lawyers sitting on the defense side of the court as the bad driver is prosecuted. Read the article yet? Now what do you think of Progressive? A company to trust and do business with? Or one to avoid?

Only time will tell how much this case and the buzz created online will affect Progressive’s business. Their numbers may dip briefly but their image is now clearly tainted – at least for the segment of the population that uses the Internet to read the news, find information and transact business.

There are a growing number of examples of people in the public eye, and companies, doing what’s right for themselves and not what is right. In the case of Progressive they wanted to contain their expenses. In the case of British politicians the supplemented their income with spurious expenses, but got caught. Why did they do it? Because the system allowed them to do it.

I’m not promoting a lock-down of the system. More red tape and too many checks and balances just constrains to the point of suffocation. It creates hopeless, impossible situations for individuals and companies, and spawns an industry of smart people that work out what the rules don’t cover. No, I’m not promoting regulation, but I believe individuals and companies should think about what’s right for others.

Here are some customer service examples:

  • My Samsonite trolley bag comes with a detachable liquids pouch for the airport security area. This broke after 4 years, I wanted to buy another, and Samsonite replaced it free of charge. I like Samsonite.
  • I switched home broadband from O2 to BT. O2 kept taking money, telling me that BT hadn’t switched the service correctly. BT explained that they had. O2 hasn’t replied to two letters, or refunded the money. I don’t like O2.
  • My garage, Belmont, misquoted (negative £40) for a service on my car. I said I’d pay the full amount as it was clearly a mistake. They insisted they’d charge what they quoted. I like Belmont.

Multiply this millions of times every day around the world and it becomes clear why customers like or don’t like companies. When companies stand by their customer, even though it costs them on that transaction, they can look forward to repeat business. Customer’s defect when they find out for themselves that they’re paying too much, but they become advocates when the company tells them there’s a more appropriate deal available.

It’s time for corporate honesty, because regulation doesn’t promote doing the right thing. Regulation creates an environment of hair-splitting and legal argument, of blame and game-playing. Mind you, customers need to be honest, too, or this will never work.

What do you think, is honesty the way forward?

Corporate Social Media Activity is NOT Childsplay

Social media isn’t just a young person’s domain, but many senior executives treat it like it is. When I speak to them, the general belief is that you have to understand and be comfortable with it to look after it, therefore it’s best left with a young person. Not so, and shame on senior people for not being prepared to ‘get it’, and their willingness to leave accountability with part-time and under-experienced resources. Some can already look back and see how they erred, while others don’t recognise the unexploded bomb hidden away in their organisation.

This article at inc.com caught my eye. Hollis Thomases condenses nicely the reasons why young people, though talented and engaged with social media, may not be just right to look after your activities there. Here’s my take on corporate social media activity:

  • Marketing usually takes the lead because social networks and Twitter are great for branding, promotion and outreach. It’s a cool, like marketing people, medium and a relatively inexpensive method to get noticed. So do be creative in your online activity without going back to college for the resource. And please don’t be fooled into thinking that customer service and technical support will be easy. And it isn’t cheap. And it isn’t quick. I’ll come back to this in a moment*.
  • Focus attention – there are so many options out there that it’s easy to dabble in everything. But being a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none gets no prizes. Find the areas that get you the most coverage for the least effort and expense. In the consumer world this may boil down to Facebook and Twitter, but in B2B you may find LinkedIn, Focus.com and others are better. And before we get distracted by the young person’s ability to multitask, it’s emerging that they may not be so good at it as we’ve been led to believe. In customer support, I know of companies with multiple forums on their own website, and in Facebook, and elsewhere, with so little activity in each as to make it inefficient to monitor and moderate.
  • Be joined up in your approach. Voice, email, chat and other customer service channels have been around for a long time. Much longer than social channels. But the new kid on the block does provide insights into the customer experience that the established channels needs to take account of. For example, customers have learned that a poor experience on the phone doesn’t mean they have reached the end of the line. Simply tweet your complaint and the chances are the company will bend over backwards to get you back on board, and in public. It’s much better that the experience is always good so customers don’t resort to the court of public opinion for resolution.

Social media deserves a place at the boardroom table rather than in a broom cupboard. But let’s not overhype the medium and believe that business as usual has changed. Sure, it has an impact. Sure, it has an effect. But not many established businesses will close their customer service operation down, or reduce high street branches, because “social” is the way to go. It will continue to mature and contribute to the way business is done but not to the extent that boardrooms are filled with fresh college graduates because they understand “social”.

What impact do you think social activities will have in the future?

 

*I’m indebted to Frank Eliason for a mention he made at a conference in London earlier this year about the cost of serving customers through social media. It’s not cheap and it’s not as quick as you may think. Why? The volume isn’t there, the medium isn’t quite right, and the medium of choice when you absolutely need help NOW is…the phone – invented over 100 years ago. But if I want to get your attention, tweeting may just be my final option.

Three Reasons Why Hall of Fame Status Matters to Technology Company Customers

The 2012 MSN Customer Service Hall of Fame was recently announced and I was glad to see a few technology players in the top 10 or 15 companies.

MSN 2012 Hall of Fame Leaders Table

Looking at the top performing companies I realise that I know a few of them, either as a customer or through business. Without going into unnecessary, but potentially interesting, details there are some common traits irrespective of industry. They each:

  1. Satisfy a need and meet expectation
  2. Make it easy for me to find what I need when I need to look
  3. Humanise the interaction when I do have to make contact

Satisfy the need/Meet the expectation

 It seems strange that so many products and services are promoted as one thing but turn out to be another. This may be the result of overenthusiastic marketing, or Sales overselling, or the customer not finding it easy to understand what it does and doesn’t really do. In any case, products and services designed with the customer’s need in mind, and supported appropriately are bound to stand out from the crowd. When it comes to customer service, this is particularly important. When I read product reviews online, a one or two star rating doesn’t really put me off buying the product because the accompanying comments normally tell me more about the buyer than about the selling company or the product.

The comments that do make me reflect are the ones that identify what isn’t included, or what worked with difficulty. This is because I suspect I may have a hard time getting what I need from the product or service. So, sell me what I need and not what you have available and I will trust you again in the future.

Make it easy

Customers are generally realistic, but not always. So when things don’t go as expected, the company that anticipated I might get in touch and made answers easy to find and use online will gain my consumer appreciation. Online self-help tools are a great opportunity to validate that I do have a genuine problem, not an imagined and/or easily addressed one. But the knowledge-base content written by an engineer, in a technical language that I don’t understand, and clearly not with me (ordinary person) in mind, is an irritant and not a resource. So, instead of just ticking boxes by having the tools and content there, technology companies need to make their investment real by continually testing and improving usability.  

Humanise the interaction

I dread calling technical support helplines. I fear being stepped through the standard 42 step script that identifies that I have a problem. I know I have a problem, that’s why I called. If I have come from a diagnostic tool online, and a knowledge-base that did not help me, the last thing I want when I call or email or chat, is the human version of the same tools. Naturally, there are steps to be covered but agents must be empowered to judge the competence of the caller, asking a few validation questions before deciding how best to achieve resolution of the issue. Make me feel like a person, with ability but lacking knowledge, and I will again trust you in the future.

When looked at through the customer’s eyes I don’t think any of this is unreasonable. Through the customer service department’s eyes it probably spells “cost”, or “dissatisfaction”. I don’t think either is true. People are not standard and shouldn’t be treated as such. Professional customer service isn’t about the company process, but is about serving customers. Hall of Fame top performers know and get this. 

Do you agree?

Can You Successfully Sell to Customers That Ask for Help?

In short, the answer is “YES”. But so many companies do a bad job that it must seem, to them, like an impossible task. Here are some insights distilled from my own experience and observations as I prepared for my recent presentation at TSW in California.

  1. Be the consumer – for a moment, put yourself in the customer’s place. Ask yourself if YOU would find your pitch, timing, and approach to promoting a product or service during a customer service or technical support call attractive? If you’re honest you’ll probably answer “no”. We’ll explore the reasons for this a bit further down.
  2. Make the connection – the customer’s experience at the point of contact is entirely in the hands of the agent. This applies to every one-to-one communication channel and may also apply in social media channels. No connection means virtually no hope of a sale.
  3. Decide why you’re doing this – I mean corporately. The personal reasons can follow. For the company, making an offer to customers that have received help can be both a great opportunity or a huge risk. If your reason is something like “because we need to” or “because we can”, you can be pretty sure you will either not sell much or will irritate customers. Neither of these help your cause.

These points are not in any order of priority. But there is a point to this post. The low-cost support mantra adopted by many technology companies is an admirable financial aim and can be executed extremely effectively without dissatisfying customers. However, whether choosing self-help technology, community forums or any other method to minimise the cost of support, you may also close the door on furthering the customer relationship. All methods to reduce cost should be examined and engaged where they make financial sense. They can even improve customer satisfaction where the source aligns with customer preferences. But as alternatives to company employee interaction are implemented, remember that these cannot build a relationship with the customer.

Personal interactions are precious because the customer is speaking with the company. The production line approach to handling calls, emails and chat sessions is very efficient but diminishes the opportunity to do something else with that precious engagement. One of my former bosses said “people buy from people”. This applies in both consumer and enterprise environments. I recently read that the truth of this is that “people buy from people they think like them”. In the support environment, “like” equals “helps and engages” so success is not just a resolved transaction, it’s also the foundation to taking another step or two.

During a call or chat session the customer shares a lot of information with the agent. Not just the facts and figures, but also their level of knowledge, emotional state, preferences and even aspirations. This is important information.

Successful help isn’t just about achieving resolution but is also about determining what will benefit the consumer. And this may go beyond solving the immediate problem to include the offer of an extended warranty if the customer is nearing the end of their current one. Or the offer of a technical assistance subscription if their knowledge is basic and they are likely to need (costly) help in the future. Or it might be an additional product that fits with the customer’s aims or answers a need.

My point is that dumbly making an offer (any offer) at the end of a support call makes the customer feel abused, and abused customers do not come back readily. Making the right offer at the right time in the right circumstance will achieve both a sale and a happy customer. The income created offsets any additional costs and, further, improves the likelihood that the customer will buy from you again, creating a future revenue opportunity.

Do you have any related insights or experiences you can share?