Tag Archives: customer experience

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…

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?