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Posts Tagged ‘Customer Experience’

It Is About The Relationship Not The Transaction

July 17, 2012 4 comments

Co-creation emphasizes the generation and ongoing realization of mutual organization-customer value. Historically, organizations spent too much time and effort to extract as much value out of a relationship as possible. Unfortunately, customers are now more knowledgeable, connected and interactive than they have ever been. This was one of the themes in my Evolution of the Contact Center post last month, I subtitled this ‘Governance’. In trying to play catch-up on my reading, the June issue of Harvard Business Review took a similar stance.  They called it “Pricing to Create Shared Value” (by Marco Bertini and John T. Gourville).

While my focus was (and still is) customer service, the HBR article in the June 2012 issue focuses much more on pricing strategies. There are some great examples, ones many of us have heard before. The airlines (yes, the poster child for doing things wrong). Do everything they can to extract value. Once you have confirmed your seat, everything else is a cost; from baggage to pillows. In this instance, the overall customer experience is abysmal and the traveler is left with a sour taste in their mouth.

Where does value originate?

Before I read this article, I had not considered this point. According to the authors “value neither originates with nor belongs solely to the firm. Without a willing customer, there is no value.” Fascinating in the simplicity of the statement. When I was first reading the article, I was about ready to challenge the premise, until the last phrase. Without a customer, there is no value – simple really. The authors extend the premise by simply using logic. If you cannot have value without a customer, value must be shared. Value can be enhanced (expanded) via co-creation. It is true that there is a little bit of chicken and egg going on here, as the company must initiate the process of creating something valuable, but it is positive feedback loop if done right.

Price, Money or Value?

Money or currency always seem to be an afterthought in these conversations. Academics talk about value exchange, when they really just do not like say the word ‘money’.

“Consumers often come to identify with the brands they buy, and firms hope to encourage this, preferring loyal customers to ones who engage on a merely transactional basis. But pricing decisions often undermine the relationship between brands and their followers.”

Why is it that pricing decisions undermine the the relationship? Because, the firm tries to extract as much value from the individual as possible (to make the numbers). However, if the firm is transparent about how it makes money  – yes, businesses are there to make money – the transparency builds trust and loyalty. Within the article, there is an a great example, especially for those who have heard the phrase ” You do not actually want a drill, what you want is a hole in the wall”. Hilti is a company who created a Fleet Management program, operating on just this premise. The realization was that construction company’s do not really care about owning tools, what they wanted is the outcome of using the tools (aka a hole in the wall or a hole in the ground).

There is a whole lot more to the article, I only hit the tip of the iceberg, well worth the read.

Trusting Data Versus Trusting Your Gut

March 30, 2012 6 comments

As if the CIO did not have enough to worry about; Cloud, Social, Mobile, along comes Data  (BigData to be buzzword compliant). OK, I might have it a little backwards, Data has been a concern for a long time, but now, because of Cloud, Mobile and Social, Data is an even bigger challenge. The list of issues surrounding data is a long one; growth of, quality of, management of, storage of, interpretation of, access to and last but not least, analysis. Many of these are technological, but the real issue is when data crashes into a human…

Do You Trust Data or Do You Trust Your Gut?

The stakes are real – the future of your business. Leveraged well, data will provide an edge, properly used it is a difference maker.  Do phrases like: ‘My instincts got us here, and we are doing just fine’ or ‘it feels right’ fly around your office? Hyperbole, maybe, but most of us know the type and have experienced at least a bit of it. There is an argument that suggests that some people actually do know what the data says, and their ‘gut’ is right. As for the rest of us, I am not so sure, the answer is that balance is needed. According to HBR (Full source below), that balancing has a name – an informed skeptic:

At one end of the spectrum are the pure ‘trust your gut’ types on the other, the purists (“In god we trust, everyone else bring data”) types. The basis of the HBR article is: even if the data is good, decisions based on that data should be questioned – ie, be a bit of a skeptic. This is interesting and important.

“The ability to gather, store, access, and analyze data has grown exponentially over the past decade, and companies now spend tens of millions of dollars to manage the information streaming in from suppliers and customers.”

From my perspective, it is all about intelligence; using data, properly, to provide you and your business insights to make decisions. That is what you do, right; the data is there, everyone who needs it has access and the entire organization is leveraging it to its full potential? As the article also suggests, IT should spend more time on I, less on T – while it sounds fun, there is a small point there, not as big as the author makes it seem. To question data, to invite skeptics, everyone needs access

Do People Really Know What to Do with Data?

What are the reasons that data seems to scare people. Few will admit to being scared by data, but very few have the real background to argue on empirical terms when charts and graphs and conclusions are put in front of them. An IBM/MIT study (Source 3)  identified three levels of analytical sophistication: Aspirational, Experienced and Transformed, in a Year-to-year comparisons of these groups (which can be seen in the source report) it shows that Experienced and Transformed organizations are increasing their analytical capabilities, significantly.

(note: The IBM/MIT report did not present the information in the format above, I used the article to create an image similar to the HBR article).

“The number of organizations using analytics to create a competitive advantage has surged 57 percent in just one year, to the point where nearly 6 out of 10 organizations are now differentiating themselves through analytics” IBM/MIT

What is unfortunate is that it sounds better than it really is. If you really start to dig deeper into the data (oh, the irony), the story is a bit more complex. While things are getting better, I am not sure I would characterize them as ‘good’. Out of curiosity, I wanted to look at a topic important to me, Customer Experience. Based on my interpretation of 3 sources of information, many know what to do, but are struggling to do it. By my read of the IBM/MIT report, only 1/2 ( 10%) of the organizations who ‘really get it’ (transformational) are using analytics to make decisions regarding customer experience.  Turning that around, 90% are not, scary, unfortunate, reality.

“Typically, an organization’s highest-spending customers are the ones who take advantage of every channel, whether it’s the web, a mobile device, or a kiosk on a showroom floor.8 Unfortunately, these customers are most at risk for experiencing a disconnect in navigating channels that are not yet integrated. A unified multi-channel “bricks and clicks” approach can allow customers to move between website, smart phone app, or an in-store service counter with a consistent quality of engagement.” (Source 1)

The only way to know and really understand something like this is to have the data to prove it! It is not rocket science, but it does take some work. What steps are you taking to share data, train people and leverage what you have right there in front of you?

Conclusion

  • Something as valuable as Data is not a Problem, it is powerful and valuable Asset,
  • Help people to understand data, encourage them to be an educated skeptics (yes, question that Infographic)
  • Gut Instincts are not bad, just keep things in perspective, right place right time,
  • And for goodness sake, start using Data to better understand your Customers!

There is so much more to this story. In writing this post, I have a whole new level of respect for this topic…I hope you do too.

  1. Analytics in the Boardroom, IBM Institute for Business Value, Fred Balboni and Susan Cook
  2. Good Data Won’t Guarantee Good Decisions, Harvard Business Review, April 2012, Shvetank Shah, Andrew Horne, and Jaime Capellá
  3. Analytics: The Widening Divide How companies are achieving competitive advantage through analytics, MIT Sloan Management Review with IBM Institute for Business Value, David Kiron, Rebecca Shockley, Nina Kruschwitz, Glenn Finch and Dr. Michael Haydock

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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From the Long Tail to the New Normal

March 26, 2012 6 comments

In this next installment of my ‘connect the dots’ series I am going out on a bit of a limb. My objective here is to help people understand the importance of ‘New Normal’, in writing this I have a better sense of it myself. Working backwards, the ‘New Normal’ is very similar in concept to what Seth Godin calls “Weird”. The best way for me to describe ‘Weird’ is that it is the rest of the story, left out in most Long Tail discussions. The Long Tail, as discussed by Chris Anderson, talks about the outliers, the ones who live and purchase at the edges of the spectrum. In other words, the Long Tail does not talk too much about the rest of the distribution, at least not from the customer-centric perspective. While I have heard New Normal used before, I have not seen many illustrations of what it might look like (other than teenagers walking down the street texting from a mobile phone).

The value of the diagram is to illustrate to others, using specific examples and to talk about the ‘New Normal’, moving beyond buzzwords or hyperbole.

The New Normal has been and can be used to understand many of the changes and challenges many people have been talking about for a while now. Ideas such as; The Social Customer, The Collaborative Organization, Social CRM, Social Business  and more might be better understood with a simple illustration.  Think about the distribution of communication channels used 5 years ago, versus now. We simply have more choices. This is not only about customer communications, think about the ways in which you communicate with your peers now, versus 5 years ago. Would it be interesting to chart some this with your own data?

What exactly is ‘New’ about the New Normal

When applied to a business context, the bell curve is being ‘flattened’.  While Chris Anderson and peers talked about Amazon and Netflix –this is now about your products, services and your customers. The long tail is now the ‘tail wagging the dog’. Let’s bring this a little closer to home; the customer journey. What follows is an objective view, with some sweeping assumptions and data without research data as the foundation. For the purists among you, I am focused on the journey and channels of communication, not the product economics of weird, nor long tail.

Consider the number of modes of communication that a customer used from evaluation to purchase for your product 10 years ago (If you did not have a product 10 years ago, think of your own journey). There might have been a Yahoo search, then a phone call. Maybe an email and a website visit. For the sake of this conversation, let’s speculate that the number of channels used averaged 3 and for 70% of the customers they used between 2 and 4 channels. The rest likely used between 1 and 5 channels. This brings us really close to a pretty, normal distribution, though slightly narrow and steep.

How about today? What would the number of channels look like for the same (or similar) product purchase journey? Again, not scientific, but the data is likely available for your business – Could we guess average of 4 channels? This is just one channel more, on average, but it changes the game. Based on the flattening of the curve, to get to that 70% of your customer base it is likely something like “70% of the customers use between 2 and 7 channels; a pretty big range, not as simple as it used to be. The key point here is that you need to dig in deeper and understand what they are doing on each channel. How many channels would we need to include to get to 95% of your customer population (the -2σ to 2σ in the illustration above)?

The important part of the flattening is not only the reduction in the middle, it is the increase on the edges. I want to be clear on a few things. The new Normal for your customers is dependent upon where they have been. The pace of change is determined by you and your customers, not by a consultant or analyst. Just for fun, if you want to see a Normal distribution in action, take a look at this graphic of the snow in Vermont, as it careens off the bell curve in 2012.  All I can say is, I hope this does not represent the ‘New Normal’. There is a whole lot more to this story – just think about it. As always, the time Sword Ciboodle allows me to think through these concepts is greatly appreciated!

Sources:

Mirror Images – Customer Experience versus Employee Experience

January 21, 2012 2 comments

In my first Mirror Images post, I referred to Social CRM as a “A complex overlay” on top of customer service, customer relationships and the supporting strategy, technology and processes. If we can accept this, that Social CRM is an overlay, then we should be able to agree that it does mirror Social business (or Enterprise 2.0), as Social Business is also an overlay on top of many standard business practices and concepts. Diving deeper to a more definitive concept; is employee experience the mirror of customer experience? Unfortunately, most people who talk/write on the topic of ‘experience’ focus on the customer aspect and neglect the employee experience; the literature therefore is not as extensive.  In this area, topics typically include empowerment, engagement, and satisfaction. There is very little that directly talks to employee experience, after all it is just a job, right – no, wrong. Moving forward, this is going to have to change.

Your own Marketing team is working very hard to enhance the customer experience, hoping to take advantage of what mobile and tablet devices have to offer (Cool UI) to build stronger relationships with people (customers and prospective customers). But, let’s not forget that before you drove into work this morning, you were a consumer, using these devices and you were the target of these efforts, by some other company. The number of connected TV sales is expected to double in 2012, these same people are highly likely to have an Xbox, an iPod, Kindle, KindleFire or some other next generation device. Now, you are sitting in front of screen, your team is sitting in front of an even bigger screen, maybe with a headset connected and they are using circa 1990’s technology to help your customers. What gives?

Think about it, all of this effort which is customer facing and your internal teams are frankly having a lousy experience. Can we gamify work a bit, to make it more fun? Or is that pandering to misaligned expectations of a certain employee type or demographic? As a did in my previous post,  I turned to friend for some help and insight. I asked the question to Mark Tamis and we had a bit of an electronic conversation or Socratic debate. My going in position is the better employee experience will lead to a better customer experience, as this is the logical answer. But, as Mark points out, it is not that simple.

Does better user (employee) experience lead to better customer experience?

MT: First of all, I believe the question leads to trying to compare apples to pears.

ML: That is better than apples to oranges, no?

MT: French expression badly translated

MT: The customer has gone through a journey and his experience has been shaped by interactions at every touch point (dealing with your company, in-store experience, exchanging with friends, family and peers and so on), whereas the employee experience is shaped the interactions with colleagues, suppliers, systems and – only at very precise touch points – clients. So although the customer and the employee are intimately linked, they are not on the same journey.

ML: Valid point, but at that critical point where the journeys intersect will define many things and likely be more impactful to the customer. We have both been known to say that the experience perceived is more important than the intended design. Like most of life we spend most of the time learning and preparing for those moments where we have to act. While not on the same journey, the journey’s are linked and aligned.

MT: By the very nature of company-customer relations, the employee journey is sub altered to the customer journey which leads to the chicken and the egg problem of when a negative customer experience is taken out on an employee who is not able to or not empowered to do anything about it, which in turn leads to a negative employee experience that negatively influences the way the employee deals with the following customer et cetera.

ML: Very interesting, and I agree that the employee experience impacted by the customer experience and journey. I will suggest that the employee would only partially hold his own organization accountable for the treatment by the customer, unless it is a trend, and they are not empowered to do anything about it. While valid, employees should be able move beyond this type of reaction.

MT: Partially, but up to which point? Either stop trying to fight it and become demotivated, go on a crusade and risk being shot down, or simply…leave.

MT: Breaking this vicious circle consists of first by understanding the customer’s journey and coordinating efforts to improve it and second by providing the employees with the infrastructure (data, insight, tools and processes) and conditions (work conditions, a company culture that facilitates collaboration) to do so. Ultimately it comes down to reducing frictions (for the customer and for employees) to help the customer in his job to be done and reach the desired outcomes.

ML: Who is responsible and accountable for removing the fractions? It must be on the employee side, management etcetera, driving for a positive employee experience.

Mark, great stuff and I do appreciate your time and thoughts. I believe we are mostly aligned, though I will admit it is bigger and more complex than I had originally thought. The two journeys are different but it is those all important intersections where things happen. The key question is what will the state of mind (on each side) be at those points? Business units and IT departments will need to invest more in the design of services, for the internal customer. The expectations by everyone; not just the younger or Millenial crowd, are higher, and need to align with customer expectations. In order for a true person to person relationship to be established, experience must be aligned on both sides of the firewall. This is clearly not all about technology (yes, I do work for a technology vendor) but at the same time, technology is a huge part of the equation, there is no getting past that point. For contact center agents, their experience is critically important, and I believe there is a connection to customer experience – a big one.

The Phone, It Still Matters in this Social, Cross-Channel World

November 22, 2011 12 comments

(This is an expanded post based on the original – with a bit of a teaser on survey results at the bottom)

First talked about in 1844, written about again in 1854, patented (US) in 1876, argued about for another 10 years, connected across the US in 1915: The Telephone. We cannot forget the importance of Alexander Graham Bell (and many others, to be fair), a native of Edinburgh, Scotland a short trip from the Ciboodle HQ outside of Glasgow. So, here we are nearly 100 years from that first cross country call and the phone remains relevant, even more important than many communication channels which have come on the scene since. Friend Mark Tamis suggests that given my thoughts and writing regarding cross channel, I could have been a bit more creative and played on the word ‘cross’ a bit m0re – he is probably right – but I digress.

A Chat With Paul Greenberg

“When push comes to shove, social stuff is still, and even email, is degrees of separation. People are nastier in emails than they ever are in person…Consequently, the real one-on-one interaction is always the telephone” Paul Greenberg

I had a great opportunity to spend a few minutes talking with Paul Greenberg while at the Destination CRM show in NYC. It just so happened that during this time we had a video crew on stand-by and were able to spontaneously capture the moments on film, with excellent lighting of course.

During the emergent phase of Social Communications, the phase we are in right now, the core objective of many social platforms is to go get something done on another platform. To some, this is go read this article, to others; this is please go buy something. In the customer service realm, this is often to shift the communications from a channel that is hard, like email or Twitter, to something synchronous and real-time. It is still too difficult to resolve a personal, complex or sensitive issue on a Facebook wall or in 140 characters.

Multi-channel customer service is the wave the present and we will certainly ride this wave into the future. We will see an increase use of social channels for many different things, but we will hop from one channel to the next (cross-channel) and make contextual decisions based on many things. In the end, when there is an emotionally charged issue, or an urgent issue such as a service outage, insurance claim, bank issue – in person or face to face communication and the telephone will remain critical to problem resolution for many years to come.

“The phone is ultimately how things will get resolved, if it is big enough”

A bit of a Teaser

What do you think? Am I being over simplistic? Too conservative in my approach and thoughts? I invite you to give some feedback and challenge me a bit. Esteban Kolsky and his Research firm thinkJar are just now completing a survey and I am finding the results very interesting. As a bit of a teaser, out of 300 respondents, when asked the question “What social service channels does your organization currently support?” over 60% said they support Twitter and a handful more (literally) said they support Facebook. This is a cross industry, cross continental result set – one that we will be digging into (ie, slicing and dicing the data a bit) in more depth in the upcoming weeks. Does that number surprise you? It did surprise me….

Customer Experience; It does not Start nor Stop at the Door

November 2, 2011 1 comment

(I am certainly not a food critic – but like most I do enjoy a positive dining experience; for a restaurant the experience is certainly greater than just the meal.)

Being the socially connected type (think iPhone: Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter – not High School or Tennis Club) my experience usually starts well before I get to the restaurant and ends well after I leave. Until recently, I did not even write restaurant reviews. I have shared my experience in different ways; through social technology.  I am not going to try and figure out how the dining experience itself is broken down, food critics have that nailed. I can guess there is an atmosphere part, a food part and a service part – and probably other parts. Traditionally, 90% of the experience, or more, was contained within the 4 walls of the establishment; pre-2009. The rules are changing, and “12 years of experience” does not say much against the changing nature of the game. To me, it is what you have been doing and thinking during the past 2 years that will determine your ability to survive.

Enter the Social Web

With the growing population of patrons who own smart phones along with well established poor manners (guilty); we share, share and share some more. Prior to 2009 the number of times I would share a particular dining experience could normally be counted on one hand, at a future social engagement; dinner, bar-b-Que or a soccer game, talking to other parents while watching the kids. Fast-forward to 2011, I am multi-modal, sharing my location (Geo), a review (Yelp) a picture or experience (Twitter) and maybe pulling it all together via an update (Facebook). When I get notice something which needs more attention, I write a blog (like this Red Roof Inn post, which I just checked, had almost 4000 views). The total number of people who have access to seeing this post is > 5000 (If a few friends Re-Tweet on Twitter, that number will grow much larger). I am a realist and the number of people who read it or care is likely much much less (say 50 – 1%). But that is still 10x what it was pre-social. There is the additional element, something I tell my kids when they post to Facebook; “Google never forgets”. This is now searchable and will live on well beyond just a quick in-person conversation.

In the small town atmosphere where I live, Burlington, Vermont (Williston, actually a bit east) many local restaurants (and other businesses as well) have jumped into social media with both feet. Unfortunately, some believe that social media is simply another outbound marketing channel; you know, they talk and we are supposed to listen. But it gets worse, they do not have email skills either.  There is a relatively new restaurant called The Farm House Tap and Grill  (built where the only McDonald’s in the downtown area stood). I had high hopes, getting ready to go to the restaurant for the first time.  I am not going to repeat my review as that tells most of the story. What was more disappointing was the response or lack of on different channels. In fairness, I did not try to call, I had no interest. What I did get back was the following:

“We realize that we did indeed go way past our quote times, that is our fault. I have been in the restaurant business for 12 years now and I too value a good customer service experience, which is what we strive for. I encourage you to come try us again, particularly not on UVM parents weekend when we clearly were overran.”

It was nice to receive a response via email (several Twitter replies went unanswered, here is the Twitter handle, judge for yourself). While there was recognition of an issue there was no attempt to make it right.  What was I expecting, nothing too much – maybe just a bit more than I got. Maybe an offer of an appetizer on them. We all know that an appetizer is net neutral from a cost perspective, I would likely have had dinner as well. Not even a suggestion of which day/time might be better (other than that day was bad), nor if I am flexible. Nothing to a follow-up response. If someone has a bad experience, do what you can to make it right.

These things are just so easy. At some point, the novelty or ‘newness’ will wear off, and then they will be left with – well, themselves. So that I show a positive example, a local restauranteur who does it right, take a look at this twitter stream  (Handy’s Lunch) – it is really not that hard. There are so many good sources of information where businesses can learn. They can read the statistics which say things like ‘help a customer with an issue and that person a much more likely to return’. Why establishments ignore the easy stuff and focus only on what a text book says is a bit concerning.

It is also worth noting that The Farm House Tap and Grill does a lot of old school social good. Using local farmers and donating a percentage of food sales in November to rebuilding the Intervale farm impacted twice this year by flooding. If they considered the value they could bring over time, maybe they would truly engage – maybe I am asking too much.

Am I being too harsh? Unfair?

Standardized and Automatic are not the same as Efficient and Consistent

November 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Modern customers (aka Social Customer or 21st Century Customer) are demanding, multi-channel and empowered. Your customers, being modern, expect each experience to be positive, efficient and valuable. Finally, there is the desire that the brand experience will be consistent across the different points of interaction. That said, ‘consistent’ should not be confused with “the same” or “standardized” experience. When a customer logs onto a website via their mobile; a 2 inch by 4 inch form factor screen, there is no expectation that the experience will be the same as when this same customer logs on via their 27 inch iMac.

Expectations are funny though, because what the customer expects to accomplish ( their job to be done) is similar across channels, but again, not often the same. Every business needs to reconcile jobs to be done, customer experience and customer service. Put simply, there is an objective which your customer is seeking to achieve, information to be found or a purchase to be made. Applying business rules and considered processes in front of customer interactions can increase efficiency and add a level of required consistency to each interaction.  Specific to customer service, business ruless and process can help a service organization deliver not only consistent communications to their customers, but also personalized ones. The name of the game (if it is a game) is to empower the each agent with the right information, at the right time, in context. In this era, the “360 degree view” might be too much.

Worlds Colliding

In the context of this short article, Business Process Management (BPM) is to be taken at face value.  It is simply what it sounds like; how a business manages processes. Things like how an order happens or how a return happens. When those simple examples are given, you might think about policies and procedures, Visio workflow diagrams and rules engines.  Of course, from a back-office perspective these kinds of activities need to be reproducible and standardized.  But, this view also conjures up visions of command and control and rigidity. Automation might solve your problems, but it may or may not solve your customers problems. Add the modern customer to this discussion; the result is that command and control will not work, it just won’t.  Where is the balance (your balance) between flexibility and effectiveness?

In doing a bit of research, I like some of the thinking being done over at Forrester. In bringing the worlds together, Derek Miers begins to talk about business process as practices, not only a set of procedures. If you consider layers of an organization, the further back you go, the more rigid (procedural) the process needs to be. As you move closer towards the top, the customer side (communication channels), more flexibility is required as processes “are goal-centric and guided, rather than controlling”. Put this together with work that Kate Leggett is doing, with a strong focus on customer service and service experience:

“Companies need to queue, route, and work on every interaction over all communication channels in the same manner, following the company business processes that uphold its brand”.

Bringing it together

The future of exceptional experiences, both in customer service and more general brand interactions is about integrating the data, process and carefully considering and respecting your customer’s time as well as needs. Creating a more effective process is about the efficiency required by your customer, not your back-office team. Creating consistent experiences means that data and information access across and between channels meets the expectations of your customers and makes sense. From a customer service perspective, customer service needs to evolve

The parts of the organization that are positioned to support these customers need to be part of the development process (design and implementation) of the business process practice areas. Where possible policies and procedures need to evolve into practices and ‘doing the right thing’. Sharing a final thought: Traditionally, CRM has been data and record centric. More modern systems and practices are pushing towards process centric CRM. Actually, the right answer is the combination of data-centricity and process-centricity; it is called Customer Centricity.

Customer Delight or a Brilliant PR Stunt? You Decide

August 22, 2011 2 comments

Friend Graham Hill (@grahamhill) took the time to share his thoughts regarding the Morton’s Steakhouse ‘ Surprise Airport Delivery’ last week. I will add my $.02 throughout.

There is an interesting true story doing the rounds of customer service blogs at the moment. In it, Peter Shankman a customer service writer, blogger and regular customer at Morton’s Steakhouse jokingly tweeted to Morton’s that he would like a Porterhouse waiting for him upon landing at Newark airport after a long day on the road. Much to his surprise, when he landed that is exactly what was waiting: a uniformed waiter complete with a steak dinner, some side-orders and silver cutlery. Naturally, Peter was delighted and blogged about it immediately. The twitterverse got hold of it and now everybody is talking about Morton’s, about their greatest/worst experiences at Morton’s and more importantly, putting this forward as a great example of customer service.

But is it really customer service? Or is it something entirely different?

Let’s dissect what happened a little and see. Morton’s is a medium-priced steak restaurant (a three course dinner for two costs $110). Peter is a regular customer at Morton’s. He is also a customer service writer with books about ‘outrageous PR stunts that work’ and social customer service, and he has 110,000 twitter followers. He jokingly said he would like a steak upon landing at Newark but didn’t expect it to be delivered. He was clearly delighted when it was. To delight Peter, once Morton’s had decided to respond, it had to monitor Peter’s flight status, time the cooking of a steak dinner to perfection, get it the 35 miles to Newark airport on time and take a waiter out of restaurant duty to do it. Clearly, the cost to Morton’s of providing this delightful experience would probably take tens, if not hundreds of extra visits by Peter, over and above the ones he would normally make, for them to ever have a hope of recouping the money spent.

As Steve Vargo pointed out in a recent exchange about over-delivering to customers, this is a clear case of hugely over delivering against both expectations and desires. Over-delivering against expectations is a good thing as it anchors satisfaction and loyalty, but over-delivering against desires is not. It is costly, economically unsustainable and quickly loses its effect. All in all, as Peter didn’t expect Morton’s to respond at all, let alone to deliver a steak dinner to the airport, I don’t really see this as customer service.

[MJL – It is sometimes extremely valuable to over deliver to customers. The over delivery does need to be able to live a life of its own, particular to that one customer, possibly a little word of mouth, In other words, would Morton’s have done this if Peter was simply a very good customer?]

So if it wasn’t customer service, what was it?

The clue lies in the title of Peter’s book; ‘Can we Do That?! – Outrageous PR Stunts that Work and Why Your Company Needs Them’. Although Morton’s steak stunt failed as an act of customer service, it succeeded magnificently as a PR stunt. For the cost of a steak dinner, a tank of petrol and three hours of a waiter’s time, Morton’s got the kind of positive publicity that marketing budget’s just can’t buy. The story was picked up by the twittersphere, influential blogs like the Huffington Post and even the foreign press

Morton’s clearly scored a coup with their steak stunt. But it only worked because of who Peter is and because of his social influence. Maybe they have been reading Peter’s book and in a delicious (no pun intended) irony decided to respond in this way. Whatever their motivations, even if it was bad customer service, it was brilliant marketing. Hats off to Morton’s for having the guts to try what at the end of the day was a risky PR stunt. It worked spectacularly. Maybe I should read Peter’s book.

[MJL – Like the Social disasters, which have become highly public during the past few years, the secondary question is will this have a long term impact? If yes, will the long term impact be found outside writers and bloggers? If the masses truly believe this is a customer service win, the net impact will be negative, as this is not a sustainable practice.]

What do you think? Customer Delight or a Brilliant PR Stunt?

The Importance of Positive Customer Service Experiences

Customer experience is made up of the sum of all interactions and touch points between the people, products and services a company provides and their customers.  Customer service experience is a subset of the overall customer experience, with a slightly different focus. Specifically, a customer service experience is the sum of the interactions between you and your customers when they are trying to communicate with or to you, often regarding something that has gone awry.  Customers of all types (not just social customers) are emotional and tend to rate experiences based upon the expectations set (either specifically, or ones we set in our mind) – yes, they are often shared, both good and bad. The simple question is: “Is your business organized in such a way to accelerate your company’s ability to deliver a service experience, which meets or better, exceeds customer expectations?”

Every business has unique opportunities to create meaningful connections with their customers every day.  The idea, of course, is to embrace customers, offering exceptional value with each touch point.  Within customer service, if the team serves as an advocate for every customer, building trust along the way loyalty often comes along for the ride.  And to be quite direct, incremental revenue and a passion for your products is possible as well, but it is not as simple as that, it takes work.  People like buying from people they know and trust – get to know your customers! Each part of the organization can and should make a difference. Is this the case in your organization?

The customer need not initiate every interaction. A simple reminder via email or SMS as notification of an appointment, for example, can be very well received. Do you have in place the proper foundation – cultural and technological – to meet the demands of your customer and advocates?  Many customers are less satisfied with contact centers (ie phone calls) than they are with the trendier contact options (Social), but the investments are still towards the new flashy and ‘cool’ applications. Many customers do still prefer the phone – statistics prove it. This kind of disconnect has created a conundrum which is receiving attention from on-high, your CEO.

Executives are taking notice and have made it one of their business priorities to get closer to their customers.  I have been known to ask; “what exactly does ‘getting closer’ mean?” Executives have begun to realize that embarking down the wrong relationship-building path will continue to critically hurt their overall business strategy.  Leaders are now facing a decision: continue to let customers down through inadequate capabilities or embark on a journey to evolve their customer service experience.  Companies cannot do this alone, a new vision and a framework for support has become paramount.

To succeed with all customers, social and more traditional, companies need to create and maintain consistency of experience across all channels. A complete interaction experience goes well beyond just listening to your customer. It branches out to action, enablement and empowerment. Not only do companies need to learn how to interact well with customers using all channels; from the phone to social media, they also need to ensure experiences for the customer that deliver real value to the customer in exchange for time, attention, actions, information, and anything else that companies want from customers.

Few organizations are capable of providing the cross-channel consistency, an imperative for modern customer facing organizations. Unfortunately, the internal cultures of companies have not been built for this model. In order to achieve success, I am suggesting that companies must first change to better embrace their customers, not just as industry-mandated customer service operations. Companies will need to enable and empower employees to act as customer advocates who help customers successfully do the jobs they need to do with the company’s services or products. The company’s view of and objectives for customer service will need to change to provide very different kinds of training and guidelines to allow customer service staff to work creatively, cross-channel with customers. To succeed, companies will need more than collaboration platforms, though they can help. Coordination needs to come before collaboration, I will be exploring that in a future post.

During the past month, I was able to explore, in depth, many of the points above with Julie Hunt. Looking at the above points from many different perspectives – having fun along the way. Some the key questions addressed are:

  • How can you meet the demands of a multi- and cross-channel customer?
  • Do you know what your customers want from a ‘social’ relationship with you?
  • How can you align processes with the needs of your customers?
  • When does the difference between an Interaction and a Transaction matter?
  • How to focus on what your customers remember, for service interactions?
  • What is the proper balance of investment in ‘Social’ channels versus ‘Traditional’ channels?

If you would like to receive the full version of the document, please just let me know.  No registration forms, just an email to me, mitch.lieberman (at) gmail.com or to whitepaper (at) sword-ciboodle.com.

Building a CEx that Creates Value for Customers… And for Companies.

A guest post By Dr. Graham Hill, Partner, Optima Partners and Associate, DesignThinkers. I have learned a tremendous amount from Graham over the past several years. I might add that if I had started reading his works earlier on, I would know even more! I am very please that Graham decided to share the following.

Too many customer experiences are created just for the benefit of companies. Customer are either a target or an afterthought. Many customer experience practitioners don’t see the 900lb Gorilla in the room; the most important touchpoints are not about marketing, sales or service, but about the weeks, months, even years of product usage. Companies need to re-orient the customer experience around what customers’ value, the touchpoints they use to create it and how the company can benefit from co-creating more value together with customers. Doing this opens up new opportunities to earn revenues long after the point of sale.

We tend to see the world in terms of who we are and what we do. It’s a cognitive bias colloqially known as Maslow’s Hammer. So advertising people, who obsess about Brands, talk about the customer experience (CEx) in terms of creating a branded experience. And internet people, who obsess about ecommerce, talk about the CEx in terms of creating a better on-line experience. And CRM people, who obsess about marketing, sales and service, talk about CEx in terms of, yes, you’ve guessed it, more efficient and effective, sales and service.

These are all inside-out versions of CEx. They are only about companies, their consultants and the vendors who service them both. They are NOT about customers. They all pay lip-service to customers, but the customer is not at the heart of their thinking, let alone their doing. They are at best a target, at worst, just an afterthought. It is a lot like waiting on-hold in a customer service queue and hearing a sugary voice intone on the telephone, “your business is important to us”. Sure it is, but not enough to staff the call centre with sufficient people to answer my call in a reasonable time.

Make no mistake, the CEx IS about brands, and the online experience, and marketing, sales and service, but it is about so much more as well. As was recently suggested in an online discussion, “CEx… is the sum total of the interactions a customer has with your company“. That’s close, but not quite close enough. In fact, most of the inside-out versions of CEx are so busy focusing on themselves that they don’t see the 900lb Gorilla in the room. That for the vast majority of customers, the most frequent and most important touchpoints are with the product during the days, weeks, months, even years of usage. For customers, the CEx is mostly about value-in-use.

If customers care the most about value-in-use, then the CEx should mostly be about enabling customers to get the most out of using the company’s products during usage touchpoints. That starts with helping the customer establish a need for the product, helping them to make the right choices and offering them the right sales terms. All the touchpoints the inside-out CEx-ers talk about. The ones of most value to the company. But critically, the CEX is also about supporting them when they first use the product, and then over a lifetime of product usage, up to the point where it is disposed of. These are the touchpoints the inside-out CEx-ers don’t like to talk about. The ones of most value to the customer.

This doesn’t mean bending over backwards just to give customers everything for free. Companies don’t need to become charities. It does mean understanding what customers are trying to do at each touchpoint in the CEx and at what creates value for them during each touchpoint, and then working out how to enable customers to create more value in such a way that the company can create more value too. And value isn’t just hard cash. It can also be knowledge that is used to drive innovation, relationships that reduce the cost of the next sale, even advocacy that drives word of mouth recommendation. The CEx isn’t just about creating value for customers, it’s about value co-creation together with customers.

If companies do this intelligently, it can turn upside-down how they go to market. Rather than just charging customers for outputs at the point of sale then abandoning them to their fate, which is so often what happens, companies can also charge customers for ongoing outcomes during the weeks, months and years of using the product. For example, Rolls Royce Aviation doesn’t sell aero engines any more. Instead, it sells ‘power by the hour’. Customers only pay Rolls Royce when the aero engine is used to fly their airplanes. And the airline may even be paid by Rolls Royce for maintaining the same engines in their own facilities. Its all part of a move towards outcome-based contracting that is sweeping business.

If we want CEx to become more than just another advertising slogan, ‘one touch’ button or marketing cross-sell campaign, we need to start to think about it from the customer’s perspective. And to work out how to co-create more value together with customers. Not convinced? Ask yourself a simple question, “which company would you prefer to do business with? One that is only interested in creating value for itself, or one that wants to co-create value together with YOU!”. It’s a no-brainer isn’t it? It should be for companies too.

Graham Hill
Customer-centric Innovator
@grahamhill

Further Reading:

Merz, He & Vargo
The Evolving Brand Logic: A Service-dominant Logic Perspective
http://www.sdlogic.net/Merz_Yi_Vargo_2009.pdf

Knowledge@Wharton
‘Power by the Hour’: Can Paying Only for Performance Redefine How Products Are Sold and Serviced?
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=1665

Irene Ng
Outcome-Based Contracting: Changing the Boundaries of B2B Customer Relationships
http://www.aimresearch.org/uploads/File/Publications/Executive%20Briefings%202/Outcome_based_contracting.pdf