The Perfect Customer Experience

Turning Satisfied Customers into Advocates – Dale Wolf, Editor

The Perfect Customer Experience - Turning Satisfied Customers into Advocates – Dale Wolf, Editor

Lean Marketing and Toyota

From Lean Manufacturing to Lean Marketing

The first upheaval introduced by the Toyota Production System came more out of Japanese culture than from the world of process control. It is a philosophical sense of unity with reality that forms the foundation for Lean Manufacturing — a methodoloyg that has revolutionized assembly lines around the world. This runs counter to the command and control mentality of American assembly line production. It is a “giving in” to a reality that is larger than life. Without this, there can be no big change in existing systems.


Genjitsu, Gembutsu and Gemba are a reflection of Asian culture. They are not tasks to complete. Instead they are a mindset to be absorbed. Like Nature, the 3 Reals cannot be manipulated. They are what they are and those of us in marketing must learn how to flow up alongside them and to be absorbed into them. If you miss these simple truths, you will miss Lean Contextual Marketing.


It reminds me of learning algebra as a kid. The first set of theorems sounded so simple that they were just common sense. So I never mastered them. And for the next year, I never understood algebra. In the summer, I went back to the beginning and built a stronger understanding of things like “if a=b and b=c, then a=c.” Suddenly, the rest of the book made sense and I could do algebra.

The 3 Reals are just like algebra. They need to be absorbed and practiced before the Lean Marketing can be delivered effectively. Skip Reality and you will still be practicing Traditional Marketing and placing a heavy burden on your company.

The 3 Reals in Lean Manufacturing are quite different than The 3 Reals of Lean Marketing. But nonetheless critical. They are the whack along side the head needed to stop doing traditional marketing where the marketer is in charge and pushes products and promotions at customers.

A Primal Strategy: Contextual Marketing and Customer Experience

What is the role of context to the customer experience?

Context is the connector to the customer. It establishes relevance to what the customer needs or is interested in. If we deliver a marvelous experience at every touchpoint, our chances of being listened to go up rapidly. The customer experience is often both emotional and realistic. It takes some research about customer needs to make sure you are capable of delivering a better experience than any other competitor.

What is Context?

Context is the interrelated conditions in which information or activity exists with other situational events that impact decision making and the final outcome. All consumption occurs within a context. The more you understand my context, the less information you have to give me while serving me more efficiently and effectively. All significant decisions occur within a context. Every action occurs within a context.

What is Contextual Marketing?

Marketing is contextual when it is made relevant to each individual prospect’s situation (the prospect’s fine-grained profile of demographics and informational interests, location, timing, needs and decision process) while also addressing the needs of the sponsoring enterprise (awareness, positioning, qualification, barrier identification, trust, closure). Contextual marketing brings customer and seller together so that customers can make better decisions, faster and easier.

  • Mass Customization – (Dell Computers, Levi Jeans, Reflect.com) – contextual applications increasing the personalization of production based on individual end-user requirements. Increased customer satisfaction while lowering production inventory and manufacturing cost and eliminating need for clearance sales.
  • Personalized Services – (UPS, Delta Airlines, Charles Schwab) – contextual applications increasing the flexible delivery of logistics based on individual end-user requirements. Improved customer service at a lower cost.

What is the Contextual Internet?

Marketing where both content and functionality address the prospect’s individual context – who the user is, where the user is located, what environment surrounds the user, where the user is coming from, what the user is trying to do today. Understanding the context and developing campaigns that serve context is where the Internet is headed. Align information and functionality with the end user’s situation (the decision environment) and end user’s requirements (workflow, points of leverage, decision flow, decision triggers).

  1. Technology tracks content selected by each visitor
  2. Builds profile of each site visitor
  3. Uses this knowledge to present content that is in context with who the visitor is and what she wants and what our client wants to talk about
  4. Determines which products the customer is most interested in exploring
  5. Evaluates the customer’s “readiness to buy” level for each product
  6. Presents catalysts to move the customer step-by-step toward a purchase decision

What are Contextual Profiling Methodologies?

There are a variety of means to determine customer requirements that then help achieve relevance and improved customer experience:

  • Site Traversal History. Watch instead of ask. Present various contents and build customer profile based on implicit interests.
  • Registration. Complete a short enrollment form requiring some explicit information about the customer.
  • User Configuration. Customer accesses configuration tools to help simplify navigation, personalize screen layout, design product specifications.
  • Audience Segmentation. Navigation options that allow customers to self-allocate themselves into market clusters.
  • Collaborative Filtering. Group similar kinds of customers who are more likely to select the same kinds of content offerings; when someone selects a particular kind of content that person is sent additional content that other similar customers found useful.
  • Satisfaction Surveys. Complaints, compliments, questions and suggestions reveal individual needs, wants and expectations.

Lowest Common Denominator Messages

Re-evaluate Branding in a Divided Society

In the 50’s and 60’s we were a more homogenous society just when television consisted of three major network options for the “Leave it to Beaver” nuclear family. Companies spent vast fortunes instilling brand messages into our minds. They did it with such effectiveness that four decades later we still remember the slogans of brands no longer on the market.

Today, such brand efforts need to land on infinite family structure types all moving in a blur through their lives and all accessing an infinite number of media that fragment delivery of marketing messages. Today, creating a single brand message, while important, is more difficult and less sustainable. A single message watered down to its lowest common denominator (what we call an LCD Message) is too often true for all customers; but not true for any one particular customer. In the fragmented society, that one particular customer is unique. It is that one customer who buys.

In the future, marketers will add context to their product branding to create brand propositions that are more relevant to what each individual is doing. This is particularly true in e-commerce where new technologies are emerging to enable reaching individual customers, wherever and whenever they are ready to buy.

Let Your Customer Be Your Guide

Building a Contextually Relevant Website

The way decision makers make purchasing decisions depends on the complexity of the problem they are trying to solve and the complexity and risk involved in each step in the decision process. This will affect how we manage website communications.

If their needs and the decision-making processes are simple, all we need to do is make our website visitors aware of us, build confidence, differentiate ourselves, demonstrate value and guide them through a very simple shopping and buying process.

This is the process a prospect makes when considering accessing a white paper, a Webinar registration, a free software download. In fact, we place such offers on the website precisely because they are low risk decisions that can lead toward an eventual purchase … hence we call these offers catalysts (they speed up the buying process the same way some reagents speed up a chemical reaction).

If the decision-making process is leading toward the potential purchase of an expensive product, this process becomes highly complex. Then we need to make visitors (usually many different individuals or teams within the same organization) aware of us, build relationships and educate them. We need to show sensitivity to the different decision-makers, influencers and groups so we can move each decision maker along in their buying process.

Wherever possible, we insert catalysts to help us understand their stage in the buying process, triggers that can move them further and catalysts to incentivize them to tell us who they are so Telemarketing can make an initial qualifying contact.

The content architecture of a website should address the key steps of the buying decision process. Content is structured around a linear path. It begins with general information about the visitor pains and at this stage we help the visitor gain a better understanding of what is causing the pain. It then progresses to strategies to resolve the pain and then to best practices and tactical ideas that enable better execution of the strategies. Each step feeds and leads to the others. Although the process initially is linear, there are feedback loops within the content as visitors reevaluate information.

To successfully get visitors to take action, the website must see the world from their "buying" point of view. Address their myriad of needs. Motivate them to identify themselves and to interact with us.

Credibility, Trust and Risk — Customer Experience is Up to YOU

fist pushing thru wallB2B buyers realize that they are making decisions that carry a risk to their companies, and to their careers.  Everyone in your organization needs to stay aware of this buyer attitude and work diligently to build both credibility and trust in you as manufacturers of these products that, on one hand, hold such promise and potential for your clients and, on the other hand, are so critical to their success that these decisions are incredibly difficult for them to make. In fact, you could look at these three factors as the sides of an interconnected triangle—trust, credibility and risk—with value being the center of the triangle. The core to everything your people do is to deliver customers value, made of three components that guide their perception of what your business stands for.

  • Credibility is how your people demonstrate the expertise of your company and its products. 
  • Trust is how you align professionally with the collective interests of the prospective customer.
  • Personal Risk (Psychological Safety) is reduced by increasing credibility and trust.

Selecting you to manufacture products for any client should be seen as a smart decision that will better enable the organization to achieve its future aspirations and eliminate challenges to this vision. 

Getting Close to Customer Needs

Brian Papke, CEO of Mazak, “We need to make products that match particular industries. We established, for instance, a technology center in Houston that enables us to cater to the oil service industry. Today we’re probably the largest supplier of equipment to the North American market for oil service equipment.”  “We try to understand the needs of customers in the industries we serve. We make machines today for manufactures that make things like hips and knees. We provide machines that sculpture those parts from hard metals like titanium. For the aircraft industry, we make machines that specialize in producing landing gear and aircraft engines and structural parts for the aircraft.” “We have found that we need to adapt and make machines that very closely match to the requirement of the customer. You have to have the right kinds of equipment and you have to be very productive to be successful.” “Actually our goal is not to sell a machine tool to a customer. Our goal is to be partners with our customers. We want them to come back and buy lots of machines from us. There are many companies now that buy machine tools only from our company because they have such a high level of trust with us.” Barry-Wehmiller as another example: This diversified global supplier of manufacturing technology and a partner with Cincom has a strong cultural understanding of the importance of people who in turn deliver value to their customers. Their statement is more than words, it is how they do business. “We build great people who do extraordinary things. Our leadership commitment begins and ends with a focus on the input we are making on the lives of people. By recognizing and celebrating the goodness in others, we let people know that they matter. At Barry-Wehmiller, continuous improvement is a natural by-product of engaged people. We believe that each of us has the ability to lead and inspire others through our actions. Our challenge is to create great leadership in every dimension of our personal and professional lives—to move beyond management to truly human leadership.”

A Corporate Culture Riveted on Customer Understanding

Shopping street, Amsterdam, Netherlands, EuropeIt is a safe bet that if your internal culture is “what’s good for us” rather than “what’s good for them” then customers will eventually find their way to companies that are riveted on helping to make customers successful. How do you acquire the understanding of customers that is superior to your competitors? As it turns out, it is fairly simple but it does require taking time out of every day to make sure you and your teams are talking with customers about the things that matter most to them. Talk to them regularly at every point where your team interacts with them — when you hold an educational event for customers, when they fill out a contact form on your website, during the purchase process, when they call your contact center to cancel an order. If you listen and if you document what you hear in your Customer Relation Management (CRM) System, you will spread the dialogue throughout your company and learn how to act in their best interests.

Talking continuously with customers is a core part of becoming a better, more competitive business. If you don’t listen to customers, you cannot possibly be focused on what they need. But listening is not an end. It is only the beginning. You must make decisions based on what they tell you. When this process becomes so ingrained into how you do business, then it becomes your culture. You will attract employees who want to work in this kind of culture and infusing this commitment into everything you do as a business. Customer understanding then becomes a core competitive strategy upon which senior management measures accomplishments against the four indicators of success.

Configuring Customer Knowledge to Make it More Usable

Success relies on gathering customer data, leveraging it as information and seamlessly integrating it across all possible customer touch points. This combination of data gathering, integration into decisions now becomes the foundation for both culture and a core business strategy that differentiates you in the minds of your customers.

Customer knowledge resides in all sorts of places and formats. Some of it is structured for easier understanding but knowledge mostly comes in unstructured formats that need to be configured to maximize usefulness. Ideally this enables the knowledge of many experts with insights into enormously complex issues to rapidly configure a decision that is simple, executable and absolutely correct for a specific situation.

Zero defects. Absolute accuracy. All the time.

You can see how essential knowledge configuration is in designing a fire engine, for example. Knowledge from firefighters, from managers of firefighters, all impacted by budget constraints, the laws of physics, new materials, new processes, diverse range of engineers, experts from law, finance, marketing and sales. Then consider all the other companies making enormously complex, advance products. Or the companies with complex processes, complex supply chains, complex services. All require knowledge—structured and unstructured—to deliver exactly what the customer needs.

Aspirations and Understanding Customers

serving othersB2B executives all have aspirations for success; many do not realize that achieving aspirations cannot be a one-sided track. It cannot be all about profit. If it were, then running a company would be relatively simple.

This would be a great business, we all joke, if it were not for those pesky customers. But as Peter Drucker once wrote, “the business of a business is to acquire customers. So we have to run our businesses to please customers while still making a profit from the relationship.

The most important thing to focus on in complex organizations is relationships between people.

A single living organism has all its parts connected by a central nervous system. But companies do not have central nervous systems. To compensate for this and achieve the best results, complex organizations connect with customers in a continuous free-flowing communication and caring relationship. [1]

When we fail at really understanding the needs, wants and interests of customers, we make bad decisions.

We design shiny new products that please ourselves only to discover that customers could give a hoot and are unwilling to part with their money to buy what we created.

Or we make our internal processes so complex and ponderous that we become nearly impossible to deal with. Customers have to jump through one hoop after another just to get a proposal to buy what we are selling.

These indicators have one thing in common and all stem from the same basic problem—lack of customer understanding.

The optimal environment would be one where everyone in your organization shares the same accurate, up-to-date and reliable information about customers so that better decisions could be made that would help us achieve our greatest aspirations while also enabling customers to achieve theirs. Can you imagine how much easier it would be to do any task in your company if customer intelligence was available at everyone’s fingertips so decisions would drive a strategy to be the most attractive company for customers to select?


[1] E.W. “Buck” Lawrimore, Lawrimore Communications Inc.,
http://www.codynamics.net/intro.htm

Image courtesy of “Idea Go” via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Steps To Creating Your Own Marketing Manifesto

There are signs of life in the economy.

Bright glimmers of hope are starting to radiate from what had been some ominous, dark clouds of an economy that looked to be in retreat. Jobs continue to be created, industrial production is nearly back to its pre-recession levels, blue-chip stocks have re-couped their losses, and consumer confidence is finally climbing. These are the glimmers of hope that show an economy on the rebound.   You can see the data that backs up these points in last week’s Wall Street Journal column, The U.S. Economic Recovery Shows Signs of Accelerating, but Still Has Lots of Ground to Cover.

Make no mistake, a recovery is on the way.  It’s time for each of us, as companies and people, to get up off the ground, dust ourselves off, and get back in this fight.  Fear still has many companies and people frozen however.  But the best way to kill fear is to completely commit yourself to your goals, plans, objectives with intensity and passion.

The best strategy of all is to double-down on what you stand for and who you are.  It’s time to revisit your marketing manifesto, both at a personal and corporate level.   Why?  Because when the rebound gathers more momentum and hits, it will be too late.  It’ll be like trying to get in shape for a very long, fast race when the starting gun goes off.  Now is the time to get in shape for the rebound.  That’s why you need to consider your own marketing manifesto for You. Inc.  And even if you work for a company today, your own marketing manifesto is even more relevant – because in the end each of us are actually in business for ourselves, regardless of who signs the check.  Here are five ideas on how to get started:

  1. Define yourself by your competencies, expertise and passion and forget about titles. When economic growth hits full stride and this rebound fully takes hold, the people who will be excelling and benefiting from it will be the ones paying the price right now of working to excel at their jobs, not hunkered down in a bunker somewhere. Continually learning, striving to excel, working to create value for customers, that needs to be part of anyone’s manifesto right now. The best marketing is based on  solid, real results.  The results of people who are now choosing to pay the price of extra effort will be the ones way ahead when the rebound fully takes hold.  Titles come and go, but who you are and what you stand for, and your willingness to excel – those last a lifetime.
  2. Kill Fear With Passionate Goals. It amazes me, how many of the students  have in classes have exceptional analytical and writing skills.  Yet they sit in class, silent, not sharing what their brilliant minds are thinking.  The majority of them are Asian and Middle Eastern young women who, being new to the United States and from cultures that taught them to be silent in groups, are afraid to say what they think.  They have such potentially amazing careers ahead of them if they could just crush the fear of speaking that holds them back.  Go find your passionate goals in your career, and in your life, and use them to kill fear now.  Life is too short to go around being so afraid.
  3. Be relentless in your pursuit of intelligence and knowledge.  Make no mistake, when the rebound hits the people that will be getting paid the most and progressing the fastest made the decision months or even years ago to pay the price of being experts in their fields.  In whatever shape the economy takes in the coming months and years, your titles from this year or years past will not nearly be as important as what you know.  How quickly you can solve complex problems, the value you deliver, your ability to avert problems for your customers – all great skill sets that come when there is a passion for continual learning and the pursuit of knowledge.  It’s not where your diploma is from either, it’s how passionate you are about learning over the long-term and your ability to translate that into results that matter most.
  4. Hit the gym and start training for the rebound – you’ll think better and be stronger. The excellent article this week in Scientific American How Exercise Jogs the Brain makes many outstanding points about how increased energy supply allows the brain to work faster and more efficiently.  As part of any marketing manifesto, there must have energy to propel it forward.  Working out and making yourself stronger for the rebound is key.
  5.  Realize economic fatalists and pessimists love company – choose to say “no” to them and “yes” to your goals and the vision of the future you want to make a reality.  A truly great marketing manifesto makes the decision to say “no” easy because there is a much bigger, compelling, valuable and important ”yes” waiting to get done.  Say “yes” to your goals and define yourself by them.  The fatalists want to see economic failure to make their theories correct.  Refuse to ride on that train of thought, find compelling goals, objectives and create a manifesto you can be totally committed to instead.

Bottom line: With an uneven yet promising recovery on the way, now is the time to define who you are, both as a company and a professional, creating a manifesto that gives you many more reasons to say “yes” to your goals and “no” to the naysayers, negative, pessimistic people who may drag you down.

 

Cornerstone of Great Customer Experience: Are You Easy to Do Business With?

By Chip Bell–Author, Consultant, Keynote Speaker:
Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to Do About it

A consultant with an inoperative computer is much like a taxi driver with the taxi in the repair shop. My sick computer needed a particular part to get back into operation.  Now get ready to follow my part need through the hellish computer part replacement process.

A call to the computer manufacturer’s toll-free number lead to an automated phone queue followed by a wait, followed by a “too-many-questions” service clerk, followed by a transfer and wait, followed by a tech support person, followed by a transfer and wait, followed by the correct tech support person, followed by a long wait, followed by the part arriving ground instead of overnight, followed by the part arriving broken.

So, how are you feelin’? The super long sentence in the previous paragraph was crafted to demonstrate the customer’s side of the encounter. We have all been there.  And, it reminds us that customer effort trumps just about every other service factor these days.  With the reduction in front line service people as organizations have cut staff, it is no wonder customer expectations have climbed over 30% in the last year!

Research firm Convergys found that customers who rated their experience as satisfactory and easy were three times more loyal than those who were simply judged it as “completely satisfied.”The Harvard Business Review reports in a study of more than 75,000 B2B and B2C customers; “When it comes to service, companies create loyal customers primarily by helping them solve their problems quickly and easily.”

We were conducting a series of focus groups for a large client to ascertain what service factors were deemed most important by their customers.  One technique used was paired comparison.  A researcher can put twenty factors on a sheet of paper and ask respondents to rank order them.  However, a far more accurate picture of priority can be gained if respondents are asked to look at each factor paired with every other factor to select which is more important.  Applying a simple regression analysis to the data led to a true picture of customer preference.  “Easy to do business with” was more important than smart people, empowered people, friendly people, accuracy, reliability, great service recovery, knows me and my needs, etc. 

Focus groups enable a researcher to get underneath data to ferret out the meaning behind the responses—something a survey cannot accomplish as well.   We wanted to learn what “easy to do business with” was really about in the eyes of these customers.  We were confident learning the “whys” behind the “whats” could surface a solution that dwelt with the cause and not the symptom? What we learned was straight out of your Anthropology101 textbook. Customers examined “service” effort through the lens of time, values, language, traditions, and symbols.

Customer Anthropology and Effort

Social or cultural anthropologists study the dynamics of groups with a particular frame of reference.  Just like a physician has a model of a “perfect body” in mind as he or she examines for gaps between what is and what should be, anthropologists attempt to understand a culture by considering a group’s allegiances to time, values, language, traditions and symbols.  The mosaic can provide a path to an enriched understanding. 

Time

Anyone who has traveled to the Bahamas or Caribbean islands learns quickly about being “on island time.”  A feature of the island culture is to slow the pace.  Customers also view effort in terms of time.  When the customer feels the pace is slower than their service clock suggests it should be, it starts their satisfaction meter in the wrong direction.  It means knowing the customer’s service clock and matching it. 

It can also mean reframing their expectation of wait or altering their perception of time.  Disney tells you the wait time in the queue—all set to be less actual time than posted time.  They also entertain guests to alter their perception of wait.   A branch bank polls its lobby customers on what they prefer to watch on the television monitor viewable from the teller line should that line get longer than expected. Find out what time means to customers and manage that part of effort exacerbated by disappointments around time.

Values

Cultures have always been defined in part by what is valued  its inhabitants. Customers are no different.  And, while all customers are different, they share certain core values.  Queues in airports, restaurants and the DMV are generally orderly with no pushing and shoving because of a shared group value of fairness—as in, “no cutting in line” and “first come, first serve.”We all expect passengers in first class to get better food than passengers in coach.  We also know that first class seats are the result of frequent-flyer loyalty or the price of the ticket and not due to any socio-economic, gender or racial factor.

Effort is also a critical component of value.  The recession has elevated the customers’ standards for effortless.  Pay attention to dissonant messaging.  When customers hear, “Your call is very important to us” followed by another message that says, “Your wait time is approximately thirty minutes,” they do not interpret it as rude; they view it as a bold-faced lie.  A business that closes earlier than the times posted on the front door, or a computer part promised overnight shipped ground crosses the value line for customers and spells deception, not bad manners.  Make certain you know the true meaning of your customers’ service values.  Just guessing or assuming “they are just like me” can lead you astray.

Language

Language is not just about communication—with idioms and slang.  It is about how meaning is transmitted from brain to brain.  And, the mental pictures created by the words chosen are fraught with the potential for inaccuracy and misinterpretation.  The conduit that drives this mental picture exchange hangs on effective and caring listening.  So, how good are service providers at really listening?  According to Convergys research, 45 percent of customers think companies do not have a good understanding of what their customers really experience when dealing with them.  Yet, 80 percent of employees and executives think they understand.  How could there be such a large gap?

When resource-strapped employees are placed in a listening role—whether face-to-face or ear-to-ear—the risk of misinterpretation and error soars.  It results in employees focusing on their task, not the customer solution; and robotic adherence to policies and procedures rather than effective problem solving.  It results in undue effort to customers who are forced to emote, evade, echo or escalate just to get what they want.  Make great listening a vital part of the organization’s DNA.  And, remember the ancient line, “You are not eligible to change someone’s view until you first demonstrate you understand his or her view!”

Traditions

Traditions are the customs, mores, and habits shared by a society.  For instance, Western culture is keenly concerned with human rights, fair play and equal opportunity; some cultures are not.  Customers also share a set of mores.  As customers, we expect service to be a form of assistance.  We assume we will be treated with respect.  We anticipate service providers will be there when we need them, and in the form we require. Excess effort surfaces when the practice of service fails to jive with the expectancy of service. 

Today, customers expect access around the clock, not just 9-5 on Monday through Friday. While they enjoy the access and time-saving aspect of self-service and automation, when it fails to work they feel abandoned and devalued unless given an easy, quick backdoor to a person.  They assume service will be crafted to fit their needs and not have to be shoe-horned into a service delivery process without flexibility.  They expect a wide array of choices and abhor any offering that is solely “one size fits all.”  It means a perfect customer experience requires knowing what customers expect and insuring the traditions of service match their requirements.

Symbols

Few things characterize a culture more than the symbols it embraces.  Everyone above the age of five can correctly identify Abe Lincoln, the American eagle or flag, the stature of liberty or Uncle Sam.  Symbols make us feel secure and reduce anxiety in uncertain situations and encounters.  They are the emotional sign posts that help us feel a sense of belonging.  Customers use symbols for many of the same reasons. 

Effort surfaces when the signals of service send a different message than customers anticipate.  When John Longstreet (now CEO of Quaker Steak and Lube) was GM of the large Dallas hotel, he set up periodic focus group meetings with the taxi drivers that transported his guests to the DFW airport after their stay.  He learned about subtle symbols derived from the guests’ sights–sounds-smells rarely found on a guest comment card.  Missing toilet items signaled poor accuracy; scorched smelling towels implied the potential for a hotel fire, and a poorly lighted parking lot brought worries about safety in hotel hallways.

When famed anthropologist Margaret Mead first visited Samoa in the South Pacific, it led her to write in the preface of her book Coming of Age in Samoa, “Courtesy, modesty, good manners, conformity to definite ethical standards are universal… It is instructive to know that standards differ in the most unexpected ways.”  Her non-judgmental approach to the target of her research enabled her to gain a level of intimacy with Samoan inhabitants that few researchers had been able to attain.

There are many components in the social encounter we call service.  As service providers, how can we be effective at learning precisely how time, values, language, traditions and symbols are imbedded in our customers’ experiences? By taking the Mead approach—non-judgmental recognition that customer “standards differ in the most unexpected ways.”  How are you gaining customer insight into your customers’ anthropology? How can you use customer intelligence to remove and manage service effort?

Chip R. Bell is a customer loyalty consultant and the author of several best-selling books.  His newest book (with John R. Patterson) is Wired and Dangerous:  How Your Customers Have Changed and What To Do About it.  He can be reached at www.chipbell.com

 

 

Hope is a Terrible Thing

I know, you’re thinking that without hope there is nothing to look for. Your next vacation. Your son’s graduation. Your daughter’s wedding. Retirement and a life of reading and fishing.

That’s the good side of hope. Looking forward to something exciting and rewarding.

There’s another side to hope, and it can be terrible.

A husband hoping against all reality for a cure for a debilitating and terminal disease that knocked on his wife’s door ten years ago. Hoping. Praying. Please find a cure in time. But time has run out for her. The damage done is irreversible. This blind hope is like someone playing a dirty trick on you.

For years, hope haunted the wife of someone who was at work in the South Tower on September 11. She could not abandon hope that her husband somehow escaped the South Tower, until the day authorities informed her that her husband’s wallet had been recovered. When she saw the two-dollar bill in the wallet she knew instantly it was one of the two-dollar bills with which her husband had proposed to her. They had promised each other to always carry their bills with them. She placed the slightly charred note next to her undamaged one. Hope kept her going. It also was a terrible burden.

These two real stories illustrate this double-edged nature of hope. A source of happiness. A fear of dread. I hope I can go to the ballgame and still pass that exam without studying. That’s crazy hope. That’s sure fire danger.

It is just as true for companies as for individuals. Hope is not a strategy if your company is going in the wrong direction. Hope cannot change things for the better. It takes real strategy and it takes real action. By a committed and aligned team of individuals, from bottom of the organization to the top. Especially at the top where too many once successful leaders cannot give up on what originally made them successful. Where leaders still cling to the notion that they are in control when in actuality it is the customer who is in charge.

Can you picture such a once-glorious leader standing in his morning shower talking to himself before he heads once again to the office: “Today things are going to be different. Today our largest customer will realize just how much they need us and will renew their contract again. I sure hope so, anyway”

Such hope is a terrible thing. It delays desperately needed action.

A McKinsey study showed that out of 492 companies defined as struggling, only 13 percent were subsequently able to revive themselves. That’s why I say hope in such situations if a terrible thing.

Too many business leaders trapped by such unrealistic hope put their companies into a death spiral by ignoring the experience they deliver to their customers. We all have read one study after another that shows company leaders believe they are delivering an excellent customer experience while the customers of these very same companies state the reverse.

Chip Bell, co-author of “Wired and Dangerous” cites a few eye-openers:

“45% of customers think companies do not understand what their customers really experience when dealing with them.”

80% of employees and executives think they understand.”

39% of customers think that companies do not listen or act on customer feedback, yet 87% of employees and executives believe they listen.”

The company leaders can argue, but the customer who left them will never hear the excuses.

Yet turnarounds are possible, and the rewards make the effort worthwhile. But it will not happen because the leaders hoped it would happen. It happens only when they get out and listen to customers and employees and then design a purposeful experience that is unique, valued and delivered consistently.

Chip Bell has it straight:

“Design the experience with the customer rather than for the customer. The biggest benefit is the huge collection of loyal fans who buy more, buy more often, forgive more and advocate more.”

“When it comes to service, consistency is required for trust and confidence. Texas A&M researcher Leonard Berry found that the Number One attribute customers value in the service they receive is reliability, an organization’s ability to provide what was promised, dependably and accurately.

“Customers enter all service experiences with a set of expectations. They enjoy pleasant surprises, but there is a set of givens that must be present for the surprise to feel like a joyful experience rather than a practical joke.

This is a perfect example of “Executive Hope” that is leading so many companies into trouble.

Failing to reverse how such hopeful executives deal with customers leaves hope as the only strategy — and the terrible thing about such hope is that it will sweep unresponsive companies down the drainhole.

Photo: MSNBC Picture Stories of 9/11

The Perfect Storm: Wired and Dangerous Customers

By Chip Bell, Author and a new contributing author to this blog.

Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What To do About it; co-authored by Chip Bell and John R. Patterson

George Clooney taught us the meaning of the phrase “the perfect storm” with the movie by the same name.  It is a rare combination of circumstances that create a synergistic, negative result.  It is the weather version of 1+1+1 is “a whole lot more than 3.”

The worst recession of this century left customers anxious and risk-averse.  Even those not impacted directly had plenty of friends who were.  It left customers picky and fickle.  New normal customers only care about value for their hard-earned income.  And, their definition of value zeroes in most on their experience; customers assume they will get a product or outcome they can trust at a price they view as fair.  It has also left them fickle–slow to show allegiance to a brand; quick to exit for a competitor at even the hint of a poor or indifferent service experience.

The second component of the “perfect storm” is the change in the service covenant.  The service covenant is the unspoken assumption that value will be exchanged for value and both sides of the covenant will play guardian of the experience.  With the advent of self-service and automation, the service provider guardian too often seems absent from the encounter.  The high-touch is removed from high-tech service leaving customers abandoned and often angry.  It’s like a faulty vending machine in a remote location—who gonna call!

Now, for the big kahuna!  The internet, with its dramatic and instantaneous power and reach, has enabled an anxious, angered customer to bring an overnight storm to an unsuspecting service provider.  Think of it as“word of mouth” on steroids.  When power blogger Heather Armstrong (http://dooce.com)had an unresolved issue with Maytag, she simply advised her followers to “boycott Magtag.”  With over a million followers, it no doubt cut a sizeable dent in Maytag’s reputation (and likely their bottom line).  That is dangerous!

How do we survive a “perfect storm” with customers today?  It starts with an obvious partnership orientation.  When systems and processes are designed with customers in mind, it is a beginning.  When customers are included as partners, not ignored as faceless consumers, it changes the balance.  Customers as king (which they are today) is as flawed as service providers as king.  When customers are treated as valued members of an important community they become advocates not irritants; respectful not rebellious.

The anxiety of the recession will fade; the internet will not.  Customers will always be wired.  They do not have to be dangerous if we keep both the “customer” and “service” in “customer service.”

Apple and Zappos: Flip this House

You Ask: What About You? Read on and you will see.

We all start our businesses with a dream, a vision, an idea. Something we’d like to do for a living. Something we think we can do that customers will want, and that we can do better than anyone else. So we hang out our shingle and go into business.

Now there is one thing all of us who run businesses need. It’s paying customers. Some of us are better at finding paying customers than others. And those of us who do this better are the ones that become successful.

There are all kinds of ways to find customers. That’s what marketing and sales are all about 

Or at least, that’s what marketing and sales used to be all about.

Now, we need to flip this house upside down – not totally, but upside-down nonetheless.

Because  is too hard to find customers. It is like hunting for the needle in the haystack. And we could find that needle, but there are all those other companies hunting for the same needle in the same haystack. So it gets harder and harder to go out and find customers.

Flip this House!

There is a better way for you to grow your business. Instead of spending your marketing budget on finding customers, in today’s socially-connected Internet world, you have to help customers find you. Let us repeat this. You have to help customers fine you. You have to be findable.

You do this by first making sure everything you do is designed around what your customers need, want and expect. Stop thinking about what you need. Put yourself second, behind the needs of your customers. Once you’ve flipped your house in this direction, everything changes.

Customers are no longer serving your need to sell them something you want to sell. 

Instead, you are providing stuff they want,

This is flipping the house. It is changing the customer conversation. It is no longer about selling but instead is about serving.

You ask “what about me?” and we say that when you get into the business of serving customer needs, your rewards will follow. When you take a genuine interest in making your customers successful, you will – lo and behold – be successful yourself.

This is a cultural shift. If you are a smaller business, you can catch the faith and make the shift faster and easier than the bigger companies. You will find the niche you can best serve and dominate it like no big company can do.

Well, maybe we just went a bit too far. There are some bigger companies that actually do just what we are talking about. One of them is Apple. Another is the online shoe retailer Zappos.

Apple

It goes without saying that Apple is redefining and reshaping the retail experience via the company’s growing roster of stand-alone stores. But there’s something even bigger going on here, akin to how online show retailer Zappos.com is turning the traditional rules of e-commerce upside down.

Things once considered the dark side of Apple, such as tech support, are on the verge of becoming strategic assets, with the Apple Store’s geek-stocked Genius Bar able to tackle just about any issue or concern your have. And the process of planning that interaction is more akin to scheduling a haircut or spa treatment than calling those inaccessible tech-support lines.

Whether explicitly acknowledged or not, there’s an unmistakable “service is marketing” mantra pervading every aspect of the Apple Store. And that’s something every brand, even those not as shiny as Apple’s, can learn from. The opportunity to solve problems, find solutions and even address “the darn thing doesn’t work” emotional pain-points all lead to a higher impact-marketing and sales proposition. While not every marketer has a Steve Jobs-inspired vision, every consumer-facing company has problems that can be converted into opportunities to inspire loyalty.

Zappos

Zappos does something similar. Without the retail store. They do it with one of the most customer-centric business concepts. They started out with an impossible online product: shoes. We all want to try shoes on before we buy them … too often they just don’t fit right or don’t look right. Zappos made it easy with free shipping and free returns. They pay the shipping both ways. You’ll get it right away with the video below.

Did all this payoff for Zappos? They were so successful with shoes that they then added clothing, handbags, housewares and beauty care. They were so successful that Amazon paid $1.2 billion to buy Zappos.

Become a Findable Company

Customers are finding Apple and Zappos on their own because Apple and Zappos are reaching out to them with unique investments in the customer relationship.

This does not have to be incredibly expensive. In fact, it is likely a lot less expensive than traditional marketing and sales. You need to create messages (what we call “content”) and place these messages where customers will find them. The content must be all about customer needs; not about your products. Once you show customers that you care about them, then you earn the right to tell them about your products.

This new kind of content is placed on your website, in blogs, on podcasts, on videos, on social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook – and thousands of other social community sites. You can place this kind of customer-centric content in radio interviews, public service announcements, meeting forums, speeches at trade and professional events.

And then a beautiful thing begins to happen.

People begin talking about you the way they talk about Apple and Zappos. Buzz radiates. You will appear on Page One of Google searches. People will find you and they will initiate conversations with you.

Sure it takes planning – a lot of planning. And it takes an investment in creating customer-centric content. It takes time for this content to seep out into the customer world. But when you stick with it as a long term investment in your customers, they will eventually notice that you care about them more than your competitors care about them.

And success will follow.

 

Southwest Red Tape … get the fish on the table

Example: The recent Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Program.

While just about every airline (except maybe Virgin) is upcharging for snacks, water, pillows, luggage, smiles, the restroom key, movies … and while they are making it nearly impossible to use the rewards miles you earned, Southwest is removing the red tape. They just launched the program, finally returning to customers what all the other airlines once promised. If Southwest Airlines can do this, it indicates they have a management team that understands how to create an intentional, differentiated brand experience.

The most energizing part of the customer experience journey occurs when the many parts of the organization make the commitment necessary to breach silo walls to take the whole organization in one direction.

Clarity will come from a thorough debate and an open willingness to take on internal conflict – to put the fish on the table – and get the real issues into the open. Avoiding conflict will only leave room for maneuvering around personal agendas to flourish. Get people across the organization involved in the journey. This broadens the sense of ownership and commitment and increase ultimate success.

Your customer experience calls for interconnecting the obvious front-office activities of marketing, sales and customer service with the less obvious activities of business management, HR, purchasing, finance and IT. One broken spoke and the customer will see it. A few broken spokes and your organization will be just like the football team.

Too often, the jousting between department managers sows the seeds for future failure. A mere slogan will not unify departments to design and deliver a great experience to customers.

A firm’s culture can either give or deny permission to proceed with an alignment around customer experience. Obstacles arise when this culture is mature and has absorbed dysfunctional beliefs such as “the sales force owns the customers” or “we will sell to whoever will buy” or “customers don’t know what they want.” [1]

An experience-centric hotel can listen to individual requests, and from this form new engaging services: hypoallergenic pillows, customized check-in times, meal and drink preferences – mint flavored tea? Then create a system for efficient delivery of these unique experiences. An experience-centric financial services company can listen for opportunities to provide new engaging services: high-tech hearing aids for their aging customer base, improved voice response to address recurring needs. [2]


[1] Aligning the Organization with the Market. Knowledge@Wharton. George Day. 2006.

[2] Pine and Gilmore, Focus-Pocus

Process simplification becomes a matter of survival.

The processes we use to deliver our products and services become the fingerprint of our organizations. They are how we get things done. They determine our productivity. They define our company from the competition. They reflect out to our customers and tell them who we are and whether we care about their needs.

On the other hand, our processes can take on a life of their own and become a bewildering maze of handoffs. They grow complex and proliferate, making us more difficult to work with. They remain labor intensive and paper-driven. In many companies, these proliferating processes come to reside in functional silos with the corporate left hand unable to communicate across the maze efficiently, quickly – or, sometimes at all – with the corporate right hand. The result is internal and external complexity and confusion.

Simplification becomes a matter of survival.

We know instinctively that there are rich opportunities in restructuring our processes. And staring at our dropping ROI and listening to the thunder of our competition’s feet in the background, racing to overtake us, we are painfully aware of the need to do something and do it now.

The Value of Your Product to the Customer Sets the Boundaries for Process Change:

 It is easy, once you’ve set your mind to change your process, to be enthused by all the things you can do to improve efficiency, reduce delivery costs, and engineer new products. This is largely good but runs the risk of being destructively self-reinforcing, of making the benefits you’ve identified grow in importance as they are talked up internally beyond what a reality-test of some kind would permit. That’s a potential trap. No amount of process improvement means anything unless it enables you to deliver a product perceived by your customer and prospect base as having value to them. “Behind any winning strategy must stand a superior value proposition – a clear, simple statement of benefits that your company will provide, along with the approximate price you will charge each customer segment for those benefits.”[1]


[1] “A business is a value delivery system,” Michael J. Lanning and Edward G. Michaels, adapted from a McKinsey staff paper

Leveraging a Great Value Propositon into Great Customer Experience

Information-based strategies leverage expert knowledge of the profitability, preferences and transaction histories of individual customers to increase the effectiveness of marketing, sales and service. To transform your ho-hum, run-of-the-mill value message into an eye-popping, head-turning, “must have” proposition that positions you head and shoulders above the competition, we suggest you implement the following solutions:

  • Define what makes your product-service offerings unique and better than those of your competitor.
  • Improve customer service and market it as a key differentiator.
  • Offer value-added services to your most profitable clients.
  • Provide highly customized, one-to-one relationships, through a personalized marketing and selling environment.

A Question that Changed Colin Shaw’s Life

Colin Shaw, then heading up customer service for British Telephone, was one of the many managers who came to see themselves as part of the problem. Shaw’s CEO challenged him to improve customer loyalty but to do so at the lowest cost.

  “I asked myself a very simple question: What kind of customer experience are trying to deliver?” — Colin Shaw

  “To my astonishment, I didn’t know the answer. I was running 3,500 customer service agents around the world, but I couldn’t answer that simple question. I was embarrassed! My team didn’t know, either. We then went around asking other departments, and no one knew. Everyone had a view, but all views were different. This changed my life.”

 By the late 1990s, it was apparent that a good product was no longer enough. Products were becoming commodities. Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore first described this shift in their article Beyond Goods and Services and then fully detailed how companies could stop commoditization by managing the customer’s experience in their book The Experience Economy. Colin Shaw, too, went on to write book, Building Great Customer Experiences. It sold out in just eight weeks. Clearly, this new business model was catching the eye of forward looking managers.

Stay tuned. Colin has asked me to review his latest book for followers of The Perfect Customer Experience.  Until then his video will serve as a teaser.

Customer Experience future trends & insights from Rebeca Miranda on Vimeo.