As to my background and credentials as editor of this publication: I began my career as a sports journalist, where I worked closely with Sports Illustrated, and later as a reporter at the Cincinnati Enquirer and as Weekend Night Sports Editor for the Cincinnati Post. I moved on to work as a copywriter in the marketing department at Union Central Life, then one of the top 50 insurance companies in the US. My next stint was as a Marketing Manager for KDI Corporation, a high-tech A&D conglomerate. From there I served for a couple of years as a writer and account executive at a promotion agency, working for Champion Spark Plugs, Owens-Corning and Jeep. I did a stint as editor of an international trade magazine and then made the jump to marketing management at a chemical company, and later at NuTone, a manufacturer of home building products. That’s when I made the big jump, opening a sales promotion agency with partners Richard Blumberg and Barron Krody. Over the next two decades we built the agency up to one of the 50 largest in the US, serving Procter & Gamble, Toshiba, Florida Power & Light, 3M, Imation, Quaker State, Pillsbury, St. Paul Insurance, among others. I sold the agency to join Cincom Systems — the oldest software company still in existence — where I worked with a phenomenal group of marketers as Marketing Director for Manufacturing Customer Strategies and to manage marketing programs with Microsoft Dynamics, our primary business partner . I retired from Cincom at the end of 2015 to put renewed focus on this online magazine.

The CEM Challenge

The Dysfunctional Difference

With over 40 years working in marketing and sales with national and regional companies, my observations blend into certain realities.

A lot of companies are dysfunctional.

They were dysfunctional then and years later, they still are.

A few do almost everything right.

There are profound differences in how these two types of companies go about creating value for their customers and provide positive customer experiences.

These differences determine how different companies generate economic value — by first creating a valued customer experience. But for all the words written about customer experience, so few seem yet to get the message.

A massive study by the Conference Board confirmed that only 5 percent of companies have achieved sustained inflation-adjusted growth of more than 6 percent.  All the other companies have stalled out.

Recent studies confirm similar patterns:

Profit from the Core (Chris Zook and James Allen) — 13 percent of 1,854 companies achieved sustained growth.

Creative Destruction (Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan) — 16 percent of 1,008 companies achieved sustained growth.

Good to Great (Jim Collins) — 9 percent of 1,435 companies achieved sustained growth.

The numbers tell the sad truth.  

It is all too easy to succumb to a kind of corporate hysteria in which the illusion of action wrapped in a great deal of rhetoric replaces effective action.

“When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, leap and shout.”We allow corporate infighting. Alternate approaches are pitted against each other in an “either-or” scenario in which there can be no winners.

Yet worse … we apply incremental band-aid solutions that address symptoms instead of causes. The problems persist, yet we expect better results.

Such common actions can put any company definitively in second or third place or in no place at all.

What’s wrong with the way we look at contact center employees?

Which of these statements is true?

Statement 1

Contact center employees are a vital link to the customer.  Through the way they exercise their talents, knowledge, and resources, they are uniquely positioned to influence customer perceptions of the enterprise and build or diminish the brand promise.

Statement 2

Contact center employees are among the most poorly paid and under- appreciated employees in the enterprise.  They have limited career growth opportunities, are measured and evaluated more frequently than any other group of employees, and incur the highest turnover rates.

Of course, both are true in most organizations.

Help me do my job better!Benchmark research from Richard Snow at Ventana Research shows that for phone interactions, “the primary negative experiences for customers are waiting a long time in a queue, navigating through a complex interactive voice response (IVR) system, having to repeat information, talking with an agent who has a bad attitude, being passed from repeatedly from one system or agent to another and most of all, not getting the issue resolved. Conversely, good experiences include talking with a pleasant, knowledge agent and getting the issue resolved at the first contact. Beyond that, excellent experiences include having the agent recognize you, know all about you (including your past interactions regardless of the channel of communication) and personalize the response (such as making a special offer).”

So the role of the agent is a critical cog in the customer experience. Why don’t more contact centers take steps to better equip agents to do a better job/deliver better experiences? And why don’t more organizations elevate and recognize the contact center and its employees for the important role played in customer experience and brand promise delivery? In my opinion, a disproportionate investment is made by marketing in communicating the brand and the brand promise, and not enough is invested in ensuring the contact center employee can deliver the right experience when a customer contacts them. If you invest millions in brand marketing but your employees can’t consistently deliver good, or even great experiences, the marketing investment is worthless. What do you think?

Hospitals Get Failing Grade on Patient Satisfaction

By Dale Wolf,
There were 37.5 million patient admissions to hospitals in 2008.

Unhappy Patient

That’s one fact — there are a lot of data points about hospital patients.


The second fact is most of these patients are not at all happy with their hospitals — the experience overall is dreadful. While the patient’s health outcome is obviously the most critical measure, it is a variety of other factors that determine satisfaction … even when the outcome is good.


Just 68% would recommend their hospital to a friend.

Such a score at General Electric could well get the team fired!

Such a low Customer Experience would shock managers at Zappos, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A– just a few other businesses that take customer satisfaction as a serious metric and who would be demanding answers from their staff if their Customer Sat scores dripped below 90%.

The highest scores are communications with doctors at 80 and with nurses at 74, and discharge information at 80. The rest of the satisfaction criteria measured by the Federal Government tumble downhill fast: Quiet environment 56, clean environment 69, communication about drugs 59. But the real cruncher is hospital staff responsiveness at just 62.

Are Low Satisfaction Scores a Result of Leadership Neglect?

A recent study published in Health Affairs reveals that fewer than 67 percent of hospital boards discuss quality of care issues at every board meeting, and when quality is discussed, it takes less than 20 percent of the board’s time. This is a strong indicator of why patients are so dissatisfied with their hospitals — the Boards leading the hospitals are ignoring patients.

CRM Technologies Typically Non-Existent at Hospitals

CRM is employed at about 15% of U.S. hospitals, even though the tools can be used to improve quality and service, attract patients and reduce hospital expenses via information management and comprehensive data collection.

Internal and external data collection can help hospitals proactively tailor services to meet patient needs. Data is at the crux of developing systems that remind patients about necessary health screenings and inform new residents about their area healthcare facilities. In addition to modifying marketing strategies, CRM tools can augment and improve Web sites, health awareness programs, online bill payment, pharmacy discharge activities and nurse triage.

Three Action Steps

The first action … hospital leaders need to make patient satisfaction a higher priority.

The second action … hospital leaders need to change internal processes, policies and cultures.

The third action … get IT involved in reviewing technologies that can help manage and measure customer experience.

9 Steps to a Valued, Differentiated and
Consistently Delivered Customer Experience

By Dale Wolf

In his last post, Louis Columbus counseled on how to manage change when launching a new Customer Experience Management process. Let me add just one extra piece to this puzzle … a nine-step process for covering all the bases when designing the communications to push this process forward:

1.       Identify what customers value

2.       Aggregate customers with similar values

3.       Determine value gaps for each cluster

4.       Prioritize gaps you can best fill

5.       Determine tools to deliver value

6.       Eliminate all non-value adding messages, tools and channels

7.       Improve and automate critical processes

8.       Select contextually relevant strategies to communicate value

9.       Measure continuously against goals

Customer Experience Goes South in the Contact Center. Who to Blame?

By Dale Wolf

A variety of different surveys indicate that at best only one in ten consumers have an outstanding experience when calling corporate contact centers. The other nine are average, mediocre or poor. The fact that I work for a company selling contact center technology brings an interesting observation. As much as we want to sell our solution, the reality is that providing a great customer experience on the phone is mostly about how you use the technology. Sure, you need certain features to enable agents to fluidly provide fast and accurate responses, but the customer happiness is about how company policies and whether the agent actually cares about providing the customer with a wonderful experience.

The features touted by Cincom as essential elements within the technology are three-fold:

  1. A unified agent desktop (that lets the agent see all the information that is relevant to a particular customer call without digging through a lot of back-office applications).
  2. Intelligent scripting (to guide the agent into the most productive and relevant conversation path).
  3. Automated, personalized fulfillment (that enables an agent to send back to the customer confirming information about the issues they discussed on the phone).

Given these three capabilities, a well-trained agent can extend to the customer a perfect customer experience.

The fact that some 90% of contact center interactions annoy the customer is uncalled for and unnecessary. It is mostly indicative of corporate cultures that have not made the shift to customer experience marketing. The agents reflect the culture and the compensation policies of the company they work for.

Senior executives with poor customer service in the contact center need first to look at themselves and the culture they are fostering. Change that and the customer experience will improve. Change that and you will grow faster and more profitably than your competition.

Is the Customer Always Right?

We all know that in an economy where there is over-supply of virtually every product and service and in a world where the Internet makes information transparent, the customer is in charge. As you might know from reading this blog, I believe that designing and delivering a perfect customer experience is an essential business strategy.

But does that mean breaking the bank to satisfy customers? Of course not. None of us would be in business if we met every customer demand. The perfect customer experience is delivered to those customers who are most profitable. The business strategy must be designed with "tiered experiences" that are appropriate and reasonable for each cluster of customers.

Now, what do you do about abusive customers? We all have them. Customers who demand unfairly, who scream and shout and get ugly. Customers who bring contact center representatives to their knees in tears or reverse anger. There’s no delivering a perfect customer experience to such customers. Customers with abusive behavior need a special level of handling. They sense entitlement. They sense power. And they often become insensitive to the fact that an experience is a mutual responsibility.

Lior Arussy has written a summary of a CEM Seminar he recently attended where the conversation centered around how to handle abusive customers. He suggests that often abusive behavior is a result of ineffective communication and sometimes it is a result of bad corporate policy that when changed can improve customer experience. His seminar notes are excellent, but Lior’s challenge to us is even more thought-provoking:

I would like to extend the seminar challenge to you. Write down your division/department/group policies and regulations in a clear and concise manner on one page of paper. While writing them, ask yourself whether they are logical and serve to strengthen customer relationships. Think about their intention – whether they exist to protect the company, lower costs or enhance the customer experience. Always keep in mind that policies and procedures should benefit customers. If they do not, go back to the drawing board and start from scratch. The inability to convince customers that policies and procedures exist for their benefit is a recipe for long-term failure. Remember, the goal is to persuade customers, not coerce them.

Most policies and procedures fail to empower customers. Rather, they exacerbate customers’ feelings of inferiority and helplessness. Policies are often written in legal jargon and in a confusing manner – leading to an increase tensions with customers (even when you aren’t actually ‘speaking to them’). Connect with customers by using the language of persuasion, not coercion. Rather than outlining the consequences of failing to adhere to policies and procedures, explain the benefits of following them. Speak to customers with language that they will understand so that they feel in control. Through intelligent and simple communication with customers, organisations will be able to build cooperative and profitable relationships based on mutual honesty and respect.

Good advice, Lior. Thanks for sharing it … if you want to read Lior’s full article, go here

Customer Experience and the White Lie

Opinion by Dale Wolf

Howard Sewell writes on his blog that "A growing number of Silicon Valley companies are promoting Webinar events broadcasting at a specific date and time, but that (unbeknownst to the attendees) aren’t broadcasting live. Companies just flip the proverbial switch at the appointed time and play the recorded event, even including a canned Q&A session at the end."

In my opinion "this growing number of Silicon Valley companies" has it all wrong.

In the era of “customer experience” and the requirement of building trust with customers, this strategy seems to make no sense at all. 

Sure a live event has a sense of urgency that can stimulate a surge in attendance. But this white lie is just not worth the risk. If you are willing to lie about a webinar, would you be willing to stretch the truth about a product feature? Would you promise a delivery date you only hoped you could achieve? Is your warranty really backed by promised service?  Once you get away with a little white lie, is there temptation to take the lie a bit futher the next time. Maybe we can promise, uh, a rebate and then put such fine print details that make it impossible to get the rebate. Maybe we can promise the lowest price in the industry and make the invoice so confusing that the customer cannot figure out how we are billing? 

You can fool a customer once. After that, they will not believe anything you have to say. The white lie is a slippery slope.

Key Insights for Delivering a Perfect Customer Experience

By Shaun Smith

Shaun_smith_2 Do you know what your most profitable customers value and the 3 or 4 most important attributes which drive their intention to repurchase or to refer you?

Without the answers to these questions you may have data, but you do not have insight. A key difference between simply providing ‘good’ customer service and a customer experience is being differentiated in a way that is valuable to target customers. Being different is not enough.

For example, the Fashion Café, the chain of restaurants created by fashion models including Naomi Campbell, was clearly differentiated in its use of fashion memorabilia in the design of its restaurants. However, its offer had no lasting value for people who go to a restaurant first and foremost for the quality of its food and service. As a result, once the novelty factor had worn off The Fashion café saw a decline in business.

Another example is Barclays, the UK based bank that created a very expensive advertising campaign to promote the fact that it is a big bank. The campaign bombed because most retail customers see no value in their bank being big. In fact quite the opposite; ‘big’ stands for impersonal and uncaring.

One more example: Like a number of business people, I use the Platinum American Express Charge Card for its travel service and benefits, yet I receive unsolicited direct mails shots from an organisation called Capital One on a weekly basis. The mail shots all say the same thing and offer me the same credit card promoting a low rate of interest. They always enclose a cheap ball-point pen in the envelope. This bank clearly has not taken the trouble to understand me, what I value, or develop an offer that is likely to appeal to me. It has gotten to the point that now as soon as I feel the pen through the envelope I throw it away unopened.

We can all avoid making this mistake — treating customers as if they are all the same … or worse yet, treating them all as if they were you. When we look at how we can provide value to each distinctly individual customer, we will be moving in the direction of the perfect customer experience.

Is Customer Experience a Fad or a Real Business Movement?

By Dale Wolf

Wolf_dale_5x7_150dpi_1 I get asked all the time why I think delivering a perfect customer experience is so important. My knee-jerk response is "do you want to deliver an imperfect customer experience?" Many managers want to know if Cx is a fad or a legitimate business movement. I decided to collect evidence on the reality of Cx as a real, honest-to-goodness, unstoppable and forever-changing business movement is in a document I researched and have attached at the end of this posting.

Without much trouble, I might add, I found 25 senior managers at successful, well-known companies who confirm that at least they see this as a big deal … one around which they are reorganizing, recrafting and reenergizing their companies. In addition to confirming the legitimacy of Cx, these business leaders are also sharing business-critical insights on how they are doing it, I urge you to read this document carefully and underline every comment that one of these leaders makes that you can put to work in your organization immediately to get Cx moving faster.

A few of the high-level take-aways from this document include:

  • These leaders have done their best to get everyone in the organization focused on the customer’s total experience
  • These leaders have found ways around the internal and external barriers that stood in the path of moving from corporate-centric to customer-centric — this has required setting up processes and supporting technology to enable the firms to get closer to their customers, to develop deep insights about customer needs and aspirations
  • These leaders see Cx as a long term, continuous improvement, constantly changing process
  • These leaders have wrapped compensation for achieving customer loyalty as a big stick to get alignment 
  • These leaders are not ducking from the fear and the complexity that breaking away from a product orientation causes … and they are benefiting rapidly with faster, more profitable growth

These 25 business leaders are moving out ahead of their competitors. Are you?

Download business_leaders_on_cem.doc

If you have difficulty in downloading this document, just let me know by posting a comment and I will email it to you.

Messages Must Match Experiences

By Jay McKeever

Anyone in marketing knows it’s becoming increasingly difficult to connect with existing and prospective customers. Studies show that loyalty to brands has eroded sharply. Adult shoppers across all age groups in the 1970s were highly influenced by brand. Today, even loyalty from those over 60 years old (the most brand-loyal segment of consumers) has dropped by 20 percent in the past 25 years

The return on marketing investments is also dropping:

The amount of time necessary to break even in the mobile phone industry has grown from 6.8 months in 1998 to 7.2 months in 2003. Of marketers, 68 percent have difficulty or cannot measure the ROI of their marketing campaigns.

But there is hope. A previous generation of marketers learned how to promote their products and services on revolutionary media like radio and television. Today, you’ve probably already helped build your company’s e-marketing strategies.

The message is the problem

Faced with servicing a more educated, sophisticated clientele, today’s marketers and customer-service representatives must contend with challenging customer demands. As product and service offerings become more abundant and less differentiated from competitive offerings, customer communications become a decisive factor in determining which companies win the hearts and minds of prospective customers — and which fall by the wayside.

Effective customer communications seems simple enough, but on closer inspection, it’s readily apparent that today’s corporations deliver fragmented, inconsistent and often downright confusing messages to their customers. Here are just a few examples of how most companies fall short:

  • Value propositions — though good on paper — are not delivered as promised
  • Messages are irrelevant to the individual customers’ situation or place in life.
  • Call center communications often do not match those delivered in other channels.
  • Messages on invoice statements or on other routine documents are too legalistic and prompt customers to make calls into the service center for clarification.
  • A change-of-address request often necessitates a call to several different customer service centers due to lack of data integration.

Good communications are bidirectional in nature. To that end, getting an effective message to the customer is only half the battle. The other half entails effective listening.