Not so long ago, customer expectations were fairly siloed. Customers didn’t really compare the way they banked to the way they shopped for cars or were treated in their local hospital. To compete, all you needed to do was keep an eye out for the competitors in your market and be better. While challenging, this was conceptually quite easy.
Today, this has changed. Once customers had a certain experience anywhere, it will become their expectation everywhere. Regardless whether this is fair or realistic. If CitizenM can get me through check-in in 30 seconds, why do I have to stand in line in my medical centre? If Coolblue can tell me EXACTLY when my dishwasher will arrive at home, why can’t my vendor do the same for the widgets that are due in my warehouse?
Customer expectations are increasingly driven by the sum of all customer experiences a person has. Anywhere. Anytime. So if you’re selling B2B widgets, suddenly dishwashers matter.
I’ve been looking into this a bit as part of the upcoming Customerfest. It led me to formulate three areas in which you might want to look at the customer experiences you offer. I’m sure there are more, so if you have idea, do share below!
Shorten the customer journey
The simplest customer journey is the one that doesn’t happen. Places like Amazon or AirBnB have taught us that you can buy things in one click and get all the services to match. The more this happens, the more we start expecting shorter journeys everywhere. Every inefficient step, every address detail re-entered, becomes an irritant.
ACTION: Rather than improving your customer journey, look at eliminating complete steps. Can you do what Warby Parker eyewear did, and let customers take their vision tests at home? Can you create your version of the one-click-buy or Amazon Dash ?
Virtual assistants like Siri or Alexa, combined with the AI that powers them, are teaching customers to think about the ways they interact with brands. As a result we'll grow increasingly irritated when navigating that IVR or working through 3 call-centre agents that can’t seem to get our problem solved. Instead, we want our answers fast, accurate and with as little hassle as possible. Even if we’re not asking the question.
ACTION: Explore ways in which you can make your products and services more intelligent. Solve customer problems before they occur. Take inspiration from examples like the Pirelli Connesso system that proactively manages a car's tires through a mobile app. Or Nudge for Change, which helps consumer’s spend money at establishments which align with their beliefs.
We are living in the on-demand decade. Think Netflix. Same-day delivery. Soon even our cars will appear when we summon them. These developments are rapidly reducing our tolerance for waiting around and committing ourselves when there is no immediate need. We want our solutions instantly, and if we don’t use them, we’d preferably not pay..
ACTION: Think about the places you are making customers wait. Not just for delivery, but for answers. Service. Information. Payment. Take a look at Avvo, which gets you on the phone with a new lawyer within 8 minutes, or Verifly which has just launched drone insurance by the flight. Whether any of these services actually become a business success, is irrelevant. They are changing expectations, one customer at a time. This will eventually affect your business.
So get going, and look at the way other industries are changing your customer’s experiences. But remember. It's not because technology can be used that it should. Empowering the customer doesn’t equal digital force-feeding. Personally, I love gizmos that make my life easier. My wife, on the other hand, just wants to talk to another human that makes her problems go away. If you want to do business with our family, you have to keep both of us happy.
Just to keep your life a challenge :-)
B2B is going digital. Processes get automated. Self-service models introduced. Some firms are reducing the amount of human contact to the point of non-existence.
To a degree, we like this. As professional clients we want to be efficient with our time. We have developed a culture which considers email to be more efficient than calling. In which we prefer to pick up a phone over meeting face-to-face. Especially if the latter requires travel. In short: we achieve more, talk less and we like it that way.
So, whenever a client comes to your head office or showroom a unique opportunities arises. To build relationships. To open your clients' eyes to new avenues of business. To give them stories to tell when they get back home. To create a memorable experience.
Unfortunately, many B2B companies squander this precious moment. On the process front they pursue the latest in digitalisation. But in face-to-face meetings and hospitality, scripts haven't changed since my first job. 30 years ago.
Clients check in at reception. Someone brings them to a clean, but non-descript, meeting room. They get a cup of coffee or tea and a cookie. After some small talk, it’s on to Powerpoint and paperwork. Sometimes, a tour or demo brightens up the day.
It feels like - and probably is - an efficient way to get the practical side of the job done. But as an experience, it’s also very un-memorable. If not boring.
B2B product and service providers need to rethink their (head) office experience.
Offices and showrooms can be more than physical locations to get stuff done. They can be immersive experiences which help your staff strengthen client relationships. Create memorable moments.
This isn’t about buying funky furniture, though may be part of the mix. It is about creating client experience scripts that consider:
Once you get into it, you'll quickly find that many of the office protocols you consider to be normal today, contribute little to the visiting client's experience. You might even find they detract from it.
So, are you ready to turn the place upside down?
Here's another batch of links you may find interesting:
Enjoy the read!
Many CX champions complain that their colleagues "don’t get it" or "don't care" about the customer.
I challenge this mindset. If we cannot convince people to care, this only means we haven't been convincing enough. After all, I've never seen anyone get out of bed with the intent of upsetting customers. Well, there was this one guy. :-)
While I haven't got any magic bullets, I hope you'll find some use in the suggestions below to make your colleagues care about the customer.
1. Show people how they impact the customer experience
In my Reebok days, one of my colleagues ran a programme to create the perfect order for sports retailers. It was a company-wide initiative, also affecting the warehouse.
During one of the many workshops, a breakdown occured. One of the warehouse workers wanted to leave the session, as he felt it was a waste of his time. After all, all this customer b**lsh** didn’t apply to him. He worked with boxes and had no influence on customer satisfaction.
Now luck had it, that on this day the CEO of a major retailer was visiting that particular warehouse. He overheard this employee.
In a friendly way, he joined the conversation and asked the employee about his job at the warehouse. The man explained that he worked on picking and packing. He had to seal the boxes before they went on the truck.
The CEO continued with a rhetorical question. "So you are telling me, that you are the last person to see and touch my product before it comes to my stores? And that you have no influence over my satisfaction as a customer?" The point didn't need labouring further.
ACTION 1: Explain to each employee of the company how they add value to the final customer experience. After all, if they don’t know what it is that they are contributing, it is hard for them to get excited about it.
2. Make the customer voice actionable.
Customer voice programmes can be a great source of honest feedback. They can help you pinpoint what you are getting right and what you are getting wrong. But if you're unfamiliar with the way these programmes work, you may struggle to see their value.
For example, if a customer complains about the price she needs to pay, billing may not be the issue. Sales or marketing may have created the wrong expectation. Service delivery might have been sloppy. The invoice might be unclear.
Yet, if you work in marketing, service delivery or IT, you may not immediately see these aspects. After all, the bill is too high is unrelated to with the job you do.
ACTION 2: Complement your customer voice programme with regular root cause analysis. Translate customer feedback into a language that resonates with the different departments in your business. Once colleagues see how they can contribute, the chances of them doing so vastly increase.
3. Humanise your customers.
Every business and employee wants to look professional. Tools of this trade include PowerPoint presentations, jargon and complex analytical models.
While these are useful, they can dehumanise customers. What used to be people and individuals, becomes units-in-use, policy holders or PAX (does anybody even know what that abbreviation means?).
Unfortunately, once someone becomes a number, our ability to care as humans diminishes. Bringing back the customer as a human can inverse this process.
A few years ago I saw a brilliant example at a global telecom operator I worked for. Like any other operator they had clients that suffered from bill shock. Especially when confronted with their post-holiday roaming charges. Like in every operator, these customers were numbers on a spreadsheet. Until one of their CX champions singled out the story of Johan.
Johan was a single dad who had been on holiday with his two children. Upon returning home late August, he found that his bank account was empty. He had inadvertently blown his data-plan and faced a bill of several thousands of Euros. Through automatic debit, this amount had disappeared from his bank balance. At the start of the school year, he didn't have the money to buy his children the books and materials they needed.
Suddenly, these numbers on a spreadsheet, seemed a lot more actionable.
ACTION 3: Replace your cold customer reports with human accounts. Give people the opportunity to relate to you customers as individuals. Make them care. Once they do, they'll be ready to help. Not because KPI's say so, but because it's in our nature.
As always, the above three actions will not transform your business on their own. It may not even get your people to act. For that you need business cases, process overhauls and the right KPI's. But they can help your colleagues to become more willing to make these changes a reality. That's a start :-)
Image credit: (cc) Mike Wilson
In 1932, rear-admiral Harry E. Yarnell ran a simulation. He demonstrated that he could destroy Pearl Harbor through almost exactly the same tactics as the Japanese would use nine years later. His recommendations were dismissed. No one was considered crazy enough to launch an attack with so much self-inflicted material damage and casualties.
Since then, and especially since 9/11, the American army and government agencies like the CIA have tried to avoid being blindsided by their own prejudice. They do this by deploying Red Teams. These teams of elite soldiers and analysts are tasked to challenge existing strategies or security protocols To explore alternative futures/avenues that are out of scope for regular strategy makers.
Through army contractors, the technique has also become commonplace in the software security business. White-hat hackers strengthen IT systems by trying to gain access to sensitive client data, email communication and a client's innermost secrets.
I think that Red Teams should also become a standard practice in the world of customer experience. For as long as I can remember, CX winners have been the ones that were willing to break the rules. Today, these companies are called Airbnb, Amazon, Tesla. Not so long ago they were named Ikea, Nespresso, or even further back Polaroid.
With all the technological, demographic and environmental changes ahead of us, every industry will have its Amazon moment. The number of disruptors will only increase. The angles taken will only get more creative. While it is impossible to predict the customer experiences of the future, we can safely say that theys will be nothing like the one we know today. Waiting to see what happens, is asking for disintermediation or even obsolescence. Companies need to proactively challenge their customer experience beliefs and make sure they disrupt themselves, before someone else does. In other words, they’ll need a Red Team to go beyond traditional innovation efforts and instead really shake things up.
If you haven’t got a Red Team in your business, here is how you could get started:
Build a team of super-smart mavericks.
Red teaming is not for the average employee. In their hearts, red-teamers love to mess with the system. They love to look at corporate policies, industry habits or technologies and find ways to hack them. So look across your organisation for the wild ones. The mavericks. The rule breakers. The people that regularly come with customer ideas that are too wild or too disruptive to execute, but somehow still sound cool. They can be young recruits, or veterans in your business. They can be internally recruited, or independently contracted. As long as they are fast thinkers, understand teamwork, have a healthy disregard for (corporate) correctness and a penchant for mischief, you’re on the right path.
Give them a bold mission and no rules.
Red Teams perform best if they get big goals. Think about what your Pearl Harbor would look like. Identify the segment, market or core profit driver that would really hurt if it disappeared. Then tell your red team to find a way to steal it from your business. Or even make your whole company obsolete. Their goal should be nothing less than the total annihilation of your business.
If they are the right type of people, they may be slightly daunted by this task. But they will also be unable to resist the challenge. Especially once they understand that they have your permission to disregard any corporate rule, legacy method or industry habit. As long as what they come up with is legal, it's on the table.
Get out of their way.
In an ideal world, you give your Red Team some operating budget and take its members out of the business for 3 to 6 months. While continuing to have full access to all the information and know-how in your business, they are shielded from any operational or even strategic tasks. This keeps their mind clear of bias, and hundred percent focused on their task. It also minimises leaks of their thinking into the mainstream organisation. This avoids the rest of your employees getting too nervous about any wild ideas that bounce around.
In case isolation isn’t practical, or you would like to have multiple Red Teams competing in an effort to wake up your business, it can also work on a part-time basis. As long as it is clear that the moment they put on their Red Team hats, they forget about the rules which they apply in their regular job.
Organise yourself to really listen.
When they are ready to present their case, your Red Team will be in a very different place than you are. They have been looking at the world through different glasses and will have developed a team narrative and logic which may have nothing to do with the way your business works today. Inversely, your employees (you?) will be looking at life as it is supposed to be.
This will cause communication problems. Your Red Team may fail to make itself properly understood. The rest of the business may reject their ideas. Just like the people evaluating Admiral Yarnell’s simulation, they may be inclined to come up with reasons why a certain scenario would never happen. Especially if that scenario might threaten their own existence, or that of their department/business line.
You can safeguard against both traps by pulling in people who are used to considering wild ideas. This can be friendly venture capitalists or serial entrepreneurs that have made a living from breaking the rules. Have your red team pitch their ideas to these external judges, and only let them return to you, once they have them convinced they found the right angle. This will allow them to sharpen the pitch, and prepare for any questions or challenges that may be thrown at them. When they present their case, the story will be sound. Also, having been validated by external experts, will make it harder to dismiss.
Make sure the red team always wins
Red teaming is not a casual game. Toying with the technique as just another simulation may hold risks for both the team members as well as your organisation.
If they fail in their mission, the members of the team risk disappointment, or even public embarrassment. After all they are not just asked to come up with another innovation, but to seek & destroy. Not achieving this goal should therefore not be seen as failure, but actually as proof that with the current business is still robust. This needs celebrating.
Inversely, if they are successful and do come with a way to upend your business, you have to do something with this information. Once humans have seen a better way of doing something, all other methods seem inadequate. This will be the case for your Red Team too. They will have seen the future, and have a clear picture of the vulnerabilities of your business. If they are as smart as they should be, they won’t want to remain on a potentially sinking ship.
To keep them as part of your organisation (which by this time is highly advisable) you need to give them the opportunity to either help transform your existing business into the direction they created, or give them the space to strike out on their own (as a new venture for your business). If you decide to take the latter route, the relationship they have been able to develop with the venture capitalist/serial entrepreneur, may be helpful.
This last bit is probably the most delicate part to manage. But if the Red Team really finds clear vulnerabilities in the customer experience you offer, and inversely provides your business with a next level of growth, it may be one of the smarter investments you make.
In the context of the Customer Council as well as some other work that I’m doing, I am currently working on a Red Team format which members could apply to their business. If you’re interested in piloting the approach in your business, let me know. I promise to give you a sweet deal ;-).
Here are a few reading tips from the past week:
A lot of people in the NPS/VoC community are fond of benchmarks. Typically, these take the form of comparing scores to their competitors, or even companies outside the industry. If the score of the company’s own programme is higher than what can be observed in the market, the company gets to celebrate. If the score is below the market average, urgent action programmes are launched to prevent the demise of the business.
While there is business case to ensure that your Net Promoter or other score outperforms the competition, there is more to benchmarking than comparing numbers.
Here’s a few tips to help you check that your benchmarks are properly executed:
Remember: benchmarking is about more than numbers.
When conducting benchmarks, most companies look at the score. How is the business performing compared to the competition? But just like with your own Net Promoter or VOC programme, the score is consequence of your actions. If your biggest competitor scores 20 points above yourself, the key question isn’t the score differential, but the reason why the score differential exists.
Action: Every benchmarking program should ask respondents why competing brands scored the way they do and what these brands could do to improve their results. Comparing this data to your own, not only shows whether you are winning or losing the match. It also unearths opportunities to attack your competitors on the weaknesses and inversely, avoid their strengths.
Make sure you compare apples with apples
Benchmarking yourself against the competition assumes that the companies you select for comparison are indeed competitors. This means that they serve a similar set of clients than your own, with a similar value proposition/service. Change one of these two parameters, and the results may misguide you.
This realisation is both restrictive and expansive. It is restrictive, because in your own industry, you want to make sure that you do not compare yourself to the wrong competitors. For example, if you are Kia, it would make sense to look at the likes of Toyota, Honda, Seat and other brands in your category. You would probably be right to question the benefit of comparing yourself to BMW or Lexus.
However, it is also expansive. Today's customers compare experiences across brands and industries. So it is important to understand the experiences that make your customers recommend brands in other industries. Sooner or later, these customers will expect similar service levels from yourself. So in our hypothetical Kia case, fitness instructors and dentists suddenly enter the mix. After all, from a consumer’s perspective there is little difference between scheduling a dentist appointment dentist appointment or making an appointment to get their car serviced.
Action: Make sure you really pay attention to your competitive set, both within and outside of your industry. And if you’re not sure who to include/exclude, sit down with a number of your promoters and ask them. They’ll be happy to help.
Question your motives
Finally, before embarking or continuing some great benchmarking effort, you should question your motives. For many companies, the goal of benchmarking is that they want to be #1 in their industry. But what do you do once you reach that goal? If the number #1 CX player in your industry achieves a Net Promoter or other score of 63%, what number should you to aim for? Is the job done when you hit 65%? Should it be 70%?
Some of the VoC superstars that I know, are starting to challenge the goal of being #1 in the industry. One reason is that they find it increasingly difficult to motivate people to achieve even better experiences once the number #1 spot is achieved. But more importantly, they point out that a benchmark-based objective can distract people from the real goal: to profitably turn every customer into a promoter for the brand.
This isn’t just rhetoric, it’s hard business sense. Even if you’re #1 in your category, there will still be customers who can make you more money as promoters than it would cost to bring them to that point. Every opportunity you miss, is money you leave on the table.
Action: Before embarking or continuing any benchmark, ask yourself the question: What is my motive? If it is to check your performance and get inspired by competitive behaviour across industries, a benchmark can be a great tool. However, if there is a risk that a chase to be #1 turns into an objective which distracts, you should watch out. You may run the risk of being a one-eyed king in the land of the blind.
I hope you consider these tips useful.
Happy benchmarking 😃
We all want our customers to talk well about us and - if possible - act as ambassadors for our brand. But in spite of what many think, this goal is not achieved by merely offering great experiences, or aiming for high recommendation scores.
Being happy with a brand is not enough to make us talk about it. For example, I’m extremely happy with the dishwasher we bought a year ago. If asked, I'd happily score it a 10 on the recommendation scale. But I cannot recall any time at which I brought it up in conversation with any of my friends. From my perspective, it is great at washing the dishes, and that’s about the end of it.
The reason for this disconnect is that even the most extreme form of satisfaction is only a part of the puzzle. Even if they love you, most customers will only talk well about your brand if this enriches their conversations. In my case, dishwashers don't.
To structurally get happy customers to translate their intention to promote into action, you need to infuse your customer experience with ready-made stories that your customers can tell. In other words, you have to give them something worth talking about. This requires three components to be in place:
1. Something extra-ordinary needs to happen
I mean this very literal as something out of the ordinary. People can only talk about things they actually perceive, and no matter how hard you try, your regular customer experience will be expected and therefore unremarkable. That is why you need to script unexpected - and obviously positive - moments that kick customers out of autopilot mode, and into paying attention to the reasons your brand is so unique. Only by being remarkable, you can give them stories to tell.
2. The story needs to be self-affirming
Being remarkable is not enough. Any brand story will only make the conversational cut, if telling it makes customers feel good about themselves. For example: if I talk about the bio-branded tomatoes I buy from the organic store around the corner, I will always have a personal - often subconscious - agenda for doing so. This may be that I want to look good to my friends (look at me, I’m bio). That I want to help them (bio is good for you). That I want to help the guy running the organic store (he's really nice!). That I want to be environmentally friendly (bio will save the planet). Etcetera.
You need to address this by making sure that your customers are always the hero of the stories you want them to spread. As different customers have different motivations, this also means you may need more than one type of story.
3. The story needs to be easy to tell
Finally, your customers need words to talk about your brand. This may sound obvious, but it's not always easy to make conversation about a brand. At least not without sounding like an engineer, or a snob. Just think about it. Can you explain how that shiny new hybrid car saves you money? Or how those branded vitamin pills really help your body?
You need to give your customers a language to talk about your brand which doesn't require jargon or knowledge of your industry. Not by dumbing things down, but by using words and emotions that are relevant to their lives. That they can care about.
These three components still don't guarantee that the world starts talking about you. But they will surely get you on the way. At least IF your customers are so happy that they are willing to be your ambassadors.
If they're not, don't bother with anything I just wrote.
A couple of months ago, I decided to put myself on an intensive diet of books that would bring me back to the edge. In case you'd be in the mood for some mind-expanding reads, I thought I'd share some of the titles which really made an impact.
Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently by Beau Lotto
I met Beau at the Future of Storytelling in New York where he blew me away with some of his insights on human perception. Now they've been bundled into a cognitive toolkit that helps understand how humans perceive reality, and what to do with this knowledge.
The Futurica Trilogy by Alexander Bard and Jan Söderqvist
I was given this book by a friend and with 738 pages of small print I did feel a bit intimidated. But once I got going, I found myself immersed in one of the most relevant combinations of philosophy, sociology and futurology I ever read. Warning: the insights in this book will change your worldview.
Experience by Jones, Mather and Uchill
This collection of essays doesn't just investigate the different sensorial and cultural aspects of the way we humans experience. Its heat-sensitive cover, pheromone print and central web of spidery bookmarks also turn reading the book into an experience in its own right. It's not a light bedtime snack, but definitely worth the effort.
Technology vs. Humanity by Gerd Leonhard
How do we embrace technology without becoming it? Where do we draw the line? Technology vs. Humanity does a great job at thinking through the implications of our addiction to automate and and digitise everything. It also makes an excellent case that just because we can, it doesn't mean that we should.
Transmedia Storytelling: Narrative worlds, emerging technologies, and global audiences by UNSW Australia on Coursera
OK, technically this isn't a book, and I'll only start at the end of the month. But the line-up of instructors and topics looks really promising. Not just because of my love of storytelling. But also because I've got a growing suspicion that transmedia fiction techniques can provide many answers to the challenges of cross-channel CX design. But more about that at a later date!
Happy reading :-)
Here are some interesting articles from the past week:
About this blog
Whenever inspiration strikes, I use this space to share my thoughts on customer experience management, storytelling or what ever else crosses my mind.