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Surviving and thriving in the brave new world of customer experience

27 Jun

Slide1Without doubt, the world of customer experience is changing. I heard a great quote at a conference the other day, when the speaker said that we’ve moved from a world where companies had better technology than their customers, to one where the consumer has the better technology, and at his or her fingertips, than the companies we do business with, many of whom are hampered by old, complex, and multiple systems. Wow. That’s quite a shift in power.

That got me thinking. Lots of commentators talk now about how the world is radically changing as a result of the consumer’s new found power and status. Here then is my round up of the shifts in thinking and behaviour required for organisations to adapt to the new realities, survive and thrive.

  OLD WORLD COMPANIES… NEW WORLD COMPANIES…
EXTERNAL   ORIENTATION Serve shareholders. If making money is the goal, then shareholders and other investors, whose interests are typically short term in nature, are the masters. Serve customers. Their philosophy is, if you get it right for your customers, day in day out, then profit takes care of itself.
TIME   HORIZONS Live for the short term: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Obsesses about making more money today out of its customers. Manage and plan around a different timeframe because they value the rewards that come from longer term thinking. And, they forgo the quick buck because the price to the business – losing customer trust and engagement – is simply too high a price to pay.
ORGANISATIONAL   FOCUS Are schizophrenic. They talk a good game publically about customers when necessary, and spam the organisation with posters and propaganda, but this doesn’t permeate the DNA. So, at other times, and in other meetings, the customer is entirely absent. Not only does this create confusion internally, it ultimately signals a lack of authenticity in the business. Are single minded in ensuring that the customer agenda pervades the business, in everything it does. (This is partly because they’ve joined the dots between happy customers and happy CFOs.) And that everyone is connected to the   customer agenda and how the business serves its customers. After all, if your own people aren’t proud of the customer experience they deliver, how can you expect customers to get excited?
ORGANISATIONAL   LANGUAGE Call customers (and   people) “assets”, talk about “share of wallet”, “target customers” and “owning” the customer. In these businesses, customers are numbers and scores in KPI dashboards. Are humble. They understand that the organisation needs its customers more than its customers need it. And, do all they can to relate to their customers, one by one, as   people, not numbers.
CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE DESIGN Create Frankenstein experiences for their customers: silo’d and fragmented companies create ugly, stitched-together experiences that feel disjointed, inconsistent and random. Understand that great customer experiences can’t be left to chance; they are designed with intent and require a seamless orchestration of the whole enterprise. This is how the notorious silos get busted.
LISTENING   TO, AND ACTING ON, FEEDBACK Conduct market research every now and then, query its statistical significance, what to act on and what not, and schedule improvements for next year’s plan (because delivering this year’s plan is already an impossibility) Treat feedback like oxygen, something the business needs every day to survive. They constantly listen and constantly act on the voice of the customer, and make sure the   customer sees this happen too.
CUSTOMER CLOSENESS Keep the customer at arm’s length. They’ll push periodic sales campaigns out, and control the script when selling to customers. And, yet when the customer has a query, it’s like they’re in hiding and it’s a long and lonely road to get an   answer. Jump to it. They work hard to break down the barriers, make ‘customer effort’ an important yardstick and welcome and seek out opportunities to talk and meet with   customers, who even turn up at internal conferences.
REPORTING AND   GOVERNANCE Value data and measure and monitor everything that moves. The result? Paralysis by analysis, or as I heard recently, they suffer from DRIP: they are Data Rich, Insight Poor. Ask ‘So what’? For them, less is more because they understand what really matter to customers (and therefore what drives business success), and are relentless in   challenging the data and then acting on it.
PEOPLE POWER Use targets, metrics and scripts to control and drive what their ‘employees’ are paid to do. This invariably makes it harder for the workers to do the job the customer wants   them to do.In these companies,   the Golden Rule is, would my boss be happy with my actions? Know that everything begins and ends with people, without whom there is no business. They obsess over recruiting the right people and then letting them be themselves. This   means doing the right thing for customers because the organisation sees the value in doing so.Here the Golden Rule is, if the customer was in the room, listening and observing, would they approve of my actions?

Leading the witness. The unsubtle art of ‘gaming’ customer surveys

22 May

Hmmm.

Take a look at this online survey on attitudes to a leading UK bank that popped up a month or so ago when browsing ft.com. I am asked to say if I agree with the following statements (helpfully, I am also told that I can select all 5 responses, if the mood so takes me):

Slide1

Lloyds Bank…

  • …has the expertise to be a leading partner to UK business
  • …serves and supports UK business
  • …helps make its customers more successful
  • …helps make the UK economically stronger
  • …demonstrates leadership on key issues that matter to my organisation

Now, this is clearly just a piece of fairly innocuous puff to fuel some sort of PR message, and we can all smile wryly and move on. That said, it hasn’t done anything to improve my perception of the bank concerned because obviously, someone somewhere must have felt this was a good idea, worth spending time and money on.

Some surveys that try a little too hard to lead the witness also have a darker side. This is where the outcome is linked to personal reward or recognition.

When the well-intentioned idea becomes hostage to the law of unintended consequences. 

I was recently reminded of this when I picked up a prescription at a leading pharmacy brand. We’re probably all familiar with the scenario: you queue to hand the prescription in, you’re told to come back in 15 minutes, and then you collect it from a different counter. For once I wasn’t told to go away, and the same person handled the whole transaction in around a minute. I mumbled “gosh, that was quick” and then the pharmacist, sensing a happy customer, wrote his name on my till receipt and asked me to take part in the online survey mentioned on the back of it. Now, chances are, if I’d had a very different experience, say where it took much longer than promised or they’d run out of the product, I suspect he’d have acted very differently.

Slide1

Such stories – when personal intervention can, in effect, ‘lead the witness’ – are legion on the web. Take a look at this example, from the Consumerist site in April, where a pizza company in the US is offering a $1 discount off the next order provided you score the experience you’ve just had a 5 out of 5. As you can see from the photo, the process to claim the discount involves some ingenuity – all helpfully explained – to work around the system.

So, if your organisation is truly intent on listening to the authentic voice of the customer, then avoid the witness being lead! The first rule of survey completion should be to avoid putting the invitation to complete the survey in the hands of people who personally stand to gain from positive responses.   

Sorry doesn’t seem to be the hardest word any more

24 Apr

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In the good old days (for “good”, read “bad”) when a company screwed up, it was a case of wait and see who notices, deal with complaints as and when they come in, and hope that nobody goes to the press. When (or if) the spotlight was finally thrown on the miscreant, a written statement to the press would have told us that the company had learned its lesson, and that such things just cannot happen today, etc. 

Well, some things don’t change; wait and see if we get caught still seems prevalent – but what does seem to have changed is the way that companies recognise they need to be much more proactive, sincere and even ‘human’ in how they respond, and to mean it!

 Saying sorry is the new black. It’s certainly not the hardest word any more    

 Take a look then at this little collection of video apologies (or, what passes for apologies, in some cases). Some are very new, some older. Thanks are due especially to the Wall St. Journal for a 2011 article that captures some good ones (referenced at the foot of this post).    

 Eurostar

 Although it looks like it was filmed in a broom cupboard, this one scores for being timely, rough and ready and, more importantly, ‘real’. And, the compensation offer is appropriately generous! 

JetBlue Airways

Here is an apology for the logistical snafus that grounded planes and people; pretty straightforward and direct, and again reassures listeners that they will learn, but with the less than specific ‘we’re-going-to-conduct-a-review-so-we-learn’ defence. On the plus side, the choice of venue is interesting – here is the COO, a man in the nerve centre of the operations, not in an anodyne media interview suite, and with his jacket off, so maybe he’s part of the solution, rather than just the spokesman? And, like many public apologies these days (Barclays in their one page ads from last year is a good example) he reminds us that he needs to re-earn our trust.      

SSE

SSE, a UK energy provider, was fined £10.5m this month for miss-selling. Here is the Managing Director of Retail in a video entitled Sorry isn’t good enough’. And yes, he’s at pains to stress that ‘it wasn’t me’, it all happened several years ago. This seems to be a sorry tale of yet another toxic culture, where targets and incentives were designed to benefit the company concerned, at the cost of its customers.  Is he truly remorseful? You decide.

Domino’s Pizzas

For a good and ‘human’ example, look no further. Here is the CEO’s response to a stupid and disgusting prank by two (now ex-) employees in one store. The interesting thing about this video is that it tracks audience reaction to the ‘believability’ of his words. This is a man talking with sincerity, passion and anger – watch how the scores shoot up as he talks of the business “reeling” from the incident, and how it “sickened” him. And of course, extra ticks for being very specific on the actions taken.

Netflix

Two people apologising, and it’s personal, but it seems to morph into a sales pitch for the new service too. Wasn’t much liked on youtube either, but then of course, there was a lot of anger around the move that eventually prompted the apology! Check it out here

Groupon

A good one, from Groupon. Scores for a very detailed explanation for what went wrong, and it’s open and humble.

Sony

Err, what’s with the backdrop ambient music? Maybe too slick? Take a look here.  

Toyota

Again, a nice one, detailed and specific, which is good. Nice to see a freephone number throughout, too, to add to the voiceover.

BP

Enough has been said about the CEO’s “I want my life back” comment already. All I can say is, don’t bother clicking on the link in the WSJ story at the end of this post, as you get a message saying, “This video is private”! Maybe they’ve decided to move on?

What, then, makes a good apology?

From the top – we don’t want to see a PR spokesman forced to go through the motions by his or her boss. We want to see it from the boss, or if not the boss, then the person accountable for ensuring it doesn’t happen again. And we want to be convinced that he or she ‘gets it’. Let’s not forget that a good apology ought to be worth its weight in gold – commentators talk of the Domino’s apology as a classic: by showing his anger and disgust, and moving to action, the CEO repaired many bridges.  

We want to see it – Press releases, full page ads, carefully crafted letters don’t seem to cut the mustard. We want to see sincerity, humility and be convinced that lessons have been learned and that things will change.  

Be specific – we want to feel that the speaker acknowledges the real details of the problem, rather than shies away from them, or talks vaguely. Without them talking about the specifics, the nagging doubt is, do they really understand what went wrong, and what it meant for those affected?

Be timely – better to be proactive, surely, than wait till the chorus of disapproval is deafening. And especially so if the trigger for the apology is a regulatory fine, or other public censure! There, the risk is the apology is perceived as too little too late. 

Actions speak louder – we want to see that the business is taking responsibility, now, and that practical action is being taken, in order to give us some belief that the mistakes of the past cannot be repeated. ‘Root and branch reviews’, internal investigations, audit committees are not the same as actions, by the way..the fear is, they are yet more smokescreen!

 

Finally, thanks to the Wall St Journal, for a 2011 round up of 10 CEO video apologies – I’ve used a few in this post, but for the full article, and access to all 10 (well, 9 given that the BP one has been taken down) click here

Business is personal. Exploring the 4 Hs : Humility, Humanity, Humour and Honesty

27 Feb

Slide1

The bigger the business, the more freedom is curtailed as governance, processes and procedures take over.

This is just one of the points made in a fascinating slideshare presentation from a few years ago on the culture at Netflix. And the upshot of all this? It becomes harder to be ‘human and the threat to freedom means you end up losing great people.

Which is ironic, really, considering that companies are mostly just collections of people. In the same way that without customers, there is no business, without workers there is no business too. And, when businesses try to put straight-jackets on great people, businesses ultimately fail. 

Introducing the four ‘H’s

So, treat people well, give them the freedom to be themselves and customers will feel the difference, and everybody wins. It may be a cliché, but it’s no less true for all that, that people buy from people, whatever the business. How then, can businesses be more like people?

Consider then the 4 Hs. Done well, they reveal real – and therefore engaging – personality and help humanise the company, for customers

HUMILITY

This is about how great companies fess up to highly visible problems and failures. Put simply, there’s the old way – hide behind Ts and Cs, never admit anything, push failure behind the scenes and starve it of the oxygen of publicity – and there’s the new human and personal way, that involves someone very senior – typically the CEO – saying sorry and meaning it, and broadcasting the mea culpa too. 

For example, check out two classic (and well handled) cases from the airline industry:  

Here is an email and website message from the Singapore Airlines CEO, following a botched website launch in 2011. (See it here). It’s well written, personal and honest, and signed by the CEO. Job done! 

In 2007, when bad weather disrupted air travel, flight delays and communications SNAFUs at Jet Blue caused a public outcry against the company. Soon after, the then-CEO issued an apology and also went onto Youtube, with “Our Promise To You”. This is the film, a very public and humble apology from the top. And the best quote? “We’ll be a better company, for the very difficult things our customers have had to endure”.

Admitting you’ve screwed up can be good for business. “Doing a Domino’s” became part of the language 3 years ago after Domino’s acknowledged that its pizzas “tasted like cardboard” and promised to do better. Read more about this classic and creative apology here at the CEB. The lesson? As the author says, “Humanize your apology. Domino’s had its CEO apologize and commit to making changes on TV commercials.  By personalizing the mistake, it seems more human, and consumers are more likely to be forgiving”.

HUMANITY

This is about a brand seeking to show its generosity and kindness to brighten up peoples’ days, in the normal course of business.

I’ve written about this before in my post on Random Acts of Kindness, and profiled the good work from Virgin Media and BUPA International. To give a couple of other good examples, my previous company, Aviva, in the US used to give away Aviva umbrellas on rainy days. They would simply head out to the city, and hand out brollies to those that needed them (and regardless, of course, as to whether the lucky recipients were customers or not). Trendwatching.com reports that Interflora did a similar thing, via social media, by sending bouquets of flowers to people in need to cheering up. For more examples, and some useful guidance on RAK 101, check out the briefing from trendwatching.

HUMOUR

It’s fascinating how social media in particular (but why only here?) gives switched-on organisations an opportunity to show their personal side in a service context (usually when it goes wrong). O2 in the UK are a past master. Consider the skill they showed in handling the anger they experienced at service outages last year:

Slide1

This example also suggests to me there’s a (very) thin line between getting the tone right and it all going horribly wrong. It hasn’t yet though for O2, and maybe that’s the key point here, that if you at least try to be human, and inject a bit of humour (and know your audience!) then  forgiveness for when someone does step over the line is probably far more readily forthcoming.

As a Telegraph article on O2 concluded at the time, “O2 used Twitter to deliver fast, professional customer service, and still maintained their brand image by adding humour and personality to their tweets.” 

HONESTY

The above examples of Humility are public responses to very public failures. My last category, Honesty, is the flip side, visible gestures that ‘correct’ or fix something largely hidden from public view, but which speak volumes about the internal culture and what the business is unwilling to tolerate. I’ve written about this before too (about Costco’s jeans pricing policy, and Amazon’s reduced pricing on Harry Potter books in China – the link to my earlier post, which includes the Amazon film, is here), so I thought I’d end by sharing a personal example of my own from LoveFilm, now an Amazon company, and in the same business as Netflix.

Here is an email I received in December, alerting me to an over-night film despatch problem.

Now my point is, chances are most people (me included) would never realise there was a problem, and we’d have carried on blissfully unawares. A few subscribers might have suspected a problem, and some of those might then have got in touch to ask or even complain.

Slide1

Now, LoveFilm had a choice; wait and see, and deal with complaints as they occurred and offer to make up for it to those contacting them. Or, be more proactive and reach out to everyone affected, regardless of whether or not they were aware of the problem. LoveFilm chose to do the latter. Why? Because they, like other businesses building themselves around the customer, recognise the business value of a positive proactive gesture, in short, of letting the personality shine through.        

This is what characterises all the examples here of the 4 Hs; the conviction that the human touch will reap rewards. After all, businesses are only people, so let good people be good people. 

Rising on a word, falling on a syllable : corporate reputation and trust in the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer

22 Jan

Crisis of leadershipSlide1 (4)

The 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer is out this week – the shorthand summary would be corporate leadership is in crisis – and, as usual, it paints a fascinating global picture of shifting, evolving and fragmenting attitudes to big business and governments and how the nature of ‘trust’ is changing.

Edelman rightly zoom in on the world of financial services, and banks in particular, where, not surprisingly, trust levels have fallen still further (halved in fact, in the UK, and even worse in Ireland), making life harder and harder for companies. Reputation is indeed a fragile construct, as Robert Pattinson’s character says.

Here, then are some reflections on the survey findings, a slideshare presentation of which can be found here.  

Culture eats everything for breakfast

Not just strategy, it seems. It’s fascinating to read that when the informed public were asked what they felt were the biggest causes of recent high profile banking scandals, almost 60% felt it was down to internal factors within the company’s control, rather than external. This is about how things got done in these companies. Notably:

  • Corporate cultures driven by compensation / bonuses (23%)
  • Corporate corruption (25%)
  • Conflicts of interests (11%)

The last one is key, and maybe even drives the others. What we’re talking about here is the realpolitick world of trade-offs where what Peter Scott-Morgan calls the unwritten rules come into play, with a vengeance. For example, serve your boss or your boss’s boss as he/she controls your reward, or forget the customer’s longer term needs, just sell now. Look, for example, to the hot-off-the-press story about the culture at Barclays Wealth, a US arm of the bank, described as one of “revenue at all costs”. Click here for the story. No wonder it’s a crisis of leadership, because yes, cultures are set by leaders and it’s all within their control.

Or, rather, not in their control : there was a fascinating study last year from Deloitte’s “Culture in the Workplace” that reported that while 94% of executives say workplace culture is important (who wouldn’t!), only 19% say their own culture is widely upheld! No wonder the unwritten rules take over.

Managing the conflicts, managing the timeframes

Managing for ‘shareholder value’ creates real conflicts. Even Jack Welch said in 2009, “On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy… your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products”.

Roger Martin, ex- dean of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto writes about shifting focus back to delighting the customer, and says, “If you take care of customers, shareholders will be drawn along for a very nice ride. The opposite is simply not true: if you try to take care of shareholders, customers don’t benefit”.

To me, it’s also about time frames. A jam-today ‘revenue at all costs’ mindset will inevitably conflict with the customer’s longer-term interests. I’m reminded of a good piece in the Guardian in November last year, “Leaders must stay close to principles of service” by Tim Macartney where he talk about the Iroquois Confederacy of First Nation’s people in the north-east US who, when they take a decision, submit the issue to the principle of seven generations: “Will this decision when translated into action have any kind of harmful outcome on our children seven generations to come?” Tim goes on to say, by way of contrast, “we have constructed a system that doesn’t even consider such questions, instead asking something rather more limited in scope and moral probity: “How will this benefit our shareholders?” And since the leaders of large organisations are often also shareholders, “How will this benefit … me?” And that takes us right back to the unwritten rules (what do I really need to do to keep my boss happy and get paid?) which, in the absence of anything else, become our rules of thumb for navigating the conflicts.  

The (Bob) Diamond of Influence

While not new news, it’s fascinating that credibility as a trusted information source has been shifting away from formal and hierarchical sources – CEOs, PR spokespeople – to experts (assumed to be independent and thus trustworthy) and the more informal sources, ‘people like me’, including the rank and file employees in organisations. The theory being, they really know what it’s like, and are more likely to it tell it like it is. Edelman tells us that “a person like yourself” is now trusted nearly twice as much as a CEO. As Edelman suggests, influence has become  democratized.

So, out with the old and traditional pyramid of influence – a top-down, authority-driven model – and in with the new, the pyramid of community where social activists, passionate consumer advocates and employees are powerful – because authentic – voices.   

BLOG Pyramid slid

Edelman talk about the diamond of influence, see above, the new model for stakeholder interaction and management. I’m not sure it’s a diamond, a pretzel might be more appropriate, as consumers might well be going round the information and engagement loops quite a few times, and consumers and customers now have many more opportunities to amass different viewpoints, and concurrently too. I agree that “this is not a linear process but rather it is dynamic, continual and evolutionary in nature”.  

It’s certainly continual – the research states that nearly 2/3rds of us say we need to hear a message 3-5 times before we believe it. And it’s a message that’s constantly being tested in the public spotlight. One slip and that’s it, back to the long hard slog of rebuilding, and we all have memories like elephants, these days. In fact, more to the point, we don’t need to have memories like elephants, we just need to know how to google.

Can trust be ‘rebuilt’?

There’s a great quote in a Wolff Olins report from last year, ‘Game Changers’ that says, “It’s easier for a trusted brand to become a bank than it is for a bank to become trusted”.

In the just published World Economic Forum Global Agenda Outlook, Michael J. Elliott, President and CEO of ONE USA challenges the notion of rebuilding an ‘old model’ and reinforces the power of informal networks to build trust:

“There has been a breakdown in trust in established institutions. But if we think that the solution is to rebuild trust in those same institutions, we may be missing the signal. Social media is creating new institutions. They may not be corporations, they may not have an HQ, but it is possible that we are finding new informal institutions that enable people to do things together. People today are less influenced by me, or you, or for that matter, by famous people, than by their friends”.

Trust as a leading indicator

An Edelman blog linked to the 2013 results says that trust is a leading indicator unlike reputation, which is the sum of perceptions of past behaviours. I like that. So, what then drives Trust? Here the report gets really interesting in giving us 16 attributes of trust, grouped into five clusters, with “engagement” the most important. See slide.

Slide1 (2)

 Engagement breaks down into treating customers and employees well, putting their needs first and open and honest communications .Hardly rocket science, in fact much more like good old common sense, but it’s going to take a lot more than simply writing and saying this repeatedly.

 For me, it all comes back to the survey data about the perceived causes of the crises, and the C-word, Culture. It means resolving the conflicts of interest and being very clear about what ultimately drives long term and sustainable business success. In the words of Richard Branson:

“For us, our employees matter most. It just seems common sense to me that, if you start off with a happy, well-motivated workforce, you’re much more likely to have happy customers. And in due course, the resulting profits will make your shareholders happy”.

Power to the people (and those companies that embrace this). Ten 2013 consumer trends

29 Nov
Concert Crowd (Osheaga 2009) - 30000 waiting f...

(Photo : Anirudh Koul)

Wacky names, thought-provoking stuff. Here are ten key consumer trends for 2013 from trendwatching,com. Some good insights and signals in here on how the power game between consumer and company might be played out in future.

 ‘ PRESUMERS’ is about people seeking active engagement and participation with the company, getting involved in co-production before launch. Why? Because they connect, they are extreme advocates with a connection (I love this product, I like what this company is about, I want it to succeed and make a difference).

 Hand in hand with this, then, perhaps even a pre-requisite would be ‘FULL FRONTAL’, extreme transparency to you and me. So, what might transparency 2.0 look like? Well, moving from ‘having nothing to hide’, to “pro-actively showing and proving they have nothing to hide”, supplying unambiguous and clear evidence. So, a company will have to be pretty clear then about what it wants to be famous for and it had better be something more attractive to its customers than maximising shareholder value, for example.

 Another manifestation of consumer power is ‘DATA MYNING’ where we consumers begin to trade on our own worth to the company. As the paper says, “to date, the ‘big data’ discussion has focused on the value of customer data to businesses. Now, increasingly savvy consumers will start to reverse the flow”, and seek to benefit from the value of their own data”. 

From telling to talking, with Coca-Cola

19 Nov

In the New York Times, a fascinating sign of the times!

Coca-Cola is revamping its main website, and turning in into something much more like a magazine – called Coca-Cola Journey – than a corporate business website.

So, this is a move very clearly in touch with the zeitgeist, this is about sharing the ‘story’, creating real-time dialogue and conversation, a long way of course, from the old-school approach of tell and sell that characterises many (most?) corporate sites.

But, as the article says, the challenge is, exactly whose story? For every corporate one, there’s usually an alternative point of view that is also seeking an outlet. To what extent will it be heard and hosted on this site or is that a bridge too far?

 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/12/business/media/coke-revamps-web-site-to-tell-its-story.html?_r=0

To check out the new site….  http://www.coca-colacompany.com/

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