How many of these emotional needs does your customer experience design deliver?

An experience is only an experience because of emotion; computers do not experience; the stronger the emotions the stronger the experience and it’s imprint in the memory bank. So customer experience design comes down to creating powerful, positive, experiences that leave permanent footprints in the mind/heart of the customer.

So what are the primary emotional needs of our fellow human beings?  There are as many schools of thought as there are writers on the subject.  Personally, I find that the Human Givens school has articulated a useful and actionable list of ten emotional needs:

  1. Security — safe territory and an environment which allows us to develop fully
  2. Attention (to give and receive it) — a form of nutrition
  3. Sense of autonomy and control — having volition to make responsible choices
  4. Being emotionally connected to others
  5. Feeling part of a wider community
  6. Friendship, intimacy — to know that at least one other person accepts us totally for who we are, “warts ‘n’ all”
  7. Privacy — opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience
  8. Sense of status within social groupings
  9. Sense of competence and achievement
  10. Having meaning and purpose — which comes from being stretched in what we do and think.
When these emotional needs are met we feel great and when they are not then we tend to feel down – we misfire.  And in every human encounter these emotional needs are either fulfilled, ignored or violated.   How is your organisation doing? Which needs are you fulfilling?  Which needs are not even on your radar?  And which needs are you violating 0 intentially or unintentionally?  If you took a good hard look and are honest with yourself you are in for a surprise and an opportunity.

If you are not working on dismantling the walls of separation then you are wasting your time

One picture can say more than a shelf full of books.  When it comes to forging a mutually beneficial relationship between companies and customers here is the picture that says it all – at least to me.

This picture was put together by David Armano and is part of his visual archive on his Logic + Emotion blog.   It is a blog that I rate highly and have listed under my “Worth Checking Out” links.

Why am I drawing attention to these walls of separation today?

Too much of what passes for Customer Experience is simply customer interaction management (the engineering mindset) or customer interaction design (the digital design mindset).  If the Customer Experience movement is to make any impact then the people working in it, leading it, have to rise several levels above interaction and deal with the stuff that really stands in the way of organisations and their customers: the deeply ingrained, taken for granted, walls of separation.

Put differently, if you are not willing to dismantle the walls of separation then you are wasting time, effort and money on Customer Experience, CRM and Social Media.  If you disagree then please do write and share your point of view and the reasoning behind it.

If you want to improve the customer experience put fairness into the contracting process

Focus on reducing the effort that customers make

A recent HBR article titled Stop Trying To Delight Your Customers the authors argue that delight does not deliver loyalty if companies fail to get the basics right.  They argue that companies should focus on reducing the effort that customers make in doing business with them. 

The importance of the contracting process

Now what can be more basic then making it easy for customer to figure out what they are signing up for?   I’d argue that the contracting process is the start of the relationship and the vendor has a responsibility to make it absolutely clear to the customer what she is signing up for.  And in particular, it is critical that the vendor makes the customer aware of anything that the customer may find an unpleasant surprise after she signs ups.  Why?  Because we dislike unpleasant surprises.  We feel cheated when what we signed up for is not what we think we signed up for.  It erodes trust.  And trust is the foundation of all ongoing relationships.

How are UK companies doing in making contracting fair, easy and transparent?

So it is with interest that I read the following article: Problem contracts cost consumers £3b, OFT says.   Here is paragraph that leaps out at me:

“Common problems included a lower quality of service than expected, firms interpreting contracts to their own advantage, problems accessing a service, and poor customer service.”

The OFT study goes on to say: “The highest instance of problems occurred with telecoms and internet access packages, with 10.3% of consumers surveyed affected.”

Is taking advantage of your customers limited to these two industries? No.  The study says:

“Telecoms and internet access aside, of the 32 sectors investigated by the OFT problem areas included home entertainment, home deliveries, home improvement, travel, mobile phones and in-home services and repair.”

I wonder if all this talk about customer focus is simply talk

How hard is it to make the contracting process easy and fair?  I contend that it easy if you want to do it.  So why are companies not making their contracts fair, easy to read and easy to understand?  Bear in mind that the worst culprits according to the OFT, the telecoms companies, have been on the Customer Experience bandwagon since about 2002.

Sonia at Linkedin: how to deliver a great customer experience

Customer experience is fundamentally about the human.  And when it comes to the human we are exquisitely sensitive to the tone of the conversation. Get the tone right and you leave your customer feeling absolutely delighted with you.  Why?  Because the right tone validates the customers.  Get it wrong and the same customer will feel invalidated and resent you for it even if she does not ditch you there and then.

My Linkedin Experience

So what do I mean exactly when I speak of the tone of the conversation.  Allow me to share my Linkedin experience with you.

Yesterday I decided to take the premium membership from Linkedin.  So I clicked on the box, entered my credit card details and was then none too pleased to find out that I had been charged for a full twelve months.  Why?  Because I thought I was signing up for monthly membership: with a monthly membership you get billed month by month and can cancel anytime.

So I reached out to Linkedin customer support through the FAQ section and sent an email to the effect that I had unintentionally subscribed to a year membership. And asked Linkedin to cancel that membership so that I could sign-up for the monthly membership.  That was on Tuesday morning.  This morning ( less than a day later) I received the following delightful email from Sonia:

“Hi Maz,

I want to apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you.

Your premium subscription has been cancelled and a refund of $ 479.40 has been issued to your credit card. Please note that refunds take up to five business days to post to the credit card. To see a record of this refund:

1. Hover your cursor over your name in the upper right area of your home page and click on “Settings”.
2. Click on the “View purchase history” link.

You can also view your purchase history from the link below:
https://www.linkedin.com/secure/purchase?displayPurchaseHistory

Your Basic free account will still allow you to:

1. Build and maintain contact with your trusted professional network.
2. Find and reconnect with colleagues and classmates.
3. Request and provide recommendations.
4. Create and maintain your professional presence on the web.
5. Request up to five Introductions at a time.
6. Search for and view profiles of other LinkedIn users.
7. View Company Pages and follow Companies of interest.
8. Join and participate in sharing in Professional Groups.

Please know that you are more than welcome to renew your premium subscription at any time by clicking on “Upgrade My Account” at the bottom of your LinkedIn home page choosing monthly instead of annual subscription.

Thank you for using LinkedIn, Maz!

Regards,

Sonia
LinkedIn Customer Service”

Why am I Delighted?

I am not delighted that I got what I wanted – a refund of my subscription.  Why?  Because I assumed that as a professional organisation Linkedin would act professionally.

I am delighted because of the tone of the email.  Specifically, Sonia makes me feel that I am talking with a caring human being.  One that I can count on. How does she do that exactly:

  • Sonia addresses me by name and informally the way that a friend might address me if we were meeting up at a cafe.
  • Sonia absolutes floors me with her opening line “I want to apologise for the inconvenience this has caused you.”  In that one sentence, at an emotional level, I totally felt a bond.   Wow, I am speaking with a real human being – one that is speaking to me in normal human language and gets my experience.
  • Sonia tells me that she has sorted out my problem and she shows me how I can check for myself that she has fixed it.  Not that I have bothered to check I trust her.
  • Sonia shows me how I can go about subscribing to the monthly membership but does not pressure me to do it.   That leaves me feeling trusted.
  • Sonia ends the email as beautifully as she started it: ” Thank you for using LinkedIn, Maz!” I feel appreciated and validated.

The Lesson

Nothing, absolutely nothing beats a human being who gets the fact that customers are first and foremost human beings with deep emotional needs: acknowledgement, respect, validation, trust, caring ……The role of technology is to support these human beings in being great.  And to make life easier where the ease is wanted.  Technology should never be used to replace the human encounter – the personal touch.

PS. As a result of this encounter, I have decided to make a list of companies that I find to be customer friendly, even customer centred.  And Linkedin is on that tab along with other favourites such as TeamSnap and Amazon.

Customer Experience: the gulf between the talk and the reality in the UK banking industry

Is Customer Experience the latest fad?  Are some organisations, perhaps many organisations, simply paying lip service?  Or is it that clever people who have risen to the top of the corporation simply are confused and have a mistaken view of Customer Experience?  Is it possible that they simply see it as the gift wrapping?  Something that you put on the outside to make the product – which may not be that great – look prettier.

Complaints are a great opportunity to learn, to build an emotional bond and generate advocacy

From a customer perspective, customer complaints are  a key ‘moment-of-truth’.  As a customer I am reaching out to you to let you know that I am not happy with the way that your organisation has treated me.  And if I am making that complaint then I am implying that I think you are the kind of person, the kind of organisation, that it is worth complaining to.  That is to say that you will listen to me, investigate the matter efficiently, and come up with a fair resolution.  If I did not believe this, even if it is at a subconscious level, I would not bother complaining; time is in short supply and there is a lot to do.  As such a complaint is a great opportunity for the organisation to build a stronger bond with the customer.

How well is the UK banking industry handling complaints?

Now lets take the UK high street banks as an example – only because they are in the news.  I am pretty confident that there is at least one person at each bank with a Customer Experience title.  Yet, it appears that these banks do not even deal effectively with customer complaints.

According to Consumer Focus the UK banking industry received over 1.25 million complaints in the first half of 2010 and over 47% of the people who had made a complaint are not happy with the response they have received.

Is it that the UK banks have their house in order and the 47% of customers that are not happy are simply being difficult.  This is what Consumer Focus has to say:

“Consumer Focus is calling for banks to take complaints more seriously and devote more resources to improving customer service. The consumer champion is also urging the Financial Services Authority (FSA) to continue using the prospect of financial sanctions to keep the pressure on poorly performing firms.  The FSA previously concluded that banks’ complaints handling is ‘poor’ with more than a third underperforming in this area.

So why is it that the banks are so poor at handling complaints?  Back to Consumer Focus: “Consumer Focus thinks that poor customer service and complaints handling is a sign of weak competition.”  Frankly, the banks are doing such a poor job because customers are not bothering to switch – partly because of the perceived difficulty of switching and partly because consumers see all the banks as being pretty much the same.

What are the Customer Experience folks working on?

All of which makes me wonder what the Customer Experience folks working in the UK banking industry are working on?  Maybe they are working very hard and the Tops are simply not listening – after all complaints cost money today.   Or maybe they busy working on the sales side of the customer experience?

If you are working on improving the Customer Experience in the UK banking industry then please write and let me know as I am genuinely puzzled.

The 6 Elements of Customer Engagement

I have a favourite saying which I have stolen from Barry Oshrycustomers are surviving in a world of neglect. And this neglect is becoming more so , not less, despite all the talk of customer service, customer focus, customer experience and customer centricity.

So it is with interest that I read the latest report by Razorfish: Liminal.  The report identifies 6 Engagement Elements (Valued, Efficiency, Trust, Consistency, Relevance, Control) that matter to customers.  Now the interesting thing is that these needs are fundamentally human needs – they arise out of our existence as human beings in an increasingly complex and some would say ‘inhuman’ (artificial) world.

These 6 Engagement Elements can help jumpstart customer experience efforts as they set out the lens through which all business policies, practices and platforms can be viewed and redesigned.  Now onto my take on the 6 Engagement Elements:

1. Valued (you care about me, wow!)

What is the fundamental human need?  Are you surprised to read that it is feeling valued?  This is how one person put it: “It’s something as simple as calling a person, having them listen, and talking with them.  Just feeling as though they are out there, working on your behalf, that you situation has not been discarded, you are not just another passenger. It’s the personal touch that makes the difference. ”

Now I ask you how is it that companies that profess to be working on the customer experience are taking out exactly the elements that tend to make people feel valued?   Survey after survey shows that customers value caring helpful staff.  Yet, what are many organisations doing ?  They are reducing their investments in these staff – whether that is in the retail stores or the people on the end of the line in the contact centres.

Why are people (and the personal touch) being replace with technology?  During my weekly shopping I enjoy talking with the cashiers and I love the ones that smile and chat with me.  Yet, I now find that these cashiers are being replaced with self-service scanning tills.

2. Efficiency (save me time and effort)

What is one dimension of making customers valued?  Are you surprised to learn that it is a respect for the customers time and energy (physical and psychic) – promptly addressing his needs? Customer prefer to do business with companies that make it easy to do business: to get the job done easily, quickly and ideally without any thinking .

A great example of delivering on this need is the airlines.  They have put in place self-service tools that allows passengers to check in and print boarding cards at home.  And to use self-service check-in kiosks at the airport.

Banks are another great example.  By allowing customers to do many of their banking transaction over the web they have cut out the hassle of visiting the branch, waiting in the queue for 20 minutes or so to get served mainly because there are only two cashiers on duty despite the fact there are four cashier desks.

3. Trust (can I count on you?)

The need to feel secure in an uncertain world is a fundamental need – the people who have failed in this dimension do not tend to leave offspring.  So it is no surprise to hear customers say, “I need to believe that they’ll stand by what they are giving me.  If something goes wrong they will correct it.  I’ll take chances with trusting a company so long as I’m sure they are there for me to correct any problems.” Put differently, customers are more willing to walk the tightrope if they can see, feel, touch the safety net you have put below them.

What does this mean for companies?  It means that they cannot just rely on the established practice of big budget advertising to build familiarity and trust.  It means actually delivering the promise: putting in place policies, practices, processes, people and platforms that deliver what the customer expects and was promised.  Any gap between the advertising (the promise) and the delivery is soon broadcast to the whole world on the internet.

4. Consistency (no unpleasant surprises!)

If the world behaves consistently (even if we do not like the way it behaves) then we feel secure; we know what to expect and how to behave.  Inconsistency wakes us up from our slumber, it puts us on the edge because we have to figure out if danger is present.  And we do not like being disturbed from our slumber.

It is no different when it comes to customers and shopping.  Customers need to feel that the companies that they are doing business with are consistent.  Consistent in terms of the layout of the stores, the products, the staff, the attitude, product qaulity, the communication…….

5. Relevance (know me, offer me what I am interested in)

If you value me then you will only offer and engage me in stuff that I find interesting;  do not waste my time with the irrelevant. Notice, how relevance is also related to Efficiency (above):  relevance respects the customers need for Efficiency.  For example when a retailer offers personalised offers on products and services that they know are of interest to the customer.

6. Control

Razorfish write “..it is noteworthy that in “the consumer is in control” era, Control was the least important of the six Engagement Elements we identified.”  So how did they define control?  “Control is manifested when the customer can determine if, when and how a company will communicate with him or her.”  That may explain it.  Do you really need to control the communication received if you can delete it with a keystroke or put it in the bin without even opening the envelope.

Yet, the acting of inviting the customer to the conversation around control and allowing her to decide what she does and does not want to control delivers on the more fundamental needs of feeling Valued.  And it can build Trust.

If you want to drive up efficiency and reduce your costs then focus on effectiveness

John Kay one of the UK’s leading economist and wrote the following in his FT column yesterday: ” …profit-seeking paradox – the most profitable companies are not the most aggressive in pursuit of profit.”  A similar paradox applies to efficiency and cost reduction.  If you want to drive up efficiency and cut costs then you should focus all your efforts on effectiveness – from the customer’s perspective.

Generally customers are busy people so why are we getting so many calls from them? That is how I started my investigation into IDV’s sales order processing and customer services team back in 1996?  By asking this question I identified that high value customers were calling in the most: they had placed high value (high volume) orders for a range of our products on one order.  I discovered that on average one sales order resulted in 2.6 deliveries because of stock shortages.  So customers were ringing in to ask the status of their order, why it has been only partially delivered and when they were going to get the rest of their order….

So customers were up in arms because they were not getting the products they ordered when they expected them.  IDV had large warehouses (a fixed cost) that were almost half empty.  Costs in the logistics function were going through the roof because most customer orders required multiple deliveries because one or more products were out of stock.  All because management had handed the stock manager aggressive stock level targets – she met them by cutting stock levels to the bone!

Looking at it from a customer experience perspective I decided to focus on two, customer friendly, operational effectiveness metrics: customer contacts per order placed and deliveries per order.  My intention and commitment was to take out this ‘non value added demand': demand that created waste (time lost, peace of mind lost) for the customer and waste (higher costs) for IDV.

Then I set about working with the folks to redesign the ‘order to fulfilment process’ that cut across a number of functional groups.  At no time did I look for lower cost ways of handling incoming calls from customers.  Nor did I look at lower cost ways of making deliveries.  Why?  Because that is simply finding better ways to deal with the waste created by inappropriate internal policies and practices.  Instead, I focussed on taking out the root causes of the ‘non-value added demand’ falling on the customer services function so that the IDV got it right the first time and thus saved customers worry and time.  The end result was a big increase in customer satisfaction accompanied by a large drop in costs across the functions (sales order processing, customers services, logistics, warehousing and stock management, finance) that handled the customer order.

Now contrast my approach (which I attribute to excellent mentors) with the way many organisations deal with the customer services operation today. The taken for granted practice is to hide the customer services number, to replace humans with technology, to focus relentlessly on getting the most out of the contact centre agents, to drive labour costs down by moving offshore etc.  They do reduce costs mainly by degrading the customer experience.  The trouble is that they also drive down customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and customer retention; the costs associated with getting new customers to replace the customers that have left due to the efficiency drive are hidden in the marketing and sales budgets.

So here are my tips for improving efficiency and reducing costs:

The smart way to cut costs in customer services is to focus on improving effectiveness – improving the customer experience. How do you improve effectiveness?  By doing it right first time by the customer. Why does this matter to the customer services function?  It matters because somewhere between 25 to 80% of the demand that is falling on the customer services centre is ‘failure demand’. This is the term that I have stolen from John Seddon to replace ‘non-value added demand’.

Failure demand is the demand that the customer has to place on the contact centre because some product, communication, policy, process or touchpoint has failed the customer. This is demand that the company does not want to deal with.  And it is demand that the customer would much rather not place on the company.  An example of this kind of demand is where the customer rings the company because she was promised  a delivery time of six weeks and it is now week 7 and she has not heard anything from the company.  Or the customer calls in to complain when he finds the warranty or the insurance is not worth the paper that is written on.  This means having the ear of the CEO, COO and CFO as the people who will have to make the necessary changes will sit in Marketing, Sales, Product Management, Logistics, Finance and so forth.

Once you have a cultural practice in place to find and deal with the root causes of failure demand you can turn and look at the value demand: the demand that customers place on customer services and which creates value for these customers.  The key thing here is to separate this demand into the simple and the complex.

Simple demand – where is the nearest store, what are the opening times, topping up a mobile phone etc – is a great candidate for self-service through a smart use of information technologies such as websites and IVR.   A great example is the airlines allowing customers to check-in and print their boarding passes: it saves customers valuable time and allows the airlines to save costs.  Another example is electronic banking.  The beauty of this approach is that if it is approached in a customer centric way then customers will thank you because you have improved convenience; you have saved them time – which is often in short supply; and put them in control.

When it comes to automating simple demand and requiring customers to serve themselves you must remember that is not always appropriate.  So you must allow customers to speak with the customer service agents – easily.  For example, the customer is in his car and wishes to move money between his accounts.  This is something he can do himself when he is sat at his desk and connected to the internet; yet it is not advisable when you are driving a car.  It is also possible that your self-service solution breaks: Self Service is not an easy fix or why I love Kylie.

By taking out the root causes of failure demand and introducing self-service channels for simple value demand you will increase customer satisfaction (usually dramatically) and save  your organisation a considerable amount of money.   In one case that I know of,  the savings run into tens of millions of pounds per year.

The final step is to deliver great service on the complex value demand.  For example the customer is browsing your website and needs your help in making the right product choices. One company that uses customer service agents to contact and help customers who have abandoned their shopping carts is putting a £1m+ on the bottom line.  Another example is from the insurance industry: taking care of the customer when a traumatic event occurs e.g. car crash; guiding the customer through the process; doing as much of the work as possible for the customer so as to ease the customer’s burden.  Or the customer is in a foreign land, has a change of circumstances, has no access to self-service and needs help (from a capable sympathetic human being)  in changing her flights and getting to her destination with the least hassle.  Do this right and you win customers for life.

The approach that I advise and have practiced is still the road less travelled.  Why?  Because it is counter-intuitive.  And because it requires the whole organisation to play ball.