On Cultivating Meaningful Connections With Customers or Why Technology Is The Path To The Dark Side

What does it take to build a connection between you and your customer?  Forget the talk, look at what businesses are actually doing.  What are they doing?  On what are the folks spending money and effort?

Are they not investing big sums of money on technology?  The answer, as lived, is that the way to build connection with your customers is through technology: marketing platforms, salesforce automation systems, customer service systems, CRM systems, e-commerce engines,  web content management systems, knowledge bases, chat functionality, CTI, mobile apps…..

Let’s stop and think.  Are we sure that technology helps build connection with our customers?  Could it be that the lack of technology causes operational issues that cause dissatisfaction yet the abundance of technology will not lead to that emotional connection?  If you are familiar with Herzberg’s dual factor theory then I am saying that technology is merely a hygiene factor.  Further, I ask you to consider that too much reliance / use of technology actually gets in the way of cultivating connection.

I say that in largish organisations technology (and the way of being that goes with it) drives out humanity – in particular the human touch.  We no longer talk to one another it is easier to send an email. We no longer write to one another, we send an email.  We don’t even write emails with the human touch. Instead the CRM system has ready made email templates which are automatically sent out – every customer receiving the same bland corporate communication.  All in the name of efficiency, consistency, and productivity.

 

I want to end this conversation by sharing a story with you. As I enjoy reading I tend to read widely. This means that I buy many books – many of them through Amazon.  When the book arrives I can immediately tell if it is from Amazon. Every package has the same look on the outside, and pretty much the same paperwork inside.  It is the kind of paperwork that a computer spits out.  Zero humanity: utterly forgettable.

Today, I received the book I had ordered from one of the Amazon sellers. From the neat handwriting on the envelope I could tell that it had been sent by a human being.  When I opened the package, I found myself delighted.  Why?  See for yourself:

human-all-too-human

That is all it took for me to find myself surprised, delighted, and thankful. The technology needed?  A pen and a sticky white label!

What was my response after experience that which I experienced in seeing this message?  I found myself wanting to learn more about the Seller (Birdy Hop) AND a strong desire to reciprocate by thanking the Seller. So I went to Amazon, found my order, and gave the seller a 5 star rating.

Is this significant?  Consider that I receive many emails from Amazon sellers chasing a positive review (from me) on Amazon.  For how many of these emails have I logged into Amazon and done as the seller asked?  None of them.

I say that within largish organisations too often technology is the path to the dark side.   If you are not already deeply smitten by technology then I ask you to consider that the human touch is essential for cultivating meaningful connection with your customers – at least those customers who are like me.

Enough for today. I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best. Until the next time….

State of Customer: What I Learned During 2016

Some years I find myself working on matters of strategy. Other years I find myself with ‘dirty hands’ working at the coalface – helping organisations build capabilities, and deal with operational challenges in the areas of marketing, sales, service, and CRM.  2016 has been a year where I have worked both on strategy and operations. What have I learned?

Customer Strategy

Either organisations do not have a clearly defined customer strategy or the folks working at large organisations are inept at articulating it. At best, I have found the customer strategy to be something like retain existing customers and get more new customers. That is not strategy. That is talking about desired outcomes without articulating how the organisation intends to generate those outcomes.  Maybe, I just don’t get strategy.

Customer Loyalty

I have found that the hard work of engendering customer loyalty has been bypassed by putting in place some kind of customer loyalty programme: do X and get Y points. The challenge with these loyalty programmes is that there is no heart in them. Mostly they are marketing gimmicks. Enough customers realise this and drop out of the loyalty programme – too much effort to win the points, and it takes forever to earn enough points to buy anything of value with the points. A sizeable number of customer loyalty members are inactive.

Then there are folks who see customer loyalty as a one way street. These folks see customer loyalty in terms of monetising the customer base. So they are busy figuring out which kind of marketing tricks will entice loyal customers / fans to spend more. Their heart is transactional – through and through. Why do I say that? Because what is missing is commitment to generate superior value for loyal customers and earn a suitable reward for creating that value. It is like noticing that someone is into you and then using that to get your way with that person just because you know you can.

Customer Experience

Without doubt Customer Experience is the latest buzzword. It is everywhere. Anything and everything is being linked to or brought under the umbrella of Customer Experience. Just about anything and everything is being justified on the basis of improving the Customer Experience.

What isn’t happening is this: real substantive efforts to actually improve the Customer Experience not just at specific touchpoints but also across the entire customer lifecycle. Further almost all organisations are thinking in a blinkered manner when it comes to CX. What do I mean by that? Think Amazon Echo.  What an improvement in the customer’s experience. How many organisations are working on new products that create entirely new, delightful, customer experiences?

Why so much talk but so little real action?  Because for many it involves the equivalent of turning the caterpillar into the butterfly. Just about everybody prefers the butterfly to the caterpillar. Yet, rare it is to find an organisation where the folks are up for the effort, pain, time, and risk involved in the transformation process.  There are easier-safer things to do like embracing ‘best practices’ and the latest channel or fad.

Digital Marketing / Marketing Automation

There is real shortage of skills when it comes to digital marketing / marketing automation.    It is easier to buy digital marketing / marketing automation systems than it is to operate these systems with skill.  There are folks with sophisticated content management systems yet the sophisticated features, like personalisation, are not being used.

Or you have organisations with digital marketing hubs that are not being used well. One organisation that I came across was sending out welcome emails, birthday emails, anniversary (of signing up) emails, and weekly/monthly newsletters. Why just these? Because only these emails came out of the box!  No event driven marketing communications. No dynamic content / personalisation. No predictive content… Yet, all of this functionality is there in the marketing automation suite.

Single View of The Customer / CRM

The biggest challenge / hurdle many organisations are facing is that of constructing that much desired yet elusive single view of the customer. The theory was that CRM systems would make that challenge easier by bringing more and more customer-centred data into one system. This hasn’t actually happened. What has happened is that there are more and more systems holding customer related data – each disconnected from the rest.  If anything cloud based vendors have driven fragmentation as it is easy for marketing folks to buy a marketing system ignoring rest of the organisation. What goes for marketing goes for sales, for the call-centre, for field service……

The Core Challenge is That of Integration

My experience is that the core challenge is that of integration. There is the challenge of integrating the various systems (data sources) to provide the single view of the customer. Then there is the challenge of integrating the organisation players around a well defined, coherent, clearly articulated customer strategy. And a clearly defined customer experience across touchpoints / interaction channels, for the entire customer journey.  It occurs to me that it is only worth gluing up the systems if the folks that run the organisation are willing to glue up the organisation itself. In the absence of that commitment, money spent gluing up systems is likely to be wasted.

Until the next time I thank you for your listening and I wish you the very best.

 

 

 

 

CX: Are You Speaking The Customer’s Language?

The meeting was due to start at 16:00 and the flight I had taken landed at midday.  Four hours to get to Augsburg.  Take a taxi? Expensive and will get me there three hours too early.  Take a train?  Yes – it will force me to get out of my bubble and my comfort zone. And possibly teach me something about German railways.

I make my way to the train station at Munich airport.  Long line of folks waiting at the ticket office. I walk over to the automated ticket machines.  Fail. “I must have done something wrong. Let’s try again!” Fail. Walk over and join the line for the ticket office.

Ten minutes or so later I am face to face with a German. I don’t speak German. So I speak English: “Return ticket to Augsburg via Munich”.  A helpful friendly voice responds in my language.  Together we determine what type of ticket I need.

Next question. “What trains do I need to take to get to Augsburg”.  The helpful German who speaks fluent English consults his IT system.  I stand there expecting that which is the default: a verbal response.  Surprise!  The German chap prints of the the following document for me:

DBahn

This German ticket office clerk does not just print the document and hand it to me. He takes the time to explain it to me. Whilst explaining the document he circles the platforms and times. Not just that. He goes on to tell me that when I get off the first train, at Munich’s central station, I have then to go up two floors in order to get to my next train.  Delighted!  So delighted that I thank this chap for his helpfulness and reach to shake his hand.  He is taken aback, relaxes, shakes my hand and smiles.

Due to the helpfulness I have an effortless journey to Augsburg.  Upon getting off the train I make my way to the ticket office.  I look at the woman manning the ticket office.  Will she speak my language? That is the question on my mind.  I make my request for train times – for trains leaving Augsburg for Munch between 17:00 and 18:00.  To my relief she speaks English and tells me that she can help me with my request. She taps into her computer and prints off a one page document.  I look at the document. What a useful document!  It tells me all that I need to know: departure time, arrival time, fast train or slow train, departure platform…  I thank this friendly-helpful woman.

Here’s what strikes me about my interactions with the folks that I have encountered at the ticket offices:

  • Both have flexed to speak my language – English;
  • Both clearly have access to an IT system that gives them easy-quick access to train times irrespective of whether the train is metro/underground, overground, regional, intercity etc.  Which is to say that their IT system joins up the trains.  It provides a 360 view of trains and train timetables;
  • Both went way beyond that which I am used to in England – in England the best that I would expect is to be given the timetables and left alone to figure out how to get from A to B;
  • Both took a certain pride/satisfaction in the work that they were doing – this is what touched me the most.

Here, I invite you to consider that many companies look to generate a 360 degree view of the customer. Yet, few, strive to deliver a 360 degree of the business to the employee is face to face with the customer.  The ticket clerk could only print out that which he printed out (and gave me) because the folks at the German railways have gone to the trouble of providing a 360 degree view of the various trains and train timetables.

I am hungry. I make my way to a smallish cafe serving healthy food. Once again, I wonder if the young woman working the cafe will speak my language.  I make my request. She smiles. She responds in perfect English. I strike up a conversation- she joins in the dance. We learn a little about one another.

After the business meeting is concluded, I find myself on a train headed from Augsburg to Munich.  Do I play it safe and take the route that I took earlier that day?  I resist the temptation. Instead I take the advice of the helpful ticket clerk at Munich. I get off the train at Passing.  From here I should be able to get on a train to Munich airport.

One big problem: Passing is much larger as a rail station then I had imagined – lots of platforms.  Which platform?  Which train?  And I only have so much time to get to the airport or I miss the last plane out to England.  I go to one of the platforms. I look around for a friendly helpful face. I find one – a young woman. I ask her for help: which platform for the train to Munich airport.  She responds in fluent English. And helpfully.  She tells me that she doesn’t know. An older – middle aged – woman speaks to her in German.  The young woman now informed by the older woman directs me to the right platform. I thank them both and make my way to the platform. I catch the right train and arrive at just the right time.  Relief. Delight. Gratitude to the German people.

I’d like you to answer this question through the lens of the customer experience: What is it to speak the customer’s language?  Is it merely to speak English with the customer that speaks English?  If you are of that view then I say that you are short of the mark.

From experience I say that to speak the customer’s language is to ‘give’ the customer exactly what s/he is needing at every interaction:

  • It is to speak in the customer’s native language.
  • It is to be provide the information that the customer is asking for.
  • It involves providing information that the customer needs – in order to arrive at his/her desired outcome – even if the customer has not asked for this information.
  • It is to deal with the customer in a compassionate / empathic manner – a manner that leaves the customer feeling grateful for the care he receives at your hands.

I say that you have truly spoken the customer’s language, viewed through a CX lens, when you leave the customer feeling grateful that you exist in the world and it is his/her great fortune that your paths have crossed.  It is to have enriched your customer’s experience of being alive in this world.  This is to say it is to live CX from the heart, not merely strategise about it with the head.

I dedicate this conversation to the German people – especially those who spoke my language during my recent visit to Augsburg.

To you dear reader I extend my thanks – I thank you for listening to my speaking. Until the next time….

 

On Technology In Experience Design: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Brussels Airport: Human Beings and Technology Complement One Another to Deliver A Good Experience

It’s Monday morning, early, as we are about to land at Brussels airport I decide to take the train rather than the taxi.  On landing I look for and follow the signs for the train. I arrive at level -1. Now I am presented with choice: to get my ticket from the ticket machines (many of them, all of them available for use) or queue up at the ticket office and be served by a human being.  I choose to queue up and be served by the human being.

To the lovers of technology and its promise to reduce friction and bring about nirvana my decision does not make sense. Surely it would be faster and easier.  So why did I not use the machines? I lacked prior experience with these machines. I lacked the kind of contextual knowledge needed to figure what ticket I needed. And importantly, previous bad experiences – like the refusal to accept my credit card, or being told by the inspector that I had purchased the wrong ticket….

Further, and please make a note of this, I knew that the automated ticket machines do not have the same kind of being as a human being.  What am I getting at? I am talking about flexibility, intuitive contextual understanding born from a shared humanity, and a natural inclination towards helpfulness.  How best to illustrate?  Follow my story and you will see.

Within 2 to 3 minutes of queuing up I am face to face with middle aged man behind a glass screen. Do I speak French or English?  I notice that this man had been speaking in Flemish to his colleagues. So I speak English and ask him for a ticket to Bruxelles-Nord.  He flexes: he switches to speaking English fluently. He flexes: he asks me if I want a single or a return. I tell him that I need a return. He tells me the price and issues the ticket.

Time to pay. I get out my credit credit and look at the card processing machine. I haven’t come across this type before. I cannot figure out where the card goes and which way it goes. So I ask the man. He flexes to meet my need: he shows/tells me the correct place and way of inserting the card. I am grateful as I had not seen that slot in the machine.  I think bad design! Great that there is a human being to make up for the poor design of the credit card machine.  I pay. I thank the man and make my way through automated barriers to the train.

When I arrive at Bruxelles-Nord I find myself happy.  I took the road less travelled – I normally take the taxi – there were challenges. And the right combination of humanity and technology allowed me to overcome this challenges, easily, and left me feeling good.  Good!

London Heathrow: Getting Technology and Humanity All Wrong

Same day. It has been a long day. Finally, I am off the aeroplane and making my way to passport control at London Heathrow- later than expected. The taxi driver has just rang me to ask where I am.  So I am keen to get through passport control.

I arrive at passport control along with many others. Two choices – follow the lane for e-passports or the other lane.  Not an easy choice.  There is long queue in the e-passport lane as the demand falling on this lane is greater than the capacity of this lane.  This lane is automated and the technology (the machines) are not keeping up with the human beings.  On the other hand, there are only two lanes open in the other (alternative) lane.

Whilst in the midst of making the decision, I find myself shepherded into the e-passport lane.  I wait. I wait. I wait. Finally, I am near enough to the machines, the technology, to see what is going on.  There are 15 machines, only 10 of them are operational.  Imagine if you ran a call centre and on a busy day one third of your staff were off ill. What kind of an impact would that have on service levels?  OK, that accounts for some of the imbalance between demand and throughput.  What else is going on? I look.

As I am looking, for about ten minutes or so, I notice a few things. I notice that the process of getting through the machines is longer – every time – than with a human being checking passports. So even if everything worked like clockwork, it takes longer to get through these machines. But everything isn’t working like clockwork. It is about as far from clockwork as one can imagine.

I notice that most folks simply do not how to use the machines.  I can see the confusion on their faces. I can see their apprehension as they find themselves face to face with the passport (and facial recognition) machines.  There are no easily (intuitively) understandable instructions. For example, folks don’t know whether to put the passport face up or face down in the scanning area.  The machine does not detect wrong procedure and alert folks. It does its processing and when it is finished a big red cross comes up on the screen. But no useful error message or guidance.

At this point I ask you to think back to my situation at Brussels Airport. Remember me turning to and being served – as in helped out – by a human being?  So you may be wondering what happened to the human beings at passport control. This is where it goes from bad to ugly.  Allow me to explain.

I can only see one human being on my side of the machines – a woman in her late twenties. She is standing in front of machine 11 – only machines 1 to 10 are operational.  She is looking at what is going on.  Her contribution? To look down at the people struggling with the machines and provide useless advice.  The looking down is evident in her face and her tone of voice.  She keeps saying “If you put your passport against the machine and push down then it works fine”.  Folks are doing that and for some of them it is not working out. Clearly, they are at fault given her stance.

I notice that every person who cannot get through the automated passport check  – which is at least one in every three – is instructed by this young lady to go and see the man at the end of the line.  I look and see that there is only one man at the end of the line. He is busy – there is long queue.  The price of cost reduction through technology centred automation is being paid by us – the users.  I look at the faces of the people like me waiting patiently to get through this nightmare. I can see the frustration, even contempt, in their faces. Some of them are voicing this frustration – in a very understated English way.

 

Where I Stand In Regard To Technology

1 – It is my experience that the claims made in regards to technology (in business) are puffery. Or, at best, aspirational – what folks would like to believe. Yes, technology can make things better. But it rarely does especially not for the people who actually find themselves face to face with technology – the users. 

Take Heathrow Airport, I am sure that folks selling the vision and benefits talked about: reducing costs by replacing many people with one machine, the throughput – how it would take less time for the machine to do the work of the human being, the improvement in the customer experience – easier, quicker, better, the reduction in risk as machines don’t get tired….  Now you compare my experience with the vision/promise.  Notice the gap.

2 – Making technology work (for users) requires a deep connection with our own humanity (our way of being_in_the_world). And with the humanity of our fellow human beings through empathy.  Yet this is THE quality that is lacking in the people who purchase technology (managers) and those implement technology.  Further, neither party really cares for the users of technology.  The users are pawns who are to be ‘change managed’ in order for the benefits of automation to be harvested. What are those benefits?  As I mentioned in the last conversation they are almost always cost reduction.

3 – In service contexts, great experience design requires the right blend of the human beings and technology. Why?  Technology is great where something can be reduced a technique – a logical sequence of invariant steps – and thus automated.  Yet an intrinsic and persuasive feature of human worlds is unpredictability, novelty, variance.  These are characteristics of living and life – especially intelligent life like ours. Technology sucks at dealing with this. But human beings don’t. Human beings have the capacity even an inclination to be flexible in an instant. Humans can get an intuitive grasp of the context (the background) and the user and her situation (the foreground). And we can flex to address the specific needs of this user in this context.

4 – It is easier to design and implement technology badly – from a user experience standpoint – then it is do it well. To turn around this situation requires a substantial investment in service designers and ux designers.  As well as prioritisation of the user experience. For all the talk of Design Thinking there is little of it actually occurring – perhaps a drop in the ocean.  As someone in an important position said to me recently “I don’t care about their feelings. I have a deadline to meet!” Further, most organisations are not willing to really get into Design Thinking – it requires a different mix of people, it involves getting out of the office and entering new worlds, it takes time, it takes effort, it requires experimenting and iteration.  None of this appeals when the focus is implementing technology ‘out of the box’ this month using agile.  Were speed and efficiency is of the essence the ground/soil necessary for human centred design is simply not there.

I thank you for your listening. Until the next time….