How many Customer Experience experts really are experts?

When we are  headed into the unknown, our need for security drives us to latch on to anyone who claims that he has already travelled this path and can take us to the promised land safely.  When it comes to the land of Customer Experience and Social Media ( to name just two) it pays to be skeptical.

There is a big difference between knowledge and expertise. Knowledge tends to be in the domain of ‘know what’ and this can be acquired simply be being in the stands and observing the play.  Expertise on the other hand is in the domain of ‘know how’ and it is acquired by being on the field playing the game – again and again; learning what does and does not work and modifying your approach – again and again.  Put differently, you can probably write persuasively about tennis simply by observing it.  Yet, your persuasive writing does not mean that you are any good at playing tennis.

It is easier to churn out experts in some fields and harder in others.  Lets take direct marketing as an example.  Direct marketing has had at  least 50 years to develop, lot of approaches have been tried, the result of these approaches are in and as a result there is a genuine body of knowledge.  Training and certification is available.  And of course some people have been involved in it for tens of years.  Enough learning through doing to become experts: Drayton Bird is one of these experts.

Now compare that with the fields of Customer Experience.  It is new – about ten years of age.  There is a wide range of views (including mine) on what it is and is not.  There is no single established framework, method or toolset.  And most importantly there are not many companies (organisations) that can honestly say that they have been through the experience and have great results and learning to share.  Those that do, tend to keep the learning a secret as it is a competitive advantage.  Given this is the case how many genuine experts are out there?

Some people claim to be experts because they have written articles or books.  Expertise is relatively easy to assess if there is defined body of knowledge and existing experts to assess claims to expertise.  It is totally a different thing when it comes to a new field where there are no experts and it is really difficult to tell the difference between what sounds appealing and logical and what actually is so and works in practice.  Put differently, telling a convincing story that sells into the existing mindset does not make a person an expert in Customer Experience.  It makes them experts in marketing (figuring what people want) and writing.

All of which makes me wonder how many Customer Experience experts really are experts?  How many have been on the court and played out the whole match – not just once but many times?  Incidentally, I am not a Customer Experience expert and have never claimed to be one.  I have a passion for it, I have been on the court and played the game several times.  Yet, I know that I have lot more to learn.

What is the positive, liberating, side of this post?  If you are working in the field of Customer Experience then you are a pioneer and have a blank canvass to work on.  You do not need to restrict yourself or be restricted by people who claim to be experts.  In fact you have an opportunity to become an expert yourself.

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.

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.

How the relentless focus on efficiency drives poor customer experience

Back in early 2008 I met up with Bob Greenberg – the founder and CEO of R/GA the digital agency renowned for their work on Nike+.  Prior to meeting Bob I had studied his background and had come to the firm view that Bob is a genius.  So I was surprised when Bob shared with enthusiasm how he was going drive up efficiency by introducing video conferencing  and thus cutting out all the cost and time wasted by people travelling between offices.  This is identical to the argument used by many in the CRM field and now in the Customer Experience field!

I cautioned Bob that as you drive up efficiency you drive down effectiveness. I mentioned that should focus on effectiveness and accept a certain level of inefficiency: that they go together like two ends of a stick.  He looked puzzled and I could not get my point of view across convincingly even though I just knew that I was sharing a valuable insight with him.

I have struggled to convey this insight to executives working in the realm of customer experience improvement.

Then a couple of days ago I received the latest newsletter from Vanguard.  In this letter they shared a story that a reader of theirs had shared with them – a story that beautifully explains how you drive down effectiveness (the customer experience) as you drive up efficiency:

“I’m a reader of the systems thinking review, and a trade union rep in the public sector with responsibility for a helpline. I find myself arguing with managers who are keen to manage performance using metrics for advisor availability, utilisation, call length, and adherence to roster.  I recently had one of those moments where the penny drops; it was in relation to the management of efficiency.

I was staying in a Hotel, a 20 storey building with two lifts. The restaurant was on the 1st floor, and each morning I would travel down from my room on the 14th floor to the restaurant for breakfast, afterwards I would return to my room to brush my teeth and pick up my papers, and then travel down to ground level and go to my training course. For most of the week one of the lifts was out of order, and the service from the single lift was pretty rotten, you had to wait and wait, usually with other hotel guests stood around tut-tutting and sighing.

Towards the end of the week the second lift came back into service and I noticed something surprising (to me at least.) With two lifts I’d expect the service to be twice as good, waiting times to be halved. But the improvement seemed much better than that. Basically you pushed a button and the lift came. The improvement was huge – though I can’t say I stood around with a stopwatch gathering detailed stats on how two lifts performed compared to one.

As I thought about this, something else occurred to me. The single lift system was much more efficient than the two lift system, from the point of view of the lift and the use of “lift resources”.  With one lift out of order the remaining lift was in nearly constant motion. It started at the bottom picking up passengers waiting in the underground car park, then at street/reception level and then at the restaurant on level 1. It then travelled upwards, dropping the passengers off at their floors. Once it reached the top it changed direction straight away to start picking up the passengers who were by now already waiting to go down, stopping several times to pick up a number of passengers, and of course dropping them off at various lower levels. The lift was highly “available” it was working all the time, and it was highly “utilized” maximizing the number of passengers riding on each journey. But as I said before the service was pretty rotten for the passenger.

Improving the efficiency of the lift would not improve the service to the passenger at all – in fact it could only make it worse.

For me it was one of those – “Oh now I get it” moments.” One lift represents economies of scale, two lifts economies of flow. Concentration on individual unit efficiency can lead to a worse service, and if you try to improve things by going further down the route of more and more efficient use of resources, service will get worse and worse.

As a result of this story I am more able to share my insight with the next executive that I meet.  Thank you, to whoever shared that story with Vanguard.

How to deal with dissatisfied customers: learn from Troo Health Care

I am sitting here looking at a business card that came with a delivery from Troo Health Care and the following words leap out to me as they take up most of the space on the card:

“If there is ANYTHING you are not satisfied with regarding your order please TELL US before you tell anyone else.”

That tells you all that you need to know about the new world – if you are listening:

  • Every single customer, every single interaction, matters because for the first time in history every single ordinary customer can amplify her voice through social media and impact the company either positively or negatively;
  • Customer dissatisfaction matters because it is the one thing that will drive customers to write about you on the internet and share it with just about anyone that is listening;
  • The best way to deal with dissatisfied customers is to get them to contact you so that you can turn the dissatisfaction into satisfaction before they tell everyone else – so open up the channels and invite contacts from your customers;
  • In the long run it is cheaper and safer to turn a dissatisfied customer into a satisfied customer because she is likely to share how well you treated her – especially when she was not expecting that from you;
  • The marketing being done by your customers (through social media) is now as powerful as your corporate marketing; and
  • Customer experience is the new marketing battleground.

Why marketing is one of the main drivers of customer dissatisfaction

I find it interesting that on the one hand the CMO is often given the leadership role in improving the customer experience and on the other hand the marketing function is one of the  prime culprits in generating customer dissatisfaction, calls into the call centre and customer churn.

How exactly does the marketing function contribute to customer unhappiness, negative word of mouth and customer churn?  By misleading the customer – sometimes unintentionally but often intentionally.  Lets make this real by sharing some examples:

Recently Vauxhall (GM brand in the UK) has had to change its Lifetime Warranty advert after customer complaints.  Why did some people complain and get the ad changed?  If you read the small print you find that the Lifetime Warranty is not a lifetime warranty in the sense that the normal person understands it.  Specifically, the warranty covers only the first 100,000.  And it applies only to the first owner – the warranty is not transferable to later owners.

How many people will buy a Vauxhall car without reading the small print and then be disappointed?  How many of these customers will then ring the contact centre to complain?  How many will go on to tweet about their negative experience?

My wife shops with La Redoubte regularly so she was pleased when she got a promotional offer through the post.  She proceeded to spend a considerable amount of time and psychic energy in choosing the two garments she wanted.  Then she range the contact centre to place her order.  Only after she had placed her order did she find that she could not get the promotional discount: apparently the promotion did not apply.  Yet the agent could not explain why not – at least not to my wife’s satisfaction.

Result: my wife is no longer an advocate and a loyal shopper that La Redoubte can take for granted.  I will be writing a post about this soon to draw out some insights.

In the UK, the mobile operators are advertising very favourable offers.  When you look at the offers you find that at a price point in the 18 month contract, the customer has to reclaim a certain discount (that is used to advertise low monthly charges) and has to use specific procedure and complete this procedure in a specific time.

The marketing thinking behind this is clear:  you can get customers because the pricing looks attractive and yet the customer’s end up paying more because the redemption process has been designed to make sure that only the most diligent customers will successfully redeem the discount.   How many of these customers will ring the contact centre to complain?  How many are being taught to distrust marketing communications?

Then you have my BSkyB experience that I wrote about back in September 2010.  Where I shared my story of how I was lured in by the slick marketing promising a bundled offer and an easy life only to find a very different reality:  How to turn an advocate into a detractor?

Are these the only companies that are engaged in these practices?  No.  I am not pointing my finger at these ‘bad’ companies – they are no better and no worse than the majority of companies.  Why is that?  Because the practice of misleading customers either through sloppy communication or deliberate manipulation is widespread.  It is even considered good marketing!