Make Life Easier By Asking Only One or Two Questions of Your Customers

I find myself living in an age where we take good ideas and squeeze the life out of them through inappropriate implementation.

It occurs to me that the scourge of the customer-centric fad is customer surveys. It seems to me that just about every large organisation that I deal with asks me for my feedback through some kind of survey.  And this scourge is not limited to these big organisations. On my last visit to my GP’s (doctor’s) surgery I was asked to fill in a survey – it was over ten pages long!

I say that you only need to ask one or two questions of your customers. What are these questions?  Let’s start with what I say you shouldn’t ask. Don’t ask your customers to rate their satisfaction using some kind of scale e.g. 1 to 10 – with your brand, your product’s, your people, the last interaction etc.  Why not?

First, I (the customer) find it hard work to figure out how to rate you. Second, my asking me to figure out/apply ratings you have switched on my reasoning brain not my emotional brain.  Third, satisfaction is the wrong word to use – it is not a word that you find folks using much in every day talk.

So what are the one or two questions?  At the end of major work on my home – main bathroom, the ensuite bathroom, downstairs toilet, and utility room – the fitter asked me and my wife this question:

“Are you happy?”  

As soon as I heard that question I realised that no commercial organisation has ever asked me such a simple question!  And it occurred to me that it is exactly the right question:  short, simple, worded perfectly, no misunderstanding.

“Are you happy?” taps into emotions and the emotional brain. The answer is either a definitive “Yes!” or its not.  If it’s not a definitive “Yes!”then you know that you (the person/organisation supplying the goods/services) have failed to live up to one or more of the customer’s expectations.

Our fitter didn’t just ask the question for the sake of asking the question. The way he asked it suggested that he genuinely cared about whether we were happy or not with the work he had carried out.  How do I know this? Because when he picked up that we did not immediately come out with “Yes!” he asked the second question along the lines of:

“What needs fixing in order for you to be happy?”

Our fitter really listened to our answer to this question. How do I know this? Simple: he immediately set about asking us to show him what needed fixing and what “happy” would like like in each case.  Then he set about fixing the ten or so little things that we wanted fixed.

What happened after the fitter had completed the work of fixing?  Did he simply assume that he had done the necessary work, get paid, and walk away? No!  He went back to the first question” “Are you happy?”

The fitter genuinely cared about ensuring that we were happy with the work that he had carried out for us. Why? For three reasons:

  • He thinks of his customers as people and treating people right matters to him – it is part of who he is;
  • He takes pride in the work that he does – he invest himself (his identity) into this work and thus doing merely OK work is not acceptable to him; and
  • He does no marketing/selling – all of his work, and he is busy really busy, comes from word of mouth recommendations.

 

I wish to end with my take on what listening to the voice of a customer is. It is not sending a survey. It is not the automated processing of the results of customer surveys. It is not presenting summarised results every so often to the executive team.   Nor is listening simply meeting up with customers and hearing that which is spoken by customers.

From a customer’s perspective, you have listened only when you do that which our fitter did: take speedy/correct action to fix that which the customer says needs fixing.   If you do not do this then you have not listened. Worse, from the customer’s perspective you have wasted his/her time and disregarded him.

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

 

Musings on Leadership, Performance, and Customer Experience

Is performance a function of an ongoing attunement to the ‘truth’ of the situation?

It occurs to me that, all else being equal, the probability of the airliners successful arrival/landing at San Francisco is a function of the the pilots attunement with reality: that which is and is not.  Let’s make this concrete by considering some examples:

  • If as the pilot, I have access to the gap between the actual flight and the flight path which is necessary to get the airliner to San Francisco, and I do make the necessary course corrections, on an ongoing basis, then I increase the probability of safe-timely arrival.
  • If as the pilot, I become aware that there is a serious problem with one of the engines and I can accurately determine which engine it is, and I do shut down the troublesome engine as/when it becomes necessary to shut that engine down then I increase the probability of safe-timely arrival.
  • If as the pilot, I become aware that there is a security lockdown at San Francisco airport and that the airliner is running out of fuel, and I head for the nearest alternative airport (say LA) then I increase the probability of safe-timely arrival.

You get the idea: the probability of success in this venture is a function of the pilot/captain’s ability to ensure that ‘the actions that are critical to the safe arrival of the airliner’ at San Francisco are in attune with, on an ongoing basis, with what is so (and is not so) as this impacts the airliner.  Furthermore, this attunement can be broken down into:

  • an accurate-timely grasp of what is so – the ‘truth’ of the situation; and
  • taking appropriate-timely action, on an ongoing basis, to ensure attunement with this reality.

I ask you to notice the following as regards the very structure of this game of commercial flying:

  • that which we are talking about applies irrespective of who/what is piloting the airliner. And what shape the airliner takes;
  • every crew member who values his life finds him/herself called to pass on information that helps the pilot to be attuned to the truth of the situation and take the appropriate action;
  • every sane pilot (one who values his life) is motivated to be open to and seek knowledge of the ‘truth of the situation’ and take the action that the situation calls for given the commitment to arrive safely at the desired destination;
  • lack of sufficient attunement to the the truth of the situation would affect the lives of all including the pilot/captain – even if the pilot/captain could ‘parachute’ out (and leave all the others to their fate) his live would be affected sufficiently negatively that parachuting out does not show up as an attractive option for any same pilot; and
  • there is no space to ‘hide behind’ an ideology that does violence to the ‘truth’ of the situation – the structure of this game is such that any significant lack of attunement with the ‘truth’ of the situation will lead to visible disaster and those held responsible will pay a public price.

Are large-established organisations in attunement with the ‘truth’ of the situation?

What accounts for the rampant malfunction, even outright failure, when it comes to large-established organisations? I say that it is a lack of ongoing attunement with the ‘truth’ of the situation. Put differently, it occurs to me that the first and most serious casualty of organisational life is the ‘truth’ of the situation; the ‘truth’ of the situation is moulded so as to speak-pander to the interests of the powerful and to conform to the reigning ideology.

Perhaps, there is no greater challenge for those who aspire to be leaders and who fill leadership positions then calling forth and truly listening to the ‘truth’ of the situation: seeing ‘reality’ in the nude – naked of personal interest and the dominant ideology.

How to illustrate, make concrete, that which I have been talking about here?  How to give it flesh and bones?  Let’s revisit the latest news on the NHS. Here is what jumped out at me from a piece (NHS-on-brink-of-crisis-because-it-became-too-powerful-to-criticise.htmlin the Telegraph newspaper:

THE NHS should not be treated as a “national religion” while millions of patients receive a “wholly unsatisfactory” service from GPs and hospitals, the official regulator has warned.

David Prior, the chairman of the Care Quality Commission, said the health service had been allowed to reach the brink of crisis because it was “too powerful” to be criticised.

He said parts of the NHS were “out of control” because honest debate about the weaknesses of the health service was not tolerated.

… he said. “When things were going wrong people didn’t say anything. If you criticised the NHS – the attitude was how dare you?”…..

Mr Prior suggested that the “target culture” imposed by Labour a decade ago fundamentally damaged the culture of the NHS, creating a “chillingly defensive” operation in which the truth was often sacrificed. “The whole culture of the NHS became so focused on targets that it obscured what real quality was about,” he said. “The voice of the patient wasn’t in those targets.”

He said many hospitals needed radical reform.

And finally

Is it just many hospitals that need radical reform?  It occurs to me that many organisations need radical reform. It occurs to me that our whole way of life requires radical reform. It occurs to me that our fundamental way of being-showing up in the world requires reform.

Where to start? It occurs to me that, at an ‘organisational’ level, a great place to start is to create a context which call forth an enquiry into, and a grappling with, the ‘truth’ of the situation from all of the actors who find themselves in or impacted by the situation.

When it comes to Customer Service, Customer Focus, Customer Experience, CRM, Customer Obsession, a great place to start with is the question, “Do we REALLY want to play this game, play it full out? Are we willing to do what it takes to EXCEL at this game?”

I say excellence in the game of cultivating meaningful customer relationships and excelling at the Customer Experience is an ongoing attunement to the ‘truth’ of the situations as experienced-lived by the Customer.  This kind of attunement takes more than customer surveys or mystery shopping. I say these mechanisms are merely ‘defence mechanism’ – ways of avoiding what it truly takes to be attuned to the ‘truth’ of the situation as lived by the Customer.

The Dark Side of Using NPS as a Performance Management Tool

Let’s leave aside the theoretical aspects and arguments related to the suitability of using NPS. Instead, let’s consider the implications of using NPS as a performance management tool rather than simply as an indicator which tells us who well we are doing, as an organisation, in building meaningful relationships with customers.

Every human activity produces both things that we want – “goods” – and things we don’t want – “bads”.

– Garrett Hardin, Filters Against Folly

It occurs to me that when we use NPS as a performance management tool we act on the people in the organisation, we act on customers, we alter the balance of power between the multiple parties. And we inject high does of fear and greed into the rich tapestry of human interactions.  

This is how we end up generating the “bads” – the dark side of using NPS as a performance management tool.  Let’s get specify and look at the dark side. What shows up?

  1. Customer facing employees (sales, service) and their managers game the system to generate high NPS scores;

  2. Some customers are either ‘bribed’ and-or ‘pressured’ to give high scores;

  3. Some customers, especially the more powerful ones in B2B, exercise their new-found power to extract concessions – free ‘products’, more discounts, credits, special treatment – from the sales reps and account managers; and

  4. Some sales reps and account managers ‘give away’ more than they need to’ in order to play safe and assure high NPS scores.  This ‘giving away’ tends to be in the region of services which do not directly impact on the revenue figures and commission cheque of the sale rep.

I leave you to decide whether the “goods” generated by using NPS as a performance management tool outweigh the “bads” that I have shared with you.  I do assure you that points 3 and 4 above are not just theoretical – this behaviour is occurring.

Next time you are planning an intervention in the rich web of human relationships get together a diverse group of people, including those who are likely to be impacted, and explore this question: what is likely to happen – today and over the course of time – after we make this intervention?

Easy ways for smaller businesses to improve the customer experience

Over at Focus Courtney Sato asked the following question:  “What are easy ways for small businesses to (almost) instantly improve the customer experience?”  To answer that question it is worth getting clear on what constitutes ‘customer experience’.

One way of looking at Customer Experience Management: effectiveness of interactions

Here is how Richard Snow (VP & Research Director at Ventana Research) defines ‘customer experience management‘:  Customer experience management is the practice of managing the effectiveness of customer interactions so the outcome meets the customer’s and the company’s expectations.

How do you improve the effectiveness of these interactions?

If we accept this definition (and largely I do – there is a piece missing) then the question is what do we need to do to improve the effectiveness of the customer’s interactions with our business?  In his article Richard sets out the four steps:

  • Measure the outcome of all customer interactions (across all media, all touchpoints, all aspects of the customer journey);
  • Identify the reason for the interaction (from the customer’s perspective);
  • Figure out why the outcome was the way it was (root cause analysis); and
  • Make necessary changes to generate more of what works and eliminate/minimise what does not work.

What we can learn from Guy Letts, the founder of CustomerSure and formerly Head of Services at Sage UK

Before he founded CustomerSure, Guy Letts was the Head of Services at Sage UK; Sage describes itself “Sage is a leading supplier of business management software and services to more than 6 million customers worldwide. From small start-ups to larger organisations, we make it easier for companies to manage their business processes.”

As the Head of Services Guy was responsible for improving the customer experience, driving up satisfaction and increasing revenues through repeat and additional business.  This is a goal that Guy achieved and in the process he learned valuable lessons which were the seeds of the business he has founded: CustomerSure.   What are these lessons?

The critical point to make is that the rational approach – the one that is commonly practiced – did not work well.  The response to customer surveys was less than ideal.  The quality of the information that was provided was variable.  Providing statistics – customer satisfaction scores – to his services staff did not leave them inspired to do things differently. And pushing the employees to do more / better / different was exhausting and did not deliver the results.  So how did Guy ultimately improve the customer experience and hit his customer satisfaction and revenue goals?

Guy had an Aha moment when he visited a Richer Sounds store (hi-fi / electronics retailer which won the Which? retail customer experience award in 2011).  What was this Aha?  He noticed that the Richer Sounds customer survey was simple (5 questions) and these questions were focussed on the customer and what mattered to a customer.  Questions like: “Was the item in stock?”; “Did our staff know what they were talking about?”; “Where you served quickly?” etc.

So Guy had cracked the first part of the puzzle: how to assess the effectiveness of the interaction from the customer’s perspective. The answer was cut down the surveys sent to Sage customers down to the essential five or so questions and ask the questions that matter to Sage customer – the key stuff that determined the Sage customer’s experience of the Sage services team.  And to survey these customers immediately after a services engagement or interaction rather than wait for the next annual survey to come around. 

The next challenge was inspiring change within his team.  Here Guy learned that sharing the verbatim (unstructured) customer feedback with his services team made an emotional impact that quoting customer satisfaction scores simply did not do.  Yes, you have to share the customer’s word and emotions with the people who directly or indirectly impact the customer experience.  Why?  Because it is more effective at altering their perceptions, attitudes and ultimately behaviour; numbers simply do not have this effect – they do not touch the Elephant, they they might speak to the Rider.

Sound good so far yet Guy found out that asking the right questions and sharing the verbatim feedback with his services team was not enough.  If any of you have been on any motivational training courses or seminars then you will know how long the emotional high hangs around.  For most people when an emotional high meets resistance (from the powerful) and hard work (of changing ingrained behaviours) that high tends to dive pretty quickly and you arrive back at the status-quo.  So Guy introduced the practice of assigning actions (with specific deadlines) and monitoring to ensure that members of his services organisation did what they had agreed to do / assigned to do. 

Next Guy instigated the practice of sharing and closing the loop.  The first part was sharing with customers: sharing what his team was doing with the feedback provided by customers with a particular focus on actions to address the key issues as highlighted by these customers.  The second part was sharing with his services team: sharing the next round of feedback from customers – thus showing that the actions of the services team were paying off in happier customers and higher revenues through additional business and repeat business.

If you are a small business / medium size business (less than 1000 employees) then check-out CustomerSure

Guy’s customers at Sage UK were small and medium sized businesses and as Head of Services for 4 years he got to know a lot about these businesses – their situation and their needs.  He learned that there was and is plenty of scope for these businesses to improve the customer experience and keep more of their customers.  He learned that these businesses want to keep things simple and were looking for a guiding hand – a simple process and easy to use software tool. And they are only willing to spend so much money on surveying customers to get their feedback.

Guy put together this insight with what he learned leading/managing his service team (described above) and then put his 10+ years of software development experience to work and created CustomerSure – a platform designed to enable small / medium size business to replicate his success.  The CustomerSure platform enables the small business owner or a departmental head to easily survey customers, share that feedback with staff, set up / assign and monitor actions and then share feedback on what is being done and the results of actions taken. Furthermore, CustomerSure has put in place a platform where customer feedback and the actions that the company is taking to address customer issues is displayed and available for the world to see.

If you are are a small / medium sized business and you are looking to improve the customer experience then I wholeheartedly recommend that you give CustomerSure a test.  You cannot lose out as you get a 30 day trail period – at least that is what I got when I tried it out.

A final point: answering the question I started with

I am not sure that there is quick – instant – way of improving the customer experience.  In my world excellence is more like marathon than a sprint.  Excellence in customer experience involved playing the long term game.  It involves the kind of approach the Guy Letts used at Sage UK: open to insight, trial and error, selecting what works and revisiting what did not work, it involves passion and commitment to the longer term – engendering customer loyalty by doing the right things by your customers.  If you want to play the longer term then you can learn a lot from Guy Letts and if you are a small business then the CustomerSure platform will help you to play that game.

Disclosure:  I have absolutely no financial or commercial interest in CustomerSure.  I have no financial or commercial interest in Guy.  Guy and I are not friends – we have never met.  Guy is a reader of the CustomerBlog – actually he was one of the first readers.  Yet we are connected because we are customer evangelists.