VoC: what’s wrong with VoC and how do you get it right? (Part II)

In the previous post I shared the first part of my discussion around VoC with Erich Dietz, VP of Business Solutions at Mindshare Technologies (specialists in customer surveys and enterprise feedback).  The key point of that post was captured in Erich’s words: “No-one is really doing VoC surveys with the customer in mind!”   In this post I wish to share/discuss with you the other big issue that came up in my conversation with Eric.  Before that lets just briefly summarise best practice in soliciting customer feedback.

Lets assume your organisation is following best practice in soliciting customer feedback

Lets assume that you:

1. Have come up with the right incentives to encourage feedback – incentives that encourage your customers to give up their time and make an effort to give you feedback on what matters to them and how you are doing in meeting those needs;

2.  Have made giving feedback a natural extension of the already occurring conversation – e.g. using the call coming into the contact centre to engage the customer in a dialogue and invite her to share her experience, to give feedback immediately after the call;

3.  Have purposefully and cleverly designed the survey process so that it is short and easy by only asking a small number of questions that really matter that can help improve the customer experience – questions that you do not have answers to already or those that you cannot get answers to by trawling through your internal systems and/or speaking with your employees who touch the customer;

4.  Are making effective use of VoC technologies to allow customers to provide feedback through their preferred channels/devices e.g. email, phone, IVR…..

5.  Major in soliciting unstructured feedback and minor in structured feedback – that is to say that you primarily set out to get unstructured feedback and reinforce this with some structured questions which enhance the value of the unstructured feedback e.g. “How many contacts did it take for you to get your issue resolved?”

6.  Have in place a team/process/platform for converting this feedback into actionable insight into what matters to your customers –  what is working well and what is not working or your customers: policies, processes, products, services, customer facing employees, technology….. 

The question is this, “Is this enough?”   Erich and I agreed that this is not enough.  For all this work  to generate value it is necessary, critical, that your organisation (Tops, Middles, Bottoms) act – act decisively to make changes that improve the customer experience, engender customer happiness and thus cultivate both customer advocacy and customer loyalty.  Is this happening?

The second major issue: too many companies talk about the Customer Experience and don’t act, don’t deliver!

Acting decisively on VoC generated customer insight to improve the customer experience by making the proper changes – policies, processes, people, technology, retail store environment etc – is the second big failing in the VoC arena.  What do I mean?  If I understood Erich correctly then he said something remarkably similar to this: “Too many companies say that they are committed to improving the customer experience and yet don’t deliver on this commitment, this promise!”

When I probed into this to ask Erich why this is happening, why companies are failing to act on their VoC insight which they are collecting and paying for, Erich said that he had heard just about every excuse there is.  Probing further, Erich stated that the top two reason/excuses offered by clients tend to be:

  1. Other priorities; and
  2. Lack of resources.

I could hear the frustration in Erich’s voice.  Clearly this is a man who cares about the Customer Experience, he exclaimed his frustration “These are companies where revenues are flat, profits are flat, the customer experience is poor and yet ‘other priorities’ are important than improving the customer experience!”

Making VoC insight pay: what’s missing the presence of which makes all the difference?

Here is what I say: can you imagine Steve Jobs saying that anything was more important than designing great products – products that would wow customer through a great end-to-end user experience? 

I was listening to Steve Jobs biography and there is passage that speaks to the situation that Erich is describing here.  The passage, the quote from Jobs, goes something like this: “At too many companies design is simply veneer, at Apple design is the essence of what we do.”  So I would say that my observation is as follows:

Look at Customer Experience masters (e.g. Apple, Starbucks, Amazon) and you will find that the Customer Experience is the essence of what the organisation is designed to do and compete on.  Look at everyone else who is speaking and touting their love of the customer and the customer experience and you will find that for the Tops in these organisation Customer Experience is simply a veneer: lipstick on a pig!

Part III coming next

In the next and last post, I will set out Erich’s recommendations on how to do VoC right so that your organisation generates value – for you and your customers.  Thanks for listening to my speaking!


Customer Experience Design: it’s not about the process it’s about the human being

The problem with Customer Experience is the Designers

Is the engineering / six sigma way of thinking and approaching the business world the right one for designing and orchestrating customer experiences?  Walk into many business, take a look at who is involved in Customer Experience efforts and the way that they are going about it and the answer is YES.  I am not in agreement with this view, this approach.  I wrote a post (The Problem with Customer Experience is the Designers) some time ago.  The one change I would make, today, is to say that the issues is not limited to the designers – it also includes their masters, the people who commission the work of the designers.

Customer Experience design is so much more than process design

In this post I simply want to get us present to the fact that the process lens (and thus process design / redesign) whilst useful can be misleading when it comes to getting a rounded grip on Customer Experience.   Designing great customer experiences means getting to grips with the fullness of our humanity.  I can talk about this (and it will show up as abstract) or I can point you towards what I am thinking by using an example.  Lets take look at my tea drinking experience.

How you can change the Customer Experience without changing the process

This is the mug that I normally use:

Why do I use it?  I use this mug because it is just right.  The main differentiator is the size/design of the handle – I can easily slide three fingers into the handle and the mould into the handle, a good fit.  There is the functional component of ease, the tactical component of fit between the handle and my fingers AND there is the emotional component.  There are two strands to the emotional component.  The first arises out of the tactile – how holding the mug ‘feels’ in my hands.  The second strand arises from memory – this mug was given to me as a Christmas gift, by colleagues, at a previous employer.

Can I change my tea drinking experience without changing any elements of the tea making-serving-drinking experience?   Yes, I can.  I can do it simply by changing the container I use.

Here is another mug that I use:

At a functional and tactile level this mug is poor in comparison to the previous mug.  Yet I do use this mug and I am attached to it.  Why?  This mug was made/decorated by my daughter and presented to me with a big hug and kiss on my right cheek.  It was her gift for Fathers Day and it says “No 1 Cuddly Bear”.  Every time I see and use this mug I am not just drinking tea, I am in fact present to and immersed in the love of my daughter.   So here we have a transformation of my experience simply by changing the mug.

Lets take a look at a different ‘mug’ and what impact this has on me and my tea drinking experience:

Notice that this ‘mug’ is not a mug, it has no handles, it is more accurately described as a bowl.  I first came across this when I married into the French – at breakfast my tea was presented to me in a bowl just like this one.

Drinking tea from a bowl instead of a mug completely alters my tea drinking experience.  When I use this bowl I am totally present to the sensations of holding the bowl, lifting the bowl, drinking/tasting the tea.  Why?  Because, the bowl requires me to hold it with both of my hands.  When I am holding the bowl with both of my hands I cannot be mindlessly drinking tea (not being present to the tea drinking experience) whilst using the computer – it simply does not lend itself to that.   Furthermore, the simple act of holding the bowl with two hands to cusp the bowl creates, for me, a more ‘intimate’ tea drinking experience.  I use this bowl when I want to bring myself back to the real world – to be mindful of my physical experience, to really be present to and appreciate the tea experience in its fullest dimensions.

Finally, lets take a look at this last ‘mug’:

My wife loves pretty stuff and this is the what she uses to serve tea when we have guests with us.  This ‘mug’ is neither a mug nor a cup or a bowl.  Yet, it is a little like all three and as a result it provides with a different experience.  First of all, when I see this ‘mug’ memories of family and friends rush into my mind along with pleasant feelings.  Second, this ‘mug’ is too big for the handle and so a certain presence is required:  it is not possible to drink tea mindlessly – I have to be present to what I am holding.  Third, I like the look of this ‘mug’ – the design, the colours, the simplicity of the pattern.  As a result, I enjoy drinking tea that much more.  Finally, I cannot ever drink tea from this ‘mug’ without thinking of my mother-in-law (who loves pretty objects) and thinking how much my wife is like my mother-in-law and yet does not realise it!   This brings a chuckle to my lips and smile into my heart.

Points to reflect upon when you are looking to improve / design the Customer Experience

I hope that I have shown up that just focussing upon and improving the process is not enough when it comes to designing / orchestrating the customer experience.  You need to look broader and understand how human beings experience stuff.

Human beings see, hear, touch, walk, smell and taste.  What does this mean for your Customer Experience design? How can you use the right sensory cues?  How can you involve customers more so that they are more fully present and thus in the experience?  Or how can you distract your customers so that they are not present to ‘unpleasant’ experiences?

We, human beings, think and they remember – the bring both of these qualities to the experience.  How can you evoke the right thoughts, the right memories so as to elevate the customer experience? What do you need to do to avoid evoking unpleasant memories?

Human beings are social by design and one of main facets of social is speaking and listening.  What implications does that have for your Customer Experience design?  Should people be present or not in the Customer Experience?  If they should be present then how many, what kinds of people?  What kind of social conversations and exchanges are the right ones? And so forth.

Finally:  process mapping and process design are easy in comparison to Customer Experience design.  Incidentally, process mapping disguised as customer experience mapping is still process mapping.  It only becomes customer experience mapping when you get access to the inner domain where experience resides and look at a lot more than the sequence of steps that the customer has to execute.

An opportunity for Amazon to improve and get more customers?

Amazon is a great company

We all know or should know that when it comes to customer-centricity (as embodied by the products, the shopping experience, the useful recommendations, the helpful customer service…) Amazon is one of the greats.  And whilst Jeff Bezos is in charge I’d place my bets in favour of Amazon v Apple when it comes to continuing to be customer-centric given that Steve Jobs is no longer around.  So where is the opportunity to improve?  The Kindle.

The Kindle is a great product – we, the customers love it

When I read the reviews on Amazon for the Kindle, on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com,  I find that the majority of customers are delighted with their Kindle.  So what is it that I have to offer Amazon?  What is the opportunity that Amazon has to improve and get more customers?  Let me share a story with you.

This morning I was out shopping (looking for a new television – the wife and children want a new one!) and popped into one of the big chain retailers in the UK.  As I was making my way to the TVs I noticed an elderly gent (with an ear piece) looking at the 6″ Kindle retailing for £89.  Given that the stand from which I operate is that of being of service and contributing to a ‘world that works’ I stopped to be of service.  I shared with him that I had purchased that Kindle and was delighted with it.  He mentioned that he had the bigger Kindle that retails for £139 and was delighted with that.  I went on to share that I’d been surprised at how much I loved the Kindle given that I love the touch, feel and usability of the book in its physical form.   That is when the conversation became really interesting.

This old gentleman told me that he, his wife and friends read a lot of books.  They grew up with books and they are a great way to pass the time.  He and many of his friends had switched to the Kindle because as they are old it is easier to buy and read books via the Kindle.  How exactly?  His response: we don’t have to make our way to bookstores (not an easy thing to do when you are old), we don’t have to carry books home and we do not have to struggle to read the books.  My question: what is the difference with the Kindle that makes the book more readable for you?  His answer:  with the Kindle I can increase the font size so that I can easily read the book!

So where is the opening for Amazon to improve and get more customers?

Being inquisitive I asked this old gent if he was entirely satisfied with the Kindle?  No, was his answer.  I asked if all of his friends were using the Kindle?  No, was his answer.  My next question: why not?  Can you guess his response?  Put yourself in his shoes – what is it like to be old?  You are physically challenged: the eyes don’t work well, the ears don’t work that well, the hands don’t work that well….

Amazon you can design a Kindle specifically for older people.  They love the purchasing process and the ability to increase the font size is such a boon it helps make reading both possible and enjoyable.  Yet, the controls are not easy for the old folks to work – the old folks simply do not have the dexterity to use small, difficult to use, controls.  And you can make the screen bigger.  Why?  Because the old folks use big font sizes and with that get only so much text on the screen which in turn means that they have to use the controls more often to flick from one screen (‘page’) to the next.  This becomes tiring if your hands/fingers don’t work as well as they used to.

It is worth investigating given that there are more and more older people living longer and longer.  Intuition suggests that there is a sizeable customer segment here that is worth catering for especially as it is the older folks that have grown up within a culture of reading books.

Finally: how do you get access to what you don’t know that you don’t know about your customers?

By stepping out of the office and into the real world: deliberately being where you customers are, watching what they do, acting out of stance of being of service and learning from/about your customers, striking up conversations with customers…… Until this encounter with this old gent I had assumed that only the young and technically literate were buying and using the Kindle.  I had discounted the older folks.  And I had no idea that the key benefits of the Kindle for older folks were the shopping experience (instant) and the ability to increase the font size!  I didn’t know that I didn’t know because I am not old and these things have never entered into my conscious mind.

Do you want to improve the customer experience? Wondering where to start? Start here

Where do I start with my Customer Experience programme?

One of the questions that comes up again and again is where do I/we start on improving the customer experience?  Well you can put in place a VoC platform and wait for the results to come in and then act.  You can mine the VoC gold mine that exists in your contact centres if you have call recording in place and if you are adventurous then you can listen to social media.  Or you can map/assess the entire customer experience and then start making changes.

Why not start by making it easy for ‘customers’ to buy from you?

I have a different suggestion: why not start with the broader purchase process.  What do I mean by that?  Here is what I am thinking:

  • Do your target customers know about you?  [Advertising / WOM]
  • Do your target customers want to buy from you?  Have you given them a good reason to buy from you? [Think Nokia and smartphones right now due to OS issue]
  • Do you help your customers to make the right choice: product, price, payment…?  [Options, Configurators, Customer reviews…]
  • Do you make it easy for your customers to buy from you?
  • Do you make sure that your customers get what they bought when they are expecting to get it and the goods are in the right condition?
  • Have you made sure that your product is easy to set-up and use?  [Design, Training, Instructions, Helpline]
  • Does you product actually do what it says on the tin?  [Marketing, Selling, Quality]
  • Have you given the right thought to the returns process?  [Monitoring, Impact, Ease/Difficulty, Cost, Relationship to earlier steps in this purchase process]

I am sure you can figure out the benefit of starting here: by making this process effective you will be helping your company to increase its revenues and profits.  Better still it works for both parties: nothing annoys a potential customer more than visiting your store, making the decision and then finding he cannot buy because you have put hurdles in the way.

If you think you have this sorted then think again

You might be tempted that you have this cracked – that this process (from the customer perspective) is as good as it can be.  As a customer and as a business consultant I can assure you that the vast majority of organisation can do better – a lot better.  Allow me to share two examples with you.

I popped into my local grocery store on Saturday morning at around 8am to buy some milk.  I arrived and was delighted that there was no one there except me and the lady behind the counter.  The only issue is that by the time I had picked up the milk and walked up to the counter ( 1 – 3 minutes) she was no longer at the counter.  I looked around and saw that she was outside arranging the fresh produce.  She saw me looking for her and yet she continued with her stacking. I left the milk on the counter and went to her competitor.  He didn’t leave his counter so I was able to pick up the milk, pay and be out of the shop within two minutes or so.

You might be thinking that this issues is limited to the small ‘Mom and Pop’ stores.  I assure you it is no – as my next example will show.

On Saturday afternoon I was on a mission to get my mother’s house insured and so I turned to Google to find price comparison engines.  The first one I tried is a well known brand.  It looked easy to use so I dived in and started entering all the details.  Once that was complete it went off to find and rate the insurers for me.  The problem was that it seemed to take forever – Internet time forever.  I assumed that something was wrong and opened up another tab (on the browser) and started tapping in the details into another well known price comparison site.    I got to a certain stage where I had to enter my credit card number.  Yet, it would not accept my credit card number – it kept telling me it was wrong.  Why?  The designers had clearly put in a business rule that says that the credit card owner (Maz Iqbal) had to be the same as the person who was taking out the insurance (my mother).  They had not thought that my old mother might not be using the Internet.  Or that she might not have a credit card.  Or that I arrange and pay for her insurance every year as a gift.

By this time I decided simply to go and check out what price her existing house insurer was quoting.  So I went the website and start entering her details so that I could get a quote.  I got to a certain stage and decided to check out the terms and conditions.  Once I had done this I found that I could not go back to the quote process and where I had been.  I had to go back to the start again!  Thinking I had made a mistake I entered the details and this time ‘the system threw me out’ when I started playing around with the options to see the impact on the quote.  So I gave up here and went on to another site.

This site was well designed and the designers had done their homework.  When it came to payment the site spotted that the credit card owner (me) did not match with the person taking out the insurance (my mother).  And the site gave me the option to tick a box that in effect said “I confirm that the owner of the credit card has given me permission to use it”.  And then it went on to ask a number of security questions to confirm that was so.  I ended up buying here because the designers had made it easy to do so.

To sum up: two well know brand name comparison sites and a well know insurance brand  that spend money on expensive TV advertising ‘selling’ how great they are lost out on my business because they made it hard for me to buy.  Instead I went and made my purchase from someone that did make it easy for me to buy.  Which begs the question: How much of their TV advertising is wasted simply because the purchase process has not been designed to make it easy for the customer to buy?

Are you still confident that you have done all that you can do to make it easy for people to buy from you?  Sure?

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.