Customer Experience And Loyalty Starts And Ends With The Product!

Back in 2011 I asked this question: Customer Experience: What About The ‘Product’? And I ended that conversation with the following assertion:

The product is not in one domain and Customer Experience in another domain.  Any serious examination of the Customer Experience has to grapple with the product and how well it does the job that the customer is hiring it to do.  That means designing that product so that it is both useful (does the job) and usable (easy/intuitive) to use.

Today, I stand by that conversation. In particular, the necessity and critical importance of the ‘product’ (the core product or service which calls forth the customer to reach out and interact with the organisation which is selling that product or service) to any serious work on improving-transforming the customer’s experience of the organisation.

I also find that I was wrong. How so?  Today, I’d sum up that conversation differently.  How would I sum it up?  As follows:

 The ‘product’ is not in one domain and Customer Experience in another domain.  Any serious examination of the Customer Experience (as in the customer’s experience) has to grapple with the ‘product’ and how well it does the job that the customer is hiring it to do.  That means designing the ‘product’ so that it is useful (does the job), usable (easy/intuitive to use), and sensuous (evokes the senses and calls forth awe). When you get the ‘product’ right you will learn that in a substantial-meaningful way that the customer’s experience and loyalty start and end with the design of the ‘product’. If you have the right product then you can concentrate on marketing (advertising, distributing) it. Little need to waste your time on the latest corporate nonsense: customer experience management as in customer interaction management across a multitude of interaction channels.

What has led me to this way of summing up the matter?  Apple. In particular, Apple’s latest financial results – the largest quarterly corporate profit of any company.  Let’s look into the quarterly figures a little bit more: revenue of $75bn, profit of $18bn, and Apple sold 34,000 iPhones per hour.  Allow me to share this paragraph with you (bolding mine):

Apple chief executive Tim Cook called the company’s sales “phenomenal” and said the company had sold 34,000 iPhones an hour every day of the quarter. “This volume is hard to comprehend,” Cook said.

I am now going to make my most controversial assertion. Ready?  I say that the field of Customer Experience Management (as in customer interaction management) is attractive to and for the mediocre. Yes, the mediocre!  You know the folks that do not design-sell great ‘products’.  ‘Products’ that do not simplify-enrich the lives of our fellow human beings.  Look if you make a great product then the world beats a path to your door -including overcoming any hurdles along the path.  Only CXM fools ignore the critical importance of the ‘product’. Isn’t the product the reason that the customer takes action – to actual reach out to the business in the first place?

 

The missing piece of the customer experience puzzle

What is the missing piece of the Customer Experience puzzle?

Is it customer service?  Hardly, it seems that it is rather old-fashioned to say customer service when the speaker is talking about customer service.  No, the in-term is customer experience.  Is it marketing?  No, whilst it has taken a back seat many authors do recognise the importance of marketing communications (brand, advertising, direct marketing….) on the customer experience.  Is it the website? No, many of us get the need to design websites so that they are attractive, usable and useful and thus contribute to the Customer Experience. So what is the missing piece of the Customer Experience puzzle?

The ‘product’ is the missing piece

Just imagine that you head to the hairdresser and everything is perfect: the name, the location, the ‘store’, the welcome that you receive, the pricing, the staff that serve you….Yet your hair does not turn out the way that you expected?  What impact does that have on your entire Customer Experience?  Turns it negative right?  In this case the ‘product’ has failed to meet your expectations and that one failure has turned what had been a positive experience into a negative.

The product is the missing piece.  Nintendo turned around its fortunes and claimed the number 1 slot when it launched the Nintendo Wii.  Dyson did the same thing for vacuum cleaners.  And of course Apple with the ipod, the iphone and now the ipad.   The product is the reason that the buyer searches you out and becomes a customer.  If you have the right product then the customer will put up with all kinds of interaction hassles to buy that product of you – and come back to buy accessories.

Why do I say that the product is the missing piece of the Customer Experience puzzle?  Because it simply is not mentioned in Customer Experience speeches, articles and conversations.  The assumption seems to be that Customer Experience = Interaction Assessment and Design.  The need to pay attention to the product was brought home to me this week because two products failed to meet my expectations in a big way.  Allow me to share those with you.

A headset that is uncomfortable on the head

I needed a headset and was in a hurry to buy one so I did not do any research.  Instead I popped into a store and picked the first one that looked like it would do the job at a reasonable price.  The headset was well presented.  And I was delighted that some thought had gone into the packaging – making it easy for me to open up the packaging without having to get a chainsaw to cut through the plastic packaging that is all too common for some electronic products.

The surprise came when I put on the headset – it simply is not comfortable and does not fit around my head.  After about ten minutes of using it I took the headset off because it pinched by head – I could feel it pressing into my skull.  I would call that a major design flaw: a headset that cannot be worn because it is uncomfortable. Being scientifically trained I decided to see what other users had to say about the product.  I found it on Amazon and sure enough there were people complaining about the fit/comfort about the headphone.  Will I buy any other product from Creative?  Unlikely.

Twinings Earl Grey tea – new coke / classic coke?

I am a tea drinker and the tea that I drink the most is Earl Grey and as my wife is the one that does the shopping she buys Twinings Earl Grey tea.  I have got used to it and I like it.  Except that now I don’t like it at all.  Let me explain.

Twinings have changed the Earl Grey formula – to my palate it simply does not taste the same.  So I did some research and found that I am not the only one: “Twinings changes its Earl Grey tea formula and customers revolt”.  Digging into it deeper it appears that Twinings have changed the formula for the UK but will stick with the “classic” formula for all export markets.  And due to the customer reaction Twinings will allow customers to buy directly from them via their website.  Here is the Twinings statement and customer comments on that statement – worth reading the customer comments to see how much the product matters.  Personally, I have asked my wife not to buy Twinings Earl Grey anymore – I will give other brands a go.

Conclusion

The product is the centre-piece of the customer experience in the sense that if you get this wrong then it does not matter what else you get right.  You can add all the customer experience wrapping that you want but if the product is weak then you are fighting a losing battle because the flaws in the product noticed and shared with the world – like I am doing right now. I will never buy a Creative product again: if they can’t make a simple headset what can they make?

If you have a winning product with a loyal customer base then think twice before changing that product.   In the customer age ‘products’ belong as much to customers as they do to the companies that make them.  Changing these products without involving the customer base (co-creation, new product development) is asking for trouble.  Customers like to be in control and they do not like to have things taken away from them.  I wonder how many letters, emails and calls Twinings is receiving from customers?

Make sure that you think deeply about the ‘product’ and your customer’s experience around the product.  There is no surer way to build an empire than to create a ‘must-have’ product and then promote this through the right marketing and advertising.

Putting people back into the customer experience equation

One of the biggest issues that I have with the customer experience movement is that the process, technology, efficiency and standardisation mindset that is appropriate in the manufacturing environment is being applied to the services industries and the service environment. And in the process the very best of what people have to offer (the human touch, flexibility, improvisation, creativity…..) is being taken out of the picture:  the opportunity to create that emotional bond is sacrified for efficiency.

At the same time, today, I have not been able to do much today (back is playing up) and so I spent some time re-reading an old book (published in 1999) and called “Market Leadership Strategies for Service Companies”.  As I have spent the bulk of my life working in, delivering and advising companies with a heavy service orientation the following passages speak to me and I want to share them with you:

Employees are not the problem, management is the problem

” Over-engineered employees desperately need to once again pursue the most personally satisfying work goal: doing things that make a difference in the eyes of customers.  Employees intuitively know that their core mission should be to provide the kind of help to customers that is truly needed …..Their company’s seeming indifference to being perceived by customers as unique frustrates them……..The net effect is that millions of employees feel robotic in their daily execution of quality, cycle time reduction, re-engineering and a host of other operational activities that perpetuate rather than improve the company….”

Employees are incredibly important and yet misunderstood, under-utilized and over-structured

“Employees are often the most misunderstood, underutilized, and over-structured assets of a service companies.  But next to customers they are the second most valuable asset that companies have.  The problem lies in the perception of the role that employees play in the customer experience.  Many service companies view their employees simply as part of a process that produces an end output – a physical product to be delivered to a customer.  If a customer’s primary focus is on functional performance of the physical product, the employees generally do not need to be involved with the customer experience.  But with services the situation is different.  In fact, in service companies the employees are very involved in the customer’s experience.”

Big mistake: dehumanizing people all in the mistaken (manufacturing) view of quality

” The mistake made by well meaning and well schooled managers is to dehumanize their people – all in the name of quality control.  Service managers attempt to make employees interchangeable.  Although industrialising the service may be important and even necessary, taking the “performers” out of the equation leads to a neutered, indistinguishable experience for customers. ”

Product and quality through people – not by replacing them with self-service technology, standard processes and scripts

“Productivity and quality improvement come from having people involved with customers – people who want the responsibility, can manage themselves, respond well to pressure from customers, and who are highly motivated through skills, job opportunities and pay advancements.”

My conclusion, my interpretation

People – customers, employees, contractors, suppliers, partners matter.  In fact they are critical to business success in service intensive operations and industries.  If you are worthy and you have the know how you can tap into the very best of what they can offer: energy, enthusiasm, passion, creativity, flexibility, discipline, intelligence, wisdom.  And that in itself is ultimately the source of competitive advantage, ongoing renewal, new product development, great customer experience, growth and profitability.

Yet as a very wise French teacher told me when I was about 10 years old: “you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink”.  I believe that is the case with many companies, many CEOs and many management teams.  If they do not value their employees, you cannot make them value them.  Which means the door is wide open to those that get the message and are willing to blaze the trail. For example, John Lewis – who recently delivered a great set or financial results when many other retailers are struggling and blaming the weather.

2011: are you ready to move beyond the 4Ps and the 4Cs to embrace the 5Hs?

In the period of 1950s the concept of the marketing mix was introduced and this led to the birth of the 4Ps: Product, Price, Place, Promotion.    This has been extended  to include another 3Ps: People, Process, Physical Evidence.

With the birth of the Customer age in the 1990s Robert Lauterborn proposed the 4Cs: Customer, Cost, Convenience, Communication.  Whilst this is a move in the right direction it is not enough.   To my mind it smacks of the abstract, the intellectual, a machine way of thinking and talking.  A move forward yet still within the Newtonian paradigm of the universe (including human beings) as a gigantic clock.

How about embracing the 5Hs: Human, Heart,  Honesty, Hospitality and Harmony?

Human:

Get that you are dealing with flesh and blood human beings and treat your customers as human beings.  Strive to treat them with the best of our humanity: kindness, benevolence, humaneness.

Being human, we notice, even if it is at a subconscious level, when these qualities are present or not.  Given the choice we walk towards organisations that have a human look and feel:  that are humane and treat us as human beings not machines.

How about starting with a small step that makes a huge difference: speaking with a human, conversational, voice?

Heart:

As the expression goes “Have a heart!”.  What does that mean?  In a word it means compassion.  The ability and willingness to put yourself in the shoes of your customer.  To see life through her eyes, to experience what she is experiencing.  It means following the golden rule “Treat your fellow man/woman in the manner in which you would like to be treated if you were in his/her shoes?  Go further and embrace the platinum rule “treat your customer as he/she would like to be treated”.

How about following Zappos and making it easy for your customers to reach out and speak with you?  To reach out to you – via chat, click to call etc – when she is shopping and needs guidance or reassurance?  To reach out to you when she needs help in using your product or service?

How about making it easy for customers to make complaints?  How about making it easy to return faulty goods?  And so forth.

Honesty:

Let go of the spin and be honest with people in a tactful way.

Human beings stay clear of people who they find to be dishonest.  When you are honest I may not like what you say yet I will respect you for being honest.  Tell it as it is – upfront – it will save you a lot of pain later on: sooner or later your true colour will show especially in this densely connected world.  When I catch you being dishonest (including omitting stuff that you do not want me to know) then I no longer trust you.  If I don’t trust you then you are going to have to pay in way or another if you want to do business with me.

Put bluntly put as much focus on the steak – the product, the service, the reality – as you do to the sizzle of advertising and other marketing messages.   Another way of saying this is to say ensure that there is a harmony between the sizzle and the steak.

Hospitality:

Be a good host, be hospitable – to prospects, new customers, existing customers and customers who have either left or are on their way.

When you are being a good host you take the time and trouble to think of your guests and their needs.  You do your best to welcome them, to make them feel at ease, to introduce them to people that they will find interesting or useful. And when the time comes for them to leave, a good host will see them to the door and wish them well and mean it!  How about behaving the same way with your prospects, new customers, existing customers etc?

How about inviting your customers into the business?  To listen, to share, to collaborate on new product ideas, product development, marketing communications, customer services and so forth?  Incidentally, the important part about ‘social media’ is not the media, it is the social.  In a social environment your character, your reputation and your manners speak so loudly that few listen to your words.  A good host is mindful of this and acts accordingly.

Harmony:

As human beings we love harmony and we strive after it.  Harmony is pleasing as it gives us peace of mind.  So how about focusing your efforts on creating harmony?  What does that mean in practice?  Lets take a look at the dictionary definition: “the just adaptation of parts to each other, so as to form a complete, symmetrical or pleasing whole”.

How about a harmony between the promises made and the experience delivered?   How about orchestrating harmony between all the silos that impact the customer experience?  How about harmony between the short-term and the longer term?

It is my belief that if you don’t get the social part – that is the human desires for beauty, for meaning, for connection, for honesty…. – you are going to be increasingly lost in the 21st century.    Maybe I am deluding myself.  What do you think?

TeamSnap: everything that you need to know on being customer centred

In my travels across the internet I came across TeamSnap and in particular this post:  Who Is Helping Whom? How Our Customers Are Using Support To Help Us

I have mentioned this post as it captures the true essence of customer centricity.  As I have written before, customer centricity is fundamentally about the Being mode: reason for existence and the stand you take in life.  Yet far too many people talk about customer centricity solely in terms of the Doing mode – usually in terms of capabilities, technologies, processes.

One way of thinking about this is to distinguish between character and personality.  Character is who you really are, what you really care about, what you stand for in life, how you behave when your up against the ropes.  Personality is the show, the mask, that you put on for others and sometimes for yourself too.

Now back to TeamSnap and their post.  Here are the characteristics of TeamSnap that led me to write “Congratulations. You totally get what it means to be customer centric. I shall be using you as an example of customer centricity in my blog”:

  1. TeamSnap’s reason for being is to make life easier for those who organize and participate in team and group activities.
    Note that the reason for existence is not to be the biggest, the best, to dominate the world, to provide a great return for shareholders, to deliver a growth rate of 20% and all that stuff.
  2. We do everything we can to make the application über-intuitive, so obvious that any user can pick it up and use it.
    Many companies do not focus on making their products easy to use.  The people who build the products often have knowledge, skills and ability that the user will not have.  And they are blind to this fact: I remember listening to a famous e-commerce software company demonstrating their suite and wondering why they expected the users – marketers – to be comfortable writing if then queries!
  3. With that kind of product philosophy, you might expect Customer Support to be a second-class function. A place outside the “cool” functions like new feature development, or marketing. You would be wrong. Support is a cornerstone of the company.
    Too many companies that claim to be customer centric (or headed in that direction) put most of  their money and time into the cool functions of marketing, sales and product development.  And the Customer Services (Support) function is often seen as a drain on company money and company profitability.  As a result it has about the same status and welcome as someone who has Aids or in past times, someone who was a leper.
  4. Why? Because TeamSnap isn’t perfect. It doesn’t work the way that everyone assumes it will. It doesn’t have all the capabilities that everyone expects. It even has, horrors!, bugs.
    How refreshing!  My experience is that in the many companies management is convinced that the company makes perfect products and deliver perfect service.  And the customers who are not happy are either trouble makers, stupid or lazy in that they have not taken the time to learn what they need to learn.
  5. We decided if we were going to make the investment, we were going to go whole hog. We were going to put top notch people in the support role; we were going to back them up with our best software developers; we were going to have everyone in the company, even yours truly, in the Support trenches on a regular and ongoing basis.
    Now compare this with the standard situation where the Customer Services function is seen as a necessary evil – a drain on customer profitability – and the focus is on cutting costs.   How many companies can claim that they put top notch people in Customer Services?   And how many CEOs spend time – regularly and often – in taking calls from customers, serving customers?  You are a customer, what is your experience?  Do you look forward to interacting with Customer Service?  No, why not?

A last word:  it will be interesting how well TeamSnap fares as it grows.  History suggests that as companies grow and especially when they tap the capital markets their reason for existence becomes making the quarterly figures that the analysts expect.

Please note that when I say this I am NOT making a moral judgement, I am simply stating that there is a structure to the capital markets and that structure gives rise to specific behaviour: you have to make the quarterly figures if you want to keep your job, keep your company.