How to excel at Customer Experience and customer-centricity: 3 tips

Shift your perspective, embrace being wrong and practice radical empathy

Businesses can cut costs, keep more customers and win new customers (through word of mouth/mouse) if they focus on the customer experience.  That means designing customer experiences that fit customer needs and expectations and which make their lives easier and richer (not just in the money sense).  To do that all the people in the organisation (Tops, Middles, Bottoms) have to shift their perspective, embrace bring wrong and practice radical empathy.  What am I talking about?  All is explained/demonstrated beautifully in the following three TED talks: the first is about shifting your perspective; the second on embracing being wrong; and third on radical empathy.  I hope you enjoy and learn from them.

RavKK:  Shake up your story

Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong

Sam Richards: A radical experiment in empathy

You may be wondering why these practices are necessary and if I am correct in asserting that customer experience design can cut operating costs and protect revenues by keeping customers coming back.  Allow me to share two recent experience with you and give life to what I am saying.

Software4Students.co.uk – they made me work and created work for themselves

On the 10th of Sept I finally gave in and decided to update the software on my children’s computers so that it was the same as what they are using in school.  I placed the order with SoftwareForStudents.co.uk and was happy to do so because the price is reasonable and they promise to despatch it within 24 hours.  I received a package this Wednesday and on opening it I found only Office 2010 discs. That was a both a concern and a disappointment because I had placed an order for Windows 7 and Office 2010: one order, two items.

I emailed the company straight away – pointing out that the issue.  Immediately I got an automated email that told me that the issue would be looked into.  Four days later I received the following email:

“Hi,

Thank you for contacting Software4Students!   Please note the products you have ordered have been dispatched separately.

The status dispatched applies to orders that have been validated and approved as per software manufacturers requirements. Orders are dispatched the following working day. Most customers receive their orders within 3 to 5 working days. However, due to varying factors out of our control, there may be occasions when deliveries are delayed. We are confident that delivery will be made shortly and appreciate your patience.

Should your software not arrive after 21 days from the order date please notify us by email.

If you require any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact us.

Kind regards,

Customer Support Team “

Lets just take a look at what has happened here and the consequences:

  • I place one order for two items and they despatch them separately – the company has doubled its postage costs.
  • Because I was not informed that they were sent separately I became worried.  And  hunted around for the contact number (on their website) and then emailed the support team.  There is just work and concern that I can do without – it is simply a ‘cost’ that the company has put on to me.
  • Software4Students.co.uk incurred costs in dealing with failure demand (demand the company brings upon itself by failing to do right by the customer) because someone in the Customer Support Team had to read my email and then write a response back.

Now look at the email response itself because it is a window into the mind/culture of the company:

  • They have my name and they do not use it to address me even though research shows that your names are dear to us.
  • The email provides only one piece of useful information – that the products have been despatched separately;
  • There are absolutely no commitments on when I will get my order – just vague words around what might happen – and what I can count on them for;
  • It ends with the line that says if your order does not arrive after 21 days then contact us by email.

It is all about the company – about Software4Students.  They simply do not care about me – the customer – and my situation, my needs, my perspective.  Will I continue buying from them?  That depends on what alternatives are open to me and the cost of those alternatives.

Memorybits.co.uk – they make me put in extra work and increase their costs

I placed an order for 4 memory cards (for cameras) and 4 USB flash drives handed over my credit card details including putting in my pin (‘Verified by Visa’) and received a confirmation of my order on Sunday 11th Sept.  So all they had to do was to deliver the goods right?  I thought the same.  The next day I received the following email:

“Dear Customer

We have received your order, unfortunately due to our security procedures we require confirmation of your details before we can dispatch your order.

Please email our verification help desk on sales@memorybits.co.uk to verify your details.

Department opening hours are 09.00 to 17.30 Monday to Friday

Kind Regards

The MemoryBits Customer Service Team”

This email did not create value for me so I sent the following email: “I have received an email from you stating that you need me to confirm my details for security reasons.  Here is the order I placed – please fulfil it or cancel it and refund my money.  Thank you.”  Almost immediately I got an email response back: “Thank you for your email we can confirm that you order is being processed”.  Which left me wondering: “Why did they write the email in the first email?  If there was a genuine security issue then how was it cleared by me writing and telling the company to fulfil the order or refund my money?” Why did they waste my time?  And why did they create work for themselves.

And the next day (Wednesday) I got two emails (received at the same time) confirming that my order had been despatched and was on its way to me via first class post.  The following day, I got the same two emails again which left me wondering what is happening here?  It did not inspire confidence in MemoryBits.

When the order arrived I was expecting to issues a flash drive to each of my children for their schoolwork.  Yet, the tiny package contained only one USB flash drive.  Which left me wondering: “Where is the rest of my order?  And why did they just send me this one flash drive?  Have they made a mistake / misread my order?”  As I had been through the Software4Students experience I decided to check my email confirmation and this is what I found: “Please note that for our own processing reasons, your order may be split into more than one package. If this happens you will not have to pay any additional shipping charges, and you will receive a dispatch email for each package.”

What can we learn here:

  • MemoryBits has a process in place that can and does result in multiple deliveries for a single order – thus increasing picking and postage costs.
  • I suspect it then invites emails and telephone calls from customers wanting to know where the rest of the order is.
  • It fails customer expectations because when we order multiple items – especially small ones – on one order many of us expect to get them in one delivery.
  • Furthermore, multiple deliveries set up multiple failures – what if no-one had been at home?  Then I would have had to make multiple trips to the local post office depot to collect my stuff.
  • You can lose customers by creating work / hassle for your customers – I will not be buying from MemoryBits again.

And finally

One practice I have failed to mention is that of Gratitude – not taking people (and circumstances) for granted.  Let me practice gratitude right now.  I thank you for reading what I write.  I thank you for writing to me and encouraging me to continue writing.  I thank you for educating me.  And I thank you for letting me into your world by commenting on what I write and thus entering into a conversation with me.  I wish you well and look forward to our next conversation.

Why companies are wasting time and money on the Voice of the Customer

I have an issue with the VoC thing

Many large companies are busy tapping into the VoC.  In principle this is a great thing to do because the majority of companies do not have a good enough understanding of their customers.  In practice, I am left feeling that we will see a repeat of the technology centred CRM love fest:  these companies will collectively spend billions, the software companies will get fat and customer satisfaction will stay pretty much the same.   So what is my issue with the VoC thing?

A simplified look at the VoC process and issues

First, let’s take a look at the VoC process:

  • Determine listening posts;
  • Set up listening posts (platforms, tools, people);
  • Collect and consolidate the data;
  • Interpret (make sense of) the data;
  • Sell the interpretation of the data to the various Barons inside the enterprise;
  • Get the Barons to take action in their respective areas; and
  • Monitor/assess the impact on customers (and the business).

If you take a deep look into this you will notice an array of issues:  First, when it comes to surveys how do you know that you are asking the right questions and not ‘leading the witness’?  Second, how do you get access to all the customers that don’t want to complete surveys and make complaints?  Third, how can you be sure that the data you have collected is information and not noise?   Fourth, how do you know that your customer insight team is interpreting the data correctly?  And so on…..

The real issue: VoC can act as a barrier to connecting and empathising with the customers

These issues hide a much more important issue that VoC is a rational solution to an emotional issue.  What do I mean?  The challenge is to get the Baron’s out of their offices and shoes and experience the world  by walking in their customer’s shoes.

Put differently, the challenge is to get the Baron’s to emotionally connect with their customers by experiencing what these customer experience.  And if you accept this  then you will get that VoC programme gives these Baron’s the illusion that they can and do understand customers by reading the reports produced by the customer insight teams.

The problem with this intellectual understanding is that it is purely intellectual.   Intellectual understanding is dangerous because it leaves us thinking we have got it when we have not got it.  What do I mean?

I mean that we have not get it emotionally. That we are not touched, moved, inspired to take action because of having experienced our customer’s lives.  There is a whole body of neuroscience research that shows that the seat of all human action is the emotions and that we can feel/experience what other human beings feel/experience through mirror neurons.  To empathise with our fellow human beings we simply have to connect with them in the context of their day-to-day lives and then let the mirror neurons do the work.

What happens when an industry has no empathy for its customers

Why is that important? Frankly, if the Baron’s cannot or do not empathise with their customers then you end up treating your customers the way that the UK banks treat their customers.  Upon reading this article two paragraphs caught my attention:

“The fine reflects BOS’s serious failure to treat vulnerable customers fairly,” said Tracey McDermott, the acting director of enforcement at the FSA. “The firm’s failure to ensure it had a robust complaint-handling process in place led to a significant number of complaints being rejected when they should have been upheld.”

“We have fallen short of the high standards of service our customers should be able to expect of us and we apologize,” said Ray Milne, the risk director at Bank of Scotland. “We are in the process of contacting affected customers and will pay compensation where it is due.”

It is not hard to treat customers fairly.  The failure to do so by the banks and hide behind platitudes is simply a reflection of the gulf between the Baron’s who make policy and the customers who are impacted by the policy.

How do you cultivate empathy?

Empathy is the route to the human soul and any person who strives to get a meaningful insight into customers lives has to excel at empathy.  So how do you cultivate empathy?  I urge you to watch and listen attentively to the following TED video:   http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/sam_richards_a_radical_experiment_in_empathy.html

Just in case you do not have the time here is a key extract from this presentation:

“Step outside of your tiny little world.

Step inside of the tiny little world of somebody else.

And then do it again, and do it again, and do it again.

And suddenly all of these tiny little worlds they come together in this complex web.

And they build a big complex world.

And suddenly without realizing it

you’re seeing the world differently.

Everything has changed.”

To sum it al up

To exaggerate I would say that an ounce of empathy is worth a mountain of VoC data.  Yet, I do not have fame to my name so I will let one of the worlds renowned business strategists (Kenichi Ohmae) say the final words:

“Personally, I would much rather talk with three homemakers for two hours each on their feelings about, say, washing machines than conduct a 1,000 person survey on the same topic.  I get much better insight and perspective on what customers are really looking for.”