customer experience management: best practices

My colleague and fellow CEM guru at G-CEM (Shanghai), Shaun Smith, has this helpful article at CustomerThink (a portal you should be visiting at least once a week, my friends). 

In the article he covers 10 best practices for CEM, and without stating it, has actually encouraged us to think of CEM as a change management initiative. That is true, and usually overlooked when a company pursues CEM because they're thinking of experience management an extension of either database marketing/segmentation, or retail design. CEM is a bear: to do it right and defensibly, it must be a cross-silo initiative, allowing isolated processes to be redesigned, which requires technological integration, new KPI measurement, new reporting ... and yet something would still be missing if even all this change took place.

To see what's missing when you focus too soon on aligning internal resources, take a look at the sheer power of your front-line.

One of my tenets in business is that a solution should handle the back-end complexity of delivering value, while also being able to handle the front-end variability that the customer and branded experience require. Back-end complexity + front-end variability: Those are the beasts to wrestle, and in many ways, those are the places where real value is created (particularly if the back-end solutions can also create visible value.) Shaun, in an interview here, say:

Most organisations exercise a very tight control over what employees should do but a very loose control over why they should do it. In other words they have strict procedures and regulations that employees must abide by even when these do not make sense for the customer. I believe that organisations should reverse this and very be tight in communicating to employees who the target customers are, what they value, what the brand promise is and the kind of experience that they wish customers to have but then to be somewhatt [sic] looser about how to deliver this so that employees can use their judgement.

The challenge here has to do with empowering front-line workers with the knowledge, authority and tools they need. And it will be an uphill battle.

First: There are hard costs associated with providing these. There are softer costs associated with not providing these. Show me an organization with the econometrics skills to make this business case rationally and I will sing their virtues to the ends of the Earth. And, yes, you could skip the econometrics and just say, "Well, we don't know how much we're saving by handling our customers better, but it's part of our culture so we'll do it." Right. And when recession hits, the CFO will have other ideas, and there goes your culture.

Second: It's not just about better service. That's necessary, but it's not sufficient. Ritz-Carlton famously sets the standard by organizing their front line employees around the credo (and believe me, they believe it): We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. This is their brand. And so their excellent service becomes Ritz-Carlton's excellent service, instead of being attributed by the customer to the extra efforts of a single employee. In fact, as a part of creating excellent and branded service, very specific, on-brand tools and processes must be created to make sure that the sincere efforts of front line employees become embedded in the customer's overall memory of their experience of the brand. And ... that's hard work.

Third: Make your front-line trustworthy. Front line people come and go. This means that managers tend to trust their front-line employees less. So, you either train the heck out of them to get them to a trustworthy level - or you don't trust them to wield the authority they require to actually deal with customers' problems. And those problems vary. You can't just have a single way of handling some finite set of company-identified problems. Pay attention to and measure that variability, and make sure the front-line can handle it.

Training has a hard cost, and can be a pain. Training always feels like overhead to the unenlightened manager. And such training can become routine and inauthentic, making it less effective. After all, you usually don't pay the front line staff very much, so you have to create authenticity in their relationship to your company. (Until recently, LuLu Lemon was my favorite company for building front-line. Nowadays, I have to put Apple on top.)

But the consequence of lack of training on the knowledge, tools and processes is that you're putting the brand in the hands of people who come and go. 

Yes, it is often customer interactions with front line employee that actually create or destroy brand equity. So, managers: get out of the back office and watch the mayhem. Marketers: forget the idea that you control the brand. 

And if you want proof that managers and marketers need to do this, then start with Shaun's TENTH best practice: Measure your customer's experience. Then go one step further: Compare the experience you provide with the customer experience of your competitors. There will be a gap, and it most likely can best be closed by appreciating who controls the brand: the customer.

So today, commit to making sure you're not guilty of supporting a business process that fails to deal with complexity at the back-end in support of handling variability at the front end. Otherwise, that woman, man, family - and all their friends - will know that they have a problem that you cannot or will not handle.


i got the music on me: npr's andrei codrescu remembers his wife's past through her ipod

Great piece recommended to me by my friend George McCabe of CMA Consulting. We're both working hard on a mobile music project together. 

This one is called Growing Up the iPod Way, from NPR's Andrei Codrescu.


mac's customer experience: is it freedom, or discipline? apple's secret sauce

What is it that has given the Mac such a great rep? Is it really easier to use? And if the Mac is easier to use, does that come at a price?

On the Windows side, some may argue that Apple doesn't make a serious computer with serious software (except for niche needs such as - ahem - creative work). And it is possible that Apple's pursuit of simplicity may mean its software has fewer features at times. 

But I think what Apple excels at is very simple - and hard to do: Keeping the platform powerful, with visibly wonderful output, but balancing that power against a disciplined approach to consistency and great, great, great information architecture. 

I use Macs and Windows systems all the time. My conclusion is that the culture among Windows programmers is to pile on features, and the culture among Mac programmers is to clarify and simplify. 

In the end, though, is it Mac's simplicity that makes it so lovable? No. Not at all. A simple process is not memorable. What do people remember about their experience with their Mac? The clue is in the preceding paragraphs. 


a service orientation in your company: measurable?

Daniela Guido asked a great question on CEM Professionals on LinkedIn. Here are my thoughts on the issue she raised (and it's an issue her company deals with all the time as they help their international clients). 

Ultimately the question for a company is whether the service culture generates greater perceived value for the customer, at a profit, so there are two different sets of KPIs here.

perceived customer value (PCV)

The metrics that drive PCV are not just about efficiency, nor about effectiveness, but include another set of dimensions that ultimately revolve around whether the service event (whether outbound sales or inbound service or service recovery) handle moments of truth for the customer or the brand, and in ways that reflect the variability of the customer's TYPE and OBJECTIVE. 

Culture, frankly, is a huge determinant of what defines the customer's objective in service recovery.  The objective for a service recovery in South Korea or China, for example, varies from the objective in Canada or France.

A person's type shapes how they respond to moments of truth. Check out DISC assessments and Myers Brigg for some general approaches to assessing customer types and to craft response strategies for service failures.

what's effective service?

As for whether the service process is effective or efficient depends on how you define effective. The emotional intelligence of service recovery adds a variable or two to the optimization problem; in China, we did a study with Ping An that showed a huge improvement in customer sat just by having CSRs listen longer. Is that efficient? No. Is it effective? It is if customer satisfaction is the goal; but not if you narrowly define "effective" as being merely "solving the problem that is the proximate cause of the call."

Finally, as to profitability, this is a big challenge in both micro- and macro- perspectives. You want enough service coverage to provide a level of service that meets or exceeds expectations - but that does not necessarily mean short wait times. Whether a customer gets a human being, for example, may be more important than how long they waited.

perceived wait time: reframing service perception with clever channel choice

The case of also shows that people PERCEIVE a shorter wait time when they ask for a callback through the website than if they called into the call center and waited online. So, the right mix of staffing, process design and channel can help a company control costs in the pursuit of an overall great customer experience.

And of course if you have the right staff, and they are well trained, have the right personality profile, and are in the right culture where they have the tools and values to deal with customer issues - ideally on first call - you've got a great formula that's likely to retain your best employees, lowering your internal costs.

One final note: if improved customer engagement flowing from great interactions with call centers yields improved total lifetime customer value, this increases company profitability. 


enter wining: turning off the stress of choosing a wine for dinner

Someone asked a great question on LinkedIn about creating a great customer experience around wine choices at a luxury hotel catering to a global clientele.

It got me thinking about the peak-end framework I use in CEM, and also about wine, which is one of my passions. My motto: where your customer's desired experience intersects with your brand's value is your opportunity; where your delivered experience intersects with a profitable model is your success. 
So, can you get people to buy wine with less regard to price? Even in a non-luxury situation?
Here's what I think. Chime in, folks.

desired experience

Different people drink wine for different reasons. At some basic level there should be a range of wines to match the food, in a range of prices. After this, you'll want to segment your customers according to the way people relate to wine and the discovery of new wines. With these segments in mind, then ask: what are our brand values? At the intersection of the desired experience and the brand is where your opportunity lies.

For example, let's say there are two segments: I drink by country of origin; or I am scared to try new wines but know a few that I like.

Of course, you'll have more segments than this. But stick with me.

Let's also say that your branded experience is: delicious, surprising meals served by people who want to give you pleasure.

country of origin

For country-of-origin folks ("I drink wines from FRANCE and ARGENTINA"), you might organize your list this way - or even better, since "surprise" is in your brand values, organize your list by flavor profile but always mark an entry with wines/regions for the given wine AND COMPATIBLE wines and regions. For example, if an entry for a Bordeaux is marked France, you might also say: "Other compatible wines on our list: 427 from South Africa, 19 from Sonoma Valley, 231 from Spain."

For "I don't know about wine and I'm afraid to try new ones," you can use a similar technique. Use a flavor profile icon (say, in red for reds, blue for whites and pink or rose), perhaps a pie chart or some bars, which show body, acid, fruit, terroir. (The last is a bit arbitrary, but loosely might be translated as "good with food from the region, may not be perfect as a stand-alone wine.")

At the very list these two approaches can give you a quick database for organizing your list; it can also aid in staff training. AND ... if you can get the customer to give you an EMAIL address, you can ask how they liked their wine, and then EMAIL them with similar wines, pulled right from your database. Include a couple of simple, delicious recipes (yank them from Epicurious, doesn't matter as long as the dishes work with the wine).


From a customer experience management standpoint, this leverages Kahneman's peak/end model for memory drivers. The end of the branded experience is not when the check comes. It's when the EMAIL comes. And you can bet they'll remember you. And talk about you. And they might even try that recipe and wine that you recommended, and do you think they'll be talking about your restaurant during the entire meal?

You bet.


mini-munny vs lego

Great link recommended by colleague Daniela Guido about a toy that is a tabula rasa - a blank slate you can color and dress any way you want: the Mini-munny. 

Customer-driven innovation used to mean getting people to tell you how to make your next product better/faster/cheaper. For this company, it means "we don't have to manufacture to the market's needs segment by segment, do what you want, and it's all yours." A segment of one. Extreme personalization. Letting customers get creative. Getting them to show and talk about the product and company. 

But then there's LEGO. If you create a toy with their parts and want to publicize it, you can do that on their site. Customer creativity gets a platform for expression, and both current and potential customers can paw through the creations of proud LEGO customers. 

Which is a more successful approach?

Before you answer, do the math and add the mind. 1. How many exposures to customer creativity are generated? 2. How many socially credible communications are transmitted? 3. How are such exposures and communications linked to a moment of "buying", where people can act based on their emotionally-driven desire to participate in the brand/activity? 4. Which is more sensual? 5. Which is more memorable? 6. Which gathers the most customer insight?

Which is more profitable in the short term? Which is more profitable in the longer term? How would the answer to this question affect your product strategy? Your customer strategy?





Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging for your iPhone.

Well, maybe that's next. In which case, people like me who rely on fMRI research to determine what really drives people to love and hate brands, services and products can do our fieldwork, at last, at the local Starbucks with a simple Apple handset.

I wish.


People of ill impute

Oh, a bad joke. But when we impute someone's motivations from their behavior, are we doing a good job?

Watch ...


Losing customers in the downturn: Fickle people, or practical ones?

Panicked about loyal customers leaving?

CMO Council: "For the average brand, approximately one-third of all highly loyal consumers in 2007 completely defected to another brand in the same category in 2008, according to a recent CMO Council report. This report (Losing Loyalty) has major implications for marketers and underscores the critical need for brands to more effectively engage with individual consumers by tracking their loyalty behavior and responding with relevant offers."

Be more relevant - but without good customer data?

And yet consumer watchdogs strongly resist behavioral tracking. Companies want loyal customers, and customers want relevant offers at a good price. 

And even with all this behavioral analytics going on to determine who's loyal, don't the macroeconomic conditions change the "value and values" formulation in the exchanges between a company and its customers? 

What's a company to do?

I've got an answer. What's yours?

HINT: In a downturn, be proactive

A hint to my answer: Look at WholeFoods' experimentations on the value/values side, and ask: why? Is there profit? Is WholeFoods interested only in the profit side of their recent moves? For large, national brands, what range of responses is necessary when an economic downturn looks unavoidable? And can those companies move fast enough? Ah, the customer question has now become an organizational design, sector strategy. Funny how marketing isn't enough anymore.

Also, good reading here. Follow the Reese's Pieces to find Bruce Temkin's report from Forrester.


Desire: the conative component

Country of origin effects create huge value in products and travel. How much are you willing to pay for a memory?The usual view of marketing is that it is, in essence, an exchange relationship. My view is that such a definition is not supported by the evidence, and that in fact the word “relationship” in this context is ambiguous and unhelpful. Think about it: do you really want a relationship with a company before they've earned your trust?

An exchange (not yet a relationship) between parties will have several components: cognitive, affective and conative are three usual broad terms used to group these components. (There are other ways to name these exchange drivers.) 

Loosely, the cognitive aspects can be known (measurable) and rationalized (talked about, and even prioritized, by the customer). The affective (loosely, emotional) aspects are harder to name, and are intrinsically non-rational. The conative aspects are the most interesting in that they tend to drive a person towards an action based on desire. To make a brand desirable, then, we must strive to understand the conative aspects of the offering. More on that in a moment.

In the meantime, listen to this NPR story about genuine French-style croissants being made and sold in ... Bethesda, Maryland. Did you want to taste the croissant? Why? Is this about product, service, or experience? And, if you were attracted to the story, how is this a conative process and not just an affective or cognitive one? Finally ... what's that music doing at the end? Is there an ecosystem of conative elements at play in the story? 

Is there an ecosystem of conative elements at play in what you offer to customers?

The right mix

The “right mix” of these components as far as a customer is concerned may vary from the way a marketing channel, or set of channels is set up by a company. That's a huge gap, but you see it all the time. When you want to dig into a product or service by reviewing its documentation, you hate seeing all those big, generic pictures of happy customers and handshakes. Give me something my cognition can process! And when you want to know that the jacket you're paying $800 for is a good buy, maybe you don't want a long explanation of the fabric's environmentally friendly production method. You'd rather know that Hugh Jackman wears it. 

But such gaps can be OK, if the overall customer experience needs are handled in a sensible way. If you know the gap you have to fill to create the right blend of cognitive, conative and affective responses in the customer, you can use a different special blend for each marketing channel, or for a particular phase in the person’s relationship with an organization. (Here I mean relationship as a connection that has a switching cost value, and/or for which disappointment or regret incurs genuine pain or cost.)

Let's take an example. Apple brand “feels” a certain way when expressed on packaging; it “feels” another way when expressed in an email exchange, or a phone call, or a greeting at an Apple store. And those Apple ads with PC and Mac: they "feel" very Apple, don't they? But you don't get that same smart-alecky-ness from that beautiful box your new MacBookPro came in.

Early in your exchanges with a prospect, they're wary. You have to build trust -- and depending on what you're selling, and the nature of your brand, you need to know the right magic blend. Later on, once they trust you, you can later the blend. After all, a loyal customer doesn't need rational convincing any more. So don't annoy them with it.

It's not just about the channel, nor about the phase in the relationship. A given customer may just have a style. It may be purely rational (I can get something of suitable quality for a fair price), or largely conative (gosh, I’d love to go to Italy this Spring). Check out the Sproles Consumer Styles Index ... and then ask me about how Wal-Mart lost billions by ignoring it. (Quick and free overview here.)

Pleasure and Desire

Let's turn for just a moment to the conative aspect of how people respond to things. One of the great things about this concept is that it captures our drives to do something, or to become something, or to be something, which inherently means that it involves both a sense of self and a sense of other. From a customer experience standpoint, your exchange design, or interaction design, should incrementally, convincingly (and I would add, ethically) help your customer clarify their sense of self, and their belief that you know what they want. And then, do NOT give it to them. In fact, giving the customer everything may be exactly the wrong thing. First, it's a waste of resources. Second, doing it is based on the incorrect assumption that people want to be satisfied. Third, if your product actually does delivery everything the customer desires, then you probably haven't defined your product in a large enough way. People's imaginations are huge; given them what they want today, and tomorrow they'll be imagining something even better. 

What you want is not to please them with a product, but to create a particular kind of desire for something larger, and to shape that desire so that it "feels" like your company? 

So, what's the difference between pleasure and desire? Do some research ... and get back to me.


Social CRM: in the midst of the customer conversation

A worthwhile conversation about your customers' worthwhile conversations, and how to use them strategically to create meaningful relationships in a scaleable way. 

Tips and tricks on how to do it, and the big picture you'll want to see.


Do you know the biz value of your IT investments?

The IT Capability Maturity Framework is out. Take a little quiz here to get a flavor of how the framework might help your organization.

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