We don’t talk anymore

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Cliff Richard didn’t have a smartphone when he wrote his Number 1 hit.

But ‘we don’t talk anymore’ is a problem that is affecting both our social and professional lives. In an age where the quantity of communication has expanded exponentially, it’s funny how we spend less time talking with each other. We even spend more time on our devices than we do sleeping.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my smartphone and I couldn’t live without it. But I increasingly find myself working with businesses who think they are dealing with an issue, when in fact they haven’t established the full picture because they haven’t spoken to the right people.

This is a costly problem and wastes both time and money.

In the digital age it is easy to think that we are communicating more effectively. We have more data to inform decision-making than ever before, and more tools to crunch the data than we could wish for. But we also need to identify and talk to the right people to contextualise the data with real experiences.

An evolving response

The needs and experiences of customers, employees and partners are perpetually evolving. An effective response is only possible if a business knows what is actually happening, not what it wants to believe is happening.

Talking with the right people gives us a real-world, real-time assessment of a given problem or situation.

While the signposts to the solution will exist in the data, externalising the needs and experiences of the individuals involved will reveal what actually happens. And accessing these experiences is only possible by identifying and bringing together relevant people from across a business.

Once these valuable experiences have been brought to light, they need to be examined in a non-judgmental manner. This is where perpetual thinking groups can help, as they remove politics and ego to create a constructive, trusting environment in which experiences can be analysed. By encouraging participants to share and reflect on their personal experiences, perpetual thinking groups enable businesses to get to the root cause of a given problem.

Digital tools can trick us into thinking that we’re communicating effectively and efficiently. But in an increasingly digital environment, spending time talking with the people involved in the delivery of a product or process to understand their needs and experiences is more important than ever.

Although Cliff’s ‘We don’t talk anymore’ may have been written about a disintegrating relationship, it’s a problem that is just as applicable to the modern business environment. But if we bring the right people together in the right environment, we can obtain an informed understanding of the real-world issues that are affecting experiences across a business, its customers and its partners.

And that is something worth talking about.

 

Should we really put the customer first?

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Customer experience is not just about customers.

Improving customer experience requires a focus on more than just customer needs. If we put the needs of customers before everything else, we ignore the needs of all the other people involved in the delivery of customer experience.

The aim of ‘putting the customer first’ can be misleading as it often prevents a business from focusing on the poor experiences of employees and partners. And without addressing these issues, putting the customer first is unlikely to deliver a sustainable improvement in customer experience.

It’s good to finally see some high-level acknowledgement that improving customer experience involves moving beyond touchpoints and focusing on journeys. But my question is this: why stop at customer journeys? If customer experience represents the entirety of a customer’s interactions with a business, then there is a clear need to realign every business function in support of customer experience.

Everyone’s experience matters

McKinsey’s advice for CEOs to redesign the business from the customer back is encouraging. But doing this requires a deep understanding of the context-specific problems and work-arounds of everyone involved.

Using customer journeys to redesign organisations will only ever provide us with a limited understanding of the complex cross-functional problems that impact on customer experience. This is why we need to extend the journey further into the organisation to not only reveal the root causes of these problems but also engage with those responsible for delivery.

People Experience Journeys extend the customer journey into a business

By analysing the needs and experiences of customers, employees and partners, people experience journeys bring to light all the tensions and weak links that create obstacles to seamless customer experience. In doing so, they also reveal invaluable local knowledge and work-arounds that employees have developed to get around legacy structures and systems. Take this example:

 

Delivering a sustainable improvement in customer experience requires an understanding of the needs and experiences of everyone involved in a product or process. Viewing customer experience through the customer’s eyes isn’t enough, we need a real-world, real-time assessment of experiences across the business. Only then can we isolate and systematically address each need and experience to improve the resulting outcome for the customer.

Achieving exceptional customer experience won’t come from simply putting the customer first. It will come from an authentic evaluation of the needs of everyone who’s work has an impact on the customer.

Should we be educating our customers?

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To what extent should a business attempt to educate its customers?

Historically, many businesses have taken it upon themselves to try and educate their customers about their products and services. From pensions to paracetamol, most products come with some form of impenetrable instruction manual that customers are expected to read in order to understand what they have purchased.

Attempts to educate customers often stem from a desire to minimise complaints and bad press by managing their expectations. Sometimes a business needs to educate customers about why their request might not be in their best interest – particularly in an increasingly high tech environment. Those 100-page policy documents might make sense to the underwriters, but they will mean very little to the customer who needs a 1-page summary in jargon-free language.

 

We don’t need no education

But do these attempts to educate customers work in an era where the customer resorts to an internet search as soon as they have a problem or query? Prior to the Internet (remember that?), the business was the trusted source of knowledge. But the speed at which knowledge is now created and shared makes it increasingly difficult for a business to manage its knowledge effectively.

The employee responsible for doing the educating may themselves never have experienced the problem that a customer is facing, leading to a perceived lack of authenticity. And, rightly or wrongly, the customer often believes that the best person to ask for advice is another customer rather than a representative of the company.

The problem of educating customers is just as difficult for B-2-B as for B-2-C. For example, business A may procure a new product from business B, but there is a significant danger that the former can overload the latter with too much training and documentation. However, if business A holds back on educating business B about the full range of options afforded by its new purchase, it may be accused of not delivering value for money.

Changes made by third-parties also cause a headache, as Facebook’s decision to start auto-playing videos demonstrated. When a large number of mobile customers found they were suddenly consuming more of their data allowance, they accused their mobile providers of over-charging them. And in some cases, it was the customers who first informed the mobile operators of the problem – the customers were ‘educating’ the business.

So do businesses have a responsibility to push information to customers to inform them of such changes? Should customers have to opt in to or opt out of these ‘helpful’, paternalistic communications?

 

Who should be educating whom?

In a hyperconnected era, the flow of information between company and customer is dynamic. Knowledge is no longer the exclusive possession of the company: the customer can – and should – educate the company just as much as the company educates the customer.

How? This mutually beneficial relationship can be developed by making customer communities as integral to a business as the board, the finance department, and the sales team. Customer communities and forums are a largely untapped resource, and businesses should be employing more open business models to co-evolve with their customer communities – incorporating their feedback and insights into both problem-solving and product development.

For what purpose? The answer is: to build confidence. We attempt to educate customers to give them the confidence to make better decisions about our products and services. Our customers can do the same for us – their feedback gives the company the confidence that everything is aligned and working as it should be.

The networked era is changing the role of the organisation from an ‘all-knowing parent’ to a ‘trusted advisor’. Trust and confidence are increasingly integral to brand value, and there is great value for organisations in making this transition. But navigating this change requires businesses to treat customers as adults, and be prepared to demonstrate greater trust, openness and authenticity.

Our customers can help to educate us and are prepared to do so, but only if we are prepared to listen and respond with the same objective: to increase understanding and build confidence.

Source : The QoE discussions November 2016 ‘Should we be educating our customers?’

How does attention improve customer experience?

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A member of The QoE (let’s call her Angie) is currently volunteering in an orphanage for ‘differently able’ children in Sri Lanka. ‘Differently able’ is a term used in Sri Lanka for children with conditions such as autism, Downs Syndrome and cerebral palsy.

It has been heart breaking to read Angie’s reports of the poor conditions and treatment that many of the children experience. Underpaid carers who have almost no empathy for the childrens’ situation regularly dole out punishments, regardless of the fact that the children have no understanding of the reasons behind their actions.

Sadly Angie is largely powerless to reverse these deep-rooted cultural differences. But what has made her experience bearable has been seeing the difference that simply investing her time in the children can make. To use her words:

“the most rewarding thing in a day is to see a child’s eyes light up with joy when you give them attention”.

Contrast this experience with that of another QoE member, Sam Ellis. As part of Atos’ Dream Builders team, Sam spent much of last year raising money for The Prince’s Trust charity. In a fantastic achievement, Sam and the team raised an unprecedented total of £210,111 between July and December last year. This will be invested in helping people improve the lives of disadvantaged young people in the UK, and The QoE were proud to be a sponsor of their efforts.

Despite the vast cultural differences between Angie’s and Sam’s volunteering efforts, the principle is the same: there is great value in investing your attention in people.

The Attention Economy

As long ago as 1997, Wired Magazine commented on the growth of the Attention Economy, noting that attention is both a valuable and limited resource. As our lives become increasingly full of distraction and noise, our ability to pay attention is being squeezed between status updates, online shopping, instant messages and the like.

As we become increasingly hyperconnected, the scarcity of our attention increases. And as any good economist will tell you, the scarcity of a resource only drives up its value. The author of the Wired article, Michael Goldhaber, even goes as far as to suggest that the flow of attention around the internet will eventually replace the flow of money altogether.

Investing attention improves experience

The lesson from the above examples is this: investing attention in people improves their experience. As organisations become increasingly obsessed with using data to improve customer experience, it is worth remembering that there remains just as much (if not more) value in simply spending time really listening to and talking with customers. And more than just spending time, this involves spending attention.

Data-driven approaches to understanding behaviour try to reduce people to categories and trends, but this is a 20th century approach to understanding customers. Delivering great experiences in the 21st century requires authenticity, personalisation, and a willingness to listen and adapt to the specific needs of each customer.

To borrow the Sri Lankan term, we are all ‘differently able’ in one form or another. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, this is a fundamental aspect of human experience. In the attention economy, we expect our organisations to pay attention to us, accommodating – and valuing – our differences.

Why Perpetual Experience matters

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Having just completed my book Perpetual Experience, I can honestly say that writing a book is no small task. However, the process has really helped me clarify my thinking around customer experience, where it works, and where we could do more.

But what is Perpetual Experience, and why should it matter to you? Back in 2005, customer experience had only just emerged as an issue for businesses and the topic was a mystery to many. But since then, customer experience has grown to become one of the most important considerations for every business and is now a key differentiator.

Over the last ten years, I’ve been privileged to help some of the largest businesses in the UK improve their understanding of customer experience through the QoE (Quality of Experience) group. The QoE discussions have provided me with unique insights into the opportunities that customer experience offers for improving businesses. And by that, I don’t just mean improving customer experience – I mean improving efficiency, responsiveness, innovation and margin. Perpetual Experience represents the culmination of these insights, and is my way of paying tribute to the great work of all the passionate and dedicated professionals who have helped shape the QoE discussions.

What’s in it for you?

If you interested in driving business improvement you’ll be interested in the book. Whether you work in a customer experience, customer service, operations, or digital role, Perpetual Experience enables you to realign your business in support of the customer by challenging entrenched mindsets ways of working.

The Perpetual Experience methodology identifies and brings together the people who have the relevant experience to really solve persistent issues and improve experiences. It draws together people from across the business and its partners who are involved in the end-to-end delivery of any given experience. In doing so, it reveals the short-cuts work-arounds that employees have developed to solve problems and uses these to help businesses become more responsive, more innovative, more authentic, and more efficient.

I’ve written Perpetual Experience because I believe it can help customer experience achieve its full potential as a powerful mechanism for improving businesses. I’m both pleased and relieved to say that the book is now complete and available at www.perpetualexperience.com.

And I’d love to hear your views and would welcome your comments.


Carl Lyon is a customer experience thought leader and author of Perpetual Experience.

Only customer-obsessed companies can survive disruption

Empowered customers are disrupting every industry; competitive barriers like manufacturing strength, distribution power, and information mastery can’t save you. In this age of the customer, the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge of and engagement with customers.

The successful companies will be customer-obsessed, like IBM and Amazon.com. Executives in customer-obsessed companies must pull budget dollars from areas that traditionally created dominance…

  • brand advertising
  • distribution lockup
  • mergers for scale, and
  • supplier relationships

…and invest in four priority areas:

  1. real-time customer intelligence
  2. customer experience and customer service
  3. sales channels that deliver customer intelligence, and
  4. useful content and interactive marketing.

Those that master the customer data flow and improve frontline customer staff will have the edge.

From The QoE, January 2013, ‘Competitive Strategy in the Age of the Customer’

Positive energy = profit

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What do all successful customer-focused organisations possess?

  • Drive
  • Enthusiasm
  • Focus
  • Willingness

You can feel it so its tangible.

What do you measure? Positive energy.

Why Energy?

Definition:  a person’s spirit and vigour

Synonyms:  activity, animation, application, ardour, birr, dash, drive, effectiveness, efficacy, endurance, enterprise, exertion, fire, force, forcefulness, fortitude, get up and go, hardihood, ini9a9ve, intensity, juice, life, liveliness, might, moxie, muscle, cooperativeness, pep, pluck, potency, power, punch, spirit, spontaneity, stamina, steam, strength, toughness, tuck, vehemence, verve, vim, virility, vitality, vivacity, zeal, zest, zing, zip

Antonyms:   idleness, inactivity, laziness, lethargy, tiredness

  • Energy can be a positive or a negative force
  • Its direction is influenced by other people, process and technology
  • Positive energy is the essential element of every successful organisation

Energy generators in people:

  • Personal belief ‐ alignment to values, purpose and behaviours
  • Personal development – knowledge, understanding and cultural
  • Empowerment -­‐ the ability to act on your own thoughts and decisions
  • Ability to influence – trusted adviser, seeing ac9ons that result form your input
  • Autonomy – self-activation, successfully rising to challenges
  • Pride – reflective satisfation perpetuates confidence and ability
  • Belonging to groups or communities -­‐ sharing experience, knowledge and love
  • Being part of something that is recognised as good quality, creative and valued
  • Inspirational and relevant leadership
  • Behaviours of those around you

Source of energy can be split into three:

  • Personal
  • Projected from people around you
  • Projected by the organisation

Can we identify energy…

  • Drainers (Sinks)
  • Capacitors
  • Generators
  • Hotspots
  • Magnets
  • Wasted energy
  • Base line for sustainability
  • Time-sensitive peaks and troughs
  • Net energy score
  • Economic value of energy

Net energy score: How much an individual / group / organisation stimulates, minus how much they drain from others

Positive energy = profit

From The QoE, March 2012, ‘Employee Experience Proof of Concept Project’

Using complaints to justify and drive action

By viewing complaints as another form of contact, organisations can change their attitudes and helps businesses extract information to guide improvements. But there is a difference between learning from and responding to complaints – do we need formally to separate these activities?

Many organisations separate product and service failure to simplify root cause analysis. Making product managers responsible for fixes also enhances proactive actions.

It is imperative to find ways for information from complaints to flow, rather than trickle, though an organisation. Inadequate policy communications with customers and staff is often the root cause of complaints – clarity and simplification are recommended.

What can be learned from a complaint may not be in proportion to the severity or escalation route of an individual case – care must be taken not to overreact or prioritise.

  • Do we measure and learn from complaints that don’t require further action?
  • What do we do with positive ‘complaints’ or the positive elements of a complaint?

Simple reporting is most effective, especially when accompanied  by real example. And beware of complaints that are dismissed or filed for another day, their accumulative effect may hold the key to what next and how.

From The QoE, May 2012, ‘What Next, and How?’

Why we need to be consistent

What do we mean by a ‘consistent customer experience?’ A consistent customer experience for whom? And for what purpose?

Which elements of the experience can be constant across products, service and geographical boundaries?

What is the motivation for consistency? Easy to manage, better cost control, increased efficiency
or improvement in outcomes?

Delivering a consistent experience is often seen as a major objective, but what do we actually mean. Alignment of cross channel information, delivering to brand promise, service recovery or complaint resolution? Should we be looking at tone of voice or meeting emotional needs of the customer? Perhaps the desire for consistency is actually a strategy to help us understand complex situations and issues.

Some key questions

  • What would our customers see as consistent? How can we identify and articulate it?
  • Has the desire for consistency increased the net effort as we try to be consistent rather than agile?
  • Shouldn’t we be striving to meet individual needs? If so, are there consistent elements or themes?
  • Consistency does not always mean repeatability. Can we generate a consistently surprising experience?

Ultimately, consistency and simplicity would seem to go hand in hand.

From The QoE, May 2013, ‘Consistency’

Delivering confident customer experience

Few things are as compelling as confidence to inspire engagement, trust, and decision making, and to drive actions. A weak or overly defensive proposition is easily recognised and challenged.  The implications for the development of customer experience are significant and seem to fall into the following categories:

Externally

  • Brand / product and service propositions
  • Customer service interaction
  • Complaint resolution
  • Measurement and insight

Internally

  • Board and shareholder support
  • Leadership
  • Cross function engagement
  • The ability to drive action
  • The performance of customer facing staff

Perhaps unusually for customer experience development, the internally focused issues are more important than the external. On too many occasions CX practitioners adopt, or are forced into, a defensive position that quickly infiltrates relationships at all levels, and then  on to customers.

What is the root cause?

  • Has the strategic or tactical ROI yet to be proven?
  • Is the proposition too simple or too complex?
  • Are the rewards perceived to be too distant from expenditure and or/effort?
  • Is the emotional element too difficult for organisations to understand and accept?

Should we include – or return to – the moral, values and professional standards approach?
Trust is built on exposing vulnerability. Perhaps organisations and us as individuals have become too risk adverse, or selfish. It is also possible that over-reliance on tangible measures and targets is the problem.

Evidence from recent school and hospital problems would support this view. It may be as simple as the desire to remove cost and drive profit has gone too far. Everyone will have their views and, in sharing their experiences, will draw their own conclusions and come to their own solutions.

From The QoE, March 2013, ‘Developing the Confidence to Deliver a Trustworthy Customer Experience’