Monday, November 14, 2011

Where Do You Find Your Inspiration For A Great Customer Experience?

I was talking with someone the other day and was asked what companies inspired me in their ability to provide an awe-inspiring customer experience. The person asked me "Is it Apple? Virgin Airlines? Companies like those?"

I let him know that I find my examples of a great customer experience in the most unlikely places.

Case in point.....

I know it's a delicate subject, but I recently had to visit a local endoscopy center for a colonoscopy and as I sat awaiting my turn, I noticed how the nurses interacted with the patients. Knowing that the experience they were about to go through was not the most pleasant, the nurses went out of their way to help patients feel at ease as they were called into the procedure room. But most important and impressive was what happened when patients had finished their examine.

The nurses assigned to each patient went out of their way to make sure each patient was personally escorted to their car. They would come out of the procedure room into the waiting area and let the person know accompanying the patient that they were finished and they could bring the car around to the entrance. The nurse then went back, brought the patient out, and walked all the way to the car with them, insuring that the last few minutes of their visit were marked with a care and empathy you don't often see from the healthcare profession.

I thought to myself that nowhere in the standard job definition of a nurse was it documented that the patient care didn't end until they were physically out of the building and that escorting them to their car was a "job requirement". Yet this facility knew that how they treated their patients after the procedure was as important as their care and comfort before and during.

A great customer experience doesn't end when the sale is complete, or the customer hangs up the phone. Going the extra mile after the transaction is over is what truly defines "world-class" in my book, and it's people and companies like this that really inspire me!

I'd love to hear others thoughts. Where do you find the inspiration to motivate your teams to provide that "awe-inspiring" customer experience?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Are You Aligned on Your Customer Experience?

The next time you are in a meeting with colleagues or heads of the other departments in your company, try this fun exercise!

Have everyone around the table take a minute and jot down the three words that come to their minds that best describe your company’s customer experience. Now share!

The customer experience is built across every touch point that spans the entire customer lifecycle. Yet in most cases, organizations are functionally aligned with each focusing on delivering a great experience from their area. Sounds like a recipe for success, right?

But what if the first two examples from the staff are “ease of onboarding” and “no hassle service”? Are these two definitions in alignment with each other? Certainly they both stand alone as good goals to have for your customer experience.

So then I sign up for your service, put in a user name and password, and immediately begin using the product. How easy was that! But then the first time I have a question and call for support, I spend the first 10 minutes of my call giving my name, where I’m located, what industry I’m in, the size of my company, etc. to the Customer Support rep. In this scenario, the delivery on one definition of the optimal customer experience torpedoed the other.

Innovation of products and services is all well and good, but first be clear on the customer experience you intend to deliver. Alignment across your management team is a critical first step!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How do you value the Customer Experience Executive role?

A week or so ago, I was having a conversation with the SVP of Customer Service for a well known SaaS software company when the conversation turned to determining what value a Customer Experience Officer role would bring to their organization. This was a company that clearly gets the importance of the total customer experience, but had not quite reached a size where they felt a full time role was justified.

The conversation hounded me for days. And as I thought about how a company justifies the creation of a full time customer experience executive position, these are the questions I imagine are often asked.

Q. “We already measure Customer Satisfaction and Net Promoter, isn’t that enough?”

Satisfying customers will always be important. Think about it! No customer becomes loyal without first being satisfied. But Customer Satisfaction metrics only represent a customer’s opinion of you at that moment in time instead of looking at your entire body of work. These metrics can often times be discrete measures of specific touch points, such as “how satisfied are you with our product” or “rate your satisfaction with our Knowledge Base”. A customer may rate each of these isolated interactions high, but what if the experience of going from the product to the KB is kludge?

Remember, satisfied customers will always come back to see what you have to offer but also are just as likely to check out your competitor! Building a complete customer experience that creates loyalty will keep them from shopping elsewhere!

Q. “We already have someone responsible for User Experience. Aren’t they one in the same?”

A User is just that: someone using your product or service. A Customer is someone continuously evaluating you based on the total experience.

Not long ago I gave a presentation where I describe the overall Customer Experience as similar to being engaged. Both represent:

• a commitment to a long-term relationship,
• being proactively involved in the relationship, and
• having an emotionally, psychologically, and physically connection.

Someone using your product or service may like what’s right in front of them but not necessarily be committed to the long term. Almost like “Yeah, he/she is fun to hang out with, but I wouldn’t bring them home to meet my parents”. Someone in your organization needs to be looking at the total lifecycle of touch points your customers have with you, not just how to go seamlessly from screen to screen in your product.

Q. “We’re already a customer-focused company from the top down. What can an executive responsible for the Customer Experience offer?”

It’s hard to believe anyone would dispute the long-term value of a superior customer experience. Many studies have been done quantifying increases in retention and revenue from companies that exhibit world-class effort on achieving an awe-inspiring customer experience. But the ROI doesn’t have to take years to realize. Making the leap to dedicate someone full time can bring immediate, short-term benefits companies often overlook.

Companies may have top-down commitment on being customer focused but is their alignment amongst the executives and senior managers on exactly what that means? People may be working hard to build a great customer experience within their own silos but the glue that holds them all together is a well-defined customer experience roadmap. With the input from others, a customer experience executive can bring exceptional focus to defining and shaping that roadmap and clarity and organization to achieving success.

Sustainability of customer experience improvement efforts is always a challenge. Kick off meetings and initial efforts to begin making improvements can soon lose their momentum as people go begin slowly gravitating back to their day jobs. Unfettered by anything else, the customer experience executive’s “day job” is just that: making sure the organization’s commitment to the roadmap remains top of mind.

And finally, there’s always the bottom line! Accountability for defining and measuring results is often overlooked on cross-functional efforts to improve the total customer experience. And while the customer experience executive can provide that single “ring-able neck” for the definition and reporting of customer experience improvements, it does not necessarily make them solely accountable for the results achieved. In a company that defines themselves as “already focused on the customer experience from the top down”, everyone from the executives on down are responsible for the actual results!

Companies at the top of the lists for revenue growth and customer satisfaction already recognize the long-term value associated with a dedicated executive at the helm of the customer experience. But they didn’t wait to achieve these results before bringing them aboard!

Can your company afford not to have someone with their “hands on the wheel” today?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Customer Vulnerability

The goal of any business is to successfully create a secure, long-term relationship with their customer and ultimately win their loyalty. Along the way, you need to keep the customer on that “happy path” but also manage them through the pitfalls that can put the customer “at risk”.

But the one thing companies often miss is recognizing when the customer relationship becomes "vulnerable". Vulnerability doesn't happen because of a poor service interaction or an incorrect billing transaction. And vulnerability isn’t always easy to see, often times festering under the surface of what appears to be a stable relationship. What usually creates vulnerability is the deterioration of the relationship over time where no clear value is ever established.

A great example of this can be found in customer loyalty programs, especially in the travel and hospitality industry.

While my work has me traveling with some regularity, I'm not the commensurate road warrior, flying out every week on Sunday night and returning home Thursday. But when I do travel, I make a point to try and book flights with United and hotels with Marriott as I am a member of their frequent traveler programs.

My recent trip to San Francisco began with an upgrade request to United first class using my frequent flier points. When I arrived at the airport gate I was greeted with an electronic sign indicated I was 34th in line for an upgrade. Funny thing was, as I continued to watch the sign I saw other names being added to the list in front of mine.

Obviously those people who have achieved platinum status are treated with a higher priority and I get that. But what about people like me trying to achieve that level? How do you think they feel as they watch other people jump ahead in the queue? Vulnerable?

On the other hand, Marriott continues to get it. I don't have a ton of points with their rewards program but when I arrived at my hotel in San Francisco I was greeted warmly, acknowledged as a Marriott Rewards member, and given a room on the highest level with a nice view of the city. I perceive value in my relationship with Marriott through their rewards program and continue to make them a priority when booking reservations.

My frustration with United, however continues to grow; slowly and silently. For my upcoming trip to Denver, both United and Jet Blue offer non-stop flights and this time I'm going with Jet Blue. Not because they were cheaper, but because United doesn’t seem to put much value on my loyalty. I also find it ironic to be inundated with credit card offers from United with the promise of “more points to be used for travel rewards”. But given my perception of United's opinion of me and my point balance, do they really think I'm interested in deepening the relationship?

I think not!

With Marriott, it’s the continuous journey down the happy path to rewards. With United, it’s all about the destination, regardless of the turbulence along the way. Who would you choose to be loyal to?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Saying "Bon Voyage" to Your Customers

As service professionals, we all understand the commitment and effort needed to acquire new and retain our existing customers. But what about the customer who has decided to leave? What do we typically do for them?

In his book “It’s Your Ship”, Michael Abrashoff talked about how important it was to give a warm send off and thank you for Navy personnel who served under him but opted not to re-enlist. On other ships in the fleet, these people typically just packed their gear and left. But the author went out of his way to make sure a full-scale recognition of their contributions and duty to their country was provided to his staff.
Why did he do this? Simple! He wanted to make sure the servicemen/women under his command left with a positive impression of their tour of duty, knowing that if he did these people would speak positively to others about their experience in the service, which in turn, might inspire someone else to enlist.

The same holds true with our customers.

We recently received a very nice email from a customer who had contacted our Support team to cancel her service. Her business was shutting down and as a result she no longer needed our service. In the email, the customer expressed her gratitude for the service provided by our support associate who closed the account. The customer went out of her way to tell us that the rep was courteous, efficient, handled her cancellation cheerfully, and even went above and beyond to help the customer download critical information out of our system and get a refund for the unused balance on her account!

At the end of her email, she let us know how much she enjoyed using our service and would “definitely recommend your company to business owners who I know could benefit from using your service”.

We put so much effort into “on-boarding” a new customer, maybe it’s time to start thinking about how you “off-board” customer when they leave. Give them the proper send-off and they can still act as your “good will ambassador” !

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Are Your Customers in Good Hands After Hours?

Cultivating a relationship with your customers takes time, effort, and money. And with the economy the way it is these days, holding on to your existing customers while “Wow-ing” your new customers is a real challenge.

So who takes care of your customers after hours?

I use an online backup service for my personal computer at home. I signed up for the service over a year ago and enjoyed that sense of security every time I saw that an automated backup of the hard drive was happening.

Well as luck would have it, my computer crashed a few weeks back and despite numerous attempts to bring it back to life, I was forced to reload the Vista operating system on my Dell PC. Everything went fine but as a result, the hard drive was wiped clean. No worries, since I knew that backups were happening on a regular basis.

I sat down one evening and went to the company’s website to start the restore process. After making numerous attempts to log in and being told that my login name was not found, I jumped into the Customer Support online chat room to get help. Panic stricken, I explained to the rep that I had set up the account over a year ago but was unable to log in. The rep looked through the database and said they had no record of an account under any of the possible user names I provided.

At this point my blood began to boil. I explained to the rep in excruciating detail that the account was given to me free of charge by their VP of Customer Support as a professional courtesy. I made it clear that the software had always been running in my system tray and that backups were occurring on a regular basis. What I got from the rep was an apathetic response that “Well, I can’t find the account using the names you gave me so I can’t help you”.

Long story short, I contacted the VP of Customer Support who hooked me up with one of their Support Supervisors who worked during the day. Turns out my account was established on a beta site with a different URL than the one I was using. It was a simple mistake on my part and once I access that site, I was able to log in and restore my data without a hitch.

In the course of conversation with the Supervisor, I learned that their after hours support was contracted out to a third party organization. In my mind this explained a lot with the lack of empathy and concern from the night chat staff I dealt with. They showed no sense of urgency to my situation (tax returns, financial documents, health care information, my entire music library and 15+ years of digital photos all gone?), and after repeated attempts to have my situation escalated to a supervisor my chat session was abruptly disconnected (all documented BTW!).

Holding your outsourcing company to the same standards of performance as you would your own employees is a critical step toward building a true “world-class” customer support organization. All of the cost benefits associated with outsourcing will walk out the door (as I almost did!) if you don’t!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Little Intimacy Goes A Long Way

I'll bet some of you saw that title and thought "I wonder where this one is going..."

While travelling on business last week, I stayed at the Embassy Suites in Loveland, Colorado. With our remote call center located there, we spend a fair amount of time in Loveland and have a partnership with the Embassy making them our “hotel of choice”.

An interesting thing happened while I was checking out last week. The employee behind the desk asked me several probing questions about my stay. It wasn’t the typical “How was your stay?” but deeper questions like “Did you enjoy the free breakfast in the morning”. “How was the coffee in your room”, and “Did you have enough space to work comfortably?”.

How often do we hear at the end of a restaurant meal the same old question, “How was your dinner?” On many occasions I’ve answered the waiter/waitress politely and with a smile on my face “It was just okay” and it always amazes me how the comment goes unnoticed.

Creating a sense of intimacy with your customer helps develop a synergy that lets them know you vested in their best interests, that you take responsibility for their success. Embassy Suites probably understands that the business traveler looks at their hotel as a true “home away from home” and if they’re not comfortable with all aspects of their stay, they’ll go elsewhere. As much as I’d like to be out hitting the town when I travel, the reality is that evenings are usually spent getting caught up on your day job. And if I can’t feel comfortable and be productive in my hotel, I’m going to find somewhere else where I can.

Customer intimacy is all about taking a level of responsibility for customer results. It means understanding what they need from you for them to be successful. It goes beyond asking “how can I help you” and more toward “tell me how I can make you more successful today”.

Developing that intimate relationship with your customer, even through a 7-minute phone call, moves them beyond being “satisfied” to becoming “raving” fans. It takes customers beyond feeling good about you and the products/services you offer to them feeling good about themselves as a result of doing business with you. Done well, customers will find you more than a trusted vendor/provider, they’ll see you as an indispensable business partner!