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August 2014
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Joseph's Blog

How Sorry Are You? Keys to Driving Satisfaction While Resolving Customer Issues

In addition to their products and services, I am a fan of Zendesk because they openly share pertinent customer experience information.  Unlike others who report customer experience results, Zendesk’s data is not the byproduct of surveys but instead emerges from customer interactions with over 25,000 businesses in 140 countries.  Here are some high level findings from Zendesk’s recently released Q2 report:

When a customer contacts a business with a complaint, customer satisfaction decreases with the frequent use of the word “sorry.”  While sorry has it’s place in resolving a customer’s issue, frequent use of the word can signal that solutions are not being generated by the company’s representative.

Closing off your communication with a customer is obviously an important transition point; particularly, after a service issue has been addressed.   According to the Zendesk report, “When looking at the sign-off in the last public comment made by an agent to customer, it appears that specific word choices can impact customer satisfaction…The use of a valediction—specifically ‘Yours sincerely, ‘Best regards,’ and ‘Cheers’—are all better options than other choices, or none at all. Customers want personalization, and a personalized sign-off can be a great reminder to the customer that they are speaking with a human. However, and perhaps oddly, customers appear to have an aversion to the phrase ‘Best wishes.’ It’s difficult to draw any conclusive lessons from this. But it is clear that small details like this can have a serious impact. Tracking these details and learning from them—in this case, avoiding “Best wishes”—is more important than you might realize.”

How often are you or your company’s representative saying, “I’m sorry” to a customer?  Customers want you to acknowledge the problem and fix it and not repeatedly apologize for the problems existence.

In the spirit of the Zendesk study, I take my leave this week by simply saying “with gratitude and enthusiasm.”

How to Create Experiences through Personalization, Sharing, and Social Platforms

I am sure it is not news to you that Coca Cola has been facing declining sales numbers for a considerable stretch thanks to consumers who are less inclined to want sugar based carbonated drinks.  That trend notwithstanding, Coke’s global presence and marketing strength have allowed it to offset many of the company’s revenue losses in places like the US with growth in other parts of the world.

In an effort to get at least a seasonal boost in sales across America, Coca Cola’s recent marketing campaign has some rather important lessons for all businesses today.  Coca Cola calls their effort the “Summer of Sharing” and it comes together in three important dimensions:

Personalization – getting on a first name basis with consumers

Sharing – Associating your product in a gifting or positive moments context

Social – Building ways for customers to engage with one another through social and digital platforms

From the perspective of personalization, Coke has removed its logo from 20 oz. bottles and replaced their name with the 250 most popular millennial names.  It has also added the words “Share a Coke with….” to the bottle label.  In essence, we are encouraged to buy a Coke and share it with a person we know whose name is printed on the bottle.  Stuart Kronauge, senior vice president, sparkling brands, for Coca-Cola North America puts it this way “Summer is the perfect time to get together with others and share moments of happiness over an ice-cold Coke at barbecues, sporting events, family reunions, amusement park outings and other gatherings…Now, enjoying a Coke with your name on it and sharing the occasion with someone else makes these moments even more special.”

The final component of this campaign that warrants our attention is the integration of social media platforms. For example, the newly created www.shareacoke.com website allows consumers to personalize virtual bottles of Coke and share them on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram.  Use of the #ShareaCoke hashtag, allows members of the Twittersphere to post photos and stories in the hope they can appear on interactive Coke billboards across America. If you have the free Coca-Cola Freestyle mobile app on your phone you can scan a QR code on a fountain dispenser’s touch screen that will result in $1 off coupon for a 20 oz. Coke being sent to a friend.

Early reports suggest this Share a Coke campaign is having a lift on sales this summer….what are you doing to create experiences that personalize, encourage sharing, and offer social platforms that integrate with product or service offerings?

Renewing Commitment to Customer Experience – A Cost-Saving Approach

In many parts of the US, back to school begins weeks before the first nip of autumn can be felt in the air. It is a season that inspires lifelong learning, seeing things differently, and replacing the antiquated with the fresh.

In this spirit of reconsideration and renewal I just read research scientist Peter Kriss’s piece, The Value of Customer Experience, Quantified, about his study exploring if and how it is possible to quantify the impact of exemplary and not-so-stellar customer experiences.  He writes; “the rationale we often hear for not investing to deliver a great experience is that the cost is high.  Speaking to executives inside these businesses, however, we often hear the opposite.  That is: delivering great experiences actually reduces the cost to serve customers from what it was previously.  Unhappy customers are expensive — being, for example, more likely to return products or more likely to require support. Systematically solve the source of dissatisfaction, you don’t just make them more likely to return — you reduce the amount they cost you to serve.  For example, Sprint has gone on record as suggesting that as part of their focus on improving the customer experience, they’ve managed to reduce their customer care costs by as much as 33%.”

Peter Kriss’ findings should dispel any myths and misconceptions alive in your organization that serving your customers better is cost prohibitive.  Isn’t this season of renewal, a great time to “go back to school” and invest in the experience you deliver?

Walk A Mile In Their Shoes – Mapping Your Customers’ Journey

Sometimes we are too close to something – a process, an idea, a product or service – to see it with true, objective clarity and perspective.  This can be especially (and paradoxically) true when a notion is born from our own brains.  We think we know what it looks, smells and feels like to be a customer consuming the goods or services we offer.  But do we?  Lets suppose your goods or services are of a complex or technical nature.  Can you momentarily erase the industry lingo and specifications you know backwards and forwards to accurately assess the ease by which a layperson approaches and interacts with your business and its offerings?

A customer journey map is one tool that can help you see your business from an outsider’s perspective.  Harvard Business Review Blog contributor Adam Richardson summarizes it beautifully in Using Customer Journey Maps to Improve Customer Experience: “A customer journey map is a very simple idea: a diagram that illustrates the steps your customer(s) go through in engaging with your company, whether it be a product, an online experience, retail experience, or a service, or any combination.  The more touchpoints you have, the more complicated — but necessary — such a map becomes.  Sometimes customer journey maps are ‘cradle to grave,’ looking at the entire arc of engagement…  At other times, journey maps are used to look at very specific customer-company interactions.”

Why might your business consider this type of mapping?  In the CMS Wire article Make the Most of Customer Journey Mapping, Maria Boos of global branding firm Siegel+Gale writes about the need to “invest in customer research to identify true needs, actual behaviors, and real hits or misses in usability…  When you compare those true customer insights to the journey map of the current customer experience, you suddenly see where it’s a good fit … and where it’s not.  This will show the gaps between the business-centric view and the customer-centric approach.  This layered view will help you set priorities, validate or refute internal opinions, and mediate conflicting agendas across business units.  After all, the customer is always right!”

While I personally am not convinced that the customer is “always right”, I know they always are the customer and as such need to be heard, understood, and valued. In other words, our perspective from within is not always indicative of reality for our customers on the outside.  Both parties benefit when we adjust and remedy the misalignment.  Has your business mapped your customers’ journey?  What revelations came forth?

While I have helped leaders map customer journeys more times than I can count, I continue to be amazed at what is learned and improved upon when we walk in our customers shoes.

Forging a Digital Connection of Trust and Relevance

Many business leaders have a love/hate relationship with technology.  On the one hand, technological advances offer great business opportunities.  On the other hand, the infrastructure costs associated with technology shifts and the rapid pace of technological change pose strategic and operational challenges.  Although some business leaders fall in love with technology for technology’s sake leaders at Starbucks, the topic of my latest book Leading the Starbucks Way, love their customers and appreciate the relationship those customers have with technology.  As such Starbucks has designed very functional digital, social, and mobile tools.  In the words of Howard Schultz, you have to “run with people in the way they run their lives.”

To that end, Starbucks is exploring a way to accept pre or “express” orders through their mobile app, giving customers the ability to both order and pay before they even enter the store.  If you live in San Francisco you might have already taken advantage of this technology at La Boulange, the chain of bakeries that Starbucks acquired in 2012.  At the core of Starbucks’ successful digital strategy are several interrelated areas that all business leaders should consider when they are attempting to connect with customers from the broad mass market to the one-to-one. The five key components of digital strategy are:

(1) commerce

(2) company-owned web and mobile channels

(3) loyalty/customer relationship management  (CRM)/targeted database

(4) social media

(5) paid digital marketing

By paying close attention to the reality that consumers value their time above most anything else, Starbucks’ focus on using technology to ease wait times tackles elements of the first three components.  Starbucks’ current mobile app houses a customers’ Starbucks card(s), thus their membership in the My Starbucks Rewards loyalty program, and features a mechanism that allows the customer to pay for their purchase.  Taking that technology one step further to enable the customer to both place and pay for an order integrates commerce into their mobile channel in a whole new way.  If successfully launched, this is an example of a digital connection that boasts both trust and relevance.  Customers have shown a high degree of trust in both using the Starbucks app and in the product that will warm their hands as they leave the store.  Anyone who has waited in a line that is snaked out the door can appreciate the relevance of getting to that cup-in-hand moment faster.

As your business seeks to harness technology to enhance your customers’ experience remember the ever-important element of connection. Suppose you employ technology to improve the delivery of your product or service.  Consider whether doing so eliminated a point of interaction between your customers and employees.  If execution of your improvement-via-technology is not seamless, the net result can be an experience shrouded in disappointment.  Your customers seek engagement even as technology makes it possible to streamline and automate.

How would you assess your business’ success in forging a digital connection of trust and relevance?

Easy Wins

Ahhh, summer – a season of sunshine, valiant efforts to slow one’s life down, and vacation travel.  It’s hard not to notice, however, how our great escape efforts are often marked by so much preparatory and participatory stress. Marketing guru (and a man who was kind enough to endorse my Zappos Experience book) Seth Godin recently posted fantastic tips to help reduce travel-induced anxiety. We as customers often accept the hassles inherent in travel, particularly air travel, as forgone conclusions. But why? While not known for being particularly customer-centric, even the airline industry seems to making some effort to reduce the pain points we all encounter.

The Wall Street Journal reports that JetBlue Airways has introduced automatic check-in for a select cohort of passengers. 24 hours in advance of their flight they will receive an email with a ready-to-print boarding pass and an option to download the airlines’ mobile boarding pass app. Armed with either one, that passenger is airport ready.

“”The idea of asking customers to jump an additional hurdle before their flight is an increasingly antiquated concept,” says Blair Koch, JetBlue Vice President Commercial and Shared Development Services. “By having the right systems in place, we can remove this step, and even help identify and prevent issues that can hinder customers from fully enjoying their travel experience.”

“JetBlue’s focus since day one of our launch has been about looking at the customer experience through a different lens and making the travel experience simpler and more enjoyable,” says Michael Stromer, JetBlue Vice President of Digital, Loyalty & Customer Insights. “Following our successful smartphone and mobile boarding pass launches, auto check-in is just another example of leveraging technology and common sense to make our customers’ travel experiences better.”

The return of common sense is refreshing, isn’t it? It is not that the customer “hurdle” of having to make your way to a computer to check in for a flight is all that difficult. It’s just that it is one-more-thing-to-do in the flurry of pre-departure activities. When you’re preparing to step out of your everyday life and responsibilities to take a trip, you know as well as I do that one-more-thing-to-do is the last thing you need.

What “rules” of engagement are at play in your industry?  How can your business create systems, like JetBlue, to erase or ease them for your customers?

My First (and possibly my last) Book Review – Hooked on Customers by Bob Thompson

As an author, it seems I am always on deadline with my own manuscripts.  This leaves me little more than the opportunity to write business related correspondence and a weekly blog.

Through the years, friends have asked me to provide reviews of their books and I have always apologetically declined.  If I feel strongly about a colleague’s book, I am usually able to cobble out a few sentence endorsement blurb that becomes part of the cover content and marketing campaign.

All that was said as a context piece for a review of Bob Thompson’s book Hooked on Customers – The Five Habits of Legendary Customer-Centric Companies.  To make this all the more strange, I realized I probably haven’t actually done a book review since high school and I am not even sure if I read that book.  I am sure that I didn’t find the joy in my high school reading and writing project that I did producing this in support of Bob’s book.

First a word about Bob and then a quick effort to pique your interest in his book.  I have known Bob for more years than either of us would want to count.  He first contacted me in the early days of his development of a blog site called Customerthink.com.  Not only have I had my blogs republished there through the years but I have watched him build a community of the world’s thought leaders.  To do this, he has invested tireless effort on the blog and is one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to “all things customer.”

In every dealing with Bob, he has demonstrated the very behaviors he offers up in Hooked on Customers, namely the consistent effort to:

Listen

Think

Empower

Create, and

Delight

While straightforward and crisp in their presentation in the book, Bob unpacks each habit thoughtfully and often with an interesting twist.  A clear example of his engaging analysis can be found in his assessment of why the architect behind the customer experience at Apple (Ron Johnson) failed to deliver an engaging experience at JCPenney or how Southwest Airlines made sure that their LEAN (process improvement program) was not MEAN when it came to customers.

I am sure my high school teacher would not have approved of this review (too personal, not in 5 paragraph expository writing format) but I know you will approve of “Hooked on Customers.”

Thanks, Bob, for your passion for customer experience and for giving us all a straightforward, engaging, though-provoking and actionable read!

Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy – Loving your Customer and your Message

Here’s an exercise for you. Try to go one day without seeing an advertising message. Ok, how about an hour? Some subtle, others overt, marketers are finding us in as unsuspecting of places as the bottom of golf holes. Every business is talking at customers. But what makes that chatter banal or brilliant?

For a while now, videos like Coca-Cola’s “Friendly Twist” campaign have ricocheted across social media. A refrigerator filled with Coke was placed in the center of a college campus on the first day of classes. Predictably, the freshmen were somewhat uneasy and weren’t talking to one another. Coke had dreamt up something to help break the ice. A few students approach the fridge for a Coke and discover they can’t open the bottle…unless the friendly twist cap is matched with another. Eye contact, aha moments and smiles ensue. “Open a Coke, open a new friendship” is the tag that appears across the screen. From engineering design to marketing execution, there is something awe-inspiring about this work. Current, yet nostalgic, you are so easily transported back to your freshman year, recalling the search for familiarity and belonging. You remember how uncertainty eclipsed the empowerment and freedom you thought you would be feeling during those first days.

Global advertising network Saatchi & Saatchi introduced us to the idea of lovemarks in the book Lovemarks – The Future Beyond Brands by CEO Kevin Roberts. It’s a book I have been talking about and quoting from for years. Lovemarks.com shares the “three intangible, yet very real ingredients” that characterizes a lovemark:

Mystery draws together stories, metaphors, dreams and symbols. It is where past, present and future become one.

Sensuality keeps the five senses on constant alert for new textures, intriguing scents and tastes, wonderful music. Sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste.

Intimacy means empathy, commitment and passion. The close connections that win intense loyalty as well as the small perfect gesture. These are often remembered long after functions and benefits have faded away.

This viral “Friendly Twist” video rings with these elements, endearing the brand to the viewer. How does your business’ advertising, and for that matter your brand experience, employ these ingredients to draw people into a “loving” relationship with your brand?

Why it’s in your own interest to forget your self-interest

The modern world inundates us with a constant flow of information.  Not wanting to miss anything, our tendency is to scan the clutter for ways to improve our businesses.  Studying best practices, following experts on Twitter, regularly checking in with our favorite bloggers, we ultimately seek to be better and do better by our customers.  Sometimes insights are cutting edge and bend thinking in new ways.  Other times we find activating perspectives in established works.

Founding partner of BrandingBusiness.com, Ray Baird, shares the best of timeless wisdom in an interview with August Turak.  Author of Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO’s Quest for Meaning and Authenticity, Turak is an entrepreneur and executive who has been a monastic guest of the Trappist monks for nearly twenty years.  Through the lens of service to our customers and building a beloved brand, a particularly resonant part of their conversation follows:

Turak: The monks don’t have a brand; they are their brand. So every person that comes in contact with them, in every single way, encounters quality—quality in the way they’re treated in the line to get food, the way their room is clean; if you’re a guest, the way your room has been cleaned for you. Every single thing. They are their brand; they live it.

Baird: What other branding lessons can we learn from the monks…?

Turak: When I looked up the word piety, it comes from the Latin word for duty. The monks are not just pious towards God; they also have a sense of duty towards everyone.

Duty is out of style in our society, but if you want to have a great brand you think a lot about, “What is my duty to my customers?”

…probably the most important <thing>, is trust. Authenticity, to me, is having a brand that people can trust. And the monks are tremendously trustworthy people. If they tell you they’re going to do something, they’re going to do that.

The next thing is consistency. The whole monastic way of life is built on a consistent, methodical, day after day, living the life. If you’re consistently giving people every single day the best that you’ve got to offer, you’re going to have a great brand.

…<There is a> [Trappist] beer in Belgium that the Wall Street Journal says is the best in the world. They don’t have any labels on the bottles. They do no advertising, no marketing. People line up in cars for miles to get two cases, which is all you’re allowed. That’s a real illustration of how powerful a brand can become if people believe in you.

Turak so poignantly remarks, “The most important thing that I learned is, it is in your own self-interest to forget your self-interest.  The monks’ entire way of life is dedicated to what I call service and selflessness.”

As a customer experience consultant, I have regularly said, “service serves us.”  It is in the losing oneself to service that service professionalism thrives.  If you don’t believe me open a Trappist beer or chat with a Trappist monk… then give me a call!

How to Balance Service Standards with Empowerment

I recently had a conversation with someone who just changed customer-facing jobs. Beyond the dynamics of salary, benefits, and the myriad of other factors that influenced her decision to move on to the next professional opportunity, the way she described her former position stuck with me: “I didn’t like that I couldn’t see customer issues through to resolution.”  A customer would bring a problem to her attention and she, per policy, would be required to pass it up the customer resolution chain to be handled…or not, as was sometimes the case.  As someone who takes exemplary initiative, she was dissatisfied operating within a system that didn’t allow her to build relationships with customers by personally delivering solutions in those critical service-recovery moments.  Most discouraging was her realization that when those in the ranks above her did not handle issues promptly, appropriately, or at all, the customer perceived her to be unresponsive, apathetic, unmotivated, or lazy.  Understandably, this protocol would drain the morale out of most anybody.

A respected colleague of mine, Micah Solomon, author of High-Tech High-Touch Customer Service writes on Forbes.com, “Standards help ensure that every part of your service reflects the best way your company knows to perform it—a prescription that your autonomously performing employees can then feel free to adapt to suit the needs and wishes, expressed or unexpressed, of the customers they’re actually facing at the moment.”

Yes, there is a degree of trust and confidence you must have in your front-line staff to empower them with autonomy.  Sometimes the endless damage control procedures that seem to involve the entire chain of command are simply control mechanisms – an effort to ensure that your business’ service standards are met reasonably consistently, regardless of who was working the front desk.  In other words – they are thought to prevent folks from going rouge and thus screwing anything up too badly.  You can see how demeaning this thinking can be to the engaged employees who are on the floor, behind the desk, on the phone – interacting with customers most regularly.

Ask yourself:  Are your service standards static expressions that describe an ideal customer interaction?  Or, do your standards provide a framework to help front-line employees discern how they can personally and promptly make it right for a customer in the not-so-ideal interactions?  Standards that provide employees with functional tools to guide their judgment when faced with issues are a relatively low-risk, high-reward way to improve both your customer and employee experiences.

If you hire talent, set guard rails as to what is acceptable, and then let your team members improvise to solve problems – YOU, YOUR team members, and YOUR customers WIN!