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September 2014
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Joseph's Blog

More Freedom Considered for Virgins: Empower Through Trust

Okay, the title may be somewhat misleading, but Richard Branson has announced a policy for a small number of employees at the Virgin Group. Essentially he is copying something that is occurring quite frequently among tech companies in the Silicon Valley and just so happens to be practiced in my company as well. Okay, get to the point, Joseph. That practice is allowing select employees to take as much vacation time as they choose. On the face of this, it sounds like a disastrous human resource strategy. Once you open up the hen-house, all the chickens will be gone. In truth, at my company, for example, the most committed and dedicated staff need to be encouraged to take personal time. Moreover the freedom and autonomy granted to them produces incalculable levels of engagement and productivity. Borrowing from the work of Daniel Pink and his breakthrough book, Drive, most human beings are motivated by purpose, mastery, and autonomy. While I do not encourage this as a business practice for every individual and every organization, in my company and as it’s being considered at Virgin and Netflix, select individuals who already demonstrate a powerful work ethic should be managed based on projects, not time. In a world where the boundary between personal and work life has been seriously blurred by smart phones and technology, why wouldn’t you wish to give the respect, authority, and autonomy of scheduling work time and vacation time to your highest producers? If you’re worried about people abusing the policy, they are probably the wrong people to whom the policy should be applied. By contrast, people who take a true ownership stake in your business will likely under utilize time off, even if its provided on a buffet.

To Tattoo or Not to Tattoo? – Starbucks, Ink, & Customer Experience

“Cover your tattoos!” That’s the current policy at Starbucks (and for that matter many other businesses).

Partners (the Starbucks term for employees – more on that in my recent book Leading the Starbucks Way) are hired without prejudice for tattoos; they just can’t be visible to customers. Now the company is reconsidering its policy and if Starbucks makes the change, it is logical to conclude many other employers will follow suit.

So how did this reconsideration process begin at Starbucks? It started with a question from Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, asking partners how their careers could be improved. One of the risks of asking such a question is that you have to seriously consider and respond to the input you receive and in Starbucks case that input included a sizable response concerning the freedom to bare ink.

While I personally have not sought to express my individuality through tattoos, my hunch is Starbucks will and should change its policy. I know the leadership at Starbucks and they know the importance of partner engagement to the delivery the experience they seek. Their employee and customer base will not be aghast with visible tattoos on baristas and few, if any, customers will turn away from the brand for a reversal on this policy.

Companies who select and hire people only to tell them to hide a part of themselves at work might think about changing their selection criteria as opposed to developing policies to quell the spirit and individuality of those hired. That’s my two cents…what do you think?

A Lesson Your Business Could Learn from the Ray Rice Video

I will leave it for others to opine about Ray Rice, his wife, and the NFL. But as a customer experience consultant there are two important business lessons to take from this horrific situation. Assume every customer interaction is being videotaped and appreciate the power of viral video.

When I was a kid my dad was quick to say, “never do anything that you wouldn’t want to read about in the newspaper.” That “dadism,” while dated, applies more than ever in a world fueled by stories secured with the ease of pushing a button on a phone. One doesn’t have to look far to find a bevvy of YouTube videos where customers capture images of their telephone screen depicting a 2 and 1/2 hour hold time on call. The audio you hear is often the repetitious “someone will be with you shortly.” I recently shared the stage with Dave Carroll who has literally launched a speaking career and even written a customer service book based on his YouTube video/song titled United Breaks Guitars (sharing how United Airlines broke and did not replace his Taylor guitar).

Treating a customer badly doesn’t necessarily end with them grumbling to a few friends and family members. This week we all experienced the impact of video evidence. Moving images shaped and changed perceptions and fueled outrage.

I have never been one to advocate striving for exceptional customer service delivery to avert consequences such as negative customer services videos. We should serve one another well because it is the right thing to do.

Thanks to the technology of today, we must assume that whatever we do (good or bad) will be seen, captured and shared!

Pregnancy to Birth in 6 seconds – Customer Experience and the Short Attention Span

Ian Padgham one of the creative geniuses at Origiful may be the only person who has shrunk an entire pregnancy and delivery to 6 seconds.  If you haven’t seen it already, check it out

Ok so his wife, Claire, actually went through a normal birth and delivery but the rest of us (and literally that means more than 18 million loops of this Vine video to date) get to experience the process in 6 seconds.  Meticulous work went into this piece with his wife standing in the exact same spot, month after month but the video typifies the short attention span of our consumers and ourselves. (By the way, are you still reading or am I writing to myself?)

Ian’s company Origiful is a creative production firm that only provides “short form content for the web” and his client list includes Visa, Twitter, Sony, and Ford.

Whether it’s catching our consumer’s attention amid the clutter of information on the web or helping them move in the direction of a purchase upon entry to a retail store, customers are expecting us to deliver in seconds not minutes.

So my challenge to you is, if pregnancy and birth can happen in 6 seconds, where should you be streamlining your messaging to instantly grab and hold your customer’s attention?

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?