Thanks to Sara and Bonnie for having me as a guest on their Meaningful Content Mixer podcast to talk about Customer Experience in the Real World and my recent book “ CX Trinity: Customers, Content, Context”.
I’m delighted to announce that my third book from the fine folks at XML Press will be available soon. Keep a look out for CX TRINITY: CUSTOMERS, CONTENT, CONTEXT collection of 52 essays presenting my musings and observations on the evolving customer experience.
It all started with a new Christmas decoration my wife had set her heart on. She’d been back and forth wondering if she should buy it. Last weekend, we found ourselves back in the store, where she eventually decided it would be ideal for a space on the hallway table.
And so we found ourselves at the register, ready to pay for the new decoration. As is the case at most stores these days, the transaction was processed through a payment terminal card reader. You know, the sort where you can either insert or slide your card, or sometimes even wave your phone over it to pay for goods. It was no different from the hundreds of other terminals that we have encountered when shopping: In addition to the places where you could physically insert your card, it had a nice screen, a keypad and an electronic touch pen.
All went well until my wife got to a screen asking her to confirm the amount. The green OK icon on the screen was an exact image of the green OK button on the keypad, so she pressed the button on the keypad. Several times. Nothing happened. I tried it too. Still nothing happened. At which point the sales associate smiled and said, “Oh, everyone does that. You need to press the OK on the touchscreen.”
An Experience Problem
There was no text on the screen to indicate that it was active, so why in that case was the OK icon made to look exactly like the corresponding button on the keypad? Or why wasn’t the system designed to accept input from either the screen or the keypad?
If “everyone” tries the keypad first, then you have an experience problem.
Two steps later, after my wife had inserted her debit card, the screen flashed up a question asking what sort of card it was. Why didn’t it recognize the card from the data swipe? The list of options it gave for the card type were clearly being driven from a backend financial system and the terms it used had no relevance to the average shopper. The sales associate had a cheat-sheet that allowed her to identify the correct response needed for the average bank-issued debit card.
If you are presenting everyday consumers with professional jargon that an employee has to translate, then you have an experience problem.
Focus on the Needs of the User
As these sort of encounters tend to do, our shopping trip got me thinking about customer experience technology.
It used to be that most technology interfaces with a customer interaction point were system-specific: One type of action being served and captured by one piece of technology. However, as the customer experience technology stack has evolved, we now have single interaction points that are either driven by, or feed, multiple backend systems. We also have, as is the case with the payment terminal, interfaces being developed that combine different ways of entering responses or acknowledging actions.
When to use which action, and which technology to use, can be a difficult trade-off, but more often than not we find those decisions are being driven by the limitations of the technology rather than the needs of the user. By the time my wife had finished paying for her decoration, she had used the screen, the keypad and the pen. Why did that transaction need three separate types of action, when it all could have been done on a touchscreen?
Experience Should Inform Design
I’ve long been a believer that system limitations shouldn’t drive the experience. Rather, the experience should inform the system’s design.
As the technology stack continues to evolve, we shouldn’t be throwing new technologies at individual problems, we should be taking a holistic outside-in view of how those new solutions will impact the way our customers do business with us. I realize that may not always be practical, but it’s a philosophy we should strive for when developing and implementing customer experience technology.
This is the season when we get to wish for a better world, and I’d like us to move toward one where the customer experience is a seamless, frictionless affair driven by great innovative technology.
By the way, my wife was right: The new decoration looks perfect on the hallway table. Happy holidays!
A recent conversation reminiscing about those far-off days when we could go out to eat and attend all sorts of types of entertainment reminded me of a couple of customer experiences in the fast-food world that left an impression – not always good.
A Hot and Cold Customer Experience
On the way to a concert one evening, my wife and I stopped to grab a quick meal at one of our regular Tex-Mex fast-food restaurants. After patiently waiting in line, we got to the front and the server asked, “Can you wait a few minutes while I fill these online orders?”
I was not impressed with them giving priority to online customers over those who took the time and effort to be in the store, so I tweeted my displeasure. By the time we were sitting in our seats at the concert an hour later I had received an apologetic response from the company’s social media team and a promise to follow up.
The follow up was an email on Monday with a generic “please rate your experience” survey attached. The good feeling created by the social media team’s quick response was undermined by the apparent disconnect with the customer service process.
Bland Food, Seasoned Service
Contrast that to another occasion when I ordered delivery from another local fast-food chain. They emailed me when the order left the restaurant with a link to an interactive app where I could actually track the driver’s progress towards our house.
The food arrived ahead of schedule, hot and well presented with a print out on each container with the details of each individual order. But it wasn’t as tasty as we felt it should be based on our in-store experience — none of the food had enough of the sauces that give the chain its distinct flavor.
The following day I had a survey call from them too. Not a generic email, not even a robocall automated survey, but an actual person who listened. When I mentioned the lack of flavor she said she’d pass it on. An hour later I had a call from the manager of the local restaurant asking for details of why we weren’t 100 percent satisfied with the taste of our meals.
Guess which chain will get our service next time we want some fast food?
Suffering From Survey Fatigue
There’s a well-worn saying that we have two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we speak. Too many companies use surveys to try and measure the customer experience, and in doing so say they are listening to, and capturing, the voice of the customer. But the truth is that these don’t really work.
We are all suffering from survey fatigue. Every single store on a recent shopping trip asked us to fill in a survey by going to a URL the sales associate helpfully circled on the receipt. It sometimes feels as if you can’t undertake any retail transaction these days without being surveyed.
And how many of these do you fill in, or respond to? I’ve seen and heard industry statistics that suggest that up to 90 percent of customer experience surveys are ignored. Why?
Some of the most common reasons for the low response rates include:
Too many surveys from too many sources
Sending surveys after too much time has elapsed since the customer’s interaction
Expecting the customer to initiate the action (i.e. “Please go to this website and let us know what you thought”)
Customers don’t see any changes due to the feedback they give, so they stop giving it.
The last point speaks to the heart of the problem: companies are collecting data, but they are not listening to what the customer is saying.
A survey on voice-of-the-customer programs revealed that:
75 percent of companies are only collecting or analyzing data without deriving many actionable insights
46 percent are only collecting data without analyzing or doing anything relevant with it
23 percent collaborate around this data with other groups
Only 2 percent transform their business using collected data and insights derived from it.
The ‘What’ and ‘Why’ of Customer Experience
How can you change that? Firstly by acknowledging there are two distinct types of questions you can ask in order to measure the customer experience: “What?” and “Why?”
“What” questions may be the best way to capture data. They pose questions such as: What is the level of customer satisfaction? What is the likelihood to recommend? By collecting answers to these and similar questions, surveys can provide answers related to why satisfaction ratings are high or low but are often without context.
“Why” questions provide context and sentiment: Why is this customer calling? Why is that customer pleased or upset? Why, exactly, does this customer want to return, cancel or upgrade? Interaction data includes customers’ open cases, phone calls, helpdesk tickets, sales orders or any other customer interaction information that gets recorded and tracked.
In order to derive the most meaningful insights from collected data, companies need not only to understand the “what” and the “why” of customer interactions, but must also be able to correlate the two. Customer experience managers need to take a holistic approach and consider both the feedback and interaction data as one unified data set.
By taking a holistic viewpoint of measuring the customer experience, it becomes easier to identify and plan actionable changes. A customer experience manager can start from a single customer mention of canceling service in a call recording and roll up from there to view survey scores, Net Promoter Score responses, and other related feedback.
The magnitude of the problem can then be assessed by rolling up to satisfaction levels related to certain features of the product or service in question. If the issue is compelling enough to merit a response beyond that to the individual customer, it will be easy to define an action plan accordingly.
The Start of a Relationship
When the customers know they are listened to, and that their feedback is bringing measurable results and changes, they are more likely to continue to respond and develop an ongoing relationship.
After all, listening is the key to any successful relationship.
Digitals asset management (DAM) systems can benefit anyone who needs to deal with the distribution, use and control of brand approved images. And so it seems only natural that DAM systems should reside in the marketing department.
Yet while they may start there, the uses of both the assets and the DAM’s functionality quickly stretches everywhere across a company.
DAM Casts a Wide Net
When I ran the content management team at a manufacturing company, the DAM platform was originally introduced to control the flow of approved images to the company’s online presence. We were revamping the website and eCommerce platform. A key part of the project was to improve the images used and to make sure they were both brand and safety compliant.
It quickly became apparent that part of that process involved not just storing the images, but developing a visual content strategy as well.
Before too long the word spread that we now had a single safe source for brand-approved images. The next logical step was to ensure our print publications, such as brochures and technical specifications, as well as any marketing collateral, were all pulling images from the same source.
Soon we were talking to other groups in the company, and even our dealer network, about how they could contribute to and access the DAM. Instead of just storing the images selected for use on the website we were soon storing every picture from a product photoshoot. Suddenly the company archives became interested.
In the space of 18 months, we had passed one million assets and over 8,000 users accessing them.
Unexpected DAM Use Cases
The most interesting result was how the DAM became the source for applications and use cases we had never considered.
We had developed a way to create lightweight 3-D models of our products, and started storing the source files for those on the DAM, too. Suddenly the DAM was the source driving augmented reality proof-of-concept innovations, which we used to populate digital signage at dealer showrooms, as well as training, facilities planning, trade shows, coffee table art books, calendars, licensed merchandise and more.
By the point I left the company we had recorded 16 different use cases across the company for the content stored in the DAM, and I’m sure there’s even more now.
Over the years I’ve seen plenty of other examples of how a company can use a good DAM platform in different, powerful ways such as:
Media companies who use their DAM to deliver DVD packaging and advertising banners that automatically resize and place the correct logos and text based on the intended markets and distribution channels
Drinks companies where the DAM is a central component of their high-profile sports sponsorships programs
A rail company that uses the DAM to manage rail inspection videos from cameras mounted on the front of locomotives
An aerospace engine company that uses its DAM to store and analyze images of parts from any engine involved in an accident
A museum created a DAM-driven production line to scan thousands of physical objects from their collections and puts them online, giving access and information on historical objects that are rarely seen
Legal and HR departments using the search functions and the DAM metadata to build reports on when certain people appear in various images, or when particular tag lines have been used in what markets
Once you have a fully functional digital asset management system with a useable amount of assets, combined with a well-defined metadata schema and a visual content strategy, you’ll turn to it as your single safe source for enterprise imagery, videos and more.
No one said implementing a new digital experience project would be easy, and if they did then they have totally underestimated what was involved.
Implementing a customer-centric digital transformation plan involves a lot of moving parts. Unfortunately, most of these projects quickly lose focus on the “customer-centric” part and become all about the “digital” part.
Let the Experience Drive the Systems Design
Focusing on technology, although still complicated, is in many ways the least challenging part of changing the digital experience. We can go out and look at all the fancy vendor demos, issue requests for proposals, run proof of concepts. It’s an easy way to show that we are making progress on the project.
However, putting technology first often means we end up either digitizing the existing process without making things easier for the customer, or we end up having systems limitations drive the experience when instead it should be the desired experience that drives the system’s design.
Avoiding the tool trap is easy. Don’t allow yourself to start talking about technology and software until you understand what the real challenges are. What problems are you trying to solve? Why are there problems? What do those problems cost your organization? And what are you willing to do to make those problems go away?
3 Fundamentals of DX Project Planning
When it comes to transforming the digital experience, the problems you need to solve aren’t only internal ones, they are first and foremost those of your customers. And only by exploring three essential aspects of planning a digital experience project will you truly address those problems.
1. Know Your Customer
I’m sure you know who your customers are. You probably know what pages on your website they visit, what whitepapers they download. You know what products they buy.
You probably also do many follow-up surveys to find out what they thought of their interactions with your brand. Ninety percent of your customers ignore those surveys because they’re about scoring your internal processes, not fulfilling a customer’s need.
Knowing your customer is not about knowing how they interact with your existing processes, it’s about knowing why they do what they do. What problems are they trying to solve? The digital experience shouldn’t be defined by what your products do, it should be defined by what your customers need.
2. Follow Your Customer
Customer journey maps can be a very useful tool, and I’m sure we’ve all developed them. They help define strategies and approaches to delivering experiences.
The problem with these customer journey maps is that the customers don’t see them and don’t always follow along with the nice routes we’ve mapped out for them. Customers drop in and out of the theoretical maps. Typical customer lifecycles are made up of many, often disjointed, customer journeys.
While using techniques like analytics may help bring some of those disjointed journeys to light, the best way to truly follow the customer is to walk in their footsteps and perform the tasks they do to solve their problems. By conducting a practical test of the digital experience, you can discover the bottlenecks and roadblocks that need fixing and identify opportunities to deliver additional value.
3. Understand Your Customer
Delivering real value to the customer comes from examining the gaps between the multiple disjointed customer journeys.
Whenever customers aren’t interacting with your systems is when they are understanding and refining their needs, deciding what solutions or products can address that need, and doing research on a purchase, support, and a wide variety of related information that will add up to the total experience.
On one project I was involved with we interviewed over 100 customers to walk us through what their job was (not how they interacted with our brand). We discovered most of them went through around 35 process steps between identifying a need and resolving that need. We as a company were directly involved in just eight of those steps. We knew a lot about those eight steps — we had all the analytics — but we knew nothing about the other 27.
Once we understood what the customer was looking to achieve in the instances they were not interacting with us, we were able to provide valuable content to speed up the process. We also redesigned aspects of the digital experience with our brand to ensure we were asking for the right information at the right time to smooth interactions and make the overall experience as frictionless as possible.
At the end of the day, isn’t that what delivering a successful digital experience is all about: making it easy for the customer to solve a problem, or fulfill a need?
“Do you think our customers will like the image of the kitten better than the one of the puppy?”
If you think digital experience testing comes down to resolving questions like this, you are missing the bigger picture. I written before about how we should be designing for a frictionless experience, and testing is a large part of that process.
Testing Means More Than Click Troughs
Test to make sure that your content — text, graphics, video, audio — help drive the overall experience. It doesn’t matter if the kitten gets more hits than the puppy if neither helps the customer progress through the experience to get the information they need. Look at click-through rates and subsequent customer actions.
Check to make sure the graphics are composed and positioned to help the customer on their journey. For instance, shots that guide people’s eyes in the direction of the next call to action generate far more click-throughs than thoughtfully posed shots of smiling models looking straight out of the page.
Refining the digital experience focuses on the user interface as well as content design, but you also need to make sure you understand how they work together.
Test to make sure the page layouts, paths, text and graphics are market and culturally appropriate. Does the experience change based on the level of the customer engagement and where they are in their journey? Is the logged-in experience more personalized than the general ‘guest’ experience? It should be.
Do you have your customer journey mapped out and know which parts of the digital experience map to which steps in that journey?
How about the language you are using? Is your website, mobile app, augmented reality solution, digital signage or whatever you are using to deliver the digital experience littered with jargon, acronyms and industry terms understandable to you and your development team, but meaningless to customers?
Names are important. Think about what you call something. Don’t expect the customer to know the terms you use internally. Pick names that the customer will recognize and use them consistently.
Don’t Take it From the Insiders, Ask Your Buddy
Once you’ve done your final internal testing, and maybe even a focus group or two, I’d suggest you employ the final and best test: the “Buddy” test.
Ask your family and friends to walk through your planned experience design. Make sure whoever does the testing has no knowledge of your industry, your company processes, etc. The more removed they are from your role in designing, testing and delivering digital experiences, the better.
Ask them to do a task a new customer would want to do, like create an account and find some basic information.
It’s amazing how often designers leave out basic information from online interactions because once we become integrated into a particular environment, we get to the stage where we have an almost intuitive baseline of knowledge — knowledge someone outside of the community would not have. Answering “it’s obvious” to any question raised during testing is not acceptable.
If your other friends repeatedly ask the same question about a part of your digital process, that part of your process is broken. You need to fix it. And not in a way that makes it easier for you, but in a way that it makes it easier for the customer to complete their task.
Remember, it doesn’t matter which picture gets more clicks if I can’t find out how your products can help me, how to buy them, or even where you do business or what time someone is available for me to talk to.
All I wanted to do was give a business some money. Yet they seemed determined to make it as difficult as possible for me to pay my bill.
We had received our first invoice from them as a paper bill in the mail (how 20th century!), but as we pay all of our regular bills digitally we decided to go online and pay that way. Two steps into the website process it asked for our Account Number; which was not printed anywhere on the paper bill, nor on the covering letter.
A few clicks and we managed to find our account profile online. Still nothing labeled as “Account Number” anywhere. OK we’ll pay by check this time around just to make sure it gets there. Then we saw the following note on the payment instructions: “Please include your account number on the check.” – You mean the “Account Number” that you haven’t told us?
A few more clicks around the website and we eventually found an email address to send a question about how we could find this elusive number. The response was “Oh we get asked that a lot. You just go to your account profile and combine the abbreviation from Box 3 with the number from Box 5 so the account number looks something like ABC1245.”
As I ran this frustrating scenario back through my mind (after I had managed to pay the bill) it raised several Customer Experience questions:
- If you have customers repeatedly asking the same question about a part of your process, then that part of your process is broken. You need to fix it. And not in a way that makes it easier for you, but in a way that it makes it easier for the customer to complete their task, like giving you money on time!
- If there’s a vital identifying piece of information that customers need to be able to interact with your business processes, then make sure it’s included on any, and all, customer correspondence or interaction, be it physical or digital.
- Names are important. Think about what you call something. Don’t expect the customer to know the terms you use internally. Pick names that the customer will recognize and use it consistently.
As a further example of this last point, I once worked with a company where one of the product lines was known internally by its engineering name. No-one outside the company used the term to describe that sort of product. No-one in the industry, and certainly none of the company’s customers or prospects did. But the engineering name was embedded throughout the company’s processes and even used on the website.
No-one ever searched for that name and as a result it never came up in search engine results and online lead generation for that product line was almost non-existence. After a lot of discussion we eventually got the product people to agree to using the more common name on the website – i.e. the term that customers and prospects used when searching. In a week the relevant webpages started popping up in the top 10 search results. In a year the lead generation increased exponentially with a resultant growth in product revenue.
The customers were also happier, and support costs dropped, because they could now find the information they needed quickly and easily.
All because the name was changed to the one that the customers used.
While I enjoy TV shows like “Whose Line is it Anyway” that use improvisation techniques to deliver some fun comedy moments, the thought of doing something similar myself had never crossed my mind. I’m happy standing in front of an audience telling stories as part of my presentations, as long as I know what my story is before I start, but improvising? I didn’t think it was my sort of thing.
Until I went on an off-site management retreat meeting a couple of years ago. The first two days of the retreat were devoted to training led by Second City Works, the corporate training arm of the renowned improv comedy club in Chicago. I’ll be honest I was a little uncomfortable at the thought of this sort of training, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying the experience and I learned several things to use in future public speaking engagements, as well as in the daily interactions we all have in the work place.
In the days following the training I began to realize that several of the lessons and techniques from those two days could also be applied to the way that companies deliver the customer experience. Below are just a few of those ideas that when applied to interacting with customers at any point, be it digitally online, physically in person in a store, or conversationally over the phone, could add up to an overall improvement in the customers experience.
This may seem obvious, but listening is not something that we, either as individuals, or companies, are very good at. I recently wrote an article on how companies are good at collecting data about customers, but not that efficient at using the data to really understand customer needs. As individuals, we focus on our own work, needs, and the processes that drive them. Consequently we tend to position any interaction with others into our own framework. We need to learn to listen, and understand what customers really want, what are they trying to achieve, and how do we fit into their framework of needs and processes.
Acknowledging an interaction with someone is probably the easiest way to improve a customer’s experience. We all feel better when we walk into a store and someone makes eye contact with us and acknowledges that we are there. A simple “Thank You” goes a long way, be it in person, or online. Those can be anything from a simple pop-up when you complete an online form, to a personalized follow up email that shows that we listen, and understand the customer’s problem, or to thank them for a purchase and welcome them to our customer community.
No one likes to be told “No.” It sends the wrong message to customers and can bring a halt to the customer’s journey. There is a strong chance that overuse of negative statements will mean your customer will go elsewhere to solve their problem, or fulfill their need. Even if you don’t know the answer to a particular issue, or your system doesn’t have the information needed, there is nothing wrong with saying “we don’t know.” Instead of “No” how about serving up a response along the lines of “Yes, we understand your problem, and while we look into it why not try these few other things we can do for you…”
Understand where you are in the story
The basic structure of any story is that of three acts. The first is the set-up when a need or obstacle is identified. The second is the journey of discovery towards meeting the need or overcoming the obstacle. The third act describes the new reality once that need is fulfilled, or obstacle overcome. If you think about that in business terms, the classic story structure is also a description of the customer journey, awareness of a need (Act 1), research, selection, and purchase (Act 2), post sales ownership and support (Act 3). If you are mapping your various customer interaction points to the customer journey (and you should be), you also need to understand at what stage in the customer’s story those interactions happen. This will provide context and help define what you can do to help the customer continue along that journey.
Know who is the hero of the story
As I mentioned earlier we tend to look at any interaction from our own viewpoint, we see it as part of our own journey, or story. Yet we need to realize that the customer is the hero of his own story, not ours. When the two stories intersect we need to be able to empathize with the customer and see the journey from their perspective. If you know who the hero of any given story is, you can start to see the journey from their perspective, anticipate their needs, and help them solve their problems.
That sounds like exceptional customer experience to me.