About alanjporter

Writer of stuff - Books, comics, articles, and the occasional online ramble.

When customer experience needs to get physical.

digital_physical_iface

 

It all started with a drip of water. You know that moment when you open the fridge door and feel a drop of water on your hand where you shouldn’t. It didn’t take me long to track where it was coming from, a dislodged pipe.

At least that’s what I thought it was. I managed to reconnect the pipe, but although the trickle of water lessened, it didn’t stop. Whatever was wrong was deeper in the workings of the fridge than I could see or reach.

No problem, the fridge was still under the manufacturer’s warranty. So I headed over to the manufacturer’s website and opened the online form to book a service call. It was all going well until I got to the line that asked for the fridge’s serial number.

It was back to the kitchen where I opened every door, and peered at every surface of the fridge writing down any number I could find; but it turned out none of them was the actual serial number. The serial number that was a required field on the service call form.

I called the customer help desk number, and the lady explained they needed the serial number so they could make sure they had the right information about model number for spare parts, and to check the purchase date and warranty coverage. That all seemed fair enough.

“So where do I find the serial number?” I asked.
“On a sticker on the fridge.”
“And where’s that sticker located on the fridge?”
“Oh, it’s on the back.”
“On the back of the fridge. The back that’s against a wall and enveloped in custom built kitchen cabinets? “
“Yes.”

This experience brought back memories of when I was working in the manufacturing sector. One of the companies I worked for also used the product serial number as the prime data point to identify a piece of equipment when customers needed service or spares.

An analysis of our online service portal showed that 70% of customers got the serial number wrong. They either guessed, or in most cases input the product’s model designation instead (the nice combination of letters and numbers painted on the side in a big bold color and large font).

The actual serial number they needed was on a small metal plate under a cover – but it told you how to find it in the owner’s manual, so there shouldn’t be a problem. Right?

Both are great examples of the disconnect that often happens when companies focus on the digital customer interaction without considering the actual physical product as part the overall experience.

Customer experience is a holistic exercise, and companies need to make it easy to transfer the process, and the data associated with it, from the physical to the digital, and vice-versa.

Think about your car. Need to access the VIN number for any reason, service, DMV registration, insurance etc. it’s right there at the bottom of the windshield where you can easily access it. Need to know the correct pressures to inflate your tires to – just open the car door and look at the stickers on the sill by the door catch.

The motor industry has done an excellent job over the years in standardizing how to provide essential information to the owner/operator in an accessible manner. It’s a lesson that many makers of many other products need to learn

As the internet of things comes to life around us, the boundary between digital and physical is fast disappearing and the customer experience needs to be an essential part of that evolution.

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So What’s in a Name? – Everything!

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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 but two of our regular bills online we decided to go on-line 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 labelled 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 found 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 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:
1. 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!
2. 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 they physical or digital.
3. Names are important. Thin k about what you call something. Don’t expect the customers 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 its product lines was known internally by its engineering name. No-one outside the company used that 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 results and on-line 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.
Think about the names you use, and the processes you use them in – then think about them again from the customer’s perspective.

There’s no such job! – Or, How I ended up with a career in Technical Communications

I can’t spell. I really can’t. I’m terrible at it, always have been. Yet I read voraciously (it just took me three attempts to spell that one right), and I love to write. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was seven years old, but my poor spelling was always something of a handicap, because I’m so old that when I was at school there was no such thing as spell checkers. Sure, there were dictionaries but the problem with a dictionary is that you have to at least have some basic idea of how a word is spelt to be able to get find it in the first place.
I also liked machines, cars, motorcycles, planes. I enjoyed taking them apart and finding out how they worked (OK I didn’t take planes apart, but I studied aerodynamics so I knew how they stayed up there). Early in my teens, sitting in the careers advisor’s office at school with the oil from the latest engine tear-down fresh under my finger nails, I had a discussion that went something like this:
Careers Advisor: “So what would be your ideal profession?”
Me: “Something that combined Engineering and Writing.”
Careers Advisor: “That’s not a career. There’s no such job.”

He then looked at the file on his desk, and then at my oily hands. “Your report says you have a good grasp of most subjects and can learn quickly, but you are a terrible speller.” Another look at the hands, “But clearly you like machines. Go be an engineer.”

And that was his final word, and that’s the path the school put me on.
Fast forward several years and I have a degree in Marine Engineering in my pocket and I’m working as a Junior Engineer in the British merchant marine on container ships. It wasn’t the life for me, except for one aspect.

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During long boring watch rota shifts in the mainly automated engine room I would while away the time reading the tech manuals. You know the things that I’d been told didn’t exist. And my reaction was (1) That idiot careers advisor had been wrong as someone must produce these, and (2) I could do them so much better.
Despite being paid to travel the world (well the Mediterranean and North Atlantic) while staring at a deck full of containers, after a year I decided to head back to land and to University to pursue a second degree in Industrial Technology. As part of the degree course we had to spend two separate six-month periods working in industry. My first industrial-placement was at a computer company, and the second?

At some point I’d been chatting to my girlfriend (now my wife) about potential placements and she suggested I talk to her brother-in-laws, both of whom worked at British Aerospace. Over a pint in the pub later that evening someone casually mentioned that there was a department called Technical Publications at the aerospace facility nearby, and he happened to know the guy who ran it. One introduction later and the following summer I found myself at a desk writing my first piece of technical documentation – a Component Maintenance Manual for an upgrade to the engine intakes on Concorde!

CONCORDE
As for that job that didn’t exist, by my reckoning I am now in my 32nd year of working in the profession in one capacity or other.

So What Exactly is OmniChannel?

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An angry man with a delivery van redefined my understanding of omni-channel customer experience.

Traditionally when I’ve referred to omni-channel delivery I’ve tended to think primarily in terms of content; it’s all about making sure that we deliver the right content or messaging across multiple digital platforms such as a website, tablet, or phone. Is it a consistent experience suitably tailored for each different device? Add in physical contact points through printed media, store-front, or call center interaction and then we might be talking about delivering an omni-channel customer experience.

Does it go further than that? What do we actually mean by omni-channel?

Let’s take a look at some of the formal definitions.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines omni-channel as denoting or relating to a type of retail that integrates the different methods of shopping available to consumers (e.g., online, in a physical store, or by phone).”

While Wikipedia broadens the scope as “a cross-channel business model that companies use to increase customer experience.” Which seems to fit in with what I’ve been discussing above.

But, let’s take a deeper look at the entomology, “omni” comes from the word omnis which can mean all or universal. If we say we are delivering an omni-channel experience are we really managing and delivering a good customer experience across EVERY channel that a customer can possibly interact with us? What about those channels outside our direct control that still add to the overall experience with our product, especially when it is sold, implemented, or supported through resellers, dealers, retail stores, third-parties, etc.

And it’s a two way process. We might be using every conceivable channel we can think of to deliver our message or communicate with our customers; but are we aware of every single channel that they are using to communicate with us? Over the years I’ve written letters to companies, phoned them up, sent emails, and these days I’m more than likely to post something on Twitter when I want to communicate both good and bad experiences. Many companies monitor these obvious channels of communication, but are they catching everything?

Which brings me back to the angry man with the van. What if one of your customers bought your product and was so unhappy with it that they painted their complaints on the side of it and used it as a mobile billboard to advertise their dissatisfaction and tell people not to buy your products? The man with the van did just that.

He made his van into part of the omni-channel by using it as a literal vehicle of communication back to the manufacturer concerned.

There is no way that we can anticipate this sort of outlier behavior, but such actions are usually a culmination of other interactions through monitored channels that have failed. Is it feasible to deliver a literal omni-channel experience? Probably not. But we can all strive to deliver the best continual connected customer experience across every channel, both outbound and inbound, that we manage.

Measuring the Redefined Customer Journey

 

Infinity Diagram_Layer5_Metrics

“You can’t manage it if you don’t measure it,” has been a business cliché for decades. It’s not a sentiment everyone agrees with, as not everything worthwhile can be measured; but measurements can provide useful insights to trends and behavior patterns. So how does measurement (or lack of it) relate to the redefined customer journey I’ve been blogging about over the last few months?

So far we’ve looked at four different aspects of the customer journey: the customer perspective, company activities, departments, and the systems involved.

The final level examines the means to measure and manage the return on the investment in a continuous customer engagement strategy by linking various key performance indicator (KPI) metrics to different stages of the engagement.

Typical measurements used in the various stages of the customer journey include KPIs such as:

Net Promoter Score: NPS is calculated based on responses to a single question: How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague? The scoring for this answer is most often based on a 0 to 10 scale

Revenue: The income that a business has from its normal business activities, usually from the sale of goods and services to customers

Total Cost of Ownership: TCO is usually a summation of the total cost of acquisition and operating costs plus any costs related to replacement or upgrades to a product at the end of its useful life

Return Rate: Usually expressed as a percentage of the number of products sold that are returned

Call Resolution Time: Within a support group, this measures the elapsed time between a customer reporting a problem and the issue being reported as being resolved. Most support groups have target resolution times to meet, and the duration of those target may vary depending on the customer’s status

Churn: Measures the proportion of contractual customers or subscribers who leave a supplier during a given time period. It is a possible indicator of customer dissatisfaction or issues with the overall customer experience

Likes / Impressions: Usually a collection of Web and Social Media metrics such as page views, followers, and the number of posts that receive comments, likes, or are shared online. All of which contribute to an overall Brand Equity, or a measure of how the overall brand, its promise, products, and experience are perceived

This is not an exhaustive list above, you may be using other ways to measure and manage customer interactions. Yet whatever measurements are used they tend to be the indicator of success (or failure) for individual operational departments or groups, and rarely, if ever, looked at in a holistic way to provide and overall measurement of customer satisfaction. It’s possible that you could be scoring highly in specific categories, yet still deliver a poor overall customer experience due to a disconnected journey.

By looking at customer related metrics as part of an overall ecosystem rather than separate KPIs it allows you to develop a clearer picture of a customer’s overall journey and their lifecycle value.

The Redefined Customer Journey – Remove System Friction

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The customer journey is being redefined in the digital age from a linear process to an ongoing loop of BUY then OWN with the companies you choose to deal with becoming more and more engaged in every part of the cycle.

So far in previous posts I’ve discussed what that on-going loop looks like from a customer perspective and how the loop model aligns the customer’s activities to those of the organization, and which departments need to work together to deliver the continuous connected experience.

As we continue to dig deeper into the journey map the fourth layer (above) connects the departmental level activity to the typical enterprise systems that record, drive, and promote the various aspects of the customer’s journey. These processes and systems have to interact. Technology bridges need to be established to allow data to flow between them to ensure a consistent experience and to maintain a relevant, valued engagement. The platforms in use must promote a sufficient degree of interoperability that allows the multiple interactions to work together.

But unfortunately the truth is that they rarely do. How many times have you transitioned from trying to do something on a website, had to call a help desk to get your goal completed and they already know your account details and what you want to accomplish? Rarely, if ever. It shouldn’t be that way.

I recently moved house and needed to change my address on various accounts. Simple I thought; just go on the various companies’ websites, open my profile, and edit the details. In most cases that worked, but in a few cases I had additional questions and needed to make a call.

With one credit card company I had a question about why my statements had stopped being delivered. The call went something like this:

Automated System: Please state your name.

Automated System: Say or input your account number.

Automated system: What’s your account safeword?  (Note not the account password, but a separate “safeword” I set up when I opened the account years ago and have never needed to use since – of course I had no idea what it was).

Me: I have no idea.

The Automated System passed me on to a Call Center employee.

Call center: How can I help you?

Me: I need to change my address and I have a question about my statements.

Call center: What’s your account safeword?

Me: I have no idea.

Call center: I have to pass you on to our security team.

Wait while call is transferred.

Security team: How can I help you?

Me: I need to change my address and I have a question about my statements.

Security team: What’s your account safeword?

Me: I have no idea, that’s why I was passed to you.

Security: OK I can help you with that. What’s your name and account number? (Information I had keyed in the automated system at the start of the call and which the first call center person had).

After some back and forth we eventually got the “safeword” thing sorted out.

Security: I’ll hand you back to the customer service so they can set up your payment plan?

Me: Sorry? What payment plan? I just need to change my address and I have a question about my statements.

Security: Oh. Hang on.

Wait while call is transferred. – Get a different customer service rep.

Customer service: How can I help you?

Me: I need to change my address and I have a question about my statements.

Call center: What’s your account safeword?

Me: You have got to be kidding me!

To cut a very long story short I eventually got my address changed and asked about my statements not getting delivered. You guessed it, I got transferred yet again to a different department and went through the same run around. It turned out that when the account hit zero balance they stop sending statements. When I pointed out that it might be nice if they sent the account holder an email to let them know about that policy, or put something on the statements themselves, or even their website; I received a “oh that’s a good idea” response. An idea I doubt will get passed on as I’m sure billing and the website content are yet two more siloed operations.

Ideally silos between systems such as the ones I encountered need to be broken down, but as a minimum they should be bridged by data sets that can be easily transferred. Such data sets should reflect the information to support the customer at any given point in their journey and grow incrementally in detail as the customer progresses through their series of interactions with the company. Ideally at no point should a customer have to provide information that they have already supplied earlier in the process. It’s all about removing the friction from the process.

The processes and systems you employ shouldn’t define the customer experience, they should support it.

Customer Journey Redefined – The Departmental View

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The customer journey is being redefined in the digital age from a linear process to an ongoing loop of BUY then OWN, with the companies you choose to deal with becoming more and more engaged in every part of the cycle.

So far in previous posts I’ve discussed what that ongoing loop looks like from a customer perspective and how the loop model aligns the customer’s activities to those of the organization. As we dig deeper into the journey map it’s time to take a look at what parts of the organization are directly involved.

The third layer highlights the various departments involved in the continuous customer engagement model. It is no longer sufficient to leave customer relations to the sales or support groups. Customer experience is now a mission-critical, cross-functional activity. As Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute says, “It is the totality of all the individual experi­ences that make up a Customer’s experience.”

It can be argued that customer experience and responsibility for the customer journey is the remit of the company as a whole, and it’s a good axiom, but in actuality it tends to primarily fall within the following areas: Marketing, Sales, Finance, Distribution, Operations, Services, Support, and Customer Care.

Delivering and supporting a positive customer experience is all about removing the friction from the process. The smoother the transition from department to department, the easier something is to do, the better the experience. This means that each department should invest in the overall customer experience, not only in terms of systems, but in terms of training, education, and a commitment to customer advocacy.

As outlined in a previous post, serving your customers across a continuous digital experience journey maximizes Customer Lifecycle Value and increases revenue potential. The more other departments invest and buy in to the overall concept of a frictionless process, the greater the experience and the greater the customer’s investment.

The benefits from committing to a combined, systematic approach to growing Customer Lifecycle Value across the enterprise include:

  • Increased customer retention rates
  • Increased customer satisfaction scores
  • Increased revenue

By taking this a step further, managing and delivering outstanding customer experiences, you will drive benefit for the customer, as well as sustainable growth across the enterprise.