Improve customer experience with a little improvisation

Improv

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.

Listen

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.

Thank you

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.

Yes, and…..

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.

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Are you Delivering a Sunshine Experience?

SunriseIt’s amazing how even the brightest ray of sunlight can ruin months of work. Several years ago I was part of an industry team working on developing a set of standards for a defined group of symbols and colors to be used in the way that automotive service information was to delivered. We worked diligently for several months to come up with the right experience. Then we built a prototype and showed it to several service technicians who all liked what we had done.

Then we visited one technician to proudly show of our work, but he didn’t want to meet us in his office. He wanted to use the prototype in a real-life scenario. Outside, next to a big greasy machine! It was all going well until the sun came out from behind a cloud, hit the laptop screen and promptly made everything we had done unreadable; the color palette we had selected washed out and everything looked the same. Back to square one on designing the experience!

I was reminded of this after stopping to get gas on the way into the office yesterday morning. My local gas station has pumps with a nice big digital screen front and center. Once you have selected your gas and started pumping it plays a mix of short TV news and entertainment clips, along with some marketing messaging. Yesterday the rising sun was at just the right angle to make the screen almost unusable for both delivering the step by step instructions for purchasing and pumping gas, and for any of the digital marketing designed to engage and entertain me for the few minutes it took to fill the car. A simple lip across the top of the screen that would provide some shade would have probably fixed the problem.

Recently a friend of mine tweeted that it’s a mistake to only test your marketing content on giant monitors. You should review content on the mobile devices your users will use. Excellent advice, but based on experiences like the ones outlined above I believe that to ensure the sort of customer experience that we believe we are designing and delivering we should also test indoors and outdoors as sun glare and lighting conditions can impact the experience.

And not just the mobile devices either; as the customer experience moves beyond the browser, we should also be thinking about embedded screens in “Internet of Things” connected products, or seat backs, digital signage, or other outdoor static screens. The list is growing and so are the environmental factors that will impact the customer experience.

 

Sending the Wrong Email can be an Opportunity to do the Right Thing

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We all get them every day. Emails that we delete without reading. Yet companies invest countless hours in developing email campaigns and messaging to try and catch our attention or interest just for us to ignore them. My wife and I were discussing recently the top email subject headers that means we will automatically delete a marketing email.

My wife’s top flag was anything that gave her an order to do something. Yesterday’s winner in that category was an email she received from a company that shouted “This is important information you need – Don’t Delete!” – The first thing she did? Deleted that email.

My pet peeve is over friendly emails from people I’ve never met, like this example from yesterday, “Reminder – Hey Alan, did you have a chance to review my email?” My response, check the company on the email address, not someone I do business with, then hit the Delete button.

Then there’s the emails from companies that you do interact with on a regular basis, but when you read it you think “How did I end up on that mailing list?” You delete it and don’t give it much thought beyond it ramping up an annoyance factor with the company that can eventually impact your overall customer experience.

But great brands and customer-aware companies can use a well-defined customer communications management strategy to turn that “How did I end up on this list?” moment into a positive experience rather than a negative one.

A case in point. Our car.

Although my family changes cars on a pretty regular basis we are pretty brand loyal. At any given time you can bet that someone in the family is driving an example from this particular brand’s line up. At the moment it’s my wife. It’s the eleventh example of the brand we’ve owned.

So imagine my surprise to receive an email from the company that was headed “We’re sorry to see you go.” It continued along the lines that the company had heard we had sold the car and wanted to ask a few questions of our experience with the brand, and why we’d moved on. Looking out the window I could still see the car sitting on the driveway. Yep, definitely on the wrong mailing list. I deleted the note, and didn’t think any more of it.

Until two days later.

A follow-up email arrived from the car company apologizing for the wrong email being sent. There was a well- worded message along the lines of “we know that you still own your car, and thanks for being a loyal customer.” This was followed with a note that by way of apology a small gift was in the mail (which arrived the next day).

There was also an additional follow-up that laid out our ownership of the current car, and a note that as a token of thanks for our loyalty if we headed to our local dealer within the next thirty days they would upgrade us from our current model to the equivalent latest model at a stated lower APR rate.

One mistake = good follow up + bonus gift + acknowledgement of my customer loyalty + upsell offer.

That’s good customer communications management, it helps strengthen relationships, develops good customer experience, and promotes more value and revenue across the customer lifecycle.

While we’re not ready to take up that trade-in offer just yet, but when it does come time to change the car again, guess which company will once again be top of our list?

Is Your Website a Reflection of You or Your Customers?

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Hey Dad, did you have any feedback?” That text from my daughter was part of an ongoing discussion around the website that she was designing for a new business venture that she and a partner were launching. It was the third iteration of the site, and this was the first version that was fully mobile friendly.

My feedback was that with just a few minor tweaks, this iteration was very close to where they needed to be for the launch. It told a good story and provided the basic information their customers would be looking for.

It wasn’t always the case. Early in the process of them developing a business case I asked my daughter and her business partner what they wanted the website to communicate.

The immediate response was “We want it to let people know what we do.”

A logical answer, but my response was something along the lines of “That’s great, but other people do what you do. What makes you special?”

We are focused on people with a particular problem area.”

Great. So think about the people who need help solving that problem. What are they going to be looking for?

As these sort of discussions continued, the website design and prototypes evolved from their description of what the new company did, to a series of short articles that addressed the potential customer’s problems, and how my daughter and her partner can help.

They also looked at the list of services they were offering and decided to focus on the three where they have had the most interest. Now instead of a webpage with a shopping list of things to pick from, each solution article has information about the relevant service, with pricing and contact information.

But it’s not only small businesses or start-ups that need to be switching their thinking from a website that, no matter how slick it’s presented, is little more than a digital brochure. Often these sort of “inside-out” websites end up being a reflection of the corporate structure accompanied by a list of products. Switching the mind set to a customer driven “outside-in” view can pay dividends, not only in an improved experience that can help customer’s solve their problems, but they can also have a direct impact on the company’s bottom line.

I once worked on a project for a large company whose website was a perfect reflection of their corporate and business unit structure. You had to know what part of the company was responsible for a particular product to be able to find it; even the employees had a hard time figuring out where to find information. But a customer focused analysis showed that 80% of the traffic went to the website for just four things: to look up product specifications, pricing, buy spare parts, or get support. Once we rebuilt the website around making those tasks as easy as possible, traffic, leads, and online parts sales revenue all increased, and support costs decreased.

Improving the customer experience is now regularly cited as a top strategic imperative for many companies, and the website is the always-on global showcase for that. Delivering a customer-driven web experience means not only changing the mind-set and the content, but also delivering a more engaging relevant and engaging experience that delivers value to the individual customer. It can rapidly become a complex process and needs the right sort of management tools to enable and support an effective web presence.

Ditch the FAQs: Design for a Frictionless Experience

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All I wanted was some sushi.

You wouldn’t believe how difficult it was to find out if the any of the three sushi restaurants within walking distance of my hotel were actually open.

Their websites were full of text, explaining the ambiance, the chef’s background, even the history of the restaurant (and in one case the historic building that it was located in). The pictures of neatly arranged and presented sushi rolls and specialties looked pretty and further whetted my appetite.

But they still didn’t answer my question, nor did they help me navigate the website to provide the answer to my question — is this restaurant currently open?

FAQs Don’t Make Up for a Poor Site

I eventually found the information I wanted in the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Which got me thinking: If you still have an FAQ page then it means you implicitly acknowledge that you are presenting your customers with a digital experience full of answers and information that no one wants. You are ignoring the one question that will help you optimize your customer journey.

Why do your customers come to your website, or use your mobile app, in the first place? What are they trying to achieve?

I would think for a restaurant the three main reasons that people engage online are to find out location, opening hours and menu options.

So Many Pages, So Little Useful Information

I once worked on a project for a large company whose website was a perfect reflection of its corporate and business unit structure. It had a lot of FAQ pages — each business unit had its own.

Even the employees had a hard time figuring out where to find information.

But analysis showed that 80 percent of the traffic went to the website to look up product specifications, pricing, to buy spare parts or get support. Once we rebuilt the website around making those tasks as easy as possible, traffic, leads and online parts sales revenue increased.

Structure your digital experience around supplying the critical information your customer needs in the easiest way possible, then start to optimize the details through testing.

Your Goal: A Frictionless Digital Experience

Use testing to develop a frictionless experience. Test if the text and graphics you are using help drive the experience. It doesn’t matter if picture A gets more hits than picture B if neither help drive the experience. Look at click-through rates and subsequent customer actions.

If you are using graphics to drive the experience, check to make sure that the graphics are composed and positioned to help the customer on their journey. For instance, shots which 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.

Test to make sure that the page layouts, paths and 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? Do you have your customer journey mapped out and know which parts of the digital experience map to which steps in that journey?

Remember optimizing through testing is not about A versus B — it’s about removing the friction from the experience. I don’t care if the Dragon Roll looks prettier than the California Roll if I can’t find out when you’re open for business.

 

Avoid Brand Disasters with a Visual Content Strategy

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It took a man with his sleeves rolled up to make me understand that we had a problem.

A Flawed Hero

At the time I has heading the marketing content delivery group at a major equipment manufacturer and we’d just posted a new ‘hero’ shot on our website. We were very proud of the image: a burly rugged looking guy on a job site stood in front of one our machines. A perfect illustration of our brand.

Or so we thought, until I logged in to my email the following morning to find my inbox stuffed with requests to take the image down.

Most of those emails came from one specific geographical market. What we hadn’t realized was that the burly man had his shirt sleeves rolled up, and in one of our biggest, most important, markets that was a safety violation. And safety violations were definitely not something we wanted to be seen promoting, or have associated with our brand.

The image was quickly taken down and metadata added that it wasn’t to be used in certain markets. On reflection, we should have already done this. But like many large companies we drew our content from all across the enterprise, as well as from outside suppliers and agencies.

Customers Don’t Care About Your Silos

The man in the shirt sleeves got us thinking: Did different parts of the company use different images to represent the same things based on their local and business knowledge? Did they assume an implied level of knowledge about the subject and its applicability? Did the images chosen just reflect the siloed make-up of the business’s organizational structure? How was metadata applied — if at all — to ensure correct usage and attribution?

Most importantly: how did all this affect the customer’s experience when interacting with our brand across different channels around the globe?

It doesn’t matter how your company is organized, or what separate lines of business you have. As far as your customer is concerned every interaction with you is a representation of your brand, and they expect a consistent experience. But it must also be a consistent experience that is relevant to them and their locale.

Pull Things Together With a Visual Content Strategy

So how do you deliver a consistent brand representation while still being aware of localization and cultural issues?

You need to develop a Visual Content Strategy:

  • What do you want your images to do? — Showcase your products? Showcase your customers? Show customers using your products?
  • What business need do you want your images to help achieve? — Engage prospects and lead to click-through and lead capture? Educate and help customers with self-service thereby reducing support costs?
  • What sort of images will you use to reflect your brand? — Photographic and realistic, inspirational and abstract?
  • Where will the images be used? — Global generic images? Regional and local application? If regional, how localized?

Next, look at the images that you are already delivering or have in development. Do they match the aims and business drivers outlined in your visual content strategy? If not, stop using them.

Content for the sake of content, no matter how pretty it looks, is a waste of resources and opportunity.

Take a detailed look at how your products are represented and localized. After the “shirt sleeves” incident one of the decisions we made was that for the equipment product pages on our website the main product shot would be just the machine against a plain white background.

Presenting the equipment in a consistent way made it stand out and avoided localization issues. The job-site shots were relegated to a gallery that could be customized based on the customer’s location.

The next step is developing a strong metadata model that is applied to the images to ensure that you use the same images to show the same ideas and concepts. Attach data that fits your workflow and that allows you to deliver the sort of customer experience that reinforces your brand. Balancing consistency with creativity should also be considered and trade-offs need to be made.

Delivering Consistent Experiences

With a strategy and metadata architecture in place you need a way to store and manage images so that they can be easily located and used in the correct manner.

A Digital Asset Management system is key to delivering a consistent visual user experience. I’d recommend starting with an achievable object, such as a DAM to drive your website and then grow it organically across the enterprise, to cover other delivery channels. Get people used to using it, prove that it provides value and it will lead to improved customer experience.

The man in the short sleeves helped my team develop and deliver a platform that quickly grew to an enterprise solution with over one million assets that could be tracked and reused to send the correct message in the correct market.

[NOTE: This post was first published on CMSWire September 2016)