The New Formula for Disruption: CX>4Ps

In business school we were all taught about the 4 Ps: Price, Product, Promotion, and Place. I remember teaching graduate level Strategic Marketing and the author of the book had decided to also throw in an “S” (Service) to salute the experiential flag. While the four Ps are certainly important, an over reliance and focus on them may have forced entire industries down a myopic product centered hole.

In the hallowed halls of consumer package goods (CPG) where the magic Ps were first conjured and codified we are finding this particular potion, no matter the alchemy employed, lacks the potency it once possessed.

On all sides ‘Big Food’ is under assault and they and the associated adjacencies are suffering. Disruptors on all sides are sourcing more local, organic, and relatable products and brands. Customers are no longer shopping in the middle of the store as much as they are around the edges, if they are shopping in the store anymore at all.

Why?

Many reasons, but the focus on the Four Ps created an overly atomistic and reductionist approach to product development, design, and marketing. It is a formula to be optimized with customer input as the test subject. Like Rhesus Monkeys in some subterranean laboratory, customers are used as stimulus-response subjects to help hone and refine the product. Does this taste sweeter? Does this taste saltier? What do you think of this package? Blue or Red? Do you like it? Why or why not?

Admittedly this approach created some very addictive chicken nuggets and pork chop coatings, but this 1960s approach where the brand manager played the role of the beneficent product god and customers were his flock of “consumers” misses a very important point.

People do not buy products; they buy experiences.

Customers do not buy cereal, they are looking for how to feed their kids in the morning and keep them happy and healthy. They don’t buy dolls or toy cars they buy the experience of playing with that doll or the creative endeavor of creating a make-believe city out of the living room carpet.

This product myopia is not relegated to CPG by any means. Insurance companies are struggling as to how to sell life insurance policies to millennials who fail to see the point. The hospitality industry is trying to assert its relevance over aggressive boutique experience providers. The automotive industry is about to be turned on its head as product planners continue to plan products while young people are increasingly delaying getting a licenseand would rather not own a car if they didn’t have to. It affects almost every industry.

The evidence was in plain sight for a long time, but accelerant has been thrown on experiential fire by millennials and newer generations of the “sharing economy” who view owning stuff as a needless investment when money could be much wisely put toward hiking the PCT or hang gliding in Belize.

So what do we do?

The first important step is we all need to take a step back. Hold hands and chant “we don’t sell products, we sell experiences.” We need to radically re-think how we “do” product development and marketing from the ground up. It is coming to terms that we are not providing a product with features, we are providing an experience.

So how do we proceed from there? The steps are familiar, the substance of doing them may not be.

Who is Your Customer?

First, we need to define who it is we are talking about as customers. Is it one person or many? Is it retirees or school children? Men or women? Defining your customer is more accurately done psychometrically then demographically as one is typically just a surrogate for the other, but nonetheless some kind of profile is better than none as experiential desires vary greatly by individuals. Getting crisp on “who” is very important before we start talking about the what…however, those conversation invariably possess a recursive quality.

What do they Want?

If you ask people what they want different in their Ketchup they will tell you things like size, taste, color and so forth. These are the tangible product attributes that people get their brains and around and we, as researchers, have trained them to talk about. If you get lucky you might have an eureka! moment and find out they want to get the ketchup out of the bottle easier. However, the conversation is always about ketchup.

Reframe

In order to really get to what people want we need to reframe the problem. What is the underlying experience they want to have? How do we get to it? Is it really about ketchup? Or is it about picnics or baseball games?

Customers have a very hard time expressing this in the abstract. The famous quote of customers wanting a faster horse buggy is spot on; customers can’t project their future product needs; that’s our job.

Getting To Experiences

Over the years researchers have come up with different ways of getting to “underlying needs” such as laddering techniques and other project techniques. I think those can work, but have some pragmatic limitations. When we start laddering up to “self-actualization” or “connectedness” as the underlying need, you oftentimes see the look of sheer terror on the product planner and marketers’ face. How does one design to “connectedness”? No, we need something a bit more concrete.

I have found the best way to evoke what people want from their experience is looking at their customer journey today and contrasting that to what that might ideally look like in the future. We are not confining people to attributes, colors, and prices. This involves a mix of observing behaviors, looking at trends, and actually talking to people.

Take for example the founder story of Uber

“On a snowy Paris evening in 2008, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp had trouble hailing a cab. So they came up with a simple idea—tap a button, get a ride.

What started as an app to request premium black cars in a few metropolitan areas is now changing the logistical fabric of cities around the world. Whether it’s a ride, a sandwich, or a package, we use technology to give people what they want, when they want it.”

What did Uber do? They took away all of the bad stuff and added in the only the stuff that improved the experience. They didn’t make a better taxi, they re-engineered the experience of getting from point A to point B better.

Experiential Design

So now we understand the journey and it’s time to get to work. Unfortunately, in this new world it is not just the product planning and brand managers at the helm of the Starship Experience, it takes the whole crew. We are creating experiences, and that involves many people including manufacturing, sales, human resources, operations, product planning, marketing, and many facets of the organizations. If you have retail partners, franchisee, or third party installers; this involves them too.

Oh yeah, those pesky “consumers”… we want to talk with them too. In fact, getting the folks together who are using your stuff with those building stuff is a really great way to supercharge the design process. This approached saved Lego’s bacon and others. We have to get everyone to the table with a common understanding of the customer, their journey today, a common vision for the future, and only then can we design.

Also, it’s important to keep it simple and iterative. The iPhone 6 wasn’t created over night; nor was that F-150 or that tasty can of Thai Chili Star-Kist Tuna. Everything thing on this planet evolved from previous iterations that morphed and changed to best survive and thrive in an ever-changing ecosystem. Those ecosystems change, so must the products and services within them. In fact, one tends to influence the other. Experiential design is no different. It is an iterative, learning, and building endeavor.

Less Ps more CX

So are the four Ps irrelevant? Of course not, they are just a subset of other characteristics we need to consider when designing experiences. Tweaks to existing product offerings are still appropriate, but tweaking at the expense of stepping back and looking at the bigger picture is where companies get caught on their heels.

True experiential design involves more than just product configuration and throwing blue crystals into laundry detergent. If you want to survive in this rapidly pulsating environment, long cycle gated product development approaches won’t do. Move quick and iteratively. Check you instruments but not at the expense of stopping the boat. We must be look at what customer really want and then deliver it to them, quickly, and holistically.

CX Wisdom from the Pope

When’s the last time you talked to one of your customers? Not read a report or sat in on a focus group, but shook hands and talked with a customer.

If you can’t recall and you are the owner, CEO, or other senior executive of an organization then you might have a problem. One simple leading indicator of whether a company is customer focused can be seen in the behavior of their top executives reaching out to customers directly. It’s also a leading indicator if that company will flourish or disappear.

I recently purchased some Bluetooth running headphones from a small technology company in Colorado. They turned out to be defective. I was getting frustrated with the almost-nonexistent customer support so I tried to find the name of the owner. That proved to be somewhat challenging as his name was not listed anywhere on the website except in a promotional video. When I finally did hunt him down via a variety of Internet tools and sent him a friendly email pleading for help, I did not receive a reply from him. I did, however, get quick resolution from their customer support after that point. Why did it have to be that way?

On the other hand we find those organizations who successfully stay connected with their customers. I’m sure these organizations have good VOC programs, but their leadership also gets out and talks with their customers.  In short, their leadership LEADS.

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, would regularly pop into stores across his vast network to check in on the store and talk with customers. His visits weren’t with an entourage that buffered him from his constituency, just him and his old Ford pickup. He just wanted to stay connected to his customers and make sure they were happy with the prices, services, and products his stores were providing.  He did the same with his employees.

Not long ago Pope Francis, fed up with being cloistered in the Vatican, took to sneaking out at night, avoiding his security detail, to help the poor. He also dumped the bulletproof Popemobile, feeling it distanced him from his flock. Delta CEO Richard Anderson is known for getting out and meeting customers, gave up his seat to a passenger so she could get home on time.

You can see this intimacy in thousands of small restaurants, shops, and hotels across the nation who have proud and passionate owners and a genuine interest in their customers’ well being. For the ultimate in “connecting” with customers go to any rock concert where the performers get out and talk with thousands of fans at a time and aren’t afraid to get off the stage to interact.  Wow.

The customer experience doesn’t stop after people open the box, buy the service, or walk out of the store. It continues long after that initial transaction as customers continue to interact with your brand well into their ownership journey. Great leaders of truly customer-centric organizations get that. It’s about getting out there and finding out what is really going on, not counting money behind a desk and letting the “front line” be the sole touch point for the customer.

So today give that customer a call or stop them in your store and say “thanks.” It’s not hard.  Ask them what they like and don’t like and most of all listen. Oh, and thank you for reading…let me know what feedback you have for me as well.

Insights: A Small Investment for Big Returns

It’s no secret that the majority of new product introductions fail.  According to the Harvard Business Review less than 25% of consumer packaged goods and retail products fail to earn $7.5m in their first year.  The annals of business literature are littered with failed products from New Coke, Crystal Pepsi, Frito Lay’s Wow Chips, Microsoft Zune, McDonald’s Arch Deluxe, the Pontiac Aztec, and more recently the Samsung Galaxy Gear.  Why did they fail?  Well, it usually comes down to the fundamental problem of not understanding the customer.  This ailment comes in three flavors: not conducting any market research, doing it wrong, or ignoring the results and voice of the customer.

wow_chips

Due to the presence of Olestra, some consumers experienced intestinal discomfort

No Consumer Research

In this failed product scenario there is no consumer feedback collected whatsoever.  This happens often in small business start-ups.   Entrepreneurs tend to love their own babies, even when they may be ugly.  Many times these founders are so passionate they convince their friends and family that their idea is fantastic.  The very passion of entrepreneurs  have can be blinding, which makes the need for consumer insight even more important.   “Research is too expensive” is the statement I hear, to which I retort, “what is the cost of failure?”

Henry Ford and Steve Jobs are both lauded, rightfully so, in the business press as inspirational and visionary thinkers. They both shared a disdain for market research.  While their product legacy lives on to today in Ford and Apple they were both instrumental in bringing to market two huge product failures: the Edsel and the NeXT computer respectively.  Both of these products had some very advanced features and in many ways were well ahead of their time. Unfortunately, in both instances there was a fundamental misunderstanding of the market and customer expectations.

Firebox

Good intent may result in disastrous consequences

Truly great visionaries may get by for a while without any customer feedback, but without any kind of check on the market they run a very high risk of making some very big mistakes. Launching a new product or service without any consumer feedback is like trying to land an aircraft on a runway at night with no instrumentation. You might make it, but it could be catastrophic.  Why risk it?  It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Bad Customer Research

In other cases, the research conducted is just bad. Coca Cola conducted a massive amount of product testing only to find out that people actually preferred the taste of Pepsi. The logical thing to do?  Make it taste better.  That’s actually what they did with the launch of New Coke.  What they didn’t do is realize the love affair the world had with the brand.  To customers, Coca Cola was a national treasure and they did not want their national treasure altered.  The result was pulling of New Coke of the shelf and the accidental re-ignition of the love affair the world had with Coke.

This is an all too familiar instance of not framing the question properly.  It wasn’t all about the product attributes; it was about the brand and emotional connection people had with it. If Coca Cola conducted their research more broadly they would have found that out.  I have seen many instances where consumer research is too narrowly focused on features without understanding the higher order emotional and psychological desires of people.

Of course there’s about a bazillion technical ways to conduct research poorly; bad sampling, bad design, inaccurate data collection techniques, faulty and misleading analyses, but that’s a topic for another article. The basic point here is; if you going to do research make sure you do it with an open mind and get someone not as intimate with your idea to help think about the right questions to ask.

Ignored

It always amazes me the amount of money that big companies spend on consumer research only to ignore it. As one of my more sardonic colleagues is fond of saying…

“Research, when it confirms what we thought it’s a waste of money, when it doesn’t it must be wrong.”

Ignoring customer feedback is the sign of a company out of touch and a tell tale sign of bad things to come.  Arguably one of the ugliest vehicles ever made was the Pontiac Aztec.  Former GM Executive Bob Lutz summarized it best in Road and Track

http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/vehicle/v/pontiac/aztek-4-door-suv/2001

2001 Pontiac Aztec

Early on, the Aztek obviously failed the market research. But in those days, GM went ahead with quite a few vehicles that failed product clinics. The Aztek didn’t just fail—it scored dead last. Rock bottom. Respondents said, “Can they possibly be serious with this thing? I wouldn’t take it as a gift.” And the GM machine was in such denial that it rejected the research and just said, “What do those a**holes know?”

Hubris and a feeling of product invincibility brought down many a goliath organization.  In Jim Collins’ book “How The Mighty Fall” he outlines the stages where great companies fall.  At the apex of a declining organization is Stage 3 entitled “Denial of Risk and Peril”.  One the key markers for this stage is a tendency for the organization to explain away or discount negative data.  Become aware of that is starting to happen at your organization.

Another mistake is ignoring current ongoing customer feedback about products and services.  In a world where word mouth travels to millions in milliseconds, getting on top of this through listening posts and responding is absolutely critical.   Unfortunately, many companies are not monitoring channels effectively.  Many companies have active feedback coming into their call centers or through sales representatives but it is not consolidated and sent back to those who can do something about it. More alarmingly are those companies that actively “hide” from customers once they sell their product.  You can tell these companies as they offer only a text box email to contact them usually with no phone number or address listed on their website.  A company that hides from their customers is doomed to fail.

The Good News

The good news is you don’t have to be “that company”.  Consumer research is not the end all, be all.  Creativity and innovation is not usually distilled from sitting behind a one-way mirror watching a focus group while eating M&Ms. In fact, I think that method of customers has experienced a rightful death and should be buried.

However, not listening and observing your customers as an input into your product development, implementation, and delivery efforts is a guarantee for failure.  So, does gathering this feedback need to be time consuming and expensive?  Nope.  There are many techniques and services that are no cost or low cost that can help you avoid some fatal market place blunders.  In future articles I will be reviewing some of those techniques, services, and data sources that can help you along the way to become a successful and customer centric business.

How to Get Your Front Line Focused on CX

Probably the biggest under-acknowledged challenge in launching a new CX initiative is engaging front line employees. Real time data collection is pointless if only an exclusive group of technocrats in HQ can see the results. We can’t start to think about action if the front line does not have, understand, or feel the information is meaningful to them. But how do we get the word out?

Dashboards

Dashboarding has become very popular of communicating complex data simply. Companies such as TableauDomomTAB, and Dapresy have some very impressive dashboarding tools. These can be assembled quickly and inexpensively. Here is a nice interactive example in Tableau Public of a fairly comprehensive dashboard designed by Gustavo Alberto for the fictitious Krusty Burger chain, albeit in Español.

Most CFM providers have a configurable dashboarding component as well. The fact that most of these tools are also mobile enabled helps field engagement with the information as well.

However, even dashboarding can be asking a bit much for the busy frontline worker. The average working joe or jane who is out in the parking lot, behind the register, or in the call center really might not have the time, interest, or know-how to consult their NPS dashboard to see how well they are doing. How can they find out?

Making CX Public

We know that engaging the front line can make or break the success of a CX initiative. They are the intersection between the brand and the customer in most instances. How do we make them aware of what is going on?

The answer may be simple. Why not go public with CX results? Let’s put our report card on a very public refrigerator for the world to see.

This accomplishes a number of goals. First, it puts CX attitudinal and behavioral metrics right under the nose of the very people who can make a difference. Most motivation theories such as Expectancy Theory and Job Characteristic Model hold that feedback is very important in improving performance. It also makes a good deal of sense. How do I know if I am improving if you don’t tell me on a regular basis?

Second, for customers it provides a degree of transparency about the performance of that location and gives them assurances that this is a good place to shop. The fact that a store isn’t perfect is not seen as a negative any more than your credit score or your score on the vintage Donkey Kong machine in your local pizza parlor. A “Not Perfect” provides motivation for those in the store and creates a sense of trust with the customer that the books are not, in fact, cooked.

In Store Public Displays

Many companies have taken this to heart. This example shows Weis Grocery store displaying their CX efforts in a low-tech but effective manner.

df_feedback_weis

Here we see some challenges in the Produce and Seafood departments but some recent victories in Bakery, Deli, and Pharmacy. This information is posted right in the front of the store for all to see. To associates it is a constant reminder of what still needs to get done and to customers it says we are serious about customer experience and are always striving to improve.

The other nice feature of this simple approach is it involves everyone. Ostensibly the GM and/or department heads are physically updating their scores and changes on a regular basis. As a result, I would imagine the employees in the department discuss regularly and are attuned to those scores. Finally, customers see it every time they shop. In short, it engages all stakeholders where it matters; on the front line.

This second example comes from the London Midlands Railway in the central Britain. This is posted right at the station, not hidden away in some corner of the station, but right next to the ticket counter.

df_feedback_midlands

You can see here they display operational data (e.g., on-time performance), along with the trend. Right next to that information you can see how they handle the human side of the business with information about information provided and “staff attitude”. A very nice summary of all results can be found online here as well.

Online Public Displays

Publicly displayed information about Customer Experience need not be relegated to physical locations. While digital reviews are fairly ubiquitous not everyone has the fortitude to let all reviews get posted unfettered. In some cases, corporate sponsored CX metrics systems either cherry pick reviews or filter out the bad ones. This practice, however, has consequences. The biggest of which that consumers will stop believing them if they appear to be tampered with.

Here is a nice example from Best Buy that lets the CX cards fall where they may. You can see that the reviews are verified (they have to be purchasers). If you were to scroll down you would see many that are not so stellar.

df_feedback_bestbuy

This level of transparency not only helps customers make a good choice, it allows for self-policing of CX so long as it does not degenerate in a quid pro quo economy where there are favors (i.e., incentives) traded for good reviews. That is a topic for a whole different post.

Many others, particularly in hospitality, have adopted a similar approach, thus creating a natural selection system for CX. While some ratings site have been criticized by having reviews suppressed and others have been accused of not being vigilant enough in preventing fake reviews, other companies like SureCritic Reputation.com, and others act as intermediary of reviews that seek out to post the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Driving Engagement and Trust

We live in a time of information transparency. It is expected by customers and integral to consumer decision making. A recent report by Deloitte found that almost 80 percent of consumers have interacted with brands before they even set foot in-store.

While CX information is important for consumer decision making, it also has a large role in driving both employee and customer engagement. Those dashboards and reports sitting back in HQ do little to get buy-in from the field. The private curation of data is seen as Big Brother paternalistically trying to keep tabs on regions and outlets that clearly cannot be trusted.

You can start to turn the cultural ship a bit by democratizing the data. Push CX and operational data down to the lowest level and get the front line’s buy in. If it’s under everyone’s nose every day and they feel like they have some part in influencing it, it will help drive behavior.

Second, I personally prefer the low-tech version in lieu of, or in addition to, technology based solutions. The grocery example is easy to set up, requires about $29.99 of investment and requires local management and front-line employees to engage in the process versus being passive recipients of data.

Third, make CX simple and embed it into the culture. I know many hotels and retailers start the day by reviewing customer feedback. This a great practice that gets everyone focused on the customer rather than the score. It includes everyone in the solution; and most importantly those who can make the biggest difference.

Finally, the practice of cherry picking, tampering, incentivizing, or modifying customer feedback before it gets to the public domain is a very bad one. People aren’t stupid and will catch on to these shenanigans. It will reduce perceptions of trust and they will, over time, dismiss the information as bogus, transforming an entire feedback mechanism into an enormous waste of everyone’s time and money.

Making it Visible

Getting unvarnished customer experience feedback out in the public, in a simple to understand, and non-punitive fashion will help engagement with employees and also engender trust in customers that you are dedicated to making sure they have a rock star experience. When people have access to the data, believe in it, and understand its impact they will be much more apt to do something about it. And action is the whole reason for any CX initiative Continue reading

Ten Ways to Reboot your VOC Program

Customer Experience (CX) is emerging as a multidisciplinary field. It’s not just operations, marketing, sales, design, or insights… all of the above is required to create an immersive and seamless experience for your customers.

df_restart_cx

That being said, the metric back bone of most CX programs rests in the Voice of the Customer (VOC) program. That is, those activities focused on getting customer and prospect feedback, getting it to the right people, and then doing something about it. If you are striking out for the first time to develop a VOC program or looking to upgrade your existing program here are some tips to consider.

1. Respect Your Customers

Customers are very savvy nowadays. In fact you are one. Do you really think the fake cursive writing is or the fictitious name for the signatory line of the survey is believable? Time to treat people with intellectual respect. Be honest about what you are doing and why you want them to help you. I remember when I gave up my Groupon account and tried to unsubscribe. It asked me if I was sure and then they threatened to beat an employee if I did. I persisted with my unsubscribe wishes to which Groupon delivered on their threat and I was required to watch a video of “Derick”, ostensibly a Groupon customer care employee, getting ambushed and faux assaulted by a co-worker. It was personal, it was authentic, and it was funny. It also made me feel a little guilty about booting Groupon. Keep it real and honest and your customers will help you out.

2. Scale Back the Scales

On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being “this really blows” to 10 being “I’m never going to fill out your stupid survey” please rate how much you like filling out scaled questions. Yea, I’m down with Likert, Guttman, Osgood, and all kinds of scales. They have their purpose, but it is a dated way and overused way to understand human attitudes and emotions. In scaled questions we are putting the burden on the respondent to encode their state of mind. In reality our job is to decode their state of mind from what they tell us, in the way they want to tell us.

While we still can’t abandon scales completely, we need to be moving toward more open ended questions to let people express themselves in the way they want. Intelligent probing can make the process more conversational and engaging and as a bonus yield better text analytics outcome on the back end. You’ll end up getting better data from real people. With the advances in text analytics from companies such as LexilyticsClarabridge, and Megaputer there no reason why you cannot make this happen today.

3. Keep it Short, Keep it Fun

No one wants to complete your 8 page survey except perhaps institutionalized populations. The days of even filling out a 4 page survey are over. Short back and forth conversations are the way to build rapport and intelligence. Uber for example, has a nice, brief, customer experience survey at the end of each transaction. Chatbots and AI assistance as made this approach even more scalable today. Rather than going deep with one individual we should be going wide with many. Short rapid feedback surveys can be stitched together to get a good idea of the overall journey from multiple sources.

4. Give Something Back

It doesn’t have to be an incentive. In fact, incentives tend to let the air out of the VOC balloon and can create a pseudo rating economy if left unchecked. People are narcissistic and like to talk about themselves and their opinions. Give them a forum to do so. Doubt me? Take a look at TripAdvisor where they have literally millions of reviews provided for free. Create an ecosystem where sharing is fun and your customer get something in return; ideally one that is intrinsically reward for participating. If you don’t, other big players will such as Amazon’s move on vehicle reviews and evaluations.

5. Make it Fun

Your brand has a personality. Or at least it should. Let that shine through in collecting Voice of the Customer. Make your connection with customers brand enhancing not brand detracting. Use it as opportunity to reinforce what your brand is all about. Companies like Customerville have put this at the forefront of their offering, delivering a feedback experience in parity with their clients’ brand experience. Bring a gaming element into the survey process is also a great way of engaging customers in the survey process and improving data quality at the same time. Finally, don’t forget the majority of your users are probably completing their survey via mobile device. If you aren’t providing a mobile-first environment that will definitely be un-fun experience.

6. Help Them

Nothing pisses customers off more when you ask their opinion, they ask for help, and you don’t do anything about it. Help them out. It’s social Karma. If they have a problem, make sure your system is set up to quickly acknowledge and resolve concerns. If they want to know more about you or your products and services get on it and tell them. This moral high ground that research cannot stoop to help matching people with solutions is silly. If they want know about that accessory or other upsell opportunity jump on it. But do it in a way that isn’t pushing product, but is matching solutions with needs. Amazon does this every day… seems like they are on to something.

7. Connect the Dots

“Can I have your membership number please?” No, you can’t. That’s your job. You have my phone number and my name; figure it out. Stop annoying customers by asking them about things that your company already knows. “Oh but it’s easier just to ask them” some will say. Yea, easier for the company. Stitch your intelligence together. Don’t make it seem like each time is the first date with a customer you may have had for 10+ years, use the information you have. VOC should build on itself. It should be learning over time. For that matter, there is a ton of information out there already. Doubt me? Do a little Google on yourself…it’s unnerving. Unfortunately, we are still living in a transactional world with transactional databases. We need to move toward a longitudinal view of the customer fusing the wake of consumer behavior with attitudes and emotions. Only then will we be able to really understand and model Lifetime Value well and do some really awesome predictive analytics.

8. Stop Worrying about Measurement

“Oh should I use a 5 point scale or a 10 point scale?”, here’s the truth. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter that much. I have read and written countless article on measurement and in my opinion, there is entirely too much focus on it. It is the focus on the tangible and easy versus the intangible and hard that has made the issue of measurement such an imperative. We need to focus on way to change human behavior. If you boil it all down that’s what CX is all about; how do I get employees and customers to behave, think, and feel differently? The measurement bit of that help you figure out what to do and how well you are doing to meet that goal, but the real hard work is in making it happen.

9. Focus on the Story

Move from report cards to stories to have the maximum impact on your organization. We are a story telling species. From the time we gathered around the campfire all looking like Chris Cornell (god rest his soul) it how we delivered wisdom. It’s the narrative, not the facts. That’s how we relate, that’s how we determine what is important. Our modern brain processes facts and figures and our primitive brain likes to think about Bob and how he got screwed at the car dealership. It’s life. Stories conquer fact, time after time. So let’s stop bemoaning that and get on board. Stop presenting dashboards and start presenting narratives. Make it personal. Make it an emotional. Create impact. You want to be heard, that’s how you cut through the clutter.

10. Good Enough is Good enough

What’s the best kind of dissertation? The one that is signed off and done. If there is one thing I learned in my 20+ years in CX, is that good enough is better than nothing. In fact, good enough is oftentimes much better than perfect. Don’t strive for perfect, strive for completion. Minimal Viable Product approaches have some real credibility and pragmatism to them; note the term “viable” is the qualifier. It’s good to go out and experiment and figure it out. It’s good to half a rough plan, but spend 10% planning and 90% doing. Don’t over complicate things. Try and keep it simple and keep it fast. You will see results sooner (and get attention) if you don’t wait for perfect and you go with good enough.

The Reboot

So those are some tips and tricks for re-envisioning your VOC program. You’ll notice that most of the suggestions for your reboot are about reframing what VOC is all about. Yes, it is about measurement, but that’s one small piece. Driving communication, engagement, and behavioral change is where the true returns are reaped. That’s just the beginning though. The multiples come when the whole organization is pulling in the same direction to make things happen. But that’s a topic for another day.

Words Matter in CX

Mile 1
12.1 miles to go!

 This was the first mile marker sign for the half marathon I ran recently.  Then I came upon this one roughly 9 minutes and 22 seconds later…

Mile 2
11.1 miles to go!
Whoever constructed that sign clearly didn’t understand how devastatingly demotivating constantly being reminded how much farther you have to run.
Mile 5
8.1 miles to go!
By this point, I started to avert my eyes from the signs. This repeated at every mile marker in the entire race.  The only reminder I wanted of how far left I had to go was at mile 13 where I had 0.1 of a mile to go. 

Whoever constructed that messaging had a fundamental lack of understanding of the runner (customer) mindset.  Rationally, it shouldn’t matter.  It’s just another way of expressing the same data.  It’s simple math.  But for some reason it really makes an impact on how I (and I think others) felt.

Why? 

The human mind can work in seemingly irrational ways; which the field of behavioral economics seeks to understand.  While the term is new, the contributing fields are well established; the intersection of economics and psychology.  Let’s take a look of some the psychological dynamics at work here and how they can be applied to the customer experience.

Frames

How a statement is framed can have a large impact on how you feel and what you might do. Suppose we did some research and discovered that a new type of sugarless chewing gum was recommended by 80% of dentists who were surveyed.  As luck would have it, your company happens to produce a sugarless gum.  You come up with the following slogan.

“ Four out five dentists surveyed recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum

As you are certainly aware, this was an incredibly successful advertising campaign for Trident gum.  It sold a ton of Trident. But what if we turned that statement around.

“Twenty percent (20%) of dentists surveyed do not recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum”

Wow. Makes a difference. You ask yourself; why do 20% of dentists not recommend it?  Out of 100 dentists, 20 say it’s not a good idea?  These are my teeth after all, I’m not sure if I like that at all.  It is the same data just framed different.  In fact, Trident even poked fun at themselves about it.  It turns out, framing statements in terms of gains or losses can have a big impact.

We know from a preponderance of research that people universally view losses twice as psychologically powerful as gains. We covet what we have much more strongly than what we might get.  For example, we are feel much more strongly about paying $1,000 in taxes (loss) than getting a refund for $1,000 (gain).  Even though they are economically equivalent, the psychological impact is asymmetric.

This make evolutionary sense.  Do we sit tight and be happy with the grubs and sour berries we have collected or do we risk getting eaten by a lion and shimmy up that coconut tree?  Mmmmm….yummy grubs!

The Power of Free

This is exactly why “free trials” and the “free economy” are so effective in on-boarding people to recurring revenue schemes.  It’s low risk.  While giving products and services away for “free” is powerful, that tactic also capitalizes on what is known as the ownership effect.  Once a product or service becomes part of your day to day behavior you dislike (or even mourn) the loss of the service. By crippling the service just slightly (advertisements, limited functionality) you can nudge people into a full subscription service. This is the business of model of everything from Time Magazine to Spotify to Dollar Shave Club.  The model is powerful. Get them on the juice and then cajole them to do more…even a little bit. In communication you are highlighting what you are losing by not using the upgraded service.

Framing Applied

How we frame the situation for customers is extremely important and can have powerful consequences.  For example, giving accurate and realistic estimates on waiting time (e.g., doctor’s office, deli’s, delivery, etc) is known to be a key driver to satisfaction.  The first priority is to set and then meet or exceed expectations on delivery time.  Second, how you communicate that delivery time can make a difference in perception. Consider these two options:

Your package will be delivered in 10 days.

You will receive your package on April 18th.

Assuming April 18th is 10 days from when you are reading this article, which one did you prefer?  I bet most would choose the second one as it doesn’t highlight the loss (in time) and focuses on the positive (when it will arrive).

While loss statements can important catalysts to action (e.g. “your subscription is about to be cancelled, act now!”) they can also have a unnecessary deleterious effect on your customers’ experience.  I would encourage you to focus on the miles conquered not the miles that lay ahead in communicating to your customers, unless of course they like miles.  And if someone could change those mile marker signs in the next race that would be great too.

Agile Design in CX

Two comedians are interviewing for a job at a comedy club.  The first comedian tells the owner how funny he is and how often the audience laughs at his jokes.  The second comedian tells the owner a really funny joke.  Who do you think got the job?

The single most impactful way to make a meaningful and lasting impact on the customer experience is through directly impacting the customer in those critical ‘moments of truth’.   Knowing what these are and how to act on them doesn’t happen by accident, they are created through experiential design.

“But surely, one does not merely ‘design’ an experience, do they?” the meme might read.   Good question.

Historical Approaches to Doing Complex Stuff

Designing a customer experience is a complicated undertaking. In the history of humankind how we organize, conduct, and complete complex projects has a been a source of interest, study, and refinement for the better part of 4 millennia.

Surely the great pyramids were not done by shooting from the hip. Plans were drawn up. Architectural and mathematical principles were applied. Workflows and schedules were introduced. Workers were conscripted. Hookahs were smoked. One might expect a very rational linear process.

However, a review of history would argue that a pure linear process is not the source of humanity’s greatest accomplishments.  Course corrections are often made on the way.  Scrapping a large part of what was done or even “rebooting” completely happens often.

The scientists at Los Alamos in 1943 had a rough ‘plan’ to start with but was revisited when things did not work out as expected.  An intellectual punt on the concept of compression yielded the birth of nuclear fusion which in turn brought World War II to a close. Phew!

As Albert Einstein said “If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research.”

It turns out that controlled chaos is good for humanity.

The learnings are this: if we are overly strict and structured we fail to innovate, barreling down a predefined path and not looking up.   If we have no structure and guiding princples, we just iterate aimlessly like a wind up toy bouncing across the table that eventually vibrates off the surface crashing to the floor.

These two approaches are book ends on a continuum that can be found in everything from the fine arts to the physical sciences.  Somewhat ironically, no more apparent is this creative control-chaos tension than in the world of software application development with the move from “waterfall” to “agile” approaches.

Waterfalls

In the waterfall approach you specify the entire project, define it as tightly as possible, have it reviewed and approved, and then cut it into pieces for development.  Bing botta boom! It is speced and you can now execute like building a house.

The pros of this approach are that you have the scope of work defined and then can be very efficient in planning and executing it.  The downside is, no matter how good your plan is, you always run into the “unknown unknowns” if it is a unique (i.e., not mass produced) product.  If those exceptions are not handled right, it can deliver a death sentence to a project.  Also you run into the issue of waiting for the “grand unveiling” which can disappoint if expectations are misaligned.

Agile

Enter agile development approaches.  In this approach we have a rough master plan but iterate out chunks of observable work in the hopes of arriving at a Minimal Viable Product (MVP).  The plus side of this approach is we can see the work in progress and course correct as we go.  The challenge with agile is to not veer off in undesired directions and miss the original intent.  The ‘squirrel’ factor can be a big distractor in the agile approach if not carefully managed.

Planned Agile

Can we combine these two approaches in CX design?  I think so. We list purposely toward agile, but keep in mind our overall CX objective.  We need to be ready to go in and experiment.  We need to hash out some good enough (field) hypotheses and then implement them in a controlled environment and see what happens. We need to include the employees and the customers in the development of these ideas.  We should have good measures in place to help us determine what is working and what is not; operational, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional.  The guiding principles to your success in implementing CX lay in being simple, fast, local, and iterative.

  • Simple – overly complicated schemes die under their own weight. Make it a concise and simple idea.
  • Fast – let’s get the concept out there. Let’s test with data.  Long testing periods grow stale. Stakeholders become disinterested. Let’s fail fast.
  • Local – everything happens at the local level. When retailers see success, then we can use that grass roots success to spur deployment at a larger stage.  If it fails, the risks are relatively low.
  • Iterative –you will have complete duds. More often the execution needs to be tweaked and refined.  Don’t be afraid to kill off the duds.  But don’t confuse suboptimal execution with theory failure.

Selling More Booze

Let’s take a simple example of post purchase assistance. We might find from proper journey mapping that an area of opportunity is post purchase assistance at a beer and liquor distributor. We observe that for this particular retailer, the average purchase is not only high in dollars, but also high in weight.  We hear that customers sometimes struggle to carry their alcoholic loot to their vehicles.  We want them to carry more booze to their car. An area of opportunity?

We hypothesize by making a modest investment in assisting customers load their purchases from the store will result in better retention and increasing basket size over time. We construct a test. At this point we can either have a trial store test yoke with a similar other store or a pre-/ -post design.  I can walk you through those boring details some other time.

Next, we implement the new intervention (employees assisting customers to their vehicles) and observe the changes in the operational and financial metrics.  We might also want to ask customers directly about their perception.  Is this helpful?  How can we improve this?  Is this something we should continue? Is this something that would make you want to return.  We may also want to talk the employees about what they think.

This kind of micro-intervention can be carried out in a few weeks and then be tweaked or simply discarded.  If it works; awesome.  Let’s continue to do it, and do it better.  If it doesn’t, let’s fail fast and move on to the next thing.

The point is to be continually testing, revising, and improving using operational, behavioral, and attitudinal metrics as our guides to success.  Let’s not over complicate it.  We need to have a master plan but be willing to adapt. We also need to be agile in testing.  Find out what’s working and what’s not. Quickly, simply, and iteratively testing ideas at a local level will be the key to making a bunch of small wins…that can add to big ones very quickly.

NPS: Helped or Harmed?

It has been about 12 years since Dr. Fred Reichheld wrote his original article in the Harvard Business Review entitled The One Number You Need to Grow, which later led to an entire book on the topic.   This seminal work has had a profound and lasting impact on the CX industry.

For the uninitiated, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a 11 point anchored “would recommend” scale where you subtract the bottom 6 (detractors) from the top 2 (promoters) to get a “net” promoter score[1]. This measure has been enormously popular and widely adopted in many CX metric programs.  But one question that I think the industry needs to know is:

 Has it helped or hurt?

Helped

In the “helped” column it placed a clear focus on customer experience among the C suite types rather than pursuing “bad profits”; short term gains at the expense of long term enterprise health. Companies that otherwise would have not been interested or perhaps were intimated by the cacophony of opinions on the topic embraced customer experience efforts and invested heavily.

Indeed, according to Markets and Markets the total spend on CX in 2020 is projected to be roughly $10.8b up from $3.8b in 2014.  In case your math is rusty, that’s more than double the investment in 5 years.

Also, it has offered a nice shorthand to benchmark your own company, competitors, and even across industries.  The genius lays in its simplicity, it can be explained in about 2 sentences to busy executives and worker bees alike.  No complex multi-layered attribute models and weighted indices, it’s just plain old “would recommend” with a twist of lemon.  Delicious!

Harm

In the harm column, it is arguably one of the most confused concepts in Customer Experience today.  No, it is not the best predictor of business performance, and I don’t ever believe Dr. Reichheld ever exactly said that it was.  No, it is usually not the best measure to incentivize your divisions, departments, stores, or employees.  No, it is not enough to measure one question to understand the customer voice.  As one of my analysts posted, perhaps a bit harshly, on Fred’s blog “Dr. Riechheld, I give you idea an 4, based on your logic, that’s all you need to know to improve.”

However, I think the biggest unforeseen and unintended consequence was that business people started focusing on the number rather than what to do about it.  I cringe any time I hear about how some company “needs to improve NPS”.  No you don’t need to improve NPS, you need to improve the customer experience and order to do so, you have to do something.

This paucity of doing something is perhaps why we have seen almost zero improvement in the last 20 years in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.  In quarter 3 of 1994 the ACSI was 74.8 and in that same quarter of 2015 we have achieved a score 73.8.  Now that’s progress!

From Indices to Actions

To be fair, I don’t think Dr. Reichheld ever foresaw or intended the warping and perversion that we have seen with NPS in practice in some instances. So much pressure on one tiny little number. Like many inventions, it was an innocent and good idea that went rogue.

NPS has also inspired a collection of new indices such as Customer Effort,  Net Emotional Value, and others.  That’s great in that it keeps the focus on the customer. Understanding customers’ thoughts and feeling are requisite for improving the experience, but there are no magic bullets.

Let’s spend 1% of our time worrying about the numbers and 99% doing something about it. Investing in experiential design from a customer first perspective will pay much larger multiples in business outcomes than measurement.

Let’s design online and in store experiences that make customers want to come back. Let’s focus and hiring and training the best people we can and give them the right tools to create a great experience.  Finally, let’s invite customers to help co-create that experience at scale. This is where we will get the true recurring dividends out of CX, not rejiggering the metrics.

What do you think?

 

[1] I always felt bad about those lonely ignored “Passives”

On Death Metal, Chatbots, and CX

If someone traveled in time from 1956 to visit us today, they would be convinced the world had contracted a virulent form of contagious schizophrenia.  Everyone is talking to objects rather than people.  Today we talk with our cars, hand held devices, and even appliances. What would send our 1950s fedora festooned time traveler over the edge?  When they talk back.

Bots are everywhere. My wife and I have taken to having our in-home Amazon Echo bot named Alexa play white noise to help us sleep at night (our “dog” snores). Oftentimes, Alexa doesn’t quite get it right…

“Alexa, play rain sounds”

“Playing Reign in Blood by Slayer”

Nevertheless, the robots are clearly here to stay and will grow in prominence. In a research study conducted by Oracle of 800 Marketing and Sales Executives across the globe, 80% said that they are already using them or plan to do so by 2020. The application of “chatbots”, or partially autonomous dialoging assistants sits clearly in the crosshairs of customer service, but also has application in sales and marketing as well as other routine tasks.

 

Notwithstanding their foibles, chatbots can be used to great effect to create a great customer experience. For example, I recently had to have my windshield replaced due to an errant roadway rock and so submitted a claim with Farmers Insurance. It was painless. I called the 800 number and got a bot lady. The bot lady texted me a web link and walked me through the claim all on my mobile phone while I was eating lunch, including scheduling a replacement appointment. It took 5 minutes. The next day I got a text notification that the technician was on his way a few minutes before the scheduled time. He came to my house, replaced my windshield, and it was all done painlessly in 20 minutes. In my opinion it was actually much better than dealing with a human.

“Alexa, play rain sounds”

“Playing songs by Lil’ Wayne”

AI to the Rescue

Chatbots of yore used to be rule based: that is, it would look for words and phrases and then have pre-programmed responses. Many reservation and IVR systems still function this way. If you have ever got caught in one those phone mazes of customer support, you know they can be very frustrating.

However, nowadays bots are getting much more sophisticated via artificial intelligence. IBM Watsontends to be one of the first choices in building chatbots, followed bywit.ai and Microsoft according to a study by Mindbowser. Cleverbot is another famous AI chatbot that you can go out and talk with right now. Created by Rollo Carpenter, Cleverbot is constantly learning with more than 4 million interactions per second. The engine behind Cleverbot and an API for accessing it is available for developers via Cleverbot.io.

“Alexa, play rain sounds”

“Playing Ring of Fire by Jonny Cash”

Not only are chatbots becoming much smarter, they are also can be customized. Imagine Mickey Mouse calling to confirm your stay at Disney World or Tom Boddet following up about your stay at a Motel 6. The folks at Boomsourcing.com use something called Perfect Pitch Technology to customize the outbound or inbound voice to your brand’s needs in a chatbot context. Some of these chatbots are so sophisticated they are hard to discern from real people. Eventually, I expect we will able to configure personality traits; a snippy French chatbot for an exclusive restaurant, a goofy friendly chatbot for an amusement park, a deeply empathetic and reassuring chatbot for insurance claims…you get the idea.

“Alexa, play rain sounds”

“Playing It’s Raining Men by The Weather Girls”

Reduce Need for Surveys

Increasingly those in the Customer Feedback Management (CFM) space are starting to look very closely and adopting chatbots to help supplement or even replace email, phone, or for the old school…mail as a way to get feedback. Startup AtlasRTX has been active in the homebuilders’ community where they are not only using real time dialoging to collect customer sentiment, but they are blurring the lines between marketing and retention. Starting early on in the customer journey, they interact with customers from interest to purchase to post-purchase.

It’s not research, it’s not marketing; it is engagement…with the bonus of providing useful and actionable data for marketing, sales, and insights groups.

Software provider Wizu provides a SaaS solution in using chatbots to collect customer feedback. It has a fairly simple self-serve interface and pricing model to customize and deploy your very own chatbot quickly. CFM pugilist iSky, who focuses on the automotive vertical, developed something called “ Valet” which is integrated with their text analytics engine to create real time two-way dialog with customers. Finally, if you have the time and energy you too can build a rudimentary chatbot from scratch. It takes about $1 and 10 minutes to do so.

“Alexa play rain sounds”

“Playing November Rain by Gun and Roses”

Alas, chatbots aren’t perfect. As any one screaming into Siri or attempting to get Alexa to play simple “rain sounds” can attest. Microsoft’s AI chatbot “Tay” began spewing anti-Semitic and sexist tweets in less than 24 hours after it launched to which Microsoft released a terse and brief apology and promptly unplugged Tay.

Nonetheless, with millennial preference for SMS, Snapchat and other social media messaging device coupled by decreasing attention spans, it is clear “dialoging” will supplant the “survey” in capturing customer feedback. Additionally, customers are increasingly expecting to get something in return for their time.

Combating Shiny Object Syndrome

While the bot revolution is exciting, I think we need to take measures to guard against an epidemic of SOS (Shiny Object Syndrome). We need to make sure we thoughtfully integrate these new bot technologies into an overall customer experience. For example, Alexa is great in the normal quiet home. Voice recognition systems via phone can be quiet irritating when you are in a crowded and noisy restaurant or airport. Think about the context of use when selecting preferred modalities for communication.

Finally, technology should be used to improve efficiency and create a better experience; but only if it can do both. Abuse of chatbot technology in the spirit of “cost savings” will just make your customers angry. Using expensive technology installations when a person, website, or some other form of simplified communication will do is preferred. Apply Occam’s razor to your CX problems. Simpler is always better.

If you are considering using bots in your organization their strike zone appears to be in routine high volume work where some degree of problem solving is required. Tier 1 inbound call handling is prime candidate as is using bots for a replacement for the old fashion post-call “robot lady” IVR. I am also intrigued at the possibility of its use in outbound close loop systems and gathering basic VOC feedback as part of a help system. If it can be done right, it has the potential to further reduce data collection costs, improve quality, and help customers.

“Alexa play ocean sounds”

“Playing ocean sounds, by ocean sounds”

With the advances in text analytics and AI, collecting customer feedback in the form of a dialog while helping customers only makes sense. We are going to see a lot more robots helping us in our day-to-day. I think we are also going to see email as a methodology give way to messaging in the same way that email supplanted phone (and phone supplanted mail). It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen and faster than you might think. In the interim, my wife and I have switch to listening to “ocean sounds” which Alexa apparently finds much more understandable and less disruptive than the accidental death metal tune before bedtime.

The 7 Questions to Ask in Selecting a CX Technology Provider

“These things changed my life!”

We were at around mile 6 of the Bentonville Half Marathon when I got into a conversation with a fellow runner about footwear. He was wearing a newer “rocker” style shoes which have rounded soles.

“I heard mixed reviews about those,” I said.

“Well, my knees were so bad before, I basically couldn’t run anymore. I started running with these and now I don’t have any pain,” he said trotting along at a good pace.

When I tried on rocker shoes at the running shop I almost face planted in the store. Clearly not for me. What is right for one runner is not for another.

Picking the right Voice of the Customer or EFM or what Forrester now calls “Customer Feedback Management” (CFM) software partner is an analogous situation. What will work great in one organization may fall flat in another. But how to select the best one for your organization?

36706d72-f065-466f-8711-c96937184ceb.jpg

Forrester Wave: Customer Feedback Management (CFM) Platforms Q2, 2017

Much like buying a pair of running shoes, the first thing you need to do is figure out what you need. While there is certainly difference in navigation, data visualization, and tool sets that are easy to see, there are many “below the surface” issues endemic to the design philosophies of software platforms.

Based on my experience in building, vetting, and using these software platforms for the last two decades, I wanted to share the top 7 “gotchas” that, if left unanswered, can bring CX programs to their knees well into the deployment. If you are looking for a new provider or starting a new CX program make sure you answer these critical question with your would-be software partner before you consummate the relationship.

1. Do you Need Self Service?

Do you want to do the heavy lifting yourself or do you want to have someone else do it for you? Not all SaaS providers are the same. Some software providers, such as Qualtrics, Clarabridge, and others provide this “self-serve” option. In this scenario you may be in command of loading sample, building the survey, deploying it, configuring reporting, and running analyses. This is appealing to the research oriented types.

The allure here is control and a lower price point. However, caveat emptor is certainly a phrase to keep in mind. If you go the self-service route make sure you have the time and resources to dedicate to it. Sometimes the allure of a lower self-service price point is a powerful elixir for purchasing and the end user is left holding the bag to staff to it. Happily, many software firms offer services as well (either direct or through partners) to help you out if you get stuck.

2. How Many Nodes Do You Have?

Nodes are front line end units in a distributed CX system. They can be call center representatives, dealerships, bank branches, distributors, or any unit that is the lowest level for which you wish to aggregate and display data. The power (and cost) of software you can employ vary greatly according to the number of nodes you have how and how they are organized (#3 below). If you are a non-distributed B2C situation (like online stores), then the level of sophistication you need will be relatively low. If you are Subway, Starbucks, or AT&T with literally tens of thousands of physical stores globally, then yes, you will want to pick a provider who is really really good at this kind of work.

3. How Complex is Your Hierarchy?

Ok, now don’t go to sleep on me here but this issue is very important. I have seen this esoteric issue many times either make or break a CX program. Organizational hierarchy is how your organization’s end nodes (e.g., stores) are placed into a logical (hopefully) nested hierarchy. It usually goes something like this: many stores go into a region, many regions go into an area, many areas go into a country, and the countries roll up to global. There are infinite number of flavors by which firms organize themselves. If your organization has no nodes, you are dismissed from this class. Please skip to point 4.

There are many issues that can throw an ugly wrench in CX programs when it comes to hierarchy. Some complications for a potential CX software suitors are: the amount of hierarchy change over time, the number of concurrent hierarchy schemes, horizontal hierarchy overlays (such as departments and day parts in a retail store), and when role access is hard wired to the hierarchy structure. When selecting a CX software partner make sure you make your needs are very explicit with examples to avoid unpleasant surprises for both of you at deployment.

4. How Do You Need to Summarize Your Feedback?

Once upon a time, we would collect data and then aggregate the results at the end of the month. We would post these in tabular form or perhaps a bar chart or two and post it on nascent intranet sites and dazzle the masses. It was a simple time. Life was good.

Today, for some CX studies (particularly relational or “wave” studies) this is still fine. For post transactional or “in the moment” type of CX programs this is generally not. It comes down to the use case. Ask yourself “do I need to take action off of the information immediately?” Usually in transactional studies that answer is yes because of new agile approaches to CX design and quick turnaround of hot alerts.

Another important consideration is around the handling of historical data. Software types will typically “backcast” scores based on the current hierarchy. For example, if store 123 was in district 3 in January and was moved to district 4 in May’s reporting, then store 123 is reflected in district 4 historically (i.e., January through May).  DBAs like this tidiness.  Unfortunately for many this is not sufficient for their use case needs. If you have a need to see that store in their original district/region (i.e., “moment in time”) due to an incentive need or other hierarchy score continuity requirement you will want to make this requirement abundantly clear. This, for database folks, is what Rob Burgundy would say is “kind of a big deal”.

5. What Kind of Tools Do You Need?

Tool sets are another important differentiator. Some organizations primarily requirement is tracking KPIs and are happy to have a nice reporting site. You will find software companies are stronger or weaker on UI/UX and this will become a consideration since it will drive adoption.

However, if you have other needs then you will want to make sure your software partner has that capability or can partner to provide it. Common tools include case management, performance planning, action planning (group level problem solving), collaboration tools, marketing integration, tabulation tools, analytical tools, and API capabilities. Companies such as Medallia, InMoment, MaritzCX, Responsetek and others have well-defined suites of add on tools.

Buy what you need. Just like a car, the features you buy, the more expensive it is going to get. Also, unneeded features can overwhelm end users, thus reducing adoption. If you are starting out, start simple. Buy the Harley Sportster; you can always upgrade to the V-Rod later.  Buying tools that your organization isn’t prepared to use will reduce the credibility of your program and can negatively impact the experience for your customers.

6. Is Your Program Local or Global?

This, too, is a very important issue to surface early on. Global programs can be orders of magnitude more complicated than programs that operate in a few countries. Outbound survey language is only a surface level consideration. In bound text (and if it needs coding) can be very complicated. Issues of localization (phone numbers, date formats) can also hamper some programs.

ETL can become onerous as different regions have different levels of sophistication in retaining customer data. Data security and hosting also can be become a concern (e.g., for some reason Russia doesn’t like Americans holding their citizens data in the states). If you have a global need, you will want to partner with someone who can handle this level of complexity.

7. Do You Have Specific Vertical Needs?

Lastly, the CFM world is surprisingly still nascent when it comes to vertical expertise. Each software provider grew up in a certain vertical and so that’s how they tend to view the world initially. Features and approaches that are a given in one vertical are sometimes unheard of in another. For example, social media integration at the property level is table stakes in hospitality but largely irrelevant in retail banking (do you tweet about your local bank branch?). Many software providers can and do stretch across verticals. Just be aware of your idiosyncratic needs and make sure you are explicit.

Buy What You Need

Much of this stuff is patently unsexy behind-the-scene functionality, but critical for potential clients to achieve a good fit for their needs. CX software providers are exceptionally gifted at sales and some will attempt to convince you they can do everything for everyone. At this point in time, this is simply is not the case.

Ask the hard questions and then verify them. In addition, ask if you can take those shoes out for a test drive. If possible, take a test drive with your own historical data. This is an increasingly accepted practice in the CX software community and many software providers will do for low cost or free. It won’t catch some of the dynamic areas I have outlined above, but it will give you a very good feel for the functionality of the site and what is there, or not.

While there are certainly other areas for consideration in selecting a CFM provider, these are the top areas that I have found can really make or break a system. If left unanswered and unresolved you may face some very unpleasant outcomes. Way worse than blisters.