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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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!


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?


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.

Small Miracles

“OH. MY. GOD!  Thank you SO much!”

The young New Yorker was visibly shaken very early in the morning at LaGuardia airport.  He stared at his recently unearthed drivers license retrieved from the trash that the older Latino sanitation worker was holding up.  He starred at it for just a moment as if it was ancient holy relic that was thought lost to antiquity before grabbing it and rushing off to catch his flight.  She silently shrugged and returned to her mundane job of emptying the trash.

While we have ample media traffic of horrific service experiences such as the highly “regrettable” incident on United Airlines Flight 3411, we hear less often about the daily heroic feats by service workers perform every day that make peoples’ life just a little better.  These small miracles happen in seconds everyday by service workers who don’t really have to give a rat’s ass… but they do.  They dig through the trash to find your ID, they patiently help you trouble shoot your billing questions, and take your soup back when you learn that it is not gluten free. These are the people that make commerce happen.  They are the check-out clerks, the call center representatives, waitresses, and receptionists from around the world.

If you have ever had one of these jobs you know how tough it is.  They are the front line that deal with the tired, the sick, the angry, and sometimes the crazy.  Most do this with aplomb with little complaint and a minimum of both training and compensation for their effort.

These miracles workers can make or break your business.  They are the backbone of most enterprises.  And, like any reluctant hero, they can decide whether to perform their craft or not to.  Management will never know since this is not, strictly speaking, a job requirement.

They can always just wear the “minimum flair” and go about their jobs.


So how do we get them to continue to perform their miracles?

It is actually pretty simple.  Hire great people, give them the tools to do their job, treat them well, and inspire them to do great things.  While the recipe is simple, putting it into practice is much more difficult.  The companies that figure it out reap the rewards through customers who come back and employees who don’t leave.

Oh, and there is one other thing we can all do to help: treat these front line people with respect.  We all become frustrated with the foibles of people and organizations. It serves us well to understand that many times these front line employees are at the mercy of the tool sets they have and the company processes and policies that constrain them.  They may not be empowered to solve your problem.

So work with them and be patient.  Don’t scream.  Empathize and see their side.  Escalate if you have to, but most of all treat them as you would want to be treated.


CX Learnings from the LA Marathon

I run. Very. Very. Slowly. This past weekend I ran the LA Marathon with about 25,000 of my best friends from Dodger Stadium to the Pier in Santa Monica. It was grueling but fantastic. I even had the honor of being the second Arkansan finisher (there were only 7 others, two of whom were ex SoCal folks who came with me).

While running this race my mind started to stray toward one of my other passions; customer experience. Somewhere in the fog of mile 20 chugging up La Cienega Boulevard on an annoying hill devoid of spectators, I started thinking about the parallels between distance running and changes organization must undergo to become more customer centric. Here’s my 5 tips for running the CX marathon.

  1. Training

You can improvise a 5k or 10k with little training. You might even be able to phone in a half marathon if you are young and fit enough. Full marathons are not something one can typically ‘wing’. The same can be said for Customer Experience initiatives. You cannot simply turn an organization from a product or sales centric organization into one that suddenly embraces the customer as the end –all-be-all. It just doesn’t work that way. It takes work. In what I call Agile CXTM, it requires organizations to engage in a series of successive small attempts and initiatives that build on one another. This iterative building approach is the key to building a successful and sustainable customer experience focus. You got to train to get results.

  1. Find a Buddy

Training for marathons are long and lonely enterprises. Three to five hour outings on cold and rainy Saturday mornings are not uncommon. Having a running group or buddy is almost a requirement to keep you accountable and maintain your sanity. The same is true for organizations trying to be more customer focused. You need help. It’s ok. Find others out there who are running faster or slower than your organization. You need the support. You need the accountability. Organizations like CXPA or forums like Customerthink can certainly help you meet like-minded others who on their own journeys.

  1. Discipline

It goes without saying you must have to discipline to stay training and not give up. Discipline includes staying with it and knowing when to change course. It also means forgiving yourself if you have an off week and couldn’t get your miles in. Your organization needs to have the discipline to stay the course for the highs and lows. You will experience setbacks and failures in creating a CX focus. You will screw up. Expect it. Plan for it. Successful organizations push through and keep going.

  1. Celebrate Successes

Whether you are an elite runner or a 15 minute miler, the point is, you are getting it done. Take the time to congratulate yourself. Take time to make sure your organization celebrates and focuses on its successes. Find that sales rep and recognize her. If accounts payable went out of their way to help a customer; give them a shout out. So much of the time we focus on what’s wrong; take some time to focus on what went right too. We know from human development that positive reinforcement is much more powerful force than punishment.

  1. Maniacal Perseverance

Distance runners are a curious bunch. They are unrepentant masochists. After the blisters have started to heal and they can ambulate not looking like a cast member from the Walking Dead, most distance runners start asking themselves “which one will I run next?” as their loved ones look down and shake their heads.

For organizations the CX race never ends. Sure we have some breathers in between races, but the race never ends. Why? Because others are always racing. They want to beat you. Stay still, you get left behind. Get left behind, and your racing days are over.

Anyone Can Do It

Distance running is really very simple. You put the right foot in front of the left, and then left in front of the right, and repeat about 90,000 times. Almost anyone can do it. The same is true with organizations. Any organization can change provided they have the discipline, patience, and commitment to do so…and perhaps some help from some running buddies. If you need a CX buddy to help you train.   Let me know. You got this.

Journey Mapping for Disruptive Innovation

A blank stare.

That’s what I got from my 8 year old daughter after I asked her to roll up the window in our car. Her lack of comprehension made sense from her perspective. She’s never had to manually “roll up” the window per se. It was never part of her reality of automotive window raising.


Phrases like “turn off” the radio and “hang up” the phone are meaningless to those who never experienced doing those things…ever. They are curious anachronisms for a time…not so long ago…but now archaic and without context.

Humans and Tools

There is a curious recursive relationship between tools and humans. We create tools to better our lives in so doing those very tools shape how we view the world. This is not just a figure of speech; recent neuroscience studies show that tool usage physically changes our neural pathways in a process known neuroplasticity.


This has profound implications for how we plan for the future. In a recent presentation at the Emerging Trends in Retailing Conference, speaker and futurist Brian Solis challenged the audience to rethink their assumptions about the future by suspending their understanding of the present.

He pointed out that the modern website is now more than 20 years old and after years of iterative innovation, is ripe for…wait for it…disruptive innovation. It is technology that is widely accepted. Our lives would be almost unthinkable without it…in much the way we viewed the land line telephone 20 years before.

Engage with customers in real-time across every channel, no matter the medium. Use visitor tracking and email analytics to know what your customers are seeing.

It is an interesting point. The very architecture of websites makes us think about digital using that frame work. It brackets off the reality of what is possible, what it can look like, and most problematic; what is not possible. Why is based on a desktop view of the world when the world is clearly mobile? Why does website architecture have to be hierarchical? Why is it limited to only two dimensional? Why can we usually only look at one page at time? Why are we calling them pages!

Framing the problem

The tools we use not only shape how we solve problems, but how we frame and find the problems in the first place. The anecdote of the sick patient going to an internist, a surgeon, and a therapist and getting corresponding recommendations for drugs, surgery and therapy is not based on physician greed, it is based on how those professionals view the world. The law of the hammer is a powerful temptress.


The issue of framing is especially relevant in the area of CX Design.

One of the first steps in CX design involves understanding the customer journey. Customer Journey Mapping is very important in understanding today’s journey. Those firms progressive enough to take this step understand the barriers and enablers along the customer journey from awareness to disposal and are far head of those who have not undertaken this step.

While there are many approaches to journey mapping, most approaches[1] start by understanding the existing journey from the customers’ perspective and then look for opportunities for improvement. We find the areas of pain and opportunity and incrementally change the experience to improve it. This approach is fine for iterative innovation. But what about creating a disruptive customer experience design?

Disruptive CX Design

Tesla did not try to incrementally improve the auto buying experience, they blew it up and started from scratch with the wisdom of what people hate about the current experience. I am doubtful that Etsy, AirBnB, and Spotify looked at the existing experience and used that at the basis for incremental improvement. For example, according to their website Uber got started based on a very simple idea:

“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.”

Experience Anchors

So perhaps those frames of “what is today” is getting in the way of “what could be” in architecting great CX solutions. When we are looking to build a truly innovative new experience perhaps we should first start ideating the ideal and work backwards to today. Should we find that blue ocean space?

The first step in this revised process would be to first clearly understand the customer underlying needs and values not their surface attitudes. Second is the truly start with a blank sheet of paper and map it out. Sure, today’s reality may set it, but try not to let it drive your thinking. Keep an open mind.

Finally, when you are ideating the revised journey, diversity of opinion is not a nice to have…it is a must have in order to mitigate those experiential frame blinders. Invite people from all walks of life, from different functions, and different ages and world views…maybe even a few of your customers. Deep experience can be an asset but also can be an anchor to today’s reality. Sometimes a children’s naiveté has great wisdom. Listen to it carefully.

I listen to my childrens’ wisdom everyday. Sometimes it can be embarrassingly on-point. Perhaps we should apply some of child like wonder and clarity of thought to our work in CX.

[1]For examples, https://experiencematters.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/seven-steps-for-developing-customer-journey-maps/, http://www.maritzcx.com/customer-journey-mapping/, http://www.tandemseven.com/blog/effective-current-state-customer-journey-mapping-process/


Death Sticks and Starbucks

Almost every Saturday morning my family rolls into the Starbucks drive thru on our way to the farmers’ market. It is a chaotic and noisy scene in the car. I am always astonished at the amount of noise 4- and 6-year-old children can make, especially if I forget to bring along something for them to do. I roll up to the drive thru to get my kids their hot cocoa, my wife’s drink (which would rival in length the average Welsh place name), and my simple black coffee.

StarbucksguyOne Saturday I thought I would spice things up by adding nonchalantly to the end of my order “…and an order of death sticks,” just to see what would happen. Now, to those not nerdy or old enough to get this reference, it was an homage to the bar scene in Star Wars: Attack of Clones.

“That’s $8.23. Please pull around,” said the barrista/cashier/drive-thru guy cheerily.

I figured he either didn’t hear me or ignored me as he did not ask to clarify further my death-stick addendum. So we pull around, I get my litany of hot cocoas, pink donut lollipops, and multisyllabic latte-mocha-whatever. As he returned my debit card, he looked me straight in the eyes and said:

“You don’t want to buy death sticks, you want to go home and rethink your life,” and promptly closed his window.

I was stunned. That was very funny . He quoted verbatim what Obi-wan the Jedi master told the purveyor of death sticks from the Star Wars movie. He turned what could have been perceived as an irritating non sequitur into something fun to interact with a customer. It was memorable.

Right then and there he created an emotional experience through the use of humor. While we usually think about creating emotional experiences through delighting customers, humor can be just as powerful. The most famous for this is the antics of Southwest Airline flight attendants. They turn a boring process review into something fun and engaging for passengers. Delta Airlines later picked up this practice in their pre-flight safety demonstration, starring their flight-attendant-turned-temporary-actress Deltalina (their latest ones are quite good).

Automotive has recently taken a more humorous approach in their advertising with the ubiquitous and quirky Kia Soul Hamsters. Retail juggernaut Amazon lets its customer service representatives have a little fun, too. Even normally conservative Toyota has gotten into the act with the Jungle Wakudoki. Most people like to laugh. It sets people at ease in tense situations. It helps us connect more intimately with one another. Smiling and laughing are universally translated the same. It’s a low-cost investment in getting both your employees and customers engaged with the brand.

Have you had any fun service or product experiences lately? I’d love to hear.