A History of CX Tech

This article is third in a three-part series on the past and future of CX with a focus on role of technology in customer experience. Read the first and second pieces on ama.org. The series is a partnership between Dave Fish, Michigan State University visiting professor and founder of CuriosityCX, and Brian Keehner, a candidate in the master of science in market research program at Michigan State University.

The term customer experience (CX) has taken on a much broader meaning than it once did. Initially relegated to post-purchase engagements and viewed as a cost of doing business, CX is now regularly interpreted to encompass the entire consumer journey. It has emerged from the backrooms of customer support to the forefront. The world of customer experience has progressed from a collection of unrelated disciplines that vary by department and company to a coordinated effort with resources and authority.

Origins of Customer Experience

We did not arrive here overnight or even in the past few decades. CX originates from sources as disparate as call center technology and marketing analytics. Clearly, CX will continue to adapt, grow and change in the future. But its origins can help us understand where it is going.

Market Research

Market research emerged in the 1920s as a way of testing and improving advertising. Psychologists such as Dan Starch and George Gallup advanced the fledgling field of market research through the application of scientific principles. Following the post-WWII consumerism boom, market research began to truly emerge as a field of its own. Rooted in advertising and marketing, demand for market research expanded to almost every sector by the 1970s.

Total quality management (TQM) and other customer-focused initiatives rose to prominence by the mid-1980s, and the concept of customer satisfaction subsequently took off. Since customer satisfaction looked like the typical “frame-measure-report-action framework” found in traditional market research, many agencies jumped into customer satisfaction.

One early adopter was Rogers Research, which was acquired by Maritz in the mid-70s. Maritz, a company founded on incentivizing employees to improve performance, used customer satisfaction scores as performance indicators, marking the start of a long and tumultuous marriage between scores and performance. The firm soon started conducting large-scale customer satisfaction studies in Detroit and still does today as MaritzCX. At around the same time, as legend has it, JD “Dave” Power knocked on the doors of Toyota Motor Industrial Equipment and soon started what was to become the quality syndicated business JD Power and Associates. While JD Power initially focused on product quality, it made the jump into the service side of the business in the 1980s.

Process reengineering and quality initiatives increased during the mid-1990s, abetted by a considerable amount of academic squabbling, and created what is often hailed as the “golden age” for traditional market research firms conducting customer satisfaction-focused work. Bradley Gale, author of Managing Customer Value, and others were shifting the discussion from customer satisfaction to customer value. Their theory was that merely ensuring customer satisfaction is not enough, but rather value had to be better demonstrated. Customer value management (CVM) expanded the world from just examining post-purchase aspects to looking at quality, pricing, communication and other aspects of the experience that drive customer value.

Maritz and JD Power became key players in the customer experience arena and were joined by other firms including Gallup, Burke, iSky and Walker Research. At the same time, titans of market research such as Synovate (later acquired by Ipsos), TNS and GfK began gobbling up smaller firms around the world.

In the early days, customer experience research was largely conducted via phone or direct mail. Paper reports were initially used to present findings. With the advent of the internet in the mid-1990s, research companies began transitioning to outbound e-mail and built tailor-made reporting portals. These portals were largely customized for individual client needs and moved paper reports to tabular, web-based reports, which proved to be an easier and more cost-effective way to disseminate data.

Clients quickly became interested in customizing their web reporting sites, and research companies, who were used to accommodating ad hoc requests, happily obliged. This practice resulted in each client essentially having its own highly customized personal reporting website; but these sites were expensive to build, initially plagued with quality issues and required perpetual care and development as new technology and security concerns emerged. It also effectively locked out smaller client organizations that could not afford the hefty price tag associated with these large custom enterprise systems.

It was around the late-1990s when new competitors began appearing from other ad agencies and applied a new approach to the problem of capturing the voice of the customer. The industry leaders were initially dismissive of these new upstarts, as is all too common in industries facing change. Little did they know how this emergence would foreshadow disruption.

The Tech Startups and EFM

In 2001, Esteban Kolsky, then a Gartner analyst, began writing about customer feedback systems, which soon became known as enterprise feedback management (EFM). In the mid-2000s, several tech startups began appearing in Silicon Valley, Salt Lake City, Vancouver, Toronto and parts of Europe.

Early players included Service Management Group (1991), Confirmit (1996), Mindshare (1997), Empathica (2001) (now part of InMoment), Medallia (2001), Qualtrics (2002) and Allegiance (2005) (now part of MaritzCX). While their approaches all varied slightly, the common value proposition was this: We can deliver 80% of your needed functionality in near real-time for a fraction of the cost of bespoke solutions, and we are able to integrate multiple data sets.

Most were able to deliver on the promise of a fast, basic approach to customer feedback gathering and dissemination, but the boom of customization came at a cost. Early players set the stage by creating the demand for ad hoc programs. Firms found the high price of building customized platforms less fiscally prudent than repurposing existing programs that could produce a similar end result.

For a while, large traditional research players were selling high-end custom solutions tailored to large enterprise clients. The new EFM upstarts, in contrast, were selling standard solutions out of the box to small and medium-sized businesses. These differing approaches allowed both to occupy their own respective niche.

Each player seemed to follow the practice of picking their own area of specialty and largely preoccupied themselves with pursuing dominance of that respective vertical. Beyond tradition industries like travel, hospitality and business services, EFM systems have been applied to human resources (e.g., Namely, Workday and ADP), health care (e.g., Access and Perigen) and the nonprofit sector (e.g., Vovici and Ruffalo Noel Levitz).

This started to change dramatically in the mid-2000s. The EFM firms now became mortal threats to the entrenched research firms. But it wasn’t just the EFM players who sensed opportunity and wanted a slice of the action.

Call Centers

Call centers were logical places for customer satisfaction feedback systems to take root and flourish. With large transactional volumes, typically younger and/or less experienced agents, and a strong emphasis on performance metrics and coaching, call centers were aching for the insight voice that the customer could provide. Companies like ResponseTek and others sensed this desire and offered a platform that could handle the complexities of systems with many agents and organizational hierarchies that changed almost daily. It was only a matter of time until call center software companies would design their own EFM platforms.

Sensing opportunity, call center software providers added value to their existing technology. Verint is a very large call center, customer engagement and surveillance technology provider. With sales surpassing $1 billion in 2017, it has also created customer feedback software systems that many of its customers use in addition to their own EFM software application.

Born out of the Israeli intelligence community in 1986, NICE systems now has revenues more than $1 billion as well. With a pedigree for security, surveillance and call center software, NICE built its own EFM software initially for post-call center satisfaction. NICE recently acquired Satmetrix to further establish itself in the CX technology space. Another player of note is Convergys, who also operates in the EFM space and has a call center technology heritage.

The NPS Effect

The seminal work of Fred Reichheld, Bain, and Satmetrix appeared in the Harvard Business Review in 2003. Called the Net Promoter Scores (NPS), it was a simple way to take on two major problems in the CX world at the time: complexity and ROI.

First, many of the voice-of-the-customer systems at the time had complicated weighting systems and indices which were difficult for users to understand. In contrast, NPS was understandable for executives and front-line employees alike. It is a simple, 11-point scale that subtracts brand “detractors” from brand “promoters.” As is the case with many popular ideas, the simplicity of the idea made it appealing and aided in adoption.

Second, client companies were investing millions in CX, often seeing little in return for their efforts. While others have demonstrated the link between customer experience and business outcomes, none did so as eloquently as NPS.

While there is still much controversy around the NPS concept, no one can debate the impact it has had on the industry. When asked whether it helped or harmed the industry, Customerthink editor Bob Thompson said, “I have to edge to ‘helped’…NPS is a key reason that people are interested in CX and why it’s become a boardroom issue.”

Not long after, in 2011, the CX discipline was further advanced with the founding of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) by Bruce Temkin and Jeanne Bliss. This created an intellectual home for people from many different disciplines and reinforced the legitimacy of the field of CX.

Where We Are Today

Despite repeated claims of EFM’s death, both the term and the application are very healthy and growing, albeit under alternative acronyms, such as CFM. Likewise, CXPA appears to be healthy and growing with close to 14,000 followers on LinkedIn.

Today, the definition and purview of customer experience continues to grow, with many looking at the “C” in CX and wondering if it does not capture an end-to-end experience. After all, the CVM work of the 1990s was looking at aspects of the experience outside of post-purchase (to a limited degree), but never really established a beachhead into acquisition, the traditional province of marketing. Today, with a call to “bring down the silos” inside organizations, CX is finally starting to break the bonds of post-purchase experience to be more inclusive of the entire journey, from catalyst to disposal.

While there are many different types of organizations in the CX space, the EFM firms who have infused technology into domain expertise form the basis of the industry. Their increasingly large footprint in the CX space has them poised to continue to redefine the industry. These firms vary considerably in the size of their business and the scope of their CX management solutions, but they have a wide global reach. This global presence is supported with myriad office locations, predominantly throughout North America and Europe, which support customers in more than 50 countries across the world. Who will be on top in five, 10, or 20 years is anyone’s guess, but here are today’s key players (listed in alphabetical order).

Clarabridge
Reston, Virginia
Clarabridge is an experience management and text analytics software provider.

Confirmit
Oslo, Norway
Confirmit is a provider of voice-of-customer and market research software.

Customerville
Seattle, Washington
Customerville is a customer experience-focused survey software provider.

InMoment
South Jordan, Utah
InMoment is a customer experience-based management company.

Market Force Information
Norcross, Georgia
Market Force Information specializes in CX management solutions that are designed to deliver location-level customer feedback.

MaritzCX
Lehi, Utah
MaritzCX is a customer experience-focused company.

Medallia
San Mateo, California
Medallia is a provider of SaaS customer experience management solutions.

Questback
Oslo, Norway
Questback is a provider of online survey and feedback management solutions.

Satmetrix
San Mateo, California
Satmetrix specializes in customer experience management software.

Qualtrics
Provo, Utah
Qualtrics is an experience management software company.

ResponseTek
Vancouver, Canada
ResponseTek is a provider of enterprise customer experience management solutions.

Service Management Group
Kansas City, Missouri
SMG (Service Management Group) is a CX technology and insights company.

Verboten! Cross Cultural NPS Comparisons

I was prepared for the worst.

It was a short domestic flight in France so I thought I would gamble on EasyJet.

I had some experience with “ultra low cost” airlines in the states so I assumed that EasyJet would be the same. I braced for the worse: an old rickety airplane, upcharge for every small amenity with sparse and sub-par customer service.

I was pleasantly surprised. While they did charge for baggage and amenities they were very upfront about everything from booking forward. The plane was older, but clean and freshly painted. The customer service was helpful, knowledgeable, friendly, and polite. We even got “speedy” boarding because I was traveling with my family. All in all our EasyJet experience was much better than the majority of domestic carriers I experience regularly in the United States.

Does EasyJet do well in NPS? According to npsbenchmarks.com EasyJet ranks at a -16. Not good. This is far below the mainline carriers such as British Airways, Lufthansa, or other carriers In Europe. But when your point of comparison is US domestic providers they kick it out of the football arena (or at least through that net thing at the end of the field). Did they have a good day? Maybe. But based on my experience traveling both in the US and Europe, air travel in Europe is a dream compared to the United States.

According to the same site, all US providers are in the positive side of NPS with Southwest at 62, Jet Blue at 59, Delta at 41, United at 10, and American Airlines at 3. Would it be fair to conclude EasyJet has worse service than all the mainstream US providers? Based on NPS alone you might be tempted to say yes.

I would argue it is an unfair and unwise comparison. In fact, this is one of three fundamental reasons why cross-cultural comparisons of many attitudinal metrics (including NPS) are fraught with problems that make their comparison problematic.

Reason 1: Your Experience Sets the Baseline

First, as illustrated in my EasyJet example, your past experience will strongly influence the baseline for your future comparisons. If you have always had nearly flawless experience with shipping in the United States and Europe and then you move to a developing country, of course you are going to be disappointed. Reverse the situation and you will be ecstatic.

This baseline effect is one of the reasons why older car buyers are generally more pleased with the experience of purchasing a vehicle than younger buyers. I remember the youth-oriented Scion brand getting trounced in JD Power rankings when they launched. Their scores were much worse than even the Toyota parent brand. What was really strange was Toyota invested heavily in training and new customer friendly processes for a brand which was housed within Toyota dealerships. Was the Scion customer experience bad? Nope, they just focused on younger buyers who had different (higher) expectations.

This “experience” gap has been usefully exploited by startups such as Lemonade, Uber, Airbnb, and others to disrupt whole industries. Your baseline experience will influence your metrics. Are they real differences? They are to your customers. Can you compare them? You should do so with great care.

Reason 2: Lack of Language Equivalency

Another major issue is the concept of language equivalency. The word “good “ or “would recommend” in English does not always hedonically translate equivalently into other languages. Take for example the word “malo” in Spanish. I am not an expert in Spanish, but my understanding it is that is not good, but probably not as bad as “terrible” but probably not as good as “poor”. I am sure there are better examples, but you get the idea.

Even the most careful screening and testing of Likert based anchor points may not work out, as there may not be exact hedonic equivalents in other languages. There are also other subtle language differences that may introduce bias.

The NPS scale canon holds it should go from 0 (Definitely not recommend) to 10 (Definitely recommend) from low (on the left) to high (on the right). This is very good for Western participants, but what about other cultures? Many Middle Eastern languages go from top to bottom or even right to left. Some Asian languages also go from top to bottom. Does this influence how they may respond to a Western-based left to right approach? Probably. But there is still one even larger issue.

Reason 3: Cultural Response Bias

Different cultures tend to respond differently to Likert scale questions in general. For example, some cultures tend to be more generous in their grading, while others are harsher graders. In the research, I have conducted in the US (and from others globally) Hispanic responders tend to be much more lenient, (give higher scores), while Asian responders are much harsher graders. Is this due to the actual service provided? Nope. These are simply cultural differences in response style. This is further exasperated when we expand to look across different countries for some kind of global comparison. Can this be corrected statistically? Perhaps, but I have encountered no practitioners who has taken the trouble to do so (be happy to hear from you if you have!)

Another unhappy psychometric issue is this customer experience ratings are also impacted by where you live. Without fail, those who live in more densely populated areas are much harsher graders on nearly everything. This means that customers in Hong Kong will always score lower than those in Cheyenne, Wyoming even if the experience was identical.

What To Do Instead

So should you just give up hope comparing different regions of the world? While I would not recommend direct comparisons on NPS or other “NPS”-like measures there are many other practical options. After all, large multi-national organizations must have a way to understand the health of their customer experience globally and where to invest. The good news is there are many other ways by which you can judge where to allocate your time and effort rather than by simple (and misleading) direct comparisons between geographies.

Idea 1: Link Attitudes to Outcomes

A good way of doing this is by conducting Linkage Analysis within each geography. In linkage analysis you connect the exogenous attitudinal variables (perceptions of price, service, product, etc.) to business outcome variables. Since many times this is done at an aggregate level, it is useful to have mediator variables such as NPS used in the analysis. In this way you know what “score” is good by geography by connecting to actual business outcomes. What is important in Turkey may not be in Brazil. Knowing what drives outcomes is much more important than a simple index for comparison. While statistically sound, some front line operators might not trust the perceived voodoo of statistical analysis the underlies this approach. If this is an issue simpler approaches can also be applied.

Idea 2: Look at Improvement vs. Raw Scores

One very simple approach is to look at the amount of improvement a geographic unit has over a period of time. In this way you are not necessarily looking that the score by itself, but the improvement in the score over time. While not perfect (ceiling effects tend to put a damper on the party over time), it is a simple one to apply that everyone can understand.

Idea 3: Focus on Antecedent Behaviors

A third approach is to not focus on attitudinal measures at all, but focus on behaviors. How many cases were closed? How many action plans were implemented? How many complaints were registered? These are all antecedents to an attitudinal construct and usually are influential on business outcome variables (e.g., retention, share of wallet, etc.). While not perfect either, these behavioral measures are not plagued (as much) by the cultural issues.

Idea 4: Get to Language Sentiment

Probably the best approach if cross-cultural comparisons are needed is to start with the true voice of the customer: the verbatim. Build up native text taxonomies of positive and negative feedback in the native language. You can then build indices of the ratio to positive to negative relative the culture and language in which the experience is embedded. Many text analytics providers offer great solutions for this today. It will take a while for your stakeholder to get comfortable with this approach, but it has the added benefit of also being a bit more difficult to be the victim of the “coaching” customers to provide a specific answer. If you want to get really sophisticated hook this in with the linkage approach (Idea #1) and you have a very robust approach.

Practically Speaking

Country and global managers need to make comparisons. This is a business reality. If you really need to do these comparisons, I would strongly advocate a transition to one of four ideas above. At the very least, you should educate your management about the perils of cross-cultural NPS comparisons. Just like what is considered spicy in Calcutta is very different than what is considered spicy in Cincinnati, so too is your Customer Experience and how it is measured.

The Benefits of Promoting Curiosity in Children

From NPR’s KQED

Jamie Jirout was not the sort of student who simply took a textbook at its word. In her first semester of college, she asked her psychology professor if she could assist in the professor’s research. Jirout’s interest wasn’t fueled by the fact that she found the coursework convincing — quite the opposite.

“I’d read something in the textbook and then I’d think, that doesn’t really make sense with what I’ve seen, how do they know that?” she recalls. She wanted to reconcile that gap and so, threw herself into research.

Her quest for answers has propelled her career to the present day. Jirout is now an assistant professor of education at the University of Virginia, where one of her primary research interests is studying curiosity in the classroom.

That research is sorely needed. Despite the centrality of curiosity to all scientific endeavors, there’s a relative dearth of studies on the subject itself. Fortunately, scientists such as Jirout and others are actively unraveling this concept and, in the process, making a convincing case that we can and should teach young minds to embrace their inquisitive nature.

More here

How to Make a Big CX Impact for a Small Investment

“Ok, then we can make a man-deal,” Peter said smiling broadly with his meaty hand outstretched to me.

I had closed a deal with an intimating large Russian man on my home in Southern California. Upon finding an issue with the water heater, I promised to replace it quickly after close without going through all the paperwork again.

“Sure Peter, no problem,” I said and shook his hand.

Every day large transactions are made on the basis of trust. Trust is the basis of any human relationship and it is fragile, especially in the infancy of the relationship.

Peter took a chance and trusted me.

I came through on my “man-deal” and to ensure a smooth finish on this short relationship, I decided to make a small investment.

After tending to the water heater, the last thing I left in the modest house in the middle of a hardwood floor was a single bottle of mid-range priced Champagne.

It was a small token of my gratitude and an expense that helped mitigate any further issues in the transaction. The effect was stunning. Peter seemed more excited by this double-digit investment, then the six-digit investment he made in my house.

It’s the Little Things

Small gestures go a long way in getting relationships off to a good start. Organizations good at customer experience recognize that the “dating” part of the journey is the most precarious and invest accordingly. You don’t want to squander your large investment in sales and marketing in on-boarding a customer just to lose them in the first cycle. Here are some ideas for your organization that are cheap and effective.

Acknowledgement

Cameron Smith, a very successful recruiter who counts as his client the top CPG and retailers in the world, prides himself on personally responding to every single email he receives from a job seeker. This seems trivial, but Cam has about a dozen or more folks working for him, so I have to believe his inbox must overflow daily. Cam is very established and, at this point in his career, has no downside to not responding to some college grad looking for his first gig. Nonetheless, he responds to every email consistently. This little token goes a long way in building empathy and trust and Cam’s enviable social network.  We can learn from guy like Cam. Take a minute and get back to folks whether an applicant, a client, or prospect. It is a simple way to build trust and long term relationships.

 The Letter

How you respond also can have a very big impact. I recently received a hand written thank-you letter for a bit of pro bono work I did. It made my day and I told many of my friends and colleagues about it. This special touch costs less than fifty cents and a few minutes and goes a long way in building relationships. It says, “you are not a number, you are special and I appreciate it.”

If your penmanship is horrid (like mine) there are other ways to add the personal touch beyond a hand written ‘thank you’. Before moving to Arkansas we purchased all of our furniture from a modern boutique store close by. The elderly hipster proprietor had an ancient Smith-Corona typewriter which he used to crank out thank you notes on parchment paper. Amongst the cacophony of inauthentic direct mail and flyers infesting my mailbox, it was great to get something as unique as a type written thank-you note on old school Frank Lloyd Wright inspired letter head. It probably took him just a few minutes a day and the pay off is intangible. It is craft. It is unique.

A Call

Follow-up calls are great. Really good automotive dealerships know this and make it a personal one from the salesperson. The use of “videograms” delivered to your inbox also make a big impact. This too, takes no more than a few minutes to do, and can go a long way in creating a lasting relationship. It is also an opportunity to uncover any problems or questions a customer might have.

Here’s a challenge if you are a big organization; once a year have every one of your employees call and thank three or four customers. This connects your employees with your customers and demonstrates that you are serious as a brand about customer experience. Customer experience is not the job of a person or department. Everyone should be involved.

Early Assistance

Ever buy a new gizmo and eagerly open it only to learn there are 23 steps to complete before you can use it?  That feeling sucks. To get mitigate this feeling and get customers off to a good start, many companies put customers into tiers, not according to their value, but how long they have been a customer. They invert the usual value curve, putting newcomers at the front. Software providers are particularly adroit in this strategy, labeling customers ‘freshman’, ‘sophomore’, and so forth according to how long they have been a customer. The reasoning is this; if we onboard people really well, they won’t leave. They know from journey mapping that switching costs are low early on and if they can get people into a nominal decision-making re-purchase mode the investment pays off handsomely.

Payroll provider ADP is particularly adept at this strategy. They manage to accomplish this personalized service at scale. As a customer, a dedicated representative helps you through the first few payroll cycles. Once things seem to be running smoothly you then have access to shared help desk. I have had to call a few times, and each time I get through and get the help I need quickly.

A Small Gift

Making a big purchase can be very stressful. You want to be assured you might the right call.   This is a big opportunity to make a small investment in assuring your customers they did the right thing. I chose a bottle of Champagne. Others chose items more consistent with their brand. A friend of mine related how motorcycle manufacturer Harley Davidson has a particularly good on-boarding package after his purchase. They sent him a scale model of the motorcycle he just bought along with a video, and official documentation about its origin and specifications. He quickly used these materials to create  a small shrine to this new Harley in his garage. On-boarding packages, whether for new clients or employees, mitigates any cognitive dissonance reassuring the person that they made the right choice and reinforces the brand.

Keep it Simple

Like any relationship, early impressions matter. Make sure you are making a positive first impression by making some small investments in recognizing and helping your customers early on. These small acts have a disproportional impact that you will continue to pay off far into the future.

The Secret to Finding True Customer Insight

“I guess we just made a big mistake,” Jonah said.

He looked directly at me for a moment and then downward at his wrinkled hands collecting his thoughts as the sun was setting, casting long shadows across the kitchen table.

His wife reached out and laid her hands protectively on his while Jonah looked me directly in the eye.  They both had something to say. The retired couple were visibly upset but were doing their best to keep their composure.

“We are of modest means,” he started.

As he began his tale I could see tears swelling in his partner’s eyes. Jonah was sitting broomstick straight stoic, his bubbling rage barely constrained behind his dark blue eyes. She sat silent, interjecting on occasion. They both had a message to send. I was to be their messenger. I was there to be their confessor and offer, perhaps, some small degree of absolution.

In this in-home interview, we weren’t talking about a loved one lost. We weren’t talking about a swindled retirement savings or some form of nefarious flim-flam that convinced Jonah and his wife to buy brackish real estate in Florida. We were discussing an automotive purchase, about which they now had very serious misgivings.

“We just believed in them…we feel so betrayed….” she said.

This was very real for them, and in their presence I felt their worry. I experienced their remorse. I felt their pain. I walked away from the interview moved, a bit sad and much wiser. What survey could have captured this?

An undergraduate professor I once had related how he couldn’t conduct surveys because he thought them impersonal and even insulting to participants. He judged them, on the whole, disrespectful and indignant. At the time I dismissed him as being an overly sensitive neo-hippy lacking monetary drive who should just go back to his yurt and carve a new bong out of reclaimed barn wood.

I have recently started to rethink my judgment of the good professor’s position.

Much of the research industry has long viewed the respondent as a commoditized, and largely free, raw ingredient in which to make insight sausages. The ideas being we could just zap enough people in a panel to fill our quotas and off we go. A filled quota is a filled quota after all.

As much as the thought of the mechanization of queuing people to answer your inquiries is appealing, I would encourage you to think about who exactly are taking these long boring surveys.

I have become deeply suspicious of some panels that prod their herds to complete some really poorly constructed “self service” surveys through incentives. Flat-liners, speeders, repeaters, and plain old cheaters are prevalent. There are even software programs that will cheat for you that are available for purchase. A.I. is let lose upon the untended yearning fields of uncompleted questionnaires to do what humans are loathe to do.

As a Professor at the University of Arkansas, I asked my students to describe what taking survey was like using only one word.

“Annoying” “boring” and “pointless” led the list.

In designing surveys, I encourage those same students to ask themselves “would I fill this out”? If not, you should think about a redesign…or different approach completely.

Surveys have their place. I don’t think they are going anywhere soon, but we should become much better at choosing our audiences and creating better and engaging designs.

Good data comes at a price. That price is investing the time to really care about what people have to say and listening in ways that they want to communicate. To not view them as the raw grist for the insight mill to process.

Every day millions of posts are made on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Much of this communication is the expression opinions about people, product, places, and things. Why do people share these things? Because they are provided a forum in which they feel heard. A forum, in which some small way, their voices matter. This empowers people.

So let’s not dump surveys altogether, but become more attuned to the people you are talking to. They are real people with real problems, fears, and dreams. Be with them as a partner and confident, not as some indifferent corporate scientist.

The key to gaining great insight can be found in respectful and careful listening. It is about engaging in deliberate empathy. This is where real insight is uncovered; the ability to see the world from the viewpoint of the people you are interested in understanding.

You will get so much more from this approach even in smaller sample sizes than some sterile panel survey that goes out to god knows who or what. Keep it real. Keep it human.

The fundamentals of consumer research are sound. Companies are still very interested in what their customers have to say. Customers are very interested in sharing their opinions and experiences.

The trick is to listen to your customers in a way they want to be heard. Let them know you care. Be their messenger. Respect them. And if possible, be their advocate.

The Future According to the EFM Giants

Over the last 30 years, CX has also seen radical change, bringing it far from its humble market research origins. To better understand this still nascent offshoot of market research, CuriosityCX, in collaboration with Michigan State University MMR program, interviewed a dozen prominent tech leaders in the CX space from ,Clarabridge, Market Force, Satmetrix, InMoment, Service Management Group, Customerville, Confirmit, Responsetek, MaritzCX, and Qualtrics.

Check out the complete article here co-authored by Michigan State University’s Brian Keehner.

 

Product Design is CX

Product design plays a huge role in creating a great customer experience.  While bad design is easy to spot, we often take for granted really great design in our every day world.  It’s not until someone turns what we take for granted on its head that we can appreciate great design of everyday objects.  That’s exactly what Katerina Kamprani did with her project entitled The Uncomfortable.  Trigger warning to those with OCD…this will drive you insane!

How to Keep Your Brand Human at Scale

“Heeeeey!!!”

“Dude, Dave shaved his beard!” Benji, shouted over his shoulder laughing.

His friends shook their heads smiling in the background.

“It was getting itchy,” I said.

“Duuuuude….you have to give it time,” he said smiling brightly, “the yuse?”

“Yup,” I said.

This wasn’t my co-worker. It wasn’t one of my students. Benji is the barista and all-around go-to guy at our local coffee drive-through 7Brew right here in hoppin’ Bentonville. He knows me, my wife, my kids, and even my dog.

With three locations and a fourth in the works, 7Brew founder Ron Crume had the customer at forefront in both interaction and the design of his locations when arrived here from Grants Pass, Oregon. “Drinks are a byproduct of what we sell, it’s all about the experience,” Crume shared.

Making sure he designed his locations to maximize human the interaction, there is plenty of glass used in construction, and a two-way traffic pattern with people approaching the drive-thru in both directions. Mobile order takers are out and about in all kinds of weather joking and talking with customers.

Beyond the physical and process aspects, are the people. 7Brew is quite particular who they hire. “We are very careful who we hire and want to ensure a good fit with the culture and with the team,” says Crume. Prospective employees are interviewed both by managers and the team to ensure that fit. They are looking for people who are good with people.

The crew at 7Brew are not locked into a narrow approach to customer service where they have to say some contrived tagline, are required to wear a certain amount of “flair”, or ensure they are hitting some kind of behavioral checklist. They are afforded the autonomy, within reason, to make the call for the customer. In short, they can be human. “Our goal is to change the world with one smile and act of kindness at a time,” Crume shared.

The Case for Certainty

However, a willy-nilly no-holds-bar approach to customer service can create chaos. If every barista decided how they wanted to make a mocha or deal with a distraught customer independently companies would quickly lose the ability to scale effectively. They would also lose the ability to deliver consistency, something customers absolutely hate.

As human beings we are evolutionarily hardwired to want to know what is around that next corner or over the hill. This need for knowing has been successfully translated in such psychologically fulfilling but otherwise useless tools such as the Domino’s Pizza Tracker. After all, the Pizza Tracker doesn’t help get your pizza there any faster, it just tells you when it will be there. Not too many people order a pizza and then slip out for a 1-hour jog. You order a pizza because you or your family is hungry.

At Curiosity we have found that consistent delivery even trumps an occasional good experience. There is ample evidence that people would rather have persistently mediocre or bad experiences than one that is good one time and bad the next..

So how do you overcome this chaos in customer service? Even a simple business model requires front-end training to be effective, but training is expensive and takes time. With front-line service workers and call center agents generally less educated and a higher turnover rate amongst this population, comprehensive training is difficult, but left untended creates huge variability in service.

The answer for many is to develop a standards program. Standards programs are where the organization a priori identifies behaviors and processes they want employees to follow and then enforce them through rewards and “incentives”. While we still must train, much of the grey area in service delivery can be simplified.

In using standards to develop a set of defined and simple to understand procedures and behaviors seem like a common solution. “Greet people with x minutes of arriving”, “Answer the phone within y rings”, “Keep on hold time below z minutes” are all laudable axioms and derived metrics to shoot for which are known to positively impact the customer experience.

If done well, those behavior standards are linked to explicitly customer expectation research. For example, we would know the relative impact of hold time going for 5 minutes to 10 minutes and the impact on business outcomes. This is knowable data and helps businesses optimize the cost-benefit equation.

Many businesses were able to rapidly expand their franchise and outlet models through rigid adherence to standards. Standards program were, and are, applied to even high involvement and complex interactions such as automotive sales and service, financial services, insurance, and wealth management.

In this setting the venerable “mystery shop’ is then many times used to assess behavioral and operational compliance. In the one-two punch of traditional CSAT system, direct customer feedback satisfaction is then used to evaluate the evaluative attitudes of customers. In this way we can understand and monitor if we are enforcing the right thing. “Is compliance related to the customer experience?’ and “Is the customer experience related to business outcomes?’ are both questions we can answer with a high degree of certainty.

As you can see in the very typical sample from The Performance Edge, mystery shops get to a very detailed level of behaviors. With a heritage from the world of I/O Psychology and Behavioral Anchored Rating scales (BARs), the intent is not to be overly prescriptive, but to very explicit as to what is the expectation is and what associates need to do to achieve.

df_restaurant_eval

This approach can be very effective, but frequently comes at a price. First, if done poorly it comes across very mechanistic to customers as if employees are “going through the motions’. We have all gotten the flat “I am so sorry sir/ma’am, but I can’t help you” response.

Second, research in psychology has shown that this approach can have the effect of decreasing the implicit motivation of doing good work by substituting an external motivation for implicit one. In this way, fun quickly turns to work for even the most spirited employees.

Finally, many front-line employees I talked to hate the experience. “I feel like I am being treated like a child…it’s ridiculous” one waitress at a local steakhouse told me.

Empowering With Purpose

So how do we minimize the chaos but maximize the humanness? Here are five proven approaches to balance humanness and still provide the consistency that the human species desires.

Robots to the Rescue!

Interestingly one solution can be found in technology. Perhaps we let the robots do the mechanistic jobs that require very specific behavioral parameter; answering within so many minutes, have a response time of y minutes, and so forth. Let make the robots the automatons like the good servants they should be. Let humans do what they are good at; being human.

Tear Down Unneeded Hierarchy

Second, you can dump the old school command and control hierarchy and empower your employees. My first job was with Carlisle Tire and Rubber implementing self-direct work teams in the production cells. It’s amazing what people will do when not treated as a child or cog in a machine…when they are respected and afforded the same freedom they enjoy in their work lives as they do in their personal lives. Sure, there has to be a “boss’ but does there have to be so many of them.

Also, empowerment isn’t just but blowing up the organization and letting people do whatever they want. Former submariner Captain David Marquet offers some excellent insights about how to empower employees effectively. In his article “6 Myths About Empowering Employees” he points out that empowering employees is not something you have to do, that they already are empowered, you just must allow them to do their jobs. However, you just don’t do it in a wanton fashion but ensure both the leadership and the employees have the competence to do so.

Obey the Spirit of the Law, Not the Letter

Third, you aren’t throwing process out the window. You are throwing needless and overly prescriptiveness processes out the window. The good folks at 7Brews have a way they take orders, they have a way they make coffee, and they have a way they take payment. It is clear, consistent, and simple. There is very little variability. However, there is room to test. In talking with the crew there, they seem encouraged to think about new ways of doing things and not just go through the motions. Micah Solomon describes how standards are viewed and used at the Four Seasons resort:

“Standards help ensure that every part of your service reflects the best way your company knows to perform it – a prescription that you autonomously performing employees can then feel free to adapt to suit the needed and wishes, expressed or unexpressed, of the customers they’re actually facing at the moment.”

Train and Inspire

Fourth, is an investment in training. Every great service organization I have encountered invests in and continuously train their employees, this includes 7Brew. The customer experience manager for the high end One and Only resort (of which there is ironically several) told me they conduct training quarterly to every month for all their employees. This training doesn’t necessarily need to be sitting down in the classroom but can be meetups for best practice sharing. It is a continued investment in the front line.

Also ensure you have the right reward and recognition in place to inspire folks. This doesn’t have to be money. Figure out what makes your workforce tick and use that to help motivate them.

Start with The Right Raw Material

Finally, and most importantly, it is getting the right talent for the job from the get-go. Some people do not belong in a customer facing role, just as some people do not belong conducting multi-nomial logit modeling. The right tool for the right job applies to human capital as well. This is well captured in Soar with Your Strengths by Don Clifton and Paula Nelson, where they encourage people to reinforce and chase after what they are good at, and stop worrying as much about what you are bad at.

Whether Benji and the crew at 7Brew in rural Arkansas were born as genuinely gregarious and happy people or learned it from their environment is a debate to be had in academia. In the world of great customer experience, you want these folks on the front line. You want them following processes that make sense but allow for autonomy and room for front-line innovation. Most of all you want to pick the right people for the job, training them, and then let them be them.