How to Fire Proof Your Burning CX House

 

Exhausted and disappointed…and a bit baffled. That’s how I felt when I walked out of a trendy Indianapolis-area hotel last Sunday. I’d had maybe three hours of sleep and was facing a five hour drive home, which was plenty of time to reflect on my experience and how it could have gone better.

The hotel had lived up to its online image, looking very much like a Restoration Hardware catalog come to life, so we were pleased when we checked in just before Midnight. Long story short, by 4:00 a.m., I’d had multiple direct chats with rowdy hall-partiers, called the front desk twice, and not yet slept. When I checked out in the morning and recounted my experience to the guest services manager, he responded without averting his gaze from his computer screen, saying

“Well, I wasn’t here last night, so…”

What did I want him to do?

All too often, customers complain in an attempt at recompense, hoping for some form of compensation for their pain and suffering, so it stands to reason many employees would assume that is the end-game of any disgruntled customer. When an employee is not able or empowered to provide relief, he or she might feel powerless to offer anything other than an apology. But who walks away satisfied after receiving a tepid apology (or worse, a lethargic blame-dodge)?

Think of it from the perspective of a personal relationship; someone you know does you wrong and you decide to talk to them about it directly. Do you expect that person to pull out his wallet and offer you $50 for your suffering? Or did you hope that person would make a sincere commitment to avoid repeating the behavior, and then hold true to that promise? If an apology is the end of the interaction, with no commitment to improvement, why would I risk interacting with you again? Fool me twice, shame on me.

Translating that to business, customers with no emotional engagement with your brand have even less motivation to return. If they see your house is on fire, why would they run in? If you are not providing multiple channels by which employees can share customer feedback with appropriate leadership, if you aren’t taking that customer feedback and using it to improve operations and related processes, if you are not creating a culture of active improvement over apologies, your house is on fire and you’re letting it burn while you keep busy doing other things. If you are constantly offering refunds, price adjustments, or other forms of compensation to angry customers, your house is on fire and you just threw your wallet in for good measure.

Fire Proofing

Here are some steps that can help you move from house-fire to hero.

  1. Man the sirens. Establish communication channels for employees to relay customer feedback. Make it easy for your employees to capture feedback through sound files or quick transcription so they can relay it appropriately. Make it easy for your employees to do that. Email, a central listening post, an application made available at point of sale; find a solution that works for your business and your employees.
  2. Train your firefighters. Establish triage processes. Empower employees to resolve the immediate issue with the customer. Emphasize that customer feedback should be shared through the established communication channels. Enable employees to make a commitment to action, rather than an apology statement.
  3. Conduct the arson investigation. You’re receiving customer and employee feedback. Read it. Listen to it. Think about it. Make it a discipline to review customer feedback as frequently as possible.
  4. Identify the source of the fire. Think systems, not isolated interactions. The fire has already been put out. Now it’s time to think about the underlying systems, resources, and processes at play in creating that fire in the first place.
  5. Make your customer experiences fire-proof. Once you ascertain the root cause and impacted elements, follow through. Address what is broken, improve what can be improved, practice the discipline of keeping the commitment made to the customer.

If your brand promise does not involve repeatedly burning your customers, maybe give this approach a try. Reflecting on my own experience, had the guest services manager looked me in the eye, thanked me for voicing my experience, and expressed his commitment to sharing that feedback with his leadership so they could find better solutions going forward, I would have walked away smiling.

Maturity Models: Being Human vs. Being Mature

I came so close to dropping the ball on my husband’s birthday.

Let me tell you, he’s a guy who absolutely deserves to be celebrated on his day. However, it’s unfailingly difficult to think of a gift for my husband, who claims he already has everything he wants. With only two days to go and no ideas, I turned to my sister. She is one of those people with the gift of gifting. Not a Christmas nor birthday passes that she doesn’t make half of us cry with her thoughtful, insightful, personal presents. She was to be my savior in this birthday debacle; after five minutes on the phone lamenting my dilemma, she casually tossed out the most perfect idea and I ran with it. Some people were just born to delight others; they know how people want to be treated.

Models, models everywhere…

A colleague recently asked me about the customer experience maturity model and its relevance in the modern CX space. I recalled the numerous maturity models I’d participated in creating over the past two decades and found myself feeling, well, tired; tired of talking about it, tired of iterations, tired of heralds proclaiming the best new model, and tired of witnessing those models lead nowhere far too often.

Ten or fifteen years ago, I was working on the front line of designing and building huge, global customer feedback programs and simultaneously building out the business processes to support them. In those days, customer experience maturity models seemed so clever. Something in me embraced the science of understanding the difference between my small-scale forklift-manufacturing client and my Big 3 auto client, and their distinct approaches to customer experience, and the concept of maturity kind of worked. Since then, though, I have fallen out of love with the maturity model. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t hate it. I think the model can be useful in some cases. However, I think it’s long past time we got honest about something.

The model is academic; it’s rigid, linear, and theoretical. It implies that maturing is a sequential process that must be completed step-wise, mastering one level of maturity before passing through the gate to the next. Forrester’s model describes a “path to CX maturity.” Gartner’s model recommends that a company should “head for higher levels of customer experience maturity.” There is, inherent in this thinking, the notion of a system or set of processes, experiences, or decisions by which maturity can be acquired or achieved. If we do the right things, in the right order, and with the passage of time, we can bring about an organization’s CX enlightenment.

With all due respect to those who have authored models over the years, this is bullshit, and we all know it.

It seems many of us forgot or never knew that the model is a tool to help organizations understand how behaviors link to results at discrete points in time. Maturity isn’t what shifts organizations to a customer-centric culture; maturity isn’t what drives front-line employees to enjoy delighting customers; and maturity isn’t what attracts and retains customers who are loyal, life-long, promoters.

It’s not difficult to think of upstarts (Cards Against Humanity, Trader Joe’s, Tesla, 1-800-FLOWERS) who were born with a knack for customer experience and can delight customers without tensing a muscle. It’s also easy to recall decades-old brands that provided exceptional experiences in the past, but are lagging now (Carmax, Applebees). But if it’s not maturity, what is it?

The Right People Doing the Right Things

In my experience, great customer experience reflects the extent to which a company identifies, creates, and fulfills opportunities for extraordinary CX. The companies who practice this principle exceptionally well are those with access to at least one person who has a high degree of empathy, insight, and creativity.

Empathic, creative, inspired people:

  • Reach into the customer journey, experience, and feedback to discern what matters;
  • Listen to employees and work to understand their challenges in delivering on the brand promise;
  • Stand back from the noise and ask what CX & EX opportunities are unmet;
  • Scope up and down through this holistic insight to prioritize opportunities and a recommend a plan for action;
  • Keep it simple.

If you’re not already working with a person or team who can drive your CX strategy based on these talents and insights, hire one. Stop reading this blog post and do it now. Find a human being who is particularly good at being human, who understands people and can analyze information, who is probably a fantastic gift-giver, and hire them.

Regardless of what a company is doing today, no matter the subjective maturity ranking, any company can see rapid benefit from the presence of an empathic, creative, inspired individual or team if it is willing to commit the necessary resources. Look at the influencers you follow on LinkedIn, look at the disruptors and those companies that raise the CX bar – what do they have in common? It isn’t maturity, it’s leaders who understand what customers want and how they want to be treated. Then they put customers first, trusting that shareholder value will follow.

It isn’t about maturity. It’s much more spiritual than that, you see. It’s about perspective and willingness, inspiration and resourcefulness, honest self-appraisal and actually putting customers first – not just saying you do. Most likely, most of what you need is already available to you. Perhaps someone has told you that you must pass through the next three levels of maturity and the Candy Cane forest before you reach the summit.  Perhaps you’re drowning in articles about CX and wondering how buying another [trendy solution] will help you delight your customers. Chances are, you just need a fresh perspective and a high quality human being. I might even know some folks who can help.