Grounded CX and the Tale of a Yoga Fail

As I stepped to the top of my yoga mat, the teacher instructed to ground into your feet and firmly place your palms on the mat. Take a standing split then rise slowly into a handstand. (Anyone who has practiced yoga understands the amount of strength required to execute a balanced handstand. If you aren’t familiar, just know it’s really freaking difficult).

Caught in the excitement of accepting this challenge, I clumsily dropped my hands to the ground, skipped the standing split and hurriedly leapt into what likely looked like a contorted pretzel of limbs flailing about, ending in a loud grunt and thud on the hardwood floor. For a quick visual, imagine something like this (sound on):

What started as an exciting vision of a graceful hand-standing yogi ended as a tweaked back and punished ego. I later realized that I likely had the strength required to raise into a handstand, but in order to execute properly, needed to focus on grounding into my mat, staying with my breath, and finding balance before jumping into the final pose.

Later, while immersed in my usual CuriosityCX advisory work, I began to draw the obvious connection between my failed handstand and CX programs that all too often skip grounding in the basics in pursuit of more complexity and excitement. Like my lack of focus in the basic exercise of grounding into the yoga mat, many CX teams lose sight of the basics of a program, leaving a shoddy foundation which eventually leads to a crash. Sound familiar? Then namaste with me and keep reading.  

Through my long CX journey, what is consistently missing in CX programs that are faltering is a practical guide to get people back to “why are we doing this?” – a nod to the basics and focus on grounding. Synthesizing a decade of experience working with diverse brands from startups to the Fortune 100, I share 3 grounding principles that must be executed before even one strand of CX DNA can be built:

  1. Get organized and align

Round up as many people (ideally those with authority) from different parts of your organization as possible – everyone (should) know they have a hand in CX impact, so cast a wide net and aim for diversity.

  • Don’t send a mass email asking for volunteers. Offer taking individuals for coffee or lunch to explain the high-level need and why you’d like them to have a seat at the table
  • The C-suite simply must sit on the committee to ensure CX success. In a perfect world, the President/CEO sits on this committee from day one. When this is unrealistic, go as high as you can in the organization and never stop pushing the envelope until executives are at the table

You’ll be tempted to recruit your close internal network and friends – this can be fatal for a CX team as it often leads to a herd mentality and lack of action. Instead, focus on recruiting people you don’t know, or even known “haters” of CX. It’s your job to help them understand the importance of delivering experiences to drive improvement, so keep them in your camp and include them in the process.

  • Define roles and goals – who is responsible for doing what and when? What are the resources for getting these things done on time? What is the committee’s 30/60/90 day plan? What about 12 months? 18 months?
  • Keep this high-level and strategic. Don’t get caught up in the weeds. The weeds will change depending on partner landscape (e.g. technology platform, consulting firm, market research, etc)
  • Align (at all levels) on the vision for the CX committee and goals therein

Once you’ve established your CX committee (what we CX strategists often call “governance structure”), you can begin to level-set on the actual experience your brand is trying to deliver. A surprising amount of companies (even among the largest in the world), have little to no consensus around their ideal customer experience. Consistency around the experience is a foundational element that is often overlooked.

2. Define the experience you are trying to deliver

This doesn’t have to be a fancy or lengthy process – some of the most engaging experience ideation sessions started and ended with sticky notes (and strong coffee). Don’t use lack of budget as an excuse. You CAN accomplish this on a pauper’s budget (Don’t let big market research firms dupe you into thinking otherwise). Some suggestions to get you started:

  • Spend a full day physically walking “in the customer’s shoes” (however that is defined in your business…you don’t have to have physical stores to have a journey)
  • Host a retreat (ideally in a quiet place…nature helps) to get the creative juices flowing and have a free-form ideation session
  • Follow up with an in-office strategy session once the ideas/free-form discussion has been synthesized into a tangible “map” of sorts that illustrates the ideal customer experience

Rapid journey mapping is an excellent and quick way to be successful in this exercise, but even some napkin drawings are better than nothing (and sticky notes are your friend). The goal is to ensure alignment relative to how the customer interacts with you, which will ultimately help you understand what to measure and frankly how to even begin (or refresh) your research. A few critical key things to map:

  • Moments of truth/ points in the experience that are most pivotal and memorable for customers?
  • Pain points of the experience?
  • During which parts of the experience are your competitors’ experiences recognized?
  • Opportunities to weave brand strategy, ideology, mindset into experiences throughout the entire journey, and beyond

The CX landscape shifts constantly and thus defining experiences is an iterative process. Engage in Agile CX™ and consistent experience design sessions periodically. Establish a cadence that makes sense for your unique business needs, and always keep a pulse on your customer by measuring the experience and taking action on customer feedback (don’t ask unless you intend to act).

Once you have a committee and well-articulated and agreed ideal experience, you will be tempted to build out a research plan, start writing questionnaires and rally teams to execute. I encourage you to push pause and stay focused on the basics before driving toward program evolution. The third and equally important grounding principle of CX is communicating the cause internally in a meaningful and engaging way.

3. Communicate and inspire internal teams

Effective, efficient and consistent communication is absolutely critical for CX success. A few ideas to support the effort:

  • Brand the program with laser focus on ensuring alignment with the overall core ideology of the organization
  • Ensure your marketing team is completely in tune with your vision, purposefully integrating CX language and images into as many pieces of internal content as possible
  • Integrate real customer stories into the internal communication by showing internal partners “in their own words” snippets – these can be open-ended comments, compilations from social media, videos, etc. Sky’s the limit. Get creative to drive engagement internally.
  • Let’s be honest – nobody gets excited about a 100-slide deck. The human attention span continues to wane, so don’t shove something akin to a graduate-level dissertation on colleagues’ desks. Use video to increase adoption. Not many people are inspired by emails, but a quick 1-min video explaining the branded CX program over lunch sounds more interesting.

Regardless of your place along the CX journey, re-rooting in these grounding principles can help your teams build a program with lasting impact. Just like a yoga handstand is only as successful as its basic grounded footwork, only when you are deeply rooted in these three CX principles should you begin to execute research, drive insight, and tell meaningful stories that impact your business for the better.

So ask yourself, are you grounded in CX, or has your program strayed from the righteous path? Have you lost connection and balance? It’s time to get to work focusing on the basics, centering your team, and driving a more foundationally sound CX practice. Let’s collaborate:

How to Keep Your Brand Human at Scale


“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.


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.

Matches, Dots, and Glasses: The Psychology of Problem Solving

The first step in solving any problem is getting a good handle on what the problem really is in the first place.  That’s harder than it sounds.

What gets in the way our ability to do this effectively is being blinded what is…versus what could be.  Our own world view gets in the way.

The way around this?  You must reframe the problem.  Diversity of perspective is a powerful approach to not being blinded by your own perspective.  Check out this great video by Edward O’Neill that illustrates this point.

Deliver Insights Hemingway Style

Blaise Pascal once said “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter .”  It is much harder to write something that is succinct than a long and rambling communiqué.

The same can be said for insights.  After all, as CX and insights professionals we are in the business of delivering and acting on information, not a slinger of unexamined data and tabs. I think more importantly though, we need to deliver insights that are persuasive, engaging, and catalysts for action. The most advanced and eloquent analysis is worthless if not communicated well.

Stacks of analytical output and spreadsheets can be impressive, but equally bewildering to the consumer of the information. What people want to hear is what has been learned and what should be done. We are bombarded by data everyday.

Our job is to sift through the deluge of data and turn it into information. However, you still often see to be the 80-page PowerPoint deck.  Thunk!

The logic being, surely we are not doing our job if we don’t display every aspect of an issue and show that we have done our homework by looking at every possible angle. The heft of the deck seems to fit the bill for some.

For most clients that is way off of the mark. Like good UX design, strip away everything that is not contributing or useful.  Executives want to know “what did you find and what should we do?” If you can explain that in five minutes in a persuasive way then you have done your job. That’s not easy though.

The Heath brothers have an excellent tutorial on how to get to the sticky ideas in Made to Stick and Jon Steel nails how to distill it down in Perfect Pitch. The hard work in delivering insights isn’t in data prep or even analysis…its extracting the story. It takes a lot of time and thought to get down to the essence and the implications.

The business of consumer insight isn’t 4th grade math where you have to show your work. We are hired because, ostensibly, because we know the craft. We don’t have to prove it by boring our audience with slide after slide of support. That is behind the curtain. The tables have been examined, the analyses have been run, the charts have been examined. This pre-presentation work has been done.

What now is required is to perfect the story. To distill down to the bare essence and find a parsimonious story that is compelling, entertaining, and persuasive. We are scientists. We are artists too. The effective ones are are also talented journalists and entertainers.

If My Answers Frighten You: How to Write Good Questions

Will people like my new product idea?  What do  customers like or dislike about their current experience? How can I improve on my existing product?  These are all great questions, which are hard to come by through secondary research.

In my previous article, I discussed cheap and inexpensive ways to conduct secondary research (research that someone has already collected for you). Unfortunately, many times you can’t get the exact questions answered that you need, so you have to get the feedback yourself.  In the discipline of consumer behavior this is called primary research.

If My Answers Frighten You…

As any attorney will tell you, getting good answers requires asking good questions.  In my first article on this topic, I talked about the importance asking the right business question. In this article I will discuss the necessity of asking the right survey questions.Jules

Writing survey questions seems like a straightforward endeavor, but there are head-smacking mistakes you can make that can’t be corrected after the data is collected.  By way of illustration I tried to write the World’s Worst Survey question as an example. Let’s take a look.


Dissecting the World’s Worst Survey Question

While somewhat farcical, I have seen questions not far off from this.  So let’s dissect this atrocity one piece at a time.

The first problem is — it’s a loaded question.  Much like a lawyer asking Colonel Mustard, “…so where were you after you killed Professor Plumb with a wrench in the study?” on the witness stand, it would be bounced out of court before the good Colonel could open his mouth.  It’s a loaded question.  The question assumes that the respondent buys suntan oil. In the northern latitudes that is a rare purchase, and for many, not a purchase at all!

Next, I have conflated price and value for the money.  They are related but distinct concepts.  You must tease the concepts apart, otherwise neither you nor the respondent will have a clear idea of what you are evaluating.

In addition to mixing price and value together, we have no reference point for price. How much is it?  In addition, offering up a price with no reference point challenges the consumer to make any judgment.  So when looking at price specifically, it should have other price points for customers to evaluate.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t regularly keep track of suntan oil prices.

The larger issue, in general, is that asking pricing questions is tricky business.  No one likes to spend money, so there is always an inherent bias around the importance of price that drives imprecise results.   When possible, it is best to get at the pricing issue through indirect methods such a choice studies.  People are just not honest when it comes to “how much would you pay” and other direct pricing-type questions.  It has low predictive validity.

Next we turn to the scaling.  First, the scale is reversed with the good rating (exceeds my expectations) on the left while the poor rating (below my expectation) is on the right.  While a subject of some debate, most researchers would agree that a low to high order is preferred.  Why?  Almost everything in the Western world is righty-tighty, lefty-loosey.  That is: higher is always on the right, and lower is always on the left.  It makes it easier for the respondent and will ensure more accurate measurements.

Which brings me to the issue of scaling.  Expectations scales are notoriously poor in the measurement of evaluative attitudes. The reason being is that the starting point is a mystery.  For example, say you expected this article to stink, but you feel that it is merely mediocre.  I have exceeded your expectations!  Does that mean it’s good?  No, sadly it does not.

Finally, I can fill a four drawer metal file cabinet with articles about what the right number of points on a scale might be.  Let me save you some time and summarize the outcome of this corpus of research. The answer is: it depends.  The considerations are: the level of involvement the respondent has with the issue in question, the levels of differentiation (also known as just noticeable differences) that can be detected, and the goal of the research in the first place.

If I am conducting a compliance study and want to know the cleanliness of the bathrooms, I might ask “Were the restrooms clean?” with the response scale being “☐ no ☐ yes.”

In the case of taste testing a new Central Coast Pinot Noir with sommeliers, I might ask “How dry would you evaluate this Central Coast Pinot Noir?” and might provide a 10-hedonic-point scale anchored by “Extremely Dry” to “Extremely Sweet” with several other anchor points in between.  Experts who are highly engaged in a product category will see shades of distinction other might not.

Reconstructing the World’s Worst Survey Question

So let’s fix my World’s Worst Survey question.  Let’s see if we can resurrect the intent in a more accurate form..unnamed (1)

As I mentioned, the pricing question is a whole different kettle of fish where we can use a within or between experimental design.  Alternatively, there is a class of analytics called Choice Models or Discrete Choice models, which utilize techniques such a Conjoint Analysis to dampen unwanted bias in the data when it comes to understanding price elasticities.  Also, MaxDiff can be adopted for this use which is easier to deploy and analyze.   However, all that is a topic for another day.

So as you can see, writing a survey can seem simple — but you will want to avoid common mistakes.  There are several good books on the topics, with alluring titles such as Improving Survey Questions by Floyd Fowler and Internal, Mail, and Mixed-Mode Surveys, which is a classic by Don Dillman and Jolene Smyth.  Both are excellent sources. Of course you always contact me.  I will be sure to exceed your expectations.

The 6 Step Quick Start Guide to CX

Have you been handed the reins of the Customer Experience (CX) program at your company and have no idea where to start? Need to radically overhaul your existing program in a hurry? Here is a list of 6  steps to get rolling in your first 100 days.

Step 1: Establish Governance

The first step in any endeavor is to get organized. You may be tempted to just start running around and kicking off a bunch of initiatives, but resist that urge. That approach rarely has a lasting effect other than creating chaos and eroding your credibility.

In getting organized you need to set something called governance. It is a scary name for a simple idea; organizing your organization on how to approach customer experience. Many studies support the notion that without C-level support no CX initiative will succeed. So that is a pre-condition. Grass roots CX initiatives do not work.

With that in mind it is time to get provisional governance together. This is simply a committee of people who all have an interest and a hand in impact customer experience in your organization. It is your job to recruit these folks.


Your provisional governance be a good mix of geographies and functional areas. They should be senior enough to have authority, but not so senior that they don’t know the mechanics of their area.

While there is no magic number, 5 is probably too few and 20 is probably too many. 8-10 people is usually the ideal number to maximize span of influence but not allow diffusion of responsibility to flourish. Once you have gotten your team of recruit on-boarded, it now important to figure out what it is you want to do.

Do This:

Do you have some assassins lurking in the shadows at senior levels? These folks should be your highest priority in recruitment to your team. This seems counterintuitive, but the Stockholm effect is a powerful force. Make them part of the solution and they will have ownership in the outcome. Even assassins don’t want failure on their resume.

Don’t Do This:

You may be tempted to just invite other member of your own tribe to your CX party. This is a sure-fire way for the CX program to fail before it even starts. You must reach across the aisle and get a broad representation in the provisional CX.

Step 2: Define Goals

Next it is important to establish what is that the organization wants to do about CX. It defines the rules, the boundaries, and the mandate into the future. The main objective of the folks in your governance committee is to bang out a charter. The charter defines:

  • What are goals of the governance committee
  • What are task that need to be accomplished to achieve those goals
  • What is in and out of scope
  • Who is responsible for doing what
  • What are the resources and timeline for getting it done

It is essentially a plan for getting a plan together. It doesn’t have to be long or formal, just something that adequately communicate and aligns the group to the task at hand The group must approve this charter and the executive committee at your company should also ratify it for it to have any credibility.

Do this:

Make it simple and non-technical. Ensure you don’t overthink it and that you have full agreement amongst the group. No hung juries please! Also, I am a big fan of timelines with names and dates. Enforcing this accountability tends to be helpful in getting things done. Again, no one wants to fail.

Don’t Do This:

This document should be completed in no more than 3-4 one-hour meetings. Better yet hold an off-site and just crank it out in an afternoon. If it is taking longer than that you are doing something wrong. Depending on your organization’s culture you may want to a formal or informal presentation to your executive committee. Their formal approval is, however, important to move forward.

Step 3: Rally the Troops

Committees rarely inspire anyone. Therefore, effective and inspirational communication is absolutely critical in the initial stages and it should consistently implemented throughout the process. This is an on-going internal marketing campaign. The usual tempo of communication is to first communicate what is that the organization is doing and why it is important to the future of the business. This shouldn’t be a “project” or “initiative” it is a change in strategic direction if it is to be successful. That means ….yes…cultural change.

Also, you need a “burning platform” to help motivate (sometimes scare) folks to action. The burning platform focuses on getting people to understand that the risk of not changing is much higher than the risk of staying the course. For example, almost every vertical is under assault from someone trying to “disrupt it”; from automotive to pharmaceutical there is no place to hide. The burning platform case shouldn’t not be overly difficult to develop.

Some key elements of a successful internal CX campaign can be found in the three “E”s:

  • Excitement – make sure you are getting your executives to communicate out the importance and what is going on. Enlist front line employees in helping raise understanding of the emphasis around CX. They will also form part of your governance as “Activators” in the field. Get people stoked to be a part of it. The key here is to generate awareness and excitement.
  • Educate – if you are changing toolsets, processes, or policies I simply and very clear education is essentially. Simply rolling out a tool and hoping for the best is a great recipe for waste. You must train people on new tools, processes, and policies. Seems straight forward, but this is an area that is often over looked.
  • Engage – the last step in the communication strategy is in getting people engaged with the new changes. Training types like to call this “behavioral transfer” from the classroom to the real world. Some approaches can be gating sought after capabilities, implementing recognition programs, and holding people accountable to metrics

Do this:

Ensure the first communications have the unambiguous backing of your senior executives, ideally your CEO or President. They need to be present and walk the walk. Make your communication very simple and very clean. A rallying cry is always helpful. For example, a utility used sport awards to recognize employees who do an especially good job with customers. Clever integration of brand with employee recognition can go a long way.

Don’t Do This

Stay close to the troops and get and walk amongst them. Communication plans that are clinical and overly corporate activate employees’ bullshit detectors. You must be genuine, simple, and consistent. Make it about them, not you.

Step 4: Conduct Rapid Journey Mapping

Usually the next thing on the list to get done is to gain a better understanding of your customers and prospects. Journey mapping is a helpful tool to do so, but not the big arduous process that some might propose. Initially you need to move quickly.

Rapid journey mapping will help center your organization, but do so without absorbing months of work while the organization waits for results. I recommend starting simple in journey mapping sticking to a qualitative approach first and validating later with a quantitative approach. The steps are straight forward

  • Establish who the customer is: is it one group or several? Do they take pretty much the same journey or completely different ones? If there are distinct groups start with the core customers of your business first.
  • Get your provisional governance team together to sketch out what they think the customer journey looks like. You may want to extend attendance to others to maximize engagement and inclusion.
  • Talk with some customers. You can do this yourself or get outside help. This will be eye opening for the entire team as the external view is usually a bit different from the internal view.

This process sounds a bit like research to understand the customer journey, but that is only one outcome. The larger, and more important outcome is to start knitting siloed departments together. This is increasingly import as e-commerce and retailing intersect and oftentimes create a haphazard and miserable experience for your customers. Journey mapping and governance is the foundational work in getting functional or product centric organizations to work as customer centric organizations.

Do This:

Stay simple and with the core of your business for the journey mapping exercise. The finished map doesn’t need to be a master piece, it is a communication tool for the team to action on initially. You can pretty it up later. The main outcome is to establish a shared and aligned understanding of the customer journey amongst stakeholders.

Don’t Do This:

Avoid rabbit holes or “spurs” in the customer journey. You don’t need to visit every 1% incident activity or things that affect few customers. Don’t get overly obsessed with details or create process maps. This is about the customer experience from their standpoint.

Step 5: Act!

The famous WWII general George Patton once said, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week”. I fully agree.

Quantitatively validating your journey map is important, but your early rapid map usually reveals some glaring issues early on that you can jump on. It provides a rough idea of problem and opportunity areas so now it’s time to triage. The criteria you should use in deciding what to do are:

  • What is the risk/cost of not doing something on each issue?
  • How difficult will it be to address?
  • What is the likely impact of addressing the issue?

For each issue give a rating across these three criteria of High, Medium, or Low. Then sort it the list. Stuff that having a large negative impact today, that are easiest to fix, and will have the biggest future impact float to the top. Hard stuff with minimum impact float to the bottom. This will give you a rough roadmap from which to start implementing changes.

The items on your list can then be handle by action teams who have the appropriate representation. For example, for billing problems you probably want to have e-commerce, accounting, finance, and operations involved in solving the problem. The action teams are temporary. After they address the problem they can disband, unless there is a need to iterate and optimize.

Do This:

Small, quick and incremental interventions can help move things along and mitigate risk. These are critical elements at the core of the Agile CXTM which is to thread as many idea beads down the innovation string as possible and get them to test market. Implement them and observe the outcome. Roll out the good ones more broadly, toss out the bad ones, and modify and retest the ones that have hope.

Don’t Do This

Don’t over analyze the problem and get stuck in a debate cycle. Also, don’t take too big of a bite which gets stalled in the organization. For example, overhauling the CRM or ERP system as a first project is probably not a good idea. Perhaps there is something as simple as a hard to understand bill and complicated form that can be corrected. Stay small, fast, and nimble.

Step 6: Adjust and Keep the Momentum

You’re not going to get it right the first time, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Prepare your executive committee for some wrong turns and missteps. It’s going to happen. Long term sustainable change is a marathon not a sprint, so you will need distance runners at your side.

Celebrate the victories and make them public. Admit the missteps and adjust. Your CX program is a living breathing undertaking not a program to rammed down from on high. A practitioner-professor of mine once told me that organizations are sailed not driven. I think there is much wisdom in this.

You need to lead by coaxing and cajoling not mandating and punishing. People will make up their mind if they want to follow or not. You just need to provide the incentives to do so and make it easy for them. Invite them in and make them a part of it. I wish the best of luck to you in sailing your organization and if you need some help in navigation or tying (or untying) a few knots let me know.

Free Data: A Scrappy Guide to Secondary Data Sources

Who are my target customers?  Who are my competitors?  Is my industry growing or shrinking? What sources of information are consumers in my industry using to make purchasing decisions?  If you have any of these questions, or others that involve traditional “insights” or consumer research, then I have good news.

I have some FREE answers for you.

Well, almost free, you need to do a little work too.

In my previous article, I discussed the importance of getting your business question right. After all, if you don’t know what you are looking to answer, it’s pretty hard to answer it. Now that you have that nailed, its time to identify good data sources.

Good research doesn’t have to be expensive.  There are numerous resources out there to help with product development, market sizing, targeting, channel strategy, and numerous other business questions.  In consumer research, we look at two types of data: primary data and secondary sources.

Primary data is any data collected for a specific purpose.  It is usually a survey, but can include mystery shops, social media harvesting, focus groups, ethnographies, and a litany of other primary research techniques.

Secondary research, sometimes referred to as “desk research,” are data sources gathered for numerous specific and general purposes. For this article, I will focus solely secondary sources.

There’s loads of great secondary research out there, and in many cases you already paid for it!  If you are a U.S. taxpayer, Uncle Sam has been busily gathering all kinds of useful information for you.  In addition, quasi- and non-governmental sources abound.  Last but not least, even for-profit firms are not entirely stingy with their data.  Let’s look at some of the more useful sources.

Government Sources

In 2009 the Obama administration swung open the doors to  This is essentially an “overlay” site for multiple government data sources.  It is chock full of data that can help the small- and medium-sized business owner answer all kinds of marketing strategy and product development questions. Here are a few waiting to be explored.

Brought to you by the good folks at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Expenditure Survey  looks at U.S. buying habits, income, and household characteristics.  Another great resource is more or less an addendum to the decennial U.S. Census called the American Community Survey.  This data set tracks population down to a very fine level of geographic detail with a sample size of over 163,663 interviews (and estimates for over 130,000 others).  The survey inquires about age, sex, race, income, health insurance, education, and a variety of other tidbits that could help you identify where and whom to focus your business on.

From a B2B and competitive intelligence perspective, the Economic Census asks 4 million businesses to provide feedback about their organizations every 5 years.  Thinking about opening a pet food supply store?  You can determine the number of players in that space and the annual revenue for that industry.  Questions such as, is the industry growing or shrinking, who do they sell to, and what types of products they sell can help you identify the size and attractiveness.  There is also a plethora of information from the Census Bureau on Retail Trade.

The USDA provides heaps of information on what is produced and consumed by the American public.  Wondering about how often people eat out?  Look no further than the ERS Food Expenditure Series.  Wondering about Pork consumption; you can find all about it here.

That’s not the end.  There are gigabytes of free data at your disposal for many questions.  Unfortunately, the government doesn’t always make it easy to access, but they do offer tools like American FactFinder and DataFerrett to help. Many have useful tables and reports that require no analytical software.  However, you may need to breakout out Excel or even SPSS (IBM’s predictive analytics software) or SAS (business analytics software) for the larger datasets.

Association, Trade Data, and Non Profit Sources

Industry and trade associations are commonly established to support a particular industry and give it a common voice.  There is literally an association for almost any industry.  From the American Pet Products Association, which offers some data free and the rest for a reasonable price (special member price of $495!), to the National Barbecue Association.  There’s even The Association for Dressings and Sauces.  I am sure there is an industry (and data) for your specific industry needs.  One of the more generic industry associations that appears to be the especially well heeled is the National Retail Federation

The NRF has all kinds of helpful information within its Insight Center.  Wondering where consumers shopped for toys last month? It’s right here and free.  How important is free shipping to consumers when online?  Look right here.  Wondering what people are planning to do for St. Patrick’s Day?  Right here.

For more general trends and facts, like feelings about personal finance or parental time use, the Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan “fact tank” that can be accessed for free.  Similarly, the University of Michigan Survey Research Center has data concerning a number of topics of potential interest to small and medium business owners such as the Health and Retirement Study, the foreboding-sounding Panel Study of Income Dynamics, and a collection of useful data about Economic Behavior.   NAICS is not only the national organizer of businesses (replacing SIC codes in 1997) but is also a good source of Firmographics, and a great place to figure out who is doing what with a comprehensive list of almost every business in the United States.  Spokeis also a handy website for competitive intelligence gathering.

You can burn many, many hours looking at all of these data sources, so remember to stick to your original question and try not to get distracted.

For Profit (mostly) Freebies

There are many research agencies that provide tables and reports publicly for public relations and promotional purposes.  Lucky for us, they are free.  Check out this insightful report on consumers who are less or more likely to be harsh on your company.  Gallup has some excellent free information about social trends.  Find out about daily retail spending, economic confidence,  or where people exercise the most.  The Roper Center also does quite a bit of social polling, some of which is free. ASCI tracks how hundreds of brands in 48 industries perform on customer experience.  Find out which supermarkets hotels, orairlines are best in their industries.  JD Power and Associates has similar benchmarking data for selected industries.

Wonder where to start your business?  ZoomProspector is a cool tool to identify potential best locations.  City-Data is also a remarkable collection of geo-demographic data to plan your next retail outlet.   Ad Age’s data center is free and has a ton of free information on advertising, media spend, and more. provides a treasure trove of competitive intelligence from B2B applications.  A good chunk of the site is free, with a fee for more details.  Finally, a massive archive of current secondary research can be found at, but you must crack the wallet open just a bit to take advantage of most the content.

Check Your Sources

All data is not the same.  Data is the building block of any good business case or strategy, so it’s important to make sure it’s solid. Most of these sources I have personally used before and found them to be based on sound scientific rigor.  No one is going to doubt statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while they might hesitate to trust that Facebook poll you conducted with 200 of your friends.   As you see, you can get a long way without spending a nickel on data collection.  However, there will come a time when you need to do some primary data collection.  For example, getting direct feedback on service, features, or products for a specific target group.  There are also cost effective ways to gather that data.  It’s not free, but much easier to do than in the past.

The Most Important Step in Insights: Framing

“Hey Dave, I want to do some focus groups in Chicago.”

The number of times I’ve heard this statement from my clients eclipses the number of socks I’ve lost in the dryer.  My standard response is: “Ok <insert client name>, so why do you want to do this <insert methodology>?”

Sometimes I suspect the client really digs Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza and wants an excuse to get on a plane and gnosh, so I press further for real reasons to do the research. This is when the hard work begins.  You’ll never achieve a research goal that you can’t articulate.  Research goals start by identifying the underlying business goals.

Consumer research is much like creative development, in that it looks straightforward and is simple to do. People immediately want to roll up their sleeves and create a survey or focus-group guide. They want to design the approach for shopping ethnographies or the layout for product testing. That’s only natural. These are nice, tangible activities and, let’s face it, most people want to tackle nuts and bolts and quickly move on.

I strongly encourage restraint.  The most important step in conducting good research without wasting money is to focus intently on the business problem you are trying to solve.  Once that is specified and agreed upon, everything else fits easily into place.

Getting a client to articulate the business problem – and, if it’s a large organization, getting everyone to agree to it – is one of the most challenging tasks for a modern-day consumer researcher.

Here are legitimate, well-articulated business problems that need solutions:

  • Why are people defecting from my service/product?
  • How do I sell more of my service/product?
  • Which groups like my service/product and which groups don’t?
  • What is the optimum configuration of my product for a given group of potential customers?
  • How does my product/service compare to others?
  • Why don’t they like my service/product?
  • Who is my competition?
  • Are there enough people who like my idea to make it worth doing?

Depending on the industry, there are many ways to solve these problems.  Some involve conducting primary research. Other methods use a wealth of readily-available data; sometimes data that is free.  Most use a fusion of multiple sources of data to create a clear and compelling story.

After we nail the business problem, the next useful exercise is to use the Backward Research Process.  In concept, BRP is very simple.  It goes like this:  Imagine we have collected all the data, cleaned it, and integrated it. It’s deliverable and ready to go.  What are three to five compelling slides or illustrations we would want to show?

By creating a ghost deck – that is, a presentation with no data, or fictitious data – we can clear the fog to reach the next level of abstraction.   Now you have the business question nailed and have visuals for the presentation.  This will drive your entire research methodology and keep away the meddlesome interlopers who want to tinker with aspects of the research process.

For folks on internal research teams, this approach is also very helpful in confirming your internal client’s expectations of results.  The conversation might look like this with your internal clients:

Neophyte Researcher: “Hey Chief, is this what you had in mind?”

Executive: “My god man, you did the research already; you are super-human and deserve a promotion immediately!”

Neophyte Researcher: “Oh no, that’s just a mock ghost deck that I created using the backward research process, so I can determine if I am hitting the mark on expectations.”

Executive: “Well done. That’s exactly what we want to find out.  Have a donut!”

This approach has the added bonus, in the case of survey research, of not having to endure the dreaded survey review.  If you are unfamiliar with this painful sadistic process, it involves a researcher sitting in a room with 12 other stakeholders arguing about whether you should word a question as “prompt initial greeting” or just “initial greeting” for several hours.  Not a good use of anyone’s time.

If you hire good researchers, the client – whether internally or externally – should never have to even look at the survey.  The researcher has already done his or her homework to document both the objective and the outcome in advance.  Once you have that done…it’s all deep dish from there!

The Secret Sauce of Strategic Insight

I’m curious what makes you so curious Django said to the evil slave owner Monsieur Candy in Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece Django.

A challenging question to a challenging question.

Some of the best conversations I have are the layered non-linear challenging variety where we just start to wander down into the abyss of questions and answers on tangentially related topics. A kind of conversational jazz riffing on a central theme but exploring interesting detours along the way.  The result of these conversations are often times inspirational and provide the kernel of an idea that can take us to great places.

As my colleague Ed Stalling pointed out a while back, this inherent curiosity is what makes for good researchers.  I can spot a good researcher within 10 minutes of talking to someone.  Those who are good at research are not only curious about exploring the data once collected, but more importantly bringing that inquisitiveness to the business of what questions to ask the first place. Of course figuring out the right questions to ask are driven by the objectives of the research.  Now it doesn’t sound creative or fun to come up with “objectives” but it sure can be.

For example, I once had a client convinced that the reason for the increase of SUV acquisition in North America was because of the increased pet ownership.  Wacky idea, but a testable hypothesis (it wasn’t).  Think of some of the more interesting stories in Tipping Point and Freakonomics.  They reviewed interesting findings such as the reasons for the reduction of crime or the current usage of birth control through not only careful data analysis, but by asking interesting questions.  It was a clever Portuguese in the early 15th century who said “I bet if we sail far enough West if we may show up in the East!”  Turns out he was right, flat earthers’s beliefs to the contrary notwithstanding.

The Wall Street Journal published an article a while back in which they discussed the “Andy Rooney” approach to business planning.  The basic gist is that in trying to do something truly new and innovative, you find the most prevalent annoying problem that happens to millions of people every day and ask, does it have to be that way?  It’s that first part that true researchers can be invaluable in addressing and, left unfettered to ask interesting questions, can help to unlock billions of dollars of potential.

But it’s not as easy as you think.  You have to get out your own way by throwing away assumptions.  It is way beyond challenging such idioms as “we have always done it that way” to going deep but keep it fun.  You have to listen.  You have to observe.  And you have to ask lots and lots of questions.

When I worked as an market research analyst I used to love to interrogate our buyer behavior data to find out little insight morsels such as what cops like to drive (F-150s), the most popular car color in Arkansas (White, followed closely by Red) or what brand has the highest penetration of lesbian buyers (Mini). Some had implications for marketing and product planning others were just fun factoids to annoy my co-workers and spouse.

I had a conversation with a friend who is responsible for a research group on this exact topic a while ago. He told me about a study conducted by the Corporate Executive Board that looked at a variety of factors that influenced being a successful researcher.  They looked at type of education, amount of education, breadth and depth of experience, and variety of other factors.  None of those attributes where significant predictors of individuals generating consistent strategic insight.  Guess which attribute did?  Intellectual Curiosity.

So, if you are interviewing for a research spot and need someone who is a rock star be sure to look at their experience and their education.  But the guy or the gal who has an obsession with maps, almanacs or trivia are the ones you to whom you might pay the most attention.  Listen for clues in their speech such as “I wonder why…”, “have you ever thought…” or “wouldn’t it be cool if…”

They enjoy walking in the grey, not the black and white.  They may look or dress odd, but there is a bright spark of inquisitiveness in their eyes which is sparked you ask about what interests them, what bothers them, what’s something interesting they could tell you that few others know.  They covet knowledge. They want to know what’s around the next corner. What lurks in the data waiting to be found.  They are not all innate conversationalists, but the good ones all share one thing in common.  They have a clinical obsession with wanting to know one thing: Why. 

Stay curious.

Crush Your Next Customer Experience Presentation with these 10 Tips

A very young petite brunette got up from her seat and walked to the front of the large conference room filled with mostly jaded middle aged men from the automotive industry give a presentation on, of all things, their customer experience results. The crowd simmered down and she smiled briefly at the room as the technician prepared the projection equipment. She ruffled through her notes.

I thought “Oh boy, she’s going to get killed.”

No one likes bad news, and in my experience, no one likes bad news less than millionaire dealership franchise owners. And for many there was going to be very, very bad news today. I almost covered my eyes as she started…it was that painful. And then something amazing happened.

She crushed it.

She got off the mark like a professional sprinter. Articulate and focused, it wasn’t about the slides it was about the message; stop trying to maximize short term profits at the expense of long term loyalty.

The entire crowd, myself included, badly underestimated her. This young women talked to these powerful men about their customer experience with respect, but clear confidence. She pointed out the strengths of their operations. But she also pointed out where improvement was needed. She didn’t mix words.

These dealers had a big experience problem with price negotiation. They were hanging on to the old “four square” approach to pricing and their customers weren’t having it. It contributed to strong feelings of mistrust. Modern customers demand more transparency in pricing or they will just pick up and leave.

She looked them in the eye and provided iron clad evidence of their problem using customer experience and financial data, but did it through relatable storytelling. Using data and anecdote as a one-two punch, she related a personal story of her own mother getting mixed up in a price negotiation at a local dealership. It didn’t end well. It was a lost sale for the dealership.

She wasn’t lecturing. She was approachable. She invited them in to comment as it was just a conversation. She smiled and cleverly countered objections.

“Hey kid, I make a lot of money using that technique” one veteran car guy challenged her.

“Well, maybe you do Bob. I will give you that. But most don’t”

She then produced a slide looking at the relationship between different pricing tactics and the impact on customer experience and average gross profit. Bob stopped talking.

 “Also, let’s think about the long-term consequence … do you think those customers will come back again? Where do you think they will service that vehicle? What will they tell their friends?”

I looked around. There weren’t one set eyes that weren’t on her and what she was saying.

Impressive. And then something else amazing happened.

At the break, I looked around the room. The entire audience was either on the phone or sending emails or both. I serendipitously eavesdropped a bit and could hear these dealers talking to their managers about the results and what should be done. Actually, the volume level of some would not merit a “talking” status, but more of a “yelling” one. Action was happening. Right there and then.

Creating the Killer CX Presentation

We’ve all been there. We’ve all seen a few of the VOC presentations like the young women above and some real train wrecks. But what separates great VOC presentations from the real stinkers?

As CX practitioners our main job is to draw people in, engaged them in the results, and ultimately get them to do something. If they don’t understand what they are looking at that won’t happen. If they don’t care or believe what you are telling them that’s a dead end too.

Only through adroit and impactful storytelling can we really inspire our audience to take action. Here are some the tricks that our young presenter used and you can too in delivering a rock star level VOC.

  1. The Wrapper Counts

Many people buy wine because of the label. It’s true. You chose your romantic partner because you were attracted to their appearance. People like beautiful things. This includes your presentation.

Attention to detail and making things beautiful will open people up to your presentation and make them pay attention. Make it look clean, uncluttered, and inviting. On this issue, it is instructive to listen to Sheryl, our veteran real estate agent, on how to sell a home through compelling presentation…

Make it look homey and comfortable, but like it could be the [prospective] buyers’ home…but WAY better. You want them to believe they would feel comfortable there… get rid of the clutter off of all the surfaces and get rid of the brick-a-brack. Make a beautiful canvas which they can complete to their desire…also use silver…silver sells

While I cannot vouch for silver selling, her other pointers are spot on. Make your VOC presentation for your audience. Make them believe they can live in it. Make it their own and eliminate clutter. If graphic design isn’t your thing, find someone who can help. There are amazingly talented people out there just waiting for a chance to help you.

  1. Define Your Story Arc

Story telling is an iterative process, doubly so for the CX and Insights professional. First, you need to figure out what the data is saying and then you need to figure out your story and how to say it. Don’t go near Powerpoint before you have a well-developed idea and plan on both fronts. Some of the more analytically minded may be tempted to put a question down and just answer it. Don’t do that.

People who know what they are talking about don’t need Powerpoint” – Steve Jobs

Create a story by following the familiar pattern of exposition, rising action, climax, resolution, and conclusion. Provide the ground work in exposition. Make a big uncomfortable problem for your audience. Make them squirm if you can. Make it build. Admire the problem and layer on other aspects of it. At some point, there is an apex and resolution. Then we reflect. Every great story follows some variation of this very simple and ancient formula. Make sure you follow some variant of this general arc to keep your audience engaged.

  1. Provide Context

Part of the story is defining why you are yapping at them in the first place. Sure, you have been heads-down looking at which kind of hair in the drain is the most distasteful to hotel customers, but your audience has no idea what you are going to talk about or why they should care. Set the stage. Provide some background and context about you are going to talk about. Talk about the industry, the competitive set, and trends.

Punch them in the face with something controversial to get their attention. Get them just a little off guard. Talk about anything in the set up that will answer the question: why should I care about your CX presentation today.

Sure, you are going to annoy some insiders with some review material, but people generally like to hear even familiar material. It makes them feel smart. They may even chime in with their own observations and comments which what you want from an engagement standpoint.

  1. Connect the Dots

I hate taco stands that only sell tacos. Ok, that’s a lie. I love taco stands that only sell tacos, but my point is people usually want more than tacos to eat. Your audience also doesn’t want to hear about just your quantitative or qualitative study even if automates turn signals for the elderly and enables orphans to divide by zero. Any attorney worth their $1,100 Italian shoes knows that multiple forms of evidence is much more convincing than a single source.

If needed you can use your VOC study as the center piece, but bring other components in to support and explain what is going on. Use operational, behavioral, market, sales or any other data that helps support your point.

This also has the added benefit of making you smarter and getting other folks in your organization engaged with what you are doing. Notice a dip in the availability of 60lbs parchment paper in Louisville? Get on the horn and find out. Talk to the district manager. Talk to the distributors. Talk directly customers. In short, roll your sleeves up and connect the dots for your audience. You find out some really interesting surprises in your investigation.

  1. Make it Personal and Relevant

The more authentic you are the more people will tune into your channel. Be yourself and relatable in delivering result. Make your presentation relatable to your audience. Masters of storytelling Chip and Dan Heath remind us that successful presentations are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and story based. Also, make “what’s in for me” central to the delivery. Making it personal and relevant for the audience will earn your audience’s attention and readiness for action.

I think presentation Jedi Nancy Duarte said it best her book Resonate:

The audience does not need to tune themselves to you—you need to tune your message to them. Skilled presenting requires you to understand their hearts and minds and create a message to resonate with what’s already there.”

Sure you want to let the data speak, but you are the presenter. You want them to remember the message and the best way to do that is to put on a personal level they can understand. Mix parables with parameters and facts with fables. This one-two punch of stone cold facts and personal stories are memorable and impactful

  1. Less is More

We have all heard the Blaise Pascal quote “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter”. It is true, it is hard to distill down stories to the bare essence. If you are Mr or Ms. Clutterbug you will have an especially hard time with this. But you must get rid of everything unnecessary. You don’t need to show your work; the audience trusts that you did your job. Make your results as succinct and fast paced as possible, but not at the expense of losing your audience.

The same can be said for graphics and words. I am a Stephen Few fan (although I think he may be a tad too stoic for my graphics tastes) and a Hemingway fan. They both have the unique ability to pull away everything and leave only what is necessary, and in so doing, somehow leaving more. Applying this clean-up to your presentation will make for a tighter presentation and a much happier (and informed) audience.

  1. Invite the Audience In

Now-I-am-going-to-drone-on-for- 58-minutes-and-leave-the-last-2-for-questions presentation approach is a sure-fire way to lose your audience and not accomplished your most important task: communication.

Be brave and invite your audience in. If you are in person, ask them questions, even if it is a show of hands. Online, no problem, do a quiz such as those free ones by PollEverywhere. The show is oh-so-much more entertaining when you are not the sole performer. Also, be willing to pivot. Your job is communicate to the audience your message, however, that is done.

Everybody’s got a plan until I hit them” – Mike Tyson

Don’t be afraid to change gears up and abandon your plan if it’s not working. Stay agile and stay engaged with your audience. Remember your mission is to deliver the message and make it stick. Don’t be afraid to improvise a bit.

  1. Be Gracious

You know how much “thank you” costs? Nothing. No one likes someone who is condescending or taking sadistic glee at a particular region and product’s poor showing. Don’t hold back the punches, but be gracious and understand your political context. You can dole out the truth but not be ruthless and personal about it.

You are not the hero who will save the audience; the audience is your hero.” – Nancy Duarte

You are the Bruce Lee of VOC, dispassionately unleashing fists of truth against misconceptions and the unknown. Your opponent is the dark entropy of ignorance, not your audience members. Your audience members are there to learn, and ostensibly, improve the customer experience. You should, in turn, create a pleasant audience experience from them that is captivating, direct, but humble. Make it easy from them to believe you. Be their ally not their adversary.

  1. Remember Your Homebase

The best thing I learned in public relations training was to always return to your home base. What are the one to three points you are trying to communicate and stick with them over and over and over again. You might think this is annoying to people, and it can be, but not as annoying as you might think. You listen to yourself much more than anyone else does.

Don’t limit your home base communication to just your VOC presentation but add it to the upfront invitation and the after-event ‘thank you’ and action planning session. Get your co-workers to help out through communicating the main points either informally or formally throughout the organization. If you cannot tell me the three key points of VOC presentation you have not done enough cleaning and distillation. Get crisp and make sure you are always coming back to home base, over and over again. Oh, and practice.

  1. Provide a Call to Action

“Ok now do what we do?” the manager asked her boss. The presentation is over and now everyone goes back to work. That is a clear VOC presentation fail. You must have a call to action in your CX presentation and ideally make it specific, time-bound, and connected to specific people.

The more personal and public these commitments are the more likely they are to get done. If that doesn’t conform with your organization’s culture then find another way to “commit to a commit” where people are committing to do some specifically in the future in the way of acting on the results.

The shelf life of insights is extremely short in the world of CX. The more time that elapses from your VOC presentation to action, the less likely it is to happen. I recommend reminding audience attendees what the expectations will be from them as a result of the presentation in advance. There is no free admittance to your amazing presentation after all. Organizations invest a bunch in time and people to deliver the VOC results, it is a crime to waste that effort by organizational impotency.

Beyond the Presentation

Dashboards and technology can only get us so far in Customer Experience, it takes a human interpretation and cheerleader to spur action. This is especially true in the early stages of CX initiatives in an organization.

If you are responsible for getting the word out, you have a very important job that transcends the hour or so of the presentation. Before and after it is a constant marketing campaign by you and your team to evangelize CX. Take bits of your presentation and include it emails. Go visit the head of operations or marketing on a regular basis. Action happens when someone is insisting on it. Be that change agent and use compelling story telling to create reason for change.

Be like the young lady who persuaded those millionaire dealers to swallow a 500mg truth pill. She gave a persuasive and compelling argument to a tough audience that resulted in positive change. She continues to provide those compelling arguments to this day. Sometimes to a corporate audience and sometimes to our children, the latter being a one of the toughest audiences you are going to find. I find it’s always good to learn from your spouse. I continue to learn every day.