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.

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.

 

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: kate@curiositycx.com

How to Get Your Front Line Focused on CX

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

Dashboards

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

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

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

Making CX Public

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

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

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

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

In Store Public Displays

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

df_feedback_weis

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

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

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

df_feedback_midlands

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

Online Public Displays

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

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

df_feedback_bestbuy

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

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

Driving Engagement and Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making it Visible

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

Removing the Blinders in CX Design

A blank stare.

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

mopar

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

Humans and Tools

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

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

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

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

Framing the problem

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

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

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

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

Disruptive CX Design

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

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

Experience Anchors

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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