So goes the alleged shortest story ever written. It is poignant and mercilessly economical; a hallmark of Hemingway’s writing style. Writing is a tricky business, one I have grown to appreciate. So what makes for a good story?
It depends who you ask.
Recently, I attempted something different in a presentation. Rather than blurting out the main point in the first two sentences as is customary, I attempted to lure the reader into a narrative web instead.
“You buried the lead!” was the reaction of one of my respected colleagues. Bury the lead you say? Hmmm. That got me thinking; perhaps story telling is more of a romance then a smack in the face. So I persevered and tried subtlety for a change.
This was not my first literary experiment. When I first entered the business world I had to undo a decade of academic writing habits. In academic writing you are trained to be objective. The writer is to be invisible so the evidence can speak for itself. We were trained to write linearly. Background, design, experiment, results, and discussion is the social science journal formula.
The writer is trained to clinically report in the passive 3rd person tense. Skilled obfuscation and arcane words are seen as a sign of genius. There is growing evidence to indicate that perhaps this style of communication, in some instances, is not the most persuasive nor captivating approach (Fish, 2019).
Academic writing smothered me. I wanted to write how I thought…
“Cooper, Graham, and Smith (2005) found evidence that pet ownership was strongly associated with subjects’ high locus of control. That being said, their methodology sucked, but they tortured the data and used Structural Equation Modeling so they managed to get published in this fringe B rated journal.”
Ahh…that felt good. I found myself writing blurbs such as this and then deleting them in my graduate school days.
Wading into the business world I was taught that if you are writing an article you better grab the reader hard by the collar in the first two sentences and get your point across. Otherwise, you will lose them. I embraced this approach.
It didn’t matter if it was a white paper, a blog, or a presentation. Lead with the lead. If you read any newspaper you will see the same thing. The first few sentences in almost any newspaper is in essence ‘the story’, it is ‘home base’.
Recently, I saw Ira Glass speak at local venue. If you are not familiar with Ira, he is a master storyteller for NPR who creates amazing human-interest stories. They grab you and suck you in. His formula is sublime.
In his presentation he advised that in story telling you should first start with the “dead body”. Next, you move the plot along. You keep moving the plot along until you get to the major “aha” moment. The BIG idea.
He said that years ago he thought he discovered something revolutionary in this approach. He was quickly disabused of this revelation by a friend who pointed out that every preacher worth his crucifix and robes used the same exact formula. In fact most story tellers use this same exact recipe.
If you look at Hemingway’s extremely short story, it follows suit.
“Oh, look there Bob! There’s something for sale. I like things on sale!”
“Baby’s shoes. Oh, they are so cute! I like those little shoes they remind of my kids when they were little. Cootchy cootchy coo”
“Wait. What? What the? OH MY GOD! That’s crushing. Shame on you Mr. Hemingway! You’re a bad bad man for leading me down this dark path!”
In fact, all great stories follow some variation on that formula. “Baby dead, couple doesn’t need shoes anymore, they might be sad” doesn’t bury the lead, but I think we can agree it doesn’t create a very good story.
Think of your favorite story. One of mine is the original Star Wars (Episode IV). In the opening few minutes of the original Star Wars, did we see the Death Star blow up?
We saw a hottie Princess Leia record some mysterious message in a mobile garbage can while some maniacal telekinetic bad ass in a black cape and helmet was running amok on her spaceship.
Now that’s a great beginning! They buried the lead right down the center of the Death Star in the form of a torpedo in last few minutes of the film.
So I am revising my style a bit. I will still need the hook to get the reader interested. The trick is to be compelling enough to get your reader to the next paragraph, and then to turn the page, and then to chapter 2, until they can’t put the book down. If you made it this far, I am going to call it a success.
I think good story telling is not just whacking the reader over the head with news; it is feeding them a story. You need to lure readers into your story restaurant. Once there, you better to feed them well with a plot that continues to move along. Make sure all courses are delicious and evocative. Oh and they will be expecting dessert in the form of a compelling idea at the end. And it better be good.
Of course, I am but a student and would be interested in your thoughts. What do you think? Do you like good desserts? Did I bury the lead? Should I care?
In 1936 Union Pacific Railroad had a client problem.
They saw their customer experience problem as a need to help their mining clients more quickly and cost-effectively get consumables and lumber in and ore and coal out of the mountainous Wasatch range.
Existing railroad technology didn’t cut it, so Union Pacific turned to their long-term partner the American Locomotive Company with their big problem. ALC responded by offering a humongous solution; the 4-8-8-4 steam locomotive also known as the “Big Boy”.
The 4-8-8-4 was a monster even by large rail standards. At nearly two stories tall and 1.2 million pounds, it had 32 drive wheels to drive the monster and 16 more to guide it. It could reach sustained speeds of up to 80 mile per hour and traverse steep grades other engines could not, all the while hauling 7.2 million tons of freight in nearly two miles of laden rail cars behind it.
While the envy of every railroad line at the time, the Big Boys useful career was cut short, going out of production after 4 years. General Motors’ E-85 was a diesel-electric locomotive that marked the extinction of the Big Boy specifically and steam locomotion in general. Costing almost a third less than the Big Boy, its annual maintenance costs were a fourth, demanded less human guidance and didn’t require water operate.
But the story doesn’t end there. The advent of the United States’ interstate highway system in the early 1950s eradicated nearly all rail passenger traffic and put a significant dent in short and long-haul cargo hauling. If that didn’t put the iron horses out to pasture the emergence of the DC-10 in the early 1970s did.
Asking the Right Questions
Did Union Pacific make the right call in 1936?
Probably not. They thought of themselves as a rail company, not a cargo transit company. I doubt they investigated diesel-electric options back then (even though they existed at least a decade before), let alone more far-flung solutions such as rigid airships and other emerging technologies. No, I am certain the train guys at Union Pacific talked to the train engineers at ALC who were more than excited to build them a King-Kong train.
Union Pacific was stuck in their steam locomotive framework and rushed to a technological solution they were comfortable with, rather than what was optimal. In short, they rushed to a solution without a strategy. As Albert Einstein once said, “given one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes finding the solution.” Good advice.
History is littered with companies who thought they had the right solution, only to realize they didn’t appropriately define the problem in the first place. Smith-Corona typewriters, R.I.M. Technologies’ Blackberry, Kodak’s Polaroid, and even more recently Microsoft’s “Zune” music service are all lessons in misdiagnosis and a rush to a cure.
Today, many CPG companies are struggling for relevance with consumers more interested in fresh and locally sourced foods. For example, a cereal company might think their problem statement is “how do we get more people down the cereal aisle?” while their real problem statement should be “how do we rethink breakfast?”
It’s an easy mistake to make. We feel uncomfortable in the ambivalence of uncertainty and powerful psychological forces push us to closure. We are encouraged to have a “bias for action” sometimes skipping any CX strategy in favor of action.
Furthermore, powerful social-psychological make us prefer harmony amongst the tribe; even if that is not in the best long-term survival of it. Finally, there is enormous pressure for managers to “fix it” when their organization is faced with an imminent external threat. They regularly short cut the important first step of problem definition in favor of getting to the business of solving the problem.
Tip to Stop Solving the Wrong Problem
How do we hedge against bad problem framing? Here are a few tips that can help prevent your organization from trying to solve the wrong problem.
1. Ensure Diversity in your leadership
It’s not just an altruist thing to do. Diversity is critical for innovation and not getting blindsided by too narrow view of the world. In much the same way you would not put all your investment in one stock or one industry you should hedge your intellectual worldview by making sure diversity of thought is a priority for your organization.
This does not just include racial and ethnic diversity but functional, attitudinal, and personality diversity as well. Homogeneity is the enemy of innovation, but it feels oh-so-good when everyone agrees. A study by Boston Consulting Group found that those companies with diverse senior management had almost twice the amount of innovation related revenue of those who did not. The risk of lack of diversity is bad decision making. Having yes-men and yes-women are great, but it’s sure fired way to go out of business fast…or get people killed.
Takeaway: Ensure you have functional and individual diversity in your problem-solving teams. If you feel uncomfortable than you are probably on the right track.
2. Persistent in asking ‘why?’
It seems rudimentary, but there is a dearth of asking “why do we do it that way” in organizations today. Don Hull refers to the lack of second loop learning in organizations as organizational inertia.
The way we do business creates ruts in the road that are hard to pull out off. Past success of one approach makes us double down on that approach in the future. Managers make commitments to courses of actions whose initial purpose is no longer there. Relationships get in the way of logical decision making and organizational values transform into dogma. People crave certainty and construct mechanisms to create the illusion of permanence. This is detrimental to the long-term prosperity and survival of the organization.
Furthermore, the tools we construct to solve problems enact a certain part of reality and shape how we frame the problem in the first place, thus censuring our ability to solve it. Surgeons like to perform surgery. Cobblers like to repair shoes. Both can solve a lower back pain problem. It’s taking a step back to find out what the problem is in the first place.
Perhaps no industry has deeper ruts of “how-we-do-things” than banking. However, some progressive banks are reframing the 150-year-old canon of how retail banking works. For example, Citizens Bank is rethinking the physical layout of banks. Acknowledging customers’ growing preference for digital interactions they are creating more self-help kiosks, cross-training employees, and reducing the space the needed by 50% in retail branches
Rather than the teller-behind-the-window format used for centuries they are opening up the floor to bring bank employees and customers together by eliminating physical barriers and making it a more friendly and less austere environment. Citizens are removing traditional customer irritants such as overdraft fees for small amounts, even though they are large revenue drivers. Some banks are taking this further and eliminating these fees altogether.
Takeaway: Challenge your organization as to why things are done the way they are. Has the environment changed? Are there better ways? In essence, it is wise to stay curious.
3. View the world like a child
My 8-year-old daughter just got a fish tank. You would think I created life out of sand and water by the wonder in her eyes. “Why does the silver fish swim on the top and the Mollies swim in the middle Daddy?” she asked. No idea. I didn’t even notice that.
The wonder of a new fish tank
This is the essence of human-centered design. Experience the world as a child or a visitor in a strange new country. If you take a moment to get Seinfeldy you will notice all kinds of things. Why do people tend to spread out in elevators? Why do people cram to get on an airplane that takes off at the same time for everyone? Why is my kid so infatuated with slime?
One progressive hotelier took this human-centered design approach to heart. Situated in the heart of Silicon Valley they experience more international visitors than many other hotels. As such, things we might take for granted; such as using a key card to gain entry into a room, might be a bit novel to someone traveling from far away. Through an empathetic understanding of their customers, they decided to be proactive in educating guests on how to gain access to their room through a demonstration model of a hotel door card reader at the check-in desk. Reception can easily show new guests how it works, without even uttering one word of English to achieve that understanding.
This is the key to insight. Be aware. Take on the viewpoint of others and be empathetic to their needs.
One exercise I use that brings to this light is taking on the persona of your customers. Make your executives go and buy the hamburgers you sell, open a banking account, or buy one the vehicles they manufacture. Take on the persona of a teenager, a busy mom, the elderly or someone with a disability. Every time I conduct this exercise it is much more powerful than any focus group or quantitative study can provide to move your executives to action. Be your customers for a while. You will be surprised what you find out.
Takeaway: Take your executives shopping or have them use your product and service over a period of time. Assume a new persona when experiencing it.
4. Explore analogs
To properly frame a question, it is often helpful to look across industries and occupations to see how they deal with a problem. My colleague John Palumbo CEO at Big Heads refers to this as “cross pollination” and think it is a fantastic idea for getting to both the proper question frame and potential solutions. He likes to mix unlikely people to help shed light on defining the problem, before actually solving it.
For example, say you are a grocery store and have an efficiency problem at check out at peak times. You might look to how F-1 Pit Crews move so fast. You might talk with beekeepers who work with one of the most efficient organisms on earth. What would beekeepers have to say about your queuing problem?
It also helps to look across industries. How does Disney Theme Parks deal with wait time and queuing issues? How do high-end hotels and airlines? What do top-notch waiters do at 5-star restaurants?
In looking at the problem of wait time at check out the answer many larger retailers have arrived at is to simply eliminate it. Rather than just self-check-out where there is still a line, retailers such as Walmart, Kroger, and Amazon are experimenting with ways of tracking items as they enter the cart through various new in-store technologies. When complete, customers simply pay and walk out. No lines, no wait time.
We take a general problem frame and then look for analogs across as many diverse domains as possible. Within there, can lie the problem that someone has already solved for you.
Takeaway: Look for other occupations, teams, and organizations that are trying to address analogous problems. Talk to them. Find out how they are framing analogous problems and gong about solving them.
5. Be flexibly disciplined
Psychologist Karl Weick related a story of an Italian army lost in the Alps. They used a map to finally get back to camp, albeit very late. When the Captain asked the company commander what happened, the wayward Lieutenant said “well, we were lost, but this map helped us make it back to base camp”. The Captain took the map and looked it over. He was surprised to find It was a map of the Pyrenees, not the Alps.
The point is, in a bind, any plan will do. But having a plan is having a direction. It’s having a way out. But one must be willing to re-forecast that plan as things change.
One tool I have found very helpful in getting groups aligned on a common goal is something developed by Dr. Leticia Bristos Cavagnaro and her colleagues work in design thinking. It is a simple exercise whereby you identify three things; stakeholders, their problem/need and then the insight. You describe stakeholders in the most descriptive way possible, describe problem/needs with verbs, and the insight should answer the “because” of the other two statements. This leads to a good problem statement that can serve as a true north for the workgroup and/or organization.
Our problem statement might be “We need to create a way to help business people who are new their CX role quickly learn and apply CX concepts to their own organizations that have immediate an immediate and demonstrable payoff.”
Takeaway: Make a plan using the problem statement format above. Get consensus from your team before moving forward to ideation and solutions.
More Focus on Problems
Unfortunately, most academic and corporate training focuses on finding solutions rather than problems. Noted psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi once lamented “Most schools, all you learn is solving problems; then you get out in the real world, you feel lost because nobody’s telling you what to solve.” I often find the same in my teaching. If I am very specific about the problem that is to be solved most students can get it. However, if I leave the problem ill-defined, it creates a source of both angst and poor class evaluations. In my mind, this angst is natural, and we should spend much more time finding the problem…then finding the answer. But perhaps I need to study the problem a bit more to be sure.
Bentonville, Arkansas based CuriosityCX today unveiled its revolutionary new competitive offering Quintuple Closed Loop™. This new technique for identifying and resolving customer problems fundamentally changes the way CX is done in the industry.
“You know some people talk about their “close loop system” or even “double closed loop” they’re fine if you are into average, but they really don’t get the job done anymore” said Curiosity’s CEO Dave Fish.
“Your typical Silicon Valley or Silicon Slopes tech company would have said ‘hey, let’s take an agile approach and iterate our way to a triple closed product on our product roadmap.’ Not us. We said ‘F- it’ and just skipped triple and quadruple offerings and went straight to Quintuple” said Fish.
Double Close Loop is so 2018
In a normal closed loop process customer are
contacted after a transaction to ensure everything went smoothly. If they didn’t then a ‘hot alert’ is opened
and the organization attempts to resolve the issue. In a normal “double closed” loop scenario the
issue is then validated by third party as being resolved, thus the ‘double’ in
the double closed loop.
But do you really
know that problem is resolved?
Closed Loop™ customers are hounded for months on end by agents hopped up on discount energy
drinks and diet pills who contact customers at least five different times after
the transaction. This ensures the
problem is unequivocally addressed.
“We check in and then check again. Then we check in again and then one more time. And for good measure to really ensure things are to the customers satisfaction we recommend that fifth check in. Without that 5th check-in your CX program really isn’t world class”, explains Curiosity’s Chief Experience Officer Kate Barker.
“They really just won’t let me alone,” commented customer Hugh Ecclestein of Youngstown, Ohio. “I mean I just bought a fishing lure at the local hardware store and made an off-handed comment that I wished I bought it and in blue rather than green. Now they just keep calling and emailing me” McMurphy said in a recent interview.
apparent to me that they really really care [about my complete satisfaction]” noted
McMurphy and then added “can I go now?”
Quintuple Closed Loop™ is just one of many future innovations being incubated in the CX labs at Curiosity’s state of the art facility in Bentonville. “I think we can really push this to something much bigger in the future, who knows where it will take us” noted Fish. CuriosityCX plans to introduce additional fictitious products and features every April 1st in the future.
With the pending acquisition of Qualtrics by SAP the stage is now set for what has been a long time in coming; the merger of CX, ERP, and CRM. While I’m no Nostradamus, I have been talking about this for some time…and frankly I’m surprised it took so long. For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about let me explain.
Qualtrics first cut their teeth in self-serve traditional market research software. It was doing well by all accounts, but probably not growing as fast as they would have liked. About 2-3 years ago Qualtrics made a hard right turn and starting skating straight for the EFM big guns like Medallia, InMoment, and MaritzCX to name just a few. I think folks were kind of surprised. I know I was. Why? The world of CX is vastly different than traditional market research.
First the level of analytical sophistication for the typical CX user is not as high as what is needed in MR. Most end users running a retail outlet want to know what their customers are saying and would rather endure a week long colonoscopy marathon than deal with discrete choice models using multivariate logit modeling. After all, they just need to solve for a few pretty simple use cases:
What’s my score (and will I get rewarded or punished)
That’s about 99% of all use cases in CX. However, from there it gets more complicated. There are some really unsexy issues that great CX providers have to be good at. The ‘slop factor’ in traditional MR where we can remove one respondent here or there is no bueno in CX. People are getting paid on those scores many times. Every return is sacred.
However, the CX industry is big and once you lock in a client switching costs can be high. That’s great for recurring revenue models which VC software folks are very keen on. But there’s more.
With one little tweak to the traditional CX canon, the giant world of CRM opens up wide. That tweak? The inclusion of prospects as well as customers.
Rather than helping customers, you might be helping prospects find what they want. Rather than redesigning a service experience, you are tweaking the path to purchase to optimize conversion. Super simple, on paper at least.
Beyond SAP being “kind of big deal” in the Ron Burgundy sense, they also just happen to have a pretty good CRM and ERP systems already built. Well shucks! All they need is a nifty snap-on of a CX solution and they are off to the races. Look out SFDC and Dynamics 365!
The value proposition is great; why buy a bunch of unrelated systems when you can buy one whiz-bang integrated one? Why are you talking to prospects with one system and customers with another. Who is that cool guy wearing at flat rim hat? Still reading? Just checking.
Now anyone who has been in this business for more than a week knows that technology integration isn’t easy and I can tell you first hand that cultural integration is harder still. The world will be watching this acquisition to see what they bring to the market. What does it mean to other EFMs? What does it mean to CRM? What about those research companies. All very interesting!
Not withstanding countless prognostications (including my own), the future of the industry is far from certain. However, two things are very clear to me; 1) I need to start wearing a hat more often and 2) the future of CX is clearly in the integration of CRM and EFM.
Grab some popcorn, it’s going to get more interesting.
“Sir please take your shoes off!” the TSA officer commanded.
The befuddled elderly man was rightfully confused… everyone else in line had their shoes on as they proceeded through security.
He looked around one more time as he unpacked his toiletries on the belt. Why was no else unpacking theirs?
“Sir!” the TSA officer continued moving toward the man.
“Ok ok!” he said as he struggled liberate his beige tasseled loafers from his feet.
He didn’t realize that in this regional airport they had expedited TSA-Pre passengers in the same security line as normal passengers. Expedited folks didn’t have to take their shoes off…those who weren’t did. It would confuse anyone. His experience was led by social cues, not the official rules, which were invisible to him.
Surprises are No Good
As a species humans hate surprises. The unknown is the central source of fear and anxiety. Where will I go to school? What will interest rates do? Will I get that job I want? When will Starbucks have Pumpkin Spice Latte available?
We much prefer certainty. With certainty comes the comfort of knowing what is going to happen next. We like that. It allows us to plan and make contingencies.
Psychological research is replete with examples of the human need for certainty at the individual level, from uncertainty-identity theory to organizational level processes such as Mintzberg’s plea to “protect the technical core.”
Our entire financial system loves certainty and rewards investors for it. Scary movies are scary precisely because you are uncertain about what is going to happen next. Research in psychology has long demonstrated that uncertainty makes unpleasant situations much worse.
Your Customers Hate Uncertainty
Your customers also crave certainty in their day-to-day experiences. When you pull up to that Starbucks drive-through you expect a certain sequence of events to happen. When they do, you are happy. When they don’t, you are not.
A study conducted amongst 964 CX executives last year found that organizations who consistent in the processes perform 172% better than those organizations that have inconsistent customer facing processes. In fact that data showed it was better to have no processes whatsoever than ones that are inconsistent.
The Fear of Becoming Forgettable
Some would say that if we make everything “frictionless’ you end up creating a forgettable experience. An interesting hypothesis, but one with which I disagree. Creating a great customer experience is about making the “pain” of the experience disappear but figuring out how to turbocharge the good. Countless companies have figured this out and is the chief source of blowing up and disrupting the most entrenched legacy competitors.
After all, people who are annoyed and don’t come back if you force them into an experience they don’t like, especially if there are other alternatives. We don’t really want to remember the pain of applying for a home loan and hauling your laundry to the dry cleaners. So, in that respect, the bad aspects of great experiences should be made less memorable…or extinguished completely. The removal of the negative makes the contrast of that new home or fresh dry cleaning that much more memorable. And of course, after you take care of those hygiene factors you can continue to look for ways further enhance the good aspects.
So how do you get good at consistency fast? Follow these five steps to get your organization on its way.
Step 1 – Perform process triage
Any process consistently executed is better than chaos. Therefore, the immediate imperative is to get folks to execute consistently on existing ‘folklore’ processes. Make those latent processes that some of your processes have been doing for years explicit. Get them written down and everyone doing it the same way. Anything is preferable to randomness. Document existing processes, train to them, and then making sure people are executing to them. This will patch the hole in the dam and you can then turn your attention to the hard work of developing more customer-centric processes.
Step 2 – Uncover the current journey
The next task after getting some semblance of consistency on core processes is to understand the customer journey as it is today and what customers want it to be ideally. This is accomplished by conducting internal and external journey mapping workIf you don’t have time to do the full journey (recommended) then pick a known ‘spur’ which is known to be troublesome today.
Step 3- Find out who is responsible
Once we understand the customer journey as it is today we are well positioned to redesign the processes that influence it. This is often called blueprinting: mapping back to the people, departments and policies that are influential to the process. Once you know who is responsible we can get folks together and get to work.
Step 4- Redesign the process
Business process reengineering was a great idea, but was often focused on redesigning processes around what was best for the company, not the customer. We always need to create efficiency, but not at the expense of losing customers. Ideally, you should start with what’s best for the customer and then determine how to get as close as possible to that ideal.
In redesigning processes, you want to remove the areas that are negative and irritating customers and add in those that add extra value. This is the essence of the thinking behind Blue Ocean Strategy. This redesign effort also goes beyond just process to things like communication and introducing toolsets, so process is often not the sole source from which to requisition solutions.
Step 5 – Start small and iterate
Don’t try to take on too much all at once. Experiment and figure out what works and doesn’t work. Your journey work should help you figure out what to tackle first, but that should be tempered by the technical complexity of getting it done. A good enough solution today is better than a perfect solution next month…or next year.
Moving Quick to Get Consistent and Stay Memorable
First, get consistent and do it quick. People hate the unexpected. Then focus on the customer journey and take out the bad and amplify the good. Do it based on the customer preferences and most of all do it consistently. Take away that awful fear of the unknown. And if you see someone struggling in the TSA line…help them out and maybe buy him a Pumpkin Spice Latte.
In the insights field there are few sins more heinous than misrepresenting data. Our role as insights and CX professionals is to provide a objective perspective and advocate for truth. So often less scrupulous individuals attempt to use facts and figures to distort the truth to suit their own agenda. Ryan McCready presents some really good illustrations in infographic form on how graphs are used to warp the truth to the point of breaking….read more here.
“Don’t act like a child,” used to be an admonishment.
I always liked acting like a child. Being childish means being fun, spontaneous, and energetic. It is striving to look at things like a child unclouded by the anchors of experience. But most of all, being childish means remaining curious about even the most minute details of life. New multi-discipline research now is revealing that quiet possibly the Eldorado of youth can be found in just staying inquisitive…
As the car snaked through another winding northern Arizona canyon, my trusty pack swelled with the necessities of the camping getaway ahead, and my mind wandered to dreams of fire-roasted s’mores at camp. The campsite was just coming into view, nestled in a cove of juniper and sandstone against a blue and babbling brook. The sign just ahead read…wait, what? “Fire Ban. No Campfires.” (Can you say buzz kill)? Fast forward a few hours. After driving what seemed like 100 miles to the nearest town while pining for a campfire, I was finally back at the campsite with a new propane stove, hungry and tired.
Enter the Coleman camping stove, some chicken sausages and boxed mac & cheese (the fuel station’s finest). The non-campfire meal was reluctantly cooked, and then (surprisingly) thoroughly enjoyed. The delicious meal was cooked in less than 15 minutes and cleanup was minimal. While it wasn’t a campfire s’more, it filled a need and did it well. What at first was a huge frustration, became the weekend’s MVP. Many others in this camping area had similar experiences, as propane was the only option for cooking a hot meal and getting a hot caffeine fix the next morning (enter influx of artsy stove photos on Instagram).
That micro experience at my campsite compounded into a sizeable social media spike for Coleman, presenting a golden opportunity for the brand to harness campers’ conversations online, and to identify a relatively captive audience segment – weekend warrior car campers with no traditional fire option for hot meals, specifically those in this year’s widespread “fire ban” geographies. Alas, no evidence of an understanding of this audience on social media. Instead of a CX fail – this Coleman scenario highlights the opposite problem – while it provided a great product experience, it failed to understand (or acknowledge an understanding) of publicly available online chatter from customers. The point is this: Across all industries, opportunities to learn from unsolicited conversations abound, but companies too often leave untapped terabytes hanging out there in the social sphere, heavy with the weight of missed opportunity.
Why social matters:
As part of the broader CX ecosystem, harvesting and understanding unsolicited, publicly available social data can help us get smarter about customers, better serve their needs, and drive our businesses forward by:
Casting a wider net: Integrating social data into our CX ecosystems broadens audiences and extends our reach into true customer understanding
Enriching insights: Social adds a qualitative component to quantitative CX data, bringing insights to life and adding texture to CX programs. Imagine the power of unsolicited, customer-generated insight alongside survey data, augmented by inferred data like location
Informing intelligent conversations with customers: Social channels give customers an ability to share pain and joy, at any time, with very limited restrictions. Companies can leverage this unsolicited insight to inform survey design, marketing campaigns, and deeper market research projects, without guessing where to aim (e.g. in my Coleman stove example, imagine a flash sale of accessories for the propane stove in the fire ban region, or a donation and nod to local first-responders for the wildfires…)
The big idea is this: by leveraging online sources like Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, Yelp and others, in harmony with broader CX efforts, companies can tap into the conversations of millions without conducting long, expensive, and laborious formal research. Integrating social data is low-hanging fruit for brands dedicated to further understanding the hopes, pain and dreams of customers (A.K.A: every leading brand in the world). Alas, for many, effectively harnessing unstructured social data as part of a broader CX plan is today’s elephant in the room. Generally speaking, alignment around the issue has yet to be reached and is a common struggle in board rooms everywhere.
The fundamental challenge:
Considering the vast expanse of internet data, even the most sophisticated brands often lose their grip on unsolicited online feedback. With tens of billions of data points floating around, it is understandable that some insights float on, untamed. The tricky part is not in merely data collection but turning those hordes of data into something intelligible and actionable (key word: actionable) and integrating seamlessly into the broader CX landscape.
In many cases, brands are hamstrung by traditional research methods that need to be turned out to pasture. Many brands have spent so much time peppering customers with long surveys and laborious research initiatives that they’ve have lost sight of the fact that these same customers are likely providing rich unsolicited feedback online. While there is a widespread nod to the general importance of harvesting unsolicited social data, the challenge comes in effectively harnessing those billions of data points and translating them into intelligence to inform and ignite CX insights.
While there is undoubtedly a time and place for deep (and sometimes even traditional) research, a CX ecosystem can work harder by leveraging the low hanging fruit that social channels have to offer, to convert the conversations of millions into actionable insights, and to inform research to make brands better. Read on for a few quick tips about integrating social into your CX vision.
Three tips for getting smart about social data in CX:
Social initiatives manifest in several different ways, all pointed to a different end game. Decide if focusing on social monitoring, engagement or intelligence is most important for your specific business needs.
No single firm can meaningfully execute monitoring, engagement and intelligence concurrently, so choose the right partner that will help you move toward specific goals with social. A few leaders in this space include Infegy, Crimson Hexagon and Brandwatch, each with their own unique take on social.
As a best practice in CX strategy, I encourage clients to focus on social intelligence as a best practice as opposed to simply monitoring the social sphere, with the goal of gleaning deeper understanding, not simply adding another dashboard to the CX arsenal.
Where to start: learn basic definitions within the social sphere before goal-setting; Here’s a succinct and helpful resource written by leading social intelligence company Infegy about important distinctions to be made when determining your goals with social.
2. Don’t stop with data collection
It’s easy to harvest customer-generated data from companies like Gnip and Webhose, which provide high volumes of data in a commoditized form and are frankly useless without a means to understand the data. Simply collecting the data is table-stakes; the real value comes in the analysis and conversion of numbers on a screen into a meaningful action-plan.
The sheer volume of social data is incredibly overwhelming. This is why it is critical to leverage sophisticated social analytics software to comb through the noisy landscape of jargon to ensure action (this can’t be stressed enough).
Context matters, and social data is only as good as the NLP (Natural Language Processing) engine analyzing it on the back end to ensure contextual relevance, accuracy and recall.
Still stuck on a tired NLP engine? Upgrade to ensure the engine driving your social analytics is sophisticated and built for high volumes of text. Be sure to ask your provider about their sentiment analysis score (ensure this score includes precision/accuracy and recall).
Social data without a sophisticated text analytics capability is a nightmare and leads to confusion. Ensure you’ve employed a well-oiled text analytics machine before you invest in social as part of CX, otherwise you’ll end up with just more big data sitting on a screen, with no purpose but to cost you time and money.
Where to start: Back up. Breathe. Ask yourself why you’re collecting social data and how you plan to use it to reach your CX goals. If you don’t know the answer to either question, push pause on the social data drowning and recalibrate to ensure social is working for your customer understanding effort, not against it. Then, engage your trusted and independent advisor(s) to help you curate the right NLP engine to fit your specific business needs.
3. Leverage social to augment other research
Leveraging social data, including imagery from sources like Instagram and Pinterest, companies can add a rich layer of insight to more traditional research.
Using unsolicited feedback, video, and images from the social sphere, CX teams can create more engaging internal materials and garner deeper buy in from stakeholders across the business.
Flip your annual analytics plan on its head and allow customer-generated data to guide your strategy, for a customer-centric approach to research.
Where to start: As an inexpensive test and quick win, collect a few publicly available customer videos or images from social channels and put together a simple highlight reel (you don’t need anything fancy, just your smart phone). Next time you host an internal CX planning meeting, share the reel with your colleagues and CX program stakeholders to drive engagement and buy-in for the broader initiative. This exercise is particularly useful for journey/experience mapping.
While social media will never completely replace market research or surveys, its ability to augment efforts to understand customers is undeniable. Its impact on the relationship between brands and customers is a dynamic any company that wants to succeed should take seriously. It is time to embrace the reality that customers are having loads of important and unsolicited conversations online; conversations that leading brands leverage, and lagging brands ignore. Harnessed and synthesized in a meaningful way, unstructured social data can fuel your next “ah-ha” CX moment. One such moment for Coleman, perhaps, could have started in that Arizona campsite.
CX leaders, I encourage you to reflect on your current efforts to pull social insight into the CX ecosystem and go to work architecting a smart framework for weaving social with surveys and other market research data. EFM platforms, keep driving toward CX solutions that provide a 360-degree view of customers, harmonizing the unsolicited with the solicited, for a holistic view and actionable path forward. Social can be the spark that lights your CX fire – now, go ignite it!