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Customer Effort Score: How Hard is it to be Your Customer?

How much effort is your customer experience?Are you familiar with the Customer Effort Score (CES)?  It is rapidly gaining converts as a way to measure the transactions that make up your customer experience.

(Editor’s note: More details on the CES 2.0 can be found here.)

The Net Promoter Score, or NPS, measures your overall customer experience.  But it doesn’t show where to focus to improve your results.  Imagine telling your store manager, B2B sales team, or director of your call center only that “Your NPS scores are low. Fix them!”  Where do they begin?

Transactional measurements show what segments of your experience impact your customer loyalty. Some companies have tried to use NPS to measure transactions, but it was never designed for this.  Asking “Would you recommend your call center rep?” doesn’t work, as most customers have no desire to call your call center in the first place.  Similarly, “Would you recommend [Company] website”  causes confusion – are your customers recommending the company behind the website, the design, the functionality, or all three?  This is where the Customer Effort Score shines.

When customers have to expend more effort than they expect, they leave.  High effort equals low customer loyalty.  The CES helps you monitor this.

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Can technology create customer delight?

Bob Thompson at CustomerThink posed this question at his blog, asking 18 Customer Experience leaders (including yours truly) to comment on the topic.  It’s an interesting read.

My response was off-the-cuff, and less formal than a typical post:

Wow – that is a tough one. I agree with your research – it’s interactions with humans that create the greatest delight (or, for that matter, frustration!). Where technology seems to make the greatest impact is when it enables or improves the person-to-person relationship.

I’m “thinking out loud,” but it seems that most effective technology implementations either improve a human being’s access to data (e.g., a really good system at a hotel), or allows a transaction to occur more quickly by avoiding a person (self-service systems). There are some obvious exceptions, like Amazon, but most of those have been written to death.

Loyalty programs were considered a great example of this in their earlier days. But we’re starting to see that loyalty programs don’t build emotional loyalty – they just trap a consumer. In my interviews, consulting, etc., it always comes down to the human element. So I’m not sure that I’m a lot of help in what you’re hoping to accomplish!

I guess my POV is that technology allows your transactions to occur more easily and quickly for customers. This in itself does not enable delight, except that it frees up your staff to focus on the higher-leverage points, which does create delight.

In general, there seemed to be two paths of responses.  More service-oriented bloggers (such as Annette Franz Gleneicki, Bruce Tempkin and myself) focused on the ability of technology to enable delight – but primarily when partnered with a human being.  Others (such as Chip Bell and Leigh Durst) focused on products that delight through technology.

What are your thoughts?  What is the role of technology?  You can see the entire post here.

The First Key to Creating a Great Customer-Inspired Experience

A customer-inspired experience is critical to growth. According to a Temkin Group analysis, a great customer experience increases likelihood to recommend by 19.5% and likelihood to repurchase by 18.4%. And the best way to get that inspiration is through those who talk to customers every day – your front-line employees. In this piece you will receive the first key of creating a great customer-inspired experience. Keys two and three will follow soon!

The First Key to Creating a Customer-Inspired Experience: Identify What Really Matters

This seems like a no-brainer. Companies know what matters to their customers, right?

In fact, many have it wrong. Leaders get so focused on their tangible capabilities that they no longer see through their customers’ eyes, and use their over-informed perspective to prioritize efforts. As a good example, I worked with a global fast food company to determine the best way to increase growth. This company was laser-focused on R&D – inventing the newest menu item to drive that bump in sales. They applied a very rational lens to their customer experience – if we provide good food fast and keep coming up with new items, we’ll grow.

This approach is so alluring that it is no surprise they succumbed to it. And sure enough, the company was rewarded with a spike in sales every time they came out with a new food item. So, like most companies focusing on next quarter’s results, they kept feeding the R&D beast. But despite these sales spikes, their same-restaurant sales continued to drop each year.

We identified a segment of customers who visited their restaurants more than any other. But even within this segment, we found huge discrepancies on monthly spending based on emotional engagement. Read more

Give Customers the Information They Need

How do you know what your customers need?

This is no idle question.  Giving your customers what they need is critical to building their engagement and loyalty.  You cannot create a great customer experience by leaving them guessing.

The first step is to put yourself into your customer’s shoes. This is pretty common practice– most companies provide ample opportunities for their employees to use their products through discounts, distribution of free product, etc.

There’s a disconnect

But the problem is, as members of the company, we’re not real people. We get so used to our products that it is almost impossible for us to think like our customers do. But we go on assuming that if we build products that we like, customers will like it, too. While this classic Dilbert post is clearly tongue-in-cheek, it’s funny particularly because so many of us assume customers are as passionate (and patient) about our products as we are.

For instance, at Best Buy I implemented multiple attempts to sell Media Center PCs. These were special Windows computers with home theater capabilities that were going to be the hub of the American home theater. Why not? Our computer merchandise team used them and loved the experience. Unfortunately, it turned out real-life customers weren’t as keen on loading virus checkers on their TVs, or rebooting their DVD players.

Putting yourself in your customer’s shoes is a critical first step – but it’s just the first step. To further develop your insight, you need to take a step back and watch your customers. See where they struggle. This is how Intuit’s Quicken became the leader in personal finance software. The idea for Quicken was hatched when founder Scott Cook watched his wife struggle with tracking their finances. As Cook was quoted saying in the Harvard Business Review, “Often the surprises that lead to new business ideas comes from watching other people work and live their normal lives… You see something and ask ‘Why do they do that? It doesn’t make sense.’”

This philosophy led to Intuit’s unique “Follow Me Home” program, outlined in Inc. Magazine’s profile of Cook. Intuit uses continual customer observation to drive development. And here is the key to their philosophy– “If there were problems, the fault was Intuit’s, not the customer’s.”

Accessibility boosts confidence

A retail experience last holiday season reminded me of what happens when you don’t take the time to understand the customer experience. I placed an order for my wife’s present on December 12 at JCPenney’s online site and received an immediate confirmation. I didn’t think much more about it, waiting to be told that the order was in.

After ten days, I realized I hadn’t heard anything– and it was just three days until Christmas. Getting nervous, I checked the status of the order online. Each item was listed “in stock” with no other status, so I assumed it must be ready and went to the store. There I learned that the order wasn’t in – they were back-ordered. I was assured it would be ready the next day. At home I looked at the order again, with everything still “in stock.”

The next day I called the 800-number before wasting time at the store, waiting for 20 minutes before being told my order was already at the store waiting for me (no notification had come yet), so I picked it up. Then, six hours after I picked up my order I received an automated call that my order was ready. This was December 23, cutting it a bit close!

The designers of this experience clearly did not take the time to consider the information customers need – particularly when problems occur. “In Stock” suggests it is ready to go – “In Transit” or “Back Ordered” would have been better. This was a routine order, but the experience left me very frustrated.

Contrast this to when I ordered an iPod and an iPad for store delivery at Best Buy. While placing the order online I was informed that the iPod was back-ordered, but the iPad would be shipped to the store immediately. An email alert came once the iPad was ready, including the expected delivery date for my iPod. When the iPod was further delayed, a third email alerted me of this. During all of this time I was able to view the order online, including the up-to-date status. Another notification told me when the iPod was at the store, and a follow-up email confirmed that I had picked it up.

Unlike JC Penney, Best Buy kept me fully informed of the status of my back-ordered item. How much more does it cost to alert customers that there are issues?  More importantly, how much does it cost when we don’t communicate?

Barnes and Noble also gets it. When I order a book online I receive a confirmation, and they send another email letting me know the book was waiting for me behind the counter.  Domino’s goes to the extreme – not only do they email when the pizza goes out to delivery, their website tells you when it is put in the oven, and even who is putting on the toppings! They understand that customers want information.

How do you determine what information customers need? Don’t base it off of your own experience. You have access to more tools and information than any customer. Instead, learn from Intuit.  Watch a real customer place an order. See where they have issues. Then follow up with them regularly as the order progresses. That is the only way to truly design the experience around the customer.

This holiday season, give your customers a present.  Give them the information they need.

How Clear Are Your Instructions?

Have you ever eaten a frozen lunch by Michelina’s? These are inexpensive meals for a quick lunch. To heat it, you open the lid and put it in the microwave. After it has run for 2-3 minutes, stir it and put it back in. But for how long? The cooking directions are on the bottom of the box! If you didn’t memorize the timing before you started, you’re now in the position of either guessing the length of time, or holding it above your head so you can read the directions.

How does this happen? Do Michelina’s employees not eat the food? Do they spend so much time with the meals that they have the directions memorized? Or have they made a deliberate decision to sacrifice the functionality in favor of the branding on the top of the box?

This reminds me of the Tropicana rebranding failure from a few years ago.  You can learn more about it here and here.

To summarize, Pepsi (the owner of Tropicana) released new packaging for Tropicana. It looked okay on a carton-by-carton basis. But what about when you saw it in the store? First, it looked like a store brand. Second, all the versions looked nearly identical. Notice how the original clearly says “No Pulp Original.” Color variations differentiated the varieties, making it easy to shop. Now, look at the new version. Pulp free is there – but you have to look for it. It takes more work than the original. In addition, whereas the original had the iconic orange with a straw in it, the new one looks like a store brand! Imagine 7 varieties of the new carton all lined up together. It makes the shopper work harder.

Just to showcase the issue, I’d love to measure how may Tropicana shoppers actually look for the brand name when they pick up their juice.  I’m certain a sizeable minority just look for the orange. But don’t take my word for it – take the consumers’. Sales dropped by 19% before Pepsi reversed the decision!

This is an interesting product branding discussion.

But how can we learn from this in developing our own customer experience?

Let’s examine how the Pepsi decision-makers shop for orange juice. Not the consumers – the people involved with developing the product. Pepsi has a pretty sweet deal for employee purchases. Pepsi provides heavily-discounted beverages for bulk purchase at the headquarters. Why would you ever shop at a grocery store when you could pick it up at work and save yourself a bundle in the process? You wouldn’t.

At first this program seems like a good idea, as it will get employees to drink more of their own products, and they can reinvest that knowledge back into the product development process. From an R&D perspective, that makes a lot of sense.

But this leads to the employees missing the shopping experience. I have no particular insight into the team that decided on the branding. They probably spent a lot of time in stores, and they probably mocked up a store display at headquarters. But did they deliberately put themselves in the customers’ shoes? All signs point to a definite “No.”

Let’s contrast this with Best Buy, where I do have some experience. Best Buy has both an online and a physical store experience. They offer employees a discount to they shop in the stores – but not when they shop online. Why not? Store employees (particularly those near the corporate campus!) would like nothing better than to get those corporate employees out of their stores. So why not send them all online for their purchases?

The answer revolves around customer experience. Best Buy knows that if they offer the discount for online purchases, a substantial number of employees will never go to their stores. As a result, they will never gain that insight that comes from searching through three stores to find that special power cable for their phone. Only by physically walking through the customer’s steps can you gain the insight needed to create a great customer experience. Best Buy knows this. Pepsi didn’t.

What are you doing to make sure that you have a deep understanding of your customer’s experience?