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Tekserve: A Blueprint for a Great B2B Customer-Inspired Experience

“Our job is to make our customers look good to their bosses.” 

That’s the philosophy of Tekserve, an Apple retailer and IT services provider in New York City, as articulated by Director of Marketing Jazmin Hupp.

Imagine that you are a long-time Apple retailer and supplier, and then Apple builds their flagship store just two miles from you, then four more just as close. Some might find it time to close up shop. Instead, Tekserve used the challenge as an opportunity to refocus on their customers. Their reward? Consistent growth, being featured in the Crain’s New York Business Fast 50 and the Computer Reseller News’ 2012 Solution Provider 500 list, which ranks the top technology integrators in North America.

Tekserve doubled-down on the service surrounding Apple’s products, particularly for businesses.  Almost 2/3 of their revenue comes from B2B relationships, where they are far nimbler than Apple. Much of their work involves integrating Apple products into existing networks, including wholesale conversions from PCs to Macs.

Tekserve credits their growth to three main areas of focus: Read more

Service Re-Recovery at Hampton Inn and Barnes & Noble

Service recovery is critical for any business.  Of course, the best time to fix a problem is immediately following its occurrence, but this is not always possible.  How do you handle service recovery after the fact, when complaints come from the web, email, or a call?  Let’s look at two very different examples, each based off of previous posts.

Several weeks ago I discussed running out of hot water at a Hampton Inn. The manager on duty paid for my room, but never gave me a time to vent before doing so, actually frustrating me more than the original problem. After creating the post, my daughter Becca suggested I share it with the hotel.  I did so, although I didn’t expect much to happen. You can imagine my pleasant surprise when I received this email from Peggy Messmer, General Manager of the hotel: Read more

A Review of Barnes & Noble In-Store Recommendations (Short link)

It’s March, which means gift-buying season at the Tincher household.  We have three birthdays in eight days – four if you count the cat.  My wife is a fan of the classics, so I bought her The Count of Monte Cristo at Barnes & Noble.

As I went to wrap it the next morning, I noticed something new in the bag – a little slip printed on receipt paper saying “You may also like…” recommending five books based on the three in my shopping cart.  As two of these were gifts, the grouping of recommendations were a bit odd, as you can see here.

Recommendations are powerful, providing social proof and motivation to buy more.  I spoke in this post about the need for retailers to bring their website content into stores.  It appears that this is exactly what Barnes and Noble is doing, utilizing the same recommendations as their website.  Since Amazon estimates a 20% lift from their recommendations engine, this strategy makes good sense.

But the current implementation is not ready for prime time.  Several issues with the execution include:

Read more

Three Customer Experience Surveying Principles

The Heart of the Matter

We need to create a standard for customer satisfaction surveys. In this post, I propose the following Customer Experience Surveying Principles:

      1. Make it short;

      2. If you ask it, use it;

      3. Never ask a question when a query will do.

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A few weeks ago I met with another consultant offering customer satisfaction surveys, although as only a small part of his business. The conversation turned to methodology when he said “I just like to put together a few questions, and get something out there quickly.”

When I showed shock at his cavalier approach, he argued, “What you have to realize is that these companies are not in the business of doing customer satisfaction surveys. They just don’t want to spend much time thinking about it.”

I was offended at the remark, but held my tongue. What I wanted to say was “They’re not in the business of doing accounting, either. Do you suggest they do a similar half-a** job of that, too?” I simply could not believe he argued for such a deliberately casual and careless approach towards a customer-facing effort.

Unfortunately, he is not alone in this disregard towards interrupting customers. Why else do we find so many terrible surveys? He is casually regarding two pillars that I hold dear: My customers and my brand. How you treat the first directly impacts how they see the second. But apparently this viewpoint is unique.

How else do you explain JC Penney’s satisfaction survey question: “Please select the number 2 for this question.” I get it – they want to validate the scientific accuracy of the response. But what does this say about their opinion of their customers? “We don’t think you’re paying attention, so we’re going to ask a question that shows our low opinion of you.”

Read more

Surveys – a Force for Good or Evil?

The Internet is a wonderful thing.  With little effort, we can connect to hundreds (or millions!) of people.  That access makes it really easy to conduct surveys.  So easy, in fact, that we no longer have to spend much time thinking about it.  And it’s obvious that many companies don’t.

While a proper survey can teach you about your customers, poor surveys lead you down the wrong path, sacrificing development dollars on delivering something your customers just don’t want.

Survey problems show up in three ways:

  • Asking for opinions instead of using readily available data
  • Outsourcing your thinking to your customers, asking them what you should develop
  • Piling on “just one more question”

Surveys vs. Data

It has now become easier to ask a survey than to do actual research.  Just because you can ask a survey, though, doesn’t mean that you should.

About 18 months ago the financial management website Mint conducted a survey that has been used by a host of speakers purporting to show the huge impact the economy has had on spending habits. One often-used slide:

You can see one presentation using this data at http://slideshare.net/MirrenBizDev/2010-new-business-conference-mintel. This slide is used to show how consumers are abandoning credit cards – 12% discontinued their use in 2009!

Not likely. Can you imagine the ripple effect if one out of every eight consumers completely discontinued the use of credit cards? The fallout would be massive!

The biggest problem is the question Mint asked.  Just because respondents said they discontinued credit cards does not mean they actually did it. Worse, the real data is only a short search away. What was the real change in credit card usage in 2009? According to the Fed, credit cards did decline – but by 0.2%! Yes, this is a dramatic change from the growth of previous years – but nothing like the impact that the Mint survey suggests.

Predicting the Future with Surveys

Survey data are frequently used as input to business decisions. Asking customers what we should develop feels right – but doesn’t work.  Consumers are notoriously bad at predicting what they want. Take this survey by the Consumer Electronics Association. While it’s dated, I saw the waste it generated at a consumer electronics retailer firsthand.

In this survey the CEA asked consumers what content they wanted to watch on their HDTVs. 47% said they wanted to watch home videos, while 44% wanted to view digital photos. This survey was cited in numerous business cases, and the retailer developed dozens of endcaps showing customers how they could do this through adding a computer to their home theater or connecting their Xbox 360 to the computers on their home network. We invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in these displays – likely millions when inventory is considered – yet sold very few.  What went wrong?

You can’t ask customers to predict the future – even their own behavior.  When asked whether they wanted to see their home videos on their computer, almost half the respondents clicked yes. Clicking a Yes box is a far cry from actually purchasing a thousand dollars of equipment and installing it into your home theater.  When it came to actually installing a computer to the home theater, very few were willing to take that step in order to watch their videos of photos.  Predicting the future is always risky business – this survey is just asking for trouble.

Yet, there is some truth to this data. Consumers clearly did want a better way of viewing their home photos. But when compared with the daunting task of getting computer content onto their TV, most took the sensible path of a digital photo frame – much easier, with almost the same result. Surveys are a great way to learn about your customer – but not a great way to learn what they will do.

Question 21.1.2.1

There is also the issue of the rapidly growing survey. Since it’s easy to ask 5 questions, why not 10? 20? Or, in my favorite “Bad Survey” example, why not 45?

This survey is by one of my favorite retailers. But it is a poster child for bad survey design, featuring a total of 45 questions, 40 of which are required. There’s even a question “21.1.2.1!”

When you’re writing a survey, it’s tempting to include everybody’s input. And that’s a good idea. But every question you add results in a few more customers dropping out.  Surveys require discipline:  prune the non-critical items to be sure customers will give you good data on what is left.

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Does this mean that you don’t need surveys? Of course not – well-designed surveys provide critical input. But you need to spend the time to do surveys right. Some tips to success:

  1. Start with the end in mind. What is the #1 thing you need to learn? Is the rest critical? If you need to accomplish two very different things, consider a second survey.
  2. Decide whether a survey is really the right tool. If you want to understand behavior, observational data or behavioral analytics will typically give you much better results.  Surveys are best if you want to compare data over time, or compare results from two different groups.  Just keep in mind that the specific numbers (47% want to watch videos on their TV) are almost certainly wrong.  It’s not about predicting the future – it’s about understanding customer needs.
  3. If a survey is the right tool, determine how much patience your target market has. If it’s a free survey, keep it to no more than 5-7 minutes in length.  This is especially true for satisfaction or NPS surveys – keep these focused on this specific outcome, and use other surveys for market research.
  4. Consider using an expert to help you design the questions. Poorly-phrased questions will give you data – but sometimes customers answer different questions than you think you’re asking. If you cannot afford an expert, at least use an outsider to review what you develop.
  5. Test out the survey first. Have people outside the development team take the survey, and talk to them as they go through it – make sure their understanding of the question matches yours.

While the Internet makes it cheap and easy to do a survey, it also makes it cheap and easy to do crappy work. But if you take the time to do them right, surveys can be an excellent view into the Heart of Your Customer!

– Jim Tincher, Heart of the Customer

Review of The Ultimate Question 2.0

The Ultimate Question 2.0 (Revised and Expanded Edition): How Net Promoter Companies Thrive in a Customer-Driven WorldThe Ultimate Question 2.0 (Revised and Expanded Edition): How Net Promoter Companies Thrive in a Customer-Driven World by Fred Reichheld
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

NPS – opinions vary as to whether it’s the “best” way of measuring your customer engagement. The problem is that the industry is looking for a measurement that works for any industry or company. And such a tool does not exist.

Nevertheless, NPS is a good measurement, and Reichheld lays out how to be successful with the program.

The important thing that the author notes is that NPS does not stand for Net Promoter Score, but Net Promoter System. And it’s this System that is critical. In fact, if you replaced the measurement with Satisfaction, Engagement, Ownership, or your favorite home-brewed system, your business will still see significant growth if you apply the disciplines he outlines in his book.

A good book to get you started with NPS or any system. Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Seeing through your customers’ eyes

It’s not easy to think like a customer. In Made to Stick, the Heath Brothers talk about “The Curse of Knowledge.” We often know so much about a topic that we simply can’t understand the perspective of those who don’t know as much.

This is critical to keep in mind as you develop your customer experience. We get so accustomed to the way things are that it takes a very deliberate effort to step back and see it from a customer’s perspective.  Over-featured phones, sales-prevention processes and convulated forms are constant reminders of what happens when you design the experience from a company-centric eye.

The big challenge

Seeing things through the customer’s eye is clearly critical to developing a successful experience. The challenge is:  how do I do it?  And how do I get the rest of my company to think this way?

Retailers have a fairly easy to watch customers shop. But that doesn’t mean they necessarily do it.  In Why We Buy, Paco Underhill tells a story about working with Macy’s. While they were investigating a different part of the store, their cameras also picked up a tie rack on the race track, and they saw something amazing. Particularly on busy days, customers would browse for ties until somebody walked close behind them and accidentally brushed their backside as they went by – what Underhill called “butt brush.” Once customers (especially women) experienced butt brush they immediately abandoned shopping. Once the problem was spotted, the response was easy. Macy’s moved the tie rack and sales increased immediately!

But how many store associates walked by that tie rack every day? If you take the time, you will realize that there are dozens of ways to improve the customer experience right in front of you. But we’re often so busy running the business that we miss simple opportunities to improve our customer’s lives, and thus our results.

Retailers have no excuse for these types of problems. In the Lund’s example from my earlier post, how much effort does it take to walk a store and look for problems? But how often do we do it? Clearly, not often enough!

Going further

But this opportunity extends far beyond retail. Almost every service business has its own way of going “undercover customer.” While the watching cannot always be literal, customers share their experience in more ways than you might expect. Intuit developed its software by following people home to watch them install it, recording every misstep or issue along the way.  At a healthcare financial services provider we “watched” our customers by matching behavioral data with demographics to get a better understanding of who was opening accounts and how they saved or spent their dollars.  Clickstreams are another example – who is using your website, and how? Where do they come from, and where do they go next?  Use inductive reasoning to look for trends, and use these to improve your customer experience.

Watching customers helps you understand what they actually do, breaking your myths about your customers’ behavior.  Have you watched your customers today?