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Guest Post: Planning for a Successful Customer Experience Journey

Today is a special treat – a guest post from Annette of CX Journey.  You should definitely subscribe to her blog – a great read!

Planning for a Successful Customer Experience Journey

By Annette Franz Gleneicki

A customer experience strategy is just a strategy, a roadmap that outlines your approach to creating a customer-centric culture. Customer centricity is a way of life, a way of doing business, a journey. It’s not just a project or something to check off your “To Do” list for this week. It’s woven into the fabric of everything you do as an organization.

It takes the entire organization to successfully execute a customer experience strategy, not just the executive team, not just the frontline, and not just the CCO and her team overseeing the strategy.
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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:

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You No Longer Have Only One Brand

Actually, you probably never did.  But you certainly don’t now.  With the growth of the internet and its reviews, social media and blogs, you now have as many brands as you have customer-facing employees.

The 18-year-old at your cash register, the retiree who greets your shoppers and the aggressive salesperson cold-calling prospects are your brand – and they create your brand message to a far greater extent than does your CEO, your product development group or your advertising.

Let’s look at some examples

I was reminded of this as I spoke with a friend whose company has an outsourced pop machine.  Recently, their delivery person began refusing to actually load the soda into their machine.  I don’t know whether this is corporate policy, the result of an overscheduled route, or a difficult delivery person.  But, since every company I know has their machines loaded for them, my suspicion is it’s him.  The brand message is clear:  “We charge you an extra 35 cents per can to drop soda off on your doorstep, and we’re not paid to do any more.”   As you might imagine, this message does not resonate with the customers, and this brand will likely be replaced!

For another example of how the staff is the brand, let’s look at two nearby Caribou Coffee locations.  My local neighborhood spot is fine, but nothing exceptional.  They deliver my far-too-hot tea and generally smile.  Just another coffee shop, with the requisite trivia question and the chalkboard with questions of the day.  The brand message here is, “We have coffee.  And a place to sit and drink it.”

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Review of The Ownership Quotient

The Ownership QuotientThe Ownership Quotient by James L. Heskett, W. Earl Sasser, and Joe Wheeler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What if your employees felt like they owned the company? If they were so engaged to be there that they went out of their way to make a difference on a regular basis? Just as importantly, what if your customers felt the same way, and invested the time to help your business grow, giving referrals and great ideas?

These are the central ideas behind The Ownership Quotient. Leading businesses have realized the limitations of satisfaction. Measuring satisfaction does not link to improved business results except at the very low end. The question is: what do we replace it with?

The leading candidate is the Net Promoter Score, which has created great buzz. Other contenders include Emotional Engagement, and Ownership. All do better than satisfaction – which is best depends significantly on your business, and what you are trying to address.

Moving beyond the measurement, though, this book does an excellent job of outlining the steps necessary to increase your customers’ and employees’ sense of ownership in your business. Utilizing case studies from Harrah’s, Apple, Rackspace and others, a philosophy of ownership is outlined that can definitely drive improved business outcomes.

Heskett and company do a great job of showing the limitations of Net Promoter’s one question, capturing the essential emotional nature of ownership. True leaders understand that peak performance requires capturing the hearts of your customers and employees, and this book showcases many best-in-class examples. I particularly like the ING Direct example of how they specifically “fire” customers who do not fit their ideal mode – one of the hardest (yet most impactful) efforts a business can undertake in order to focus on the most engaged and profitable customers.

Driving your employees and customers’ sense of ownership is critical, and this book makes a compelling case, including many great examples used by companies today.

View all my reviews

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.

Creating a great customer experience at Hawaiian Airlines

I ran across this great article on creating an outstanding customer experience at Hawaiian Airlines:  http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/11/to_win_customers_get_out_of_th.html

I particularly like his three requirements to maintain an unbeatable customer experience:
1) Get very close to their customer;
2) Benchmark against itself on a consistent basis, and
3) Empower employees to address the unexpected.

#1 and #2 are quite common.  But it’s #3 that I particularly like, because it helps you avoid over-managing the experience.  When you hire the right people, you can train and empower them to delight the customer without having to over-manage the experience.

What are your three rules?

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?