Tag Archives: customer experience

International Cycling Union: 3 EPIC Failures

This week the International Cycling Union stripped Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles as a result of their investigation into his use of performance enhancing drugs.

While I am sure they feel quite good about their pursuit of “justice” allow me to point out the ways in which this is an epic, epic failure.

1. The failed their Purpose
Professional sports organizations are in the entertainment industry. They may indeed promote healthy exercise and provide competitive outlets for a small group of elite folks but at the very core of what they do they are there to entertain. Bicycle racing is a fringe sport at best, not nearly the following of the three biggies, football, baseball and basketball, not any where close to international sports like Soccer, not even approaching NASCAR in terms of popularity, mind-share, or revenue.

The biggest thing that has happened in the world of cycling in the last decade was Lance Armstrong. He put them on the map of sport. He brought them a larger audience. He added entertainment value beyond what they could have hoped.

And this is the thanks they give him.

When you fail at your purpose you risk becoming irrelevant.

2. They failed at Parity
Of course there is an argument that says we don’t want cheaters to win. That has been the argument that has fueled the pursuit of Armstrong even though he passed all the required drug tests when he was competing. So let me ask this:

What if they found out that EVERYONE in the races was taking performance enhancing drugs? Is it really cheating then?

In an article in the New York Times, Travis Tygart, chief exec of the US anti-doping agency said, there was still more to do to clean up cycling because there were “many more details of doping that are hidden, many more doping doctors, and corrupt team directors, and the omerta has not yet been fully broken.”

If that is the admitted case why aren’t they still looking at ALL the competitor’s blood samples? You can’t hide behind fairness and parity when you only go after a select few people. There are probably hundreds of competitors who will remain on the record as Tour finishers who cheated just as badly but didn’t win.

When you fail to adhere to your own trumpeted standards you risk becoming irrelevant.

3. They failed their Patrons
I may be alone in this but as a member of the viewing public I am not happily cheering for the pursuit of pushing doping out of cycling. I only got interested in it the entertainment value of the sport because of Lance’s pursuits. I don’t care that they’ve finally “proven” he used drugs.

They’ve lost me as a customer.

Not because of the scandal’s, not because of any supposed taint on fairness, but because they taken the guy who made them all the money and tossed him under the bus in some sort of holier-than-thou crusade. They’ve put the sport ahead of the consumer. They’ve tried to reconfigure their “product” right out there in the eyes of the viewing public and in my humble opinion they’ve screwed up the product as a result.

When you fail at understanding the customer you run the risk of becoming irrelevant.

Simply put, for me as a customer, the world of professional cycling has become irrelevant once again. Lance brought them to my attention and I watched even after he finished competing but this latest round of circus performances has turned me off completely and I doubt they’ll get me back.

Where has you seen other businesses fall prey to these kinds of failures?

Customer Communications: Where to Start

How many time have you looked at the front page of a company web site and read something almost exactly like this:

The market leader in providing innovative solutions that transform businesses. Serving more than 67% of the fortune 500.

Drives me nuts.

Too often the starting point for customer communications start with the question, “What do we want to say?”

When you start there you suddenly find yourself with all kinds of due diligence facts, historical anecdotes, feature, functions and benefits…and so do all of your competitors. As a result everyone starts sounding very much the same.

The game changes though when you start from the position of asking, “What do we want the customer to do?”

Yes, it seems quite simple, particularly if you think the answer is, we want the customer to buy. But do you really just want them to buy? Aren’t you really MORE interested in them “succeeding”?

Typically we don’t just want customers, we want satisfied customers. So the answer to the question” what do we want them to do” is, “we want them to use our product or service to solve their problem.”

Of course in order to be able to start communicating from the perspective of solving the customers problem we have to now what the problem is and how your product or service solves it. THEN you have to let the customer know that you understand the problem.

So instead of:

  • We have
  • We are
  • We provide

You start with

  • You want
  • You need
  • You can

Try this experiment:

Take any of the communications you currently use to describe what you do and set them aside. Start the piece over with a description of the problem you solve. Next throw in a few lines about how your solution is unique in terms of what it does for the customer. You only get to talk about the problem and the unique solution, NOT your organization.

Now go look at your competitors communications and see if you don’t recognize how this approach starts to make you stand out.

When was the last time you saw a company talk more about you as a customer than they do about themselves?

 

AT&T, iPhone 5, and What We’ve Got Here is a Failure to Communicate

The stats were in a week or so ago…iPhone 5 set a bunch of records for pre-order volume.

As I mentioned here only a few short weeks prior to that my trusted iPhone 3gs went for a swim so I duly made my way to the AT&T store to leverage my upgrade discount and order my iPhone on “opening day”.

Of course, because I hadn’t called at midnight the night before or waited in line on the sidewalk I didn’t get in to order my phone until the afternoon. By that time I was told that orders being taken were expected to ship within two weeks, rather than the anticipated one week, but that I would be able to track my order status online.

The picture above is my actual order status. Notice anything? Somehow, in ten days, according to this, the is no difference in status from the moment when I was standing talking to the AT&T employee in the store to now. My order is processing.

I put this in the “failed customer self service” folder.

Order status checkers like this one are create tools to reduce call volume. The more customers who can see what is going on with their order the fewer will clog the phone lines with questions about shipping dates.

Unless of course you fail to update that status at all.

Not only does this produce more phone activity but it also sends a subtle message that either you’re hiding something or you don’t care all that much about the customer.

So why might a system like this show NO activity over ten days?

  • We’re slammed and the system is overloaded
  • We don’t know from the supplier when the items will be available
  • We now know it will take four weeks so we’re avoiding telling you
  • We didn’t create enough differentiate status levels in the system

In truth the reason doesn’t matter, the communication does. Even if “the system” posted a status that said “we’re backlogged and hope to clear the jam buy the following date” it would be more communication than “processing”. My order has been “processing” since I first said, “Hey, I’m here to order and iPhone 5.”!!

If you’re going to use a customer self service tool like a status checker you need to remember a couple key rules for success:

Rule 1: Keep the information up to date
Now to be fair the information on my status above may BE up to date. My order may not have moved at all. But you would think that it would have processed by now and just be awaiting inventory. But is does not appear to be up to date. By leaving it mostly blank the system has failed at its two primary purposes: reducing call volume and communicating status to the customer.

Rule 2: Communicate, even if it is bad news
It is far better to know that my order will be delayed than it is to keep guessing. By communicating even the bad news you communicate that you care about the customer. Trying to hide the bad news says you care more about your image than you do about your customer.

Rule 3: Think with a customer perspective
Too often these systems glitches become internal finger pointing or design arguments. If you failed to think like a customer during design think like one during the problem period. I wonder if anyone at AT&T is asking how customers feel about a dead order status?

Customer self service tools are great when they’re firing on all cylinders. When they’re not you need to react quickly, communicate effectively, and think like the customer.

What other types of “customer self service” tools have you run across and how effectively were they managed?

Bonus points if you know the movie that is referenced in the title of today’s post.  🙂

 

How Likely Are You to Recommend?

If you’ve purchased anything online lately, or even walked into  a store where you’ve had to interact with a sales person, odds are fairly high that  you’ve received the follow on questionnaire that asks:

“How likely are you to recommend us to a friend?”

It has become almost startling now as my iPhone receives that email with the survey attached before I even walk out of the store. It also seems to me that I am being asked this question more and more frequently.

Now, as a marketing guy I understand that… companies are trying to calculate their Net Promoter Score.  They really just want to know how well they’re doing.

Just briefly today I want to pose some questions that are worth considering when you start to think about using Net Promoter Score as a measure of how well your organization is serving your customers.

1. Is the answer to the question of whether someone will promote you or not reflective of your overall relationship or just the most recent transaction?

I have had great experiences with front desk people at hotels, airlines folks, cell phone sales people (and just as many bad ones) and my response to the question of whether I’ll promote or not is typically based on that most recent few minutes.

That means that in order to get an accurate picture of my relationship to any of those businesses they’d need to get me to answer that question after every significant transaction and calculate an average. I can guarantee you I won’t fill out the survey every time!

As a result it is important to remember that:
Timing and frequency are crucial to get right

2. Does a customer’s positive response mean that they’ll actually promote your organization?

Obviously that differs person to person and situation by situation but it cannot be assumed that “yes I WOULD promote” equates to “yes I WILL promote”.

Rather than asking the blanket “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend?” it becomes more useful to suggest where and when you might recommend: “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend who is looking to book a vacation?”

Remember:
Providing context makes it easier for the customer who wants to promote you to recognize the opportunity to promote you.

3. How can you make it easier for your customers to promote you?

Asking the blanket question gets you a philosophical response, providing context makes it easier for the customer to consider action, but you’re still asking them to engage in creative effort.

  • Why not, instead, provide customers with a couple of options: “If you’re willing to promote us would you please like our page on facebook?” or “If you had a great experience with us today would you be willing to post the following tweet: etc. etc. etc.”

Remember:
The easier you make it for someone to promote you the more likely it is that they will.

Rather than just asking folks if they’d be willing to promote your organization provide them with the ways and means to do so and you’ll find you get much more mileage out of the practice of capturing net promoter information.

When was the last time you answered positively on a “will you recommend us” survey? How quickly did you actually recommend and what means did you employ?

Poor Customer Experience…at Disneyland?!?

Hello, my name is Curtis and I am a Disneyland fanatic.

Friends call me for advice on how to best experience the parks. They get a two page email back.

I live in Colorado and I have an annual pass.

It’s just that bad.

We were just in southern California for freshman orientation at Azusa Pacific University. After a tearful good bye with our oldest son we headed over to the park for some “amusement”.

I never thought I’d say this but I walked away significantly underwhelmed by our visit.

I can remember not too long ago when you could get in for under $50. The price for visiting one park for one day is now $87. Okay, I get the fact that costs rise so, it hurts but I’ll still play along. Of course if you want to visit BOTH Disneyland AND California Adventure on the same day that will set you back $125.

So you would think you’d see the service level rise to match the price increase wouldn’t you?

Nope.

We experienced no fewer than five ride outages in one day. Mind you that’s only counting the times we were in line for a ride and it went out. Who knows how many there were when we weren’t looking.

Queue management, something Disney is known for, was sorely lacking with lines spilling out into walkways more often than not on a day that was busy but no where close to the worst we’ve seen.

Worse yet cast members in those situations seemed continually put out by the trouble of having to manage the flow of people.

Three different times we were told that a clearly displayed offer of a discount didn’t apply to our situation because of some fine print that was not readily published.

I walked away feeling like Disneyland was telling me that I was fortunate just to be able to be in their presence so I should overlook the inconveniences.

Now, you could argue it was a hot day, large crowd, a couple of less than stellar cast members working queues, etc but those would all be excuses not reasons. There is no “reason” for poor service.

You might argue that I’ll go back so there is no real pressing need to fix any of these issues. You’d probably be right, I probably will go back. But then…I’ve never talked bad about Disneyland before and I am now.

How often do we allow circumstances to move from being excuses to being “reasons” for failed service? How often do we portray to customers that we just can’t care for EVERYBODY? How bad is one negative blog post about poor customer experience?

If hot temperatures, large crowds, and less than stellar cast members are becoming the norm I won’t need an annual pass any longer. I’ll just go one or two days in the off season to get my fix and keep my fond memories of great customer experience at Disneyland in tact.

When was the last time a company failed to meet your expectations as a customer?

Three Reasons to Understand the Customer Perspective

I received an email offer the other day that was attempting to persuade me towards an upgrade of a graphics software package I’ve used off and on for a couple years.

I went to the web site and discovered there were three different versions available: Basic, Advanced, and Pro. I could click on each of them, even compare them side by side, and in the end couldn’t decide which one I wanted based on anything other than price…so I bought nothing.

The trouble was that the descriptions of the packages were all written from a sales perspective, this or that attractive feature designed to entice me to buy. But when a feature is described in technical jargon, Dyspeptic Flabberhaven Interface, it sounds impressive but confusing. WHY do I need a DFI? Who knows.

A web site I have really come to appreciate and frequently use is CNET.com. CNET reviews products like cameras and laptops and home appliances but the bit I like best are the buying guides. The CNET buying guides aren’t there to help you compare Flabberhaven capability but to solve your problem.

You want to buy a digital camera? Cool. What do you want to do with it? Kids sport photography? Portraits? Landscapes? Start a business? The buying guides use a series of question to guide you toward the right model and feature set. In short, they take the customer perspective.

In my last post I suggested that the customer experience is guided by a couple of simple questions:

  • Should I explore?
  • Should I buy?
  • Should I promote?

So much of what you find on web sites these days is designed to drive right to that second question: Should I buy? Without providing anything other than a call out of feature and function to persuade a prospective buyer.

And if that seems to work why think about the customer perspective at all?

Reason #1: It says you understand the customer
As mentioned above the CNET buying guides are a great example of how to communicate an understanding of the customer. If I am looking for technology I go there first before I go to any retailer of manufacturer site BECAUSE those guides scream out…we know you.

If you can show that you know me as a customer it helps convince me that your product will meet my need.

Reason #2: It changes the way you present information
If you understand that there are a number of people coming to your web site or contacting you via phone or email that are exploring, looking to learn more about you as a possible solution to a need, you start to present information differently.

I love using churches as examples. Think of one major reason an non-attender would decide they want to go to church. Life Crisis? Return to childhood faith? Searching for meaning? Curiosity?

Go to most church web sites however and what you’ll find…well, you’ll find a mess if you look at enough of them…but what you’ll find it a list of features and functions. “We’re a welcoming community where you’ll feel right at home.” “We’re not like your parents church.” “Church for today’s generation.”

Understanding WHY people are exploring you changes the information you present. True for churches, true for purveyors of software.

Reason #3: It sets the foundation for customer loyalty
When a vendor shows from the outset that they care enough to help me explore them and assists me in buying by displaying an understanding of my need they communicate an expertise that drives me towards loyalty from my first interaction.

If you can show that you know as much about me as a perspective customer as you do about your product you build trust from the start.

This simple list doesn’t come close to uncovering all the changes in business process and strategy that a deep understanding of the customer perspective engenders but it is a good place to start. Which leads me to today’s question:

How well does your organization, business, newsletter, understand the perspective of your customers and if you understood that perspective more intimately what would you change?

How Would You Rate THIS Customer Service?

I am currently in residence at The Ship in Weybridge, England where it is costs, with exchange rate, just under $250 per night.

This morning there was no water. None.

All the guests received the following:

Dear Guest,

Please accept our most sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused to you this morning by the lack of hot and cold water within the hotel.

Further to investigation it appears that the main external supply had been interrupted overnight, resulting in the storage tanks on the property running dry. This was resolved as soon as we were able;however it did take considerable time for the water tanks to refill and heat. Please rest assured that the system is now functioning normally again.

It is extremely unusual for The Ship to encounter an issue such as this, and I appreciate your understanding with the disruption experienced.

Should you require any assistance for the remainder of your stay with us, please do not hesitate to contact either myself or a member of my management team, who will be delighted to help in any way possible.

Kind Regards,
A. S. ( name omitted out of kindness)
General Manager

You make the call, customer service success or failure?

If you would like a hint look here.

Creating Customer Expecta…

 

What did you expect next? …tion? shun? xion? or some other form of finishing the word?

It’s interesting isn’t it how easy it is to create expectations. Whether good, bad or indifferent we’re creating expectations all the time. In our work, in our homes, with our co-workers, with our family expectations abound.

Think about every place you create expectations for your customers. Now think again. Does your tag line create expectations? Does your name? Does the graphical approach to your web site create a certain set of expected deliverables? The answer is yes, whether you realize it or not.

  • The truth is that customer expectations are being set, met or missed, and reset all the time. We’re constantly raising or lowering the bar. This up and down motion isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, if the bar stays put we’re invisible. So how do we take care to accurately set the expectations of people whom we’ve not yet met? By remembering to apply some simple guidelines:

1. Entice but don’t Exaggerate
So often titles and tagline are built purely to entice customers to come take a look behind the curtain and too often the”surprise” behind the curtain is an epic failure.

A friend on Facebook recently had a video posted in their status entitle something akin too: “Failed Surprise Attack”. I click off to video land to watch the supposedly failed sneak attack only to find nothing sneaky OR attacky about it. Multiple multiple people had commented that there was nothing worth watching in the video, it turned out to be a couple body builders flexing in the mirror.

I was so frustrated by the stupidity of it that I now am questioning whether I’ll look at anything that friend has in their status line ever again and I even went so far as to delete the view from my own status in hopes the same judgment would not be cast upon me.

The failed expectation resulted in negative results because the enticement turned out to be a gross exaggeration.

2. Remember the Reset
Don’t forget that every time you meet, exceed, or fail to meet expectations you’re resetting the bar. Meeting expectations raises confidence levels in further ability to meet them, exceeding expectations sets a higher standard, failing to meet them my result in a loss of opportunity to have another shot.

I recently had what I thought was a horrid rental experience with Thrifty Car Rental. My expectation was a fee of about $42.50 through priceline. My bill upon checking out the car showed charges closer to $150. I figured they had switched cars on me, pre-charged for gas, not3. O honored my agreed price and several other nasties but just left because I was in a hurry. I vowed they’d never agin get my business.

When I returned the car the guy at the check-in window explained all the rigamarole to me and showed how my final bill went back down to $42.50, exceeding my lowered expectations and perhaps winning back at least a chance to get back my business.

3. Oopsies  are Opportunities
We’ll all fail to meet expectations from time to time. Rather than seeing this as a failure see it as an opportunity to become something more than invisible.

I posted recently about a customer service experience with Mike’s Camera. Lo and behold who should reach out to me but Mike. Now, to be clear, I wrote that they had failed at meeting my expectations but had done just enough to make it up to not lose me as a customer.

Mike wasn’t satisfied with just enough though. Mike reached out and offered to make it MORE right on my next rental. An offer which I will no doubt take him up on the next time I need to rent a lens. Mike get’s it. He saw the oops as an opportunity.

In every case communication is the key but remembering these guidelines can help you set and manage expectations in a more reasonable and controllable fashion resulting in winning, and keeping, more customers.

What expectations do you think you set with customers or business associates?

 

When Should You Delight Customers?

Perhaps it seems like a bit of an obvious question. “You ought to delight customers ALL of the time!”

Funny thing is the research seems to go against that. You see, there are times when customers just want things to be easy. Hence, the rise in the idea of customer effort.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. While most folks still see customer delight as a problem solving, customer service approach, as I discussed in Customer Delight Revisited, there are plenty of opportunities to delight customers outside of trying to make up for a mistake.

But if customers want to be left alone sometimes and delighted at other times how do you know when to delight them and when to let them be?

Let me suggest a possible perspective, in terms of a siple mathmatical analogy, that you can use to determine when you ought to delight customers. If we think of customer delight as a multiplier we can start to look across any product or service offering and start to make educated guesses about where to apply effort in delighting customers. It all starts with the customers expectations.

ALL customers come to the table with a set of expectations, even if they can’t clearly articulate them. Let’s view those expectations as being characterized by four levels of effort:

  • Level 0: I expect this part of my experience to be seemless, the provider should make it effortless.
  • Level 1: I’m willing to expend some effort here
  • Level 2: I expect I will have to exert a moderate amount of effort to accomplish these kinds of tasks.
  • Level 3: I expect some faily significant effort

By way of example, paying my cell phone bill ought to be seemless. I want NO effort in interacting with the provider, however; when it comes time to configure my cell phone service I expect that I am going to exert a moderate amount of effort in determining which plan is best for me.

If we think of delight as a multiplier then where is the best opportunity for delighting the customer? Certainly not in the bill paying, the mathmatical equation, where D= delight,  would be D x 0 = 0. On the other hand if we try to delight them in the configuring service scenario we get D x 2 which yields some significant gains.

In this simple example we start to see that where a customer anticipates no effort I need to leave them alone, customer effort IS king. But, when the customer expects to do some level of work I can look for ways to surprise and delight them that will provide some pretty good returns. Some examples of the different levels of customer expectations might look something like this:

  • Level 0: bill paying, continuing service, renewing service, basic troubleshooting.
  • Level 1: Adding a service, purchasing complementary products, upsell or cross sell of products, locating a vendor web site OR locating a brick and mortar location from that web site.
  • Level 2: Configuring service, choosing from multiple product options, bundling, creating re-order templates, troubles hooting
  • Level 3: Customizing a product or service, complex configuration, design

In order to discover the best opportunities to delight your customers you can take three simple steps:

  1. Begin by mapping their experience in interacting with you from discovery to purchase, to service.
  2. Assign each step in that experience an expected level of effort. Not YOUR expectation, the customer’s expectation.
  3. Focus your efforts on the higher levels.

What ARE the steps a customers goes through in moving from discovery, through purchase, to service with your organization? Where are your highest multipliers based on expected effort?

Customer Effort – Level 2: Customer Service

As I mentioned in my last post Customer Effort, the notion of making things easy for your customer, begins while the customer is still a prospect.

Most of what you’ll read around Customer Effort, and what I want to take a look at today, has to do specifically with customer service…whether that be via the web in a more self service approach or via a call center.

I don’t want to argue the relative merits of Customer Effort score just yet. While it is one of several measurements that can best be used in combination to make some guesses at customer loyalty it is also a risky measurement because it can refer to a specific instance in time rather than an overall experience.

It is also important to remember that customer effort is really applied differently in different industries.

Take a transactional service oriented business like banking, insurance, or utilities. In this case I want my provider to be nearly invisible. I want ANY interaction to be virtually effortless. My expectations for invisibility are quite high.

But now think about purchasing a configured item like a computer, cell phone service, or an automobile. In these instances I expect that my interactions may have a little more substance to them because my requests may start to run in a slightly more personalized vein. I still want the provider to know what I have but I may not have the same high set of expectations when it comes to them anticipating my need.

That being said I think there are several characteristics of any organization that set them up for success when it comes to customer effort.

1. They know me
When I log in to my account on your website, or provide my customer ID to your call center agent, I anticipate that I have just provided all the information you need to quickly call up everything there is to know about my interactions with you.  I should NEVER have to provide more information and I should ABSOLUTELY NEVER have to provide repeat information.

United Airlines is struggling at the moment trying to converge two web systems since their merger with Continental. When you log in to your frequent flyer account it can show you all your currently active reservations but you have to log in AGAIN to view the details of any of them. This is an epic failure.

Once you have my customer ID don’t ask me for my address, my phone number, or the model number of the product I’ve purchased from you unless you’re trying to confirm that I am who I say I am…even then it’s a dicey thing to ask.

2. Front End People are Empowered
I believe that the worst effort experience I have had in recent days came at the hands of AT&T. We were trying to combine my “business” cell phone account with the rest of my families “personal” account.

  • The rep in the store had to get a manager
  • The manager had to call a regional manager
  • The regional manager had to call a different kind of regional manager
  • Regional manager 2 sent it back to the store manager
  • …who had to call yet another type of regional manager

In all it took more than two and a half hours…and the bill still wasn’t right for the next two months.

The problem here was that the front end folks were not empowered to solve the problem. Don’t make your front end people call routers. The more times I have to be switched to another department, manager, or agent the lower you score on customer effort. Give the front end people the authority to think independently and solve the customer issue in one stop.

3. Information is persistent
This really should probably be the first one because it fuels the other two. I list it third because it is more system than process based and thus potentially the easiest to fix.

You can’t empower people to help me if they don’t know me and they can’t know me if they don’t have all the info at their fingertips. Your customers have multiple connections to you, web site, social media, call center, billing…each of those departments capturing information all the time. If you want to know me and empower people to serve me they have to have ALL that info.

How well do you know your customers? How empowered are your people when it comes to creatively serving your customers? Do they have the info they need?