Monday, December 1, 2014

Journey Mapping - Validating Your Initial Map

In the previous journey mapping post, we discussed the mechanics around how to diagram a map. Specifically, we looked at a “low tech” approach using Post-It Notes to depict the steps and associated touchpoints we think a particular customer type (a persona) experiences as he or she completes an end-to-end transaction. I emphasize “we think” because this first map serves as our initial hypothesis for how that particular transaction is experienced from the persona’s perspective. In addition to depicting this initial take on the customer experience, we also captured the corresponding internal activities that are in place to support the transaction. Forrester Research refers to this internal perspective as the “customer ecosystem” because it captures all of the people, processes, partners, policies, and technologies that support the various customer facing touchpoints. With this initial journey map completed, the next step is the validation of our hypothesis with customers representative of the relevant persona.

The following approach can be used to confirm the logic of the initial map, as well as to elicit additional insights from a representative group of customers…
  1. Map validation is a qualitative exercise involving a group of 10 to 12 customers, a facilitator, and a comfortable meeting room. The time required for this validation session will vary depending on the complexity and scope of your journey map or maps, so as a general rule, plan on allocating a minimum of 3 to 4 hours per session. If budget and time allows, consider hosting two to three of these validation sessions in order to capture as many perspectives as possible. 
  2. The validation session will focus only on the top customer facing portion of your completed journey map. A discussion of the underlying ecosystem is not relevant to your customer, and is unlikely to add value to your session. 
  3. With your “low-tech” map pinned on a wall, begin by explaining the context of the map to your customers. Emphasize that your objective is to improve the service they receive, and as such, would like to get their input on what they like and dislike about the particular transaction. You’ll find that customers will appreciate being included as “co-creators” and will eagerly offer their views on what’s working and what’s not. 
  4. Working your way across each of the touchpoints (i.e. those items you’ve captured that the customer interacts with…a website, brochure, telephone call, etc.), explore the extent to which customers utilize each of these. If, for example, a component of a purchase process is a direct-mail solicitation sent to customers, gauge to what extent customers interact with the piece…do they read it carefully? Do they hang on to it for future reference? Do they glance at it, and then head for your website? Understanding the extent of use is a proxy for assessing the importance of a touchpoint in the context of a journey. Record this feedback using Post-It Notes placed next to the applicable touchpoint. 
  5. Next, ask customers how they feel about each of the touchpoints. For example, do they like using your website…why or why not? What thoughts come to my mind when they visit a physical store? What’s the reaction when they read an instruction manual? These emotions serve as indicator of satisfaction with the particular touchpoint, and are often more revealing then a gauging satisfaction using a conventional survey. Again, record these feelings in the appropriate locations in the journey using Post-It Notes. 
  6. A closely related question following on the inquiry about feeling and emotion is probing on the ease and usefulness of the touchpoint. Using a website as an example, if customers say they’re often frustrated when using your site (emotion), is it because it does not provide the information they’re looking for (content), and/or because it’s difficult to find the information (navigation)? Again, you’ll want to capture these on Post-It Notes as well.
  7. To adequately assess each touchpoint, it’s helpful to create a simple table listing the touchpoints in the left-most column and the assessment criteria (emotion, ease, extent, usefulness) across the top row. Assigning a rating to each criteria will help you to see the big picture of what’s working and what’s not from the perspective of your customers. 

While at this point, the customer validation exercise is almost complete, the most important component is yet to come. The last item to address in your customer research focuses on gathering their expectations. In the next post, we’re going to look at understanding customer expectations using the “jobs to be done” framework.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Forrester Research's Customer Experience Forum

Earlier this month, I had the good fortune to attend Forrester Research’s annual Customer Experience Forum in Southern California.  So, I thought I’d take a break from the current series of journey mapping posts to share some take-aways I noted from the 2-day Forum.  Content for this event includes presentations and workshops delivered by Forrester’s staff of CX analysts and consultants, as well as thoughts from guest speakers representing various organizations and providers of CX software solutions.

  • In a guest presentation, General Motors reports that one-third of their customers prefer social care (especially Twitter) as a means of interacting with the company on a service issue.  Given the rapid adoption of social media, I suspect that as soon as the next couple of years, customers across industries will opt for Twitter, or some other social media tool, for post-sales support.  How will contact centers evolve in response? On a related note, Southwest Airlines has recently opened a dedicated Social Listening Center that’s staffed 24/7 to both monitor social communications about the company, as well as respond to customer issues.

  • According to CX software firm, Lithium, 72 percent of the company’s 25 to 34 year old customers who use a social channel to communicate with the company, expect a response within one hour.  Lithium also threw out this interesting tidbit: Over $500 billion is spent annually on various forms of traditional advertising…yet only 14 percent of consumers trust it.

  • If CX is to succeed, it’s critical to “evangelize” the vision and strategy throughout the company on a frequent and regular basis.  Videos, testimonials, success stories, blogs, intranet sites, and executive messaging are but a few of the means leading CX companies are using to spread the word.

  • Dedicated CX departments in many companies position themselves as “consultants” to the other business units in the organization.  These CX staff take the lead in understanding customer expectations and developing full or partial strategies and directions to address these needs, but ultimately, the CX plan is handed off to the operating units…sales, marketing, product development, etc. for the implementation.  At that point, the dedicated CX team shifts to a supporting role by providing advice and assistance throughout the ongoing execution.  

  • Forrester’s research of 17 industries indicates three types of customer loyalty: retention, enrichment, and advocacy.  A customer’s emotion (i.e. disappointment, frustration, happiness, etc.) is the most significant loyalty driver in 12 of the 17 industries.  There are three loyalty drivers that are common across all of the 17 industries studied…they are: make customers feel valued, resolve issues quickly, communicate with customers in plain language.

  • Another finding from Forrester’s research: 66 percent of companies surveyed focus on marketing and acquisition, while only 22 percent have calculated the lifetime values of each of their customers and, as a result, pay more attention to retention than to acquisition.  My observation…this 22 percent are the companies that are walking the CX talk.

  • I was taken aback by this one: Lithium reports that 90 percent of apps are deleted within 30 days of downloading because they don’t meet customer expectations.  And, on a related note, Forrester reports that mobile devices are more than just a convenience…they’ve transformed power from retailers and companies to the customer.

  • Great quote from Adam Pisoni, the founder of Yammer: “If the rate of change going on outside the company exceeds the rate of change going on inside, the end of the organization is near.”  Adam offered this suggestion for those wanting to initiate changes in their company: start small - with like-minded people - on projects that matter.

  • Another entreprenuer’s insights, this one from Siqi Chen, the founder and CEO of the popular journal app, Heyday: when developing a product or service, it’s critical to ask, “what’s the real human need?”  In Amazon’s case, for example, the real human need is not reading a  book.  Rather, the need is to be able to conveniently buy a relatively low-priced form of entertainment or information.  Similarly, the real human need around social media is not about communicating (that can be done one-on-one personally or over the phone)…the real human need is the desire to have social relationships.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Journey Mapping - Basic Approach and Content

In the previous couple of posts on journey mapping, we discussed the importance of completing two preliminary but essential activities before undertaking any mapping exercise:
  1. Formulating responses to the 6 key “pre-mapping” questions - Overall purpose of the maps? Who will develop the maps? Existing customer research to draw upon? What stakeholders will be involved in the development of the maps? What persona will be used (see the next point)? How will the map be socialized within the organization?
  2. The need to develop a persona, or a specific customer perspective on which the journey map will be based.  This is important because depending on such factors as age or life-stage, familiarity with the product / service, or affluence, the same journey or transaction can be experienced in different ways by different types of customers.

Remember, our initial objective is to develop a visual representation of the various touchpoints a customer experiences when completing an end-to-end transaction.  We will subsequently validate our efforts by sharing the map with customers who represent our persona…this validation will add further texture and substance to our map as customers elaborate on their (emotional) satisfaction or dissatisfaction with both the individual touchpoints, and the overall transaction.  With all of this completed, we will then be able to map the “future state” or what the experience will look like after we’ve addressed the issues coming out of the design of our initial map.  This initial stab at a  future state will, in essence, serve as our hypothesis for how the enhanced and (hopefully) improved transaction should be experienced by the customer…ongoing monitoring of customer feedback will determine whether our hypothesis succeeded in delivering an improved journey, or if further refinements are required.

Let’s now focus on the mechanics of actually developing a journey map.  It’s recommended that the initial effort always consist of a “low-tech” approach that uses Post-It Notes placed on a large roll of butcher paper or a wall.  The Post-It Notes represent the various customer and internal touchpoints that make-up the overall transaction.  While some dedicated journey mapping software is available, its use is often not conducive to the back-forth discussion among participants that’s often part of a mapping workshop.  At this stage, you’ll want to maintain flexibility to remove or reposition the Post-It Notes in order to accurately reflect the stakeholders’ perception of how the journey unfolds.  Once you have agreement on the flow and detail captured in your Post-It Note version, you can then capture this in more permanent digital format suitable for circulation.  I’ve always found the following method suggested in Outside-In (1) by Kerry Bodine and Harley Manning, to be the simplest approach in developing your map.  Now, putting your customer hat on…

  1. First, draw a horizontal line length-wise across your butcher paper or wall.  The space above the line will be used to capture all of the customer-facing touchpoints.  In the space below the line, the various internal activities that enable or support a touchpoint are recorded.  If, for example, a touchpoint in the transaction is an e-mail promotion, the e-mail is captured above the line, and the marketing department or agency that produced the e-mail is shown below the line.  In your initial map, resist the temptation to add too much detail as this takes time and could derail your efforts.  At this point, focus on capturing the essence of the journey.  On your second pass (and there will likely be several passes), additional detail can be added if required. Note all of the steps a customer experiences in progressing through the journey.  Record one step per Post-It Note, and place it on your wall or butcher paper.  So, in purchasing a motorcycle, the initial steps might be: 1) receive a promotional e-mail from a bike manufacturer; 2) visit manufacturer’s website; 3) visit a local dealer, etc.
  2. The next step is to identify all of the people and groups that the customer interacts with at each step, such as a dealer salesperson. You’ll also want to capture all of the corresponding physical objects or digital touchpoints the customer interacts with.  These could include a direct-mailer, the company’s website, or an e-mail.
  3. Once you’ve captured all of the customer-related activities that comprise the journey, or transaction, you’ll need to focus on the internal company “mechanisms” that support these activities.  It is only by visualizing the explicit connection between the customer’s experience and the organization’s methods for delivering that journey that you’ll be able to identify pain points and opportunities for improvement.  Turning to the area below the horizontal line, (in Outside-In, this is referred to as the “Line of Visibility” as customers do not typically see these activities) capture the internal people, external suppliers, processes, and systems that deliver the above-the-line customer journey.  Using the same Post-It Note method, record one activity per Note.

Now that you have depicted the journey’s ecosystem (that is, the internal and customer perspectives), you’ll next want to identify specific problem areas from the perspective of both your customer as well as from the internal stakeholders who may also have their own pain points that prevent them from delivering the intended customer experience.  To do this, you’ll need three colors of sticky dots - green, yellow and red - that can be placed on each of the Post It Notes on the journey map.  Making your way through each of the Notes both above and below the line, place a green dot on those Notes where that item is working well from the perspective of the person who touches it (again, either the customer, or the internal stakeholder), place a yellow dot on those Notes that, are working okay, but could be improved and add value to the user, and place a red dot on Notes that are unambiguous pain points.  You’ll want to rely on as much hard data as possible in assigning the dots such that you’re confident in the coding, and more importantly, you’ll have a basis for prioritizing the fixes.

Over the next couple of posts, we’re going to focus on 1) determining a priority for which pain-points to tackle such that you’re getting the biggest bang for the buck; 2) a method for how to address each pain point to ensure that all facets of the problem and solution are addressed.

(1) Outside-In, by Kerry Bodine and Harley Manning

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Customer Journey Mapping - Getting Started

A conventional journey by car or plane has a starting point, when we plan our route on a map, for example, and likely ends when we reach our destination.  So too does a journey map start with the point at which a customer starts to think about a transaction, and concludes with an agreed upon “destination”…a purchase or an activation, for example.  The objectives of the map are to identify and understand all of the various obvious and not-so-obvious touchpoints that a customer experiences though out the various facets of their particular transaction, while also capturing all of the related activities the organization undertakes to deliver on those particular activities.  It’s only by understanding the various dynamics of the journey from both the customer’s and the company’s perspectives can pain-points be identified, and enhancements developed.  

Just as a car or plane trip is experienced from the perspective of the individual travellers, so too is a particular transaction with your organization completed within the context of specific customer types.  Consider, for example, the purchase of a motorcycle by two different customer types…an ardent cyclist who uses his or her bike for extensive weekend trips, and a commuter who uses the bike to get to work each day.  From a purchase perspective, these two customer types are likely to take very different journeys in completing their purchases.  They may, for example, consult different research sources to learn more about the particular bike model, or they may shop for their bike at different dealerships that cater to either enthusiasts or commuters.  While the motorcycle manufacturer or dealer may have some anecdotal sense of these two different customer types, without the benefit of a journey map, they likely don’t have a robust understanding of how each experiences the end-to-end ownership of their bike.  With this in mind, the critical first step in developing a journey map is to establish the specific customer perspective (or persona) that the map will depict.

Personas are based on customer research that provides insights on various qualitative characteristics such as interests and lifestyles.  In many cases, an organization will already have this information available in the form of segments that make the most sense for facilitating the marketing and sales of the company’s products or services.  When segments either aren’t available or may not be applicable to developing a journey map, it will be necessary to develop a persona who represents the key characteristics of a particular customer type that completes a transaction with your company.  In the motorcycle illustration, for example, the company may have segmented customers based on the particular model, but neglected to account for the fact that the bike is purchased by both enthusiasts and commuters, and as mentioned, each goes about shopping for a bike in a different way.

If the creation of a persona is a prerequisite for your journey map, here’s a suggested approach as proposed in Designing for Growth by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie:

  1. Identify a small number of customers (generally 12 to 20) representing the range of demographic attributes of interest to you.  In our motorcycle case, for example, we might identify that the majority of purchasers of the XYZ model are male, aged 45 to 55, university educated with a median income of $120,000 per year.  Remember, both of our enthusiast and commuter buyers are drawn from this same demographic, and our task is to identify the characteristics of each for developing our persona.
  2. Conduct  a few pilot interviews.  Ask the customer to walk you through why and how they complete a transaction.  Make sure to capture as much detail as possible, including what they like and dislike about the experience.
  3. From your interviews, identify a number of psychographic dimensions that you think reveal the differences in customer type.  In the case of the motorcycle, these dimensions may be adventurous - practical; introvert - extrovert; help yourself - ask for help.  
  4. Select the two dimensions that you feel are the most revealing in which each quadrant represents a potential persona.  Refer to the example below.
  5. Position each of your interviewees into one of the quadrants, and describe the persona in as much psychographic and demographic detail as possible.  
  6. Select one or two of these personas and develop a journey map for how each experiences the same transaction.

Now that a persona or personas have been established, we can proceed in the next post with the development of our journey map.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Customer Journey Mapping - Preliminary Questions

As mentioned in the previous post, a well constructed journey map is probably the CX manager’s most valuable tool.  That’s because a journey map: 1) can readily identify and/or clarify particular sources of customer dissatisfaction; 2) through its visual format, effectively communicates how the customer experiences a transaction, and how the organization delivers that transaction to the customer; 3) can help to inform the strategies and tactics of various functional areas throughout the company, including marketing, advertising, produce development, and customer service.

Given the many benefits of journey mapping, it’s not uncommon to see organizations plunge straight in and begin developing maps for various transactions.  Resist this temptation, and instead, focus on organizing your journey mapping strategy by addressing the following questions before getting started:

  • What is the overall purpose of your particular map or maps?  Is it to address a known CX issue?  To design a new service process?  To inform your overall CX strategy?  You’ll want to keep this in mind because the answer will, to a certain extent, inform the content of your map (e.g. the map may be constructed from a ground level, 10,000-foot, or 30,000-foot point of view).
  • Who will develop the journey maps?  If it’s an internal effort, is there sufficient expertise and objectivity?  If an outside partner is involved, is there sufficient budget?  Will confidential information be included?
  • What customer research do you have on hand to help with developing the journey map?  Consider deferring the development of your map until you have a reasonably good understanding of how your customer experiences a transaction and how they evaluate the effectiveness of various touchpoints.
  • What stakeholders will be involved in the creation of the journey map?  In addition to validating the map with customers, you’ll also need input from those functions in the organization that directly or indirectly support the delivery of the transaction.  Developing a journey map can take some time, so remember to secure in advance the availability and commitment that will be required of your stakeholders.  
  • From what customer perspective (persona) will the journey be mapped?  We’ll go into this in more detail in a future post.  Before developing your map, it’s critical that you identify the customer segment or type that’s experiencing a particular journey.  If you’re an airline, for example, the online reservation experience is likely different from the perspective of a seasoned business traveler versus that of an occasional leisure passenger.
  • How will the map be socialized within the organization?  Limiting exposure of the map to only those directly involved in its development severely shortchanges the journey mapping process.  As mentioned earlier, a well constructed journey map is not just a CX tool…it can also inform the business plans of other functional areas.  

Answering these questions in advance of your journey mapping activities should help you in preparing and executing your plan, and hopefully result in a more effective outcome.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Let’s use this post to summarize what we’ve covered over the last several months, and then set the stage for an extended discussion focusing on the development and use of customer journey maps.  In my opinion, journey maps are the must-have tool for a customer experience manager because they capture the customer’s perspective on how he or she interacts with your company.  As a result, journey maps play a critical role in informing the strategies of not only customer experience, but also those of marketing, product development, public relations, and any other part of the organization that directly or indirectly touches a customer. 

So, as a new CX manager, we had two strategic challenges to address: 1) establish credibility for a new initiative that, in many companies, is greeted with some skepticism; 2) under the heading of “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” we needed to develop a method for systematically capturing customer feedback and then acting on that information to resolve immediate problems and prevent future recurrences.  We reasoned that implementing an initial customer feedback approach would also help us in establishing the credibility of CX.

To recap, let’s again look briefly at each of the key components of our CX foundation that’s built on customer feedback and problem resolution:

We started with an initial assessment of the customer landscape guided by the question... “what is the state of key CX performance?”.  In this case, some basic assessment items include any recent customer research, with a particular eye on satisfaction and loyalty metrics that might be available.  Coming across a recent industry satisfaction report, we learned that our company trailed most competitors on a variety of service and product metrics, and that the underperformance was especially apparent in specific sales territories as well as in some key service channels.  As a result, we now had a reasonably good high-level understanding of some customer (and company) pain-points. 

We then determined whether the company as whole, or any individual department or business unit maintained some type of issue resolution method focused on identifying and responding to sources of dissatisfaction at the individual customer level.  As suspected, this key CX component, “the foundation”  as we call it, was not in place.  Barring a more urgent finding, we had a pretty good idea at this point that developing the company’s CX foundation would be our first major undertaking.

Our next step in the assessment was to arrange personal discussions with a few selected staff.  Our interviews included customer-facing employees, as well as back-office staff who have a supporting connection with the front-line.  We also talked to a few vendors who are involved in some way with contributing to the company’s customer offerings.  

Finally, we synthesized our initial findings using a one page summary capturing the most salient customer facing issues.  From this, we used Forrester’s Customer Experience Maturity Assessment (1) to determine where our company stands on the customer centricity continuum.

As we initially thought, the design and implementation of a robust customer feedback system would serve as our starting point.  Indeed, customer feedback, and the objective interpretation of this information is the lifeblood of a strong customer experience undertaking.  Together with the introduction of a transaction survey, we also implemented the problem solving process...these two items serve as the foundation of our CX initiative. 

Recall that our transaction survey was a modest undertaking in that we focused on collecting feedback from a single customer journey…the online purchase process.  Too much data can be overwhelming to work with, so starting with results from a single transaction type will facilitate the development of potential responses that we may need to develop.  Effective responses will, in turn, contribute to the credibility for CX that we’re initially wanting to establish in the organization.
Lastly, remember that our problem solving method consists of two components: 1) an immediate (tactical) reply to a dissatisfied customer and the presentation of resolution to their problem, or an appeasement if appropriate; 2) in cases where the source of customer dissatisfaction is due to a systemic issue in the organization, a (strategic) decision to potential develop a more permanent solution that will prevent the dissatisfaction from recurring.

Now let’s turn to a brief introduction of customer journey mapping.  At its simplest level, a journey map is a visual depiction of how a particular customer type (a Persona) interacts with your organization throughout the course of a particular transaction or event.  As the name implies, a journey has a defined beginning and end, which represent the logical starting and completion points of the transaction.  Again, at its simplest level, the journey map captures the “jobs” the customer is attempting to complete as she proceeds through the event…we’ll explore the concept of “jobs” in a lot more detail in a future post.  

Beyond a basic depiction of the customer’s interactions, the journey map can become more informative by including what Forrester Research describes as the customer “ecosystem”(2)…that is, capturing the complete environment of employees, vendors, technologies, and marketing communications that enable the customer’s transaction.  Visualizing the ecosystem allows for a fuller understanding of the strong and weak points of how a customer experiences the particular transaction, and this facilitates the development of corrective actions and enhancements to the process.

It’s important to also note that a journey map’s use should not be limited to the CX context.  A well developed map can serve to inform the strategies and tactics for marketing, I.T., public relations, advertising, product development, and any other organizational function that touches the customer in some way.  Over the course of the next several posts, we’ll discuss the various facets of journey mapping, including development, assessment, and most importantly, utilization for fixing customer experience issues as well as leveraging the insights from the map to proactively guide CX innovation.

(1) (2) From Outside-In, by Kerry Bodine and Harley Manning

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Problem Solving Process - Responding to a Customer's Issue

The previous several posts have focused on identifying and resolving systemic problems that may be shared by a large number of customers.   This post will focus on responding to individual customer problemsthat is, the tactical component of CX Problem Solving.

Twitter, Facebook, Amazon reviews, and a myriad of other sites available for customers to socialize their good and bad experiences with a companys products and services means the days of covering up the damage and limiting the exposure to a handful of people are long gone.  Consider that a conventional rule of thumb is that a satisfied customer will generally directly tell two acquaintances about her positive experience, while a customer whos less than impressed with the company will directly tell six people about how disappointed, mad, or frustrated they were with what they perceived to be a lousy experience.  Tweeting about the same bad experience can potentially reach several thousand potential and current customers of that companythe potential reach of this indirectventingis reason enough to establish a formal follow-up approach for each and every customer who submits a problem.

There are generally three formal channels that a customer can use to express their dissatisfaction to the organization
1) a telephone call to either the company itself, or to the retailer from whom they purchased the product (beware that the majority of complaints submitted to the retail channel rarely make their way to a head office, and as a result, company management may be understating the extent of their customer experience issues);
2) increasingly, particularly among younger customers, venting via an e-mail or an online form on the companys website is the preferred method;
3) post-purchase or transaction surveys may also contain customer complaints.  Regardless of the means used, heres a suggested approach to handling a customer issue courtesy of John Goodman in his book, Strategic Customer Service (1); Ive modified it somewhat with my own spin
Step 1 - Identify the Customers Key Issues
The recipient of the customers communication may be a customer service representative (for telephone or digital submissions), or a member of the market research staff (for a complaint mentioned in a survey).  The companys designated respondent should provide a timely reply (i.e. within a couple of days maximum of receiving the complaint)  and begin, as Goodman suggests, by asking the customer, What can I do to help you?”  At this point, the company representative must be guided by a company policy clearly stating the latitude he or she has in providing an appeasement to the client.  
Step 2 - Negotiate an Agreement
Using the companys appeasement policy as a guide, the companys representative may either be able to remedy the customers problem right on the spot, or if the customers desired resolution goes beyond  the policy, the representative will need to escalate the issue to a manager.
Step 3 - Provide Next Steps, and Follow-up with the Customer to Confirm Satisfaction
While some organizations take comfort in providing the customer with a remedy, few go the extra step to gather feedback and confirm satisfaction after the appeasement is provided.  This is strongly recommended for two reasons: 1) youll want to make sure the problem is fully resolved and that any collateral damagehas also been addressed; 2) such a follow-up will go far in recovering the goodwill that may have been lost as a result of the problem. This follow-up can take the form of a short survey, or a personal call from a company representative.  Customers experiencing a significant problem (i.e. one resulting in inconvenience, or out of pocket expenses) may warrant a follow-up telephone call directly from a member of the company’s senior management.
Step 4 - Analyze the Problem / Identify Trends / Design a Permanent Solution
This is the point at which the tactical customer resolution processes intersects with the strategic problem prevention and process design process.  Recall from our previous post referencing Strategic Customer Service,...Designing a permanent solution is a strategic one.  This is because youll be making a couple of choices, with each having implications for how to use your organizations resources.  Based on customer feedback (i.e. surveys, observation, interviews, etc.), youll want to form a hypothesis  for a potential permanent solution to your CX problem.  In many cases, this solution will take the form of either a design for a new process, or a re-design of an existing approach.
Up to this point, we’ve focused on a few tactical items as part of the development of an initial foundation for our customer experience initiative.  Beginning with the next post, we’ll recap the activities completed to date, and begin our transition to discussing the various strategic elements associated with CX.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Problem Solving Process - Step 4: Designing a Solution

Based on customer feedback (i.e. surveys, observation, interviews, etc.), you’ll want to form a hypothesis  for a potential permanent solution to your CX problem.  In many cases, this solution will take the form of either a design for a new process, or a re-design of an existing approach.  In either scenario, as alluded to in the previous post, and discussed in John A. Goodman’s excellent book, Strategic Customer Service (1), the decision to develop a permanent solution is a strategic one.  This is because you’ll be making a couple of choices, with each having implications for how to use your organization’s resources.  

The first choice is simply around whether or not to develop and implement a permanent solution.  In this case, the questions to ask are: 1) what’s the likely outcome of not addressing this problem and foregoing a permanent solution?  In the majority of cases, continuing to tolerate the problem will result in both customer and employee dissatisfaction; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  2) if we develop a permanent solution, what will be the effect on the company’s related resources?  These resources are typically budget and staff time, and this is where completing a sound financial analysis is important.  The financial implications of CX are critical, and they’ll be explored in more detail in an upcoming post.

Assuming the organization decides to develop a permanent solution, the second strategic choice revolves around the definition of the solution itself.  As mentioned earlier, in many cases, the solution involves the design of a new process, or the tweaking of an existing one.  While there may be instances where the solution to a customer dissatisfaction requires investments in new technologies (e.g. mobile apps, databases), or employee training and education, for the purposes of this illustration, we’ll focus on process design and discuss a couple of useful tools to aid in their development.

In 101 Design Methods(2), by Vijay Kumar, the Concept Scenario is presented as a “…series of sketches, illustrations, or photo collages used to express how that concept (i.e. solution) will be experienced by customers in proposed situations.”  Kumar goes on to say, “…Concept Scenarios work like an early field test…scenarios communicate ideas well and support (team) conversations.”  Kumar lays out how Concept Scenarios can be developed:

  1. Select concepts for scenario making.  As an example, in the proposed solution for our hypothetical retail situation, the team might imagine what a new floor plan for the cashier area might look like and develop a concept around how customers will experience it.
  2. Imagine the people involved and the context.  Imagine the key interactions or interactions that you want to show as a strong demonstration of the selected concept.
  3. Illustrate the scenarios.  Make a series of illustrations to show the imagined situations.  A suggested approach for developing the illustrations is to use Post-It notes with each component of the process depicted on an individual note (e.g. customer begins to approach the cashier area).
  4. Discuss the scenarios and build on the concepts.  Discuss how the concept is adding value to the imagined situation - its users and the context. 

Process mapping is a second tool that can be quite helpful in designing a well defined customer experience transaction.  However, as discussed in an article on the Process Excellence Network’s website (3), there are three common mistakes often associated with those new to process mapping…

  1. Applying process mapping on inappropriate types of processes.  Most organizations' business operation can be categorized into three types of processes: transformational processes, transactional processes and decision-making processes.  Transformational processes are most notably applicable in a manufacturing setting where inputs are “transformed” into specific outputs.  Transactional processes refer to the interactions of different input parties where they seek to generate specific outcomes. Call centre support and most sales activities are examples of transactional processes and typical customer experience scenarios.  Process maps are very effective for transformational and transactional cases where there’s a logical beginning and end.  Decision-making processes, because of their often ambiguous and open-ended characteristics, do not lend themselves to traditional process maps.
  2. The cause of process inefficiency can be caused outside the process being addressed.  This is, unfortunately, an often overlooked shortcoming of traditional process maps…we’ll come back to this in an upcoming post on Journey Mapping.
  3. Trying to create the “perfect” process maps (and forgetting why you’re process mapping in the first place).  Inexperienced process mappers sometimes bury themselves in process mapping analysis and forget the goal of improvement (i.e. improving the business) and instead focus on building ‘perfect’ process maps.

There are numerous other tools and approaches that can be used to develop CX solutions.  We touched on the Journey Map in an earlier post.  Given its importance in customer experience design (and that in a CX context, its more effective than traditional process mapping), an upcoming post will be devoted to this very useful tool.

  1. Strategic Customer Service, by John A. Goodman
  2. 101 Design Methods, by Vijay Kumar

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Problem Solving Process - Step 3: Selecting a Potential Solution

Continuing with the example of the long line-ups at the cashier, depicted in the August10th post, let’s focus on how the retailer might go about resolving this problem.  After studying the Fishbone Diagram (see below), the cross-functional CX team has decided to start the problem resolution process by addressing two items : 1) the store’s floor plan at the cashier space; 2) the scheduling of cashier staff.  How did they go about selecting these two areas as the starting point?  

Using the Fishbone Diagram to guide their strategic thinking, the team took the following approach:

  • What is the goal or aspiration?  To improve the customer’s shopping experience by providing an efficient method to pay for the items they’ve purchased.  Notice that the wording here is specific to a particular issue (paying for items purchased), yet general enough to allow for various potential solutions (“by providing an efficient method to pay…”).

  • What’s preventing us from reaching our goal?  As identified in the Fishbone Diagram, there are three potential obstacles: 1) the cash registers; 2) the expertise and / or availability of the cashier staff; 3) the store’s floor plan.

  • Which obstacles should we address such that the resolution comes with the lowest cost and correspondingly highest benefit?  This is an important concept because you’ll want to start your problem resolution by getting the most bang for your buck.  In this case, for example, it may be tempting to jump straight into the purchase of more technologically advanced cash registers, or perhaps consider using a mobile point of purchase application.  These potential solutions, however, likely come with high price tags, and may in fact, not result in the best outcome from a customer experience perspective.   When faced with several potential solutions, taking an iterative approach is prudent.  Select the obstacle or problem whose potential resolution comes with the least cost (time, resources, budget).  Design and evaluate the solution, and then determine whether this results in an improved customer experience…how do you do this?  We’ll address this question in an upcoming post which will discuss the closed-loop customer feedback approach in more detail.

We’ve now identified some potential causes of our store line-up problem, analyzed these causes in greater detail using a Fishbone Diagram, and most recently, selected a couple of possible solutions using the criteria of least cost and highest corresponding benefit.  In the next post, we’ll continue with the solution stage by looking at some tools that can be used for designing new processes.  Following that, we’ll then wrap-up our problem-solving process with a discussion on using customer feedback to determine if they think the solution we’ve developed is doing its job.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Forrester’s Next-Generation Customer Experience Index

Let’s take a break from our recent series of problem-solving posts to familiarize ourselves with Forrester Research’s recent enhancement to its Customer Experience Index (CXi).  

Recall from previous posts that we introduced a couple of simple and preliminary measures to consider when establishing your company’s customer experience initiative.  As mentioned in those posts, no satisfaction measure in and of itself, is a slam-dunk indicator of how your customers assess their experience with your organization.  Indeed, this blog strongly recommends that the measurement method for your customer experience initiative adhere to the following two guidelines: 1) regardless of which metric or metrics you select, the measurement must occur on an ongoing and consistent basis, and it must be directed to a widespread sample of your customer base.  Sporadic measurements and / or surveys sent to a limited number of customers will be of little use in supporting your CX strategy and tactics, and consequently, will be a waste of resources (i.e. your budget).  2) Relying on a single survey metric is dangerous.  In a previous post, for example, we looked at an MIT report that was (rightly) critical of the often catch-all “rate your satisfaction” type of question.   As we’ll discuss in more detail in a forthcoming post, your CX activities need to be informed by a measurement framework that is rigorous enough to capture the various facets of customer feedback at key points in time, while also being intuitive such that it’s understandable to those in your company who are not familiar with consumer research.

Let’s now turn our attention to Forrester’s recent introduction of its updated CXi.  Forrester introduced the original Customer Experience Index in 2007.  To quote Forrester, “That original CXi successfully captured the essence of customer experience quality (emphasis mine): how customers perceive their interactions with a company…” (1)  The original index contains three related metrics: how effective the brand is at meeting customer needs; how easy it is to do business with; how enjoyable was the experience.  I personally like this index because it captures both the left brain component of an experience (ease and met needs) with the desire of the right brain (an enjoyable experience).  According to Forrester, the next generation CXi “…measures how well a company delivers customer experiences that create and sustain customer loyalty.” (2) 

The enhanced Customer Experience Index purports to link the customer’s experience with the resulting loyalty (and revenue, or lack thereof).  It does this by deconstructing loyalty into three components - retention, enrichment, and advocacy - and then using an index made up of the 3-E’s 1) Effectiveness - did customers get value from the experience; 2) Ease - did customers get value without difficulty; 3) Emotion - did customers feel good about the experience.  

To add rigour to the CXi, Forrester assigns a weighting to each of the E’s based on the relative importance to specific industries.  Companies in the entertainment industry for example (amusement parks, theatres) would have a relatively higher weighting associated with the Emotion component of their CXi, reflecting the “feel good” nature of these experiences.  

The calculation of the index itself is relatively straightforward.  For each of the E’s, subtract the percent of bottom box responses (e.g. a 1 and 2 on a 5 point scale) from the percentage of top box replies (4 and 5).  Then, sum the result from each metric and divide by 3 to get a raw index number.  From this, Forrester would apply its proprietary industry related weighting mentioned in previously.  

I suspect that Forrester’s Next-Generation Customer Experience Index will be a significant contribution towards the continuous advancement of CX in many organizations.  We’ll visit the CXi again in an upcoming post on designing your framework for measuring customer experience.

Introducing Forrester’s Next-Generation Customer Experience Index, June 26, 2014.  Forrester Research Inc. Page 2.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Problem Solving Process - Step 2: Analyzing the Problem

As mentioned at the conclusion of the previous post, analyzing a customer experience problem is best done in a group setting with individuals who are in some way involved with the issue under discussion.  A typical “gap” that’s causing customer dissatisfaction will likely consist of numerous components that may or may not be obvious upon initial inspection.  That’s why a cross-functional team, with representation from throughout the organization, is critical in both developing a thorough understanding of the problem, and in devising an effective solution.

For this post, let’s look at two analytical tools: the Five-Why’s, and the Fishbone Diagram.  

The Five-Why’s is a component of Kaizen, the Japanese manufacturing process that focuses on continuous improvement.  Underlying this tool is the idea that the root cause of most problems can be identified by asking 5 why questions in succession, with the source of the problem typically apparent by the fourth or fifth question.  

Let’s use the customer problem illustrated in the diagram below to work through a five-why analysis: a retail store is experiencing extended line-ups at the check-out counters, resulting in customer complaints.  Starting the five-why’s might proceed as follows: 1) why are there long line-ups at the check-out counters?  Because the cash registers require that the cashier manually input the price of the item; 2) why do we have cash registers that require manual input?  Because previous budgets have not included a provision to upgrade the check-out technology.  3) why have we not budgeted for an investment in new check out technology?  Because lower than expected revenues and higher than expected costs have not allowed for sufficient funds for technology investment; 4) why is the company’s fiscal position such that we cannot make these needed investments?  Hmmm…this seems to be a logical question, but is this line of inquiry really getting to the root cause?

We could start our five-why’s with a different focus…1) why are there long line-ups at the check-out counters?  Because the cashier staff is generally slow and prone to making mistakes;  2) why are the cashiers working slowly and making mistakes?  Because they generally don’t have the ability to enter items quickly and accurately;  3) why do they seemingly not have the competence necessary to process purchases quickly and accurately?  Because they haven’t been provided with adequate training.  4)  why haven’t they received sufficient training?  Because their isn’t sufficient budget to design a proper training course;  5) Why isn’t there sufficient budget? Because lower than expected revenues and higher than expected costs have not allowed for sufficient funds for training investment.  Hmmm, once again, we’ve proceeded through a series of questions, but have not identified a persuasive root cause.  This illustrates some of the limitations of the five-why’s tool.  Specifically, it’s not terribly effective in situations such as this where there may be multiple root causes underlying a specific problem.  

Generally, the five-why’s work best in a well defined linear process that contains a logical beginning and end flow.  This is typically the case in a manufacturing environment, and perhaps explains why the tool is popular in these settings.

Customer experience issues are generally not as straightforward as those encountered in an assembly plant.  CX problems typically include multiple stakeholders, and potential root causes, and thus lend themselves to a more involved tool.  To illustrate this, have a look at the fishbone diagram below.  The basic idea behind a fishbone diagram is to think of all the possible perspectives of a particular problem, and then identify as many viable components as possible that are associated with that particular perspective.  In the fishbone below, for example, 3 potential perspectives have been identified with our cashier line-up problem.  These perspectives are technology, staffing and personnel, and the physical space of the store.  For each perspective, several associated components have been added…this provides a robust perspective of the complete environment of our problem.  Remember, our problem solving team is ideally a cross-functional representation from throughout the company, so each member should be able to offer a substantive contribution representing their particular perspective.  Ultimately, this should result in a well thought out solution.

As you can see, a well designed fishbone diagram requires a fair amount of work and brainstorming, but the resulting illustration should make it a bit easier to organize thoughts and effectively resolve the problem at hand.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Problem Solving Process - Step 1: Identification

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results -  Albert Einstein

I doubt Professor Einstein had customer experience in mind when he expressed his now well worn quote, but I think it applies just the same.  As mentioned several times in preceding posts, a solid customer feedback system, together with a closed-loop response process, is as essential to your CX activities as establishing a strong aerobic base is for most competitive athletes — in both cases, these are foundational activities.  

The focal point of an effective problem solving process is to go beyond a one-and-done problem fix, and continue probing the issue in order to identify the root cause of the problem, most likely followed by a redesign of a customer interaction in order to prevent the problem from recurring (i.e. stopping the insanity).  In this first in a series of Problem Solving posts, let’s focus on the identification of areas where the company is not delivering the optimal customer experience.

Identify the Problem - Using the Results From Your Transactional Surveys

Over the course of several previous posts, we completed the heavy lifting associated with developing your organization’s transaction surveys.  You’ll recall that a key output of the survey is a trend report.  This simple report identifies the frequency of instances where clients indicate dissatisfaction with a particular aspect of their interaction with your company…typically this dissatisfaction is indicated as a score of 3 or less on a 5 point scale.  In the sample report below from our Transaction Survey, we have a total sample of 500 respondents over the course of 3 months.  You can readily see the three “pain areas” beginning with the 375 customers who scored the Clarity of Instructions as 3 or less.  These under-performing areas are the starting points for the organization’s problem resolution. 

To further support our identification of under-performing customer experiences, we can also turn to the Satisfaction vs Importance report that also is a component of the Survey System that we developed. Continuing to look at Clarity of Instructions, the report indicates that customers rate this as a very important aspect of their experience.

It’s important to note that trends can be identified from a variety of sources in addition to the reporting from your company’s transaction surveys.  If your organization has a social media presence, for example, a similar tracking exercise can be undertaken where you track the frequency of negative mentions for a particular aspect of your operations.  This can be done manually, but if the company has a significant social media exposure, it may be worthwhile to invest in a formal tracking service.  Another potentially rich source of customer feedback is, or course, your company’s call center.  Here again, depending on the volume of activity, it may be useful to purchase a tracking application that allows for the classification and tabulation of customer issues.  The point here is that as your comfort level with issue identification and problem solving increases, you should be adding to your sources of customer information and tracking accordingly.

As the CX Manager, I suggest that you, and perhaps a data or statistical analyst, own the Identification step.  While there may be multiple areas where the company’s customer experience is not performing well, only you likely know what the priorities are in the context of the company’s strategic objectives.  In other words, you’ll likely first want to address those CX areas that have a direct line into supporting one of the organization’s important strategic choices.  Beginning with the next post and Step 2 in the Problem Solving Process, you’ll want to form a Problem Solving Team with a good cross-functional representation of staff from across the company. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Customer Feedback System - Win / Loss Survey

The second of the two recommended transaction surveys that serve as the foundation for your company’s customer experience initiative is commonly referred to as Win / Loss.  As the name implies, this survey focuses on collecting feedback from customers who have either purchased your product or service, or considered purchasing from you, but ultimately decided to go with a competitor.  A good overview of the Win/Loss survey is presented in Analysis Without Paralysis,  by Babette Bensoussan and Craig Fleisher.  What follows is my take on the key points from the book.

What is a Win/Loss Survey?

This method of capturing customer and prospect feedback identifies your customers’ perceptions, and how you compare to your competitors.  Used optimally, it provides an early warning about why your customer or prospect is not buying from you, but has turned to a competitor instead.  As such, think of the Win/Loss survey as a tool that can be used at the initial purchase occasion, and at the “back end” where, in a subscription model, a customer’s service term expires and there’s an opportunity to either renew or defect to another brand.  As Bensoussan and Fleisher state…

“Win/Loss analysis is a unique tool that brings together all the elements of a strategy - customer information, competitors, and your own organization - within the context of the most critical element for a business - the buying decision.” 

What Are the Benefits of a Win/Loss Survey?

Executing a Win/Loss provides your organization with, among other benefits, customer requirements for what constitutes an appealing product or service, and an evaluation of your organization’s sales process.  Wins will confirm your company’s strengths, and losses will reveal weaknesses, threats and opportunities for improvement.

How Does Our Company Execute a Win / Loss Survey?

To derive the most benefit from a Win/Loss, it’s important that the survey is executed consistently over a defined time period (e.g. weekly, monthly, quarterly)  This is largely a function of your company’s volume of sales transactions and your research budget.  A couple of questions to guide your thinking on this…

  • How many sales transactions does your company execute in a week or over the course of a month?  Assuming a 10 percent response rate to your questionnaire, and a monthly deployment frequency for your survey, you would likely want to send at least 200 surveys each month.  Over a 6-month period, you’ll likely have over 100 responses, which is a robust sample on which to have sufficient confidence to make any changes to your sale process.
  • Should you limit the survey to specific customer segments?  This approach may be useful in cases where, for example, your company sells a variety of products, and each of these products appeal to distinct customer types.  In such cases, it may be worthwhile to understand why segment A readily purchases product X, but segment B is slow to adopt the same product.

What are the Components of a Win / Loss Questionnaire?

An effective Win / Loss Survey covers the following areas and associated questions.  Generally, a 5-point response scale can be used for most questions.

Sales Attributes 
  • How knowledgable was the sales associate about the product or service?
  • How was the sales associate’s professionalism throughout the sales transaction?
  • Did the sales associate display a good understanding of your purchase needs?  From this, were    appropriate recommendations made?  This question could be a rating or a qualitative response.
  • How pleasant was the experience in dealing with this associate throughout the purchase        process?
  • How easy for you was it to complete this purchase?

2.    Company or Brand Reputation

  • How much influence does the brand / company have on the purchase decision?
  • How would you describe this brand / company?  For this question, provide a text box to capture the respondent’s feedback.

3.    Product or Service

  • How easy was it to set-up and begin using your product?
  • Rate the usefulness of the following: instructional materials, customer support offered online (e.g. frequently asked questions), telephone support from the customer contact center).

The content and extent of your Win / Loss questionnaire will likely be dependent on the complexity of your company’s purchase process.  Generally, products and services that are relatively high priced (e.g. automobile) or of particular value to a customer  (e.g. certain financial services) may require a more involved questionnaire to better understand the various tangible and intangible customer purchase considerations.

Together, the Transaction and Win / Loss surveys we’ve covered over the last several posts are good starting points for building your organization’s customer experience activities.  The customer feedback from these surveys will kick-start the problem-solving process (which we touched on in a previous post, and will discuss in detail in the next), and should establish a couple of “quick wins” in terms of helping you to convey the importance and credibility of CX within your organization.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Customer Feedback System - Satisfaction and Importance

Before proceeding to discuss the satisfaction and importance metrics, let’s spend some time summarizing where we’ve been to date in your new job as the customer experience manager at Widget Inc.  You’ve been onboard for about 3 months now, and you knew when you took the job that this company’s recent customer satisfaction and retention performance left a lot to be desired.  Your mandate from senior management is to right the ship by establishing a first-class customer experience initiative.  So, here’s a summary of our progress over the first 3 months...

We started with an initial assessment of the customer landscape guided by the question... “what is the state of key CX performance?”.  In this case, some basic assessment items include any recent customer research, with a particular eye on satisfaction and loyalty metrics that might be available.  Coming across a recent industry satisfaction report, we learned that our company trailed most competitors on a variety of service and product metrics, and that the underperformance was especially apparent in specific sales territories as well as in some key service channels.  As a result, we now had a reasonably good high-level understanding of some customer (and company) pain-points. 

We then determined whether the company as whole, or any individual department or business unit maintained some type of issue resolution method focused on identifying and responding to sources of dissatisfaction at the individual customer level.  As suspected, this key CX component, “the foundation”  as we call it, is not in place.  Barring a more urgent finding, we had a pretty good idea at this point that developing the company’s CX foundation would be our first major undertaking.

Our next step in the assessment was to arrange personal discussions with a few selected staff.  Our interviews included customer-facing employees, as well as back-office staff who have a supporting connection with the front-line.  We also talked to a few vendors who are involved in some way with contributing to the company’s customer offerings. 

Finally, we synthesized our initial findings using a one page summary capturing the most salient customer facing issues.  From this, we used Forrester’s Customer Experience Maturity Assessment (1) to determine where our company stands on the customer centricity continuum. 

As we initially thought, the design and implementation of a robust customer feedback system would serve as our starting point.  Indeed, customer feedback, and the objective interpretation of this information is the lifeblood of a strong customer experience undertaking.  
Together with the introduction of a transaction survey, we also implemented the problem solving process...these two items serve as the foundation of our CX initiative.  We’ll dive into the problem solving process in more detail in an upcoming post.

Now, a few words about the Importance and Satisfaction report developed from our transaction questionnaire.  A previous post presented a summary of an MIT Sloan Quarterly article on some of the shortcomings of associated with the measurement of customer satisfaction.  Indeed, as with any metric or metrics that purport to reveal what customers “really” think about a product or service, one should be judicious in interpreting the results.  In almost every business context, any number, in and of itself, is rarely insightful.  Only when that number is evaluated in the context of other similar metrics, as well as over some period of time (trends), can we be more confident in what “it’s really like out there.”  So, whether it’s the Net Promoter Score, CSI, the Customer Experience Index, or any other metric, your approach should...

  • Look at multiple metric types (e.g. NPS and satisfaction)
  • Analyze these metrics over a given time frame...look for trends
  • Very importantly, look at any satisfaction, loyalty or advocate data in the context of your customer’s not uncommon for a segments purchasing the same product to have often very different views about how pleased they are with the experience.

All of this said, from a customer experience perspective, I like the satisfaction and importance survey because, if executed correctly, it provides an acceptable representation of what your customers value, and how you’re delivering on that expectation.  A report such as the hypothetical version produced for this post serves as a good starting point for further investigation (usually using a qualitative research approach) into why particular aspects of your product or service are relatively more or less important to your customers.

(1) From Outside In by Kerry Bodine and Harley Manning