Monday, August 16, 2010

Who Does Our Customer Experience Satisfy: The Customer or Us?

These days, who isn’t looking to create efficiencies in every work process, transaction and function? When we evaluate our options to be more efficient, can we quantify the impact on the customer and the employee?

I read a good article on the Great Brook website about customer experience management, which, the author contends, is looking from the wrong angle: the experience is designed; then managed to greater effect for both customer and company.

The article cited the notorious example of the JetBlue (ex) employee who went ballistic because of a rude passenger and, while he may have 90,000 “friends” on MySpace, he doesn’t have a job. The article examines the system from two perspectives: the customer (JetBlue actually refers to its passengers as customers) and the employee. The ultimate issue is not employee engagement per se or customer loyalty; JetBlue comes up well in research into both areas. It’s about how well the process has been designed to promote more harmony and less frustration; more engagement and less bad behavior; more loyalty and less attrition (or banging of stuff into overhead bins).

The crux of the problem in so many industries is that workflow and processes are designed from the Inside-Out, and the fact that the customer is actually a key component of the process isn’t factored in. All our side of the ledger shows is how much time and money saved and wasteful steps eliminated -- for us.

The burden of negotiating our unhelpful web sites, hellacious voice mail systems and confusing online storefronts calls falls on the customer; but when is the ensuing frustration accounted for as a cost? And, who measures the impact of (dis)engagement when customers’ anger and frustration are taken out on the front line employee?

When customer feedback says “I want self-service on my schedule, preferably online”, this is not a license to implement any sub-par system on the basis that because the customer has indicated a general preference, anything we implement is bound to satisfy needs.

I’ve spent a lot of time in business process redesign and there is no doubt that there is a smart way to do it and a really stupid way. Let’s outline the smart way and you’ll figure out what the stupid way looks like. When mapping a process that in any way involves customers:

  • How are your customer interfaces designed? Inside-Out or Outside-In?
  • What tasks are you asking customers to perform instead of you?
  • Are you making the process efficient for the customer or just you?
  • Are you saving yourself time at the expense of the customers’ time?
  • Have you asked your employees which of your processes cause the most frustration for customers?
  • Have you asked your customers the same question?
  • Have you quantified the costs and benefits of your processes on your customers or you only?

Part of the employee engagement/customer commitment linkage is having processes that respect both parties who are expected to use them. Bringing a customer to the point of anger with an employee means that everyone loses.

Are you designing your processes Outside-in or Inside-out? Do you measure your own benefits from efficiency or do you think about the cost to your customers?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hot Customer $ervice in the $ummer Time

We’ve been sweltering through a crispy summer in Atlanta and I finally had to bite the bullet to install a new HVAC system.

Of course in these new days of austerity, it wasn’t a matter of picking the prettiest system; oh no, I had to do my homework. Onto the web sites I went, looking at systems, any deals that could be available and, most importantly, what my friends and neighbors are saying about the two contractors I short-listed.

While I had used a locally well-known provider for 15 years, I had a very disappointing experience with one of the company’s executives last year. However, I decided to give them the opportunity to make a service recovery and quote for my business. And, I added another local contractor that had very positive online reviews. Both quotes were very similar but I couldn’t shake the bad experience I had had with my current vendor.

After dithering for a month (it’s $10,000 after all; not exactly an impulse purchase), I phoned the sales person for the second contractor. We discussed scheduling and the fact that in this Sahara-like summer, I couldn’t do without air conditioning for a day and a half. Without hesitating, he arranged to bring a room air conditioner 5 days before the work was due to start because “there is no reason why you have to be uncomfortable”.

Do I have to tell you who got the business?

Bill was on time and dutifully dragged the unit upstairs and down until we found a window that would accommodate it. He installed it, tested it and ensured there was no escape of precious cold air into the outdoors. And he did it all cheerfully on a day with a 106 -degree heat index.

I’ve told everyone who is even mildly interested about my customer experience and why I didn’t select the first vendor. Of course, if anyone asks me, I’d happily recommend Bill and his company. I’ll also be doing online reviews because I found them very helpful when I was looking for a new HVAC contractor.

Lessons learned?

  • It takes only one conversation to lose a long time customer so if you have the words “Customer Service” in your title and you don’t live up to it, be prepared to lose your revenue base over and over again.
  • What your web site and marketing materials say had better align with how your employees behave with customers; it’s becoming easier to spot the differences. And, in this economy, people are fed up and aren’t putting up with sub-par service.
  • It only takes one small thing, in my case, the offer of a loaner air conditioner several days in advance of the installation, to completely surprise and delight a customer. We are so hardened to expect customer “no service” that when the unexpected happens, it produces multiples of satisfaction versus the actual expenditure of resources.
  • Online reviews are routinely part of a customer’s research. Ignore them at your peril. Google never forgets!
  • Word-of-mouth referrals and recommendations are incredibly important for any company.
  • Going above and beyond, often in small ways that are personal, is the greatest source of satisfaction, which will drive intention to buy, refer and repurchase. When everything else is equal between you and your competitors, this kind of differentiator stands out.

What is your company doing to surprise and delight your customers? Do you monitor what people are saying about you – or do you think customers don’t really take notice of other peoples’ opinions?