Governing your Customer Experience Initiative though Line-of-Sight

line of sight gearsAn end-to-end approach for managing customer experience strategy and delivering on its promises...

Over the past 24 months, Customer Experience Initiatives (Cx programs, as they have come to be called) have climbed to the top of the radar screens of most leadership teams. Organizations are abuzz with projects to identify “touchpoints,” map “customer journeys,” and strengthen their customer-facing business processes. Alongside these initiatives are even larger investments in acquiring the data and analytics required to feed and sustain these service improvement strategies. >>Next>>

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Performance Perspectives now has a new home…

The Performance Perspectives blog by Bob Champagne  has recently moved. It’s new location is http://onVectorConsulting.com/blog

Please visit us there for the latest in business performance management insights and perspectives from onVector Consulting!

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I’ve Got Your Number- The simple touches that are redefining “WOW”

It was once about the heroics…

Of all the business functions discussed in the arena of performance improvement over the years, Customer Service has certainly gotten its fair share. But lately, with the rapidly growing range of new enabling technologies, and an accelerated adoption rate that shows these technologies are starting to take root, we are now seeing some of the best performance “breakout” stories since the legendary FedEx, Nordstrom, and Toyota (Lexus) case studies of the 90’s.

What’s interesting about today’s success stories is that it’s no longer about what I call the customer “heroics”– the FEDEX guy who hires a plane to deliver a package that just “has to get there overnight”, or the Nordstrom sales clerk who agrees to sell a single shoe to a woman with only one leg. And it’s not about the technologies. It’s now about the little things–the refreshingly responsive, yet consistent, way in which everyday transactions get executed.

I’ve got your number

A few weeks ago I called Apple to check on a repair (self induced). I was in my car and didn’t have time to look up the number of the repair facility or the order number. I figured I could call Apple’s main number (which they apparently pre-program into your phone), and have them look me up via my email or phone number. If I was lucky, they’d transfer me directly to the repair facility.

I called the number, their system recognized mine, and without any IVR menus, speech requests, or human involvement, I heard “We recognize that you have a repair with us. It was completed yesterday and shipped at 5:23PM for Saturday delivery at your home address…If you need anything else, just say what you need.” Everyone these days has voice recognition and ANI capabilities in their call center. But in this experience, everything was placed exactly right, in the precise order required to produce a great experience

I had a similar experience last year with AT&T Mobile, when I received a text that read:

“Your bill is ready for $xxx.xx (which is my average bill amount). You can view it on ATT.com or by clicking here.—–Please respond “full” if you would like to pay in full, or a specific amount ‘XX.XX’ We will process your payment using the credit card on file”

 These days, nearly every company I work with has a mobile strategy, or at least has one on the drawing board. But this is the best application of mobile service I’ve seen, again, largely because of how the process was designed and sequenced. Sure, I could go visit the website and see my bill, then go home and pay it like nearly every other system. Or I can simply respond “full.”

Of course, there is the Apple Store in your local mall that sells more per square foot than just about any retailer in your state. These stores are always packed, even at 1pm on a slow Wednesday. There are no cash registers. Cards are swiped by sales clerks using hand-held devices, which prompts someone in the back to quickly bring the product to you. They offer to print or email your receipt on the spot, and you’re off. I can remember distinctly the first time I experienced this, actually leaving the store feeling like I had forgotten something.

Truth is, I DID forget something– all the needless paper and annoyance that usually accompanies routine retail transactions!

So here’s the moral of those stories, and others like it—It’s no longer about the heroics. It’s no longer about the technologies. It’s about how well those things are understood in the complete context of customer experience drivers, and then deployed in a mass producible way.

Build in the “small stuff” where it matters most

Next time you are getting ready to deploy one of those myriad of “must have” or “way cool” technologies for the sake of customer satisfaction or productivity improvement, think about the following in terms of HOW and WHERE you will deploy it within your process:

  • Will it help me produce a faster TTE (Time to Engagement)? –- That’s the time it takes from the customer’s initial call arriving until they actually feel that the agent or system understands and is engaged in solving the problem (rather than the incessant and often redundant asking/probing/clarifying about why the person is calling). How long does it take to get past all that script-based validation, authentication, menu choices, long-winded greetings, survey requests, transfers, redundant requests, etc.)?
  • Will it improve the speed of the transaction? Will it mean more or fewer steps for the customer? This sounds simple, but in most applications of CS technology — IVR, ANI, Voice Recognition -– the pain factor for the customer usually goes up, even though cost for the company may be going down.
  • Does it improve customer convenience? What I liked about the AT&T bill text experience is that the entire solution took place in real time, rather than as three separate transactions (viewing text (on the run), viewing bill (at your desk), paying bill (at home).
  • Is it respectful of the customer’s time? New technologies like Virtual Hold allow a caller to forego waiting in queue by having the system maintain the caller’s place in line and call them back when an agent becomes available (or at a time agreeable to the caller).
  • Will it quietly steer the customer to a better solution if one exists? I like the IVR hold schemes that offer tips or better calls to action, whether or not they actually produce one on the spot. Even better if the solution is unique and “smart” enough to warrant a “wow” reaction. I had this experience where I was attempting a complicated installation, and the hold narrative mentioned a site that there were video tutorials available. That was better than another instrumental version of “Just the Way You Are,” and far better than “you can visit our website”.
  • Will it produce a notable distinction between what occurs and what a customer was expecting? I know that sounds trite, but very few actually do. Remember, it’s not only the magnitude of the distinction, but how meaningful the result is as well. Significantly reducing the wait time on-hold isn’t going to buy you much good will if the service the customer receives remains inadequate. I use the term “refreshingly responsive” (implying responsive, but with a useful but unexpected touch — the service equivalent of lagniappe).

One of my clients uses the term “smart value” when describing a product transaction that is reinforcing to the customer (I made a good choice, and I feel smart for having done so). I would argue that the same dynamic is possible with transactions. Admittedly, it’s very challenging to make a customer feel good about making a call to resolve an issue. But I’ve gotta tell you, when it happens, it certainly carries a loyalty premium.

And that’s how we redefine WOW!

-b

Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience with primary emphasis on Customer Operations in the global energy and utilities sector. Bob has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at bob.champagne@onvectorconsulting.com

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Sure, I’ll jump right on that!!!

Inspiring Action- An Art or a Science? 

I’ll jump right on that!! Five simple words that can either convey the attitude of a person eager and motivated to get something done, or a sarcastic way of declining a request based on it being either an uninspiring or unrewarding experience (or perhaps both).

Much of what we know about performance management comes from the behavioral sciences and the work of legendary psychologist B. F. Skinner. In case you missed that day in your Psych 101 class, basic behaviorism is built on the simple concept of providing a tangible reward–a piece of food in the case of experimental animals–in response to the correct achievement of some basic task (or, conversely, the withholding of a reward–or administration of a penalty of some sort–for failure to complete the task).

Pigeons, Teenagers, and Everything In Between

When we talk about the field of performance management–be it measurement, goals and targets, tracking and reporting, performance communications, back-end rewards, or the myriad of other “moving parts”  within the performance management process–we are really talking about elements that are at the core of managing human behavior.

While most of  us regard performance management techniques as a way to motivate our organizations and employees to achieve “peak performance” levels, the same techniques can be used in an infinite number of other areas, across both the work and personal spectrum. Remember, while Skinner’s subjects were originally pigeons, his techniques have been applied effectively in everything from corporate performance to the most basic of personal transactions with our children… and everything in-between.

…and Yes, Customers Too!

Recently, I’ve been giving a good deal of thought to how we can use these same principles in our relationships with customers. There are many things we do to encourage customers to behave in certain ways. Whether it’s  buying more of a product, maintaining allegiance to our brand, or other more subtle changes we seek in customer behavior (shifting to less costly billing and payment channels, moving consumption to more optimal places in our delivery system, increasing utilization of our automated inquiry channels (website, IVR, etc.), participating in recycling campaigns, etc.), the age old “behavior modification” techniques used by the early behaviorists, still present in most of our performance management organizations, are just as, if not more, important to our relationships and interactions with customers. It’s all about creating a line of sight between a desired outcome and the behaviors required to drive it, keeping that line of sight visible, and ensuring that all requisite parts of the process are in place to motivate and reinforce staying on that path and consistently hitting the desired target.

A few days ago, a close friend of mine who enjoys spending an occasional weekend in Las Vegas (something I know very little about, or at least wouldn’t  admit to if I did!), received, during one of these periodic jaunts, a loyalty card from a casino offering him certain amenities whenever he visited their property–usually free (or at least that’s the spin they put on it) dinners, valet parking, etc. Personally, I find it hard to see these loyalty programs as being of any great value, since I’m sure the rewards pale in comparison to how much casinos “fleece” their patrons. But regardless of how I view that industry and their programs, my friend seems to enjoy them. And, well, who am I to judge?

After visiting the casino a few times in 2011, he received a letter letting him know that he had reached a new loyalty level (again, one has to wonder about achieving a new loyalty level at a casino whose primary mission it is to take your money. But let’s not digress again). After quickly congratulating him on achieving this “new loyalty tier”, the program manager went on to describe how close my friend was to reaching the next level beyond his newly attained one.

I may not have all of my numbers exactly right, but it went something like this: “Congratulations on achieving our Silver level by earning 15,000 points! You’re now only a few steps away from hitting the Gold level. By earning an additional 900,000 points, you’ll enjoy all the benefits of Silver PLUS all the many new benefits reserved exclusively for our Gold members!” etc, etc, etc…

Sometimes there is not enough oxygen on the planet to describe how many things are wrong with a particular business practice. This was one of those times. But the letter alone did most of the damage. Whatever the expenditures required to get to the “silver level” (and I really didn’t want to know the details), simple math told him that he’d need to spend many, many, many multiples of that to even approximate the next level. After a good laugh, his response was: “Sure, I’ll get right on that!”

Motivating Loyalty-

The good, the bad and the ugly…

Loyalty programs all include features of this sort: tiers of benefits that reward buying behavior, incentives for climbing to the next tier, quantifiable measures and tracking schemes that let you know how you are doing on your progress, and all the communication required to motivate you up and over the “next hurdle.” It doesn’t matter whether the program is for frequent fliers, hotel visitors, or even banking savers (an alternative I would encourage my friend to consider). There is no doubt that such programs work.

What differentiates the good ones is not simply the presence of elements like measures, goals, and rewards but, rather, the range of “moving parts” within the PM process I alluded to earlier. For example, let’s look inside my friend’s experience. It wasn’t the lack of a measurable outcome or awareness of what he had to do to get to the next tier that created the breakdown, but rather the enormous gap between the tiers (where the target was set), its level of achievability, and the manner in which progress was communicated.

Sometimes the issue is as simple as managing distinctions between tiers and levels. For a person like me who travels extensively, upgrades, for example, are certainly important. But as airlines continue to consolidate, customers who might have grown used to being consistently upgraded now find that while they were once big fish in a small pond, they have now become average-sized fish in a much larger lake. Anyone caught in the consolidation of the United and Continental loyalty programs knows this first-hand. In fact, there are now more “elite” than “non-elite” fliers (usually by a factor of two) competing for that “special boarding” privilege (essential for getting dibs on very scarce and valuable carry-on luggage space). So for me, the boarding privileges have become more valuable than the upgrade itself. Simply differentiating between platinum, gold, and silver elite fliers in the boarding process would improve the experience of those with the highest travel frequency. Further distinctions (within the higher tier) would also help to create more perceived equity within the ever growing mass of frequent travelers when it comes to upgrades.

More often than not, the differences lie in more subtle application of the “moving parts” within the process. There is a principle most of us may remember from that Psych 101 course that deals with the specifics of reinforcement “schedules” (variable/fixed intervals, for example). While it’s nice to get “upgraded” every single time we exhibit the expected behavior, true behaviorists would tell you that is a clear path to complacency (besides which, the experimenter–or in our case, the program manager–ends up spending a great deal more than necessary in rewards in order to achieve a desired result). Whether they are right or wrong in this assertion is not the issue; market research can answer that. The real issue is that nuances such as this remain very much in play and should not be simply ignored or overlooked in a program’s design. Most of us can recall a time as a customer when receiving an unexpected extra (what we in the south call lagniappe ) did, in fact, generate good will and motivate improved buy behavior. Stan Phelps, a fellow blogger and someone I view as a “kindred spirit” in the space of marketing and CEM,  talks about this quite extensively on his blog “Marketing Lagniappe”. And while  he does not purport to be a true (native) Southerner like myself, he certainly gets the concept as well as those who hail from south of the Mason Dixon line.

Incorporating Performance Management into your CEM strategies…

Like any good chef, there are many ingredients that need to be mixed in the correct sequence, at the right temperature, and  presented in the right way to create that high-quality, positive experience. Same goes for designing our customer experiences:

  • Are the incentives you’re offering ones customers even care about? How much time and energy are you wasting on deploying innovative tools that have more impact for you that they do for customers?
  • Are your incentives easy for customers to redeem? .Small “point of sale” rebates are often have far more “relevant impact” than larger ones that require more customer effort to redeem (after adjusting for lower redemption levels)
  • Do you rely on hidden tricks to manage program costs (e.g., points that expire, rewards that require supplemental cash payments, etc.) that can actually produce more negative that positive impact on customer experience?
  • Are the measures you’re using easy and simple for customers to understand and use in tracking their progress to that next reward or level?
  • Have you considered the effect of different reinforcement schedules? (Fixed versus variable intervals? Different types and quantity of rewards?
  • Have you given enough thought to where program “targets” (rewards and tiers) are set?
  • Are the targets achievable in reasonable amounts of time?
  • Is your messaging and communication sufficiently compelling?

Clearly these techniques apply any time we are trying to convince someone to “jump right on it.” But in the world of customer experience, where competitive forces are always at play and differentiation is becoming more and more critical, it may just be the most important consideration in your product and program design.

-b

Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience with primary emphasis on Customer Operations in the global energy and utilities sector. Bob has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at bob.champagne@onvectorconsulting.com

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2011- Year of the Squirrel

What 2011 taught us about strategic distractions, and their impact on business value…

A few months back, I remember having a good chuckle while watching a Jon Stewart parody on the Republican candidate field.  The monologue poked fun at the media’s tendency, during its seemingly relentless coverage of the leading candidate on that day, to completely shift direction the moment a new contender entered the picture.In this case, Bachman was the leader du jour, the media was the dog in the Pixar movie “Up”, and the part of the squirrel was played by none other than Rick Perry, who these days appears to be succeeding only at distracting himself.

“Squirrel moments” happen all around us, and with greater frequency than we’d care to admit. As flawed human beings, it’s easy for us to get sidetracked from what we should be doing, by some urgent new distraction that seems terribly critical in the moment. Yet most of us eventually manage to refocus, once we become aware (through our own cognitive skills or because a friend or colleague points it out to us) of how badly the squirrel moment has driven us off-course. Typically it is the speed with which we are able to re-calibrate ourselves that ultimately determines the degree of damage, if any, that is caused by the distraction.

Some “squirrel moments” have far reaching impacts…

But for organizations, the challenge of refocusing after a significant distraction is far greater. Unlike individual distractions, those in organizations often require refocusing entire workgroups, business units, and processes that may have strayed far from the core focus and strategies of the business. It’s a bit like comparing a fighter jet to a large commercial airliner. While both are capable of course correction, larger aircraft don’t react “on a dime” and require a lot more time and space to maneuver.  The magnitude of the corporate distraction, the breadth of areas it touches, and the duration of the distraction, are just a few of the variables that determine the organization’s ability to react and readjust quickly.

2011 offered numerous examples of companies adversely affected by a loss of focus.

  • The enormous value that Netflix had created, based on a simple and straightforward product offer embraced by scores of customers, was severely jeopardized by the company’s ill-advised decision to migrate to a more complex, two-tiered pricing model driven largely by a short-term desire to justify an overinflated stock price. The outcome was both predictable and horrific, as customers departed in droves, destroying an enormous amount of company value in very short order.
  • Bank of America, arguably one of the better banks in terms of customer satisfaction and experience, watched much of that brand value evaporate following announcement of a pricing move (its now infamous $5 charge for debit card use) that evoked a similar customer outrage. While perhaps necessitated by financial realities (debatable), its positioning, execution, and ultimate response were painful to watch play out.
  • Research in Motion, maker of the Blackberry, whose loyal business following was predicated on its operational and reliability advantages, suffered a huge blow to its value on the heels of a long and poorly managed  network outage—a network on which it had based much of its service differentiation.
  • Berkshire Hathaway, a company whose entire business is based on the prudent, sober, and wise investing of its founder, ended up the subject of one of 2011’s stories of financial impropriety–an insider trading scandal the likes of which we’ve come to expect from the industry, just not from these guys.
  • HP announced another redirection of its product portfolio, and yet another shift in its leadership team–a true “squirrel moment” with a healthy dose of “been there, done that.”

S*** Happens! You just have to manage it…

Sure, one might argue, “bad things happen to good companies”, and in these and a myriad of other examples from 2011 there is certainly some truth to that. Sometimes, these blunders cannot always be attributed to bad strategies or failure to stick with a good one. Sometimes, it’s the tactical decisions that are “far removed” from the C-suite and its strategic decision making. Sometimes these decisions, as we saw above, are undertaken because of a financial necessity that in the short term might trump a marketing strategy.

But, by the same token, those seemingly small disconnects may, in fact, be symptomatic of the problem itself. While management may not be able to control ALL of the drivers that lead to negative consequences, effective development and MANAGEMENT of strategy can not only limit the damage caused by veering off course, but can play a very important role in course correction after the fact. For many companies the words “MANAGEMENT” and “STRATEGY” connote different, and often conflicting, disciplines. But for those successful at avoiding and responding to distractions, these are highly related and often inseparable competencies.

 Great strategy management is about the WHAT and the HOW…

So, how can you ensure that corporate distractions are kept to a minimum, and effectively refocus and re-center the business when they invariably do occur?

  1. Define and clarify your business strategy — This sounds like motherhood and apple pie. It always does. But it remains the preeminent cause of breakdowns during times of distraction, because the strategy is either too complex to begin with, or it lacks sufficient clarity to engender the necessary alignment and commitment to continue keeping the firm focused in times of distraction. Your strategy is more than simply a restatement of a vision or broad ambition. It is a specific answer to a specific question: What do we need to do to ensure success within your existing business environment? One of Apple’s most effective demonstrations of strategic clarity was Steve Jobs’ insistence on collapsing their previously expansive product portfolio into four clear product families that would redefine its future. Clear, compelling, with an easily-understood line of sight to renewing the value of the business.
  2. Do more than just communicate it — Management 101 preaches “communicate your strategy.” But communication alone is insufficient to create the alignment necessary to avoid distractions. One of the most rewarding aspects of this job is watching clients challenge ideas and recommendations (even from yours truly) based on an automatic and often deeply-felt narrative of how the suggested change(s) might conflict with their core strategy. For them, it’s more than just “talking points.” It’s a compelling narrative they have embodied through words and examples. Sure, these too can be misinterpreted occasionally, but just like a pilot who is expected to react with some degree of muscle memory, we must develop and nurture that level of alignment as a first line of defense against corporate distraction. Vision, values, and strategies. They all need to be seamlessly integrated within a crisp, clear, and compelling narrative.
  3. Build and use the right navigation systems — When NASA launches a probe to Mars, it must travel undistracted for about nine months in order to hit a fast-moving and very small target (the red planet). Even the slightest and briefest of external forces can cause the probe to miss the planet by millions of miles. Having the right navigation systems and a network of alerts and course-correction mechanisms is crucial to a mission like this, and it is just as critical to a business like yours. In business, such technologies and processes comprise your integrated performance management system, and they should include the KPI’s of the business, the network of leading and lagging business metrics we must monitor, and a clear understanding of the relationships between them.
  4. Scenario and contingency planning — Made popular by companies like Shell years ago, the discipline to do this, and do it well, has fallen out of vogue. Not sure why, other than what I heard from a client a few years back…that it “forced us to admit that we might have the wrong strategy”, or that it “would distract us from adhering to that strategy”. That’s as much hogwash today as it was when I first heard it, and failure to implement a rigorous scenario planning process is, as ever, tantamount to sticking your head in the sand. If subjecting your strategic plans to that level of scrutiny adversely affects your ability to execute the strategy as designed, while being agile enough to react and learn from mistakes, then you either have the wrong strategy, the wrong leadership, or both.
  5. The ability and agility to recover from distractions — Unlike the dogs in “UP”, we don’t have masters to yank our collars or order us back into focus. (unless we work in a purely autocratic environment). What we do have is the ability to learn and react. It helps if we have a contingency plan with automatic responses. But we must also have the ability to recognize when something is not working, and the agility to put that learning in motion quickly and effectively.

 History doesn’t have to repeat itself…

2011 wasn’t the first time we’ve seen these types of blunders. And it most certainly won’t be the last.

We all remember the Tylenol scare of many years ago. Drug companies like J&J, who exist largely at the mercy of safety protocols and regulations, can easily be crushed by such events. But J&J’s ability to identify and react to the crisis with agility prevented what could have been an historic business failure. Their “distraction,” which arguably could have been anticipated, was kept fairly well contained.

Others weren’t so fortunate. The Exxon-Valdez and BP-Macondo debacles are two great examples of this. Safety, which should be a core strategic underpinning for any company, but particularly those in this industry, in large measure fell victim to distraction. But, in both cases, it was the lack of a coherent, actionable response strategy that kept business value flowing out of the pipeline/tanker as fast as the oil.

If we have the right blueprint for managing strategy, we can limit the number of distractions, identify and react appropriately when they do occur, and respond with agility and effectiveness to keep adverse consequences to a minimum.

-b/b

Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience with primary emphasis on Customer Operations in the global energy and utilities sector. Bob has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at bob.champagne@onvectorconsulting.com

Brian Kenneth Swain is a Principal with onVector Consulting Group.  Brian has over 25 years of experience in Marketing, Product Management, and Customer Operations. He has managed organizations in highly competitive product environments,  and has consulted for numerous companies across the globe. Brian is an alumnus of McKinsey & Company, Bell Laboratories, and Reliant Energy, and is a graduate of Columbia University and the Wharton Business School. He can be contacted at brian.swain@onvectorconsulting.com. 

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Balancing Operational, Product and Customer Priorities…

Choosing your “strategic bias”…

We’ve had more than a few conversations with clients of late that revolve around the subject of core competency. What is it today? What should it be? What do we want it to be? Must we choose between product innovation, customer care, or operational excellence, or is it possible to have all three? While there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” answer, the consensus philosophy (as espoused, for example, in the “The Discipline of Market Leaders”) is that there should most definitely be a bias toward choosing one axis of the model for optimization.

It certainly has been an issue that’s generated a lot of strategic debate in corporate boardrooms. Most provocative and paradoxical questions will do that. But the reason this debate so energizes meetings is because it also taps into something deeper–corporate culture and emotion. Operations, R&D, and Customer Service, among other departmental factions, continue to fight for precious budget and capital, and as these resources become increasingly constrained, the consequence of failing to “choose” begins to look like compromise or watered-down decision making. Clearly, it seems, steering a majority of our resources into one of these areas offers the opportunity to create some short-term wins in that area, but it also risks undermining our overall strategy, which could, in the end, leave us with nothing to show.

When a “bias” becomes “THE end game”…

Unfortunately, the very essence of what has made this discussion so valuable is, as well, now creating an unhealthy dynamic in some leadership circles. With resource constraints and the passions of business unit executives both reaching fever pitch, the push to make the core competency declaration is stronger than ever, and the tendency to push for a “clear choice” rather than just a “bias” (which was the original intent of the management model) is more often than not the desired end game of each of these respective operating executives (so long as its THEIR area that benefits from the increased emphasis).

Rather than focus on optimizing just one dimension of the business, we should, instead, look to companies that have managed to assemble the complete package, or, more accurately, perhaps an edge in one domain but without apparent sacrifices in the other two. Apologies in advance for more “Apple advocacy”, but clearly this is an example of a company that not only balances these three dimensions skillfully, but excels in them simultaneously.

Having your cake and eating it too…

Apple is clearly a product-based business…no argument there. Simplicity, functionality, user commitment, and advocacy … the list goes on. When people buy an Apple product, loyalty and advocacy are an integral part of each transaction, and this despite the fact that customers are sometimes even paying a premium price versus competing products. They are immediately reinforced by their “buy decision”. One of our clients calls this “smart value”–the ability of a company, through its product experience,  to continuously remind each customer of how smart their purchase decision was. Worth noting also is the fact that, while Apple sells many premium-priced products, they offer, as well, a range of affordable ones that, despite their competitive prices, still feature the design and functionality excellence that customers have come to expect from the company. That their manufacturing and operational processes are sufficiently well-thought-through to allow such products to be offered is a testament to their emphasis on the operational side of the business.

On the customer-care side of things, they are equally credible, if not downright superior, for example, in the way their service channels are so perfectly aligned with customer convenience, the way they make and manage commitments and appointments, the almost cult-like enthusiasm of their staff, the customer-centric culture of their work environments. Even tasks that are traditionally frustrating to customers–warranty issues, software updates, etc.–are so smoothly handled that customers walk away having appreciated the experience.

Separate and apart from the fact that these stores generate more revenue per square foot than any company in history , what is more amazing is the customer-centric focus and attitude that are constantly on display. Whether it is the simplicity of making an appointment at the genius bar , the excellent service you receive, or nice little touches like bypassing the line and having an employee execute the transaction by hand-held device and email you the receipt, it’s all there. When was the last time you heard customers raving about an extra warranty plan for a product that rarely fails?

Product Innovation, Operational Excellence, Customer Advocacy … Walk into any Apple store and you’ll see all three in abundance.

Creating and multiplying your base of “engaged advocates”…

Recently, we’ve shared some views on the need to excel at both product and service experiences. (“Customer Nirvana”) Failure to achieve both means you are only creating temporary success, i.e., until customers have a better choice or option. The path to engaged advocacy requires both. And to achieve product and service excellence simultaneously, as well as profitably, requires operational excellence.

Strategic models that ask you to focus time and money on a single discipline certainly have their place. For example, if your company finds itself in the unfortunate position at being sub-par in all dimensions, then more often than not it will make sense to focus on fixing one area at a time. But as a long-term aspiration, maximizing all dimensions of performance remains the path to being  recognized as world class.

There are many football teams that have either awesome offensive or defensive capabilities, but you rarely see any of them playing in the Super Bowl. It’s the team that has managed to strike a proper balance between the groups — offense, defense, special teams — that usually walks away with the trophy.

-b/b

About the Authors:

Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience with primary emphasis on Customer Operations in the global energy and utilities sector. Bob has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at bob.champagne@onvectorconsulting.com

Brian Kenneth Swain is a Principal with onVector Consulting Group.  Brian has over 25 years of experience in Marketing, Product Management, and Customer Operations. He has managed organizations in highly competitive product environments,  and has consulted for numerous companies across the globe. Brian is an alumnus of McKinsey & Company, Bell Laboratories, and Reliant Energy, and is a graduate of Columbia University and the Wharton Business School. He can be contacted at brian.swain@onvectorconsulting.com.

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Deafening Silence — Failing to communicate in times of chaos…


Climate chaos wreaks havoc again…

Once again, the Champagne family has fallen victim to climate change in the Northeast, or at least two unfortunate weather incidents, whichever your personal/political inclinations require. First came hurricane Irene, and then, last week, the early fall snowstorm. Fortunately for me, I only suffered two days without power, as I was traveling on business for the week. Unfortunately for my family, they were asked to endure almost a week without power, as the outages in the Northeast lingered and local utilities struggled to get customers back in service. But, as of last night, the lights have come back on and life has gotten more or less back to normal.

As I wrote a few weeks back in my “Eye of the Storm” post, nearly every customer understands the nature of uncertainty and can recognize what are, and what are not, predictable/preventable and unpredictable/unpreventable circumstances. Hurricanes and early-season blizzards certainly fall into the latter category. But let’s face it, while we all get angry and frustrated, we are also able to temper, at least somewhat, our emotional responses when we recognize that such events are beyond anyone’s control. There are, however, aspects of such situations that ARE within our control. And failing to deal with these in the face of unfortunate events…no matter how controllable or predictable…can leave us with a feeling of legitimate anger and frustration. Such was the case with the extended power outages this past week.

Crisis management — it’s all about eliminating uncertainty…

I’ve talked a lot in recent months about sources of satisfaction, and, perhaps more importantly, dissatisfaction. But I keep coming back to “fear and uncertainty” as the biggest driver in today’s world, and perhaps the most critical in times of crisis, whether it be natural disasters, political upheaval, or simple technological failure (three whole days of no Blackberry service?). And while we may view much of this as being “out of our control,” as CCO’s, our response in terms of customer communication is ALL within our control.

How to #FAIL

So imagine the frustration of customers when they experience the following (all of which are real examples my family encountered during the recent storm event):

– A website with detailed outage map showing the number of affected customers in each town, and a link (which turned out to be just “bait”) to outage status updates. The status update reported that 95% of customers would be restored within five days. It wasn’t until you clicked a few more towns on the map (assuming you did) that you realized this was a “general” update and not specific to anything. Moral of the story — if you know nothing definitive about the situation (which they clearly didn’t because they were still assessing damage), then admit as much and state, instead, when you DO expect to have meaningful information to share. Lame (and possibly misleading) attempts to suggest that you’re providing legitimate and specific updates when you are not is easily seen through.

– The company’s use of social media during the peak parts of the outage was virtually non-existent. Less than ten Twitter messages during the first 24 hours of the outage, conveying insightful information like “We know there’s an outage”, “This was a really big storm”, and “Stay away from live power lines” could have been administered by my 95 year old grandmother, in terms of content provided (she apparently knew as much as they did) and technological savvy (she may very well know more than they do about how to leverage social media). IRONICALLY, my wife learned that our power was restored by a FRIEND via FACEBOOK!!! And when the information from the company did start coming out, it was hitting their feed well after the updates had already unfolded. And instead of displaying the feed prominently on their website, they buried it behind the “Follow us on Twitter” button (if you personally didn’t go track their Twitter page, you were “SOL,” as they say). In their defense, I suspect there may have been just one single employee responsible for managing all of these updates, but that’s a subject for another post. The company clearly spent tens of millions on the recovery effort. How much effort did they expend on communications and messaging throughout the crisis? Feels like very little.

Now THIS was a useful message!!!!

– A 500+ word letter from the CEO of the company explaining to us in lengthy, florid prose pretty much the same thing — This was a big storm, it was unprecedented, we are trying our best, and reasserting the general commitment of 95% by x date…which means NOTHING to an individual customer. To add insult to injury, we had to listen to the CEO pontificate about how this was the most challenging thing he’s experienced in his career, and how proud he is of his staff, and how concerned he is about his puppy who is out in the cold (OK, the latter is an embellishment of what was really said, but you get the idea). Spare me the lecture on what you can’t do and tell me what you can!!!

– An outage center (automated phone line) that asks (begs) you to report the outage and risky situations, but offers NOTHING else during the automated call, not even the most general, non-specific, non-committal statements, which, admittedly, would have frustrated me…but let’s at least be consistent. All that told me was that they cared a lot about what I could do for them in terms of providing information, but very little about what they could do for me. Heck, it would have been nice if they’d at least asked me to tell them if I’d seen repair work in my area. This might have suggested that they had some interest in learning about the status of restoration (even if they didn’t know themselves).

This entire ordeal, which plays out every time there’s a natural disaster or big crisis event (be it flight delays, hurricanes, or war zones), is becoming an interesting one. We are witnessing a sea change (or maybe it’s a teachable moment) in how we can and should deal with such situations. And it’s becoming clearer that customers (not companies) will probably be the best sources of information during these events. Social media offers a great conduit into that feedback and has proven time and again to be the best medium to solicit and report real-time feedback. The process has clearly changed, perhaps unbeknownst to the company. That, to me, is not only the emerging solution given today’s technology, but the most obvious.

How about we beat the incumbent at his own game?

What is not so obvious is the degree to which companies that we have entrusted to be the “custodians” of information — companies whose primary role is to service customers — remain so clueless as to the most effective ways of providing that service. They appear to be, at best, blind to, and, at worst, simply resistant to using these new channels and changing their internal processes to accommodate them. They are in the best position to aggregate customer information from the variety of channels available, merge it with what they know operationally, and report relevant and meaningful information in real time. Oh and, by the way, imagine the customer engagement you’ll achieve along the way!!! — the ultimate in crowd-sourcing for customer service. But, sadly, this doesn’t happen, and probably isn’t even on the radar screens of most firms. Instead, the more likely scenario is that they will be bypassed completely by some more agile and responsive third party (or perhaps an unseen competitor) that sees in this challenge an opportunity to leverage information and create a unique and refreshing new solution to an age-old problem.

COULDN'T SOMEONE PLAY THE ROLE OF AGGREGATOR OF UPDATE AND STATUS INFO, AND THEN DISTRIBUTE IT TO THE MASSES USING BOTH SOCMEDIA AND CONVENTIONAL CHANNELS????

History has shown us that customers react favorably and swiftly to this sort of innovation, by shifting their loyalty and their dollars to those who demonstrate a willingness and ability to solve problems. All of which leaves me wondering how it is that the company I’ve entrusted to solve these problems for years could be so utterly incapable of recognizing the possibilities and seizing upon the solutions that have been staring them in the face all along.

I recognize that this is a tough assessment and a somewhat emotion-driven “rant” at an industry I’ve spent considerable time advising over the years. And, make no mistake, there are some awesome utilities out there that will step up to the challenge with these and other creative solutions. But, at the same time, there are many who prefer not to rock the boat, to play by the old rules rather than invent new ones. And it’s these organizations I would like to see upstaged quickly by a more innovative and competitive force. Not to wax too lyrical here, but in the stormy waters of competition, your boat is rocking whether you want it to or not!

Fear and uncertainty — Make it go away with clearer, more relevant, and timely communication. You’ll overcome the barriers that stand between you and a base of engaged, satisfied, and loyal customers.

-b

Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at bob.champagne@onvectorconsulting.com

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