Sunday, December 24, 2017
In his 2017 end-of-year reflective blog, CX Consultant and colleague Ian Golding wrote about The Customer Experience 7-Year Itch in which he describes the state of the Customer Experience Profession as we approach 2018 and concludes that it’s akin to the marital equivalent of ‘the 7-year itch’ and in seven years since the profession was formally created, with a few notable exceptions, not a great deal has changed for the customer or for the employee—a point to which I completely agree.
I’ll extend that concept to the organizations that employ the CX professional. There seems to be another 7-year itch at play in the corporate world where organizations that started down that CX path seven years ago have either hit or are approaching that critical 7-year point. I call this the Corporate CX 7-year itch. This is the point where the initial rise and enthusiasm around CX among leadership peaks and begins to diminish. More and more questions begin to surface as to what they are getting in return for the investment and in some cases question arise as to why continue to collect voice-of-the-customer particularly when they feel that their customers are happy enough based on the scores they are providing. Considering added financial pressures to cut costs, they feel they don't need to keep investing as much in CX any longer.
Some of that could be code for "annual bonus preservation” and this is one way they perceive achieve that. I left one large public organization after 10 years and ahead of that wave, but the itch started around year seven. I'm currently working with another organization now where CX just hit the eight-year mark and guess what? Yes indeed, the itch is well underway there as well. My sample size may be small here, but I believe I might have identified a new and unique CX 7-year itch. It’s up to us CX professionals to help relieve the Corporate CX 7-year itch.
Scientists have found that the reason scratching an itch offers relief is because scratching causes pain, which suppresses the itch. Now there’s something many corporate leaders can readily identify with - pain points, and the elimination thereof. It's highly tactical where they don't have to think too much and it’s relatively easy and inexpensive to administer.
The objective would then be to proactively identify (or perhaps even create) some pain points within the organization where CX serves as the remedy - scratching the itch as it were before it happens. I don't have a readily available example of how this might work in a real corporate situation but this is where creativity come into play. I could imagine this idea working a lot more easily coming from a CX consultant as I find they are taken a bit more seriously than internal CX resources who have a position and job-security to protect and preserve.
CX professionals need to ensure that the right approaches, techniques and tools are made available to ensure CX is delivered profitably. Careful and effective identification of pain-points that are creating customer discontent and potentially limiting revenues and profitability, done right, should start to relieve or prevent that itch. Perhaps readers working within an organization might have an example of that to share. Feel free to add commentary.
Friday, November 3, 2017
This guest blog written by Rae Steinbach was submitted to me by David Mizne, chief contributor and editor of the award winning 15Five Blog. Rae is a graduate of Tufts University with a combined International Relations and Chinese degree. After spending time living and working abroad in China, she returned to NYC to pursue her career and continue curating quality content. Rae is passionate about travel, food, and writing, of course.
Remember when Ford and Bridgestone Firestone lost billions due to a truly avoidable error? The team designing the Ford Explorer didn’t coordinate with the team responsible for the tire design. This resulted in safety issues that forced a recall.
Unfortunately, these types of errors are fairly common. This is especially true in companies that lack organization. Different teams and departments must communicate with one another clearly and regularly in order to avoid making such mistakes. When you prioritize communication, you ensure that everyone is on the same page. The following tips will help:
Communication should never be a one-way street, but unless employees know they can (and should) offer their own feedback, it’s unlikely they’ll be eager to share their thoughts.
Employee feedback can be vital in order to show both staff appreciation and to provide constructive criticism. By encouraging your workers to share their opinions, you’ll boost their overall willingness to communicate.
Establish a Set of Goals and Values
One of the best ways to improve inter-department coordination is, ironically, by focusing on your broader vision for the company at first, instead of the small details. Try to establish a mission statement that’s no more than three sentences long. Once you’ve finalized it, post it regularly in places your employees will see it, like emails, bulletin boards, and marketing materials. It’s easier to improve communication when all team members are united by a common goal.
Train Your Employees Thoroughly
It’s tempting to put new employees to work right away. In the long run it’s better to put your employees through a training program when they first join the company. This streamlines the communication process in the future because they’ll know who they should stay in touch with while working on a project.
Make Sure Key Information is Available to Everyone
When you’re working on a project, you may not have time to provide the supervisors of every other relevant department with constant updates. Instead, create a company wiki or FAQ page where you can post vital info that members of other departments may need. This resource will help prevent miscommunications.
Seek Out Fun Environments
Most employees are more willing to communicate when their guard is down. That’s why it’s often a good idea to hold unofficial “meetings” outside of the office. Bringing your team out to lunch for a few hours will make them more relaxed, and thus more willing to be communicative. Make these outings a regular occurrence throughout the lifespan of a project. Don’t let lack of communication result in an error that will cost your company money and productivity. Keep these tips in mind, and use them to establish clear and efficient lines of communication throughout the organization.
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
On the cover of the November 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR) in pink uppercase lettering is the headline “WHAT KEEPS CEOs UP AT NIGHT.” Just below that are the words “Brand building, executive pay, and managing Millennials—for starters.” My finely attuned CX radar kicks in here and I notice that the word “customer” is missing. Not surprisingly though, upon reading the article, I see that executive pay is among the top concerns of CEOs. With that as my backdrop, I began reflecting upon my role as a Customer Experience (CX) professional over the past 14 years — not to mention my 37 years in direct customer-facing roles.
After speaking with many of my counterparts across various industries, I’m continually perplexed by the struggle that we all seem to have to drive the customer agenda to the center of importance within broader business strategy. It doesn’t help that the CEO position is often a revolving door. According to the HBR article mentioned above, in 2015, turnover among global CEOs reached a record rate of nearly 17% and more than one fifth were dismissed—reportedly for failing to resist the lure of short-termism.
As CX professionals, we have all come to terms with the fact that CEO engagement and commitment in the form of demonstrated action is an essential requirement toward making CX a strategic imperative and competitive differentiator within any business. Given a 17% CEO turnover rate, it’s no wonder that, even in situations where the CEO was committed and actively involved in CX, a transition to a new CEO doesn’t come automatically loaded with a customer centric mind-set. Therefore, whatever CX progress and success had been built up during that previous CEO’s tenure could in fact disappear rather quickly depending on the mind-set of the incoming CEO.
And so it goes that as a CX professional we all seem to struggle to varying degrees rolling that CX boulder up the hill. Considering what I have described, the challenges we face are partly out of our control. We can work diligently to advance the CX practice and build a solid business case for CX but then a change in leadership comes about and we are back at maybe square three or two (but hopefully never square one!). In some organizations that kind of transition can take CX entirely out of the strategic picture while in others it’s more a matter of restarting some parts of the CX journey all over again. That’s where the resiliency and determination of a CX professional is required — but only if the organization has the vision and the customer-centric mind-set and is not swayed by another round of short-termism.
CX is not easy and CX is a long-term strategy. Those in CX roles know all too well, just as I have experienced, that after five, seven or even ten years into the journey, and with many hurdles overcome and many accomplishments to show, we can still feel as if we are just at the beginning of the CX transformation. We continually push that boulder while simultaneously attempting to alter the landscape so that the push becomes just a nudge as we strive for the day that the boulder starts rolling with its own momentum while we guide it along the success path. Progress may be slower than we’d like it to be, but I feel the secret lies within our ability to educate and influence key stakeholders within the business. And if we find ourselves at an impasse due to factors beyond our control, then to recognize that and recognize that it’s time to move on. Look within your own organization to see where the commitment to CX is strongest and leverage that energy to your advantage. The bottom line however is that without a committed leadership team, the grade will be uphill and steep and the boulder will move very slowly, if at all. Just watch that it doesn’t start rolling back in your direction.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
With onset of fall here in the Northeast US, I find the changing seasons to be a time of inspiration and reflection. Last evening I attended a lecture in our local library. Grant Welker, co-author of the recently published book, We Are Market Basket, gave a small turnout of about 20 people a 30 minute synopsis of an unusual event that happened here in the Northeast a year ago and occupied the news wires daily for over two months—a local family owned supermarket chain, Market Basket, was literally brought to its knees and to the brink of bankruptcy by a strong coalition of employees, customer, and suppliers—a bonded organizational culture.
The firing of Market Basket CEO Arthur T. Demoulas in the midst of a long-term family feud catalyzed a management and rank-and-file employee walkout the likes of which have not been witnessed in decades. The protest of the firing of the president and chief executive, Artie T. as he is commonly known, by a vindictive board controlled by his first cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, and other rival family members started a chain reaction that effectively immobilized the business in just a matter of six short weeks—along with a 90% loss in sales revenues. Suppliers also join the mini-revolution, refusing to deliver groceries and goods that left store shelves completely empty. Some employees still worked during the walkout, but with nothing for customer to buy, many stored simply closed their doors leaving customer to go elsewhere.
How could such an employee rebellion have happened so quickly and so effectively within a non-unionized business? The walkout severed the company’s supply chain and left its store shelves empty throughout the community for weeks as the Demoulas family struggled to resolve its 25-year feud over the management of the company. How could so many managers and employees have put their jobs on the line and risked having their income severed for weeks all in the name of reinstating their beloved leader, Artie T?
The answer of course lies deeply within the culture of this nearly 100 year old business started by a Greek immigrant in 1917 in the city of Lowell Massachusetts. A strong focus on employees and customers alike that began almost 100 years ago was sustained and nurtured over the generations by the Demoulas family and in particular Artie T himself. Here’s a snippet of that culture to give you an idea.
Employees and even customers are treated like family. Artie T. regularly visits every one of the 70 stores in the region—being visible, talking to employees and customers and often remembering their names and more. Market Basket is a $4B, 20,000 employee company just to give you a perspective here. When you walk into a Market Basket, you’ll immediately see they are different than any of the other local supermarkets. There are no self-checkouts—they want maintain frequent employee to customer interactions. Managers wear shirts and ties. Shelves are stocked during the day so employees can interact with customers, answering their questions, walking them to the right aisle and location so they can find their desired item. There are no loyalty cards—the same pricing advantages are offered to all customers. Their pricing is the lowest in the industry—enabled by a decided focus on function over form. Profits are shared with all employees and they are among the more highly paid among the local supermarket industry. There’s a lot more to know and it’s all in the book.
Upon the firing of the CEO, certain store managers that protested were promptly fired. That started the ball rolling and many employees soon followed them out the door. The solidarity and resolve among managers, employees, customer, and suppliers was unprecedented—return our CEO or we’ll bring this organization down—and that’s exactly what they did. In the end, the employees, customer, suppliers—the bonded culture and community solidarity won out. The board had no choice but to offer the company and the CEO position back to Arthur T. Demoulas. Market Basket reopened, employees went back to work, suppliers delivered the goods and 90% percent of their loyal customers returned—along with many more new customers who had to visit a Market Basket if for no other reason than out of curiosity. Today they are a thriving $4.5B company and opening new supermarkets across the region.
The interesting question to ask yourself here is this. If the CEO of your company were to be unfairly dismissed, as Arthur T. apparently was, how likely would you be to risk your own position and continuous cash flow unless that individual was reinstated? As a side note, the family infighting was something that had been going on for years and the reason Artie T. was fired by the board was that they wanted to divert the profits mainly to the shareholders, manage the company differently and in the process cut costs and people that would have led Market Basket down the road of mediocrity and being “just like all the other supermarkets.” Employees and customers saw that vision as a threat to what they had come to know and love—their leader, the people, the relationships, and the community they had built over 100 years. This is truly an example of an unwavering and a bonded culture.
I was fortunate enough to have worked for a company from 1984 to 1994 that had such a bonded culture—Zymark Corporation—at that time, a privately held venture capital funded company that began with the premise that culture came first. It was a community that held employees in the highest regard and where customers ran a close second. Stakeholders may have come last in that sequence but let’s be totally real and honest here—when you take care of your employees they’re more likely to super-serve customers and remain loyal to the organization. That in-turn will generate repeat business, highly satisfied customers with a greater sense of loyalty, many of whom will serve as references for additional business. Stakeholders will naturally reap the rewards of that model and that’s a model where everyone stands to win.
I think back to that time in my career and I ask myself whether I would have risked my job and salary if our CEO had been unfairly terminated. I truly believe that I, and many of my colleagues, would have acted exactly the same as those at Market Basket did. I do wonder however how likely it is that this kind of event would ever occur again. I welcome your responses to this along with any and stories you may have to share of experiences working within a bonded organizational culture.
Monday, July 13, 2015
Customer Experience encompasses a multitude of sub-disciplines and covers substantial ground in the world of business. However, one specific aspect of Customer Experience that interests me in particular and is something I’ve been attuned to for years is the art of communication. Those working within an organization where there is more than one employee, which naturally applies to just about everyone except for those one-person operations, will appreciate the ideas expressed here. Even those running solo independent businesses will also appreciate the opportunity this presents to them in terms of honest self-reflection.
During my time at Boston University where I was studying adult learning theory and instructional design, a professor introduced me to the work of George M. Prince who was the co-creator Synectics. Synectics is a creative problem-solving process as well as the name of the company co-founded by George Prince. The process of creativity was so interesting to me that I took a summer course with George and got to know him personally and thereafter invited him to bring some of his ideas around communication into the organization I was working for at the time. It proved both educational yet surprisingly disrupting to the 20 or so employees that were invited to take part in a Synectics creativity session.
Sessions were recorded and what was discovered is that certain things will reduce the probability of a successful outcome, and the language we use to communicate is one of the more significant. A discovery of this led to what is known as the Discount-Revenge cycle. This is a relatively invisible yet dynamic process that has a great influence on people working together for a common purpose. Essentially it goes something like this.
In a group setting at work with the common goal of coming up with some new ideas that will solve a customer experience problem, George hands a dry erase marker to Susan and says “Here, Susan why don’t you take notes so we can capture everything.” Ideas start out slowly but eventually start getting generated and Bill enthusiastically jumps up and says “I think we should run a lost-business study to see why some customers are choosing to leave us” and then Mary chimes in very quickly and says “That’s too slow and isn’t going to help us get to the root cause very quickly.” The conversation continues as suggestions are made yet Bill is noticeably quiet until Mary suggests “Maybe we should add a question to our relationship survey to see how likely a customer is to do repeat business with us.” Bill jumps right back with “But we already ask them how likely they are to recommend us and if they are aren’t then they sure as heck aren’t likely to but from us again if that’s the case.” Susan has been noticeably quiet in her role as scribe and has offered no suggestions at all during the meeting.
What we see happening here is a classic example of the discount-revenge cycle. This is precisely what George Prince and his colleagues studied and were able to prove through repeated recording of sessions like this and from brain research which is that people are extremely sensitive to the slightest threat to meaningfulness. Anything that is perceived as a discount will tend to generate a response in the form of either revenge (a come-back, or one-better) or a complete withdrawal.
In this example, Bill perceives Mary’s response to his suggestion as a discount of his idea and awaits his chance for revenge by further discounting Mary’s later suggestion. The two of them appear to have an inclination to keep the discount-revenge cycle going whereas Susan just quietly withdrew from participation in the dialog entirely after having been asked to be the scribe—something she likely perceived as a discount, albeit a slight one.
According to the work of George Prince, any sort of slight or negative attention or lack of acknowledgment is enough to set the discount-revenge cycle in motion. Given the unlimited opportunities for such unintended discounts in the everyday operations of businesses and other organizations, the extent of defensiveness and lack of commitment by employees is hardly surprising.
What can we do individually help foster better communication in situations like the one described above? Here are four fairly simple ground rules or best-practices—one’s that should be discussed and agreed to at the start of any meeting where problem solving and or creativity are required.
- All ideas need to be acknowledged and people need to feel validated. Acknowledgment does not necessarily mean you agree with an idea. Until proper dialog and discussion has taken place, all ideas should remain on the table. No idea should ever be rejected out of hand, because to do so discounts the individual that offered it and starts the cycle of discount-revenge.
- Avoid using the word “but.” But, literally negates what someone has just said or offered. “But we tried that before and it didn’t work,” is such a classic response that is sure to generate revenge or withdrawal by others. Try saying “Yes, that’s something we did try before with little result, but maybe we can approach it differently this time.” See the difference? In the latter you are acknowledging the idea and validating the individual and leaving the door open to new options and ideas to actually make something work.
- Take ownership. Avoid accusatory language that typically starts with the word “you.” A professor friend of mine recently told me that his graduate student said to him “You dinged me on my grade.” This of course discounted the professor, made him feel like the perpetrator that did something unfair to the student. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In reality the student actually reduced his own grade himself by not completing a specific assignment on time and by not participating in class.
- With any suggestion or idea, start by coming up with three positive reasons why it might be OK or a good idea. Trust me, this can be a 100% effective practice. Forcing out three good aspects to any idea is sure to create enthusiasm and perhaps even a bit of levity. After that, instead of just coming up with three negative aspects of the idea, couch them in terms of problems that, if overcome, could help make that idea a viable idea or solution. Now you’re using language that’s constructive and relationship-building instead of destructive and damaging to relationships.
For more about the work of George Prince and the creative problem-solving process, consider among the following books he wrote on the subject.
· , George M. Prince, 1970, New York: Collier Books, Div. of Macmillan Publishing, Co. Inc.
· , George M. Prince with Kathleen Logan-Prince, 2002 1st Books Library, www.1stbooks.com
Monday, December 29, 2014
The CX Chronicle (TM): Empathy Leads - Customer Experience Follows: For my final blog of 2014 I’ve decided to address, empathy, a fundamental essence of Customer Experience, by reflecting on the year behind ...