Monday, December 29, 2014

The CX Chronicle (TM): Empathy Leads - Customer Experience Follows

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 ...

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 me with no regrets and foreseeing the year in front of me with great optimism.  It’s rewarding every now and then to take stock of one’s entire career and how it has evolved.  I spent four years in the US Air Force, returned to work in the science arena, earned a degree in Chemistry and enjoyed several years as an analytical chemist, entering marketing and working with customers and publishing and speaking at conferences, getting into the field of laboratory automation and robotics and selling systems, managing training and teaching clients programming skills, becoming a training road-warrior for several years before landing in the role of Customer Experience Manager.

That last role of Customer Experience Manager is significant for me because it’s the profession I believe I was destined to be in and working toward along my entire career path.  It just took a lot of stepping stones for me to get there.  So now that I’m finally here, I want to share my thoughts about what I believe it means to be customer centric.  The old well-worn, often misused, and mostly misinterpreted term; “charity begins at home” I feel sums up the true meaning, intent, and starting point of customer-centricity—charity being characterized as a state of mind, a mentality of kindness, and benevolence.

As consumers we are on the receiving end of customer-centricity daily and we are also on the giving end as we serve others in both our work-life and in our private lives—the dual nature of customer-centricity. How we act and react to every aspect of life has an obvious effect on us and on others.  As a Training Instructor, for example, I always felt that I learned as much from students as they hopefully learned from me.  When I attend a lecture or any kind of training session, I feel I learn as much, if not more, about teaching techniques as I do from the subject matter itself—yin and yang, if you will. 

I’m not into New Year resolutions in the traditional sense as I feel they are more or less wishful thinking that is soon abandoned.  Having just left a full-time position with a B2B corporate giant after 17+ years, I’m feeling excited yet cautiously optimistic about 2015.  I’m also making a significant transition from being a practitioner of customer experience to becoming a provider of customer experience.  Consequently, my one thought and personal commitment for 2015 is to think about my intent and approach toward life by expressing more empathy on a daily basis to build a better me from a customer-centric provider perspective.

I share a couple of simple examples:

  1. When that traffic signal in the distance turns from green to yellow, I will consider slowing down and stopping rather than pressing the accelerator to the floor-board to gain an extra 3 seconds of time in my day.  I’ll also hope that someone else in the same situation will consider the same for the sake of my safety.
  2. I will chose to smile and with compassion inquire how the day is going to that cashier at Wal-Mart who may be nearing the end of a long laborious shift and who may have had enough of impatient and irritable shoppers.  

Emotions motivate individual behaviors which in turn can create either a positive or negative customer experience.  Being more customer-centric from a provider perspective, means being more empathetic toward those on the receiving end of our individual output.  As the total customer experience is the sum of all interactions, my aim is to slow down; think ahead; and ensure that my individual interactions are positive and embraced with empathy and understanding first—leaving judgment for last.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The One-Day University Experience—a Customer Perspective

This past weekend my wife and I attended what is called The One Day University.  This was our first experience and we committed ourselves to a full day from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM to learn from a variety of topics delivered by eight stellar professors all from different institutes of higher learning.  The four classes that I personally chose and that interested me the most were the following.
  • 1.       The Civil War and Abraham Lincoln: What's Fact and What's Fiction?
  • 2.       The Science of Happiness
  • 3.       Everything You Must Know About Sleep (But were too tired to ask)
  • 4.       Untangling the Web: Why the Middle East is a Mess and Always Has Been
This seemed to me like the most diverse set of topics and my primary goal in listening to these particular lectures was simply to absorb and remain completely open to thoughts and ideas as they relate to life experiences in general and to my work as a Customer Experience professional. 

It was intriguing to me that after having spent a full day in academic lectures that spanned such a wide array of topics that I could have emerged with insights about my own career and experiences on the receiving end of being a customer.  Let’s begin with the obvious.

I willingly signed up for this One Day University which was not free but was modestly priced.  The topics themselves were the biggest part of the draw for me, but price and perceived value set my expectations right from the start.  The professors / lecturers came from among the most prestigious Ivy League institutions—Harvard, Amherst, Georgetown, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, and Rutgers. One hour presentations followed by 15-20 minutes of engaging and solid Q&A.  Setting expectations is such a key element in the customer experience.  Get that wrong and the rest really doesn’t matter.

So how might Abraham Lincoln, the science of happiness, sleep or the Middle East, further relate to customer experience?  The following were my connections and takeaways.  Let’s begin with sleep. 
Sleep is a significant factor in determining your happiness and sleep is a proven predictor of athletic performance and clear thinking.  The reality is that sleep is a necessity and not a luxury.  The average person requires 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.  This resonated with my feeling about the reality of a positive customer experience—it’s a present day business necessity.  Treat it as some exception or luxury and suffer the consequences.

I learned that 50% of our happiness derives from our genes and so the other half we must create within our personal ecosystem. I also learned about the three main components of happiness—(1) meaning in our relationships with others, (2) engagement and anticipation, and (3) pleasure.  As I started thinking about this from a career perspective and knowing the undeniable connection between employee engagement and customer satisfaction, it occurred to me that happiness in one’s work is a combined responsibility between employee and employer.  Lose sight of this and you can see where customer experience can drop off and business outcomes can take a big hit as a result. 

Lincoln was President of the US during the “War of the Rebellion” or more commonly known as the Civil War—which was anything but civil.  Lincoln was a storyteller and we realize the power of storytelling within our own organizations.  At one point, in an attempt explain his views on the abolition of slavery, Lincoln told a somewhat deflecting story involving a group of clergy debating and obsessing over how they might cross a particular river when the eldest of them explained that there was no use in debating this since in his own experience he never crossed a river until he came to it.  That caused me to reflect upon how many times I might have engaged in a solving problem exercise long before the problem ever presented itself.  This is not to say that thinking ahead doesn’t have merit, but sometimes the pre-planned and rehearsed responses are the ones that come across as rather insincere.  As consumers, how many times have we heard the cliché “Have a nice day” coming at us within three hours of midnight?

The complexities of the Middle East are dynamic and countless for sure and that train of thought led me toward thinking about how complex and dynamic customers are as well.  As Customer Experience professionals we understand that our mission and work is never complete and it requires constant attention. But that’s what keeps us moving forward.  We believe that the ultimate goal of creating more rewarding and memorable customer experiences will lead toward better business outcomes and an overall better world for consumers and for businesses alike.

As a customer, The One Day University experience for me was a microcosm of the world in general.   Everything I heard and learned connected with me as a consumer and with my professional discipline.  I’m allowing myself to get more sleep now as an experiment to prove some of the facts I learned in that session.  I’m working on that 50% of happiness that is within my control.  I’m thinking of more stories that I can use to help give color to some of the more black and white topics I often have to work with. Not too small a set of outcomes for one day!!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Customer Experience Vacation Story—A Week in Nice

My wife and I just returned from a week of vacation in southern France.  It was the first vacation in decades that we can both claim to have completely disconnected from our daily routine—no cell phones, no Internet, no car, no bills, and no thoughts about the work we both left behind and that we knew would continue to accumulate in our absence.

As a Customer Experience Professional, customer experience is always in mind and I naturally react to any and all personal experiences throughout my daily existence.  What sticks out as a highlight in terms of customer experience during this vacation, you ask?  Please allow me to elaborate.

British Airways was our chosen carrier for this trip and the overnight six-hour flight from Boston to London flight was uneventful except for the fact that we flew coach and seating was, shall I say, a little cramped.  I’m talking “knees meet chin” here.  Only the skinny can survive in coach seating.  Post-flight, my wife and I vowed to not consider BA on any future flights to Europe.

The return trip, however, was quite another experience.  For reasons unknown, when we checked in at our connecting airport, (London Heathrow) the agent told us that due to overbooking in coach they were upgrading us to “coach plus” which we figured was something like an extra inch and a half of space between us and the seat in front.  To our surprise and delight, these were seats to the left of the main cabin door, (always a good direction) wide enough to easily accommodate most average to wider-than-average Americans, and with distance enough to the seat in front that you could actually open a newspaper without smacking the person next to you in the nose—normal expected seating, in my opinion.  The seats also reclined and there was a foot-rest.  In comparison to Coach, you might have thought we were in First Class.  Needless to say, that experience brought us around to thinking that maybe we would consider flying BA once again, but how to negotiate what we would now think of as a normal seat might be the real challenge.   But the story gets better.

When we originally checked in at the airport in Nice, we surrendered one bag each which was checked through all the way to Boston.  Our baggage claim tags were attached to our boarding passes.  So when we lucked-out by getting the upgraded seating in Heathrow, we received new boarding passes.  The agent there discarded our old boarding passes and, unbeknownst to us, along went our baggage claim tags.  What could possibly go wrong there, you ask?  Please allow me to continue.

Upon late arrival in Boston, an airport notorious for taking up to an hour for bags to be off-loaded from plane to carousel, we waited and waited and waited—along with many bags streaming by with no people to claim them (what’s up with that?) and lots of people waiting to claim bags that were not there.  Mine finally arrived but my wife’s did not.  I won’t go through the rest of the process but you know how that works, except that we had no baggage claim ticket and that created extra work. 

We arrived home on Saturday night and my wife’s bag was delivered to our home the following Tuesday night around midnight via courier—for whom we left the light on and a small tip for his service.  A little note of appreciation was left by the courier for us.

Unfortunately my wife’s luggage contained some critical (and not inexpensive) cosmetics that she needed in preparation for an early Tuesday morning client meeting.  Not knowing when her luggage might arrive, off she went to Lord & Taylor on Monday in pursuit of replacements.  When my wife explained her predicament to the customer service rep on duty, she was completely empathetic and began offering little added extras (lagniappe, as author Stan Phelps would say) that more than made up for the inconvenience and expense of what had originated as a problem with lost luggage.  My wife was even offered free samples (in flight compliant sizes) at any time she planned to travel again in the future so that important and over-the-size-limit items would not have to be relegated to checked baggage.

What CX lessons have we learned from this?  Customer experiences are immediate and fleeting and are often determined in the moment by single individual employees.  The BA agent that took our old boarding passes for example and tossed them out along with the critical claim tickets attached likely did so inadvertently without thinking.  BA was having major baggage handling issues at this time due to a computer malfunction so we were not alone.  Getting an upgraded seat (representing normal and reasonable comfort) was nice and unexpected, but it doesn’t mean that it would ever happen again, since we are not frequent flyers on BA.  The “knees-in-chest” seating would be the expected norm.  The ticket price difference between BA and an alternate carrier would have to be significantly less for us to choose BA again.  Lord & Taylor just earned a new and repeat customer in my wife.  They win all 10 stars for exceptional customer experience this time.  The real takeaway: Consistently meeting and or exceeding customer expectations helps secure repeat business and customers for life.