Many companies tie rewards to a rise in either Net Promoter Scores (NPS) or customer satisfaction scores. Unfortunately, that's exactly the kind of mistake that leads employees and partners to game the system. Porsche discovered that its stellar NPS was the result of dealers offering freebies to customers in exchange for higher scores. Similarly, when it noticed that satisfaction scores and comments didn't match, music retailer Guitar Center had to retool its rewards and recognition system to prevent store associates from massaging customer survey results.
My report describes the process for ensuring your rewards and recognition reinforce customer-centricity, rather than tempting employees to game the system. To avoid common pitfalls, companies must:
Communicate the importance of customer-centricity. Effective communications programs share updates with employees about initiatives to reinforce customer focus and highlight the importance of customer experience to the organization. As part of their customer-centric communication programs, companies should connect senior leaders with frontline employees and ensure that all corporate communications reinforce customer focus.
Companies like Avis Budget Group and E-Trade focus on changing the tone and content of all corporate communications.
General Motors (GM) assigned leaders the task of explaining the new customer focus to their respective departments. Involving senior leaders in this way reinforced to all employees that customer centricity was now an organizational imperative.
Earlier this year, I spoke with Kathleen Cattrall, interim chief experience officer at VCA Animal Hospitals about the company’s customer experience transformation efforts. VCA is a publicly traded company (fittingly, its NASDAQ ticker symbol is WOOF) that owns and operates more than 600 pet hospitals in the US and Canada. Its work to create more customer-centric hiring processes features in my latest report, "How To Hire And Onboard Customer-Centric Employees."
Kathleen and her colleague Aaron Frazier were gracious enough to answer a few more questions about their progress in building a more customer-centric culture and what they’ve learned about creating great pet-owner experiences. Here are some of their insights.
Q. How did VCA know it needed to improve customer experience? Was there a “burning platform,” or did someone senior at the organization decide it was time to make a change?
A. Art Antin, co-founder and COO, was the real visionary here. VCA was approaching its 25th anniversary, and Art was frustrated with clients visiting less frequently. Our customer retention rate was lower than VCA wanted to see. Complaints were escalating, and they all pointed to a poor customer experience. Art said, “We’ve spent 25 years becoming the leader in veterinary health services. We’ve accomplished more than any other company in that regard. We need to focus the next 25 months on improving our customers’ experiences with us.”
In my new report, "How To Hire And Onboard Customer-Centric Employees," I describe how companies can transform their hiring processes to ensure new employees are customer-centric. CX professionals must partner with their HR department and hiring manager colleagues to change the way they screen, interview and onboard new employees. The report describes specific ways to make each step in the hiring process more customer-centric. For example:
Get customer-centric applicants into the hiring funnel. A customer-centric hiring process starts by attracting the right kind of applicants and filtering out the wrong kind. The careers section of a website provides an opportunity for companies to tell applicants what they value in employees. For example, The Container Store's website describes the company's commitment to putting employees first and draws a clear distinction from other companies that focus on shareholders first. Contrast that first impression with the careers landing page on Bed Bath & Beyond's site, where the opening sentence talks about stock performance and its expansion.
Recently I was on a panel about the impact of cultural change on customer experience. My fellow panelists included Meltem Uysaler, a senior vice president of customer experience for Citi, and Patricia John, the customer experience director for Europcar UK (a car rental agency).
Right at the end of the session, Patricia responded to an audience question by saying that Europcar focused on creating a customer-centric culture because they can’t script every interaction. Therefore, employees need to be able to make the right judgment calls on their own when dealing with customers (or anything having to do with customers, which includes virtually everything a company does).
Patricia John is right. At Forrester, we see this dynamic time and again through our research. For example, every time I see USAA’s Wayne Peacock speak, he always uses the phrase, “We do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.” That’s extremely credible coming from Wayne: He’s the EVP of Member Experience at USAA, which is the number one bank, the number one credit card provider, and the number one insurance provider in our Customer Experience Index.
You, too, probably see this dynamic because it plays out in the news every day. Just compare the decision made by a Southwest Airlines pilot to the decisions made by some United Airlines employees.
That’s what one front office development leader who attended our Digital Disruption Summits and Forums in London and Orlando told us after hearing stories of how to survive and thrive in this age of constant consumer-led, software-fueled digital disruption.
And this front office development leader—whose scope ran the gamut from CRM and customer service to Web and mobile apps—wasn’t alone. In this age of digital disruption, where empowered customers and employees demand new levels of engagement with your firm, what mightyoube doing wrong?
If you’re not reaching out to stakeholders in your marketing and product development organizations, you’re doing it wrong.
If you scroll down, you’ll see a link to part two of my appearance on Jim Blasingame’s talk show, The Small Business Advocate. Among other things, in this segment, we talked about one of the keys to customer experience success: hiring the right employees.
Hiring is one of the tools for creating a customer-centric culture that my co-author Kerry Bodine and I describe in our new book, Outside In. Although hiring is fundamental, it’s something that many hiring managers get wrong. That’s because they’re still looking primarily at what their candidates know — their job skills — and not focusing enough attention on to who their candidates are.
Here’s why that’s a problem. You can teach people how to perform tasks, whether it’s stocking shelves or doing the books. And you can teach them enough about your products and services to be able to help your customers. But if they’re people who don’t want to help customers, you’re not going to teach them to be different people.
Are there really that many people out there who just don’t want to help customers? Yes. That’s a lesson Kevin Peters, the president of Office Depot North America, learned several years ago.
Kevin asked all 22,500 store associates to take a personality assessment test designed to evaluate employees’ skills, behaviors, and aptitudes as they related to serving customers. To his surprise and disappointment, a significant percentage agreed with statements like, “If the job requires me to interface with customers, I’d rather not do the job.”
You’re at home when your phone rings. It’s your child’s summer camp calling to tell you that she never arrived. No one knows where she is.
Make your gut churn? Yes, if you’re a parent — or even if you’re not.
If you were following the news last week, you know that Annie and Perry Klebahn did get that phone call. That’s when they found out that their 10-year-old daughter Phoebe hadn’t gotten off a United Airlines flight to Traverse City, Michigan.
Here are the highlights of what happened.
Phoebe had been traveling alone. Her parents had paid United a $99 fee for the “unaccompanied minor” service and had every reason to believe that their daughter was in good hands. According to the complaint letter that her parents wrote to United, when they dropped Phoebe off at the San Francisco airport, a United employee put an identifying wristband on her and told her to “only go with someone with a United badge on and that she would be accompanied at all times.” But when Phoebe arrived in Chicago to change planes, no one met her. The little girl reportedly asked flight attendants three times to let her use a phone to call her parents, and they told her to wait. She also asked if someone had called camp to tell them she had missed her flight, and they said they’d take care of it (but then didn’t).
The only way your company will differentiate based on customer experience is if the culture of your organization aligns closely with the brand promise to customers. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh puts it in his blog post entitled “Your Culture Is Your Brand”: “Advertising can only get your brand so far . . . So what’s a company to do if you can’t just buy your way into building the brand you want? In a word: culture. At Zappos, our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff — like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers — will happen naturally on its own.”
When Forrester looks at building a customer-focused culture, we believe firms need some precursors in place, such as a clear strategy and vision, metrics that reflect customer perceptions, and governance mechanisms that set standards and hold people accountable for changes.
Once those are in place, rewards systems are one powerful lever to keep employees focused on what’s important. My colleague Belle Bocal and I identified nine ways that companies use reward systems to build a customer-centric culture.
Celebrate Target Behavior
Many companies make the mistake of trying to tie variable compensation (e.g., bonuses) to customer experience metrics too early. What many firms have learned is that the more informal recognition programs can be even more powerful at moving culture than the compensation metrics.
Many different types of firms have channel partners or others that control a significant part of the actual experience with customers. Automobile companies have dealers, insurance and real estate firms have independent agents, software companies have value-added resellers (VARs), restaurants and hotels have franchises, and heavy equipment manufacturers have resellers. Even the brokers or financial advisors within financial services organizations can act in many ways like these external partners.
While companies may not have direct control over these partners, firms are waking up to the fact that there are ways to influence these organizations to provide a better customer experience. To ensure that partners enhance the customer experience (CX):
Share VoC data with partners. Standard voice of the customer (VOC) programs make customer feedback data available to internal employees throughout the organization. Firms should use adapted versions of these dashboards to deliver relevant insights to partners. Deluxe, which sells services to small businesses and financial institutions, gathers customer research on the behalf of its smaller partners that cannot afford to pay for these insights on their own. Such insights gathered after the financial crisis helped many of its smaller financial services clients understand specific teller behavior that was hurting relationships more than helping.