You Asked, We Answered! Questions From Webinars About Our New Book, Outside In — Part 1

On September 19, my co-author Kerry Bodine and I delivered two webinars outlining the concepts in our new book, Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business.

We received so many questions that we couldn’t answer them all during the webinars. So we split them up, and we’re answering them (in brief) in two blog posts. Here is Part 1. You can see Part 2 from Kerry here.

How many full-time employees are needed to build and maintain systematic customer experience processes?

Becoming systematic about customer experience isn’t about adding people to your company. It’s about changing the activities that the people you have today perform. Instead of proposing projects with no consideration for how those projects will affect customer experience, for example, add a mandatory customer experience impact assessment — as companies like FedEx, Fidelity, and Bank of Montreal do.

Are there benchmarks for measurement? Can you please provide some guidance for what a “good” customer experience is?

If you want to drive business benefits like increased sales and positive word of mouth, create a customer experience measurement framework and then start by benchmarking against yourself.

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Hire The Will, Train The Skill

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.”

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When It Comes to Total Returns, Customer Experience Leaders Spank Customer Experience Laggards

Whenever I talk about the business impact of customer experience, there’s one thing that always grabs people’s attention. It’s an analysis done by Jon Picoult of Watermark Consulting, who took five years of data from Forrester’s Customer Experience Index and constructed two model portfolios. One is a portfolio of the top 10 publicly traded companies in the index (customer experience leaders), and one is a portfolio of the bottom 10 publicly traded companies in the index (customer experience laggards).

You can read details of how Jon conducted his analysis in our new book, Outside In, and in this post on Jon’s blog. The results are striking. Over the course of the five-year period, the customer experience leaders spanked the laggards in stock performance. The leader portfolio had a cumulative total return of +22.5%, compared with a -1.3% decline for the S&P 500 market index and a -46.3% decline for the laggard portfolio.

Five-Year Stock Performance Of Customer Experience Index (CXi) Leaders Versus Laggards Versus S&P 500 (2007 to 2011)

Customer Experience Leaders Portfolio deliver 5 year return of 22.5 percent

What follows is an interview I recently conducted with Jon to get his thoughts on why making a compelling business case for customer experience is so challenging — and so important.

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Customer Experience Disciplines Apply To Small Businesses, Too

I had fun last week speaking with talk show host Jim Blasingame, the “small business advocate.” (In fact, listening to the first segment of the show — embedded below — I was probably having a little too much fun at first.)

One reason I was keen to do the show is that I’ve been thinking a lot lately about showrooming. You’ve probably heard about showrooming — maybe you’ve done it yourself. It’s when a customer goes into a retail location to touch and feel a product and then goes online to buy the product at a lower price.

Showrooming causes a particularly acute problem for small business owners. Their very existence is at stake: Just last weekend, I walked by a small bookstore in Concord, Mass., and saw a sign in the window that said, “If you see it here, buy it here, to keep us here.”

I sympathize with that small store owner’s plight, so I’d like to offer some advice: Putting a sign in the window that begs people to buy from you is the wrong approach. Do customers want to “keep you here” because of convenience? Nope. They can get lower-priced products delivered the same day at little to no shipping cost. Do they want to add you to the list of charities they support? No, and you don’t want that either — you’re in business to make a profit, and you probably take pride in being able to do just that.

Here’s a better way to compete: Focus on delivering a superior customer experience. As a local business owner, you have the chance to know your customers better than any website can know them — even the increasingly sophisticated websites that make recommendations based on past behavior. If you develop that understanding and marry it with expertise about the products or services you offer, you’ll have a winning combination.

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Does Your Company Have A Customer Experience Strategy? No, Really

Here’s a typical conversation we have with businesspeople when trying to gauge the level of customer experience maturity at their company:

Forrester analyst: “Do you have a customer experience strategy?”

Manager: “We sure do!”

Forrester analyst: “Great! What’s in it? What’s the intended experience that it describes?”

Manager: “Well, uh, hmmm… You know, maybe we don’t have a customer experience strategy.”

The fact is, people at most companies are in the same boat as that manager (or director or VP or SVP or…). Why? For the most part, it’s because it never occurred to them that customer experience – like other business disciplines such as marketing and branding – requires a strategy to keep it on track.

Here’s why your organization needs a customer experience strategy: Without one, you’ll tend to mix and match best practices that may be great for someone but don’t align at all with the customer experience that you want to deliver.

People love those genius bars in Apple stores, right? And Apple is known for delivering a great customer experience. So why doesn’t Costco put genius bars in their stores? Simple: A genius bar provides an experience that aligns with Apple’s overall strategy of differentiating through innovation but flies in the face of Costco’s overarching strategy to be a cost leader.

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The Holy War Over Net Promoter: Is It The Ultimate Way To Measure Customer Experience?

Have you ever been caught in this crossfire?

Marketing Manager: “Net Promoter Score is the one number we need to grow!”

Customer Intelligence Manager: “Nonsense! ‘Satisfaction’ predicts customer loyalty better than ‘likelihood to recommend’ – it says so in the wonky business journals I read!”

Marketing Manager: “You don’t understand how business works!”

Customer Intelligence Manager: “You don’t understand how math works!”

The sad thing is that in a micro sense they’re both right, but in a macro sense they’re both wrong. The reason? They’re each taking an inside-out point of view based on their own specialties.

Where NPS Fits In A Customer Experience Measurement Framework

In our research into customer experience measurement, we see many organizations that use Net Promoter Score.  Some use it poorly because – like the fictional marketing manager above – they don’t understand the limitations of what NPS can do.

Here’s how they should think of it: Customer experience is how customers perceive their interactions with a company along each step of a customer journey, from discovery, to purchase and use, to getting service. NPS measures what customers say they’ll do as a result of one or more of those interactions. It’s what Forrester calls an “outcome metric.”

But outcome metrics are just one out of three types of metrics captured by effective customer experience measurement programs. The best programs gather and analyze:

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You Are In The Customer Experience Business, Whether You Know It Or Not

Customer experience is fundamental to the success of every business. For most companies, in fact, customer experience is the single greatest predictor of whether customers will return — or defect to a competitor.

Customer experience goes to the heart of everything you do: how you conduct your business, how your people behave when they interact with customers and each other, and the value you provide. You literally can’t afford to ignore it, because your customers take it personally each and every time they touch your products, your services, and your support.

In our new book, Outside In, my coauthor, Kerry Bodine, and I explore the real meaning of customer experience; prove the business benefits of delivering a great experience; and describe the six disciplines of customer experience leaders like American Express, JetBlue, Office Depot, and Vanguard. Our goal is to help readers understand why and how customer experience leads to profits — which it does, but only if you treat it as a business discipline.

Why is customer experience so important?

“Customer experience” is literally how your customers perceive their interactions with your company.

Those interactions occur at each step along a customer journey. That journey begins when people realize that you offer a product or service they might want, then compare your offer to other options. If things go your way, they’ll buy from you. Then they’ll use what they bought. If they encounter a problem, they’ll call for support.

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Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare: How United’s Culture Failed Its Customers

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).

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Patient Experience: Personal, Emotional, And Critical

Last week my son, Alex, had reconstructive surgery to repair his torn ACL (the ligament that holds the inside of a knee together).

He’s 11 years old.

I have to admit that this procedure worried me like hell for all sorts of irrational reasons. Sure, things could have gone wrong. But the surgeon who operated on my son literally invented this type of surgery, which is only used on children and pre-adolescents who are still growing. Plus we had the procedure donev at Boston Children’s Hospital, which topped the U.S. News & World Report honor roll of best children’s hospitals.

All that gave the left part of my brain comfort, even as the right part of my brain tried its hardest to give me high blood pressure. Fortunately, the operation was an unqualified success, and as I write this, we are three days into the recovery period, which is also going well.

Now normally I wouldn’t blog about something this personal. But throughout the process, Alex — who knows what I do for a living — kept telling me that he was having a great experience and that I should write about it.

Frankly, I was quite curious as to why Alex thought — and forgive me for being graphic — that getting his leg opened up and put back together with a bunch of new parts was “a great experience.” So I asked him.

Harley: You’ve said a number of times that you had a great experience at Boston Children’s Hospital. From your point of view, what made it a great experience?

Alex: Everyone was really nice to me. And they did a great job at keeping my pain level down.

Harley: Were you scared?

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Designing A Great Customer Experience In The Age Of Irrational Customers

Recently we’ve seen a lot of interest in the emotional aspects of customer experience by some of the smartest practitioners we know — chief customer officers. There’s a reason for this. Recent advances in the behavioral sciences now give us a better understanding of how people make decisions, experience pain and pleasure, and recall their experiences.

Maybe you’ve read about some of these studies in books like Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, or Switch by the Heath brothers. If you have, then you picked up on the fact that we now know our customers to be inherently irrational, making most of their daily decisions without any particular logic.

For example, we know that people experience the pain of loss more acutely than they feel the pleasure of gain. That’s the reason why people dump shares of well-run mutual funds when the economy turns down, irrationally converting their paper losses to real losses. It’s also why it’s easier to lose a customer than to gain one — people are less likely to forgive you when you inflict pain on them (got the order wrong, didn’t resolve the problem) than they are to love you for satisfying them.

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