|Engaging the Enterprise By Patrick Gibbons
Pat Gibbons, Senior Vice President of Marketing, will focus on ways organizations can get people engaged to make better use of customer insights to improve business performance.
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Customer-focused initiatives should be all about generating results for your company. Of course, like many things, it is much easier said than done. Achieving results is a bit like going on a journey - there important stops along the way and there can be lots of twists and turns that make the trip more challenging.
For customer experience professionals I envision five primary stops on the road to customer-focused results - culture, strategy, intelligence, action, and change. Within each of these there are many other details - any one of which can be an obstacle that can slow down your journey or send you off course.
Click on the infographic to view a detailed look at nearly 100 elements that are important for customer experience professionals to navigate along the road to results.
Julie is a strategic account manager. She manages a number of complex business accounts and each one of them involves multiple relationships that all are important to maintain. She is focused on the performance of her accounts and her activity is aimed at driving growth within each of those accounts. It’s personal too – her income is directly connected to the performance of her customers. She is busy, aggressive, and determined.
YOU are in charge of customer experience initiatives. It's your job to provide Julie and other strategic account managers with customer intelligence to help them retain and grow their accounts. While Julie cares about her customers, she doesn't really care much about the reports and information you provide. Here are five reasons why Julie isn't very customer-focused and why it's your fault:
- It's a hassle. Instead of viewing your information as helpful, Julie sees it as more work.
- It's too hard to access. It's a pain to log into another system, so customer intelligence is often overlooked.
- It's too complex. You provide great information, but it's too much. She doesn't have time to wade through it all.
- It's not relevant. Too much of the information doesn't really relate directly to her work with her accounts.
- It's not actionable. You haven't provided any training, so there is no clear instruction on how to put it to use.
Simple, fast, and relevant – those are the keys to driving results through strategic account managers like Julie. She already has more tools to access, more reports to file, and more company emails to read than she desires. Giving her one more thing to do, will not help. To get Julie on-board the customer intelligence you provide must help her retain and grow her accounts, which of course will help her be more successful.
We have coined a phrase around our company:
Be Customer Intelligent
For years we have studied customer relationships and now, probably more than ever, customer continue to change. They are more demanding and they expect you to know them and deliver products and services in a manner tailored to their wants and needs. More options are available. Switching is easier. Companies you never saw as competitors may now be your biggest threat.
Companies must rise to the challenge. They must know each of their customer's next moves. They will need to be sophisticated at monitoring what their customers are saying and doing, and they must have a big appetite for using customer insights to make better decisions.
So what does it mean to be customer intelligent?
My colleagues and I came up with a list of ten things. In fact, we even set up a website and printed cool posters of them! You can order free copies here.
It means ...
You can never know too much about your customers.
You know your customers' business objectives -- you are informed.
You listen intently to your customers in many different ways.
Big data about your customers is a big deal.
You know your customers well enough to predict their next move.
You take action on customer insights -- right now!
Your company is completely aligned with customer needs.
You understand your customers through the supply chain.
You use insights to personalize your customers' experiences.
Your success depends on the success of your customers.
The last business book I was reading took a familiar path when it came to the discussion of customer experience. They raved about Zappos, Southwest Airlines, and Apple. Yawn.
Don't get me wrong - they are great companies to hold up as role models. It's just that they seem to be cited all the time. Zappos' great service, Southwest Airlines' no-nonsense approach, and Apple's awesome products. I get it and I'm impressed. I'm just tired of hearing about it.
So what do I find interesting? B-to-B examples!
B-to-B seems to go under the radar, but I love the way the way they are more down to earth. They are not focused on a slick brand or a rock star CEO. Instead, B-to-B examples are often more practical and bottom-line focused. My favorites include:
- An account manager that salvaged a customer account when he he read their feedback and jumped into action.
- A company that cut costs by diagnosing a process improvement from a stream of customer comments.
- A channel partner that boosted sales by following up with customers that shared their interest in a new solution.
Without a doubt, B-to-B CX is different and it's time we focus more on its unique characteristics. Toward that end my organization is even planning a customer experience summit specifically for B-to-B companies.
So please - make my day! Share your stories of B-to-B customer experience success.
One of the first rules of acting on customer insights is to simply let them know that you're listening. Unfortunately, too often, customers feel like their feedback goes into a deep dark black hole.
Here is a real-world example: I attended a meeting recently with a small group of customer strategists from technology companies responsible for their voice-of-the-partner programs. Also invited to the meeting were a small group of value added resellers (VARs) - precisely the individuals that they commonly collect feedback from. At some point in the conversation one of the customer strategists innocently asked if their partner managers ever comment on the feedback provided by the VARs.
Silence. Nothing. All the VARs just shrugged and said, "Nope."
The customer strategists groaned as if to say, "Really? I put all this effort into collecting insights from our partners, analyzing what they have to say, and deliver it to the partner managers and they don't even mention it to the partners?!" Their frustration (and embarrassment) was obvious.
Several common obstacles could be the cause of this:
- They aren't aware. Since they don't know about it or don't receive feedback from their customers, naturally they're not going to mention it.
- They don't understand it. They may receive reports from the person running the customer insight program, but that doesn't mean it makes sense to them. If they don't understand it, they're not going to talk about it with customers.
- They don't believe it. They may receive the information, but if it isn't relevant or they don't trust it, they are not going to bring it up with their customers.
Ultimately, this comes down to communication and training. Every customer strategist has the responsibility to make sure the voice of the customer gets put to use. But to do that you have to make sure everyone is aware of it, understands it, and believes in it.
Only then will they start a conversation with their customers with those all-important words, "I heard what you had to say!"
Predictive analytics and big data are some of the hottest buzzwords. So how can this be used to improve customer intelligence in service organizations?
Here is one simple example:
Large contact centers regularly respond customer complaints. To improve the way they serve customers they are often relentless in the way they analyze data to measure time-to-respond, assess customer expectations, and improve the way they meet customer demands. Done correctly, their analysis results in precise profiles of the customers that have contacted the customer service department with issues.
But what about those that never complained?
Think about it. If you have a profile of the customers that complained, you should be able to identify many other customers that fit that profile. The only difference is they never contacted you. And yet, they probably have the same issues. This provides an excellent opportunity to proactively reach out to customers to address their issues before they ever contact you. What's the worst that can happen? Maybe they will tell you that they're just fine. Regardless, they will likely be impressed that you contacted them
No longer can we rely on asking our customers how they're doing. Instead customer strategists need to use all the customer intelligence they have to drive results in their company.
Although often overlooked, an essential element of well-run customer-focused initiatives is good communication. Too often, companies can get caught up in the details of gathering customer insights and analyzing data, but forget to really get the word out within the company. This leads to weak engagement, inaction, and a lack of measurable ROI.
Here are three quick ideas to avoid having your customer initiatives getting lost in the clutter of all the other things going on in your company.
Brand it. Come up with a good name and even a logo to represent your customer initiatives. Too often companies resort to just calling it the customer satisfaction survey or the customer loyalty program. Not very inspiring is it? Here is a previous blog to help generate ideas.
Plan it. Too often, a good communication plan is an afterthought. Create a plan that identifies the audiences, the messages, and the vehicles you are going to to use to get the word out.
Deliver it. Communication is not one-size-fits-all. You need to develop customized reports for various stakeholders. Each individual needs to understand the customer insights they receive and know what action needs to be taken.
Companies today have so many important initiatives that are all competing for attention. For customer strategists to implement results-oriented initiatives, communication is an essential element.
Is sales all that matters?
Unfortunately sales dollars are sometimes the only measure used when B-to-B companies evaluate the value of their customers accounts. We all know there is more to a customer account than what they spend, but too often the information is just anecdotal and it is not factored in during budgeting, business reviews, and other functions where resource decisions are made.
Consider the "Three P's" as a better framework for considering the overall strategic value of a customer:
- Payoff - A financial measure is absolutely an important element to include. Sales or revenue is the most obvious, but many companies move beyond this to measure net revenue, profitability, or contribution. Just be sure it is not the only measure. We have all seen customers that are considered a "top" account that actually turn out to be a financial drain on the company.
- Potential - It is important to consider where the relationship with each customer account is headed. Key measures of potential might include the growth rate of the customer's own business, the degree of penetration across the customer's business units, and share of the customer's total spend. These measures can be developed from public information, customer feedback, or sales staff knowledge.
- Partnership - Business leaders realize the value of collaborative efforts with both their channel partners and direct customers. Partners help us design better relationships and better products. Partners also share financial risk and will often accept shortfalls as an opportunity for improvement, rather than an excuse to leave.
The Three Ps can be an important framework as part of your overall customer retention strategies. Once you evaluate your customer accounts using a more accurate framework, you can do a better job of allocating resources to better serve customers and grow your business.
I am somewhat amused when I see efforts to establish boundaries related to customer experiences.
I recently stopped at a highway rest stop and saw a sign reading, "Attendant not responsible for the vending area." It just struck me as kind of funny. Several comebacks came to mind, like ...
It is sure good to know what the attendant is NOT doing.
Okay, then what IS the attendant responsible for?
Did I even ask about the vending area?
Okay, actually, I get it. I'm sure this was prompted by the fact that people have lost their money in a malfuctioning vending machine and go to the attendant for help, only to have them say, "not my job." It just makes me wonder, at what point did they determine this is such a huge problem that we better put a sign up so that people don't bother the attendant. Instead could they of have trained the attendants on how to handle the information and maybe provide information on who could be contacted for help.
In this time where the customer experience is an opporutnity to differentiate, setting boundaries is not the right strategy.
I think most companies do a lousy job of communicating with their customers when it comes to their voice-of-the-customer strategies. They tend to spend a lot of time conducting surveys, monitoring social media, analyzing customer insights, but very little time (if any) telling their customers about it.
It is a missed opportunity. Customers are impressed when they hear how a company listens and they are even more impressed when they see how they have taken action based on customer feedback.
EMC World is the company’s big event where they unveil new solutions, share their strategy, and inject a heavy dose of enthusiasm in the technology market. It is communication with customers on steroids!
What better place to share their customer experience strategies? That is apparently what their team concluded. The TC/PE (Total Customer and Partner Experience) team will have a large display on the exhibit floor. Merely by their presence they are showing attendees that they have a team that listens and acts upon customer insights. At the display they will be working with one of their VoC partners to gather insights from attendees and present the results in real time. This is all mixed in with videos and graphics in a manner consistent with the upbeat vibe of the event.
It sends a great message to customers – we’re listening to you at every turn and we’re using your insights to improve your total experience with EMC.
This is one terrific example of how companies can “up their game” when it comes to communicating VoC strategies to inform customers and build their brand.
You have lots of loyal customers. But, what do you do to make the most of these relationships?
First, let's describe what we really mean when we talk about loyal customers. As described in the framework of the Loyalty Matrix, truly loyal customers are those that are positive in both their attitude and behavior. In other words, they have every intention of continuing to do business with you and they have a positive attitude toward your company. They like working with you and are more likely to increase their spending and recommend your company to others.
Then what strategies and tactics should be deployed to leverage loyal customer relationships? Here are four key initiatives that every company can incorporate into their customer strategies:
1. Support new sales - in most businesses referrals are a key component in closing new deals. Because loyal customers have a positive attitude about their work with you, they are an excellent source of referrals and testimonials.
2. Earn more business - loyal customers typically are planning to increase their spending. This is a chance to up-sell and cross-sell to generate new sales.
3. Team up to innovate - loyal customers are often the best partners. They will be more open and interested in collaborating to consider and test new solutions.
4. Network with other customers - ideally, you want their loyalty to be contagious. Encouraging networking between loyal customers and trapped customers can help convert these trapped customers and earn more loyalty.
Too often, when a company looks at the breakdown of their customers in the Loyalty Matrix framework they focus on the negative - how to improve relationships high risk and trapped customers. Unfortunately, the positive aspect can be overlooked – how to leverage relationships with their most loyal customers. And yet, this may be the quickest way to generate new revenue for the company!
One more note - this blog is part of a series of blogs covering the Loyalty Matrix and each of the other quadrants - accessible, trapped, and high risk. You can also access a position paper on the Loyalty Matrix by clicking here.
Launching a new voice of the customer initiative is a big undertaking. Unfortunately too many companies do just that – they launch! They charge into an initiative without taking the time to develop a thoughtful plan. Given the potential impact of a company’s customer engagement strategy and the importance of doing it right, it makes sense to conduct an assessment to consider all the elements that will be critical to the launch and implementation of a results-oriented program.
The following 11 key elements are the key factors to consider in a well-executed assessment.
- Scope – The scale of this undertaking is understood and the necessary resources have been identified.
- Readiness – The degree of organizational readiness has been assessed and it is understood what will be necessary to create buy-in for the initiative across the organization.
- Alignment – There is a clear line of sight on how customer insights tie to business results.
- Listening posts –The organization has determined how they will collect and integrate the most important information for making customer-focused decisions.
- Stakeholders – The information needs of the organization have been assessed and it is understood how customer insights will be distributed and used across a variety of functional departments and customer-facing associates.
- Education – Programs to drive awareness, understanding, and action have been identified to bring about the necessary corporate culture for customer-focused success.
- Communication – Communication needs have been outlined to understand how the organization will drive internal awareness, deliver actionable reports, and communicate externally with customers.
- Technology tools – Technology tools needed to facilitate the collection, analysis, and distribution of customer insights have been identified and it is understood how these tools will integrate with existing technology systems.
- External resources – There is an understanding of what additional resources will be necessary for methodology, research, technology, training, and additional consulting.
- Metrics – The key metrics for the success for the company’s customer engagement strategy have been established.
- Roadmap – A detailed plan or roadmap has been developed that includes a timeline of activities and a breakdown of the necessary individuals to be involved in a practical, phased program.
Are Accessible customers worth the effort? After all, they are an odd mix -- they like you, but don't plan to keep giving you their business. There are a couple ways these customer relationships can be valuable and shouldn't be shunned too quickly.
In the context of the Loyalty Matrix accessible customers have a positive attitude (how they feel about working with your company), but show negative behavior (what they actually plan to do). When you think about, it is a little strange. Why would a customer have a good attitude, but not plan to keep coming back?
It usually means something has changed and they no longer need your product or service. For instance, let's say you have a favorite coffee shop. You like the people, the atmosphere, and the products. But then you move a few miles away. Even though you like going there, it is simply too far out of your way and there are other good options that are much more convenient.
Here are two reason to continue to cultivate accessible customers.
- First, accessible customers will recommend you. Who knows how their positive comments will help you secure new customers in the future?
- Second, you may have other solutions to offer to them. Particularly in a business-to-business situations it's smart to check in with these customers to make sure they are familiar with your entire range of solutions. They may discover another reason to work with you or may direct you to another contact and provide a personal endorsement.
Accessible customers are typically a small percentage of a company's overall customer base, but they can still be important in helping you grow your business.
"I'm not coming back and I don't really like you anyway!" In the framework of the Loyalty Matrix, that is essentially what a "high risk" customer is saying.
Based on their feedback to a short battery of questions, high risk customers are negative on the two key aspects of loyalty – behavior (what a customer plans to do) and attitude (how they feel about working with your company). So, how do you handle high risk customers? While the first reaction may be to scramble to salvage every relationship, that may not always be the best direction. Below are three very different scenarios with suggested action:
SCENARIO 1 - THE B-to-C COMPANY
In this scenario, you won't likely know at an individual level which customers are high risk. Instead, you'll know what percentage of your customers are high risk and you need to dig deeper to understand why. You may need to filter the information to find out if high risk customers are concentrated in a particular region or if they are users of a particular product. Essentially, you have to get to the root of the issues and take action to decrease your overall rate of customer churn.
SCENARIO 2 - INDIVIDUAL CUSTOMER CONTACTS
In most B-to-B situations and some B-to-C situations you will be able to identify specific high risk customers and contacts. In this situation you should layer on more information. For instance, if you know how much revenue the customer generates or you know the customer's level of profitability you can prioritize which customers deserve immediate action to salvage the relationship and which customers may actually be better off with one of your competitors.
SCENARIO 3 - COMPLEX STRATEGIC ACCOUNTS
Lets say you have a single account with 25 contacts -- 10 are loyal, 10 are trapped, and five are high risk. Now things are a little more complicated. In this scenario you must look more closely. If the five high risk contacts aren't that involved or just influence purchasing decisions, the situation may not be dire. However, if a senior executive or your primary contact happen to be high risk, immediate follow up is necessary. A closer look will provide the direction.
High risk customers should prompt action. What action to take will depend on the steps you follow to better understand each scenario.
Taking action is the most commonly mentioned obstacle when discussing voice-of-the-customer strategies. In many organizations, particularly those that are large and complex, it is incredibly difficult to weave through all the obstacles to turn customer insights into action and results.
Sometimes it helps to think of the key elements that make action possible. Here are four key elements that would apply to almost any organization:
ORGANIZATION – You need the right team structure to effectively deploy your customer strategies. This refers to everyone involved in the process of collecting, analyzing, reporting, delivering, and acting on customer insights. A solid structure needs to be in place to make sure voice-of-the-customer strategies are actionable.
PROCESS – Organizations must have systematic ways to improve customer processes. Customer advocates must develop procedures, methods, and tools to ensure customer insights drive improvement, whether it is to correct a problem, discover a new solution, expedite a procedure, or grow a relationship.
COMMUNICATION – Effective communication needs to ignite the right action. In today’s business environment there’s an incredible amount of clutter. Any business has a multitude of initiatives making it difficult to ensure voice-of-the-customer strategies are seen as important and relevant. Effective communication has become critical to make sure people are aware of customer initiatives, understand their role, and believe in them so they will ultimately take action.
MOTIVATION – Customer strategists must provide the right motivation for action. In some cases incentives are involved. Other times it’s driven by operational metrics. Whatever the case may be, understanding how to motivate the users of customer feedback is a key element to any voice-of-the-customer strategy.
Large organizations can quickly get bogged down and distracted. Keeping these four elements front and center can help customer strategists stay focused on driving action and results.
When we discuss this framework, people are typically very intrigued with the “trapped” category. It seems to be an element often missed in customer satisfaction ratings, Net Promoter Scores, and other measurements. The trapped customer is indeed unique.
In some ways trapped customers are appealing because they are giving every indication they are going to continue doing business with you. And that’s good!
However, this can be a short-term approach to building customer relationships and companies should be careful with it. We’ve found time and time again there are important differences between a loyal customer and a trapped customer.
Remember, trapped customers show positive behavior (plan to keep doing business with you) and negative attitude (not real happy about it). So it is no surprise that trapped customers tend not to refer you – a valuable element when you are attempting secure new business. What’s more, trapped customers tend not to increase their spending with you and may not be very open when you propose new products and solutions. Finally, when a new competitive offering comes along, trapped customers are much more likely to check it out.
In contrast, loyal customers will refer you, increase their spending at a much greater rate, and will resist other offers when they come their way.
While retaining customers is certainly important, it can be short term. Building loyal relationships is a long-term approach to more rapid growth and higher profitability.
As I grabbed my cup of coffee and began to leave, the Starbucks clerk smiled and said, "Have a super day!" I smiled, chuckled a bit and said, "Absolutely! You too!"
There was more to this short conversation than what it appears.
I live in Indianapolis where the Super Bowl was just played. Thousands of volunteers were recruited to assist visitors at the airport, in hotels, and on the downtown streets. They were all encouraged to complete each conversation by saying, "Have a super day!"
Not surprisingly, it caught on. People in Indianapolis started hearing, "Have a super day," wherever they went. So when this Starbucks employee said this, it wasn't just a typical expression. What she was really saying was, "Hey, enjoy that coffee, but also remember that the Super Bowl is right here in our city this weekend where there is a fantastic energy so enjoy every minute of it!" At least that's what I heard.
It was a nice touch. And nice touches make customers feel good about giving a company their business.
P.S. Every company should have nice touches. A while back I posted a blog on this topic and here is a link to a book dedicated to helping companies differentiate through G.L.U.E. - giving little unexpected extras.
Acting on the voice of the customer doesn’t (or shouldn’t) happen in just one department or one area of the company. I like to think of it in levels. For simplicity sake, here are three common levels where VoC action should be taking place:
CORPORATE – At the corporate level, action should be very strategic. Based on customer insights, action plans should address issues such as overall retention, forecasting future revenues, projecting attrition, and considering customer perceptions on topics such as brand reputation, ethics, market position, and how you stack up against the competition.
FUNCTIONAL – Action at the functional level action becomes more tactical and involves specific areas such as business units and key departments. This middle level is the most diverse of the three. It refers to all groups throughout your enterprise that can benefit from the voice of the customer. These include departments such as service, account management, sales, and product development, R & D, marketing, and many others. In each case customer strategists should provide each group the customer information they need to improve their specific operation. What’s more, they should implement a prioritization process to ensure the most important issues are escalated to require action.
CUSTOMER-FACING – This is when action takes place one customer at a time. This is most common in business-to-business organizations where action is critical at the account level. To effectively manage at the account level customers advocates must work closely with strategic account managers and sales managers so highly customized information is provided to their people and they are trained on how to use it to drive business with specific accounts. Action at this level should be focused on improving account relationships to boost retention and grow revenue.
Too often voice-of-the-customer strategies are focused on one area or one department. Or, companies may do a good job of acting on customer insights at one level, but they don’t fully leverage insights across the organization. Customer strategists are wise to occasionally take inventory to determine the areas where customer insights could provide a well needed boost.
Taking action is widely mentioned as the top challenge in a customer listening initiative or voice-of-the-customer strategy. One method to making customer loyalty more actionable is to begin with a good framework.
The Loyalty Matrix is a very practical framework that segments customers into four groups based on their responses to a small battery of questions. The two axes in the matrix represent the two key aspects of loyalty – behavior (what a customer plans to do) and attitude (how they feel about working with your company). This forms the following four quadrants:
TRULY LOYAL – These customers have every intention of continuing to do business with you and they have a positive attitude towards your company. They like working with you and are more likely to increase their spending and recommend your company to others.
ACCESSIBLE – These customers have a good attitude about working with you but do not plan to continue their relationship. Since this is a rather odd combination, it’s not surprising that it is often a very small percentage of customers. It typically means something has changed in their business and they do not need your product or services any longer.
TRAPPED – These customers show every indication of continuing business with you, but they’re not very happy about it. They feel trapped in the relationship. This is common among organizations that are locked into a long-term contract, lack a suitable substitute, or find it too hard to switch. Eventually, trapped customers will find a better option.
HIGH RISK – As the name implies, these customers do not intend to return and don’t really like working with you anyway. Typically, they’re halfway out the door and not only will they no longer be a customer, but will also talk poorly about your company in the marketplace.
Many organizations use this framework and find it to be more versatile, more practical, and much more actionable than satisfaction scores, NPS, or other approaches. Here is a link to a short paper on the Loyalty Matrix if you would like to learn more.
I get a kick out of the AT&T ads (examples here and here) showing how the pace of things is so fast that the savvy user of the HTC Vivid with 4G is always informed and ahead of the game.
While the commercials are informative and entertaining, the application makes sense for how customer strategists build better customer relationships.
The most common example that has gotten attention is the way some companies have monitored social media sites to identify customer complaints and quickly address them. In doing so, they salvage a customer relationship and impress consumers with their attention to customer issues.
I prefer to consider uncommon examples, like complex customer relationships in a B-to-B environment. We've seen terrific examples of companies that have closely monitored feedback from surveys that trigger alerts notifying account managers of customers issues that need to be addressed and opportunities to pursue. In one example a company identified more than 5,000 issues that were logged and prioritized for action. What's more, they prompted sales opportunities that delivered more than $200 million in new sales.
This was all done by setting up a system that included the following:
- Good lists - insights are gathered from the right customers
- Good design - to incorporate triggers to identify issues, opportunities
- Good training - account managers understand their role
- Good buy-in - everybody sees the benefit for them and for the company
- Good tools - an online documentation system ensures follow up
- Good measurement - the ROI is measured to validate the payoff