My Take - Gary Lemke's Official Blog
Chief Customer Advocate, CRMAdvocate
Welcome to my blog.
You are probably here because you care about the customer experience. That makes you an advocate too!
"My Take" is a collection of daily vignettes covering my spin - perspectives, opinions, epiphanies - on the customer
experience, CRM, and the contact center.
I've been involved in the customer experience for the better part of three decades. I've worked in support operations on the front
line. I've managed the development of customer interaction technologies. And I've served as an industry guru covering best
practices, business processes, and technology.
"takes" (and counting), I invite you to follow my customer
experience conversation. Please join CRMAdvocate and I will delivered "My Take" via email.
Get ready to expect the unexpected. And, don't be shy about sharing your take.
It's the season for pundit predictions when the experts gaze into the crystal ball to tell us what to expect in the coming year. While forecasting is a regular event, scoring past predictions seems all but forgotten. Instead of new predictions, allow me to dust off a prediction I made five years ago.
Back in 2008, American Airlines made the bold move to charge baggage fees. Yes, it's hard to believe there was a time when you could check a bag without pulling out your wallet. At the time, it was a radical departure from industry norms. The question at the time was one of sustainability. Would the practice of charging a fee to check a bag be adopted by other airlines or would it would fade away as a failed money grab? The practice is now woven into the fabric of the airline industry.
At the time of the announcement and before the first baggage fee had been collected, I made the prediction that the practice would survive and, in fact, we would see more unbundling of services. OK, I obviously got that one right. (Many other predictions didn't pan out.) But who's keeping score?
Consider why one player was able to break rank and actually lower customer experience expectations for an entire industry. In a time when customer expectations continue to rise, it is an artful act to go in the opposite direction. Why did the rest of the industry join in stepping down the customer experience?
The growth in Dreamforce attendance over the last few years is simply staggering. Nothing less than mindboggling. It wasn't that long ago that 10,000 attendees at the annual Salesforce conference seemed unreal. Now the numbers exceed 100,000 with more who attend virtually. In many ways, Dreamforce's energy shows the vibrancy of the market segment(s) Salesforce plays in.
From another perspective, the event demonstrates how one player has come to dominate. One can make the case that the market segment is Salesforce and Salesforce alone. Other companies do exist in the "Salesforce segment" but only because they have made the decision to live within the Salesforce ecosystem. While it is often easy to poke at the weaknesses of the 800 pound gorilla, one shouldn't forget that the gorilla is king of the jungle for a reason. No other company has done so much for CRM as a whole. Ever!
Every major player has its share of lovers and haters. My thoughts come from neither position. Rather, I admire what they have accomplished for the accomplishment itself. In the end, the market voted and the sum of those votes created the King Kong we must learn to live with.
I decided not to attend Dreamforce this year. Crowds aren't a big turn on for me. Since it seems everyone else is there, let me say, "Sorry I missed you this year. I hope you had a good time." In their respective days, other industry events (Interop, Comdex, CeBit) had equally impressive or larger attendance numbers. Not so much anymore.
Happy Halloween especially if you are in the costume or candy business. And in the spirit of the holiday (is it really a holiday?), let's talk a little bit about tricks and treats, CRM style. Or as the Colloquy report (see below) suggests, "until death do you part with your loyalty."
What happens to the frequent flyer miles of the deceased? Do they die? Do they live on? Does it become zombie loyalty? The answer: it depends. Each organization seems to take their own view of the situation. Sometimes with great compassion, sometimes with little regard for the feelings of the survivors. It certainly is a question for your organization to consider.
Talking about what happens at such a moment is not really what I want you to consider. Instead, think about how such a moment can force the question of loyalty value on the table. What are Uncle Guido's frequent flyer miles really worth, may he rest in peace.
Let's not limit the discussion to what happens at death. Consider the opening scene in the movie Wedding Crashers where the mediators help a divorcing couple negotiate who gets the miles. Yes, loyalty has value beyond the intended customer.
Overheard from Customer Service Week (last week): "Taking a week to think about customer service is a great opportunity to focus on ways to provide a rewarding experience and create long-term customer loyalty. Service is one of the most important functions of any business, and any time you spend improving it is always well rewarded by customer advocates who become an extension of your sales and service staff." (Chip Bell)
I couldn't agree more. But what about the rest of the year? Now that everyone has put away the party hats, do we approach customer service with the same level of excitement?
Having a designated time to celebrate customer service seems a bit odd to me. Setting aside a special time to recognize something that should be important all the time is like taking time out to celebrate quality control, financial management, or new product development.
It's not special. It's inherent. it's not an event . . . . It's a way of doing business. Something to consider over the next 51 weeks until Customer Service Week 2014.
In 1992 the U.S. Congress proclaimed Customer Service Week a nationally recognized event devoted to recognizing the importance of customer service and honoring the people on the front lines. It is celebrated annually during the first full week in October. Since that time, more and more organizations use this week in very creative ways to celebrate all that is good about customer service and the special and dedicated people that make it happen.
I wonder if our current lawmakers are taking time to celebrate CSW this year. One might even wonder if they could organize well enough to create any consensus right now. OK, that's my tangent comment for the day. . . . back to the matter at hand.
. . . . by having everyone say when was the last time they observed a customer, in person, using your product. Seriously. Go around the room and ask (if you can do so without getting in trouble). Mark Hurst of Creative Good says, "If people are being honest, the answer will be never."
Although he is pimping his new book, Customers Included, he brings up a key question. Why don't people directly observe customers much? He says, "Once you start looking at the world through this lens, it's hard to miss the evidence: teams, companies, and organizations rarely spend time with customers before making decisions that affect them."
"If customer centricity is so great, why aren't more companies doing it? What is the catch?" I received this question today and it was strikingly similar to other recent questions. CRMAdvocate readers have commented on how much more work needs to be done even though it has been twenty years since Peppers and Rogers started the 1:1 discussion. You would think we would see more organizations make more progress if the value of it (1:1, customer centricity, CRM, CEM, CX, or whatever name it goes by) was so compelling.
It would be convenient, even tidy, if one answer would apply to every situation in every organization. But let's generalize a bit anyway. My experience tells me the leadership in most organizations is quite apt at making the case why their organization is indeed very customer centric. They may even go as far as to say the customer is most important . . . paramount to all else. Unfortunately, the words from on high don't always match the realities in the trenches or on the front line.
Often customers are not really the number one priority. Profits, shareholder return, growth and other business objectives often trump the pesky customer and their quirky desires.
Consider the power of executive preservation. Which statement are you most likely to hear in the boardroom. "Congratulations, since you have improved - 1) customer satisfaction, or 2) revenue/profit - we are going to give you and big bonus and let you keep your job." While one can argue that greater satisfaction leads to greater revenue/profit, most stakeholders care about the result, not the method.
In order to live to fight another day, the answer is most always #2.
Twenty years ago Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Ph.D. introduced the concept of one-to-one marketing in their book The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time. Two decades later we can chronicle the great progress made towards customer intimacy. Likewise, we see there is still so much that remains unaccomplished.
Should it really take so long to achieve such a goal? It's a fair question even if customer expectations have increased dramatically. Technology advancements, process improvements, and customer agent training have made great strides too.
So what is it going to take to get over the hump and deliver personalized experience nirvana? What will it take for an organization to act as "one" when dealing with a customer of one?
Can Tim Smith of Nemertes Research crack the 1:1 nut? Probably not completely to everyone's needs but I am intrigued to see what new thoughts he offers in his analyst webcast The Next Big Customer Experience Trend: One to One Engagement. If improving the customer experience is part of your job description, join me tomorrow and let's see if what he has to offer.
(Disclosure: the webinar is hosted by Genesys, a CRMAdvocate sponsor.)
During a recent coffee conversation, the discussion turned to utility bills. My father brought a copy of his last statement to the table with the same enthusiasm as a student showing a report card full of As. The reason for his pride was the benchmarking score he had received from the utility company showing how his energy consumption ranked among his peers (his neighbors).
Of the hundred or so similar homes in the area, he ranked #1 in terms of energy usage. Ranking aside, I was fascinated with the thought of evaluating customers and letting them know how they fair compared to other customers. In this case, it was based on usage with the hope that energy "hogs" might find the information motivating enough to change. You can imagine the people on the other end of the neighborhood benchmark were given ideas on how to reduce their energy consumption. Imagine the conversations among neighbors when they start comparing their utility rankings.
In the world of customer experiences, we are consumed with the Voice of the Customer (VoC). We want to know if they are satisfied and we want to know if they are likely to continue the relationship among other things.
For a moment, let's flip the idea of feedback upside down. How could you use customer benchmarking information as feedback to influence future customer behavior? Is there a Voice of the Vendor opportunity in your organization?
Earlier this week, I shared my 30th anniversary with my bank highlighting the amazing fact that the company name has not changed in three decades nor have they ever (ever!) disappointed. Well done Chuck (Charles Schwab). Showing why the bank is a class act, I got these tweets:
It was nice to see the company post a nice congratulatory note. Although 'Chuck' is much bigger now than when we first hitched 30 years ago, the company is not so big as to miss the opportunity to drop a personal note from the CEO and president, Walt Bettinger.
I recently celebrated my 30th anniversary. Anyone who has celebrated 30 years of anything knows that's a bunch of experiences . . . countless memories. This particular anniversary is not with another person. It's with my bank.
Beyond the length of time, I want to point out two particular points of interest. First, the name of the bank has remained the same (Charles Schwab). In an era where banks gobbled up each other and changed names as often as the seasons, "Chuck" has remained the same in name and in ownership. Second, I have to say that I have never, ever had a poor experience. Not once in three decades.
From basic checking to online banking to mortgages to retirement accounts to financial advice, I cannot recall an experience that has been nothing less than positive. In most cases, spectacular. Even when the fault was clearly mine, I never was penalized or made to feel bad. Case in point: I have never paid an ATM fee even when using another bank's machine. Lest you think I get special privileges, everything they have done for me has been part of their standard services available to everyone.
I imagine I am any other bank's worst nightmare. What offer would be worth 30 years of positive experiences? Chuck, you did it right. It's been a great ride. Here's to the next 30 years!
I spent this morning listening to Condoleezza Rice discuss education issues as formed by her background growing up in the segregated south, her educational journey as both student and Stanford professor, and of course her role as Secretary of State of the United States. We are fortunate to have such passionate people bringing attention to the need for educational change. While we may not agree on what the changes should be, I think most can agree that the status quo is not sufficient.
I don't know if Ms. Rice even knows what CRM stands for but there was one thought she shares with her Stanford students (yes, she is an active teacher) that I want to share with you today.
She tells her students that there are three verbs she never wants to hear. She doesn't want to know what they think, what they feel, or what they believe. Instead, she wants to see them demonstrated their ability to learn, their ability to reason, their ability to weigh options, and their ability to come to well-formed conclusions. "We need to be in the company of people who don't agree with us," she warns. We need to be challenged to think beyond the circle of our current understanding.
It's an idea that applies to the learning process. It also applies to international relations. And it applies equally well to customer relations. Does your organization surround itself with customers who don't agree with you?
"What would the Chief Customer Advocate do" when a caterer's customer experience goes horribly wrong from food poisoning? Obviously, the event is a rare occurrence but it is a transaction that can affect all others.
While there are many options, most fall in to one of two buckets - get ahead of the situation or quietly brush it aside. If you have been a CRMAdvocate reader for a while you know I'm all about getting in front of the issue. I suggest the caterer immediately contact the customer and waive the charges while undertaking a forensic investigation to determine the source of the problem - the kitchen, the supply chain, the preparers, etc.
I presented the scenario to the owner of a catering business and asked him what he would do. He said, "First I would make sure there was no bill and I would offer to pay for any medical expenses. Then I would involve my insurance people and call in the health department. Depending on the situation, I might call the local media."
He did not have the benefit of my thoughts about getting ahead of the situation but he recognizes the high price of a single bad customer experience. And he realizes that it can happen in spite of all reasonable precautions. Rather than let the experience define the business, the response defines the business. What response define your business in a time of crisis?
As an advocate of the customer experience, I'm a bit of a sucker for stories describing the "above and beyond the call of duty" stories. You know what I'm talking about. Those stories about the front line customer service person doing something so incredibly awesome. They become stories repeated in social networks, captured in training videos, and even featured at stockholder meetings. All in hopes of a bump. We use many words to describe that "bump." Trust, value, loyalty, authenticity, reputation, referrals . . . and so on.
Many of these stories talk about devoting limitless resources to dazzle in order to inspire undying loyalty. By definition, these special, independent, and unique anecdotes are not the sort of thing that can be replicated on a high volume basis. On a single transaction basis, the ROI never makes sense. But the value of intangibles maximized by a good PR department makes these one-off situations an awesome investment.
I worry that sometimes these chance stories drive management conversations to focus too much on 'awesomeness' rather than delivering on basic promises and solving day-to-day problems.
Consider this: Efforts to elevate the customer experience for the general customer population will push up the awesomeness of the occasional customer experience story you share on the front page of your corporate newsletter.
How was your stay? Did the product work for you? How was your meal? Did you like the show? We get asked to share customer satisfaction in so many ways. Beyond the issue of survey fatigue, the bigger concern is one of suspect genuineness.
Do they really want to know what I think? Are they really willing to do something about it? Will my input make a difference?
One CRMAdvocate reader responded to yesterday's column by writing, "Asking me how my stay was upon checkout is a lame. I'm typically in a hurry and I'm not about to have that kind of discussion with a desk clerk who could care less if they ever saw my face again. This is a poor and perfunctory way to get customer feedback. One time I was asked how my meal was at a restaurant and I told them it was disappointing All I got from the waitperson was a thank you and a bill for the full cost of the meal. So, what's the point?"
I see so many situations where it would be better to never have asked than to inquire without the desire or empowerment to do something for the customer. Likewise, don't ask if the input is not likely to make it back to those who can make improvement. What's the point?
I read a story about the often-asked question of hotel desk clerks during the checkout process. It typically is something like, "How was your stay?" I often wonder if the question is meant to encourage customer feedback or avoid it.
Let me explain. My feeling is the question is asked in hopes of a nonchalant "OK" - something that requires no action or additional effort. It is a question to avoid getting real feedback requiring unknown extra effort. In other words, it is something of a "force field" against learning what the guest really thinks.
Instead, I wonder if the question should be something like, "Is there anything we could have done to make your stay more memorable?" This more open-ended question tells the guest that even if everything was OK, the establishment is interested in taking the experience to the next level. An "OK" response could simply be a passing grade with little actionable input. But asking for specific recommendations provides an action agenda.
In the spirit of such thinking, let me ask you, "Is there something we could be doing with the CRMAdvocate newsletter to make it better for you?
Targeting the deeds of your rivals will undoubted leave you chasing them. Or as Winston Churchill said with foreshadowing disaster, "The short road to ruin is to emulate the methods of your adversary."
Copying competitive tactics is the opposite of innovation. It's safe and easy to re-create the proven but it lacks the ability to set yourself apart. Risk takers and entrepreneurs, the architects of "now something completely different," clear the path where one previously did not exist. Discovered value. Differentiation. Yes, the path is riskier and often leads to failure. But the rewards can be worth the risk.
Regardless, too much focus on the competition means less focus on the customer. Looking for a design center for a better customer experience? Forget looking at your competition. You probably expect me to now recommend a focus on the customer. I'm not going to tell you that.
Instead, look to your competitor's customers. They already made a decision for the present. It's time to figure out what they want next. What will it take for them to switch to you? Oh, I almost forgot to mention that right now your competitors might be trying to figure out what your customers want next too.
I see customer satisfaction studies all the time. Most of the time I don't find anything worth comment or further investigation. Call it satisfaction fatigue. I guess it goes hand-in-hand with the survey fatigue we all feel as consumers.
However, the study about QSR (that's quick service restaurant) satisfaction in the burger brand has me a bit perplexed. Maybe you can help explain it to me.
The study reports the top three burger brands by sales - McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's - are ranked at or near the bottom of guest satisfaction in almost all categories. This seems like a giant example that leadership in customer satisfaction has little to do with sales, growth, and profit. They wouldn't be the top three burger brands if they weren't doing something right.
So what is going on? Did the study get the satisfaction ratings right? If the study got it right, are we putting too much reliance on the connection between satisfaction and corporate performance? Perhaps, the big three have figured out how to provide "enough" satisfaction but not so much as to erode margins. Or do you have another explanation for the seemingly disconnected relationship of satisfaction and performance?