Customer Experience, Customer Success

It’s easy to think you know your customer

photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/zooboing/4241390495
photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/zooboing/4241390495

It starts with the purchase

When you get that endorphin rush from seeing a sale you may think you’ve won a customer. If everything’s gone right, you’re absolutely on the way to a relationship that might last years and will produce great things. More frequently the purchase is just the beginning of the process of moving from trial to loyal (and avid) customer.

Think of this example – if you had a lemonade stand and someone showed up once to purchase a refreshing drink, would you think of them as a regular customer or someone who showed up needing lemonade that day? Their needs for a cool drink could be related to the outside temperature, hydration after a long walk, or a need to try the most talked-about lemonade on the block. But the first day they show up at your lemonade stand, a buyer is not a customer.

Now think forward, and imagine that for several hot weekends in a row you’ve seen the same person. You know a bit about the time they show up, how many cups of lemonade they buy, and perhaps have made chit-chat and talked about something more than the weather. You could definitely call this person a customer, but not yet a loyal buyer. You don’t know when the lemonade stand around the corner will come calling.

When the same customer shows up on a rainy day, asks you why you haven’t opened the lemonade stand, and presents you with a few ideas for other things you could sell (“psst – Brownies go extraordinarily well with a cold glass of lemonade”), you’re well on your way to earning a Customer For Life.

It continues with dedicated service

Why did your customer come back? Undoubtedly you’re not the only lemonade stand in the neighborhood. And you might not even be the cheapest. But people are creatures of habit and want to know where they are going to make a purchase with someone who cares about them and what they think.

Learning more about your customer and the key drivers of their business is the single best thing you can do to build success. Not “success” in the traditional sense where you measure the sheer dollar amount of the contracts you bring in and the quotas you make. I’m talking about success as defined by the raw ability to understand why your customer is hiring your company and to translate that into the products and services you deliver for them.

Success might mean not selling to a customer today until their business has matured to the point where they really take advantage of your solution. Success might mean highlighting the single feature in your product that – no matter how they use it – will improve their business so that they talk to other people about you. Success might mean calling a customer up just because and saying “hello, I’m calling because I wanted to know more about how you’re doing and how I can help.”

Success Grows with Your Understanding of The Customer

It’s easy to think you know your customer. They bought something from you, after all. Isn’t that enough? But remember that their business is changing and developing at the same time yours does too.  The solution that worked for them months or years ago might not work as well for them now for the needs they have today. Or perhaps, the reason they bought your product hasn’t changed a bit.

The point is that their business – like yours – is not static. You need to keep on asking the customer what they think, why they continue buying, and what they need to really succeed. The capital S in Success stands for Solves Their Problem. Which problem did they hire you to solve?

Which Job do they want done? Learn more about that and then next time a customer asks you for your answer, you’ll be able to speak simply in the words of a customer just like them.

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Customer Experience, Customer Service, Customer Strategy

How do you define Customer Service?

Photo by Reynermedia - https://www.flickr.com/photos/89228431@N06/11221050956
Photo by Reynermedia – https://www.flickr.com/photos/89228431@N06/11221050956

What is Customer Service? It doesn’t look like this any more.

I often get asked whether I’m in Customer Service, even though my company uses the term “Customer Success” to define our interactions with customers. Customer Success is Not Customer Service, though it often has responsibility for Customer Service. Think of Customer Success as active and customer service as reactive; or think of customer service as a small piece of what goes on in the customer’s experience.

photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/lauradinneen/7365351290

Visualizing the customer’s journey may help: from the point that customer starts thinking they have a problem they might need to solve to the end point of on boarding as a customer, the customer is on a journey to investigate, educate, evaluate, and then decide on a solution that meets their needs.

So what is Customer Service, really? If you think of the raw definition of service you’ll probably think of words like “Help”, “Support”, “FAQs”, and “Answers”. You might have – depending upon how old you are – a mental picture of the ways in which you might get support, ranging from an in-person kiosk to a toll-free phone number to an email or web form queue to an instant response that you get from an SMS query. But key to all of these metaphors or methods for getting support is the idea that you have a finite need that can be served by a person or by a system (if you prefer self-service, which many do) and that at the end of that process you’ll have a pretty good idea of whether you received good service or not.

Except the very idea of how to define excellent small-c customer small-s service is difficult to nail down. Is it the nature of being precise – the ability to zero in on the question you were trying to solve and to make sure you know how to ask the right question? Is the key attribute of service promptness – getting you the information you need as fast as possible and making every interaction as fast as possible? Is a key attribute of service accuracy – ensuring that you get the right answer to the question you asked? Is politeness the most important thing your service should strive to deliver? Or is it there a holistic overall description that combines these attributes so that you “know great service when you see it?”

Clearly we all have our definitions for when we have a great customer service experience — whether as a one time event or as a characteristic of a brand like Apple or Disney or American Express — and living up to that definition withconsistency and lacking in variability even when multiple team members are involved might be the clearest hallmark of great customer service. Clear policy and understandable procedure are at the core of any service team that really knows what they are doing, along with the ability to bypass the system for the right reasons. What are the right reasons? It kind of depends on the customer and the moment.

photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/48424574@N07/5096035675

I believe that great Customer Service (now thinking of a broader definition) is a system of ensuring a great customer experience so that any service interactions are accurate, consistent, empathetic, precise, and friendly.
In this context:

  • Accurate means the organization understands what question or questions you are asking;
  • Consistent means you get a like experience even if you ask the question to different people or through different means of contact;
  • Empathetic means the organization and the people interacting with you effectively mirror your feelings and understand or communicate how you feel in a potentially difficult situation;
  • Precise means that you get an answer that is actionable and confined to the problem you asked, unless the problem you asked requires a broader, wider answer;
  • Friendly means that when asked, you would likely recommend this organization to friends or family members who needed this service.

Note that there are some things missing in this definition. I don’t believe customer service needs to be always available – there are some businesses for which you would make a distinction and say yes, the business absolutely needs to be available (financial services and telecommunications and utilities in general), but for the most part the key item you need to communicate is when a real human is available, how to reach that human, and what other ways you might have to solve your problem during the hours no human is available.

Customer Service is the art of delivering a consistent experience to your customer so that when they ask for help that they feel you have done the best job possible in anticipating their question, understanding how to solve it, responding in a friendly and correct way with the information you need, and generally building an environment where they feel comfortable asking you the questions they need to get answered. And when things don’t go right or feel adversarial, the best Customer Service departments and companies will Do The Right Thing and act with the customer’s best interest in mind.

Except when they can’t. Because sometimes customers do not want to listen, read the policy, or admit that the deal they agreed to is different than the deal that they want right now. And in that moment Customer Service becomes a “just-the-facts-Ma’am” dialog (in the parlance of the 1950s crime drama Dragnet) where the most important aspect of serving the customer becomes sharing the facts, educating the customer on the policy, and managing to do the right thing by being empathetic to the human on the other end of the communication.

You won’t always get it right. In fact, there are some situations where you can’t get Customer Service right. But you can get it right most of the time for most of the people. And the very best organizations do an amazing job at this while helping the customer and the company to do the right thing.

Customer Experience

Infinite scroll must go



A great design for endless browsing

There’s a signature design that I am sure you’ve seen more than once today. It’s a river of information; it’s endless serotonin; it’s sort of pleasing to the eye; and then it never ends.

“Infinite scroll” as a user experience style expects that you will be spending hours in the app or web site. More importantly even if you have (almost) endless time, the UX doesn’t give you many visual clues to know “you’re done … you can start a different mode of browsing now … perhaps even blink a few times.”  

It feels awesome the first time you use Infinite Scroll. And then you start wondering: when will the page ever end? Am I missing something important at the bottom of the page? What was I doing when I started browsing? 

What might work better?



There’s another pattern you should consider using, popularized originally by Twitter. Pull-to-Refresh prompts you to “pull” the screen down to trigger a data refresh and limits the amount of information returned in any one action. “Pull-to-refresh” is a much better design pattern than infinite scroll because it does many of the same things that Infinite Scroll does well:

  • Shows you a lot of content in each “page” of views
  • Gives you access to rich cards of data 
  • Is almost-instant given a good network connection

And Pull-to-refresh as a UI pattern does a few things better, particularly:

  1. It fails gracefully with low network: it shows you that it is trying to pull your request with a visible spinner at the top of the user interface
  2. It lets you rest: no more FOMO (fear of missing out) when you’re not sure that you’ve reached the bottom of the available page
  3. Friendlier to new customers: older consumers in particular may find the concept of an unending river of information disorienting

So what? An interface is an interface.

Design is integral to the choices we make every day. The more work we do to limit cognitive load and decision making, the easier it will be to use information-rich panels in more areas of our lives.

If you disagree, go read this post on choice closure to understand the psychological importance of finishing a unit of work. Done > Perfect, even when it comes to scrolling a page.

Customer Experience, Customer Service

Noreply@ Emails Are Dumb

photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/jordoncooper/14272455652
photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/jordoncooper/14272455652

Imagine if you had a store and on the front door you placed a sign stating, “We’re not open for business.” You wouldn’t expect many people to come to your door, much less people to come back and see you again. Yet that’s exactly what your company does when you place a “noreply@” email address in an email that you send to customers. You’re missing an opportunity to communicate with people who could tell you valuable things about your business.

“Noreply@YourCompany.com” tells me that you don’t really care about customers. That email address tells me that you don’t read your email. And it tells me that replies to that email are going into silent oblivion. Yes, you say – it’s hard to answer all of those pesky emails – I agree. It’s a lot of potential responses. But most people never think to let you know what they are feeling when you put up a virtual Do Not Enter sign.

Here’s another thought. Why not start by having a “PleaseTalkToUs@” email alias tied to your emails that you send? Or “WeLoveToHearFromYou@” or “YourThoughtsMatter@”? It’s just an alias – you can keep the “noreply@” hidden somewhere if there is someone grumpy at your company who just doesn’t want to read email.

But consider the value of having the first time someone hears from your company be a personal touch, like “love@” or “WeLoveCustomers@” and see how the emails change from “Get Me Off Of This List” to “I’d love to tell you something important about your product, and I just need someone to listen.” It all starts with being mindful about the face you show to customers. Start with a smile and see what happens.

Career, Customer Experience

The first goal is to keep learning

photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/heycoach/1197947341
photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/heycoach/1197947341

My first goal as a college senior was to have the kind of job where I would never have to wear a tie. Achievement unlocked. But that didn’t really get to the core of the issue. I was really trying to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. A person who helps customers every day was the answer.  Continue reading

Customer Experience, Customer Service

Whodunnit? A Customer Service Detective Story

(Lego Minifigs of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/minifig/3174009125/)
(Lego Minifigs of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/minifig/3174009125/)

Once upon a time, you had a problem with customer service and you mentioned the problem to your server, the front desk, or the person who interacted with you directly. You may have also called a toll-free number or a front office to tell them about your experience, only to find that no one remembered your call or logged it anywhere. If you solved your problem, you often did it by personal persuasion or by forcing the representative to follow a policy that was written on a wall or documented somewhere.

In the present, when you have a problem with customer service, you likely call the front desk, email the company, or call the toll-free number, and the person on the other end of the line knows that you called, logs it for their supervisor, and is able to do … very little. You might get them to answer your question. You might get them to do what you want, but it’s very hard to convince them what happen, to get something substantive to change, or to publicly acknowledge that they are changing their process to treat customers better.

In the near future (or for some the present), you Tweet at the company or complain in social media to make a point because it forces the company to acknowledge you and to at least say “We Got This.” Many times the individuals manning the social media communications channel can and do more than the people you talk to on the phone. And when you call in the representative knows you contacted the company online and can tell you what you did, what happened, what are the options for you to process, and how they can help you.

Now, imagine a future state where you will call or contact the company, they know that you contacted them, and they make it very clear to you what the steps are in the processwhat’s next, how to get there and when it will happen. If this dialog happened before you even knew there was a problem, you might really consider this “Wow” customer service.

What could we do with today’s tools and services to get closer to that state?

Step 1: The customer starts a conversation with the company and it moves into another channel like email.

There is a gap in today’s customer service process where the customer doesn’t know what was done to solve the problem, the company doesn’t have easy access to the transcript of the customer’s opinions and actions, and there are no clear next steps. Logging and categorizing the inbound contacts is “table stakes” for baseline customer success – there really needs to be a next step to understand the actions of a likely happy or sad or indifferent customer.

In a world where all of the customer’s interactions are treated similarly – as inbound communication – it will be easier for companies to know about the breadth of the customer’s experience across channels. Yet it places more pressure on the company to behave transparently (or at least, consistently) in public and private communications to the customer.

Step 2: there is a gap where the customer doesn’t know what is done to solve the problem.

It would be nice if simply saying “We Got This” was necessary and sufficient to solve the customer’s issue. The reality of many customer problems is that they are complex, nuanced, and not always easy to solve. When they are easy to solve and easy for the customer to know that they are solved, simply communicating the steps to resolve, the result, and the change in process may be enough. But many customer problems need first to be triaged, acknowledged, and dealt with before any root cause analysis is complete.

Step 3: companies cannot always share how they solved the problem in a transparent way to the customer.

There are many good reasons why you cannot always share all of the details of how a problem was solved. The customer only cares whether the problem was solved or not, and how they felt about the whole process. Making the problem solving process as transparent as possible is the best way to make the customer feel better. After a mistake, restore trust for the customer and make it “one in a row” for the customer by telling them exactly what’s going to happen for them and when and make sure it happens.

Step N: Take what you learn and make it better

When customers are upset, they are telling you important things about your business.You learn more from an upset customer than you do from a neutral customer, so take those messages to heart and do something about it. Customer feedback is the best way to solve your customer service mysteries and turn them into solutions.

Customer Development, Customer Experience, Startup

How to Hire an Awesome Community Manager for your Startup

3152173431_4725e83dab_b

photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/evilerin/3152173431

Who will be successful as a community manager?

I love coming across new community managers who say, “I guess I’ve been doing this my whole life.” It’s a light bulb that goes off in them and they’re excited for the rest of their career to get started. -Jenn P.

Many brands are searching right now for a community manager and it’s hard to know what sort of person will be successful in the community role at your company. Job descriptions (and the environment and the customers) vary wildly, so it helps to know what’s involved in the role, what kinds of behaviors mark someone as a good candidate, and how to “know a great community manager when you see them.” Everyone wants a great community manager even though they are not quite sure what that role should be. Because interviewing people for the role of a community manager can be difficult, we decided to ask some of the smartest community types we knew for their opinions.

Why should you pay attention to us and to our opinions?

Both Thomas (@thomasknoll) and Greg (@grmeyer) have been hired in to community roles and hired others into community roles, so we wanted to share two different perspectives fromboth sides of the desk. We’ve thought a lot about this challenge and wanted to get your opinions too.

Here are some of the other people we asked:

This is not an exhaustive list, and any of the folks in this group have great perspectives on building and maintaining communities – you should talk to them to get even more nuanced feedback on these questions.

When is it time to hire someone to focus on community full-time?

The first question we wanted to ask was an obvious one: when it is it time to hire someone to focus on “community” and to do it full time? Many companies and startups by their nature ask a founder or an early employee to do this, and works! (For a while.) At some point the value of the community or the time demands on that employee make it pretty obvious that you either need to ask that person or someone else to run the community show all the time.
Here are some perspectives from the group:

Before you think you need a community manager, you’re going to need to find some awesome people to share your brand with the world. Think about what you want to present if you were able to “talk to the customer” without actually being there. If you have something to say, you need an amazing community advocate.” -Greg M.

Early on, the founding team should be involved in the process of building the community before hiring someone to take primary ownership. And, whenever possible, recruit from the community itself.” -Thomas K.

“Ligaya Tichy would say it should be the 5th hire. I don’t know if there’s a right answer here but all I know is once you have customers, you have an opportunity to start building a community that will improve their experience with your brand and product. You can be learning from your community from day 1 in order to improve your product. If you don’t have a community minded founder on the team already, finding someone to focus on your customers should be a priority.” -David S

What’s your favorite community question or hack?

Sometimes the most obvious and simple answer is the best one – that attitude and technique matter to the community manager.

It sounds completely like a no-brainer given the career path, but enthusiasm is one of the greatest things a person can present when going for a community manager role. -James M

Who do you think our audience is, and what do you think is important to them? (Follow up: Assuming you got the job, how would you go about discovering these answers, and how would they factor into or drive your overall strategy? -Rachael K.

What’s the difference between customer engagment, customer success, support and community management? Which one are you? -T.A. M.

Determine the last time they helped someone independent from work – are they naturally empathetic and action-oriented? -Laura G.

How does a great community manager behave?

When I say ‘Enthusiasm’ – I’m not just talking, walk into the job interview smiling, laughing and using the words ‘I’m really passionate’ an excessive number of times. I’m talking SHOW the interview you’re enthusiastic about the role. An relativity easy task is to take a look at the companies website. From your point of view, does it harbour community as it stands? If not. Print off a screenshot and DRAW all over the damned thing! Don’t just “Tell” the interviewer how you’d help develop their platforms, physically SHOW them. A good CM would look around their competitors and other community eco-systems, pick up on where the company is lacking a little ‘something’ extra, and show the interviewers your plans and YOUR ideas. I did just that and fought off people with tons more experience than myself to land here at Sumo today 🙂 -James M.

Community management is one of those skills that’s difficult to teach. Given the right attitude and checklists, almost anyone who engages socially can be a *good* community manager. Great community managers – like unicorns – are remarkable because they do things that good community managers don’t do in their position. What behaviors do these great community managers demonstrate? The ability to think big, think small, and to make every customer feel like a rock star.

These community managers also know how to deliver negative news in the best way possible.

Here are some more thoughts from the group:
Find people who are already engaging as community managers and talk to them (online or offline). Learn more about what makes them tick. Imagine the person in the role and see if you can imagine trusting them with the responsibility to communicate your vision and mission to the world. Every day.

It helps if they’ve done the job before. If they haven’t done the job before, look for evidence that they know how to write, how to express their ideas, how to speak in front of people without freaking out, and that they have *fun*.

Also, look for a person who exhibits “lazy programmer” characteristics – meaning that they go out of their way to automate a problem that annoys them so that they can spend more time being “lazy” and thinking about the next problem to solve. -Greg M

There is certainly a significant level of strategic knowledge that only comes through experince. But most community building tactics can be taught. What is nearly impossible to teach is empathy and supurb communication skills. So, I make that a primary filter for the process.One of my favorite interview questions is to explain the interest in throwing a party and what the group will be like, and have the candidate talk through the process of determining the best venue, music, food, activities, invites, and how they would manage and host the party during the event itself. There isn’t really a right answer, but the types of questions they ask, and the way that describe their decision process will give a lot of insight into how they would think through gathering the members of your community, making them feel welcome, and “managing” the experience. -Thomas K.

Where do you find your next community manager?

We’ve talked about how to know that you might need a community manager and how to identify them by the behaviors they demonstrate. But where do you find the real people? An obvious answer might be: “engage in a community and you’ll find the community manager.” And it’s a bit more than that. You need to find people who are already doing community work – and they might not be in the tech field – and to engage with the people who best match the style of your brand and your customers.

Look in the most unexpected places. Look for people who don’t know they’ve been a community manager all along. Someone who’s a natural event planner, someone with a personality that people flock to, and someone that’s entrepreneurial and starts groups based on hobbies or interests. -Jenn P.

If you find one good community advocate, you’ll find more. Look for the places where they talk to each other – this could be a local meetup, a conversation on Twitter, or in a piece that they publish online. Finding a great community type is a bit like a unicorn – you might not know where to look immediately, and you know one when you see them (or talk to them) – so it might require a bit of unconventional thinking. Or you might find them in the usual places – engaging with customers. – Greg M.
Even though the number of community professionals continues to grow, there are not many people who have been doing this job for 15 or even 5 years. But, there are a lot of great professions to recruit people from. Teachers, social workers, therapists, event planners, and people from top-tier-service organizations tend to be amazing at transitioning into community management. -Thomas K.

This may be counter-intuitive, and these are definitely generalizations, but there are several roles that tend to be very difficult to transition from. People from support can jump too quickly to solving everyone’s problems, rather than helping the community support each other. People from marketing can treat the conversations and relationships a little too transactionally. Social Media Rock Stars and Social Media Ninjas can have a little too much trouble stepping out of the spotlight, to let the community and its members shine themselves. -Thomas K.
Depends if you need them to create the strategy, or just execute the strategy. You’ll need someone with experience to really put together a thorough strategy. You can either hire them full time or bring them in as a consultant to put the pieces in place. The day to day execution can be done by someone entry level. A great first place to look for this is in your own community. Who has naturally established themselves as a leader? Hire them. -David S.

What questions should you ask to evaluate a Community Manager?

Community management positions are hard to hire. Behavioral questions that help the CM to tell a story are a great place to start. When you ask the candidate to convince you as if you are a member of their community, you’re seeing them do similar things as they would when actually in the job. So be skeptical – to a point – and let them charm you. The best ones will.
Some great questions to consider asking:
  1. What’s the best customer experience you’ve ever facilitated?
  2. What’s the best customer experience you’ve ever see someone else deliver?
  3. Tell me about a time when everything went wrong and you fixed it anyway.
  4. Tell me about a time when everything went wrong and you couldn’t fix it.
  5. What do you like to read or do when you’re not talking to customers?h
  6. What are some of the best communities you participated in?
  7. Which artist do you think has the best community?
  8. How would you plan a party for 60 of our cusotmers who have ________? (see above)
  9. Ugh, users are so dumb… am I right?!

How is community management different in a B2B or B2C world?

When you’re looking for a great community manager, you’ll want to make sure that the person has experience driving a community that uses a similar business model as the one you’re engaging in. Many community managers can handle both the “business to business” mindset and the “business to consumer” mindset, and some have a preference for one model over another. The basics of community management are the same in both worlds, and the implementation can be different by night and day.
b2b = businesses who want you to be able to hit their problems with an “Easy Stick”. They want you to give them solutions they can use over and over again and implement with little effort. They may place less importance on building an emotional relationship and more emphasis on building a pragmatic, business driven solution.
b2c = wants you to save the day. The customer would also like you to make the process as easy as possible and is not crazy typically about doing work to get you there – though many customers will help. The b2c customer would love to trumpet you to the skies when you deliver a WOW experience to them. -Greg M.
at their core all communities are exactly the same. Yes, they are going to play out differently for b2b vs b2c. Yes, you’ll likely have different goals and KPIs and metrics for b2b vs b2c. Yes, you’ll likely want to adopt different strategies for b2b vs b2c. But, ultimately all businesses are h2h: human to human. And the characteristics of community are the same: shared purpose, sense of belonging, an appreciation for dialog and the pursuit of shared truth. -Thomas K.

What now?

Now that you’ve learned a little more about our perspective, you should go ask the people on this list for the best community types that they know. You should engage online with the communities most similar to yours. And you should pay attention to the people who respond to you online – they just might be your next community manager.