Who took a chance on you?

What does it take to succeed?

this post was inspired by Bijan Sabet’s Who Took a Chance on You? and is a contribution to Startup Edition.

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/sovietuk/
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/sovietuk/

If you’re reading this post, it’s likely someone took a chance on you. If you got a “lucky break” somewhere along the way, someone took a chance on you. And if good things tend to happen when you’re around, I’ll bet they often started when someone took a chance on you. You have to be good, and lucky – this part is about the lucky. Continue reading “Who took a chance on you?”

Email, the Operating System for Life

photo by Stuck in Customs
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuckincustoms/

Why you should bring your interactions to the place where people already spend their time.

Email is the #1 Destination

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/maile/1773318/

Ryan Hoover published a great article the other day on the trend of using email as an interface to do other things. You probably already use it in this way by sending commands to other systems: “forward this email to my expense site”, “watch my email for interesting stuff,” and “make a to-do list out of my emails.” In my experience, managing tasks through email (though hopefully not using your inbox) increases productivity and makes you generally better at getting stuff done. And there’s a bit more that we ought to be doing.

The “stuff we ought to be doing” varies, and usually relates to long-running recurrent tasks (remember someone’s birthday, maintain a daily or weekly status), project-based tasks with a deadline (I need to get some stuff done before next Wednesday), and one-time actions (“Can you find this for me, right now?”) Email is really lousy at these things, which is why we use other applications for help.

We need a better way to surface applications and services in email without breaking the way people handle email today.

Remember. All. the. Logins.

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/zeusbox/6835486944/

Awesome! You remembered all of your passwords (or have a great SaaS app to handle that.)

There are so many great applications that are out there (many are even free) that can get stuff done. Now, which ones should we hire to do the job? And what job are we actually doing? Just managing the logins can be a chore, and getting beyond that to switch contexts every time you want to start something new can waste a lot more of your time.

Getting started isn’t easy.

One of the great challenges of Software as a Service products is that there is a login to remember, a site to visit, and tasks to do in that other system that will help you to better manage the minute details of the things you do. You might use Sprintly for Agile Dev, Desk.com for Customer Service Interactions, Expensify for Expenses, and so on. Yet all of these products depend upon you start an action in email and then resume it in another system.

So which app was I using to do that?

When you make constant decisions that force you to have another login, another app to pay attention to when you’re on the go, and yet another slew of notifications, you dilute your ability to make quick decisions. It’s a mental burden to understand which things really need attention and which notifications arrive as a result of long-forgotten decisions that are no longer important.

Ok, Now What?

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/photojonny/2268845904

When you build an application – and need customers to participate – it’s your job to find the place and interface where they will get the most value out of your idea. I believe you should not only make your service responsive but also your service design responsive.

Towards a Responsive Service Design

Making a basic responsive design is pretty straightforward – making an insanely great one is really hard. I think the same is true when you invent a responsive service design. Making your service design responsive anticipates that customers will use different modalities and interfaces to access your idea, and that some customers will never cross into another way to use your idea. App customers may not behave the same as email customers, and vice-verse. But there are a ton of people using email, so how can you add value to their experience without being overwhelming?

Service Design as a concept implies that there are activities that customers take to get tasks done. Completing the tasks may require external actions and may depend on other tasks or actors. Finally, the activity you are designing may happen in multiple places.

Email to the Rescue: The Lowest Common Denominator

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/somewhatfrank/2657896516

Because people spend lots of time in email and there are already many ways to access it, email is a great candidate to act as an operating system where customers might do these service tasks as part of an overall service design.

There are three basic ways you can push email towards being an operating system of sorts:

  1. Create a browser extension – force your way into the experience, either passively (Klout in adding scores to your Twitter pages) or actively (Rapportive, adding persistent information to the existing real estate)
  2. Invisibly solve a problem – have a background service that listens to email and makes decisions or surfaces information based on your preferences (Sanebox, for example, which automatically files your messages)
  3. Take explicit email commands – “add note”, “send tweet”, etc and make them easier to use for “normal” people and abstract them to other media

Time to fight the blank page

All of these methods have advantages and challenges – let’s take a look.

Make a Plug-In

You could make a browser extension that will either take over the real estate or silently monitor or insert information in the places you’ll most likely interact with other services. Plug-ins are awesome for absolute control and transfer very poorly to other interfaces.

As an example, I love Rapportive because it does a great job of using the mostly empty screen real estate I used to see in Gmail and fills it with valuable information about the person who is contacting me. It even shows me the latest view that other people using the same service have of me. Rapportive is a great experience because it exposes some methods to other application services I use (send invitation, start tweet, read Facebook post) without cluttering my view. Some drawbacks of this method are that I don’t have any more mental space for more plug-ins. I’m sure that was one of the reasons LinkedIn purchased this scrappy team.

Create an Invisible Service That Does Your Work

Another way of approaching this problem is to work behind the scenes and make the changes necessary to increase productivity or other goals. This method is cool because it’s client-independent. And it still requires developers to create different interfaces in different client. (There’s less to customize, though.)

Sanebox just works – it filters the email I receive into Gmail labels and then gives me a single digest a day to take actions. From my daily email digest I can delete unwanted messages, set reminders, and see how I’m doing relative to prior days or weeks. When I want to ignore Sanebox, it’s still doing work for me and allows me to close email for long periods of time and then solve for a burst of emails all at once. I don’t have to worry about filing any more – I just search.

Another version of this implementation is the inverse of a service that is implemented everywhere – Mailbox lives only in an iPhone app and allows you to connect to many email clients and apply the same simple management effort to each one. Mailbox takes the best metaphors from the mobile interface and applies them to email: swipe to promote an email to a task or to archive or delete it.

Make external tasks possible in Email

The traditional, geeky way to make external tasks possible in email is to require the customer to send an explicit email command in a subject line or in an interaction body so that the server on the other end of the “conversation” knows exactly what task to execute. In practice, this works well for “send my stuff to you and have you process it” and is harder to execute for “do only the thing I want you to do and not that other thing based on the thing I type.” Normal people – that is, people who don’t talk to computers all day – have a hard time doing this.

Yet the potential exists – many of us use Siri, Google Voice Commands, or interfaces like Google Glass to create a graph search-like call and response with our services. So let’s do that with email – and that’s where Google is going.

courtesy of http://googleappsdeveloper.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/introducing-actions-in-inbox-powered-by.html

Google’s version of this is borrowed from another company, however. Their previous versions of “do stuff in your email” were possible only for geeks to do. You needed to install a “Labs Feature,” or use keyboard shortcuts, or do other things late adopters don’t tend to do. And what’s the solution? Apps that magically show you what to do and offer fewer choices and fewer configuration steps.

We should thank Facebook and Apple for priming customers to act this way – the app economy makes customers expect one-click actions to solve their problems. So now it will be possible for publishers like Google to create structured, in-context actions for customers to complete and interact with other systems. Some will call this backsliding and the new “Death of Email.” I call this the birth of “Email, the Operating System for Life.”


originally published at Medium.

A Modest Proposal to Measure the Voice of the Customer

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/miuenski/
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/miuenski/

When talking to people about customer service, I often hear them discuss the idea of the “Voice of the Customer.” Ideally, this might mean “knowing exactly what this customer wants and needs and can tell us about their service experience.” Because you can either know the exact wants and needs of a single customer or the aggregated wants and needs of a group or cohort, the idea of the Voice of the Customer is a bit fluffy without specific measurements that you and your organization agree are good metrics to show a happy (or dreadful) customer experience. Many people in the industry agree that the Net Promoter Score is a good customer satisfaction metric (percentage of people who would promote your brand minus the percentage of people who would not recommend your brand) and I believe that the Net Promoter Score doesn’t measure the real service delivery that influences these promoters or detractors.

How do you measure Service Delivery?

If you’ve read How to Measure Anything by Douglas Hubbard, you’ll also know that simply saying “Service Delivery Experience or The Voice of the Customer cannot be measured beyond ‘verbatims'” is downright silly. Hubbard states that to measure intangibles in an organization, you have to name the business drivers that matter to the company and attach some relationship to that business driver for the quantity or quality you are measuring. Will you have great measurements? Probably not at first. But you will be measuring something.

A Modest Proposal

I have a modest proposal for measuring and sharing the “Voice of the Customer” in the real Customer Experience of an organization by looking at three metrics. The first of these metrics should quantify how fast a case moves from stage to stage in the customer lifecycle, and how many times it must repeat this cycle. The second metric is the number of positive and negative custom comments accumulated in a stage per case. And the third idea involves empowerment and ownership – the organization should measure the percentage of cases that the original case owner resolves (along with the average number of transfers per case and per agent.)

Hubbard might think these are just starting points for measurement, and I agree that I don’t have 90% confidence in what the ranges are for these values. I do know that to carry out this plan, I’ll start by making my best guess at a 90% confidence interval for each of these metrics, show some tactics to improve (or measure) the items, and then track the changes over time to see if the overall customer experience is improving. How will I know whether the experience is improving? My hypothesis is that a good customer experience overall – across multiple touch points, devices, and methods of communication – will improve overall business drivers. If I can do a better job of tracking the customer experience inputs I will be better able to create a customer experience funnel that ends with a great review, a buying experience, or a positive comment that’s not related to a product.

Using the Delivery Experience as a Measure of Customer Happiness

The first item in this list is to name the stages of the customer lifecycle and show (by cohort if possible) how long it takes for the customer to move from one stage to the next. You might start with a simple list like “searching,” “ready to buy,” “purchased,” “implemented,” “post-installation” and see if there are easy ways to find this data. You can usually find information like this from your sales team – it’s a clever hack to use it for customer service as well and see if the experience can aid or hinder a customer’s movement from stage to stage.

Do you know all the stages in the customer lifecycle? Probably not. And you know them better than anyone who comes from outside your company and doesn’t deal with the same issues you do and handle your customers. So your guess is better than most.

Takeaway: name the stages of the customer lifecycle (or borrow them from sales) and apply them to the customer cases you handle.

How many people contact this hypothetical customer in your company? If it’s more than one contact from Sales and one contact from Customer Service, you might have a problem. It’s true – there are lots of contact centers and small teams that happily disperse customer contacts to an account team or to whomever picks up the phone or answers the email – and as a customer, you know how that feels. It’s really frustrating when you find someone who understands your problem and then not be able to contact that resource directly the next time you need help. Why not follow the lead of CDW, who has a large organization yet lets you know the direct dial number of your contact team. With phone routing, this is not a hard problem – the bigger problem involves the scripting and handling of the situation when that agent is not available. So maybe there’s a compromise.

Takeaway: have a goal that one Agent owns the customer’s case throughout the lifetime of that case.

So if you try this modest proposal and find some customer lifecycle stages and help the customer by limiting their contacts to a person or an account team, how do you tell the rest of your company about what you learned? You’ll need to create a report that’s shared widely within the company at an interval that makes sense to you. Weekly is a great cadence to hit if you can manage it, and if you can automate at least some of the data collection from customers at different stages of the lifecycle their comments will make even more sense. A new customer who can’t finish a basic task in your software is a different kind of risk than a long-term customer who can’t do the same basic task. They both might need hand-holding but you might use different resources to help them.

Share your insights in Bite-Sized Pieces

When you share this information with the rest of the company, you’ll need to keep your message executive style. Other people want to know how the customer experience is improving, holding steady, or getting worse. They also may want to know about specific interesting comments people make and whether these eye openers lead to bugs that your development team can fix. And once you hear about a bug more than a few times, well then you have a stack-ranked priority.

Takeaway: share what you learn, and please, keep it to a single-page presentation.

The “voice of the customer” is really more than just a single statistic – it’s a holistic process to bring customer input into your company, quantify it, and to take this measured data as an input into the way you do business. By better understanding your customers and where they are in the process.

You can find 47 other ways to improve the customer experience here.

Don’t let good customers make bad decisions

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/lori_greig/
Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/lori_greig/

Quick: how many clicks does it take to do something important in your product? Count them. If it seems like too many, it probably is too many clicks if you want the customer to keep coming back. The “too many clicks” problem is a symptom of a bigger problem that you probably have if your product is anything but a version 1.0. The problem? It just takes too many decisions to do anything. And you have a limited amount of good decisions in your day.

“Good decision making is not a trait of the person, in the sense that it’s always there,” Baumeister says. “It’s a state that fluctuates.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazine/do-you-suffer-from-decision-fatigue.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)

When Good People Make Bad Decisions

When you don’t make good decisions, the results are disastrous – both in terms of tactics (do I want to do something in this web site and how do it do it) and strategy (I can make short-term decisions that fall counter to a longer term strategy when I’m frustrated.) Assuming that your site, product, or app only gets some of your customer’s time, you should make the customer’s decision count as much as possible. Otherwise, your customer suffers “decision fatigue.”

What is decision fatigue?

Decision fatigue is literally the physical and mental fatigue that results from expending the energy to make decisions. The more decisions you need to make to solve a problem, the more fatigue. Some people have better decision muscles – they spend their days training themselves to make decisions – and others do not. You should build your product with the most critical decisions in mind that you want the customer to make. And please don’t ask the customer to choose more often than necessary – when you ask for their attention, it should be a meaningful decision that also produces meaningful feedback.

“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it”
Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

What can you do about decision fatigue?

There are good ways to cut the number of clicks required for a customer to do something meaningful. You can count the clicks required to do the 20% of actions that happen 80% of the time. (You might call these actions when done well “the Happy Path.”) Now remove one or more of the clicks in these frequently used scenarios, and you just helped many of your customers to complete an important task in your application with fewer decisions.

Swiss Army Knife, or Razor-sharp cutting implement?

As part of your effort to limit decisions, you should have fewer ways for customers to do things. While a multi-tool approach can cover more edge cases, sometimes a tool that does only one thing extremely well is the best choice. Too many products can do “everything,” and typically don’t do one thing well.

How do you do improve the ability for customers to do things? Start by asking more closed questions, e.g. “do you want me to remind you every day or week and at what time?” is a better question than “what’s the best way to remind you?” Then, remove the jargon from whatever’s written there.

Add Learning “Scaffolding”

How do you explain these options? Add “scaffolding” by making learning content that helps the average customer get from “sorta ok” to mostly good. Smart customers who get it will get even more out of this content. You can find these learning themes by identifying the top 10 highest rated and lowest rated knowledge base articles that your customers use and rewriting them.

You can find 47 other ways to improve the customer experience here.

Be More Awesome By Following Up

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/deeveeland/
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/deeveeland/

The single most important thing you can do to increase customer value is to follow up on the things you said you would you do the last time you talked to the customer. In the eyes of the customer, it’s the only thing that matters. As Woody Allen famously said, “80% of life is showing up.” You can show up for the customer by solving their problem on the first try, and if you can’t do that, let them know when they’ll hear from you again … and make sure to follow-up. You can Be More Awesome by delivering amazing service when you follow up and making sure that the customer knows exactly what happened.

A familiar scenario

Imagine you’re handling the first email of the day. You’re finishing your coffee and you get an urgent call on your cell phone from one of your most important customers. She says, “how can I learn more about what your team is doing to help me solve the problem I brought up with you last week?” If you have a great feedback system in place, it takes you 15-30 seconds to find the status, thank her for calling, give her a status update, set a time for the next contact, and take some quick notes to find out information for her so that you can contact her even before that appointment to confirm that you’ve handled the issue. Even if you don’t know how to solve the problem, you’ve built the foundation for a great experience.

How to Make an Awesome Follow Up

And what are the basics of this experience? The first step to follow up is to offer the follow up – this may seem like a minor detail, but if you don’t have a system to make sure this happens, you can use some of the basic systems you have all the time (like using the reminder feature on your phone) – and to set a time and deliverable when you do contact the customer again. This could be in the form of a call or an email, and it’s important to ask the customer how and when they’d like to hear from you. A great follow up sets the stage for a great result.

Adding Extra Value

When you follow up (and before), it is a great time to commit a random act of kindness for the customer. If they asked you to solve a specific problem, solve that one and offer some other thing that might be able to help them. If they asked you to contact them on a specific date, let them know even before that date how things are going. If you deliver Customer Wow – an above and beyond experience – you will amaze the customer with the extra effort and care you invested to make their experience a great one. Completing a random act of kindness also lets your staff be creative and to do more of what they love to help customers.

And what really makes a great experience in a follow up? When the people who make direct contact to the customer, the process that ensures that they make this connection, and the tools that enable them to follow this process and make the customer experience great are part of the follow up and any other action you take on behalf of the customer. Don’t just show up. Be More Awesome. You can find 47 other ways to improve the customer experience here.

(this post originally ran on Wordofmouth.org)

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