Customer Experience, Customer Service, Innovation, Learning, Life Hacks

Catch someone doing something right

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In my experience, successful organizations do a few things right when it comes to people. Not only do they do a great job attracting, discovering, and retaining people, they do a great job at “catching people doing something right.” What does that mean, exactly? Finding and celebrating individual effort is something more than rewarding someone for pulling an all-nighter when you needed them. It means more than naming someone the employee of the month and giving them a preferred parking spot. And it means more than just naming all of the people on a successful project team. But what else should you be doing? Continue reading

Life Hacks, Marketing Strategy, Startup

You need a better content calendar

We have a content publishing problem

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Hey you there.  The one with the combination of WordPress, Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Twitter, Buffer, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Slideshare, Excel, Word, and a Google Docs mishmash of information ending in Google Analytics, Mixpanel, Apptentive and others. You and I have the same problem. We want to be better at what we love – publishing valuable content for audiences that appreciate it – and we want to measure it. We also want to know which content published by which person at which time was effective. And we need to do this without the compendium of technical knowledge and project management skill that it takes today to get this done.

Consider this exchange and you’ll get the idea of why this is difficult.

a conversation among community manager types on Facebook
a conversation among community manager types on Facebook

There has to be a better way

You need a better content calendar (and so do I.) You’d like to have the ability to make a campaign, syndicate information to multiple channels and to track analytics in the same place. You need to schedule this content for days or weeks or months in advance. You’ll need to do this for multiple authors and also have a big red STOP button to make this information cease when bad things happen in the world.

I send apologies in advance to those people think that content calendars and scheduled publishing is bad. I think that it’s better to publish live than schedule, and I also feel that it’s better to set ideas in advance and follow through on those ideas when you are trying to drive sustained, measurable success. So perhaps these two goals are at odds, and perhaps not. In the meanwhile, we all need a better content calendar than just dumping everything in a Google Spreadsheet.

There are good signs – when I asked this question on Twitter – I heard from Meshfire, Relaborate and Brightpod. I also asked a group of about 5400 community manager types and got some great answers. And I also got the feeling that there are few people out there who are managing the publishing of multiple content authors in multiple channels in multiple campaigns having a simple workflow for approval with the precision and information that they are using to manage their email marketing campaigns.

What does this mean overall? Two words: Market Opportunity. Someone needs to build a content calendar and management service for normal people that is as easy as managing your blog posts in WordPress. That service needs to handle scheduling, analytics, and content funnel management for multiple people and campaigns across multiple channels. If this service already exists, I’d love to know about it so that I can use it.

Customer Experience, Customer Experience Report, Lean, Startup

A Modest Proposal to Measure the Voice of the Customer

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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.

Agile, Customer Service, Customer Strategy, Innovation, Productivity, Startup

The “Thank You” Effect: Improving Service 1 Step at a Time

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I’ve written here before about the effect that one person’s thank you had on me (thank you, Brad Feld!) I believe that “The Thank You Effect” is an example of a small action that prompts meaningful next steps to measurably improve service in any company. In my experience, there are a number of these small actions that when evangelized through a support team or through the larger company can really make a difference on the customer experience.

So I made a list of 50 small things that you can do to improve customer service measurably in your company. I’m not a purist, so some of these things might be “bigger than a bread box” – or need to be broken down into component steps – and aren’t quite ready to be measured on their own. And I do believe that adding only some of these steps will really improve the service culture at your company.

50 Small Things to Improve Customer Service

  1. When in doubt, be nice.
  2. Say “Thank you” in your response.
  3. Suggest a solution to the problem at hand in addition to asking for more information.
  4. Offer to provide additional assistance – email or call back.
  5. Commit random acts of kindness and deliver Customer Wow (Be More Awesome.)
  6. Follow up after an issue has been resolved and let the customer know you haven’t forgotten them.
  7. Come up with a list of the top 10 “cringe items” to fix.
  8. Drop everything and fix them.
  9. Implement standard responses for the 20% of cases you encounter 80% of the time.
  10. Reduce the number of clicks it takes to do something important in your app.
  11. Place more “closed question” choices inside your application and reduce decision fatigue.
  12. Identify the top 10 highest rated and lowest rated knowledge base articles that your customers use, and rewrite them on a content calendar.
  13. Review searches that result in zero results in your knowledge base.
  14. Define what it means to “love the product”: how does your service tangibly change a customer’s life and what problems does it solve?
  15. Define the lifecycle of a customer case – what are the stages, and how does a case move from stage to stage?
  16. Make sure that one person owns the customer’s case throughout the lifetime of that case.
  17. Create a report (shared widely within the company at an interval that makes sense to you, probably weekly) with positive and negative customer comments.
  18. Catch people in your organization doing something right.
  19. Identify cases that drive new knowledge content, revision in existing knowledge content, or removal of knowledge content.
  20. Put an expiration date on knowledge content (good, review, remove.)
  21. Define customer segments and decide whether they deserve extra attention – then make that part of your service process.
  22. Create a clear escalation path and understand how many cases are in a state of escalation.
  23. Define customers that have custom solutions and make sure it’s easy to find why they’re custom.
  24. Create a simple data driven measurement to determine whether a customer is likely to churn.
  25. Maintain relationships with top customers and talk to them on a schedule – they should probably hear from you at least once a month.
  26. Define simple goals that everyone can measure and do to improve service, even if it’s outside of their “job description”, e.g. “answer 5 customer emails/day”
  27. Try whatever you’re doing from the customer’s point of view; then observe the customer doing it with your mouth shut and your ears open.
  28. Be able to deliver a 2 minute demo of the key differentiators and benefits of your product.
  29. Respond as fast as you can, and if you don’t know the answer, say so. If you can’t solve the problem and will let the customer know when it’s going to be solved, do so. And if it’s unlikely that you’ll ever solve the problem, say so.
  30. Send physical thank you notes by “snail mail” to your customers.
  31. Eat your own dog food, drink your own champagne, and use your own product every day.
  32. Provide off-hours support by email, pager, or smoke signal. (Probably not by smoke signal.)
  33. Have lots of ways to be contacted (whichever way the customer prefers) and funnel all of those inbound contacts into one place.
  34. Get more sleep and make it easy for your team to eat breakfast.
  35. Ask your customers what gifts you should buy for a friend – you’ll learn more about what they like.
  36. Stack rank your projects internally and limit the amount of active projects to force decisions.
  37. Have a Big Hairy Audacious Goal as your North Star.
  38. Build Bench Strength of Amazing People with Different Strengths.
  39. Share some interesting content with customers every day.
  40. Ask customers, employees, and partners: “how can we do better”?
  41. Ask daily or weekly: “what’s one thing that we should change?”
  42. Ask daily or weekly: “what’s one thing we should stop doing?”
  43. Ask daily or weekly: “what’s one thing we should start doing?”
  44. Find other people who care about customers and talk to them.
  45. When in doubt, beg forgiveness rather than ask permission and just do the right thing.
  46. Go home and hug your dog, your kids, and/or your significant other more often.
  47. Take more walks during the day.
  48. Spend more time being passionate about the causes and things you love.
  49. When you find a new rule that helps the customer, write it down and share it.
  50. #Go for it.

I’m going to use this as an anchor post for other items I write about the Thank You Effect, and I’d love to hear any ideas you have about measuring and improving the customer experience (in a service business or otherwise.)

Agile Marketing, Customer Development, Customer Strategy, Innovation

Customer Experience is Not Rocket Surgery

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Let’s get this straight. Rocket Surgery doesn’t exist. It’s a made-up term combining two things people think are hard: rocket science and brain surgery. It sounds so hard that no one would even believe that a Venn Diagram of these things could even exist (or maybe it would just be strange, like that feeling you get when you see someone on the street these days riding a Segway.) But Customer Experience does exist.

And one of the great problems with Customer Experience (capital C, capital E) these days is that there is a “Right Way” to do it. (And a wrong way.) Please don’t mistake this rant as a screed against those who try to learn what customers want to do and to help them achieve it. I just want to point out that when we (the Royal We) have the feeling that “Customers Don’t Get It” and that “They are doing it wrong” and that “They don’t know what they’re talking about” we’ve really missed the point. Because customers are the reason that we are here.

So here are a few modest ideas to make your Customer Experience feel less like Rocket Surgery (or whatever acronym you might have in your environment that sounds sort of like that made-up term):

  1. Get Out of the Building – this is a classic, shared by Eric Ries, Steve Blank, and a host of others as a cardinal rule of understanding your customers. Go talk to them – in their environment – and ask them what they’d like to do that they can’t do. And instead of telling them what they should do: just listen.
  2. Create Random Acts of WOW – The next time a customer makes a reasonable suggestion, just ship it. Don’t worry about the impact to the schedule, the placement on the roadmap, or anything else like that. Just trust that if one customer made the suggestion, there are 10 more (or 100) that you haven’t talked to yet who feel the same way. And it doesn’t matter to them if it’s done perfectly.
  3. Make a list of “cringe-worthy” experiences – like the “broken window” theory of policing championed by former NYPD police chief WIlliam Bratton, the basic idea of capturing and eradicating bad experiences one at a time starts with finding and cataloging those experiences and asking yourself if you would put up with them as a customer in your own product. You may not have the equivalent of an annoying Squeegee guy asking you for a buck, but you know what I mean. Find and remove more of those cringe-worthy experiences, and your product will be better.

So delivering customer experience is not hard. It’s not brain surgery, rocket science, or rocket surgery. But it is harder than just hoping that problems get solved. It involves identifying small things that your customers care about, identifying ways to move beyond those problems, and the ability and will to deliver them unexpectedly that turns a mediocre experience into a potentially great one.

Agile, Customer Development, Innovation, Product Thoughts

Keep the Marketing Simple, Stupid

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This is the 10th in a series of posts on Agile Marketing – the working definition of which is to “Create, communicate and deliver unique value to an always-changing consumer (or business) in an always-changing market with an always-changing product.” (see the original post here.) If you survey a group of people about the most obvious and beneficial traits of Agile, one of the primary answers you’d hear is: “simplicity.” Why build a complicated mousetrap when a simple one will get you most of the way there?

During the Agile process – and especially if you are using marketing sprints to get work done – it’s easy to bite off more than you can chew. An idea can blossom into lots and lots of work when you consider the different channels, customers, and approaches you could take. If you aim for an “up-and-stumbling” model in your marketing, you’ll make mistakes and you’ll get your ideas out in the marketplace faster. It helps to keep the overall idea simple.

A simple idea is not necessarily the answer (that is, your good idea might also be complex) but to be successful at the user level it needs to appear simple, intuitive and obvious. Consider this example: a CEO needs to learn how to send a form from a web site to result in an email to her inbox. She has never done this before, and she’s tech-savvy but not a programmer.

What is she more likely to do: spin up a trial account at Wufoo and make a form in 15 minutes using their sample application, or use a marketing automation system to  define an activation funnel, create triggers to action, and expose a form that needs to be deployed on a web site or integrated with an existing ecommerce system? Yep, she set up the account at Wufoo, because in a few minutes she was able to get most of the utility she was seeking from a simple solution. She (and her company) may outgrow this hack quickly and in the meanwhile, Wufoo has the opportunity to sell more complex ideas to her in the guise of her “simple” solution.

What can you learn from your simple idea? You can learn the answers to many questions: where does the customer spend her time? Is she successful in completing an activity that we think she should be able to complete? Does she want to complete it? When she asks for help upon hitting a road block, how does she phrase the question(s)? By analyzing these questions you can meet the customer where they’re at, not just deliver the results of your latest development or marketing sprint and hope that they don’t “use it wrong.”

Keeping the marketing simple is not always easy in an Agile environment. Product features are delivered fast and furiously and if you’re a new customer you probably don’t know why you need the latest and greatest. Like the CEO who has 15 minutes to solve a problem, you simply want to connect point a to point b in the simplest way possible. So your marketing should be calibrated for the feature-benefit combination that makes it easy for  a busy CEO to understand: what do you do, why do you want to do it, what do you get, and how do you know when you get there? Keep it simple, and you’ll have an easier time explaining why they should try your product (even if the idea under the simple question is quite complex.)

Agile, Innovation, Marketing Strategy, Productivity

Agile Marketing #9 – It’s your job to make yourself better

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This is the 9th in a series of posts on Agile Marketing – the working definition of which is to “Create, communicate and deliver unique value to an always-changing consumer (or business) in an always-changing market with an always-changing product.” (see the original post here.) Another tenet of your Agile Marketing strategy should be you – how are you making yourself or your team better, so that you are changing along with the conditions and market around you?

Principle 9: It’s your Job – be good at it.

The best measurement or yardstick of your success is going to be your own assessment of progress against your own goals (so, you should have some goals.) These might not be the traditional goals of money, promotion, things, or success – they might be moments in time that you can identify that will consistently make you happier – and the rest of the world might not know when you achieve them. Living well is your job, so get better at it.

Here are a few ways to measure how you are making yourself better:

  • Identify individual moments of excellence that you can prototype today, solidify tomorrow, and cement through practice and process.
  • If external validation is important to you, observe what sorts of behaviors get external validation, and practice those behaviors
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself – failure is a sign that you are calibrating your goals high enough so that you don’t meet them constantly

Everyone’s had that “a-ha” moment – you might experience it in the doing, when you experience a state of flow or a runner’s high – or realize it afterwards, when you solve a problem that’s important to you. These individual moments of excellence might be big (running a marathon, completing a big deal, or understanding a difficult concept) or small (realization that you can take the afternoon off, eating pie for breakfast, or instantly nailing a problem on the first try.) If you catch yourself doing something right, make sure to recognize that event as a prototype, and think of ways that you can repeat it and solidify that feeling or action.

Give yourself bonus points if you can determine a way to practice that feeling and develop a process around it. Your practice and process might only enable you to set up a condition where the success might occur again (think going to the batting cage to practice your swing so that the next time you see a curve ball in a game you’ll really be able to pull it down the line) or might be the exact copy of your success (remembering to stretch each morning so that your muscles don’t get sore.)

The things that make you better might not be the things the rest of the world cares about or for which it offers external validation. So if it’s important to be recognized by the outside world (where you measure that in money, fame, awareness, or generalized success) go watch successful people and see how they behave (or how they portray their behaviors in the media. There are many ways to learn about successful people online and to examine the things that they write and the way that they interact with their public through social media. Just like professional ballplayers don’t hit a curve ball overnight, many successful people that you meet are the product of years or decades of learned or intended behavior. So the tiny habits they start today are likely to be the trends tomorrow (or months or years from now.)

And, don’t be too hard on yourself. Failing is a sign that you are setting your goals high enough so that the success can be meaningful and not just the result of showing up. Yet, paradoxically, the just showing up is a necessary and not sufficient component for success. It’s your responsibility to make yourself and your team better, and you should be working at that every day.