Monday, March 19, 2012

Encyclopedia Britannica - A Lesson for Customer Support and Learning?

For those of you who might have missed it, the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica has gone out of print after 244 years! Many look at it as the casualty of a showdown between Wikipedia and itself, and yes at one level this is reasonable. However, I think it might more generally be seen as a continual replacement of print publishing by the internet. Indeed, if you can indulge me for going all big picture for a moment, it is indicative of changes to how information and knowledge is both created and consumed.

Every time I get involved in my kids' projects, it never ceases to amaze me how Google has effectively replaced everything from encyclopedias to atlases, from logbooks to calculators for my kids. Other than nostalgia, there is no reason to refer to some dead-tree version of information, when you can get more or less up to the second information on virtually any topic, multi-sourced and validated online.

Working for a product company, the same principles apply. Why would a user refer to a manual, or even a company controlled help, be it on the DVD or a website, when they can dynamically interact with other professionals, compare notes and actually get specific coaching on their specific problem. Indeed it shows a remarkable conceit to assume a user of a company's products would even start on their website versus say Google when seeking help. [Great Infographic on online behaviors] The number of ways tools and products can be used are virtually infinite, there is no way a static, single authority source (i.e. product creator) could ever deliver anything other than part of of the support and learning required to go with their products.

Of course, product companies still have an extremely important role, maybe even more important than before, as the role has expanded to not only providing some base level support and learning, mostly common to all users, but also to curate material generated by experts and/or direct customers to their peers and always steer customers to the best of all this. As product creators we are in effect accountable for what turns up in a google-search, and need to make sure a good answer is always found, whether we answer it ourselves, or increasingly, somebody else does. This is true of virtually any product, from software to cars, from coffee makers to printers. Indeed if we do not have information available and ready online, somebody else almost certainly will.

Just as Encylopedia Britannica has learned, and so we must also recognize in how our customers learn and use our products, that learning and knowledge is not:
  • Static - Customers expect information to be current, with new standards adopted and supported.
  • Single-source, Single Truth - Customers will seek more than one source of information for important decisions, quite simply, because they can
  • Single-Format - Customers no longer compromise on receiving information through available media, but seek it on their preferred media, be it text or video
  • Exclusive - Just look at Car maintenance manuals, they retail at $200-300, now they are almost always available for free online
  • Standalone - Whether we like it or not, our products are compared side by side with our competitors

The information revolution is changing how customer support and learning must be delivered, and as always, the customer is in the driving seat.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Don't Call Us, We'll Call You!

Have you ever used's phone support? Chances are that you haven't, since there is seldom a reason to contact support at all (which isn't accidental). If you do, well, maybe not surprisingly from a company that clearly places Customer Experience foremost in it's design considerations, it is likely to be one of the best phone support experiences you've ever had.

You can call the traditional 1-800 number, if that takes your fancy, but (and it's always about choice) you can alternatively choose to enter a brief description of the issue, the item that has the problem and your own call back number and have Amazon Support contact you instead. The call back was literally instantaneous, I was immediately connected with a person who knew:
  • Who I was
  • Why I was calling (or rather not calling)
  • What specific item I needed support with
  • How to help me
Within 3 minutes, I was getting a free replacement expedited to me, and I was off on my merry way, feeling decidely promoter-ish (hence my blog entry). From an experience perspective it was perfect. However, if you think about it from other dimensions, such as cost, it's actually a win-win for Amazon. Rather than leave you sitting on an expensive per minute (to Amazon) 1-800 call as you navigate a phone tree and then wait for your call to be routed, Amazon can skip that cost, and make a considerably shorter and less expensive call to you, when they are in fact ready to help you. Couple this with customer-centric refund and return policies, and well you are cruising toward an excellent experience.

If only from the cost perspective, I am surprised this isn't a more wildly adopted standard for phone interactions from even poor experience companies. Kudos to Amazon for this "innovation". I love it, and I've used the time and energy I've saved to promote my favorite online retailer.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Persona Non Grata

The use of personas (I would prefer to say personae, but I keep getting corrected) in our UX and CX design work has always confused me. More recently, it has started to annoy me. Why replace perfectly good, real, human customers that we've spoken to and continue to speak to, with generalized approximations? Isn't this creating exactly the kind of abstraction that leaves room for misinterpretation and misrepresentation? As much as I've come to know and love Jane Doe and Joe Bloggs, frankly, they strike me as somewhat pliant and a little too enthusiastic with all our design decisions.

Admittedly, real customers are a little harder to pigeon hole, a little less logical, a little unwieldy with their requirements, considerably more opinionated, they aren't even always right, but they do have one very important advantage, they are... em... well, customers dammit! They are of course diverse, but not so diverse that any persona we create, cannot be replaced with 2 or 3 representative real-live customers. Customers also tend to come with working phone numbers and email addresses, so they can actually engage in the design process.

We've gone on a Customer Experience Journey mapping trip in my company over the past year or so. It struck me as so strange to replace the sources who were real people with amalgams and substitutes. Other than maybe dealing with confidentiality (so of course change the names), the effect seemed to be little more than diluting the impact of the journey maps we had created. Quoting a real customer, complete with expletives and directions on where we could stick our processes, somehow seemed so much more compelling, and considerably harder to argue with.

Somewhat contentiously in my own company, I've concluded the advantages served up by carefully crafted persona, are quickly outweighed with the dynamic and sometimes random input of real customers. The earlier they are brought into the design process the better, because let's face it, what we can actually change when we get to testing is pretty limited. I see only two potential exceptions: when the product is so competitively advantageous that we do not want it to leak out before we launch; the processes and policies we want to create, will not make sense to a real customer without the context of other changes too difficult to explain. I have encountered neither of these exceptions so far in my CX design work that focuses primarily on our business practices, policies and processes.

Be great, be authentic, keep it real!

CX in Action - UK

My good friend and colleague Sandy found this at London Heathrow yesterday. Nothing I love better than a company that is willing to put it out there, warts and all. This has all the elements of success, goals that appear realistic, driving internal competition between terminals, inviting direct and immediate feedback from the customer. I think it's a big jump for companies to put it out there and invite feedback, especially when it's a work in progress and seeking feedback from weary travelers, the ultimate trapped customer, is especially brave! So kudos to London Heathrow. Click the image to enlarge.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Inside out!

To truly create a great experience from the outside in, you need to change from the inside out!

In looking at how to re-invent the customer experience at my company, I started with research, looking at some other companies who seem to already know how to deliver a consistently great customer experience: Zappos, Virgin, Southwest, Nordstrom, Apple, etc., and tried to figure out what it is that they do. Finding a lot of consistency in approach, I started to compile a list of apparent best-practices: voice of customer program, journey mapping, co-design, etc., this was going to be easy! Doubts started to form when I discovered we were already doing some of these things, a lot of them in fact. I did some more research, this time looking at some companies that don't have great experiences and came to a very unsettling conclusion: Many companies with poor experiences did exactly the same things as the great experience companies. Everything we do, or plan to do, has typically been done not just those with great experience, but also, and maybe even more so by those with lousy experience!

"Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet - thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing - consistently. This builds trust, and followers love leaders they can trust". - Lance Secretan

It is not in the specific actions that companies take that make them great experience companies, but rather the authenticity with which they do it. Authenticity cannot be faked, well not for long at least, and if your experience isn't authentic, it can never be great. If you are going to consistently and authentically deliver on brand promise with every customer interaction, well it is critical that every employee understand and believe in that brand. If the employees embrace the brand promise, then that promise will be delivered naturally to customers on each and every interaction, and never appear forced or inauthentic. In short, great companies sell their brand internally, as well as externally.

Many of the great companies have brand evangelists, often the CEO, and often larger than life: Richard Branson, Tony Hseih, Steve Jobs, etc. I wonder in some cases if these typically charismatic leaders didn't sell their brand internally as much by accident as by design. Regardless the effect is the same, a company takes on the personality of these evangelists, not only setting the tone for the existing employees, but also attracting new right-attitude employees and so creating a self-sustaining culture that embodies the brand, with a brand message that is repeated and amplified by each employee. Of course brand evangelism doesn't need to come from the CEO, and a great article from explores how brand evangelism can be fostered.

  • Think Zappos: Tony Hsieh built his company from the beginning with a customer service culture. Customer service is an attitude as much as it is a skill, and he understood this. The focus was very deliberate, to hire people with the right attitude and weed out those with the wrong attitude. The two interview process is an example of this, you are assessed for skill and you are assess for attitude fit. You must succeed in both interviews to be hired. Zappos authentically deliver a brand, by hiring like-minded people who personify that brand.
  • Think Starbucks: Again, a culture that was created from the beginning. The desire was to create a euro-style coffee bar, they did so quite convincingly, and they did so by starting with their employees. They changed the language, replacing terms like cashier with Barista (Italian name for barman) to actually change the language that people used to describe themselves. They focused aggressively on training, and put high value on the skills needed to deliver an authentic experience. The Starbuck’s brand is completely absorbed by its employees.
  • Think Apple: The Apple brand is great design, and this again, like all successful experience companies is completely embedded into the internal culture. Apple’s internal processes, systems and office space are all developed at a high premium of good design.

The examples are endless,the approach the same: Consciously or unconsciously, great experience companies have sold their brand to their employees, the employees in turn make it real when interacting with customers, not just through the products, but through every interaction from accounts receiving to customer support. When you deliver on your brand promise at every interaction with the customer, from pre-sales to post, from the product to the receptionist, then you have an authentic experience. Chances are, it will be a great one too!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Online CX Resources

There are a lot of great resources online for all things Customer Experience. However, which ones are the good ones? I thought maybe a community-curated list might be a useful tool. Add to it, vote on any of the existing recommendations, or comment on an item with a little more detail on what its strengths are. If you follow me on Twitter or Google+, and I'll send regular updates on additions, or sites that are community favorites. Thank you for making this list useful.

Click here for instructions on how to post this list on your own blog.

Still haven't found what you are looking for? Check out Annette Franz' CX Blog Roll on her excellent blog, CX Journey.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Disservice of Customer Service

"Our version of a perfect customer experience is one in which our customer doesn’t want to talk to us." - Jeff Bezos

Of course Jeff is talking about the intuitive, convenient, self-service nature of (see full interview here). Working for a product company, I completely buy this philosophy. None of our customers purchased our products such that they would need to search our website, or contact us to resolve issues or help them use the product. Each and every time they do, we are already reacting to a problem, a problem they should never ideally encounter. It seems that if one is to truly take Customer experience to it's inevitable conclusion, the right level of customer service for any company, other than a service company, is clearly none at all.

Of course, we need to be there to catch our customers, it is impossible to be 100% fool-proof. Amazon realize this too, and in fact they have great customer service when you need it, which is rare, and so likely a very cost effective solution too. The challenge is that, it is a very thin line between developing a customer service function that is a rarely required, but highly effective safety net; and providing a crutch to allow for inferior product usability, and/or business processes and policies. Very few companies get this and indeed Jeff can be justifiably proud of how effective has become in creating such a simple, intuitive and problem-free experience. It is quite likely, the most convenient ecommerce website ever, handling almost every eventuality in a slick intuitive manner. have been very careful in making sure that it is the need to access customer service that is removed, and not the access itself. It is in fact quite easy to access customer service on, and extremely pleasurable, just not required. Working for a product company, I would be so bold as to declare that a key measure of successful experience design, be it UX or CX, be it the product itself or the company's business practice, should be our effectiveness in allowing a customer to get up and running, get proficient and stay proficient in using our products with zero interaction with our great customer service teams. Achieving that measure at as close to 100% as possible, would truly be a guarantee of a great experience!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How to publish CX Resource List in your own blog

The following is the code to embed the listly CX Online Resource list on your own blog or web site.

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