Customer Experience Is A Culture Problem

Customer experience has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past four years.  Beginning as a new software category promising to help companies delight, convert and retain customers to where it is today, a business discipline, focused on aligning culture, strategy and processes to audiences’ lifecycle expectations. The road has been a bumpy one. The software category matured, fragmented and is consolidating as vendors and users, alike, tried to achieve the promised ROI – revenue growth from customer loyalty.  Companies ran into multiple roadblocks mostly from employee fear, resistance to change, lack of internal competences and mistaken belief that software could bypass change management. Vendors, on the other hand, introduced a steady stream of features at a cadence that outpaced the capabilities and understanding of the most sophisticated users. An impasse has been reached.  Frustrated users are taking a step back to evaluate why delivering the experience customers valued was so hard.  Robert Tas, chief marketing officer of Pegasystems, a strategic applications vendor for marketing, sales, service, and operations, summed up five key barriers as:

  • Companies structured around products instead of customers,
  • Treating digital experience as a ‘check the box’ and not understanding what it means,
  • Line of business-centric funding model that doesn’t benefit anyone else,
  • Disconnect between employee expectations with them being treated as consumers and how they ultimately treat customers , and
  • Not closing customer feedback loops and being transparent.
“Customer experience is not a technology problem – it’s a culture problem,” states Tas. Breaking the culture paradigm requires different perspectives. “Customer experience is a disruptive business phenomenon,” shares Tas.  “As companies become more data, customer and digital centric, the speed of change will reduce barriers to entry and obsolete organizations.” Customer experience is in the process of being redefined. It’s not software that automates engagement or predicts which customer an employee should or should not pay attention to.  Customer experience is about all-inclusive strategic alignment between the customer’s engagement expectations, brand promise and the company culture behind the brand.  To win, CEOs must be maniacal about that alignment. One company that has taken this to heart is Qumulo, an enterprise data storage vendor.  Karim Fanous, vice president of customer success, implemented a three-prong strategy to align the company to key customers and their lifecycle expectations:
  1. People – empower front-line employees to do what is right to meet customer expectations. Fanous takes a different approach to hiring customer success managers. He hires seasoned practitioners, storage and system administrators, that have scored high on empathy skills. These employees have the maturity and experience to make the right decisions and serve as advisors to customers that add value to every interaction.
  2. Engineering – is required to ‘man’ the customer support center and answer support calls. Having the employees who design the product address customer complaints, questions and concerns results in better designed products that can be produced with fewer defects.  In short, they take more care in doing their job because they are directly accountable to customers.
  3. Automation – to remove complexity from the user interface of products. Fanous found that the ease of product use directly correlates to repeat purchases and higher NPS scores. Ease of use, however, cannot come at the expense of missing product features, value add or differentiation.
Other best practices that Qumulo has adopted include a dedicated Slack channel for every customer that is accessed by all employees; monthly check-in customer calls by sales, customer success, engineering and product managers; and full transparency on company business decisions and performance. The CEO of Qumulo, Peter Godman, is equally maniacal about customer alignment. He mandated a customer-first policy across and up and down the organization. Godman openly engages with all employees to reinforce the importance of Qumulo’s customers and celebrate the successes.  Achieving cross-organizational customer alignment didn’t happen overnight. It took two years and Fanous will tell you that the job is never done. Customer alignment is still a nascent discipline with evolving best practices.  Practitioners are just starting to understand the role behavior, emotion and cognitive marketing have on the intersection between customers and brands, B2C as well as B2B. That’s not to say that CEM/CX software is going by the wayside. Software plays a part in analyzing data to discern intent and context which enables companies to make more effective strategic decisions and interactions to sustain alignment.  CEM, CX, MA, CRM and analytics vendors are not there yet in terms of understanding their role in this evolve discipline.  One thing is for sure, customer experience is not a marketing or customer service ‘thing’.  It is deeply rooted in your business strategy and touches every corner of the organization. If the ROI you sought from embracing customer experience hasn’t been something to write home about, it’s time take to take step back and assess your approach.  Don’t be afraid to hit the reset button on your customer alignment initiative and come at from a fresh approach.  Start with first deeply understanding the customer from the outside-in, aligning company values and culture to, and define your business strategy around the customer. The advice I give clients is simple: Focus on employees first, then customers, followed by simplifying processes and institutionalizing it with technology.   First published in Forbes on May 9, 2016

Journey Mapping the Customer Experience

“‘We’re going to solve the customer experience problem’ is a hard sell to the C-suite,” said Miguel Quiroga, executive director of customer experience at Verizon. He went on to advise the audience at the Clarabridge C3 Conference on how to overcome that resistance. His advice? Identify which experiences matter the most in balancing customer satisfaction with profitability. Fix those experiences that are at the “root of the strongest customer pain points and are linked to the most profit.” Sound advice since the language of the C-suite is profit, revenue and growth. Despite all the rhetoric, the truth is the religion of the customer has not been embraced by the C-Suite as fervently as we’d all like to believe – despite Gartner’s claim that “89 percent of companies surveyed plan to compete primarily on the basis of the customer experience by 2016.” Quiroga’s advice is to pick your battles: Prioritize the experiences to fix; be clear on how to measure improvement; set expectations internally and externally; then scale across the customer lifecycle and the organization. Keep in mind that the last experience the customer has defines his or her expectations going forward.

Understanding Customer Experience

Before you can actually fix any experience, you need to understand it. That's where most companies get stuck  – not because the work is hard, but rather because there is a multitude of approaches without a clear consensus, and companies lack the requisite skills. The challenge with most approaches is twofold: They must provide a complete picture of the journey and they must invoke the viewpoint of the customer. Most approaches advocate focusing on a few customer touchpoints, which are often defined from a company’s “inside-out” perspective, not by customers. This approach does not result in significant, profit-impacting improvement because it lacks context. It’s like looking at a handful of puzzle pieces and guessing what the whole picture looks like. The objective of journey mapping is to reduce complexity and make all the aspects of the customers’ experience understandable and accessible to everyone in the organization. The best way to do journey mapping is to interview your customers face-to-face — qualitative research — and document, in detail, their entire experience through their eyes. Start with the trigger event that causes your customers to realize they have a problem or opportunity. Then map their decisions, actions and emotions all the way through purchase and implementation to the point of renewal or retirement. Done correctly by someone experienced in conducting and interpreting the qualitative research, the results will enhance the company’s success far beyond simply highlighting key experiences that need to be addressed. In fact, there are 30 uses for journey maps.

Creating the Map

Let’s talk about how to journey map, since that is where companies are getting stuck. One process, as defined in the Sellers’ Compass methodology, includes five steps, which can often be completed in 45 days:

Step 1: Data Breadcrumbs

  • Identify sample size (industry, region, product) and roles to be interviewed
  • Analyze trends
  • Conduct internal journey mapping session with cross-functional team

Step 2: Interview Customers

  • Conduct 45- to 60-minute interviews with two roles per company
  • Transcribe and anonymize interviews
  • Complete 15 to 20 interviews per sample

Step 3: Journey Map

  • Plot detailed patterns of behavior as well as outliers
  • For each journey step define the 5 “W”s
  • Define interaction channels, emotion evokers, content and other drivers

Step 4: Tollgating and Content

  • List tollgates by step
  • Define buyers’ process for passing tollgates
  • Define content/channel/source for each tollgate

Step 5: Gap Analysis

  • Conduct gap analysis on content, interactions, CTA, channels, etc.
  • Define “needle move” action plan and timeline for fast results

Using the Map

According to Jeff Freund, CEO and co-founder of Akoonu, “Your journey maps need to capture four core dimensions at each buying stage for each of your buyer personas: The buyer’s participation level (driver, participant, gate-keeper), the buyer’s informational and internals needs, the buyer’s activities to fulfill those needs, and the buyer’s content preferences.” Koren Stucki, Vice President, CEM Consulting for Clarabridge, believes journey maps “should be a catalyst for change.” Stucki has observed the following common pitfalls of journey mapping:
  • No clear scope and objective
  • Lack of qualitative research
  • No executive sponsor
  • Engaging the wrong stakeholder
  • “Inside-out” design
  • Activity treated as a one-and-done
  • Failing to make journeys practicable
“Although all buyers, regardless of industry and company size, go through roughly the same basic steps, different personas will engage in different activities and have different needs, participation levels, and content preferences throughout their decision-making process,” said Freund. “And on top of that, these constantly evolve throughout the journey and over time. By integrating personas and journey maps, you can capture these evolving roles, needs, activities, and preferences for each persona at each step of the way.” Journey mapping has been in use now for almost a decade and best-practices are emerging. Stucki recommends that companies:
  • Bring VOC (Voice of Consumer) into journey maps
  • Bring any recordings (from call centers, etc.) and customer quotes into journeys
  • The journey mapping team should be cross-functional
  • The same team needs to be involved from journey mapping through building the new experience and measuring the result
  • Identify listening posts at key points in the journey
  • Obtain input from customers on their current and future states
  • Measure journey success based on how customers measure performance
  • Refresh journey maps annually
  • Build a Center of Excellence (COE) around customer experience
“At the foundation of engaging content, inspiring marketing, and effective selling is deep audience understanding – truly knowing your buyers and how they buy,” stated Freund. “That’s why in-depth buyer personas and journey maps are the necessary foundation every company needs.” Journey mapping enables companies to build an internal common understanding about the truth of business performance. It’s not a patch or something that applies to marketing or sales but not to finance. Customer alignment is the new normal, and journey mapping is the first step to competing on experience.