7 Customer Experience Guidelines

Every company wants to be more customer aligned. Happier customers buy more and more frequently. They also tend to share positive word of mouth with their peers and colleagues. When things get bumpy in the relationship, they’ll cut you more slack than new or disgruntled customers. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a team of consultants to figure out that profit margins and customer lifetime value (CLV) are higher with satisfied customers. Who wouldn’t want that? What holds many companies back from going all-in on customer experience is – how to get started. The volume of advice from technology vendors, practitioners, bloggers, and consultants can be overwhelming and confusing. The approaches touted as best practices often conflict and demonstrable, measurable success is circumstantial and hard to measure. Unable to determine how to get started and who can help them – a culture coach, six sigma process expert, qualitative researcher, a strategist, industry analyst, or a customer success consultant – companies often opt instead for a DIY (Do It Yourself) to control the pace of the change and learn along the way. They’ve decided to figure out customer alignment for themselves even if it means some trial and error and dead-ends. Why? Companies are looking for common sense in how they approach customer alignment. C-suite and leaders understand that becoming customer-aligned is a transformation that touches every corner and employee of the company. Lots of dust is going to get kicked up, just make sure it doesn’t choke the company to death in the process. Based on our nine years of client engagements, here are seven guidelines to help companies figure out how to get started with their customer experience initiatives:

1. Executive champion.

If not the CEO, that person should be in the C-Suite so they can help other leaders connect the dots between the effort and the ROI as well as run interference when change threatens a sacred cow or when the initiative runs into the inevitable bumps in the road or budget cuts.

2. Solve a handful of key use cases.

Instead of trying to achieve the optimal customer experience out of the box, zero in on a handful of use cases that will move the needle for key customer segments. Let what matters to customers guide your focus, not how grandiose the initiative sounds or could be. Making incremental improvements that are important to customers goes a long way to improve customer loyalty and retention.

3. Do the right thing for the customer.

Lots of customer experience approaches quickly become complicated and confusing with steps that don’t seem to relate to the use cases being solved. Determine what approach is right for you based on what customers said they want to experience. In other words, ask customers first, then act.

4. Review your policies and procedures.

The root causes of customer dissatisfaction are usually internal policies and procedures designed to support hierarchical structures and perks with rank cultures. That doesn’t mean toss out sound governance, instead look at the correlation between policies, procedures, and customer feedback. Does your billing, contract negotiations, accounts receivables, return, etc. drive the bulk of complaints? Ask yourself the question, “Would my customer feel good about experiencing this policy or procedures?” If the answer is “no,” revisit how to maintain appropriate internal controls while making it easier to do business with you.

5. Let the use case define what data to collect.

Companies have become obsessed with the amount of data they collect. Unfortunately, just because every piece of data can be analyzed doesn’t mean it should or that it will reveal meaningful information. Don’t let data become a novelty item. Instead, develop a hypothesis for each use case and analyze only the data needed to prove or disprove the theory. Have your domain experts review any analytics to make sure you’re interpreting the data correctly.

6. Measure what you manage.

It’s tempting to report on an array of metrics, but that will take you down a rabbit hole. Pick a handful of KPIs that are relevant to the use cases you’re solving – is it churn, conversion, sentiment analysis? Make sure the KPIs are something the entire company understands and keep it simple. You can always evolve the KPIs as the company adjusts to new ways of engaging customers.

7. Crawl, walk, then run.

Start small. As the company builds its understanding of customers and how they define experience, values, and engagement, then expand the scope of customer alignment initiative. The best measures of success are customer effort level and customer satisfaction. Share progress with employees; it’ll motivate them to stick with new behaviors. Focus on fixing the needle mover use cases to build internal and external credibility for the initiative. As employees see the results and that their jobs are more fun, and more rewarding, it’ll motivate them to be more open-minded about change and willing to tackle more complex customer experience use cases. Employees are crucial to taking customer experience to the next level. First published in B2Community

Driving Faster B2B Purchases through Sales and Customer Alignment

The new customer

The way B2B buyers make purchasing decisions have transformed, but many sales staff continue to exhibit learned behaviors from a prior era. Sales once thrived from closing big deals, but now buyers make purchases incrementally. They chaperoned buyers through their purchase, but, according to Forrester, now 75 percent of the buy cycle is completed before sales is contacted. Sales feels their role is to persuade buyers to make a purchase, but the majority of buyers obtain evaluative information from nine or more independent sources before engaging with sales. These disconnects between buyer expectations and seller behaviors that are hard-coded into sales culture have crippled efficacy and efficiency. Only 50 percent of sales staff are hitting their quotas. Forrester has found that buyers don’t see value in their interactions with sales 97 percent of the time. To close deals faster and meet quotas more often, sales needs to be re-wired to meet the expectations of the modern buyer. They, and Marketing, need to systematically understand buyer expectations and use that information to align sales with those behaviors that buyers will see value in, which will help buyers make purchasing decisions faster, and increase close rates. Bridging the gaps Years ago, buyers looked to vendor sales teams as fountains of knowledge, insights and tools to help them be more successful.  The role of the sales person was trusted adviser and guide.  They helped companies identify unmet needs and guided them through the evaluation and selection process. Not anymore. Today, buyers expect sales people to specialize in listening. Listen to how buyers understand their needs, their approach to solving them, and how solutions they’re evaluating fit into the broader corporate ecosystem. The first step in bridging the gaps between buyer expectations and seller behaviors, is to create two sets of maps; one from the buyer’s perspective and another from the seller’s. The first map is called the buyer’s journey. It documents each step of the buyer’s process from the trigger point where a problem is first identified, through purchasing a solution and evangelizing it. The second set of maps documents internally held beliefs, processes and strategies, so the two can be compared. Both maps are created primarily through thoughtful, objective interviews. The result is a set of storyboards that document processes, expectations, and interactions for different personas, products and problem statements. The storyboards show why some sales are being delayed or lost, when buyers experienced something different than what they were expecting and, most importantly at all, what buyers needed from the vendor at each step of their purchasing process. We call these buyer tollgates. Jumping over tollgates Tollgates are barriers the buyer has to overcome before making a purchase, such as a business case or a presentation to management. When sales is focused on “buy buy buy” long before buyers are ready to make a purchase decision, it delays the purchase and is not valuable to buyers. By refocusing sales on helping the customer overcome their tollgates, sales can dramatically improve its value to the customer, close rates and shorten the sales cycle. The buyer’s journey map serves as a decoder ring to the buyer for sales. Over time, sales can instinctively pick up on indicators of where a prospect is in their process and what tollgates they need to pass to get to the next stage. Each time sales helps the buyer pass a tollgate, the buyer sees value in the interaction and is able to proceed to the next step faster. The most compelling way for a sales representative to improve their individual performance and earn a larger commission is to master the art and science of helping buyers pass tollgates. Background: The Sellers’ Compass™ New Business Strategies introduced the Sellers’ Compass™ in our whitepaper “Connecting Customer Experience to Revenue.”  The Sellers’ Compass is a framework for aligning marketing, sales, support and operations to how buyers make purchasing decisions and their expected experience with the vendor. At the heart of the methodology is the Sellers’ Compass™ itself, a ten-stage map of the buyers’ journey. This is our methodology for mapping the buyer’s purchasing process, including buyer tollgates and expectations in sales interactions. Sales operates most heavily in the Evaluate, Validate and Purchase steps. When the buyer’s journey map is completed for an individual brand, sales will be able to identify the step in the sellers compass a prospect is in and correlate it to specific buyer tollgates and expectations. The outcome is a sales staff that operates in a thoughtful way with scientific precision, rather than relying on gut instinct and traditional sales behaviors. Sales and marketing alignment A Harvard study found that those responding to an online lead within one hour were seven times more likely to get business from it, yet in a separate study they found that 23 percent of leads were never responded to and only 37 percent were within one hour. This is a substantial amount of lead leakage, where prospective customers are “disqualified” or fall through the cracks. 80 percent of those disqualified leads end up purchasing from a competitor. Sales is often frustrated by the quality of leads produced by marketing, and marketing in-turn sees that their leads are not followed-up on. Lead scoring based on journey maps and measuring where buyers are is a better technique to qualify leads and provide sales with meaningful context. Instead of telling sales a lead touched a piece of content, marketing can identify how fast the lead is moving through their purchasing process, what step they’re on, and what tollgates they need to overcome, so sales is equipped to make effective calls that will bring quality business. Change management Psychologists have compared the natural human resistance to change to our aversion to pain. Sales methodologies have been deeply rooted into sales culture and training. Change must be carefully facilitated, while navigating cultural and political constraints. It must be done incrementally, or risk being rejected by staff outright. Journey maps based on the Seller’s Compass methodology is a tool for helping staffs visualize the gaps between buyers and sellers and internalize the changes that can improve their performance and commission. Conclusion Sales staff needs to replace spray and pray and hard-selling techniques with a thoughtful approach to understanding buyers and helping buyers complete their self-directed journey. By helping buyers overcome their own tollgates, sales can become a valued asset to buyers, while accelerating the sales process and closing more deals. First published in MarTech Advisor.

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.

Crazy Makers, Trust Busters, and How Customers Get Even

Much of today’s discussion on B2B customer experience focuses on interactions.  What is the buyer doing? What content are they interacting with and where? How can sales engage with the buyer earlier?  While understanding the specific actions and motivations of buyers is important to delivering a valued lifetime customer experience, it is not everything.... Read the full article on Forbes.