30 Sep

Are you putting lipstick on a demon?

There is no customer service (2)

Like most middle aged people, I firmly believe that the only movies worth watching are those that came out in my youth.

With this in mind, I settled down for a cozy movie night of “Ghostbusters” with my husband last weekend.  (For you young ‘uns out there, Ghostbusters is a movie that Bill Murray made before “Lost in Translation” and “Grand Budapest Hotel”.)  It is about three ghost scientists, who save New York City from a ghost apocalypse at the hands of a gargantuan Marshmallow Man.  It’s funny.  Trust me.

In it, Bill Murray’s romantic interest Dana, becomes possessed by an ancient Babylonian demon called Zuul.  Murray repeatedly tries to communicate with Dana but she invariably responds, in a creepy demon voice, “There is no Dana.  Only Zuul!”.


Do you ever feel that way talking to a company?  When you first meet them, they seem nice enough.  Charming even.  But when you try to communicate with them about a problem, all of sudden they turn into someone else.   How many times have we heard “Please hold, your call is important to us” or  “I’m sorry ma’am, there is nothing I can do”.  It’s like they were possessed or something.

Really, they would be being more honest if they just said: “There is no customer service.  Only ZUUL!!”  But in a creepy demonic voice, instead of the slightly bored drone that we have come to know and hate.

Jim Rembuch from Beyond Morale says “Customer Experience is the company culture coming through“.  In other words, no matter how hard you work to fix the outer experience, if you are still the demon Zuul deep down, your customers won’t be fooled.

You can’t hide who you really are.

Refreshing your brand, making a nicer looking website, or updating your user interface to be more modern, are all very worthwhile things.  However, you should ask yourself, deep down, does your company actually care about your customers’ experience (and empower your employees to help them)?

In other words, are you just dressing up Dana in a pretty dress, or are you really, in your heart of hearts, Zuul?

(Photo credit: Shutterstock | Michael Jung)

18 Sep

A story is worth a thousand graphs


Joey was a happy and healthy eight year old boy with lots of friends.  One day, his buddy was over for a game of Minecraft and a sleepover when all of a sudden, a giggle fit turned into choking sounds.  Joey turned to his mother and gasped “Mom, I can’t breathe!”

His mom grabbed him, threw him in the car, and raced off to the nearest emergency room.  When she got there she parked in the ambulance zone because Joey was starting to turn blue and she wasn’t able to carry him in without help.  “I thought he was going to die right in front of me” she said.

Let me pause here and ask you a question.

Do you want to find out what happens next?  

I bet you do.

This is because your brain is hardwired to want to know what happens next in a story.  That is a profound part of what makes us human.

Scheherazade knew this important detail about people when she always ended her stories with a cliff hanger for the Persian king – so that he let her live for another day.  As a result, the rest of us got a collection of stories of those 1001 nights (well not really, but it makes for a good story).

Stories move people in ways that facts and figures don’t.  Stories will stay with you far longer than a statistic.  Politicians know this.  That is why they talk about “Joe the Plumber” or “Mary from Milwaukee” in their stump speeches rather than focus on statistics.  The power of stories are why a picture of a drowned toddler on a Turkish beach prompted more action from the international community than innumerable people telling us that thousands of children die every day because of the conflicts in the Middle East.   A thousand dead children is a statistic.  A single drowned toddler is a tragedy.

Customer research has to do the same thing.   It has to tell the story of your customers.  That’s why Customer Journey Maps are such a powerful tool for getting the organization aligned around what their customers are experiencing.  It remains my favorite go-to-tool for getting everyone from the executive level to the tech support agent on the same page about what it’s like to be a customer.

Whenever I use other research tools like surveys, social media listening, or usability tests, I always have to work hard to craft a customer story from that data.  Because I know from bitter experience that without a story to frame the research results, the research gets shelved.

When I started as a starry-eyed people data nerd, I thought that by doing research and collecting data, the data would “speak for itself” and persuade people to make evidence based decisions.

Wrong.   Here’s what usually happened instead.

A sales person would pipe up with a story “from the field” and that story become the single data point that team would rally around.  “We need to help people like Bob the Builder!” they would announce.

But… but… my charts?  Anyone?

Sound familiar?


That’s what makes Customer Journey interviews so powerful.  By interviewing a relatively small number of customers, you can create an aggregate story that is representative of the collective experience.  It’s a great way to package customer data because it is truly data driven, but it is inherently in the form that decision makers will immediately understand, remember, and be compelled to act on.

Oh, you must be wondering what happened to poor Joey.

Thanks to his mom’s quick actions, he pulled through his crisis.  It turned out to be a suddenly developed allergy.  He is now recovered and healthy again, as long as he avoids that particular allergen.

Do you feel better now?   I know I do.  Everyone loves a happy ending.

(Photo credits: Shutterstock | Matt GibsongStock-studio)


03 Sep

Just answer the question!


When my son was between the ages of 4 and 6, he managed to turn every single conversation into something about dinosaurs or guns.  He described his older sister’s princess dressup chest as “a T-rex head with no body and no eyes.  Just a big mouth – with no teeth”.  When we watched “The Sound of Music” together, he thought that the “Reverend Mother” was the “Weapon Mother”.

Kids.  Don’t they just say the darndest things?



Adults do too of course.  With some of my relatives, every conversation seems to turn into a religious discussion.  With my anarchist cousins, it seems that every conversation goes back to the inequality between rich and poor.  And don’t get the conspiracy guy started.

This can be somewhat tiresome in a social setting but it does tell you something important about the person you are talking to.  When a conversation about the price of milk suddenly turns into a discussion about who really shot JFK, you can be sure that they spend a lot of their time thinking about JFK.  This is a topic they are very passionate about.

When you talk to customers, you may find that the conversation you start out having doesn’t bear much resemblance to the conversation they want to have.  While it may not be what you want to hear, this can be valuable information to you because it tells you what they are truly passionate about.

This comes out even in supposedly constrained feedback tools such as surveys, especially in any open-ended questions.

If your survey asks:

Tell us about your favorite product feature and why.

You may get a few answers that look like this:

Ever since the new CEO took over, the partners have been treated very poorly.  We used to feel included in decisions and we are now kept in the dark.

Woah!  Where did that come from?  We were asking about features, not about the CEO!

Many times, when organizations analyze their open ended responses, they will discard this response because “it does not answer the question”.

But that is missing the bigger point.

That person just told you what was most on his mind about your company.

Presumably he is not an idiot and knows how to read and is fully aware that he didn’t answer the question.  However, he felt it was SO IMPORTANT to convey this to you that he took the only opportunity that was open to him.

If you get a lot of comments with a similar theme about the treatment of partners that were in questions NOT about that particular issue, you should pay attention – this is clearly a hot button issue.

When you design a survey, you generally have a set of topics that you are interested in learning the answers to.  But sometimes that’s not what customers want to talk to you about.

You can do the easy thing and discard that feedback, or you can pay extra special attention.  Because they just might be telling you what really matters.

Image credit:  ShutterStock|Stokkete