28 Oct

How to win at the Olympics of Customer Experience


Ever wonder what the secret is to deadlifting 1,000lbs?  I do.

It’s not that I want to do it myself,  I’m just relentlessly curious about the systems that people use to become the best at what they do.

I’m always amazed at how often the secrets to success come down to doing the fundamentals consistently over time, and incrementally improving and tweaking as you go.

You might think that the secret to becoming a beast that can lift 1,000 lbs involves doing insane workouts that leave you exhausted and crying for mommy.  The truth is actually the opposite.

Turns out that if you want to get strong – really strong, the recipe is simple:

  • Stick with the basic lifting exercises: Squats, Deadlifts, Kettlebell swings, pullups.
  • Never exercise to failure.  That means when you are done with your workout, you still feel like you have gas in the tank.  Give yourself time to recover between exercises.
  • Consistency is key.  Keep doing these exercises 4 days a week, and increase your weight a little bit each time.

This simple and basic approach has been repeatedly shown to be the best for building strength.  It’s what Olympic power lifters do, and no one can argue that they are the strongest people in the world.

The same is true if you want your organization to build its bench strength in becoming more customer-centric.

Do the simple, basic activities:  Have actual conversations with your customers in which they are doing most of the talking and you are doing most of the listening.

Do this consistently, with incremental increases:  Slowly over time increase your feedback collection from customers – talk to customers  a little more often, add in some social media, add a quick and simple survey.  Each new increment should feel relatively painless.

Don’t exhaust yourself with the effort:  If you do a customer feedback project and your organization feels depleted afterwards, you haven’t done yourself any favors.  It likely means that you’ve done research with recommendations that you won’t implement because you don’t have any gas left in the tank.  Building a organizational capability is like building a muscle. There is no big mystery to it but it takes time, and consistency.

It is not progress if every customer feedback process is big, expensive, and pulls people from the jobs that they are already doing.  Do this, and  your company will feel that this “customer feedback thing” is just too hard and will quit before seeing any real results.  Don’t be like those people who flood the gyms in January filled with good intentions only to abandon the effort after three weeks.

The point is this:  If you want to win at the Olympics of Customer Experience, keep your customer feedback process simple, and do it consistently.

Photo credit:  Pascal (Creative Commons Commercial License.  You should check out his utterly charming series on Lego mini-figures)

14 Oct

Asking without listening doesn’t help

edward-scissorhandsPop quiz!

Which of these Edwards had scissors for hands?

A) Edward Scissorhands

B) Edward Snowden

If you chose (A), congratulations!  You know more than the host of the news show “Daily Share” on HLN.

The host brought on a guest to discuss NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and his recent foray into the Twittersphere.  Unfortunately, for her and fortunately for us, the show had unwittingly booked an internet prankster who “interview-bombed” the conversation by discussing Edward Scissorhands instead.

When she asked:

“Jon, Twitter shut down Isis’s account. Why do you think Snowden is any different?”

He responded:  “… to cast him out, to make him invalid in society simply because he has scissors for hands, I mean, that’s strange. People didn’t get scared until he started sculpting shrubs into dinosaur shapes and whatnot.”

Unfazed, she forged ahead with her next question.  “Some people say it’s hypocritical that Snowden has asylum in Russia. Russia has a lot of human rights violations.”

Jon Hendren, equally unfazed, continued. “We’re treating him like an animal, somebody who should be quarantined and put away. Just because he was created on top of a mountain by Vincent Price, and incomplete. With scissors for hands and no heart.”

“But what about the choice he made to live in a country like Russia?” she persisted.

“I mean, where else is he going to go? You know?” Hendren replied.  “We cast him out. We got scared when he poked a hole in a waterbed with his scissor fingers, and that was unreasonable of us.”

“Well thank you for giving us you opinion today” She wrapped up.

This conversation has so many layers of weird that I can hardly keep up.

One thing is clear though.  She wasn’t really listening to what he was saying. 

Often clients ask me for advice on the best questions to ask customers.  But, as this interview shows, asking the right questions is only half the battle.  You have to listen as well.

If you look at the moderator’s questions, there is absolutely nothing wrong with them (well OK, maybe equating Snowden with ISIS is a bit of a stretch – but I digress).  Her questions are (mostly) perfectly fine.  It is her utter and complete lack of response to what he is actually saying that makes this conversation surreal.

I see this kind of dynamic when companies talk to their customers.

Here is a typical exchange:

Customer: “So the problem we have is that when we try to upload files, I can’t tell where they go”

Product Guy: “So what you’re saying is that it would be great if you could have some kind of notification protocol that informs you of the location. ”

Customer: “well umm…  ”

Product Guy:  “Like a pop up toast or something like that?”

Customer: “Yeah, I guess.   I think so”

Product Guy writes down:  Customer wants pop up toast telling them where the file was uploaded.

Notice how Product Guy completely put words into the customer’s mouth.  The customer never said that.  He did agree to Product Guy’s suggestion, but it was only a half-hearted yes.  However, that doesn’t come across in Product Guy’s notes.  It now looks like a customer request, which it isn’t.

Here’s how Product Guy could have done it differently.

Customer: “So the problem we have is that when we try to upload files, I can’t tell where they go”

Product Guy:  “Where would you expect it to go?”   <ask for more information, understand expectations>

Customer:  “Well I always look in the media library but it’s never there.  It always ends up in some weird place and I have to search to find it, and then move it to where I want.

Product Guy:  “That’s sounds really frustrating!   <express empathy, take ownership>   Tell me why you expect it to be in the media library” <try to understand the customers mental model of the system>

Now you’re having a real conversation.   Now you are actually responding to what the person is saying, and getting much more detailed information.

In this scenario, maybe the solution would be to make the default location the media library.  Or maybe there was something about the terminology that was causing confusion.  Maybe the Media Library should be called something else.  Maybe the default location should be renamed.  By understanding the problem better, you can come up with the right solution more easily.

Here is the bottom line.  Asking the right questions is important, but it only gets you halfway there.  Listening closely, and digging deeper for details is even more important.