The Customer Service Survey

Goldilocks Data

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2017-01-11 15:08

Apple's new laptops have been generating complaints about the battery meter. The "time remaining" display has a bad habit of jumping all around and not giving the user meaningful information about how much time they can actually keep using the computer.

Getting this display right is a tricky problem, and it's a nice simple example of a situation that's common to a lot of dashboards and data visualization. The challenge is that you are trying to communicate a relatively simple and actionable message with a very complicated underlying system, where the person receiving the message isn't an expert and can't be expected to become an expert.

In the case of Apple's battery meter, the user wants to know roughly how long he can keep using the laptop before plugging in. But the complicated reality is that the laptop's power usage can vary second-to-second, and it's not always obvious what's driving the changes. You may be happily surfing the web and barely sipping the battery, but should you visit a page with a lot of animations (or worse--scripts to track your web viewing and serve you ads) that suck up the CPU, your battery usage will spike and time available will plummet.

Juice Analytics took a look at this problem recently, and provided some different ways to better communicate the nuances of laptop battery life. In all likelihood, none of the options will be completely satisfying to the typical user who just wants to know if he has enough battery to watch The Matrix to the end.

But just like in the business world, where leadership may want simple answers to complex questions, sometimes it does a real disservice to give people the data they think they want. The challenge is to find a simple way to communicate the data they actually need.

Dear Customer, Go Away

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2017-01-06 15:30

Every now and then you hear about a customer-hostile practice that's so outrageous you wonder how they stay in business.

There's a used book store in England that charges a 50-pence "browsing fee" just to walk in the door. Apparently the proprietor doesn't like people who look at the books without buying anything, and this fee is intended to separate the serious buyers from people who just want to deplete the oxygen in the room.

Clearly this used bookstore has so many customers that they need to do something to keep the unruly mobs at bay. Either that, or they don't want to actually sell any books. Since customers have been complaining about the fee online since at least 2010, it seems that this practice hasn't managed to put them out of business very quickly.

Customer Experience Non-Trends for 2017

by Peter Leppik on Thu, 2017-01-05 16:24

It's the beginning of a new year, which means it's time for pundits and prognosticators to pull out their crystal balls and make predictions about the twelve months to come.

Bruce Temkin, for example, has identified "Purpose" as the Customer Experience theme of 2017.

Who am I to disagree?

But in my view, such trend articles miss the bigger picture, which is that the important facts of the Customer Experience profession will be pretty much the same in 2017 as they were in 2016 and earlier years. These are the non-trends, the things that don't change, and most of them are more important than the trends.

So here I present my Customer Experience Non-Trends for 2017. Not only are most of these non-trends more important to the average CX professional than the Trends, you can read these safe in the knowledge that in January 2018 I can just republish the same article with a different date, just as this year's article is the same as my 2016 Non-Trends article with a new date and a few details changed.

Non-Trend 1: Engaged Leadership Is The Single Most Important Element in CX

The companies delivering a great customer experience almost always have leadership actively engaged in continuously trying to deliver a better experience. Conversely, companies where leadership views CX as a one-time project, or something to delegate, generally don't succeed in delivering a superior experience.

The lesson here is simple: if you want to improve the customer experience in your organization, the most important thing you can do is get the senior leadership to care and make it a personal priority.

Non-Trend 2: Great CX Is About Getting a Thousand Things Right

Sweat the details. A grand strategy or a new piece of technology will not, by themselves, move the needle on your customer experience (though the right strategy and tools definitely make the job easier).

Unfortunately, "sweat the details" is not a sexy message and it doesn't help sell software and services. Many vendors make the empty promise that their solution will, by itself, transform your CX effort. Don't believe it. There is no magic bullet.

Non-Trend 3: Customer Experience Professionals Often Have a Tough Job

The field of Customer Experience has made great strides over the last decade or so, but it's still not easy. We've finally gotten to the point where most companies will at least say that the Customer Experience is a priority, but many of them have yet to internalize it. The leadership doesn't yet care enough to dedicate the needed resources, or they think that because they have a CX team the problem is solved and they can mostly ignore it.

So in a lot of places, the role of the CX professional will continue to revolve around getting leadership attention, finding the easy wins, and internal evangelism. This, unfortunately, is not likely to change any time soon.

Non-Trend 4: Great CX Drives Customer and Employee Passion, Which Creates Better CX

The sweet spot of customer experience is when your whole organization is focused on creating a better experience for customers, which makes customers want to do more business with you, and that makes employees want to help customers even more. Customer Experience becomes a positive feedback loop.

The unacknowledged truth is that most employees genuinely want to do a good job and have a positive impact on their customers. It's one of the most satisfying things we can do in our careers. A strong focus on CX creates not just more satisfied customers but also more satisfied employees.

Here's hoping for a terrific 20162017!

Technology for the Sake of Technology

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2016-12-16 11:25

For $1,500 you can apparently buy a "smart" toaster oven that uses sensors, AI, deep learning, and other buzzwords to automatically recognize what you're cooking and figure out how to optimally cook whatever you put in it, and send you a message on your cellphone when it's done.

Except, perhaps, not so much. According to a review in Fast Company of the June toaster oven, not only does the product not work as advertised, even if it did work it would be much more complicated and difficult to use than an ordinary "dumb" appliance. Where an ordinary toaster oven is fairly simple to use (set temperature, add food, set timer, remove food), using the smart version requires navigating multiple menus, answering questions about how you want your food cooked, and hoping that you and the oven guessed the right settings. Worse, the oven's software will update itself from time to time (to make it smarter of course), so once you've figured out the settings to toast your toast exactly the way you want it, you could find that the next morning it cooks differently because of an overnight update.

This is a classic example of applying technology solely for the sake of technology, and just like in most such instances the result is a much worse customer experience than what you got with the old, "dumb" product at a multiple of the price.

Improving the customer experience requires taking a customer-centric approach, rather than a technology-centric approach. Begin with the customer's journey. Identify the pain points and roadblocks. Find ways to improve the experience--which might or might not involve technology--that removes those problem areas.

Some will argue that this incremental approach won't lead to revolutionary change. As Henry Ford once (supposedly) said, if he'd asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. But the fact is that the overwhelming majority of improvements come through slow and steady refinements to the products and services that are already out there. Radical innovation, like what led to the first iPhone, is rare and often fails.

When you take the technology-centric approach, and try to apply new technology to an old problem just for the sake of applying new technology, more often than not the result is going to be an expensive failure. Rather than solving actual customer problems, you're more likely to invent new problems that don't really exist just so you can apply the technology to solve them.

As proof, all you need to do is read through the recipes on the website for the June toaster oven. Despite the product's hefty price tag and advanced features, five of the ten recipes instruct the user to do nothing more than set the oven temperature and cook for a certain number of minutes, functionality that's available in any ordinary $25 toaster oven for one sixtieth the price. Not even the June's manufacturer could find more than a handful of recipes that used (not necessarily required) all the product's advanced features.

Stop And Think Before Collecting Useless Data

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2016-12-07 14:52

People are naturally attracted to shiny new things, and that's just as true in the world of business intelligence as in a shopping mall. So when offered an interesting new piece of data, the natural inclination is to chew on it for a while and ask for more.

But not all this data turns out to be particularly useful, and the result is often an accumulation of unread reports. I've known companies where whole departments were dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and distributing data that nobody (outside the department) used for any identifiable purpose.

Before gathering data and creating reports, it's worth taking a moment to consider what the data will be used for. There's a few broad categories, ranging from the most useful to the most useless:

  1. The most useful data is essential for business processes. For example, sales and accounting data is essential for running any kind of business. An employee coaching program built around customer feedback requires customer feedback data to operate. If the data is a required input into some day-to-day business process, then it falls into this category and there's no question of its usefulness as long as the underlying process is operating.
  2. Less essential but still very useful is data to help make specific decisions. Without this information the company might make a different (and probably worse) decision about something, but a decision could still be made. For example, before deciding whether to invest in online chat for customer service it's helpful to have some data about whether customers will actually use it.
  3. Data to validate a decision that's already been made may seem useless, since the data won't change the decision. But in a well-run organization, it can be valuable to take the time and effort to review whether specific decisions turned out in hindsight to be the right thing to do. Ideally this will lead to self-reflection and better decision-making in the future, though in practice most organizations aren't very good at this kind of follow-through.
  4. Occasionally data to monitor the health of the business will have value, though most of the time--when things are going well--these reports won't make any practical difference. Most tracking and trending data falls into this category (assuming that the underlying data isn't also being used for some other purpose). The value of this type of data is that it can warn of problems that might not be visible elsewhere; but the risk is that red flags will be ignored. Lots of companies track customer satisfaction, but might not take action if customer satisfaction plummets but sales and profitability remain high.
  5. Data that might be useful someday is the most useless category, since in practice "someday" rarely arrives. Information that's "nice to have" but doesn't drive any business activity or decision-making is probably information you can do without.

It may seem that there's little harm in collecting useless data, but the reality is that it comes with a cost. Someone has to collect the data, compile the reports, and distribute the results. Worse, recipients who get too many useless reports are more likely to miss the important bits for all the noise.

So before collecting data, take a moment to think about how--and whether--it's going to be used.

Possibly the Best Management Podcast You Will Listen To This Year

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2016-11-30 15:05

Dan Ariely recently spoke at the Commonwealth Club of California on "The Hidden Logic that Shapes Our Motivations." He covers a lot of ground in psychology and behavioral economics, but what really makes it worth listening to is the discussion of what motivates employees to work hard and do a good job.

There's probably as much practical management wisdom packed into this one hour podcast as in an entire shelf of management books. It's worth listening to the whole thing just to hear why you probably shouldn't pay bonuses to your best employees. Along the way you'll also learn that pizza is sometimes better than cash, and that incentives can cause productivity to decrease.

Humility After the Election

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2016-11-18 15:34

After the results of the 2016 presidential election came in, the first reaction of many people was that the polls were wrong. A more detailed analysis seems to show that the polls in 2016 were about as accurate (or inaccurate) as they usually are, but many people treated them as more precise than they really are.

I think the surprise (to many) election of Donald Trump serves as an important reminder of the limitations of survey research. Surveys aren't a precision instrument. That's partly because of inaccuracies and biases in sampling, but it's also because surveys are trying to measure opinions, and opinions are inherently fuzzy, malleable, and context-dependent.

In fact, given the limitations of surveys, it's remarkable that political polls are as accurate as they are. Predicting the outcome of an election is easily the most challenging application for a survey, given that you are trying to predict the future behavior of the general population, races are often decided by margins smaller than the margin of error, and you don't get credit for being close if you predicted the wrong winner.

This year's campaign should serve as an important reminder to be humble when interpreting survey results. A solid voice-of-the-customer program isn't as challenging as election forecasting, but customer surveys can still have important biases and inaccuracies. Keep in mind that:

  • Low response rates mean that you are more likely to hear from customers with strong opinions.
  • The survey process may be excluding some customer segments that have different experiences than the customers who can take the survey.
  • If you're giving employees bonuses for hitting survey targets, they may be trying to manipulate the survey.
  • Customers may be interpreting the survey questions differently than you intended.

Keep this in mind, and you will be less likely to make the mistake of being too confident when trying to understand what your customers are trying to tell you.

Let Me Put my Customer Hat On

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2016-11-16 13:51

To create a good customer experience you need to be able to put yourself in the customer's shoes.

But you also need to be grounded in what actual customers expect and experience.

When You Assume...

When you put your "customer hat" on, are you trying to come to a genuine understanding of specific customer issues and feedback, or are you imagining what a customer might think based on your own assumptions?

As the old saying goes, when you "assume" you make an "ass of U and me."

It's tempting to try to think about the customer's perspective, but customers have a very different experience than employees. Crossing the chasm between an insider's perspective and a customer's perspective is almost impossible without customer feedback. For example:

  • Employees understand how the company works, and customers don't.
  • Employees understand industry jargon, and customers don't.
  • Employees know why certain policies exist, and customers don't.
  • Employees have experience navigating their company's bureaucracy, and customers don't.

These differences in perspective can create blind spots when you try to understand the customer's viewpoint.

Understanding the Customer's Experience

To really put yourself in the customer's shoes, you should:

  • Begin with customer feedback, not you or your team's ideas of what customers are thinking.
  • Take the view that each customer's perspective is reasonable, and trust what they're telling you.
  • Expect that different customers have different experiences. When customers have conflicting opinions, both are equally valid.
  • Work to understand why some customers might feel differently about your customer experience than you do.
  • Understand what parts of your customer experience may be painful to customers even though they make sense to people inside your organization.

This puts the voice of the customer front and center where it belongs. Too often, companies will take the opposite approach: beginning with their own preconceived ideas, they imagine what they think customers want and then collect customer feedback to validate their opinions.

And while customers and employees may agree about many customer experience problems--things that are painful to customers are often also painful to employees--the insider perspective is usually incomplete.

So when you put that customer hat on, make sure you're not putting it on backwards.

The Hundredth Newsletter

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2016-11-11 15:19

This week we published the 100th issue of Quality Times, Vocalabs' newsletter about customer feedback and customer experience.

A hundred newsletters is a lot, and it seemed appropriate to take a few steps back and consider what customer surveys are really for and how to make them more effective. We know what it takes to make customer feedback effective in improving the customer experience, the problem is that most surveys simply aren't designed to be effective.

As always I hope you find our newsletter interesting and informative, and if you enjoy it please subscribe to get the latest edition hot off the presses via email.

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