Why customer experience management is uncommon sense

26th Jan 2011

In the second of her series describing 10 essential characteristics of customer experience, Lynn Hunsaker explains why customer experience gravitates toward the easiest and nicest methods to get and use solutions that address customers’ needs. 

"Just talk to your customers" was the resounding answer to: "What’s the best way to learn best practices for customer experience management?" — a question I posted on several business-focused social media sites. Yet less than 60% of companies have a formal voice of the customer programme. Why? Because we often assume we already know what customers think, or what they "should" think. Somehow it seems straightforward to cater to whoever is enabling our paycheck — everyone knows it’s foolish to do otherwise.
In reality, though, this catering may be uncommon sense: have we forgotten that it’s actually customers — not supervisors or the stock market — that enable our paychecks? Maybe you’re thinking "Of course we remember it’s all about the customer!" But how can that be true when only 31% of companies say they have a high commitment to customer listening? As a result, typically one-fifth as many customers will say you’re customer-centric, compared to the number you may expect.
Motives determine customer-centricity
Motives are at the heart of our listening habits. Think of your personal friendships. When a friend doesn’t listen, you can bet they’re preoccupied with their own agenda. They may believe they’ve heard it all before, and perhaps they believe your thinking is inferior. Maybe they’re too rushed, or deep-down, they fear what they may hear, or maybe they can’t wait to tell you what they think. Contrast this situation to an instance when a friend listens intently, then strives to gain a deeper understanding and then adapts to accommodate your preferences. The former scenario is a recipe for relationship disaster, and the latter exemplifies real customer experience management.
A pure motive in any relationship is "to make it easier and nicer for the other party to get and use the solutions they seek". When this motive takes first priority over your own agenda, you’re customer-centric. It takes a bit of faith to believe that your own needs will be met as a natural consequence of this pure motive. Yet you’ve probably observed this advice to be true in nearly any setting. Acknowledging this fact and demonstrating faith in it are indeed uncommon sense.
Easy and nice to get?
Far too often, customers find it’s neither easy nor nice to get the solution they seek. For example, a software program I’ve used daily for years suddenly announced in a popup box on my screen that a complimentary download of a new version was highly recommended. There was no supplementary information about what changes would be made, how the changes might affect the look-and-feel I’m accustomed to, or how I might invoke the changes at a more convenient time. In the absence of this desirable information, I was left to assume "no action" on my part could result in security or operability issues. What was intended by the software company to be an easy and nice download was certainly not, from my perspective: the program I’ve been loyal to for so long suddenly re-arranged content and controls at a time when I was under significant pressure to complete urgent tasks using the software.
Uncommon sense: don’t just assume what is easy and nice to get; ask first, and avoid the temptation to assume that what works for one customer will work for all of them. Segmenting voice of the customer data by customers’ circumstances (rather than demographics or psychographics) is a better way to make it easy and nice for them to get the solution they seek.
Easy and nice to use?
Far too often, customers find it’s neither easy nor nice to use the solution they seek. For example, the upgrade to another software program I’ve used for 15 years included extremely significant changes in the menu’s look-and-feel. The situation was akin to the New Coke snafu: in the pursuit to adopt features prominent in the major competitor’s product, loyal customers were taken by surprise, and an unpleasant surprise at that. Over the years, I’ve contributed time and again to this software company’s revenue stream. To add insult to injury, I paid for this upgrade not only financially, but also with significant time and stress in transferring files and re-learning how to use the product that I’ve already been using for 15 years. When I looked for answers to some of the challenges I encountered I had to obtain a password to search through a mountain of frequently-asked-questions. Why weren’t these surprises anticipated, with simple, stress-free guidance before and after my purchase?
Uncommon sense: know each customer segment deeply, double-check your assumptions, communicate clearly before their purchase, make it easy for customers to absorb and welcome the changes you make, and reward — don’t punish — your loyal customers.
"Just talk to your customers" certainly is a key to customer experience best practices. It means more than meets the eye: strive first to understand before seeking to be understood, recognise customer circumstances that drive different expectations, adapt to your customers rather than asking them to adapt to you, and keep a two-way dialogue going all the time. You’ll likely find that your company’s paycheck (i.e. revenue), overall, will benefit more from uncommon sense in customer experience management than from anything else.
This post is the second in a series describing 10 essential characteristics of customer experience. For part one click here. Find out how to customise these tips to your situation; contact the author [email protected].
Lynn Hunsaker is customer experience strategist and founder of ClearAction, which helps organisations get more value from customer feedback by applying it to daily decisions and processes enterprise-wide. Her specialties include customer experience innovation, customer-centric employee engagement, and customer relationship skill-building. She is author of three e-handbooks: Customer Experience Improvement Momentum, Metrics You Can Manage For Success, and Innovating Superior Customer Experience.

Other stories in this series:

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By lcireland
27th Jan 2011 04:23

 Uncommon sense indeed, Lynn. Why do you think it's so easy (and therefore common) to fall into the assumption that we know what our customers are thinking? Your friend analogy is spot on: we find it offensive when we see people after several months or years and they presume to know all about us. Why is this lesson so easily forgotten we interact with a customer for the first time in weeks or months? A couple things to extend this thinking: 

In reality, your daily interactions with the software you mentioned were part of your customer experience. And as someone who has led software product groups in a couple past lives, I had to work hard with my product folks to think about what they could design into those ongoing interactions that would make our relationship more fluid -- and less jarring when we showed up out of the blue with an upgrade notice. Your story tells me no one has that figured out yet.

Second, I would add "observe" and "walk a mile in their shoes" to your smart challenge to LISTEN to customers. I've found all the closer we can get to actually living the lives our customers live makes their perspective more potent and our decisions more valuable.

Thanks for another dose of smart thinking, Lynn.  

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By Neil Warren
27th Jan 2011 14:48

Yes - spot on Lynn. Then, as per my headline/response...

And, B2B, that'll often mean making Sales People the Customer Feedback/Interface?

...these being the changes I was chatting about on some LinkedIn Groups with sales management, discussing "What is a Sales Strategy", and where this "inverted" thinking means...

 The “chain of command” if you like no longer goes…

Inventor – Business – Marketing – Sales

…but rather…

Customer/Prospect – Sales Interface – Colleagues – Innovations (and maybe a bit of marketing and finance).

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By 123Contracting
07th Feb 2011 14:16

I'd like to give the first two paragraphs to so many of the small businesses that we advise. They think there is a magic formula to knowing what their customers want, when in reality you just have to ask them and listen to what they say. Think I'll be forwarding this article to quite a few people.


Accountants specialising in Limited Company Advantages

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Lynn Hunsaker
By Lynn Hunsaker
11th Feb 2011 13:55

Thanks for your comments, Linda.  "Observe and walk in the customer's shoes" is great advice!  In my ehandbook, Innovating Superior Customer Experience, I advocate gaining truly unique insights on your customer's world through ethnography (observation research, like Intuit's "Follow Me Home" program), metaphor-based research (like Hallmark and GE and many other companies do primarily for advertising purposes), and in-depth metaphor discussions (like P&G does). By extending these research methods to design customer experience surveys and customer experience personae -- and to design your brand promise, corporate values, internal branding, and innovations -- doing the right thing for customer experience excellence will be more obvious and profitable.

Walking in the customer's shoes would be the most powerful way of sensitizing employees company-wide about customer pain points and ways their specific job role might impact the pain or joy of being a customer.

-- Lynn Hunsaker is a Customer Experience Strategist, and head of ClearAction customer experience management consulting. She specializes in customer-centric culture, customer experience innovation, and employee engagement in customer experience optimization.

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Lynn Hunsaker
By Lynn Hunsaker
11th Feb 2011 14:03

Hi Neil,

Yes, outside-in thinking must truly begin with the customer, and Sales is in an enviable position to hear about customer pain points and pass that valuable information to all points within the company for greater alignment with customers in operations, innovation, and motivations that have a snowball effect to the customer-facing employees.  In short, the vicious circle of buffeting customer pain by Service and Sales professionals could be disrupted by Service and Sales conveying valuable customer listening gems to be integrated by the company at large.  Good thoughts!

-- Lynn Hunsaker is a Customer Experience Strategist, and head of ClearAction customer experience management consulting. She specializes in customer-centric culture, customer experience innovation, and employee engagement in customer experience optimization.

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Lynn Hunsaker
By Lynn Hunsaker
11th Feb 2011 14:12

Thanks for passing along this article to your Accountants contacts! One of the difficult things about listening to customers is to make sure you have confident humility.  This means it's essential to be humble rather than arrogant:  listen with a truly open mind, and value each opinion that is shared with you as a perspective of someone who has contributed to your revenue stream (with potential repeat value themselves or among prospects with the same profile).  It also means to be confident in your ability to respond constructively a short time after listening, rather than becoming defensive or acting on the urge to explain to the customer why their viewpoint may be flawed.  One thing that happens all too often is to presuppose what customers want to give feedback about -- open-ended questions are  best for gaining an accurate understanding of what matters to your customers.

-- Lynn Hunsaker is a Customer Experience Strategist, and head of ClearAction customer experience management consulting. She specializes in customer-centric culture, customer experience innovation, and employee engagement in customer experience optimization.

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