Customer Experience

Recreating That Airport Experience

by Peter Leppik on Thu, 2018-08-23 11:32

This past weekend I went to the movies on a date night with my wife. We went to the AMC megaplex to see Crazy Rich Asians. Normally we go to a smaller (and cheaper) theater that's a lot closer to home, but we had been given some AMC passes so we made the drive.

It's been several years since I last went to an AMC theater, and the first thing I noticed when we went in the door was two different lines to buy tickets: one for ordinary people, and a second for premium members of AMC's loyalty program. A similar two-line setup was visible at the concession stand.

"Just like the airport," was my gut reaction.

Fortunately there were no lines at the theater, so it didn't really matter that we weren't part of the exclusive club.

When we got to the ticket booth, we found that the showtime we wanted was in a premium "Dolby" theater, which required a surcharge in addition to our passes. It wasn't clear what the difference was between the regular theater and the super-fancy once, but faced with the choice of paying extra or waiting an hour for a cheaper theater, we decided to pay the random, unexpected surcharge.

"Also just like the airport," I thought.

But before we could buy the tickets, we had to go through an overly-complicated process of checking in because the theater only offered reserved seating despite the fact that it was two-thirds empty. (It didn't help that the screen for choosing seats was in tiny type which was difficult for my middle-aged eyes to read.)

"Someone at AMC really has a thing for air travel," I concluded.

The premium Dolby theater was definitely nicer than your standard movie theater, though I suspect a fluffy rom-com was probably not the best vehicle for showing off whatever fancy sound and projection gear the theater was equipped with. And we definitely enjoyed the movie.

But my overall impression was that next time we should stick with our local theater. Because while the AMC theater was definitely bigger and fancier, it just wasn't as pleasant. I suspect I'm not the only AMC customer to think "airport" when faced with AMC's premium lines, unexpected upcharges, and unnecessary hoops.

I suspect that I'm also not the only AMC customer for whom "airport" is not a positive association.

Of Course You Don't Intend to Kill Puppies. But Hypothetically Speaking....

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2018-05-11 13:55

Recently, Sun Country Airlines, formerly a Minnesota-Nice local favorite reconstituted as a Nickel And Dime Ultra Low Cost carrier, stranded a couple planeloads of customers in Mexico because of a blizzard in Minneapolis.

Cancelled flights are not all that unusual in Minnesota during the winter, but Sun Country's strategy for dealing with it was. They simply refunded the passengers' remaining airfare and told them to find their own way home. The (now former) customers were not offered any meals or lodging, nor any assistance in finding another way home.

Nor did Sun Country offer to book those passengers on another Sun Country flight: as the airline patiently explained to passengers and the media, those were the last Sun Country flights from Los Cabos and Mazatlan for the season and the airplanes were needed elsewhere. And because there were no more flights, there were no Sun Country representatives on the ground to help passengers, either.

Naturally this didn't go over well. The couple hundred dollars for the refunded tickets (remember, Sun Country is now an Ultra Low Cost Carrier) wasn't even remotely enough to book a last-minute flight on another airline. It's likely that some passengers had to borrow from credit cards or friends just to get home.

The crazy thing is, Sun Country was probably within its rights. The company's Contract of Carriage (a 30-page document almost no passenger, including myself, has read in detail) only says is that the airline will try to provide transportation if they cancel a flight "to the extent reasonably possible." In this situation, someone at the airline made the decision that it would be too hard or too difficult to figure something out. So they decided to exercise their option to punt.

This highlights the huge gap between what companies are legally or contractually required to do, and what their customers expect them to do. Short of war or bankruptcy, no passenger expects that their airline will just leave them sitting in an airport in Mexico with no money, no ticket home, and no assistance. But Sun Country wrote its contract so it could do exactly this, and I'm sure that every other airline does exactly the same thing.

Nor are the airlines alone. These sorts of one-sided, unreasonable terms of service are everywhere, from Wells Fargo claiming its contract prohibits customers from suing it even when the reason for the lawsuit is because the customer never agreed to the contract, to Facebook giving itself permission to track everything you do and everywhere you go, online and off, and use that information in almost any way it wants.

It's fair to assume that these contracts go far far beyond what customers think they're signing up for when they click "agree." Not even the companies think these contracts are reasonable, judging from how quickly they back down from the PR stink when they actually try to exercise these rights they've given themselves: after a few days of bad publicity, Sun Country announced it would reimburse customers for the cost of getting home. Wells Fargo eventually said it wouldn't force customers with fraudulent accounts into binding arbitration. And Facebook admitted that letting people's personal profiles into the hands of shady political operatives was a mistake.

The problem is that Terms of Service agreements are generally written by lawyers, and the job of a lawyer writing a contract is to reduce or eliminate the chances that the client will be sued. So when a company is allowed to write its own ToS agreement without any negotiation with an actual customer, the lawyer will cover every base possible and write it so the customer agrees to everything that might possibly happen whether or not the company plans to operate that way.

(I can just imagine a lawyer at a conference table advising his client, "Of course you don't intend to kill your customers' puppies. But hypothetically speaking, some day a customer's puppy might die because of some mistake the company made, and the customer could claim that you meant to do it, or even enjoyed it. Juries love puppies, so we should head this off and just put in the contract that the customer gives us permission to maliciously and gleefully murder his puppy.")

When a crisis comes up it's tempting for a company to think it's OK to actually do the things it wrote into the terms of service. If leaving passengers stuck in Mexico gets your airline out of an expensive pickle and you're legally allowed to do it, it's hard to say no. If you can interpret your customer contract in a way that avoids years of litigation around millions of fraudulent accounts, the temptation will be extreme. But of course this will only make things worse, because at the end of the day meeting your customers' expectations (to say nothing of regulators' and lawmakers' expectations) is far more important than merely staying within the bounds of what's legally required.

The solution is both obvious and very difficult in the real world: Write terms of service agreements according to how you intend to treat customers, not according to what will minimize legal risk in every possible situation. If you don't give yourself the contractual right to abandon customers in Mexico, you're much less likely to actually do it when the crunch happens.

This requires having someone to advocate on behalf of customers, someone to ask the lawyers, "If you don't intend to kill my puppy, why give yourself the right to do it?" With the recent Facebook data leaks and the new GDPR regulations in Europe, there's been more of a spotlight on how long, unreadable, and egregious many of these contracts really are. So maybe we're in a moment when consumer contracts can be rewritten to reflect the customer experience companies intend to provide, rather than giving them legal cover for almost any sort of misbehavior.

One can only dream...

Why are we so obsessed with metrics?

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2018-03-30 16:50

Next week our local chapter of CXPA will be hosting a session called "Battle of the Metrics." I'm looking forward to it: it should be an informative and (I hope) entertaining meeting. If there's one thing that can spark a lively discussion among Customer Experience professionals, it's someone who takes a strong stand for or against any particular metric.

But why do we spend so much time and effort worrying about metrics?

Most reasonable CX metrics provide directionally similar results: when Customer Satisfaction or Net Promoter improve, chances are very good that Customer Effort,  Customer Loyalty, or any scorecard composed of customer survey responses will also improve. The numbers will be different, but they should all tell a similar story. Viewed in that way, arguing about which metric is best is a little like arguing about whether miles or kilometers are better.

Though come to think of it, when the United States tried unsuccessfully to go metric a half century ago, it turned out that a lot of people suddenly felt very strongly about whether to measure highways in miles or kilometers. So maybe it's not so surprising that we also have strong feelings about which CX metric to use.

When used properly, it shouldn't matter all that much which metric we choose. Most of the real CX action is below the level of the metrics: it's about finding ways to improve individual customer journeys, most often by helping people at all levels of the organization put themselves in those customers' shoes. Metrics, like signposts on the highway, give us some sense of how far we've gone and whether we're moving in the right direction. Miles or kilometers, either one will tell us that we're making progress.

And to the extent that different metrics give us different results, that's a sign that something unexpected is happening and we need to pay attention. Because while different CX metrics usually move together, they do measure somewhat different things. So if Net Promoter (which measures the strength of a customer's overall relationship) improves while Customer Effort (which measures how smoothly a particular transaction went) is getting worse, that could be a sign that something's afoot. It may be that there are some operational problems which your customers are willing to forgive (for now); or it may be that you are benefitting from a competitor's misstep. Whatever the situation, it's worth spending some effort to dig deeper.

In the end, I think metrics appeal to us because they give us a simple view into a complex reality. Boiling down our CX efforts to one number makes it easier to explain the impact of Customer Experience, and it makes it easier to show leadership what exactly it is that we're trying to achieve.

This is fine, but it comes with a steep price. Because in the end, it's not the metric that matters. It's everything that goes into the metric, all those thousands or millions of individual customers and their individual stories that matter. The metric, while it makes it possible to think about the bigger picture, conceals far more than it reveals.

Reputation Is an Effect, Not a Cause

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2018-01-12 15:05

One of the reasons to invest in improved Customer Experience is the positive effects it will have on your company's reputation and word-of-mouth.

That's great and well-deserved for companies that truly internalize CX. But I've seen a few companies where they treat their Customer Experience as a marketing campaign, and it never ends well.

This has been on my mind lately because Comcast, everyone's favorite CX bad boy, has been making noise lately about how they're mending their ways. They even had their EVP of Customer Service in the cable division, Tom Karinshak, do a puff-piece interview for a customer experience podcast.

But I wonder if this is a true conversion, because while they're saying all the right things it isn't clear to me that any of the root causes of Comcast's reputation have changed. For example, Comcast is still an effective monopoly in most of its markets and doesn't seem to have much of an incentive to care.

I'm not the only one to have this reaction. Jim Tincher noticed some recent fine-print changes on Comcast's website, and his take is that Comcast still cares more about maximally monetizing its subscribers than building relationships with them.

I saw a similar dynamic play out at Sprint almost a decade ago. Sprint, like Comcast today, was known for bottom of the barrel customer service. Sprint invested heavily in improving its customer service, and heavily promoted research (including Vocalabs' research) showing a positive effect. And then Sprint's attention turned elsewhere and the service went right back to where it had been.

This nicely encapsulates the difference between internalizing Customer Experience and treating it like a marketing campaign. When you do CX right, it becomes part of the core fiber of the company. It's hard, and it requires ongoing effort, but the positive benefits are long-lasting and build over time. But if it's just a PR initiative, once the campaign is over things will go right back to the way they were. There might not even be time for the company's reputation to improve in any meaningful way before the old bad habits settle in again. Worse, management may conclude that Customer Experience doesn't pay off because they didn't see any sustained benefit. That will make it a harder sell the next time around.

Companies which are CX leaders understand that Customer Experience isn't something you do, it's something you are. Companies which invest in CX looking for good PR and short-term financial gain are likely to fail on all counts.

Customer Experience Non-Trends for 2018

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2018-01-05 15:46

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 declared that the Customer Experience Theme for 2018 is "Humanity".

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 2018 as they were in 2017, 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 2018. 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 2019 I can just republish the same article with a different date, just as this year's article is the same as my 2017 Non-Trends article, which in turn is the same as my 2016 Non-Trends article.

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 itself, 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 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 2016 2017 2018!

Making the Company Human

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2017-12-08 14:21

If you are one of the lucky few who plunked down the equivalent of a four-year degree to buy a Tesla Model X, you probably already know about your car's special holiday light show.

For those who haven't heard about this before, here's the video. Model X owners can press a special sequence of buttons to get their car to flash its lights and open and close the doors in time to holiday music. It's like one of those over-the-top Christmas light displays, except for your car.

Most car owners--and I'm going to guess most auto industry executives--will probably think, "Why the heck does anyone need their car to perform a musical light show?"

But evidently that's not what Elon Musk thought. Because at Tesla, it's apparently completely rational to invest a meaningful amount of design and engineering resources in making the car do something completely useless and utterly frivolous just because it's cool. We know this because the light show isn't the only wacky feature programmed into Teslas: there's a whole web site devoted to Tesla's easter eggs.

There's a lesson here about how the customer experience plays into a company's brand. Most companies don't spend much time and effort being playful or frivolous. But for most people, that time spent having fun, doing things just because, is very important. It's what we enjoy most, it's what we wish we had more of, and in some ways it's what makes us human. Play is even recognized as an important part of mental health.

So when a company shows that it, too, can be playful, it helps humanize the company. It shows that the business isn't just a giant faceless bureaucracy, but rather people with personality. And that makes us like the company more.

The Most Important Metric in CX

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2017-10-06 15:36

The Minneapolis Chapter Meeting of the CXPA featured a panel discussion this week for Customer Experience Day. Four Customer Experience luminaries from the Twin Cities area fielded questions from a packed audience for the better part of an hour, but the very last question stood out.

"What is the most important Customer Experience metric?"

This prompted chin scratching and discussion of the relative merits of common survey metrics like NPS and Customer Effort, and general consensus that no one metric is ever going to give the whole picture, as well as the important fact that if you're focusing on finding the right metric then you're probably doing CX wrong.

I was not part of the panel (I'm not nearly luminous enough), but if I had been, my answer would have been different. Because I believe there is one metric that stands out above all others in measuring the progress of a company's Customer Experience efforts and predicting future success in harnessing all the financial and market benefits of being a customer-centric organization.

My metric, the One Metric to Rule Them All, is simple: The amount of attention a company's C-Suite leadership pays to Customer Experience.

I admit that I haven't actually tested this metric in the real world. Nor do I know anyone else who has--though I will cheerfully buy a beer for anyone cheeky enough to suggest performing a time-tracking study on their company's C-Suite executives.

But everyone I talked to agreed that a measurement of senior leadership attention is likely to outperform NPS, CSAT, Customer Effort, and just about any other customer-facing metric you might care to devise. Leadership focus on Customer Experience is the most critical element of a successful CX program: if you've got the C-Suite pulling for CX, everything else tends to fall in place. But if the leadership is indifferent, then the whole program is going to be an uphill struggle.

The other piece of this is the leadership needs to be directly paying attention, and not just spending money and delegating CX to a team. In most large organizations attention is more scarce than money, and it quickly becomes apparent what the company actually cares about and what they merely think they should be doing.

So if you want to gauge the success of your CX program, there are many survey metrics you can use. But the truest measure will be to look inside and see how much time and attention you're getting from the most senior leadership.

Customer Experience is Driven by Core Values

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2017-07-21 13:26

It seems that corporate culture may soon be having a moment. An article in Recode yesterday by Patrick Quinlan highlights the many recent high-profile examples of corporate misbehavior, such as Wells Fargo to Uber, and argues that the root cause of these problems is that many companies have viewed ethics through the lens of compliance rather than core values.

The problem, in Quinlan's view, is that for too long many companies have lacked any core values other than making money. Not breaking the law is also in there somewhere, but as a secondary consideration. You can see how this leads to problems. If a company's core values are "make money" and "don't break the law," but you only get fired if you don't make money, then employees are going to break the law and turn a blind eye when their peers and managers are a little loose with the legalities. This applies all the way from the C-suite to the salesman, except that the salesman is more likely to get blamed with misbehavior comes to light.

Customer Experience, like ethical behavior, is also driven by a company's core values. You hear most any CX expert talk about "Leadership" as one of the core components of success in Customer Experience, and this is what the Leadership is all about.

Effective leadership in Customer Experience means making the customer part of the mission and core values of the company. It's not just the business school mechanics of structure, governance, incentives, and metrics. It's about genuinely caring about how the company serves customers.

I don't know if Quinan is right, and that we are going to see more companies reevaluating their core values. I agree that the lack of any deep moral compass in most large businesses (other than "maximize profitability") is a huge problem today, and not just in the areas of not abusing customers or employees. I see it in the way that global tax evasion has become an accepted way of doing business, and the way some enormous companies don't seem to care whether or not their employees have to choose between eating, paying rent, or visiting the doctor.

So I do hope that this is going to become a greater part of the conversation. Because if a company can align itself with the right set of core values, many other things will be a lot easier, from Customer Experience to staying out of legal trouble.

Desire Paths in Journey Maps

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2017-06-23 14:26

Desire Path
People often don't behave the way you expect them to. Customer feedback helps you uncover the disconnect between what you think customers do, and what they're really doing.

It's tempting, in a journey mapping project, to skip the time-consuming and sometimes expensive process of asking customers what their actual experience was in completing a particular journey.

This is a mistake. We constantly discover that in the real world people behave differently than we expect. If your journey mapping process is only gathering data from company insiders, you're almost guaranteed to get a skewed perspective. Insiders understand how the system works, and that makes it hard to see where an outsider customer might find things confusing or illogical.

Even if you're gathering behavioral data, chances are you're missing important parts of the puzzle. The best web analytics in the world won't tell you why customers do certain things, they'll only tell you that real customers are behaving in ways you can't easily explain. And in the real world, lots of customer behavior won't be captured for a variety of reasons.

This is illustrated nicely by the idea of the Desire Path. A Desire Path is one of those trampled paths that people create by the routes they actually follow, rather than the paths the designers expect them to use.

A desire path is what happens when people find their own way, rather than following the path that's been laid out for them.

Desire paths happen all the time in Customer Experience. Every time a customer hits "zero" instead of cooperating with the IVR menus, that's a desire path. Companies may try to corral customers into certain behaviors, but usually wind up opening desire paths in the face of unhappy, frustrated customers.

The goal of most journey mapping projects should be to document actual customer journeys, as opposed to the journeys you want or hope your customers to take (the want or hope part usually comes later). You are, in essence, documenting the desire paths your customers are following when they interact with you.

In the customer experience world we usually can't just look to see where the grass is trampled, so we have to ask customers where they actually went, why they chose that route, and how they felt about it.

Without customer feedback, your journey map will only show the sidewalks. 

Incentives Run Amok

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2017-05-12 11:41

Here are three stories which have one thing in common:

  1. Several customers have reported being "fired" from their Ford dealer after providing less-than-perfect ratings on a customer survey. One customer, when he contacted his dealer about buying another new vehicle after his original purchase was told to go away: "Since that survey actually cost myself and the dealership money from Ford, I will have to personally pass on your offer."
  2. Wells Fargo bankers created millions of fraudulent accounts in order to meet sales and cross-selling quotas. To date, the bank has paid $185 million in fines, and the former leaders of the company have personally had to return tens of millions of dollars in bonuses.
  3. Walmart stores across the country have absurdly obsolete technology products on their shelves, often priced at close to the original retail price from ten or more years ago. Walmart employees explained to the Consumerst blog that discounting obsolete items counts against their stores' financial targets, but unsold inventory does not, giving store managers no reason to try to clear outdated products from the shelves.

All three of these stories involve incentive systems that have run amok, leading employees to do things that are harming the company. What's more, most employees at these companies probably understand that they're doing the wrong thing, but they feel like they have no choice but to go along with the broken system.

Meanwhile, senior leadership is either unaware of the problem or (as is alleged to have happened at Wells Fargo) actively punishes employees who try to raise the red flag. The end result is that the numbers look good even while the underlying situation in the company gets worse and worse.

How do companies get in this situation? I see three key factors:

  • An over-reliance on a few specific metrics. Metrics and goals are important (you couldn't manage a large organization without them), but they are only a distorted reflection of the underlying state of the business. It's a mistake to believe that metrics, by themselves, tell the whole story. Leadership needs to stay connected to what's going on in the front lines of the organization.
  • Overly rigid goals. Bright-line targets are easy to administer and seem fair on the surface, but the real world tends to be a more complicated place. It's better to focus on an employees overall pattern of behavior, even if it's harder to quantify, than on whether some particular metric meets an arbitrary threshold.
  • Punishing failure rather than rewarding success. There's no metric that can't be gamed, and punishing employees for failing to meet their targets forces them to choose between cheating the system or accepting the punishment. Because most people react much more strongly to punishment than an equivalent reward (think about the difference between getting a $100 bonus vs. having your pay docked $100), punishing failure can encourage employees to do whatever it takes--even if they know it's wrong--to avoid being punished.

There's a strain of business culture that says an executive's job should be to set rigid goals and deal mercilessly with those who fall short. My view, however, is that true leadership means understanding what's really going on deep inside the company and ensuring that everyone is pulling in the right direction. Goals and metrics are just one tool for this, and an imperfect one at that. And when used improperly, they can lead to some very bad results.