Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Canned Customer Experience

If you’ve been following my blog lately, you know that I have started a grassroots campaign to help businesses see the impact their CX is having on their customers and their loyalty.  I am both professionally (as a customer experience expert) and personally (as a savvy consumer) invested in helping companies everywhere understand the need to be at the top of their game in terms of customer experience, if they are going to win and retain the hearts and minds of their most important asset, their loyal customers.

There’s no shortage of promises, proclamations and CX strategy prototypes created by leaders, all with great intentions to deliver great CX to the customer while positively impacting business results. It looks and sounds great…on paper but what’s really happening in the trenches? Does the CX actually match what you make it out to be in promise-filled presentation decks? How about service recovery? Inevitably the CX will breakdown at some point and recovery is key to saving and even clinching a customer’s loyalty. In fact, a customer who has had a problem that is resolved to their satisfaction is actually more likely to become loyal than one that has had no problem at all.  How about that?

Here’s what I am noticing, and it’s NOT great news in the world of service recovery.

After I shared my poor experiences with Brooks Brothers and Hertz, there was a glaring commonality in the communication I received initially from both companies. Almost immediately after I shared my blog, tagging these companies on Twitter, I received a response. Both companies asked me direct message them with more information. A fair enough request, and so I did. But what happened from there involved a series of canned responses that put more work on me - the customer - and the person who already feels burdened with a bad experience. Whether it was to provide further details, answer a series of “due diligence” questions, or fill out a questionnaire/survey, I was putting in more effort than I really wanted to without understanding where it was all leading. It wasn’t really until I pushed back in both situations, that the conversation was elevated to a more senior position. That’s when the real conversations started and that’s where my service recovery differed dramatically. Hertz really stepped up, and through a series of personal emails and even a phone call, they cleared up any discrepancies, but more importantly, they listened and heard what I had to say and responded through actions and sentiment that let me know they wanted the chance to earn my loyalty again.

Listen, I understand there has to be some sort of vetting process when complaints are lodged through social channels. However, I fear that these “canned” responses are becoming a dangerous standard for companies who see them as enough to suffice for a strong CX. It’s NOT! You wouldn’t tell a disgruntled customer standing in front of you to fill out a form, would you? You would talk to them, listen and resolve their issue quickly and with care.  Consumers are living, breathing individuals whose wallets and hearts are inextricably linked, and the CX and service recovery experience needs to be personalized too.  A personal email or an individualized text or phone call goes a long way.
Sorry Brooks Brothers, as I write this blog on a short plane flight, I am typing it in a new blue and white checked dress shirt, tie and slacks from…yes, Men’s Wearhouse. However, I will be hanging my sports coat from the hook in the back seat of my Hertz rental car because I am giving them another chance based on their service recovery yet I have not visited your stores in months, and since I am in a suit and tie 5-6 days a week and hope to be working for the next 20 years…well, you do the math.

Let’s kick it up a notch and get away from the canned customer experience mentality. Agree or disagree? Tweet me @GMagenta or email me at gmagenta@rootinc.com and tell me what you think!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Technology is Enhancing the Personal Connection with Your Customer, NOT Killing it!

As I rang in my birthday a couple weeks ago, the CRM-churned emails and text messages began rolling in. One by one my inbox and phone were flooded with birthday wishes from my doctor, car dealerships,  investment houses and others I do personal business with.

Do I appreciate the sentiment? Of course! However, I’d be lying if I said that the “Happy Birthdays” surrounded my flickering candled animations felt flat and mechanical. And it’s not just from business-related sources. Even the e-card from my own mother seemed to lack that warm and fuzziness that comes with opening a handwritten birthday card with a perfectly placed stamp.

However, the issue here really is not the technology-driven wishes versus the handwritten ones. It’s about the lack of personalization. Without that personal connection, how can you possibly forge a relationship…right?

In the midst of pondering this challenge, my cell phone rang and my wife answered it. It was Dave from Volkswagen of Naples, FL calling to wish me a happy birthday. As a matter of fact, he has called every year for the last three years on my birthday. The birthday wishes are peppered with questions about the weather in Chicago, what I’m doing for my birthday, is everything okay with the car I had bought for my wife, when are we back in Florida for season. He asks all the right questions to maintain and further our personal connection. And you know what? He still used a CRM system to even remember my birthday and prompt the call,  but where he changes the game is by adding personalization. In addition to the conversation with me, he also took the time to have a conversation with my wife to alleviate her concerns about a recent recall, assuring her that it did not impact her beloved Beetle convertible.

Now, I know you must be thinking, ‘well of course you have a personal relationship with him because you bought a car from him after sitting in painful and obligatory negotiations and mounds of paperwork’. That’s not accurate. I actually bought the car online from the dealership and we only met when I picked up the keys. However, he has made a point to contact me over the years, and every touch point  is packed with personal moments that have actually built the relationship that was not established during the sales process. I essentially avoided everything I hate about purchasing a car but I still got the personal experience necessary to feel like a valued customer.

This is one of many experiences that reinforces for me that it’s not technology that’s killing the customer experience, it can actually enhance it. You see, in the case of the car purchase, the drudgery of the face-to-face purchasing experience was eliminated, along with any potentially negative sentiment I might have had, and the subsequent interactions I have had with my VW representative have all been to support the purchase that I made online.

And it’s not just the big purchases where there is a chance to build relationships that transition from online to personal. Every Saturday morning, after a long bike ride, I place an order through my Starbucks app to get my wife, Angela, her London Fog Latte, extra hot, no foam, with coconut milk.

From there, this is how it usually goes as I walk into Starbucks in full biking gear.

“Angela?”, yells the barista.

“That’s me!”, I say

“Where did you ride today?”

When I tell him, he keeps the conversation going, telling me he loves the food in that neighborhood and makes some suggestions. On my next visit, I tell him I went back and tried the carnitas. He showed genuine excitement and interest asking if I went to Don Pepe’s because it’s his favorite!

What happens between us during every trip to pick up my wife’s coffee, is what I call a microconnection. These 20-second interactions, all based on a personal connection formed because the barista was able to make a connection with me based on me wearing a bike helmet. He picked up on a simple cue and made it into a personal connection, which over time feels like a relationship….a relationship built on a series of 20-second interactions.  
Not only does online technology NOT hamper the personal connections necessary to good customer experience, but it can actually help you bypass the transaction and focus on the relationship!

Don’t let the influx of kiosks and self-service checkouts make you feel like you can’t personalize the customer experience. Instead, let it strengthen the customer’s independence and then use the extra time with them to work on building your relationship.

Rest assured that technology isn’t the culprit to failed customer experiences. In reality, it gives you more time and opportunity to forge the relationship, so USE IT!

Monday, November 7, 2016

What I Learned About Customer Experience From The World Series

In my 53 years on earth, I’ve never been a sports fan. I don’t play anything, don’t watch anything, and don’t have steadfast loyalties to any league, jersey number or team.

But, I found myself in an interesting situation this past week while in Columbus, Ohio for a 3-day conference and wound up at game 7 of the World Series. That’s right! A colleague who I work with in Root’s Chicago office convinced me to make the road trip to Cleveland to see our hometown team play because even without being a diehard baseball fan, this was sure to be a once in a lifetime experience. Well…since I am ALL about experience, my interest was piqued; we spent an unreasonable amount of money to secure tickets through Stub Hub and headed to Cleveland.

At the risk of sounding cliché, from the moment we arrived there was magic brewing. There was palpable excitement in the air coupled with the nostalgic smell of hot dogs, and roasted peanuts being peddled throughout the stadium. The stadium was buzzing with passion oozing from loyal fans of both teams wearing their team’s colors at every turn. Pete Rose was commentating from his box and Bill Murray and Charlie Sheen were there as celebrity representatives of each side.

Masses of people set out to find their seats and settle in to witness a little piece of history. The hour and a half chunk of time of our early arrival flew by in the blink of an eye as I took in every sight, sound and smell in that stadium. Once friends, family and colleagues learned I was at the game, my phone was blowing up with text messages.

“You are at the game?!?!”

“You are part of something really big right now!”

“You are literally witnessing history!”

My colleague and I sat in our seats, in full business attire, having impulsively come straight from a conference, sticking out like a sore thumb amongst the sea of jerseys, logoed shirts and hats and even painted faces. But still I didn’t feel out of place. As a matter of fact, fans from both teams welcomed us into this special  community with open arms. I was part of this little club now that I barely knew existed.

And every text message and comment from my friends and the crowd was spot on. I witnessed freaking history. Sports fan or not, it was impossible NOT to get caught up in the energy and excitement of what I was watching.

That’s when I realized something – all of this was not about the “game”, it was about the experience. It was about everything that experience represented – the fans, the food, the celebrity. It was about a moment in time where you feel like you are part of something big. And it was about the support, engagement and camaraderie of the community of people sharing this moment in time with one another. I left the game vowing to be loyal to the Cubs forever and to go to as many of their games as I can next season, I have found myself researching the team and the players, learning their names and their history. I had fallen in love!

All of this was making my wheels spin. My work is based around customer experience and I just had one of the most unforgettable ones of my life. So, in my mind, I knew there was a parallel to be drawn regarding business.

And here’s what I came up with. It’s not just about the product or service being sold. Yes, I bought tickets to watch a baseball game, a game between the Cubs and the Indians, but that’s not what it’s all about. The World Series game was the product I bought but what has made me loyal, what will keep me coming back, was the overall experience. For heaven’s sake, I’m still not sure about all of the rules of the game yet or the names of the players.

So, think about that and what your company is doing to create an overall experience that captures the hearts and minds of your new customers, your first timers who may be skeptics or even indifferent to your product or service. What is the experience that you can offer that has them committing to coming back, to learn more about your organization and to want to be part of it.

And huge congrats to the Cubs! It was more than worth getting back at 3 am and having to be up a few hours later because it’s an experience I will never forget!