You don’t need a customer experience strategy – You already know what to do (A modern fairy tale for CX day)
Don’t bother wasting time developing a customer experience strategy. You already know what to do!
Well, most of us think we do. Including me. We all have lots of ideas that will make customers happier. Let’s just implement them. That should save a lot of time. Right?
And now… a bedtime fairy tale about how that might go, as told by an anonymous (for now) narrator. There are some clues as to his or her real identity. I hope you find the whole story entertaining. I have written it in honor of ‘Customer Experience Day’ on October 3rd 2017.
[Arriving at work…]
Here is my favorite idea at the moment. I am sure our customers would like to discuss their experiences in an internet forum. That should be easy to do. There are so many of them. I will just go over to Michelle, our IT manager, and ask her to set it up.
[An hour goes by…]
Wow! Michelle is really grumpy today. She said she has nobody to do it. They are all ‘busy’ with supposedly important things. How could anything be more important than our customers? I need to go and talk to her manager.
[Another hour goes by as I meet with the CIO…]
All these techies must have slept badly last night. Danielle didn’t want to help either. She said she has all the projects she can handle for the next six months. Apparently I should come back in next year’s budget cycle. What a blocker. She must hate our customers.
Hmm… I played golf with our CEO once. Let me try to grab him over lunch. I hope he doesn’t remember that ball I moved when I thought he wasn’t looking.
Well that question caught me off guard. John asked what made me think customers wanted a forum. Then things got worse. He asked me to tell him the top three things that customers actually tell us they want us to improve. He wants to know what the improvements would cost, and what the ROI is. He asked me to present it to his leadership team a month from now. Based on data. With numbers. And worse, he asked me to suggest where we could find the money.
Why could he not just trust my instinct?
I don’t know how to do all of that.
I just have a month.
[Reflections in the middle of the night…]
I can’t say I had a good day. Our CEO (John) wants me to tell him what customers want us to improve, and to provide a cost/benefit analysis. Can’t sleep. How can I do that? Who would know? Maybe Claire. She has been around since the company started. She seems to know everything. Does she still work for us? Where does she sit? Can I remember what she looks like? Oh, are those sheep? Let’s count them. One, two, three…
[Many snores and a drive to work later…]
OK, I found Claire and we had a coffee together. She really does seem to know everyone here. She told me our service center people send surveys to customers after people phone with problems. Paul has those reports. I thought ‘Great! My work is done here’. Jane said not. She said that Paul’s surveys ask about the call the person just had with us, but don’t ask about the company or our various products and services. Worse still, she said that if I want to find out what our customer want us to improve, I should ask them. Ridiculous! I need to go and talk to Paul.
[After meeting Paul for a drink…]
Paul was really busy, so I invited him to go for a drink after work. I told him I would buy. That was a mistake. I had one Coke while he downed seven glasses of Scotch. Still, it made him talkative, and he probably said more than he intended to. Apparently John has never visited the service center, and has shown no interest at all the the reports Paul sends him. Paul himself seems to be very motivated and doing a lot for customers. He gets his supervisors together every morning and they discuss the main results of the previous day’s customer surveys. Paul concentrates on the positive feedback, and tries to get his team off to a happy start each day.
On the negative side, Paul confirmed what Claire told me. He gets good improvement suggestions for the service center, but does not think they are much use for the company overall. He says less than a quarter of customers call the service center, and he has no idea what the others think of us. The last coherent thing he said was that I should ask the customers myself. He said I should talk to George, our marketing manager. Then he rambled on about how his Atlanta Falcons would destroy Manchester United if they ever met. I had no idea what he was talking about and made a quick exit at that point. I hope he didn’t drive home.
[After coffee with George, the marketing manager…]
George was really helpful. He told me about his annual brand research, and how our company brand compares to that of our competitors. I didn’t realize marketing work could be so interesting. I am not sure what my mother had against it. She told me “If you ever go to work in Marketing, please don’t tell me. Tell me you are working in a brothel instead. I will be happier.” Even if George exudes a sort of ‘peace and love’ vibe, he seems to know his stuff.
George told me it should be quite simple to get customer feedback directly. He has a contact list, with email addresses and phone numbers. We have about 5,000 customers, but just 30 of them give us a quarter of all our revenue. He said I should go and visit them over the next month, while phoning or emailing the others.
In the meantime, he said I should get two books onto my Kindle immediately, and read them. They are The Ultimate Question 2.0 by Reichheld and Markey, and some customer strategy book by a guy called FitzGerald. I don’t remember the name of the book.
I like George, and he seems to be single. Maybe I should ask him out.
[Several days later…]
OK, I finally got up my courage and asked George out yesterday evening. It was a bit odd and I am not sure I like him all that much, after all. He said we could make beautiful music together, but I am not so sure. Maybe it is the beard. I don’t really like beards.
On the professional front, George’s list was really useful. I have already gone to see eight of our largest customers so far. It was really interesting to learn what makes them keep coming back, time after time. They seem really happy with our service, and always want more. Insatiable would be the word, I think.
I tried a couple of different ways of talking to them. First, based on my reading, I asked them whether they would recommend our services to a friend, why, and what we should improve. I have to say that none spontaneously mentioned a desire to talk to other customers in an online forum, which was disappointing. Still, I have only spoken to eight customers, so that could change. One of the customers happened to be a professional magician. I used that to ask her a different question. I just said “If I gave you a magic wand that gives you total control over our company, what three wishes would you make?” Her answers were indeed useful.
[After signing up with SurveyMonkey…]
I could have signed up with a variety of online survey providers but chose SurveyMonkey because George suggested it. Except for the top 30 customers, I am sending my feedback request by email. I will follow up by phone if I don’t hear back from the top 100. George told me it was important to be personal, and to promise to tell the customers that we will act on their feed back. So here are the main things I did in the email, which I sent out from my own Outlook account:
- I used Excel and Word to set up a mail merge so that every email used the customer’s name and mentioned how much business they have done with us.
- I told them who I was and that I am making a presentation to the CEO on what to improve less than two weeks from now. I said that I need their help.
- I promised to tell them the result of the presentation, whether they answer the feedback request or not. I mentioned that of course their improvement suggestions will not appear unless they take the survey.
- I promised them that there are only three questions in the survey, and included a screen shot of the survey form in the email. It should be clear to them that it will take just a couple of minutes.
Now I am going to hit send. [‘Click’]
[48 hours later…]
Wow! 1,000 responses already. That’s 20% of all our customers. I have not had time to read all their suggestions yet, though I searched the response file for the word ‘forum’, and it did not come up, which is surprising. A forum would be such a good idea.
I have now seen 15 of the top 30 customers. I can’t get appointments with some customers, even for a Skype conference. I will keep trying. The largest customers seem less happy with us than the others. I suppose they spend a lot more money, so it is to be expected that they should be more demanding. I wonder whether I should propose a special VIP service of some sort for them.
[A few days pass…]
The number of survey responses dropped off quickly, though I now have 1400. I suppose I should send a reminder. I have been reading the answers to the open questions and the distribution across our three offers is interesting, at least at first sight.
- Our new customers all get logon credential and have to go through that wonderful compatibility analysis that Peter created. He call’s it Pete’s Best Partner Profile, but I think that’s too close to his name. It should be Pete’s Perfect Partner Profile Program (PPPPP). Sometimes I think he wrote it for himself. Pete is a cognitive psychologist and the tool is designed to create mutually compatible profiles of people before they meet. Of course, sometimes opposites attract. There has not been a lot of feedback on the profiling. Should I take that to mean that it works OK. I think it is what FitzGerald called a ‘Hygiene Factor’ in his books, meaning people only notice it if it does not work.
- The Video Speed Dating process seems to work well. Both men and women like the ability to talk to a variety of people before deciding whether or not to go to the parties. Of course, some then just decide to meet each other so we lose the party revenue. Not sure we can do much about that.
- Our Perfect Partner Parties are really popular with those who attend them. I was surprised to see so few comments about the high entry price. I suppose it is a way of screening people. Still, there are a lot of detailed improvement suggestions about the parties. Some come from people who have not attended them, which is a bit odd.
[All research now complete…]
I have now spoken to the top 30 customers. These are of course the people who have attended the most parties, spending the most money. I have to say that none seem to be on a true search for their life partners. They just seem to like to party with people like them. There were 21 men and nine women in the group of 30. They had one consistent suggestion about the parties. I do not look forward to presenting it to the CEO a few days from now. It may be too controversial.
There were just under 2,000 responses from the rest of our customer base of about 5,000 members. I asked three colleagues to look at their answers to the open questions. Oops, we each came up with different lists of the top five items. I went back to Danielle and Michelle and asked them how to analyze it all using software. They gave links to several tools. By coincidence, all were mentioned by FitzGerald in his Net Promoter implementation book. (What a coincidence!) Most were useful in some way. I got the best results when I sent the file to Thematic software and they did a quick demo analysis for free. Nice!
[One more sleepless night…]
Tomorrow is the big day. Four weeks have gone by since our CEO asked me to do the work. I hope I can get the full leadership team to agree to what I will propose. I don’t think they will like one of the top improvement suggestions, though it can bring us more money. I briefed John, Paul and George earlier today, and think I have their support, though they were surprised. I still think I like George. I have gotten used to his beard. It is a pity Pete won’t be there.
I am somewhat afraid. Maybe I won’t survive the day. Maybe I will get fired. Hopefully not.
Are those sheep? Let’s count them…
[The big day has arrived…]
Yes, this is it. My big day has arrived. Why do I have a feeling of ‘It’s either death or glory’? I feel ready. I have rehearsed about a dozen times.
[Waiting outside the conference room…]
I can hear them speaking from out here. “And what have we next? Ah yes, Richard Starkey is here to talk to us about a possible new customer experience strategy. Danielle, can you please open the door for him?”
[And here I go. Wish me luck!]
“Good morning everyone. My name is Richard Starkey, though my friends call me Ringo. A few weeks ago I went to John to propose an improvement for customers that I really believed in. John asked me to go beyond my personal opinions and to find out what customers really want us to improve. Well, the first thing I can tell you is that I was wrong. I thought I had a brilliant idea. Our customers didn’t. Let me tell you a bit about that journey.
Customer experience strategy is like any other strategy. It is about allocation of resources. Where can we concentrate our people and money so that we can win? What things should we stop doing so that we can free up additional people and money for the few things that will make a difference? In terms of the decision process, the most important step is to ask customers what they want. Then give it to them.
[I explained the six components of my investigation…]
There were six parts to my work. The first thing I studied was how happy our customers are with our services, and what they want us to improve. About 2,000 of them provided their views, including all 30 top spenders. In short, they like our services a lot. Both men and women love us. And three improvement suggestions came out well ahead of the others. More about that a bit later. Though I think I can summarize what our customers want and need in five words: All you need is love.
Second, I looked at our competitors. While Tinder seems obvious, our customers told me that they feel they have upgraded from Tinder to us. Yes, many people looking for a date or hookup use Tinder. Match.com and eHarmony are in the same space as Tinder, though a small step up. Like us, their customers answer questions and create a profile. The rest is essentially up to the customers. No speed dating. No parties. At the high end, Adler’s Selective Search and similar dating agencies charge up to $25,000 a year, and have some success in wealthy circles. They seem to have great parties, though perhaps a bit too sophisticated (meaning boring) for our clients. At the moment, our video speed dating and amazing parties differentiate us. Our clients say that the $125 they pay for our parties is excellent value. One customer of elite Russian origin told us they reminded her of being Back in the USSR. In short, our business model is currently unique, though it could be copied.
Third, I looked at our partners. I took the additional step of talking to the three hotels we use for our parties. They would like to sell more hotel rooms, and would be willing to give us a percentage if we can help them. This also ties into the preferences of some of our customers.
Overall, our industry is constantly changing. Love will always be a great and profitable industry. However, Silicon Valley and other startups are a threat to our video speed dating offering. Startups are special companies. There is a broad tolerance for them to make substantial losses for a long period of time. We don’t have that luxury. It is critical to retain the link to the physical parties. Without it, we could not have a profitable video speed dating business. Participation in the speed dating must continue to be a condition of entry for the parties. We just need to Let It Be.
The fifth item is external factors, notably government regulation. Some of our potential competitors have crossed the regulatory line and are being investigated for setting up illegal prostitution networks.
Finally, there is our own ability to execute. What are we actually capable of doing? My answer is: just a few things, and they all need to be local, here in our great city of eight million people. I do not believe we are currently capable of replicating our model in another city. Nor do we need to.
[Must remember to show my gratitude…]
When John gave me this assignment, I have to say my reaction was Help! I need somebody… And I got that help from Paul and George who are here today, and Claire who seems to know everything and everyone. Thank you.
So, based primarily on what our customers have told me, here is what I want to propose as three strategic initiatives, all of which can be delivered in less than nine months:
- Our customers tell us they love our parties. They are always full. They differentiate us. We currently partner with three of the eight five-star hotels in our city. Let’s take that to five hotels, starting with the new one over on Abbey Road, followed by the one on Penny Lane. This means running five parties per month, rather than the three we run at the moment. Imagine all the people. Customers love the hotels themselves. If they can have the opportunity to visit all five, the will benefit from an almost Magical Mystery Tour. Yes, it will take a proportional increase in party staff to do this.
- For reasons that should be obvious, many customers tell us they find a sudden need to secure a hotel room, right away, while the parties are still on. The hotels we use are often full. I discussed this in depth with out top 30 customers. They are the core people who have this particular need. I think I would call it a need for A Hard Day’s Night. I therefore want to propose an additional offer for our parties: a combined ‘Party and hotel room’ offering. All three hotels are willing to give us 20% of the full room price if we introduce this offer. We can choose whether to keep the 20% or pass it on to our most loyal customers.
- There are customer concerns about the confidentiality of the video speed dating application we use. Yes, some of our customers are in stable relationships and their partners do not know of our existence. One of them, Eleanor Rigby, mentioned using non-existent ‘business trips’ and family emergencies were as excuses. We need to ensure that all conversations are encrypted, and that the service provider keeps no record whatsoever of their having happened. I have discussed this with Michelle, and it is possible, for about $80,000 that she does not currently have.
Women expressed a particular concern that men did not. They wonder how they can have new clothes to wear each time they attend an event. I have looked at a partnership with a high-end clothing rental company like Rent The Runway, but don’t really see what would be in it for us. That may be worth exploring further, once we have completed one of the first three initiatives.
[And now the hard part…]
So, how can we afford the new initiatives? I have looked into this and there is a solution that can be implemented in the next three or four months. It has a downside, so you may think it is a bit of a Revolution. Our customers do not care where our office is located. Some of us do, especially those who have offices that look out over the park. Implementing the new initiatives requires hiring more people, and therefore renting more office space. There is a new building three blocks away that has enough space available, and at half the rent we currently pay. We need the space. We need the initiatives. We have to accept that we can’t look out over Strawberry Fields Forever.
[Closing the deal?]
Our customers have spoken. We can indeed afford to do what they want, if we make a small sacrifice. I am sure We Can Work It Out. So, before I open it up for questions, then Get Back to my day job organizing the bands for our parties, I just want to thank John, Paul and George for the collaboration and opportunity to work on this project. I hope it helps. And since I have used no slides for this presentation, I will take the liberty of sharing an animated drawing my brother has done of the four of us together. He took the liberty of asking your families to give him old photos. Thank you.”
Wow! Not only did they say yes. They said the four of us would make beautiful music together. For our customers, of course!