anticipating customer needs, in the digital era

I know I promised to post only about remarkable CX but somehow it’s not happening and meanwhile other things (namely, life) are going on here.tesla

So this week it’s _the week_ of the much dreaded 10 years anniversary with the hubby, and I was browsing the internet looking for a gift in utter desperation, when suddenly I remembered reading an article months ago about a new app: Magic, aka the promise of a completely different, disruptive, mind-blowing customer experience. Desperation prompted me to sneak around their website and I was suddenly catapulted into a magic world, where a small minimal interaction such as a text, could trigger tons of events leading to a brand new tesla car delivered to your door. (for the hubby: no, I did not buy you a tesla car)

Is this what customers want? Or sometimes even having everything at the tip of your fingers is simply not enough?

Behavioural analysis models are tracking all our activity on the web and are able to predict our needs and wants with scaring accuracy, but sometimes a simple task as one that will just make your wishes come true, suddenly becomes a killer application, probably because it requires very minimal effort from the user.

So in the end I did not write to Magic (also because it’s a US-only service) but this helped me focus on the real meaning of customer care: to be able to serve and anticipate the needs and wants of the other so that they feel cared for and loved. Who wouldn’t want that?

The unbearable lightness of a good customer experience (Einmal ist keinmal)

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One occurrence is not significant. This really sums up our feelings towards customer experience. If we happen to find the unicorn of CX, where everything runs smoothly and is fabulous and neat, we will still rant about the other 99% of occasions which left us sour-mouthed.

And why is that? I mean why can’t we brag about one nice experience and make it up for the other fails? I guess the answer is bordering philosophy and the fact that there is an intrinsic lightness to our experiences with companies and providers.

Or is it just that companies and providers are not making the effort and don’t deserve our feelings nor to be considered meaningful?

For now on, my resolve will be to spot any good CX and post it here, so it is no longer non-significant, at least for a few bytes. 🙂

Diaries of the voice portal (part 3)

She prepared her “data center blanket”: usually an upgrade night meant spending several hours in the near freezing temperatures that IT managers chose for their beloved servers.

She stashed it into her laptop bag, along with a cereal bar and her notes.

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This was basically all she needed for the night: while her friends were texting from pubs and clubs, she entered the freezing vault hearing the comforting buzz of the dozens of servers all neatly displayed on racks, and happily prepared the necessary stuff (blanket on the shoulders, kind of like an elderly weird protuberance from the KVM thing driving the whole rack).

Upgrading a large telephony environment was typically a job for at least 2 people and she was always with someone from the PBX department. She didn’t mind: there was plenty of time for the upgrade, and for some spare moments of small talk and the occasional horrible coffee at the vending machine.

This time there was a weird vibe, though. She could feel it in the plastic air of the data center, that the digital creatures were not going to behave, not tonight.

And in fact, right in the middle of the process, the much dreaded -failed upgrade- message. This time, without the revert option. So basically she was stuck: no going back, as some files were overwritten by the upgrade files, and no moving forward, as the upgrade failed. Bummer! This is going to last all night, she thought.

She frantically searched through her notes for some workaround or anything that could fix the upgrade process, while muttering that it was something she felt right at the beginning, some error she made when launching the upgrade..

After a while the PBX guy showed up in her corner (in a t-shirt, with a 19°C temperature!) all smiles and laughs saying with a relaxed tone that he brought the whole thing down just to make sure the upgrade was smooth on her side. WTF!!!

At least now she knew what went wrong. And as soon as the pbx came up again, the upgrade happily resumed and went on smoothly, until the success message put a large smile on her face. Thank goodness this was done, all cool (literally), at least until the next upgrade…

Lost in survey – and 5 tips to get the most out of it

I promised to post about surveys as a lot of people periodically complain about the very existence of them. On the other hand, a well designed and well accepted survey is one of the most powerful tools companies have to understand their audience. Some guy told me, a few days ago, that not only he loves responding to surveys and expressing his opinion directly, he specifically loves long and complex questionnaires, as opposed to quick polls.

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The world is really a funny place! 🙂

So here’s 5 tips on how to push your questions out to customers and prospects:

1. Set your goal straight. even with a long survey, you need to have one specific goal in your head that you want to reach by pushing out questions (net promoter’s score, first call resolution, etc…): remember that bugging your customers for no reason is never a good idea.

2. Define your target. As the same set of questions might not apply to different demographics, also depending on the channel defined to collect responses, it is usually wise to decide what the target is, and plan accordingly.

3. Keep it short. No matter how many questions you have to ask, if it takes more than 5 seconds to read, we’ll skip to the next, and if forced to answer it might not be accurate. And remember that I only know one guy who loves long surveys…

4. Keep it simple. The lure of a complex, branched, multi-path survey might make you want to hyper-analyze every bit of information provided. But as it comes, people love simplicity, especially when performing a boring task. The more complex the survey, the higher the abandon rate. Plus the analytic of a simple survey will be refreshingly straight to the point.

5. Give rewards. You are asking my honest insight of your business and 5 to 30 minutes of my time, and you want all of this for free? C’mon, you know better than that.

Gamification of the CX

One of the most annoying things, as an engineer, was the much dreaded user acceptance test. Mostly it was horrible because in our heads all was working properly and no issue was to be perceived in our freshly designed user experience. But reality was slightly different: engineers are not the most common sample of users, sometimes our heads are much more crowded and complicated compared to other people’s. So how can we ensure that our customer journey not only conforms to the designer’s specifications, but it does so in a way that the end users can benefit those specification and actually use our designed experience in a successful way?

Just one word: gamification.

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Keep the task fun and give rewards to your users and they will engage and be part of the CX more willingly:

the customer journey map: make it fun!

I mentioned in a post that we still write scripts, only today this is much more complicated with omni-channel, i.e. the ability of users to jump from one channel to the other and back, all within one interaction. This brings on the necessity of mapping all the jumps and exits from one channel to the other so that this journey is safe and protected and it never ends with a dead end or an error or missing data from one channel to the other. Does this sound fun at all? Not really. Spike it up by adding user levels to discover new channels (meanwhile they will train and become proficient in the original engaged channel), give benefits when jumping correctly from one media to the other, provide the ability to get social and brag about the engagement…

the user acceptance test: keep the fun!

and when I say user, I mean it. Not your colleagues engineers, not your boss or your friend who is a geek, you need to put the interaction out for common users who might not even have computer skills – or might have it different in their head (think of mac users 😉 ). So plan to give your “little creature” to real users, carefully review their honest feedback and make the necessary changes to keep the journey as smooth as possible, even if this includes cutting off parts of the configuration or adding “obvious” information and guidance. Make some rewards for those users who test, such as adding their suggestions, advance their level in the engagement, etc..

Remember you’re designing this for real users and the success of the application comes directly from them, not from another engineer testing it or from a score of the application design tool. Make it fun, and the users will love the engagement even when it’s not 100% smooth: heck, they’ll even want to help you bring it up to speed. 🙂

5 signs of a (very) wrong customer experience

Whenever we’re trying to get hold of a company, and regardless of the chosen channel, there are five things that define a bad experience:

1. no Consistency. I’d like very much that the same information I read on the website is the one published on the other channels, including the agents’ response. This is especially and sadly true for the public administration, where often the digital channels are not updated and the latest information is not right there, it is instead inherited from agent to agent like a bedtime story.

2. no Context. If I am browsing different channels and finally get to call the customer service, I’d at least expect them to know that I have tried other channels and possibly raise my request’s priority according to the time I am spending on the issue, not the time I am spending in the voice queue.

3. no Content. I passed the voice portal maze, the website and the app, finally got hold of a human being who doesn’t know a fit about me or my problem, or even the company I am supposedly calling, because he/she is probably working for another company in another country altogether.

4. no Care of my problem. once I gave up the self-service way and decided to interact with a human, it makes me cringe to find out how little interest the human I am contacting has towards helping me and solving my problem.

5.unsatisfied Customer. Sometimes the service is really good and the product rocks, but you still have a cranky customer that for no apparent reason will rant endlessly to and about your company.That’s just life!!

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A short chat survey? Sure, why not!

Recently I was browsing through a website, and got a small discreet popup asking if I could answer 3 questions.

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I usually skip surveys as they are painfully long to answer and bring little benefit to my cause (more about surveys in another post), but the non-intrusive aesthetics, and the promise of a short interaction made the decision for me, and so I ventured into the jungle of customer experience surveys.

This particular one revealed itself to be a nice surprise: not only the 3 questions were really appropriate and totally related to my browsing, the last one even gave me the chance to pick one of 3 improvements I would have liked on the e-commerce page I was visiting!

If only this could be the average survey…

Diaries of the voice portal (part 2)

Few weeks ago I wrote about the first voice portals, back in ’97.

Fast forward 5 years. VoIP communication is all the rage and we all merrily jump in the wagon (we do love us a new technology, don’t we) and start working on the network. All without knowing a thing about IP stuff, hoping that the behavior of our nice little voice toys, on IP transport, would be the same. And obviously it is not. images (1) I remember getting a call from a customer one afternoon timidly complaining that their voice responses (and in fact the whole contact center) was not answering calls: it was, in fact,  dropping calls. Now, dropping calls in a telephony environment is like the worst thing that could happen, only second to a complete major outage of the platform (or death in the family), so I righteously panicked and called the network guy that was in charge of the VoIP configuration. He answered calmly that he got the customer call as well and that he did get immediately into the system, checked his beloved router and saw that all was fine, so he scheduled the support for a more convenient day. He would look at the issue the next day as soon as he was in the office.

WTF?!?

Well, that was my first encounter with the “network guys”, where a bit of network outage did not mean _panic and destruction_ but only a few packets lost here and there, no fuss, no big deal. Hence the first lesson learned with VoIP: synchronous communication does mind if packets are lost, and even a few seconds outage IS a big deal and will probably at best miss portions of the interaction, at worst drop the whole connection. In the end it was the carrier’s fault and the connection with the voice gateway took all the blame, but after this occurrence the network guy never missed a “dropped calls” alert again. 🙂

3 signs you’re having a great CX!

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1. You don’t (have to) repeat yourself – this is the top annoying issue with every customer care interaction: having to repeat oneself across the channels and even through a simple transfer to a different department.

2. You still want your fix – you are contacting the company and you are mad and frustrated but you still love the product and want it fixed (as opposed to throwing it out of the window at the first 30 seconds’ queue).

3. You end the interaction in awe. Regardless of the outcome of the interaction (i.e. problem fixed or not), you end your interaction in a jaw dropping mood because you truly believed that they cared about you and wanted to make things better for you.

If I were a user (#2)

Why would I want to call a number, be harassed by an automated voice and stay in a queue for excruciatingly long minutes if I can do anything by myself on a website or mobile app?

Because somewhere in your self-service or company strategy, a process is broken and the end user cannot find the answers, that’s why!

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A few weeks ago I got a package from Amazon that I did not order. I double checked my orders – being a Prime customer, I have quite a few in my backlog 🙂 – and realized I had to tell them that there was no order with that ID, although it was sent to my correct name and address. Of course I checked on the website first, to see if I could do it myself, but nope, no way I could return an item that I did not order in the first place.

In the end I had to call customer care (with an odd callback policy, but they will call you back within seconds from your request, so totally forgivable) and even the agent could not fix the issue, so they sent me an email confirming that I could keep the item as they had no way of having me return it. This is obviously a good example of customer experience: although there was a broken process within the company, they made it as smooth as possible for the end user, but how many companies can claim they can cope with a broken internal process so neatly?

It’s not enough to provide omni-channel customer care with all the latest technology and the coolest strategy, if the internal processes are weak or missing: the customer journey plan begins always with content. It doesn’t matter to plan the “how” if you don’t have the “what” ready.