Tag Archives: customer service

The Achilles Heel of Customer Journey Mapping

Journeying through western Wyoming in August 2011. Image Credit: me.

Achilles was that guy in Greek mythology whose mother, when he was born, wanted to protect him soooo much that she held him by the heel and dipped him in the power-giving waters of the River Styx — making him bullet proof (and much more; no bullets then), except at the heel, because for some reason she didn’t think about just dunking him a few inches deeper. Maybe she didn’t want to get her hand wet? Who knows. (In the research literature this is called perverse unintended consequences — it happens in business too. You try to make an improvement or protect against a particular hazard and oops, you made it worse.)

Customer Journey Maps (CJM)

I’ve been reading a lot about the Customer Journey Maps (CJM) technique used in marketing (see Folstad & Kvale (2018) for a fantastic and comprehensive review). It formalizes the very good suggestion that when you’re trying to figure out how to engage with prospects, you should put yourself in their shoes. Empathize with them. Figure out what they need, and when they need it. Then, identify how your company can not only meet them there — but connect with them in a compelling way.

CJM also goes beyond conceptual modeling. For example, Harbich et al (2017) uses Markov models to predict the most likely path and timing of a customer’s journey. Bernard & Andritsos (2018) mine actual customer journeys from sales force automation systems and use them in a Monte Carlo like way to uncover patterns. There’s even a patent on one method for mining journey data.

Benefits of Journey Maps

Annette Franz says that “done right, maps help companies in many ways, including to…

  • Understand experiences.
  • Design [new] experiences.
  • Implement and activate new experiences.
  • Communicate and share experiences.
  • Align the organization… get executive commitment for the customer experience (CX) strategy, get organizational adoption of the customer-centric focus, provide a line of sight to the customer for employees, and help employees understand how they impact the experience.”

But like Achilles, Customer Journey Mapping has a vulnerable spot that can wipe out all its potential benefits. (Fortunately, success lies in the way your organization wields the tool… so there’s a remedy.)

The Achilles Heel of CJM

Here’s the problem: creating a journey map does indeed ensure that you focus on the customer, but does not ensure that you’re focusing on that customer’s experience. Diagnosing Voice of the Customer (VoC) is hard [long explanation; shorter explanation], and there are tons of ways to do it! Through journey mapping, you may accidentally be focusing on your company’s experience of that customer throughout the stages of the journey. 

Diagnosing the Symptoms

How can you tell? Here’s a non-exhaustive list of ways to diagnose the symptoms, based on recent research and observing companies who do this since about 2009 (please add in the comments if you’ve observed any other ones):

  • Do you ever hear “How can we move the customer from [this stage] to [the next stage]?”
  • … or “How do we get more customers to join us [at this stage of the journey]?”
  • … or maybe “How can we get customers to [take this action] [at this stage of the journey]?”
  • Does your customer journey address differences in customer personas, or do you have a one-size-fits-all map? Rosenbaum et al (2016) says “We contend that most customer journey maps are critically flawed. They assume all customers of a particular organization experience the same organizational touchpoints and view these touchpoints as equally important.”
  • Do you systematically gather, analyze, and interpret data about what your current customers are experiencing, or do you just kind of guess or rely on your “experience”? (Hint: subconscious biases are always in play, and you’ll never know they’re there because they are subconscious).
  • Do you systematically gather, analyze, and interpret data about what your prospects would benefit from experiencing with/through you, or do you just kind of guess or rely on your “experience”?
  • Do you focus on ease of use over utility? (Just like perfect is the enemy of perfectly OK, easy can be the enemy of possible if you’re not careful. This often shows up in the journey mapping process.)

Like I mentioned earlier, this is definitely not a comprehensive list.

The Solution

What’s the solution? ASK. Ask your customer what they need. Find out about their pain points. Ask them what would make it easier for them to do their job. Finally, ask them if you’re getting it right! And even though I said “customer” — I do mean you should ask more than one of them, because needs and interests vary from person to person and industry to industry. Just interacting with one customer isn’t going to cut it.

Ask early, ask often! (As people learn and evolve, their needs change.)

Improving the Method

How can we improve the quality of customer journey mapping? Share your insights and lessons learned! CJM is a promising technique for helping organizations align around empathetic value propositions, but just like agile methods, it’s got to be applied strategically and deliberately… and then checked on a continuous basis to make sure the map is in tune with reality.

Practical Poka-Yoke

My Story

A couple hours ago, I went to the ATM machine.

I don’t use cash often, so I haven’t been to an ATM machine in several months. Regardless, I’m fully accustomed to the pattern: put card in, enter secret code, tell the machine what I want, get my money, take my card.

This time, my money was taking a looonnnnnnnngggg time to pop out.

Maybe there’s a problem with the connection? Maybe I should check back later? I sat in my car thinking about what the best plan of action would be… and then I decided to read the screen. (Who needs to read the screen? We all know what’s supposed to happen… right? Once, I was even able to use an ATM machine entirely in the Icelandic language just because I knew the pattern.)

PLEASE TAKE YOUR CARD TO DISPENSE FUNDS, it said.

This is one of the simplest and greatest examples of poka-yoke (or “mistake-proofing”) I’ve ever seen. I had to take my card out and put it away before I could get my money! I was highly motivated to get my money (I mean, that’s the specific thing I came to the ATM to get). Of course I’m going to do what you want, ATM! The machine forced me to take my card — and prevented me from accidentally leaving my card in the machine. This could be problematic for both me and the bank.

The History

Why have I never seen this before? Why don’t other ATMs do this? I went on an intellectual fishing expedition and found out that no, the idea is not new… Lockton et al. (2010) said:

A major opportunity for error with historic ATMs came from a user leaving his or her ATM card in the machine’s slot after the procedure of dispensing cash or other account activity was complete (Rogers et al., 1996, Rogers and Fisk, 1997). This was primarily because the [ATM dispensed the cash] before the card was returned (i.e. a different sequence for Plan 3 in the HTA of Fig. 3), leading to a postcompletion error—“errors such as leaving the original document behind in a photocopier… [or] forgetting to replace the gas cap after filling the tank” (Byrne and Bovair, 1997). Postcompletion error is an error of omission (Matthews et al., 2000); the user’s main goal (Plan 0 in Fig. 3) of getting cash was completed so the further “hanging postcompletion action” (Chung and Byrne, 2008) of retrieving the card was easily forgotten.

The obvious design solution was, as Chung and Byrne (2008) put it, “to place the hanging postcompletion action ‘on the critical path’ to reduce or eliminate [its] omission” and this is what the majority of current ATMs feature (Freed and Remington, 2000): an interlock forcing function (Norman, 1988) or control poka-yoke (Shingo, 1986), requiring the user to remove the card before the cash is dispensed. Zimmerman and Bridger (2000) found that a ‘card-returned-then-cash-dispensed’ ATM dialogue design was at least 22% more efficient (in withdrawal time) and resulted in 100% fewer lost cards (i.e. none) compared with a ‘cash-dispensed-then-card-returned’ dialogue design.

I don’t think the most compelling message here has anything to do with design or ATMs, but with the value of hidden gems tucked into research papers.  There can be a long lag time between generating genius ideas and making them useful to real people.

One of my goals over the next few years is to help as many of these nuggets get into the mainstream as possible. If you’ve learned something from research that would benefit quality or business, get in touch. I want to hear from you!

Reference

Lockton, D., Harrison, D., & Stanton, N. A. (2010). The Design with Intent Method: A design tool for influencing user behaviour. Applied ergonomics41(3), 382-392.

Voice of the Customer (VOC) in the Internet of Things (IoT)

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

In February, I speculated about how our notion of “Voice of the Customer” (VoC) might change, since between 2016 and 2020 we are poised to witness the Internet of Things (IoT) as it grows from 6.4 billion to over 20 billion entities. The IoT will require us to re-think fundamental questions about how our interests as customer and stakeholders are represented. In particular,

  • What will the world look (and feel) like when everything you interact with has a “voice”?
  • How will the “Voice of the Customer” be heard when all of that customer’s stuff ALSO has a voice?
  • Will your stuff have “agency” — that is, the right to represent your needs and interests to other products and services?

Companies are also starting to envision how their strategies will morph in response to the new capabilities offered by the IoT. Starbucks CTO Gerri Martin-Flickenger, for example, shares her feelings in GeekWire, 3/24/2016:

“Imagine you’re on a road trip, diving across the country, and you pull into a Starbucks drive-through that you’ve never been to before,” she said at the Starbucks annual shareholder’s meeting Wednesday in Seattle. “We detect you’re a loyal customer and you buy about the same thing every day, at about the same time. So as you pull up to the order screen, we show you your order, and the barista welcomes you by name.”

“Does that sound crazy?” she asked. “No, actually, not really. In the coming months and years you will see us continue to deliver on a basic aspiration: to deliver technology that enhances the human connection.”

IoT to enhance the human connection? Sounds great, right? But hold on… that’s not what she’s talking about. She wants to enhance the feeling of connection between individuals and a companynothing different than cultivating customer loyalty.

Her scenario is actually pretty appealing: I can imagine pulling up to a Starbuck’s drive-through and having everything disappear from the screen except for maybe 2 or 3 choices of things I’ve had before, and 1 or 2 choices for things I might be interested in. The company could actually work with me to help alleviate my sensory overload problems, reducing the stress I experience when presented with a hundred-item menu, and improving my user experience. IoT can help them hear my voice  as a customer, and adapt to my preferences, but it won’t make them genuinely care about me any more than they already do not.

When I first read this article, I thought it would give me insight into a question I’ve had for a while now… but the question is still substantially unanswered: How can IoT facilitate capturing and responding to VoC in a way that really does cultivate human connection? John Hagel and John Seely Brown, in my opinion, are a little closer to the target:

[Examples] highlight a paradox inherent in connected devices and the Internet of Things: although technology aims to weave data streams without human intervention, its deeper value comes from connecting people. By offloading data capture and information transfer to the background, devices and applications can actually improve human relationships. Practitioners can use technology to get technology out of the way—to move data and information flows to the side and enable better human interaction…

A Robust Approach to Determining Voice of the Customer (VOC)

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

I got really excited when I discovered Morris Holbrook’s 1996 piece on customer value, and wanted to share it with all of you. From the perspective of philosophy, he puts together a vision of what we should mean by customer value… and a framework for specifying it. The general approach is straightforward:

“Customer Value provides the foundation for all marketing activity…
One can understand a given type of value only by considering its relationship to other types of value.
Thus, we can understand Quality only by comparison with Beauty, Convenience, and Reputation; we can understand Beauty only by comparison with Quality, Fun, and Ecstasy.”

There are MANY dimensions that should be addressed when attempting to characterize the Voice of the Customer (VOC). When interacting with your customers or potential customers, be sure to use surveys or interview techniques that aim to acquire information in all of these areas for a complete assessment of VOC.

The author defines customer value as an “interactive relativistic preference experience”:

  • Interactive – you construct your notion of value through interaction with the object
  • Relativistic – you instinctively do pairwise comparisons (e.g. “I like Company A’s customer service better than Company B’s”)
  • Preference – you make judgments about the value of an object
  • Experience – value is realized at the consumption stage, rather than the purchase stage

Hist typology of customer value is particularly interesting to me:

typology-customer-value

Most of the time, we do a good job at coming up with quality attributes that reflect efficiency and excellence. Some of the time, we consider aesthetics and play. But how often – while designing a product, process, or service – have you really thought about status, esteem, ethics, and spirituality as dimensions of quality?

This requires taking an “other-oriented” approach, as recommended by Holbrook. We’re not used to doing that – but as organizations transform to adjust the age of empathy, it will be necessary.

Holbrook, M. B. (1996) . “Special Session Summary Customer Value C a Framework For Analysis and Research”, in NA – Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 138-142. Retrieved from http://www.acrwebsite.org/search/view-conference-proceedings.aspx?Id=7929

Value Proposition Design: A Fun and Engaging (New!) Guidebook

Alex Osterwalder's "Value Proposition Design" toolkit is now available

Alex Osterwalder’s “Value Proposition Design” toolkit is now available on Amazon

I just finished reviewing Alex Osterwalder‘s new book, Value Proposition Design, for ASQ’s Quality Management Journal. Although my review won’t be published until January 2015, this is such a refreshing and exciting book that I wanted to make sure all of you know about it now: because it will be available on Amazon tomorrow (Monday, October 20th)!

I met Alex this past September at BIF10 in Providence, Rhode Island, which (if you haven’t heard of it yet… or attended) is an inspiring and intimate two-day gathering of dynamic storytellers and equally dynamic participants. Everyone at BIF is engaged in some kind of social, civic, or business innovation — and many of the projects and ideas you hear about challenge outmoded assumptions in refreshing ways.

Alex is a little different… he’s a catalyst for other innovators. His company aims to provide individuals and teams with the tools they need to create new ventures, or improve existing projects and organizations, by critically examining the entire process of value creation and delivery. And this new release doesn’t disappoint — in large part, because the tools, techniques, and approaches that he promotes are consistent and aligned with various quality bodies of knowledge.

“The authors have created a fun and engaging text, full of cartoon-like pictures and exercises, that will be easily accessible to any member of a business development or quality improvement team. There are practical examples and stories provided throughout, which illuminate the concepts effectively and can help teams expand, refine, enhance, and articulate their visions by applying best practices through successful templates. The only weakness of this book is that it does not tie any of its assertions or practices to the academic literature. However, the Value Proposition Design canvas that this book describes in detail has demonstrated clear value already for many practitioners, and may provide researchers with ideas for making additional connections between established quality tools, principles, and practices.” — Me, in my January 2015 review of this book for the Quality Management Journal

Wherever you flip open the book, it’s organized so you’re presented with a complete idea that spans the left and right pages. This makes it very browsable and engaging, and an effective form for interlacing new ideas with repackaged perspectives on older techniques. For example, the “Find your Earlyvangelist” page reminds me of a new, more agile take on the 3M Lead User process, which many organizations have used over the past two decades to fine-tune their product characteristics and service delivery before wider release. I also like how several of the left page-right page idea blocks are aligned with broader concepts. The picture below shows one such example, where “learning” is the unifying concepts, and the pages that follow describe each of the techniques on the right in details:

vpd2

Overall, this was a really fun book to read and review. Are you looking for a way to get teams with diverse backgrounds on the same page for value creation? If so, this would be an excellent guidebook to help make it happen.

“[Alex’s new book] is a strong new contribution to the practitioner literature in quality management, and outlines many new approaches for value creation.” — Me, in my January 2015 review of this book for the Quality Management Journal

How Not to Deliver on Your Mission

rex-familyI’m sitting here in my hotel room at the Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar in downtown Toronto. It could have been an amazing experience… even though the room itself is tiny, the bed is functional but definitely not plush, and there’s quite a bit of road noise. You see, there’s a world class jazz band playing downstairs right now. Perhaps they haven’t even started… I’ve no way to know.

I arrived here around 8pm after a long, 10-hour drive from the fantastic BIF10 meeting in Providence. Although the reservations desk was closed, a nice sign instructed me to go to the bar, where it was very easy to order a beer and a sandwich and get my hotel room and bar tab taken care of in one fell swoop. It felt nice. I was enjoying the ambience, until halfway through my second beer when an older man came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder.

“You’re going to have to vacate this seat for a paying customer. There’s a band coming in at 9:30.”

This was kind of confusing to me, since I was on my second beer, was done with my sandwich, and had just invested $115 in a room for the night. “I’m staying here,” I let him know.

Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Everyone has to pay the $15 cover. It’s not included in your room.” He was gruff and unyielding, kind of like a New Yorker. (I wasn’t expecting that… I thought Canadians were far more collegial, eh?) He walked away, leaving me to think about what just happened.

About 10 minutes later my bartender came over. “Would you like another beer?” he asked.

“Well, apparently I can’t have one,” I said. “Some other man told me I needed to vacate unless I wanted to pay a $15 cover, even though I’m staying here.”

“That’s right,” the younger guy cheerfully acknowledged. “The shows are not part of the hotel room. Either you pay the cover or you have to leave.”

I’m not one to argue, but this made me really mad. I let him know that this “very important detail” was not on the Hotel’s web site. Nor had anyone told me about it. “Well,” he said, “if you had arrived earlier, the doorman would have told you, and it’s also on your information sheet.” So you see, it was all my fault already. I was late and I didn’t read the sheet.

“Where is my information sheet?”

“Upstairs, on the bed, in the room you haven’t checked into yet.” (Whew. I thought I’d missed it.) I explained to him that I came a half hour out of my way to experience the Rex. I could have stayed in the ASQ conference hotel, nearer the airport, for less. But I came here for the experience of a hotel and a jazz club, together – the home-like nature of being able to weave in and out of the club atmosphere as I’d like. I was so encouraged by their marketing materials that said I’d “feel like part of the family”. He said he was sorry, again, but there was nothing they could do. (Really? It would have been so nice just to be able to sit there and finish that last beer for the evening. I probably would have headed upstairs shortly after the show started, anyway.)

In addition to a “sorry” — he tried to convince me of the value of this very prominent New York band that was about to start, and it was important that they collected the extra $15 from everyone. More important than just letting me finish my dinner.

(Apparently, you interrupt the family while they’re in the middle of their dinner to pay $15 or give up their seat.)

This sent a very strong message. In fact, it felt like extortion must feel (to a lesser extent). You’re not welcome unless you pay ANOTHER $15. You need to leave your seat NOW so someone who’s willing to pay can get in!! Doesn’t matter that you have paid quite a bit. You need to pay more. Sorry.

Could I at least come downstairs a little later (after I write my blog post to vent about this service experience) to get a beer and take it downstairs, I asked?

“Sure, if you pay the $15 first. We’re happy to direct you to other bars.” Well, unfortunately, I think you’ve directed me to other bars (and hotels) permanently. Or maybe it’s fortunate. It would be difficult to feel less wanted and welcome somewhere else.

Dear Rex, I do not feel like part of the family. I am upstairs in my room, feeling like the wayward child who’s not included from the festivities because she didn’t bring an extra $15. Feeling like I couldn’t even stick around to finish my dinner. I wish I could leave now where I feel more welcome — even at a nameless, faceless chain hotel that doesn’t say that it would LIKE me to feel like family, but I’m parked in overnight public parking, and I don’t have anywhere else to go. You claim that you are “attentive, convenient, and down-to-earth friendly.” But all I got was a “sorry you didn’t see our policy.”

LESSON TO SERVICE PROVIDERS: Include that extra $15 in the room charge. Make the guest feel welcome at the show, even if they choose not to attend. If they didn’t know the policy (because you don’t have it on your web site), figure out a way to make accommodations. Or they might see fit to write a blog post to 100,000 quality practitioners across the globe who might be able to learn from this and not make the same mistake.

The Future of Quality is Revolutionary

Image Credit: Dave Herod Photography (c) 2014

Image Credit: Dave Herod Photography (c) 2014

In his August post, ASQ CEO Bill Troy asks “Is the future of quality evolutionary or revolutionary?

My answer is unequivocal: it’s revolutionary. We’re going to need new models for business, new models for education, and new models for living if we are to satisfy the stated and implied needs of an increasingly interconnected Internet of people and things, where the need for sustainability will (in many cases) trump the desire for growth.

“Quality is the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.” — ISO 9000, para 3.1.5

New models, however, aren’t always necessary. We can continuously improve elements of old models to increase quality, and the need for this won’t disappear. The future of quality includes evolutionary advancements, but won’t be defined by it, as we emerge into new collective paradigms for management. We’ve already experienced this once (in the late 1980’s and 1990’s), and we’re about to feel the reverberations of another shift.

A Harvard Business Review blog post from July 30 (“Management’s Three Eras: A Brief History”) explains why. The first two eras that we’ve had experience with are organization as machine (the era of Taylorism), and organization as knowledge and knowledge flows (as popularized by people like Peter Senge and Tom Davenport). Methods for establishing and improving quality have been defined, refined, and flourished in these two eras.

But the third and emerging era, according to this article, is the age of empathyorganization as a vehicle for creating complete and meaningful experiences:

“Today, we are in the midst of another fundamental rethinking of what organizations are and for what purpose they exist. If organizations existed in the execution era to create scale and in the expertise era to provide advanced services, today many are looking to organizations to create complete and meaningful experiences. I would argue that management has entered a new era of empathy.”

Although we have some available approaches for quality improvement in this kind of era, they are incomplete: Voice of the Customer tools, for example, may make our experiences with products and services efficient, effective, and satisfying — but possibly neither complete or meaningful. How do we, for example, create mechanisms to assess and improve quality in the sharing economy? In decommodified environments? In our own personal lives?

What do you think? Share your ideas in the comments.

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