Your Customers’ Problems Are Your Problems

bathroom

I’m writing a new book, this will be my second*. I’d written a couple of chapters last week, one of which focussed on how organisations leave problems for the customers to resolve, but that they don’t think of it that way. In one chapter, I used the example of “Warning. Hot Water.” signs, stipulating that the organisation has decided that rather than fix the problem, they’ll leave it to the customer to work around the problem. Every day, every day they use the tap. When viewed like that, putting a sign up doesn’t really resolve the problem.

I was in a hotel at the weekend and I tend to think of hotels as having solved this particular problem a long time ago; it’s usually workplace offices that still have these signs. But enter the bathroom and it’s plastered with “Warning. Hot Water” signs. And it was seriously hot, close to scalding. For IHG, you’ll find this out when I review the hotel. It was just one of a list of issues. I travel a lot. I’m pretty flexible and lenient as far as hotels go. If there’s a problem, as long as it’s resolved, I’m happy. By that, I meant that I recognise that there are faults in any system, in any organisation and that’s ok by me. But if it’s a systemic failure, then I’m concerned. This hotel had a number of repeated failings. A quick look at trip advisor shows the issues are not isolated.

At what point does someone responsible for fixing a problem decide that a sign is enough? That the customer can have the problem? Did they work through a customer journey? Did they wonder what it would be like to be tired after travelling, hungry, thirsty, maybe a headache? Maybe not speaking English as a first language. Maybe not being used to English norms regarding taps (plumbing doesn’t seem to be standardised across the world)?

Why would we expect a foreign guest and customer to be familiar with the quirks our hotel’s plumbing?

Signs such as this protect the organisation. They inform the customer, but they do not remove the problem.

I go into more detail in the new book. If you’d like to be informed, subscribe to the newsletter.

 

*If you’re curious why you haven’t seen the first book, it’s because I haven’t released it yet. The first draft is ready and I’m taking a short break from it to gain some distance before returning for the final push.

Where Organisations Go Wrong

Ladder of citizen participation

A lot happened in 1969. The moon landing, Led Zeppelin was released (the first LZ album), the maiden flight of the Boeing 747, and a paper by Sherry Arnstein.

It’s difficult to say which is the most important of those above, but Arnstein’s paper is probably the least famous.

Context

I frequently speak with directors and project leaders who introduce their voice of the customer initiative as the way that they interact with customers. That’s the way the company understands what customers are saying, what customers want, etc. After some digging since it’s never completely easy to find the one team (often because they operate under a different name, but someone thought Voice of the Customer would be a good title for what they do), I find that the initiative is a survey with some analysis of the results. That’s usually about the scope of the delivery: a survey.

I then usually respond with introducing them to Sherry Arnstein’s paper on The Ladder of Citizen Participation. While the paper focussed on the interaction between public sector organisations and their citizens, it’s equally applicable to private sector companies.

Content

Arstein concisely describes a vertical hierarchy of how public services interact with the citizens and how the organisation harnesses the input of those citizens. The least involved are at the bottom rungs of the ladder and the most involved are at the top. There are 8 rungs, ranging from Manipulation at the bottom up to Citizen Control at the top.

While the rung descriptions are useful, the power of the article is in the further categorisation of all 8 rungs into 3 levels. I find that the terms used in these levels created a quicker response in my clients than the description themselves. The terms highlight the true interaction: Non-participation, Tokenism, Citizen Power. The implication that the first two levels of Non-participation and Tokenism don’t really involve the citizens’ agenda, just using their views to push the organisation’s agenda. So naturally, every client, when faced with the ladder, wants to be higher than they already are. They all fear the top rungs, as giving away power to the customers/service users, but want to pitch somewhere in between where they are now and just under the top one or two rungs.

Examples

I normally start at the second rung with an example of how local authorities are adapting to reduced budgets. “We’re going to reduce your bin collection from weekly to fortnightly”. On it’s own that’s just a statement of intent. It fits into therapy when we add “and here are some tips about how you can recycle more so you don’t fill up your black bin too early”. There are better phrases than that (and a lot worse), but the point is that the organisation is helping its customers adapt to the change. Note that the customers haven’t actually had any say in whether it should be weekly or fortnightly.

Consultation is the favourite of many of a public organisation, e.g “we’re thinking of making a change. Here’s are the two options that we’ve already chosen for you to pick from. We’ll hear concerns but the decision is ours.” That’s effectively what the organisation is saying in a consultation. The final decision rests with the organisation. Often the choices are just that, choices of predetermined options, with no potential to create a solution that could work for all parties if it’s not already listed as an option.

Even though consultation is a favourite of public organisations, it’s still tokenism. It’s interesting to see the shift in clients who are perfectly happy with the concept of consultations – since that’s what their organisation has always done – when confronted with the fact that it’s tokenisation. The shift moves them up the ladder to better inclusion of customers.

More forward-thinking councils have customers on strategic boards, acting as an equal member compared to the staff. That’s either Placation or Partnership depending on the level of involvement, the decisions that those boards can make (some with customers on are restricted in their decision scope) and the balance of customers to staff. Once we’re at the Partnership rung, then we’re moving into Citizen Power.

Applying to Your Organisation

Now consider your organisation’s voice of the customer service. How far does it allow a thorough two-way dialogue? Are you only allowing comments of certain types to be heard? What route do you have for those comments to affect your organisation’s strategy?

When you’re next designing a new service or product, or redesigning existing products, do you have customers in the room with you? Do you have customers on the decision-making boards/panels? And what happens if they are not present? Can the board still continue on that day or does it have to postpone since there are customer roles accounted for specifically in the quorum?

References

https://lithgow-schmidt.dk/sherry-arnstein/ladder-of-citizen-participation.html

A spanish translation:

https://rua.ua.es/dspace/bitstream/10045/16699/2/ESCALERA_ARNSTEIN_1969.pdf

What’s the Emotional Content of Your Customer Journey Maps?

What's the emotional content of your customer journey maps?

I’ve previously discussed the inclusion of a dormant state and a return loop when reflecting on the fact that the Customer Journey Never Ends.

What's the emotional content of your customer journey maps?
Traffic Smileys by The Wolf under CC BY 2.0

You can include a further extension of the customer journey maps by showing proximity or emotional state.

Focus on the Emotional State

Typical customer journey maps (or diagrams) depict activities and results, maybe important events as well. These commonly use the terminology of the organisation rather the customer. By shifting that focus onto how engaged the customer feels at each stage, we see the journey from a different perspective; that of the customer.

Sales Funnels

Companies often use a sales funnel to monitor their sales process. Analysing the performance against the states in the sales funnels allows a company to redesign its sales process or to develop additional collateral. Some of the funnels focus on emotional state mixed with likelihood of buying. The customer journey map that displays emotional states can fit very well with the states defined in sales funnels. For example, the tables at the end of the superb Lean Entrepreneur book take the reader through the different levels of engagement that a customer experiences as they progress through the sales funnel:

  • Aware
  • Intrigued
  • Trusting
  • Convinced
  • Hopeful
  • Satisfied
  • Passionate

Extend the States

These funnel states would need to be extended to include less positive states commonly found as customers move away from your organisation, e.g.:

  • Apathetic
  • Disgruntled
  • Adversarial

There may be more states, but that will depend on your customers and what you understand about them.

How Can You Do This?

  1. Compile a complete list of emotional states for your customers
  2. Filter this list to create a simple, single list that reflects the combined understanding from marketing, sales and service/retention departments
  3. Develop the customer journey maps
    1. Take the list of states and apply them as an overlay to your existing customer journey maps or
    2. Take the list of states and create a new customer journey map

My preference would be to start afresh as thinking based on the emotional state is likely to produce a different picture of the journey than the model based on activities and results.

Customer Input

You may have noticed that I didn’t include asking the customer for their emotional state. I nearly always advocate gaining input from customers in the most appropriate manner. I only omitted it above for the fact that it’s often a step too far for a lot of organisations. However, if your organisation has the means to engage with customers at the right level, then collate the emotional content from your customers and use that to build your customer journey map.

The Customer Journey Never Ends

Signs by I Am Fry under by-nd 2.0

I’m reminded of the phrase “a dog is for life, not just for Christmas”. Similarly, as soon as an organisation starts a relationship with a customer, they’re stuck with that relationship. Many organisations design customer journeys but think from their own perspective rather than that of the customer. That’s a mistake but one that can be simply rectified.

Customer Journey Never Ends
Signs by I Am Fry under by-nd 2.0

An exchange between customer and company lasts longer than the original transaction. For instance, if a customer buys a product, has a fault, then has to return it. That’s one set of interactions all about the one transaction. The fact that it can last longer is nothing new, what has changed is the proximity of the customer and company. Now, the customer can submit a complaint online, they can spread the word via social media or they can ask for assistance on an online forum. This makes the customer and company a lot closer than before. The implication is that even if the customer has stopped buying from you and now buys elsewhere, their opinion will count forever.

Even though the customer has finished their exchange with your organisation, they are a still a person with memories and experiences. When they next come to buy, will they use your company or another?

Additional Customer Journey States

A further implication is in how we can design customer journeys to be more comprehensive and reflective of what actually happens. A depiction of the overall customer journey should include a state where the relationship is dormant and a loop for repeat custom (whether repeat of the original purchase or of a new product). The journey could be extended further still to show some of the customers leaving your company, probably from that dormant state and buying from a competitor. Some of these will return, some not, but all of their opinions will count.

Hopefully these two ideas will help you handle the fact that the customer journey never ends, at least from the customer’s perspective.

Be The Customer

Be The Customer

Introduction

Be The Customer
Be The Customer

I really believe in getting customer input, especially before you build you product or service. Lean Six Sigma includes the concept as part of Voice of Customer, Lean Startup and similar methods include the concept within Customer Development. If you work for an existing organisation that currently delivers products/services rather than a start-up, sometimes it’s easier to actually be your customer than to gather their input.

Many companies try to get closer to customer needs by using mystery shoppers. Again, depending on your product this avenue may not be necessary.

Examples

I’ve been reminded of this many times when I see a process that just doesn’t make sense for the customer, but looks like it would have made sense for the person working in the office who created the process. I’ll discuss three examples below:

Traffic Wales

I was driving back from Llandudno on the A55 and a roadside sign flashed a message of “Incident after junction 32”. These IP-enabled roadsigns are a common sight on most of Britain’s motorways allowing staff to remotely update the message on the sign. But this sign was odd for two reasons. First, it was an A-road so to provide a junction number on the warning signs rather than a destination is not that common a sight. This made me wonder whether the message referred to the road I was driving on now or a road that we would intersect with, e.g. M56 or M6. This was compounded by the second oddity; there were no junction numbers on the static road signs nor on my car’s satnav/GPS. I was left confused by a message that may have a large bearing on my journey or none at all. To this day, I still don’t know where the incident was, I was fortunate enough to have an incident-free journey on my route home.

HR department

I worked for a good ICT company almost two decades ago and another one a few years later. In between, I worked for a large consultancy. Both of the ICT companies were moving into the consultancy arena with more mobile staff taking on more business change and less pure ICT activities. As an employee, I found the treatment of mobile staff to be very different between the ICT companies and the consultancy. The policies – such as how much could be spent on hotels, time before you could claim for certain types of expenses, what time the head-office closed in case you were in another country needing assistance to get home – were all written by HR staff from headquarters in both the ICT companies. That made for some interesting events where there were no hotels available (not just a question of standards) for some meetings or no-one to help out when the hire car’s broken down and it’s better for everyone (especially your corporate client) if you change plans. In contrast, the policies at the consultancy were written by consultants who travelled and operated by HR. That made for a much more reliable service, one that gave the mobile staff much better support while travelling.

Local Roads

Local authorities in England inherit the duty to maintain local roads. That involves the scheduling of roadworks and should involve working with national agencies so that motorway roadworks don’t cascade into the local road network. I can think of at least two towns that have had concurrent roadworks on every route out of town, adding 1 or 2 hours to journeys each way. No doubt some of the council officials were involved but probably hadn’t thought of themselves as customers of their own service.

Be The Customer

Both companies could do with thinking about their customers and trying to use the service as a customer would. I think of two actions when I think of being the customer:

  1. Actively take time out of your product development to go and experience what it’s like as a customer. So go and drive on the road a few times a year and watch what messages, signs are being given, what the spacing of roadworks are.
  2. Engage your staff to think like customers as they go about their days and then to inform the teams responsible of what they find.

In the case of the the road sign, the HR policies and possibly the roadworks, the events were initiated by people in the office. All of these could have been improved by being the customer. I saw the difference with the HR policies, it was a much more comfortable experience recognising that as a mobile employee, you were often away from home and family. The issue with roadworks is probably more one of common sense, rather than being a customer. Why block every main artery and some of the minor ones? The act of being a customer creates a better mindset, by forcing you to think in more basic terms. It’s not about the difficulties in the office, takt time or production control, it’s about what you experience as a customer. I’m pretty sure that Traffic Wales would have had the equivalent of England’s Highways Agency Officers driving up and down the A55. Unfortunately, having them think what it’s like being a customer may not have helped too much since they would have to unlearn what they know as part of the job, e.g. abbreviations, road junction numbers, etc. In their case, they’d still have staff who are less integrated to the operation, e.g. new starters, who could be asked to act as the customer on their way to work and back.

In short, this is a variation on the typical lean battle cry of Gemba, “go to where the work is”. In addition, Be The Customer.