Managing customer experience is in vogue at the moment. This is particularly the case for competitive industries where there is little differentiation in terms of price points and services offered such as banking and utilities. Touting the company’s focus on ‘customer experience is the new mantra for a lot of companies.
Most financial services firms and telecom companies, amongst others, have been jumping on this bandwagon and have built various customer experience teams and centres of excellence. However, for large innovative US companies such Starbucks, Apple and Intel Customer Experience has been at the heart of how products and services have been designed for over 10 years.
What are the key challenges in driving customer experience management? Research by Harvard Business Review Analytics Services in 2014 showed that 51% of companies surveyed indicated one of their top challenges to be achieving a single view of the customer. In addition, 51% of companies surveyed also indicated that building new customer experiences is another key challenge. These two are not mutually exclusive as you may point out.
This conundrum strikes at the heart of the reality for large organisations – the ability to integrate different sources of customer data across different departments, channels and systems into a picture that can be easily understood and utilised. This is necessary to truly achieve a single view of the customer. It is then through a single view of the customer that companies may be able to change or build new customer experiences.
However, there is one very large gap in this equation. The key focus on driving customer experience improvements through data has been on CRM systems that capture various customer and marketing data. CRM systems have focused on providing effective marketing automation, salesforce automation and contact centre automation. Other than data companies have also invested heavily in digital and other self service channels. What about the other side of the equation? I.e. an integrated single picture of the initiatives that the company is driving to define/change the customer experience (intentionally or unintentionally)?
These initiatives include not only marketing and promotional campaigns, but also product changes, legislative change communications, pricing changes, IT changes, and even other companies initiatives that can indirectly impact customer service or the media. Most large organisations either have no way of creating this integrated picture or have disconnected spreadsheets that track segments of the overall initiatives.
What risks does this create for companies? By not having an integrated picture of how a company is impacting and shaping its customer experience it cannot truly manage that experience holistically. Banks often experience this. One department called for a credit card to be end of life whilst another called for increased sales to meet target. The bankers and customers became very confused as you can imagine. A 2013 Ernst & Young survey found that companies are losing $720 per negative customer experience. The same research also found that 40% of households have had a negative experience with a telecommunications company, whilst 25% have had a negative experience with a utilities company. There is a lot of money at stake here as you can see.
The solution is to piece together all company change initiatives that impact customers (directly, and indirectly through employees) with specific focus on change impacts. Single view of change impact data of what type of customer, when, to what level, with what change, etc. can be integrated with other sources of customer data (e.g. CRM system data and customer experience mapping info) to create a powerful picture of:
-What the company is planning to roll out to customers at a holistic and aggregate level, and how this is shaping the customer experience?
-How aligned or misaligned these customer change impacts are with the customer strategy?
-To what extent there are clashes amongst different change initiatives from different departments in conveying the targeted customer experience?
-To what extent there is too much or too little change in shaping the customer experience within the initiative pipeline, as aligned with the strategy?
-From these powerful integrated pictures of what is happening to the customer’s experience critical decisions may be made to best design the optimal experience?
Right now I am writing this article from a Four Seasons resort in Hawaii after having 3 flights cancelled in a row. It has been quite a stressful experience as you can imagine and it’s the fourth day of delay. I’m not able to get back home! However, this started to get me thinking about the change experience for the employee or the customer. As change drivers or leaders we tend to focus on how to design the change at a program level and it’s rare for us to really get down to the lowest level of people experience and how this is perceived at a humanistic level throughout the change process.
In the past I’ve used the airport analogy to describe the change journey and how we work to design each of the elements of the whole ecosystem, including pre-departure, transit, in-flight experience, runway preparation and post-landing experience. To read more about each of these elements refer to this article on Landing multiple changes in a complex environment.
Now let’s take a look at my recent bad flight experience and you will see that this easily translates to a typical change experience for those impacted. My first flight was cancelled, and after several hours all passengers were feeling frustrated, wondering what was really going on, and when or if the flight will take off. The announcement did not provide any substantive information and so as a result each passenger had to queue up to ask for further information. This is similar to a restructuring announcement or other major changes whereby there is a generic corporate email sent to all impacted, however the information is so generic that employees will need to resort to their managers (or rumours) to get further information that will meet their individual needs.
For the managers, they often don’t receive the right information or it is insufficiently tailored so that they are not able to translate the organisational level impact to how their specific department or team will be impacted. This could be due to lack of information or skill set in translating the impact for their teams. To this end, we need to ensure we engage with those managers to ensure that their questions are answered and that they’re able to field employe questions, versus having no information.
Part of a good change experience is in anticipating any reactions, feelings and designing an effective process that tackles these head on. To do this, use a human-centred design approach of observation, interviewing, analysing precious incidents and basically adopt a human-centred mindset to pick out key experience insights that need to be addressed. To read more about the human-centred design process please click here.
So what can we learn from the bad pre-departure experience when applied to change?
1. Provide managers and leader with sufficient information so that they are able to engage with and consult with their impacted employees to ensure that their needs are met
2. Conduct a detailed analysis from an end-user perspective to pre-determine potential humanistic needs and reactions and address these head-on. For example, What types of information are needed? What are potential employee questions? How do we provide them with effective engagement prior to them asking for it?
3. Proactive engagement to manage potentially negative feelings. Being on the receiving end of a flight cancellation or change initiative is often frustrating and stressful. How do we anticipate these experiences to redesign it into a more positive one? For example, are there certain employee groups we can garner to be change champions to provide additional people support? What artefacts can we provide to shape these experiences? Visually-catching cheat sheets, posters, branded sweets, morning-tea, etc.
4. Involve all layers of management so that they are well-equipped to support the change and are clear with their role in the process. Are we simply asking them to be on-hand to answer questions? Or do we expect certain layers of management to be change coaches to guide first-line managers on how to lead change. What are we asking our Human Resources colleagues to be doing? Or our Risk partners or Finance partners? Be explicit about what specific behaviours and outcomes we are asking for.
5. Empathy. When people are frustrated, feeling vulnerable or stressed, the most important thing to do to address their feelings is to acknowledge and address these feelings by showing empathy. After all we are dealing with people’s emotions. Emotions are not logical and therefore data and facts usually do not create empathy. Empathy is between two individuals. One person showing another person that their feelings are valid, acknowledged and supported. Empathy is best demonstrated through verbal or nonverbal behaviours rather than through emails and online information. This is about a leader or another colleague showing genuine acknowledgement that a fellow colleague feels a certain way, without providing any judgment or even advice. During one of the days when the flight was cancelled, a staff walked around and chatted to everyone in the queue to just listen to them and acknowledge their frustrations – this did more good than anything else the airline did.
6. Create an element of surprise in designing the change process. Most corporate change processes are similar in that they follow a set way of engaging with employees according to the corporate norm of what has worked in the past. However, there are some organizations that keep follow norms and do not create a good change experience and keep repeating the same mistakes. I’m sure we have all experience this J. For example, it could a senior leader walking the floor to connect with impacted employees during the change process, or corporate artefacts that were not anticipated and could be perceived in a positive light.
7. Appealing to the senses. A lot of people remember sensory information more than data or facts. How do we leverage this to create the overall experience? Retail stores often dispense aromatherapy scents to create and environment or calm or excitement depending on the desired experience. Visual information is also important to create the right imagery so that employees can visualise the light at the end of the tunnel and be inspired to go through the tunnel. One can design visual images that help employee remember themes, or analogies that are easily understood and visualised (and therefore easily memorised).
My experience with The Four Seasons hotel from when I entered the hotel through to using its various amenities is that there is significant care and detailed anticipation of user needs. From personal interactions with staff that show care and rapport, through to facilities that are carefully designed to incorporate guest needs. For me the surprise element was the room iPad greeting me with my name and giving me a run down of the weather, things to do and other location and hotel references. The challenge for us as change leaders is to learn from this and think through how we design great change experience that are out of the ordinary and far from the typical ho-hum corporate approaches in initiative roll out.
How the sea inspires a different way of managing change
In taking my vacations in Hawaii I thought I would start a series of Change Management articles inspired by my trip to Hawaii. For those who have not been to Hawaii or have only stayed around Waikiki, the Islands of Hawaii is quite astoundingly beautiful. There is something magical about Hawaii that inspires the mind and soothes the soul. It’s welcoming people, amazingly jagged mountains, fantastic beaches, and sensational food is enough to bewitch any visitor.
As change or project managers we usually plan our approach in managing change from a top down perspective. We look at what senior executives would like employees to change, how much change is required, what benefits would be achieved through change, and which parts of the organization would need to change.
There is the usual focus that change leadership is critical and that without strong senior sponsorship that the initiative will fail. The senior leader is expected to have all the answers, to know exactly how to steer the employees towards an end state and be able to convince them the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of the change. On top of this, if there is any resistance, the leader needs to identify these and overcome them in order to successfully drive the change successfully.
This all sounds like the standard recipe for change success does it not? So what is wrong with this?
Hawaii and leading change
When I was snorkelling in the North Shore of Oahu Island I was amazed at how much tropical fish I could see literally just metres from the beach. In fact, as soon as I had put my head down I could see the various sizes of amazing tropical fish. And the farther I go the more I notice at the abundance and variety of fish and coral around me.
When we surround ourselves purely with the top down approach of change, we start to develop a fixed mindset of how change should be done. Most of change literature resolves around adopting a top down approach. However, when we start to adopt a user mindset, an employee lense of change, we start to see things very differently.
The diversity of the ocean and the diversity of employees
Similar to the fish in the sea, there isn’t one type of employee. There are many types of employees with varying interests, backgrounds and preferences. It is easy for us to interview employees through conducting surveys and declare that we are intimate with employee concerns. However, in most situations there isn’t just one set of employee beliefs and concerns. Different employees have different concerns, just like in the ocean there is star fish, tetra, gold fish, carp, etc.
Whilst we cannot cater for every type of individual employee concerns and interests, it is also important to be able to see through impacted employees and what they are seeing. I became amazed at the wonderful world under the sea and how colourful and stunning it really is. If we really start to see through the different groups of employees, sense what they are sensing, we can really harness their power to drive change.
How do we leverage different employee groups in driving change
For employees who are change champions and early adopters – How do we harness their influence and positivity to quickly spread the word, and advocate for the change?
For those who have had bad change experiences in the past and are cynical and critical – How do we involve them closely to design the change process, so as to avoid any past mistakes and leverage to enhance success?
For those who were agnostic and did not either support or resist the change – How do we give them accountabilities to progress and promote the change
For those who strongly resist the change and actively counter against the change – How do we listen to them and address this head on. And leverage the influence of other employee groups such as the change champions?
For those who tend to be overly cautious and do not feel confident when there is change – How do we actively identify them and spend more time to nurture their confidence, or leverage change champions to hand-hold them?
Dipping below the surface of what various senior stakeholder groups are looking for in change, we start to see a different picture of what employees see. Let’s open our eyes to the various colours, shapes, and sizes of the attitudes, preferences and feedback of employees. When we start to see the diversity of different types of employees and where they are at, we can then leverage them to better drive and position the change for success.