Archives for September 2010

The Customer of The Future. And what it really means.

Seems like I’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of McKinsey’s Customer Decision Journey study from last year.  The research outlines the evolution of the manner in which consumers make decisions.  It is no longer a linear process or funnel, mapped by marketers with a corresponding marketing funnel.

Why I say I’ve gotten mileage out of this is because its really made me think about the enterprise and operational implications of this quantum shift in customer behavior.

In short, here’s what I mean (press ‘play’, ‘more’, ‘autoplay’):

Zappos Airlines

The following is a guest post by my friend and passionate advocate for the customer experience, Tim Sanchez. Tim is the General Manager at ABIS Consulting Group, an enterprise software and consulting firm based in Houston, Texas.  Tim’s blog, Deliver Bliss, is dedicated to, as Tim describes it, “getting down to business of customer experience and helping to deliver bliss to customers every day” 

What do Zappos and the airline industry have in common? Almost nothing, except that they’re both in the news quite a lot. While Zappos frequently makes headlines for doing what’s right for the customer, most of the airline industry is busy scheming ways to nickel and dime its customers.

But, what if you were to mash the two together and Zappos started an airline? It’s something that CEO Tony Hsieh has mentioned on more than one occasion, including in his recent book, Delivering Happiness. Barry and I tossed around some ideas a couple months ago regarding Zappos and how they could transform the air travel experience.

How would Zappos run an airline? What would the face-to-face experiences be like? How would ticket exchanges be handled? What would the planes look like?

Borrowing from five of the Zappos Core Values, let’s take a quick look at the experience we might expect from Zappos Airlines.

1. Deliver WOW through Service
The #1 core value of Zappos is the foundation of their culture. It’s also the catalyst for the ridiculous amounts of word-of-mouth marketing the brand receives; it’s amazing to think a brand that sells something as boring as shoes is reinventing a business model. Zappos is proof that a company can create value and loyalty by consistently delivering a great service experience.

Do your recent air travels conjure up thoughts of remarkable service? Were you wowed by the airline’s ability to deliver an unexpected and innovative experience? My guess is no. Are there random acts of it occuring? Sure there are, more so on airlines like Southwest, but they’re still few and far between. I think Zappos Airlines would be different. By delivering WOW through service and creating a remarkable customer experience, Zappos Airlines could build the same word of mouth and loyalty they’ve enjoyed in the online retail world.

2. Embrace and Drive Change
Talk about something the airline industry needs a lesson on. Their idea of change is removing meals and charging for bags. While those things have helped the industry get back into the black, they’ve demoralized travelers and seem to have escalated service incidents, like this one (and this one and this one and this one and this one and…well, you get the picture).

3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
Southwest actually does a pretty good job of this, but that’s only because it’s also part of their culture. The rest of the industry seems to look down on fun and weirdness. If anything, I’d say they’re seen as a safety threat; something that should be avoided at all costs.

I’m told that people used to look forward to flying; that it was a privilege awarded to a lucky few. It must have been fun back then. I bet they smiled more. I bet they took great pride in their products and service. I bet they wore attractive and eye-catching uniforms. I bet they weren’t afraid to have fun while at work. I bet they acted a lot like Zappos acts today.

4. Be Adventurous, Creative, And Open-Minded
The air travel experience is a victim of rigid and pointless policy. The TSA has instituted a vicious fear tax (no snowglobes please) whose only purpose is to simulate security, not actually provide it.

The airlines have followed suit and continue to adhere to rigid systems that thwart service, instead of empowering their employees to use awareness and make decisions that are helpful to both the customer and the company.

Zappos prides itself on hiring employees that can solve problems in their own way by thinking outside the box. They are encouraged to take risks and not punished when they don’t work out. This creates unexpected and memorable experiences. Experiences worth remarking about. Experiences that drive loyalty.

5. Do More With Less
As the airline industry continues to search for experience-destroying ways to increase the bottom line, companies like Zappos are busy providing great service and making money. The only thing the airline industry is producing more of is complaints. The recent Air Travel Consumer Report from the US Department of Transportation shows a 90% increase in complaints when comparing June 2009 to June 2010. Year to date statistics show a 32% increase in complaints in comparison to the same time period a year ago.

While the value delivered by the airlines continues to diminish, Zappos is always striving to incrementally improve itself. As they become increasingly more efficient and refuse to succumb to the good enough syndrome that plagues its competition, Zappos continues to serve as an example for not just a great shoe company, but a great service company.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll be waiting in line to buy my ticket on Zappos Airlines…just as soon as Tony finishes up with that bus.

Channel Your Energy

Again the dynamic, fast-paced, wild and informative #custserv chat on Twitter this week is bringing me here to see if I can sort through an issue in a slightly lower gear.  If you’ve ever participated in these chats on Tuesday nights, you know the speed at which the tweets fly by; allowing for a mere dusting of the issues.

The title of this weeks chat was “Interacting with your Customer: Text? Voice? Video?”.  As you might expect with a title like that, this topic could have gone, and did go, in many directions.  Eric Jacques, in his reflection here, argues that the tools you use should be the last thing on your mind with respect your service delivery model.  That’s a whole other related but separate topic.  And, worth the read.

I boiled down this issue in my mind into three buckets that I’ve outlined in the clip below.  By the way, that’s the way my mind works.  I think in threes.  Good tactic when organizing thoughts for presentations or writing.  Try it.  My bonus gift to you. 

Channel Challenges

The addition of multiple channels of communication will continue to increase both the number and complexity

I don’ think there is necessarily a right or wrong answer to the channel strategy question.  In my mind, it’s a matter of selecting a strategy, committing to it and building your execution capabilities to support that strategy; a strategy  that has the main goal of enhancing the customer experience.

Your thoughts?

Enoclophobia in Customer Service?

(disclaimer: the following is not intended to defame, denigrate or disparage in anyway people suffering from this or any other physical or intellectual affliction.)

The fear of crowds.  In the context of crowdsourcing and community-based or customer-led service, I got the sense this past week that there are pockets of this condition within customer service.  And I’m challenged to understand why.  So, I come here seeking a different point of view.

Some of the things people who really suffer from this, in some cases, completely debilitating condition fear will happen when in a crowd include:

  • Being trampled to death
  • Getting lost in a massive crowd of people
  • They feel small and insignificant when surrounded by so many people

Could these be the same causes of this fear in customer service?

As a customer service professional, I think some of the reasons that you may be experiencing this fear are:

  • You may worry you’ll no longer be of value to your company or customers
  • You’re not certain your customers will get accurate information
  • Your company will reduce your pay. After all customers do this for free in the community
  • There is a potential for loss of control
  • The idea that someone, a customer, could possibly know more about your products than you

I get it.  It is a bit frightening.  There is however a difference between a healthy sense of trepidation and the paralyzing grip of phobia that manifests itself into a resistance to change.  Change is coming.  And this change is good.  The evidence is here and is mounting that supports the value of community-based service to the bottom line and the customer experience.

Because fear is driven in part from a lack of information, here is some references:

  • Groundswell – the seminal book about the social media revolution discusses many customer service community case studies

…And the list continues to grow.

So, how do we overcome our enoclophobia in customer service?

  • Take the reins.  Communities don’t run themselves.  They need moderation, care and feeding.  Be that resource that creates the community strategy and builds the community. 
  • Do more research.  Find out how other organizations are leveraging customers in service delivery.  Learn how those more mature models evolved.
  • Revisit the value proposition and strategy for customer service in your organization. If your customers are willing to perform the task that have pinned you into the “cost of doing business” corner in your organization, let them.  Create a different value proposition and purpose; like being internal consultants to remove organizational drivers of service demand. 
  • Embrace change and let go.

Your fear is real.  My intent is not to dismiss it.  It’s up to us though to manage the fear by leading and embracing change rather than trying to maintain control and be a barrier to it.  Knowledge is power.  Learn as much as you can about these trends and figure out your new value proposition.