Happy 5th Birthday!

imagesIt almost past me by without me noticing. But the other day, I just happened to be searching the archives on this site when I realized this month marks five years since I first penned this post here. And, hopefully I’ve been fairly true to that original mission over the past 195 entries.

Anyway, the reason I was looking through the archives was this. I have been thinking about something for a long time that I eventually want to accomplish.  That is that I’d really like to write a book. After I starting looking at all the content I have here and on other sites and publications to which I’ve contributed, my determination was set. That idea has now become a specific, measurable goal.  And I’m putting it out there here so it makes me even more accountable to get it done.

Now, before you mumble under your breath something like – “great. another narcissist who craves to see his name on a book cover”, let me state this right now. When I do this, who or how many people see, buy, read or even care that I’ve done this is of zero concern to me. My motivation is to see if I can do it. As I’ve had several friends that have written and published books, I’ve witnessed from the fringe what an undertaking such a project is.  So, I putting the challenge to myself.

With that now on my plate, my brain doesn’t have the capacity to write that and continue to write the type of compelling, gripping content you’re used to reading here.  So, the other reason I’m reporting this is to announce that it’s the perfect time, after five years, to take this site in a different direction, shake things up.  So while I’ll stick to my themes of customer experience, social business, customer service and analytics, I’m going to explore these topics with video entries going forward.  I’m going to be using video posts here exclusively to post shorter, more frequent entries about these subjects.  And bonus for all you you.  You get to see my dashing mug and hear my smooth vocal stylings light up these pages.

So, stay tuned.  Let me know how I’m doing so I can learn and improve.  And, hopefully my face and voice won’t distract too much from the message.

Thanks again for sharing a rewarding five years.

Patient Outcomes vs Experiences in Healthcare

imagesI had been thinking about this topic for some time when just as I sat down to start writing, this article hit my news stream.  In summary, IDC Health Insights surveyed healthcare providers and payers and found a significant disparity in the focus on and investment in big data analytics, with payers investing disproportionately more.

And this is good.  There continues to be huge upside potential to impact patient outcomes by analyzing patient and provider data when in comes to patient behaviors and provider treatment decisions.

Is this it though?  Are outcomes the only issue at hand here?  Clearly big data can provide patients the information they need to make better lifestyle choices, should, as the IDC article points out, they choose to take advantage of that information and put it into practice.  And, payers have a wealth of data at their disposal to better influence those patient behaviors and to make recommendations to providers on improved delivery to better outcomes once patients enter the healthcare system.  Don’t get me wrong.  Improving patient outcomes certainly has a positive impact on patient experience.  If I’m made well faster, with less pain and without the need for repeat treatment or readmission, I’m certainly inclined to look at that as a positive customer experience.

But there is another opportunity to leverage big data in the healthcare industry.  This guest post here recently got me thinking about the focus payers and providers are giving to patient experiences, both prior to entering the healthcare system as shoppers and once they enter the system for care.  Subsequently, I did find an absolutely delightful experience with my kids’ dentist who clearly understand the customer experience side of healthcare.  But, this seems to be the exception.

Payers and providers continue to spend big marketing dollars to promote their offers and attract new patient (lets call them customers, shall we? ).  There seems to be a critical gap in the level of energy spent on customer retention.  In general, waiting rooms are still packed.  Appointment times are a best guess.  Facilities are sterile and clinical.  And, while I’ve not been a medical student, I’m not sure if I’d be able to find course work focused on customer service in most curricula.

So, the data is all there resident in clinical records, patient files and claims data.  And, I think there is a tremendous business opportunity to be seized in commercializing this data to improve customer experiences.

Unless of course you know of somebody already on top of this, let me know.  Or, if you think  outcomes are sufficient to satisfy patients’ (customers) demands and the healthcare system has bigger fish to fry than worrying about appointment wait times, let me have it.

Through the Lens of a Social Customer

[The following is a guest post by my friend and colleague John McCabe.  John gives an honest, no fluff look into how consumers really view brands and the experiences they deliver to their consumers.  We should all listen closely.]

imagesSo, I am sitting here thinking about my daily customer experience & interactions. What is it that I like? What do I dislike that will completely turn me off from your brand?

  1. First, I am a social consumer.  In other words I love being social. For example, when I begin a search to contact a company, there are some things that immediately get me “hooked”.  If the company offers me multiple options aimed at my convenience, I am intrigued, excited, and genuinely grateful that they understand that not everyone operates on a 9 to 5 schedule.   If I can contact a brand 24 x 7 by a live person answering the phone (yes, I do occasionally make phone calls) and the representative answering the phone is able to resolve my issue, I will make it a point to give that company more business.  In addition, if I can Tweet, text, IM, share, your company has it figured out.  Also, I will tell my  friends and family about your company and provide a very positive post on a host of various social platforms.  To all of those companies that allow me to interact with you on a 24-hour basis, I deeply thank you!
  2. To those companies who are the opposite of that which I described above, as a conscientious consumer, I will conversely post my feelings on a host of social platforms. Remember that old adage “a happy customer tells a friend, but an angry customer tells everyone?”

To those of you confused brands, the ones who do not understand or are unwilling to change, I will choose not deal with you. In fact, I hope brands understand that they are serving me (and all consumers).  That I drive their success or failure.  And, that I will tell people via multiple channels about my experience.  Companies with antiquated customer service operations, offered between the convenient hours of 9 – 5 pm will not survive in a social market.

The genesis of this post was an interaction I recently had with a local produce market.  The store is open 24-hrs.  But their customer service was not.  I was perplexed by this situation.  If you’re going to be sell 24-hours, why not service your customers 24-hours? I was so baffled I won’t go back.  To be fair, I did speak to someone behind the so-called customer service counter. But they couldn’t resolve my issue.  Let us not mention their poor attitude and shock when I asked a question regarding organic products.  In response to my inquiry was a feeble “that is a separate & outside vendor, you would have to express your concerns with them”.  Let’s remember that when we choose to sell services and products, we are also responsible for all experience integration points.  In short, consumers are not difficult to please.  It just takes some understanding of the buyer’s journey in one’s respective market.

On the Move

I figured it was about time I got my act together and moved this blog over to barrydalton.com

As I was over there prepping, it occurred to me that I’ve had that domain since July 2010.  Procrastination personified.

I wish to thank everyone that subscribed and followed me here.  Except you damn spammers and hackers that got me booted from Google+.  You are the catalyst that got me off my duff.  So in a strange way, thanks to you too.

So, I hope you will find your way over to my new site.  And, I will do my best to make it worth the trip.  Sorry, no donuts

Are You A Proprietor?

Then why do you need apps?

For those have read more than one or two of my posts, you know some of my ideas come from…well…peculiar places.

This one also comes with an “I’m confident in my man skin” admission.  So, let’s see who else of the XY chromosomal persuasion will admit it.  I dig the movie Beautiful Girls.  Even without the qualification as a “chick flick”, its a really entertaining movie.   Ok, I won’t ask any guys to raise their hands in support of me.  But, you know who you are.

There is though, a scene in the movie where Michael (Noah Emmerich) opens his new pub to his friends.  He offers his first new customer’s “apps”.  They all, in unison, retort “apps?”.  Michael says “yea.  I’m a proprietor now.  I got apps”.  You know, chicken wings, chips, dip.  Those apps.

Well, when it comes to mobile customer service, I’ve come to a realization that, when the word “mobile” is mentioned among most folks I’ve been talking to recently, the first thing that comes to mind is apps.  Gotta have an app.

Do you?  Really?

In my business, I’ve spend the past several months mapping out dozens of the most common use cases for which my client’s customers engage them for customer service.  And the reality is that the chasm between “tethered” channels and mobile, particularly mobile self service, is pretty sizable.

It reminds me of a social media workshop I facilitated last Summer with a roomful of senior marketing pros.  I asked a rorschach test question.  “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say ‘social media’?”  You know the answer.  It was Facebook and Twitter.

In this case, I would guess the answer to that question for mobile customer service would be “apps”.

But why?

There are so many applications (no pun intended) for mobile customer service that are a far cry from the  self service nirvana-esque app that seems to be the predominant focus.  And, this chasm also seems to be the main challenge in moving forward with mobile-enabling customer service delivery. Because the level of development and integration to deliver true mobile customer self-service is pretty complex.

So, I have a two step suggestion.  This is nothing earth shattering.  But, from what I’m hearing, it appears like there’s value in calling it out.

Step one.  Start simple.  Start with mobile-enabling your current web presence.  What’s more frustrating than having to swipe your way around a standard website on a 3×5 inch screen?

Step two.  Keep your back end agent-based process the way they are today.  Heresy, I know.  And, think of the mobile device as just another portal into your contact center.  Make functionality like click to chat, click to call, send an email and sms front and center on your mobile website.  Get your customers comfortable with engaging with your contact center through the mobile device.

Then, if the adoption rate grows.  You have your business case for investing in the bigger project of mobile self service.

If it’s applicable to your proprietorship.

Has The Holiday Customer Experience Bar Been Raised?

As I sojourned through my holiday shopping adventure, several random ideas struck me that I hope to explore through the next couple of posts here.
First, I wanted to share a couple of shopping experiences that got this whole train of thought started.  After all, this is a blog about customer service stories.  
Five days before Christmas, my daughter decided to announce, to anyone that would listen, that her brother was getting a Wii U as a gift.  We had not planned on the big man delivering one of these.  But, since my three year old declared it with such conviction, we figured we had no choice.  So, as I sat at dinner in Applebee’s (shocker), I went on Walmart.com to order said mind-melting console.  They had it.  And they said it would be delivered in time for Christmas.  
Just after I hit the order confirmation button though, I had this pit in my stomach.  “This is Walmart.  Are they really going to deliver?  Should I go buy one someplace else just to hedge my bet?”  I admit.  I had very little confidence that the delivery promise would be met.  Even though I’d ordered from Walmart.com before and had nothing but positive experiences.  This was Christmas.  This was my kid.  I couldn’t take that chance.  Oh! The guilt.  The years of therapy down the road.
So, for three days, I lamented.  I rolled the dice.  And then.  The FedEx truck pulled up in front of the house.  And, out popped the driver.  Box in hand embossed with the Walmart.com logo.  It came!  With two days to spare!  It came!  
Step back a week prior.  A friend of mine introduced me to this new iPad stylus.  I’m on a constant quest for the perfect one (I have a computer bag full of various models).  So, based on his recommendation, I logged onto Amazon Prime and ordered it in the middle of a business meeting – at 4pm.  The next morning, the delivery driver arrived – at 9am.  I couldn’t imagine what he was here for.  He delivered the stylus.  17 hours from order to delivery.  17 hours!
So the point is this.  In each case, I had different expectations.  The bar was set lower in my mind for Walmart.  While Amazon Prime has made a commitment to a higher level of customer experience.  But, in both cases, they knocked it out of the park.  I don’t necessarily now have the same expectation every time I order something from either of these on line retailers (the notion that customer expectations have to be continually be exceeded).  However, I now have a greater level of confidence in doing business with both of these companies.  Not every transaction has the high stakes of Christmas.  Nor, do I need every item delivered in 17 hours.  
But I know that, if required, these companies can deliver.  For that, they are both on my nice list.
I’d love to hear your favorite Christmas shopping experience.  What made it special?

Are You Really Ready To Be A Customer Experience Company?

So, those of you that stop by often, know I get on these Zappos kicks every now and again.  I supposed this would constitute as one of those periods.  This time around, it’s because I think Zappos, to the general public and to many of those perhaps that tout its praises, is a highly misunderstood business.  It’s not for lack of transparency. 

The founder of the company Tony Hsieh puts it all out there.  All you have to do is read his book Delivering Happiness.  And, its within the pages of this book, among other places, if you read with intent (like I’ve done four times through), you realize that starting a business with the goal of becoming a customer service giant is one thing.   But, transforming an existing company into a customer experience powerhouse is a Herculean task.  Perhaps that’s the reason we’re always referencing the usual suspects (love that movie) in this dialog.

I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago questioning why you’d want to be like Zappos.  In it, I suggested that, unless your business is a online retailer selling shoes and other apparel, trying to copy Zappos doesn’t make too much sense.  Specifically, because just focusing on the “wow” cultural part of the equation won’t even get you close.  Transforming into a true customer experience company is a massive, risky undertaking.

More specifically, what you need to realize is that Zappos entire business model is build around enabling that wow culture.  About a third of the way through Tony’s book, is the nugget.  He tells a story of how he and his partners made a business-altering decision to stop drop shipping product and to inventory everything themselves.  This bold move, which at the time, jettisoned a highly profitable revenue stream and could have easily bankrupted the company, was the only way they felt they could deliver on one of the core elements of their customer service model.  The ability offer next day, free shipping.  The second giant move required to execute on this service model was to pick up and move their distribution center from California to Kentucky.  Becoming next door neighbors to UPS.

So, think about your company.  Think about every business process.  Every function.  Every touch point that could and does impact your customers’ experience.  Yes, even those functions that, on the surface seem so far removed from your customer.  Unless you’re prepared to toss out suppliers, take on functions that you may have outsourced for cost savings, turn your org chart on its head, and essentially remodel your entire company, no amount of “customer is king” rhetoric or window dressing, no matter how pervasive within your organization, is going to deliver the type of results that are the stuff legends are made of.

You Can’t Be Zappos (and why would you want to be?)

I hear it all the time.  I bet you do too.  “I want to be like Zappos”.  “We need to deliver service like Zappos”.  I wrote about this phenomenon a few weeks back.  So, being a solution guy, I didn’t want to just leave it hanging.  I wanted to come back and explain why, not only can you not be like Zappos, you don’t want to be.

My first conclusion is that anyone that has uttered one of the statements above has probably never a) stopped to think about those words and/or b) read Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait…

Ok! So did you figure it out? The answer is right there in the first 100 pages.

Picture this.  You’re a private equity guy.  Some young dude walks into your office with a business plan to sell shoes on the web.  Once you stop laughing, here’s how the dialog goes next.

“You’re crazy son.  Take your $250m and just go flush it.  You’ll have a better chance at success.  Shoes are a tactile purchase.  People need to try them on.  Walk up and down the store aisle.  Ask their girlfriend how they look.  Oh, and shoes are often an impulse purchase.”

Young dude: “No wait.  I get all that.  And my business model addresses all that and takes all that risk out of the purchasing decision.  We are going to offer free next day shipping, both ways.  We’ll provide returns for up to 365 days after purchase.  And, we are going to build a contact center where our reps are going stay on the phone for 9 hours, if that’s what it takes, to give our customers the most comfortable, risk free environment in which to get their questions answered and make their decision”

You: “hum…interesting.  Let me know how that works out for you”

You see, Zappos had a problem.  And they developed a business model to address that problem.  The risk of buying shoes on line.

So, instead of trying to be like Zappos, how about try this first.  Stop.  Stop and think about your customers.  What problems do they have with your business model?  What customer issues are you trying to solve?  Then, build a customer experience strategy that addresses that.

If You Had To Pick Only One – The Results

A couple of weeks ago, I asked a simple question here.  Based on some of the recent stuff I’ve been reading that appears to give the indication that customer experience is an actual, tangible thing that can be made, produced, manufactured, I needed to clarify.  The customer experience can be designed, yes.  But experience is not an input.  Experience is an output, to the right of the equal sign.  I explored this question first in this post a couple of weeks before.

The experience is designed through the design of the inputs that go into creating the experience.  Or, the experience you hope your customer will have.  Because, in the end, the experience is in the eye of the customer.  You can’t control the experience.  It’s an interpretation of all one’s sensory inputs.  So, all a brand can really do is attempt to positively influence it.

With all that background.  I wanted to hear from you what you thought were the key inputs into the customer experience in your industry.  The survey was simple.  Two questions.

1) Which element of your business model impacts your customers’ experience the most?
2) What is your industry?

The results:

The “other” category included responses of:

  • Expectations 
  • Punctuality
  • Creativity   

In addition to the responses here, which are represented as a percent of total respondents, other choices which netted zero responses where:

  • Marketing/media
  • Availability (supply chain)
  • Shipping/logistics
  • Billing

Industries represented included:

  •   Consulting
  • Enterprise software
  • Insurance/banking
  • Telecommunications
  • Airlines

This was an intentionally simple survey.  So, the conclusions are neither earth shattering nor statistically relevant.  However, I think I proved my point.  And that is this.  The way we frame conversations influences the conversation.  By framing this topic of customer experience in terms of the inputs to the experience design, rather than as the experience as the input, it’s clear that we all understand the causality.   

Experience is the result of the customer’s perception of the multitude of components of your business model.  Experience is not something made, inventoried or delivered.


If You Had To Pick Only One

As a follow up to my post from last week looking at the various inputs that contribute to the customer’s experience with your brand and company, I’d like your opinion.

Based on your business, your industry, your customers, if you had to pick one element of your business model that contributes most to your customer’s perceived experience, what would you choose?

Can you please share your thoughts by clicking here to take this quick, two question survey?

I’ll be back soon with the results.