Customer Journey: Walking a mile in your customers’ shoes

Last week I discussed the idea of how the most minuscule details can add up to a customer’s overall impression of you and your company, either positively or negatively affecting your brand. This week I’d like to continue along the same vein, discussing the customer journey and further elaborating on the concept of being your own customer or walking a mile in your customers’  shoes.

I was recently reading an article by Michael Hyatt on total customer experience and it reminded me of a similar experience I had recently.

There is an electronics store here in Switzerland I patronise frequently. I have a business account set up with them and until recently have been happy to be a customer. At the end of last year, I ordered a new mobile phone from their website because I wanted one with dual sim. I scheduled it for in store pickup and then came the notice that they couldn’t give a delivery date due to fact that it was new to market and they had no supplier delivery info. I was a little bummed but thought to myself no one ever died of waiting on an order. I’d survive.

One month later I got the pickup notice. I drove excitedly into Basel to pick up the phone and specifically asked the guy at the counter if he could verify this was in fact a dual sim phone. He checked the computer and said yes, it was listed as dual sim. So, I go home and open it up only to find it was in fact not dual sim.

Over the next few days, I got online and did some research to prepare myself to go back in and discuss. In the meantime, the company sent out an email, apologising for the error and offering a 20 CHF gift certificate on a new purchase or outlining their return process if I wanted to go that route.

At this point, I’m not totally happy about driving into town again or paying for parking at the expensive parking next door but I am happy they made an effort to make things right.

I go to the store and take my “K” ticket for “Kundendienst” which means customer service. Unfortunately, all this happened during the school holidays, so I had my 3.5 year old daughter with me. We waited and we waited and we waited. Thank goodness for the 15 flat screens playing various animal videos, because just like Michael Hyatt, I came ill prepared. I had assumed the “K” ticket would mean speedier service. It didn’t.

I finally get up to the counter, hand the letter and the receipts to the nice, young man at the counter and he immediately knows the problem. Score! I always love it when I don’t have to explain myself. He explains he has to refund everything separately and since I (foolishly) opened the memory card first, I’d have to pay a 10 CHF restocking fee. I asked for an exception since I wouldn’t have returned it if I’d kept the phone, which I would have done had it been properly advertised. Nope. Sorry. Policy.

Ok moving on, he had to refund the memory card, the phone and the warranty separately. In cash. So now I have to go to the bank and make a deposit. Meanwhile, I have an overtired 3.5 year old hopping around like a banshee next to me and I’m getting less pleased by the minute. It gets better.

In the time since I bought this new to market phone, waited a month to pick it up and returned it for being falsely advertised, there has been an adjustment to the price. They now sell the phone at a lower price (I guess due to the discrepancy on the sim card issue) and they didn’t want to refund me what I paid.

The interaction went something like this: Yes, but the new price is this. The credit card company charges a fee. We already mentioned the restocking fee. It’s all in the “AGB: Allgemein Geschäftsbedingungen” or Business Policies.

They basically wanted to penalise me almost 100 CHF for having chosen to do business with them. After three iterations and getting a manager (with a smart aleck attitude) involved, I finally got the price to within 20 CHF of what I paid.

The real question is what is the end result:

  • I not only had to go into town once, but twice.
  • I ended up losing 20 CHF (with nothing to show for it) and it would have been closer to 100 if I hadn’t stood my ground.
  • I was a loyal, happy customer up to this point: I was at the “refer” stage in the John Jantsch, Marketing Hourglass
  • I’m now back at the “trust” stage of the cycle, considering if I dare do business with them again.
  • I have a few choices: tell everyone I know about this experience and become a detractor, write the company a letter and tell them how displeased I am (which might be a further waste of time and energy) or just disappear into the ethos of the marketplace, never to be heard from again.

This last point brings me to the main point of this article: not all your customers will tell you why they stop being your customer. They just simply disappear off the radar and start buying from or working with someone who will take care of them, make them feel important and make doing business a real pleasure, not a burden.

If you aren’t evaluating and continually improving the buying experience of your customers, you should be. Customers don’t care about your policies or your internal systems or challenges. They care about their problems and their experience doing business with you. If you aren’t attempting to elicit feedback from your customers about these experiences, in order to know what you’re doing right and what you could do better, they very likely will start looking for a company that cares enough about them to do so.

 

 

 

 

Brand is so much more than just your logo

When we talk about branding, the first thing that comes to mind is often our logo or our website. However, branding is so much more than just those visual elements. In fact, much of branding happens under the surface.

Branding is everything that comes to mind when your company is mentioned. In essence, it is the total collective experience of your customer.

When evaluating your brand, revisit your ideal customer personas as well as your talking logo, to realign yourself with those whom you serve and your reason for being. Then step outside of your company for a minute and try walking a mile in your customers’ shoes. As you go through the exercise of being your own customer for a day, ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • How do I or my employees answer the phone?
  • What is the company dress code: business casual, suit and tie or uniforms?
  • What is our voice / how do we speak to people: serious, professional, fun, edgy, irreverent?
  • How do we handle customer service issues: siting policy and procedures or pulling out all stops to appease?
  • For those with company vehicles: are they always meticulously clean and are our drivers courteous?
  • Does our team appear to just be getting through the day or do we make the customer feel important?
  • Do we anticipate the needs of the customer before they are even aware of it themselves?
  • Why do people want to do business with us and would I like to do business with myself were I my own customer?

These are just a few of the points you can consider: the important part is to get yourself thinking about all the minutiae and seemingly innocuous elements that come together into a total comprehensive view that ultimately determines your reputation in the marketplace and your brand.

Once the exercise is complete, you will have a list of every touchpoint where you customer has an opportunity to form an opinion about you. This list can then be used in your KPIs (key performance indicators) and metrics as part of your continuous improvement efforts. This is an easy and efficient way to continually evaluate your total customer experience and ultimately your brand.

Visioning: Start as you aim to go on

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received came from my mother. Whenever I was starting out on a journey or trying to tackle some big undertaking, she’d remind me to “start as you aim to go on”.

What did she mean by this? Simply put, she meant to take time for strategising, for planning, for reflection and for some forethought. She was telling me to “think with the end goal in mind” which was another of her valuable pieces of advice. In essence, she was advising me to look at the finish line and reverse engineer my project, initiative or goal, stepping backwards through all the steps until I got to the beginning. In her world, we had to go backwards before we could go forwards.

What exactly does this process look like though? When it comes to creating a vision for a business, most people start with strategy: your mission or WHY, your philosophy or guiding principles and some kind of a manifesto or statement of beliefs. These documents are certainly critical because they are the ones that will carry you through your uncertainties and guide you in your darkest hours. However, if you’ve started your strategic plan with only the aforementioned documents, you’ve missed a very crucial step: visioning.

What is visioning?

Let’s start with what it isn’t. It’s not just writing down some blah blah paragraph about some esoteric ideals which sound great, but that no one including you really understand. Visioning is actually about literally seeing the finish line, in your mind’s eye, before you ever start.

What does visioning look like?

When you start visioning, you will allow yourself to visually see things as you’d like for them to be: really imagine a day in the life of yourself and your business. There is going to be a personal element to this exercise as well as a business one because the two really are inseparable. Every area of your life affects the other.

This exercise should start off with you getting out of bed in the morning. What do you eat for breakfast? What does your house look like, where is it located, who lives there with you, what takes up your time and do you exercise first or rush straight into work? You leave the house and go to your car (or do you have a car)? If so, what kind of car is it? Is it leased or owned? Is it private or company? What model, year, colour, gas mileage, etc. does it get? After that you arrive to the office.  Did you commute for hours, minutes or not at all? Did you perhaps walk or ride your bike? Maybe you live in the same building as your office or maybe you work from your home office so you never left the house? Do you have the corner office or do you work with others in an open floor plan? Do you have employees, a virtual team, do you work with contractors or are you totally solo? What kind of work do you want to take this year and what kind of people do you want to work with (both employees and customers)? Do you want to work from one geographic location or many? Are you brick and mortar or are you strictly online? Do you take a break in the middle of the day for lunch or do you eat through it at your desk? Do you exercise at lunch or after work or not at all? Do you have pets? Do they go to the office with you? How about kids? Do you take many / any vacations and how do you manage their school holidays? By now I guess you get the idea.

After you have your whole life envisaged, start to categorise everything into similar items and then prioritise them by their level of importance to you and how immediately you want to address them (just like short and long term goals). Once you have that list of items – take a quick inventory against your actuals. Do they match up or do you maybe still drive a Hummer where all your visioning is screaming Prius? Once you can see it all clearly, you have to write it down. 1) Because your memory will fail and 2) because what doesn’t get written down, doesn’t get measured.

After you have your vision versus actuals list prioritised by those items that are most important to focus on, start to put together action plans for how you’re going to make those changes happen. Using our auto example from above – you should immediately set a task to get together the financials on the Hummer, look at selling it or trading it in and start shopping for a Prius. Set yourself budgetary parameters and a deadline for when the transition should occur and then wash, rinse and repeat until you have finished your entire list.

Once that is completed, you will write out a final document where you state all the items you are going to accomplish and put them into monthly, quarterly or yearly (3, 5, and 10) categories. Lastly, decide how often you’re going to follow up and what “finished” and/or success looks like for each item you identify. The last bit is just the execution and the follow through.

Regardless, whether or not you’ve finished your 2015 comprehensive plan, I’d encourage you to make sure visioning is an active part of it and start this year as you aim to go on.

 

 

Systems: getting out of the weeds

In dealing with the day to day stresses of your business, it’s normal to feel like you should just hunker down and start attacking your to-do list with laser beam precision. In fact, that is often what we are trained to do. The problem with operating in this mode (where many of us live daily) is your to-do list is often comprised of tactical items and not strategic ones. In essence, you’re on the ground, wading through the weeds – hacking at whatever lies before you without even realising why you are in the weeds in the first place.

I think some of us have gotten so used to weed whacking, that we don’t know any other way. At the end of a long day, we wonder why we are working so hard, with so little to show for it. There is a way out of the overgrowth and onto a clear path. That way is strategy before tactics: implementing a systematic approach to your business.

A system is defined as:
1) a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole.
2) a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized scheme or method.

What this basically says is that a system is an organised method for getting something done using certain principles and procedures. It also means these principles and procedures work together as part of a larger mechanism: in the case of biology, an organism and in the working world, your business.

The human body is a great analogy, especially since we all have one. It is comprised of many sub-systems: skeletal, muscular, nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory, etc. Each of these sub-systems work together through a series of processes to keep your body operating optimally.

Your business is also a larger mechanism comprised of sub-systems called departments: executive, accounting, sales & marketing, customer service, operations, purchasing, information technology, etc. The difference between a business and a body; however, is the body operates on inherent processes which are automatic to it. This is not the case for a business, where the processes must be created. This is why implementing systems is critical to keeping your business healthy.

How to implement a system in your business

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”. ~ Lewis Carroll

First order of business: The Strategic Plan

This is where most of us run into trouble. We don’t take time to think about our strategy or to even ponder our why. We either started without an end goal in mind or we lost sight of it along the way. Most of us wouldn’t just hop in our cars and start off driving without an idea about where we are headed, yet we do so daily with our businesses and then wonder why we end up somewhere we’d rather not be.

Start of your system implementation by creating the following documents with your strategy and people in mind.

1) The Primary Directive – what is your mission, why do you exist, what is your reason for being. When you are done with this you should know what you want to accomplish as an organisation, who your ideal customer is and be able to clearly articulate your Talking Logo.

2) Operating Philosophy – these are the principles you stand on. This is to be used internally as a guide to how you operate and how you make decisions, based on what you believe about the world.

3) Manifesto – these are statements which reflect what your organisation believes about the world and allows you to connect with others who believe what you believe.

When implementing a system in your business, make sure the system reflects the overall strategy of your business as well as the people who make up the organisation. The system you implement has to make sense and it has to work for you.

Next week we will discuss more about implementing a system and the basic components that make up a system: strategy, financials, communication, processes, projects, quality, measurement & control, and managing change.

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