If you want to be customer centric, you have to take their walk.

Image result for lucile packard children's hospital

The Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, CA is redefining customer centricity. The entire hospital experience is viewed from a child’s perspective, a sick child’s perspective. Think for a moment, if you were one of these kids, afraid and in pain, what’s something you’d want? You’d probably want to be distracted from all the things troubling you. So that’s just what the designers thought about, distractions kids would enjoy.

Imagine an MRI machine that looks like an aquarium. Imagine rooms decorated like a beach. Imagine starry lights in the shape of animal constellations dotting the roof of your room. Imagine a large electronic screen with animal imagery that moves and changes as you interact with it. Do you think that’s cool? I certainly do and I’m way past being a kid so I’m sure they do. Somebody definitely took the walk of a sick child when they designed this place.

Taking this walk and thinking or rethinking things based on it is what I like to call extreme customer centricity. It’s designing the customer experience with total empathy. It defines what it is to put yourself in the shoes of someone else, feel their pain as best you can, and create ways to make it smooth, easy, and painless.

So what about you as a business leader? Do you know what your customers experience? Do you have a real understanding of what they go through? Do you have a sense of their journey that includes what they encounter prior to and following their interaction with you? It’s not enough to see your customers’ travels as only consisting of their interaction with your company. You must think about the things they think about on the way to you and on their way from you.

Think about the start of their journey. It starts well before they meet you. What decisions must they make? What things do they know? What things don’t they know? What are their fears and struggles? Have you ever walked the walk they take?

And what about the so-called after-experience? What might they have trouble with? Where could they use easy assistance or more information? When might a follow up call be welcome? Have you ever taken your product home and used it like your customers do? Have you called for help? Have you had to navigate problem solving or the request for a part? Again, have you walked their walk?

Maybe its time to take a page from Undercover Boss and play the role of customer. Inasmuch as you can, think like a customer who knows little about you and is looking for your product. What do you have to do to learn about your business and find you? What questions do you have? What frustrations do you have in the process of getting to your business?

Likewise, take your product for a spin. How does it work? Pretend you have a problem and seek out help. How easy is it? Is there any runaround? Is there work you have to do, forms to fill out, codes to write down, etc.? How many times do you have to repeat your story or your account number, serial number, etc.? In short, how much of a pain is it to deal with your company?

If no one in your business does this, there’s not a chance that you’ll really be able to empathize. There’s no way you can understand the pain. There’s no chance of customer centricity much less extreme customer centricity. If you want to understand your customers, take the walk they take.

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What’s your purpose, gaining or giving?

Image result for purposeA compelling, noble purpose gives work meaning. With purpose comes energy, passion, and motivation to get out of bed in the morning. And over the long haul of a career, it is an absolute necessity if we want workplaces that don’t become prisons where people drag in on Monday and run out on Friday.

A common purpose can help an organization overcome the bureaucracy and silos that plague so many team efforts. As people shed egos in favor of a common goal, the full potential of the organization can be realized. It’s simply the power of teamwork, people all working in unison toward group success instead of individual success. We’ve all seen it before when we see teams who lack superstars defeat teams loaded with superstars. The mediocre together are better than the great alone.

Why then do so many companies falter on this point? It’s because their purpose isn’t compelling, it isn’t noble, and it’s not visionary or inspiring. So many companies I’ve seen have stated purposes that look noble and inspiring but their actions and priorities do not lead people to want to do the work. Several problems rear their heads in these cases.

  • The hypocrisy of stating a noble purpose but acting in a way counter to it leads employees to lack trust in leadership and to jaded complacency.
  • Setting other, less inspiring goals leads to boredom and task-based, checklist-style work that becomes drudgery rather than the stuff of innovation and creativity born out of striving together to accomplish a mission that will end in a legacy of meaning.
  • When it becomes clear that there is really no serious purposeful meaning behind the company’s work and that it is only to benefit stockholders or top executives, employees mirror the behavior and begin working for themselves instead of passionately working to achieve the mission to make customers’ lives better or to enrich the world in some way.

So how do companies change? How do they move toward real, fulfilling, motivating purposes that will make a long-term difference that goes way beyond shareholder value? It starts with examining the values of the organization. Answering the questions of what the organization stands for, what the organizations believes, and what the organization deems acceptable and unacceptable regardless of performance, this is the first step. Next comes answering the key question of what the organization seeks to do to help others, their employees, customers, investors, and community. Once these questions get answered, a journey can begin to craft a succinct and clear statement or rally cry that unites and engages all people within the organization. From there, it is critical to cascade these words to departments, teams and individuals. It is vital that this cascade of communication be not only words but actions that demonstrate the values behind them.

What about your organization? Does it live by a compelling purpose? Do the words inspire teamwork for something greater than individual gain? Does the purpose live in the actions of the leaders? Do employees truly know the purpose and live the values with each other? Think about it, challenge yourself and those around you to drive for something more meaningful, make change that will leave a legacy and give your employees something to truly be proud of, something they will tell their children and grandchildren they did that went beyond their bank account. Be the rebel today, start asking the tough questions, drive for nobility, drive for meaning, drive for making lives better, today, do it!

Journey maps are good but teaching a way to think might be better.

Related imageWe hear a lot about customer journey mapping these days, and, at risk of irritating many of my friends in the customer experience industry, I have to admit I’ve grown tired of it taking over so much of the customer experience discussion. If you listen to much of the dialogue, you might think journey mapping is the answer to all of the ills customers must endure instead of a diagnostic/design tool that largely addresses process but tends to miss the need for developing and maintaining an employee mindset that allows management of the unique, changing, immediate needs of individual customers.

Don’t get me wrong, I do see value in mapping the path a customer must tread in their trek to success. It is an invaluable tool to help organizations see where there are snags or holes in their customers’ journey such as communication breakdowns or time-consuming, difficult chores that must be tolerated. Mapping journeys has its place, definitely, however, once the process is examined and fixes applied, what’s an employee supposed to do when things don’t stick to the map? To give it another spin, imagine traveling on vacation, you’ve mapped out the best route to avoid tolls and construction but there are always things you can’t plan for. There’s the road construction that, for whatever reason, didn’t show up on your travel app. There’s the accident that gets traffic bottled up. There’s the attraction that, while it didn’t look worthy of your time when you were planning, looks worthy of your time as you pass by it. Managing all of these spur-of-the-moment events requires spur-of-the-moment decision making that isn’t part of the big-picture plan. This is the realm employees live in daily, they are part of the points along the way and they need to know how to not only act in the planned (a.k.a. mapped) moments but how to react to the non-planned moments as well.

Earlier this year I attended a conference where one of the keynote addresses was delivered by the customer experience expert, Bruce Temkin. In his presentation, he talked about something called Customer Journey Thinking to augment journey mapping. He submitted that since today’s customers so highly value individual interactions, employees would be well served by an ability to continuously focus on their place in impacting the individual experience of the journey rather than so much focus on the tasks involved in the larger process. To embed this individual-centric, in-the-moment thinking in the mindsets of employees, Temkin suggests organizations teach their employees to continually ask themselves five questions.

  1. Who is my customer and what are their specific needs?
  2. What is the customer’s real goal; what are they trying to accomplish?
  3. What did they do right before coming to me; what have they had to endure so far?
  4. What will they have to do right after our interaction; what do they have to do next?
  5. What will make them happy right now?

I fell in love with this idea pretty quickly. You can see in the last three critical questions how Temkin carefully puts the employee’s particular vantage point in the context of a larger journey that includes past, present and future.

  1. PAST: Where has this customer been before getting to me and what have they had to do?
  2. FUTURE: What will they have to do next after working with me?
  3. PRESENT: How can I be most helpful in getting them from where they’ve been to where they’ll go?

Teaching employees to ask themselves these things can take your journey mapping efforts to a new level where process improvement goes hand-in-hand with a mindset change where employees adapt to the individual needs of customers that can’t be anticipated in even the best mapping effort. The words “most helpful” say it all. This is where we want employees to be and what customers most want.

The customer experience is more than you think and there’s an opportunity in considering that.

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The customer experience.  Is it just everything the customer experiences with your business or is it something more?  I’m going to go with something more.

Most businesses, at least the ones who are enlightened enough to understand and recognize it, see the customer experience only as the customer’s experience with their company.  However, as customer experience expert James Dodkins notes in his writing, that is a very limited, business-centric view.  It fails to see things from the broader view of what customers have to endure in their experience of reaching their objective, whatever that objective might be.

Take, for example, a vacation trip to New York City and a hotel’s view of the experience. Many traditional thoughts would see the experience as arriving at the hotel, checking in, the room, the restaurant, pool, bar and check out.  All would be the view from inside the hotel so to speak. However, think about it from the customer perspective, there are many other things they have to contend with that fall outside of just the hotel.  They must plan for the weather in New York, pack, decide on all of the things they want to see and do, plan their travel, get from home to the airport or train station, go through travel hell and try to do it as efficiently and effortlessly as possible, get ground transport into the city, etc.  All of that is part of their New York City vacation experience.

So what is the hotel to do, how can they possibly account for so much especially since the vast majority is out of their control? Well, they might not be able to control a lot of what the customer experiences but they can influence things and try to make it better. For example, the hotel could, on their website, have weather updates and a link to see typical weather for the time the customer is traveling.  They could have helpful travel tips like packing ideas, best ground transport from airports and train stations, how to best get through airport security, the list goes on. Perhaps they could offer a service to ship luggage so customers don’t have to worry about it. Imagine a van coming to the customer’s home, picking up their luggage, and upon arrival at the hotel, the luggage is in the customer’s room.

While these are just ideas that might be causing many hoteliers to snort, laugh and make “that’ll never happen” remarks, they illustrate the possibilities for companies everywhere to consider the larger view of what customers must endure in reaching their objectives and what a little creativity might do to make things better and make your business a stand-out leader that customers want to work with.

So I have to ask, has your business looked at the entirety of the journey your customers must travel to reach success or are you still stuck in looking at just what they experience once they touch your company?  How can you extend that view and begin innovating ways to make the extended journey easier and more enjoyable?