Why Self-Policing Communities are Better for Your Organization

Censoring your community will kill it.

There are many organizations that would like to “implement” communities for their products or services.  The purported benefits of great Word-of-Mouth advertising and the likelihood of collecting valuable feedback seem too attractive.  At the same time, they fret over the incorrect message or information being posted to their community and causing damage.

Then they take the next step, censoring the content, destroying the community in the process.

Organizations that want to support communities should provide expert commentary and content, a safe place for the community to meet and discuss, and feedback to the community on how their input is heard and is affecting the products and organizational processes.

Communities are self-controlled.

There are many research studies conducted on how groups of all sorts self-organize, self-administer, and self-control their content and members.  Within a very short time of their genesis, communities quickly set the tone for membership and contribution by consensus – and are continuously updating the rules.  Most of them are unwritten; however, they do exist.

When a new member joins, it is their responsibility to learn these rules and to understand and embrace them.  The existing members will, patiently, point out what and how to say and do.  Listening is the most valuable asset any person can bring to a community.  Following by an embrace of the rules of conduct, traditions, and habits.  Once the new members are adapted to the community, their contributions will be valuable.

Before that? It is usually considered noise.

If you want to benefit from having a community help your organization, make sure you nurture it and let it be – you’d be surprised how its self-imposed dynamics will help you.

Are you nurturing or censoring your communities?

A Methodology for Crafting Awesome Experiences – Part 2

(If you have not read the previous entry, the introduction to this methodology, you can do so here)

In this second part I want to cover the Strategic Measurement Framework I use.

Most organizations attack customer experiences in the same way: isolated islands of processing that complete a function or portion of a process, that somehow interconnect. Each of these processes has their own reports, metrics, and goals.  These reports will tie the goals for each function to the efficiency of the actions (i.e. how well did we do what we are supposed to do). These reports are tactical in nature and the metrics associated with them are tactical as well. Number of executions per time slot, speed of execution, compliance and execution are some of these metrics.

This was acceptable in the old days when organizations had different departments that dealt with different interactions with the customer. There was a specific accounting department, for example, that dealt with accounting issues, and other departments for financial, warranties and so on. Each of these functions was isolated from the others and executed within its own shell. If an accounting problems arose, that department would receive either a request to act or a telephone call transferred to them. They would solve the problem the best their rules and operations would allow them, and that was all they ever saw of the customer. If there were other problems, they would transfer the request to another department. Connection between departments and cross-departmental operations and reporting was non-existent. The following figure represents how this worked.

First Generation Customer Service Reporting FrameworkAs time passed, customers demanded more of customer service organizations.  They expected not to be transferred and for all of their issues to be handled by the first person to interact with them.  This coincided with the advent of CRM solutions and early integration between the back office (ERP systems) and the front office (CRM solutions).  The integration gave the organization the visibility they needed to begin to handle end-to-end process interactions.

The problem they ran into most often was that the systems used in the background were the same as in previous generations and even though they could see and use the data to solve more complex interactions, the reporting structure and data models were not modified for this new operating model.  Metrics changed slightly to reflect the new way of working and began to accommodate processes rather than functions – albeit still focused mostly on efficiency.  For example, the total handle time for a transaction was no longer how long each department would take to act on a specific action, but rather for the entire process.  New metrics like First Call Resolution, Service Level Agreements, and end-to-end efficiency metrics began to emerge.  The following picture denotes this generational growth.

Second Generation Customer Service Reporting Framework

Although the systems were meant to accommodate entire processes, the reporting became more convoluted as metrics from each function were combined, usually manually – sometimes in a data warehouse or data mart, to create cross-functional reporting.  The areas where each function crosses in the diagram above (for example, between call type and cost per transaction) would result in a customized report to be created and executed.  Although the appearance of cross-functional reporting was created this way, often these reports were outdated by the time they were created due to the lengthy processing time and effort involved in preparing them.

In these systems we start seeing effectiveness, customer-centric metrics emerge.  The first stand-alone, isolated customer satisfaction reports begin to appear.  There is little, if any, relationship with the specific functions and the efficiency metrics – it is another island of reporting that is created.  This creates the false illusion that organizations are concerned with the customer experience and coincides with the first Customer Experience Management (CEM) deployments and the appearance of surveys in enterprises – ultimately leading to Enterprise Feedback Management (EFM).  In this second generation we still see isolated, function-specific reports and some cross-functional and end-to-end efficiency metrics as well as the early adoption of effectiveness metrics and customer satisfaction.

Alas, there is still no focus on customer experience – just an acknowledgment that is exists.  There are no formal processes or reports in place to measure satisfaction with the processes or specific portions of it, nor are organizations taking any action to improve processes based on the feedback collected.

Customers begin to push organizations to recognize that stand-alone customer satisfaction measurements are not a good way to find out how to provide better experiences and few organizations begin the difficult task of convincing their management ranks that CEM is more than a passing fad.  They hear about organizations that by focusing on the experience and its effectiveness, as opposed to the functions or processes efficiency, get great results in reducing customer turnover, lower costs of customer acquisition, and lower costs of customer maintenance.  In other words, we enter the era of CEM as a mainstream discipline.

The problem is that virtually all organizations are trying to provide new solutions on the same old data model and process-centric measurement “framework” (if one exists at all).  Most organizations begin to realize that their existing data structures cannot support CEM as there is no effectiveness measurement that spans or integrates the entire process.  In addition, as most data models and applications came together separately, and data warehousing has not yet accomplished integration between these data models, there is no cohesiveness between the data used in this application.  This is where a framework like the SMF works best.  The following picture depicts this better.

Strategic Measurement Framework - Third Generation Customer Service Reporting Framework

The SMF is a graphical representation of a customer-centric data-model that is focused on both operational excellence and customer loyalty. Because neither of those concepts can be measured abstracted from each other, this framework creates an opportunity to, by correctly aligning the data elements embedded in the model to specific processes and functions implemented, manage end-to-end processes. By implementing a framework like this,organizations can

  • Optimize operational efficiency by merging customer and process feedback (whether direct from the customer or via SLAs) to the actual agent or system work, resulting in a cradle-to-grave vision of how an interaction performs. Weak spots are easily identified by either examination of performance records or by listening to feedback on what works and what doesn’t.
  • Strengthen their Customer Experience implementations, by always aiming to improve the experience to the customer – whether it is from internal functions (not visible to the customer) or external functions (which the customer can provide feedback on).
  • Understand better the relationships between the existing reports and their entire operations
  • Analyze all collected and existing data together and draw insights that are valuable to managing the implementations and solutions in the future; integrate into an analytical package or strategy
  • Structure their existing reports within an end-to-end framework, making it simpler to understand the specific performance, inflection and weak points, and what resolutions will work for any given problem

There are some considerations with adopting this framework, such as changes to processes, data models, data warehousing, and integration strategy.  A full adoption will take a long time and necessitate lots of changes in the organization.  However, just the adoption of the theories behind it (end-to-end measurement and metrics, common and consistent data model, and integration of feedback across the entire process) as organizations evolve into customer experience will yield valuable benefits by structuring processes and metrics and aligning strategies and actions.

A key aspect of using this is that feedback is collected in different stages across the process.  We can collect feedback from the user or the agent as for the entire end-to-end process, or we can collect metrics from the user or the agent on the efficiency or effectiveness of each specific action.  Because each interaction is identified and measured across its entire life-span, we can relate that feedback and metrics collected to each interaction and act on what we see as an issue, or has been identified as one by feedback.  We are empowering the user and the agent to indicate areas for change, and we are looking at process-specific, efficiency-driven metrics to do the same.  By mixing efficiency and efectiveness metrics we can focus on a win-win situation where we can work on improving items that need an efficiency boost and see the corresponding improvement in effectiveness.

Finally, there is one element that emerges when adopting this model that also talks to a previous post I wrote in this blog.  I said that benchmarking between enterprises will make them mediocre, as they are always striving to just do sufficient to measure to par with their competitors.  Internal benchmarking, the ability to compare results from one time period to the next one for specific actions, is actually a best practice in CEM.  The adoption of this framework comes with an end-to-end process effectiveness index that can let organizations know exactly how well they perform across the entire customer experience – not just one portion of it – and compare over time.  This index will get more time in the last entry in this series.

For now, I welcome comments on this framework and any ideas on how to improve it.  This is a summary and there is a lot more material that is associated with the SMF, so if you want more details please feel free to ask.  Please let me know what you think by leaving comments below, or sending me an email (contact information is in the Contact tab above)

See you next week for the third installment of this methodology, when we start diving into the different areas of  Crafting Awesome Customer Experiences.

Forget About Loyalty and Grow Better Relationships

Did you ever have as goal to make someone fall in love with you?

No decent person would go into a relationship just to make the other party behave in a manner that is not their intention or in their best interest.  Couples are not formed as a one-sided relationship, and business relationships aim to have a win-win result to be successful.

Yet, the approach organizations take to Loyalty looks like a one-sided relationship.

I worked with a client that wanted to create a Loyalty program to attract and retain users.  However, they wanted to do it for free.  When we needed to look for options that cost something this company vehemently opposed.  Senior management thought that Loyalty was necessary as long as it was free.  They saw no business benefit or value in getting people emotionally attached to their products or their company.

When asked why they wanted to implement a loyalty program their answer was they wanted to build loyal customers because everyone else was doing it.

Most organizations recognize the benefits of loyal customers: cheaper acquisition costs, greater lifetime value, lower maintenance costs and would gladly trade some of those benefits to support a loyalty program.  They see their win in the win-win relationship.

They understand that human relationships are a long-term journey with long-term benefits and that neither side can be forced to do anything against their will or benefits.  They are building loyal relationships without setting a goal of achieving loyalty.

Loyalty is the by-product of a long-term, trusted relationship, not the objective of it.

Are you focusing on loyalty too much? Are you losing sight of your goals of building long-term, trusted relationships?

Leaving Behind Crutch Metrics to Succeed in CEM

The metrics you are using won’t give you the results you want.

You are using metrics that don’t lead to your goals or are related to your strategy. You are either using efficiency-driven metrics (aiming to get top performance from your operations) when your goals are calling for effectiveness, or you are using old metrics than don’t mean much to your business anymore – but that you have used them forever.

The metrics we use time and time again are the safest ones to use. We know them, we know what they mean, we know what deviations may signify. They may not be related to our business today – but they are the wonder tools that make our organization move.

They are your crutch metrics – without them you don’t think you can walk.

Consider the case of a client who used to measure the precise amount of time it took to close a ticket. To the second, they knew exactly when the ticket was opened and when it was closed. They had incentives to close them faster, and bonuses were tied to this. Their customers continued to express satisfaction with their time to close a ticket.

However, the tickets were closed without solving the problems in some cases. The workers knew they had to close them, and they did.

The client would come back and ask the same questions again and gain until they got it right. Their clients wanted more accurate information, regardless of time to close the ticket.

The company thought that by expediting the process of closing tickets they were doing a great job of customer service. After all, that was what they had always done and the customers were satisfied with the time to close ticket – it cannot be all that bad.

Their clients left to the tune of close to 40% annual turnover ratio. They were doing things as always – and getting the same results as always.

Are you still using your crutch metrics? How do your metrics correspond to your strategy and goals?

Funky Friday Grab Bag – 05/22/2009

As usual on Fridays, a recap of this week’s entries:

Measurement Mondays – The Fallacy of Measuring Feelings or How to Capture Lightning in a Bottle
Loyalty Tuesdays – The Three Secrets of Loyalty
Relationships Wednesdays – A Methodology for Crafting Awesome Experiences
Communities Thursdays – Don’t Throw Away the Forums Baby with the Communities Bath Water

How to Avoid Letting Your Brand Ego Take Over Your Communities
If you have a good brand you have a brand ego.  That is the belief that you can do no wrong – because you already have a good brand.  That is a deadly disease for your brand.

I was reading the comments in a vlog posting by TheBrandBuilder (smart guy, very astute when it comes to marketing, must follow if you ask me) when it dawned on me.  The larger and most recognizable brands in the world are suffering as much as the rest of us when it comes to managing communities. Actually, they are worse.  Their brand ego is taking over their efforts and they are failing worse than we are.

Rejoice!  this whole world of communities is actually a democratic one… we are all equally unqualified to make it happen without practice.

And, finally, let me tell you what the next big thing is: Contextual (or Semantic, or Web 3.0) Web.  Trust me on this one.  We will be having this discussion in about 2-3 years and you will have to say “You where right – should’ve listened to you back then”.  So, save yourself from that embarrasment now and start learning about it.  Check out ReadWriteWeb for some awesome articles and pointers.  After all, the hashtags for Twitter are cute – but not the solution.

Don't Throw Away the Forums Baby with the Communities Bath Water

There is no difference between communities and forums.

I had this discussion over twitter a few days ago with a “community expert” who told me that all the knowledge I had in forums could never be applied to communities. There were different things.

Lucky for this person twitter offers the ability to put your foot in your mouth only 140 characters at the time.

Back in the old days before we had communities to bring people together, we had forums.  Without dating myself much, let’s just say that I cut my teeth into communities working on a couple Compuserve Forums as a moderator.  We were supposed to monitor the content for spam and advertising, provide feedback back to the forum sponsors, give expert opinions, recruit super-users to contribute, and attract people by cross-posting.  Basically, the same duties of a community manager these days.

The scale of the Forums back then and Communities now is very different.  I will concede that.

In the haste to make today’s technologies and tools “unique”, “new”, and “innovative” tools we are ignoring that we may have experienced people and knowledge that can be applied to what ails us today.

The computer industry is cyclical, there is no question about that.  We advance the tools and technologies, but we reuse the concepts.  The Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) of today was the distributed computing of the 1960s.  The web servers of today were the timeshare solutions of the 1970s.  The Social Media of today was the Social Networking of the 1990s.

The communities of today were the forums and BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) of yesterday.

We should leverage the experience and knowledge of yesterday while realizing the power of today tools and technologies.

Let’s make sure we don’t throw away the Forums baby with the Communities bathwater.

A Methodology For Crafting Awesome Experiences

Anyone can put together a customer experience.

It really is not that hard to do.

You document a process, look for some imperfections to work out (if you don’t find any that adds to the cache of the experience being “well built”), create documentation as to what should happen at what time.

C’est fini.  An experience is born.

Of course, that is a bad experience.  I don’t even have to see what the final product is, I know it is bad.  I have crafted  sufficient experiences to tell you.  That – is a bad experience.

Want to do it right? Well, that takes a significant amount more.

I am going to take the crafting to good experiences, cut it into smaller portions, and give you some guidelines in seven episodes.

Here is episode one – the 100,000 foot view of crafting awesome experiences.

To craft an Awesome Experience you have to use a methodology.  A methodology will ensure that you stick to best practices, that you do the parts you don’t want to do, and that you (at the very least) use a checklist to ensure you followed all the steps.

There are four parts to my methodology:

design – crafting the experience in paper.  determining what the experience will look like when it is done
validate – bringing it to the customer for input.  if we want them to use it, it better be what they need and want.
implement – bring the documentation to real life. there is so much more than you think – pilots, tests and more
measure – you will measure with metrics and data specific to the crafted experience and nothing else.

Needless to say, I hope, is that the methodology relies on iteration.  There is no end to experience management, it is a lifelong journey with milestones along the way.

There are two more sine-qua-non elements for this methodology.

First, we need an index that stretches across the entire methodology.  Something that relies on smaller measured elements but also brings it all together into a single metric that is easy to see in a dashboard, analyze, slice-and-dice and make meaningful.

Second, all this has to happen within a framework.  You cannot do this on a stand-alone model without further integration into the rest of the organization.  And you certainly won’t do this on a silo-mode, channel-by-channel.  I won’t let you.  Too painful.  Either in a multichannel model or nothing.

So, what do you say – are you with me for the next few weeks to explore the other six posts?

The Three Secrets of Loyalty

Everyone knows how to build loyalty, few are willing to do it.

First, over-deliver.

Find out what your customer’s expectations are, what they would like to see happen in any interaction, both the  results and steps to complete them.  Design your experiences around those expectations, aiming to always over-deliver on what they expect to see.  Become effective in giving them what they need when they need it, they begin to see you as a trusted resource.

Second, develop Trust.

Loyal relationships are based on trust.  If a customer believes they know the outcome of an interaction before it occurs, they begin to trust the organization.  Once this trust is developed, they know their expectations will be met, they are easier to manage, eager to tell you more of what they want and need, they want to continue working with you.  Over time, the relationship strengthens.

Third, be patient.

Loyalty is a long-term feeling that customers develop with an organization once they trust their expectations and needs will be met.  It happens over an undetermined period of time; there is no secret to how long it takes to build loyal customers. If you continuously over-deliver to trusting customers, over time you will notice you don’t have to sell them.  They are already sold.

Customers will reward your organization with their loyalty only if you take the time to build these effective, trusting relationships.

Effectiveness, Trust, and Patience.  It is easy to explain, takes a lifetime to master.

Can you do it?

The Fallacy of Measuring Feelings, or how to Capture Lighting in a Bottle

Feelings cannot be measured.

Lighting cannot be caught in a bottle.

Cold Fusion is (for now) a dream.

The only difference between these three statements is that some people will actually believe that the first one is wrong.  They are the ones who will try to measure customer satisfaction or customer loyalty.  The same way that we can never answer the question of how much do we love something (feelings are, by definition, a non-finite quantity) or someone, we cannot determine how satisfied or loyal a customer really is.

All we do when we set out to measure these feelings is to capture an interpretation of a sentiment frozen in an instant- the moment they answer the question.  It is very likely that given a different set of environmental variables the same user will rate the same experience differently.  What was an “exceptional experience” before becomes an “acceptable interaction” after they get a parking ticket, and ends up being an “unacceptable transaction” when they get into an argument with their spouse later on.

The question is: why do we try to measure feelings?

Somewhere, someone convinced business leaders that the true measure of how well their business is doing is whether customers are satisfied.  However, this same person forgot to provide a definition of “satisfaction” that was measurable and repeatable.  Thus,we end up asking someone how satisfied they are with a transaction. Their answer, at least 80% of the time, is “satisfied”.

It reminds me of  an episode of Seinfeld when George wanted to find out if his date thought he was as satisfying as a risotto she had for dinner -which she adored.  Her answer (paraphrasing): “you cannot compare a risotto with a boyfriend when it comes to satisfaction”.

Are you trying to compare your experiences with risotto?

Funky Friday Grab Bag – 05/15/2009

As usual on Fridays, a recap of this week’s entries:

Measurement Mondays – Why do you Want to be the Same Mediocre Loser?
Loyalty Tuesdays – The Two Loyalty Models Compared in a Nutshell
Relationships Wednesdays – Why Managing Experiences is Not a Technology, Nor a Strategy
Communities Thursdays – The Role of Big Brother in Community Building

Now, for the selected links for this week.  I wanted to recommend one or two of my favorite TED talks.  The TED web site (they announced this week they added CC in 44 languages to their web site — amazing) has some of the absolute most mind-blowing and inspirational talks I have seen.  I make it a routine to watch at least one of them a day (confession: you can become addicted, I have spent in excess of 4 hours there once. Better than youtube by miles), and most days is 2-3 that I get to watch.  It gets me thinking, and it gets me different perspectives.  Instead of telling you what to watch, how about if you just make it today’s chore to visit the TED web site and do a search for something that interests you?

Also, wanted to point out a web site on customer service that I find rather interesting.  Check out AmazingServiceGuy, corny name – amazing content!  He does a great job in keeping up to date with the new and worthy in Customer Service.  Take a few minutes to take a look, you will find some very interesting links and content there.

Finally, and to guide you forward in your research, make sure to take a look at some of the Web 3.0 stuff.  You probably heard about the Google Wonder Wheel and the Context-sensitive search options.  You probably also read something about this Alpha Wolfram thing.  The Web 3.0 (I recommend ReadWriteWeb as a starting point) is behind all this – and much more!  Start reading, you won’t regret it.

Thanks for your support this week again, looking forward to another set of conversations next week!