The Three Secrets of Effective Listening

Listening is a skill that most people don’t posses.

Anyone can hear a complaint or a recommendation to improve your business. Most everyone can understand what it is being said. Few people will actually have the ability to relate what they just heard to their business, create a plan of action to implement what is needed, and have the humility to recognize that an outside opinion may be right.

Listening conflicts with a person’s innate need to put themselves above others.

There are three secrets to effective listening:

  1. Ensure there are two willing parties to the conversation.  Not everyone who provides feedback wants an answer or even to be listened.  Many of the complaints filed are simply a cathartic move to release frustration.  You should still listen to it, but prioritize who you will listen to first.  If you focus on comments that call for  specific change pr action you will find the highest return on listening investment.
  2. Focus on the message, not the function of communicating. The message is what is worth listening to, not the channel on which it is transmitted.  You should seek feedback in as many different ways as possible, even venture into new channels (such as social media) to gather feedback. That simply provides two participants and a common channel, that is the easy part.  Focus on the content of the message instead of the act, you will get better results.
  3. Determine a specific action to take, and implement it. Research has shown that less than five percent of companies act on feedback they receive.  Doing something about the feedback received, also called closing the loop, is very hard.  The organization has to acknowledge they could do  things better and to determine steps to  take (from the strategic as well as feasibility sides) to accommodate the feedback.  And implement it.  And make sure it works as expected.  Customer engagement increases dramatically for companies that close the loop versus those that don’t.

It is critical that the right people be put where listening, and acting, is required.

Do you know the right person in your organization?

Commune, Collective, or Community – The Secret to Aggregating Users and Creating Value

Are you organizing people the right way?

I read a post from @TheBrandBuilder where he talked about dropping the word followers from Twitter, replacing it with something else.  He made the point that it is not about leading, it is about creating a community.  I read a post from @Scobleizer decrying Twitter and FriendFeed in favor of a blog so that the knowledge can be retained.

The problem comes down to definitions.

A commune is a cacophonic group.  Users with a common purpose flock to a commune to be surrounded by people that have similar tastes, thoughts, or desires.  Users aggregate in a common place, or platform in the electronic world, just to share.  A commune is a many-to-many disorganized conversation with no rules or enforcers. Limited learning opportunities exist as there is no organized knowledge.

Twitter is an excellent commune.

A collective is a one-way conversation when a group of users shares a common goal, with strict operating guidelines, a hierarchy,  and an entity that “leads” ensuring all users have the same goal.  While knowledge capture and indexing generally happen on collectives, the opportunities to learn and grow are limited by the single-goal and its hierarchy. Most “communities” sponsored by vendors are collectives.

Collectives require knowledge management.

A community is a like-minded group of individuals that favors two-way communication as a way to increase their power and knowledge.  Communities are self-regulated and self-administered.  Whereas a  collective tries to change its participants into similarly styled members, a community preserves individuality to improve all members.  Ratings and reputation are added to the knowledge to simulate a hierarchy.

Communities manage reputations to add value to the experience.

As you build a strategy to aggregate users for value keep in mind your needs for conversations, knowledge, and value when choosing the best model.

What are you building? Leave me a comment, let me know.


Eighty Percent of the Secret to Success is in This Post

There is always a better way to do everything.

Whatever project you are working on, someone will always tell you how to do it better, faster, easier, cheaper.  You will figure out a better way to do it, as soon as you are done.  Someone, somewhere, ran a research project that you could’ve used to shave 10 days of your project.  A professor in a state university wrote a paper about your project three years ago.

All this information is available to you today.  You can find anything on the Internet if you search long enough.  Twitter exposes your “failure” 100 times faster than before and you get 20 times more “suggestions” on how to do it better.

Is a finished, unoptimized project any less finished because it could be done better? Would you consider it re-doing it? Should you?

In the early days in my career as a consultant one of my mentors told me something that has become one of my maxims.  As a consultant, it is your job to complete a job to 80% perfection and then deploy it.  The other 20%, if necessary, will come later.  If it is not necessary, then you are 100% done.

Perfection is not for the real-world – it works only in Academia.

It stuck with me, because it is true.

How close to 80% perfect are you today?

A Methodology for Crafting Awesome Experiences – Part 5

Part 1 – Introduction
Part 2 – Strategic Measurement Framework
Part 3 – Design
Part 4 – Validation

If you had not had a chance to read through previous installments, please do so you can find the proper context.

So far we have created out new, or improved, experiences on paper, validated them with clients and internal stakeholders.  Now we are ready to deploy them.  This section of the methodology is where most of the work to do is going to be non-technical, and not related to computers.

The vast majority of deploying new experiences is to actually change processes, actions, and in some cases even automate some previously-done-manually functions.  As you can imagine, this is not as much exciting work (although some of the results can be exciting), but work that requires either creating requirements and working with IT and Development people to make changes to systems and programs, or working with managers and division leaders to make changes to the way they work.  In some cases, it may even involve selecting and implementing a new system or tool to assist in the new experience.

Most of this work has already been done by your organization and it is likely that guidelines exist, people who are in charge of specific departments have their own way to proceed with this type of project, and specific functions and people (such as procurement and IT) will need to involved.

Instead of going step-by-step on how to select a vendor, implement or change a new system, or negotiating a better licensing deal – which are all already being handled one way or the other internally, I tend to use this stage for two things: emphasize the importance of change management and enforce the best practices that make the process a success.

Change management is a discipline, not a software or methodology, that must be embraced by any organization undergoing massive changes.  It is recommended as a corporate initiative to be used for all projects, but it really makes a significant difference when doing larger projects since they tend to be more political in nature, and the changes required are more dramatic for more people.  The best advice I use for organizations when we embark on any large-scale project is to adopt a change management discipline before we start.

Change management has a set of procedures that, when backed by senior management, ensure that political fights don’t get in the way of progress.  By submitting each conflict for resolution and having a final position endorsed by senior executives, it guarantees that steps that must happen can happen.  However, focusing only on the latter part of it, the resolution, is not the best way to use it.  Key aspects of it are to prevent any problems before they arise by using one of two methods: either bringing in the potentially conflicting workers (people who will see their job change or be affected) into the design and development phases of the project (think of it as a co-design with internal customers as opposed to external as we did in previous phases), or working with Change Agents.

Working with change agents is the most beneficial part of change management.  Spotting them could be hard, but when identified they become key ambassadors for the project if adequately managed.  A Change Agent is a worker in any specific department or business function whose opinion is respected, in some cases even revered.  These are the people that either had designed the current process, or have worked at it for so long that they are recognized as the experts on it.  Their opinion and recommendations on how to perform a process are followed, and their expertise is sought when an issue arises. While is  recommended, if possible, to involve as many of the potentially affected workers in the design and deployment as possible, being able to target and leverage a change agent trumps the value that involving more workers can provide.

There are three best practices that will ensure that deployment is smooth and consistent with your plans (that is, beyond change management being a part of your project).

  • Involve the customers – You have already involved the customers during the design phase, took their advice and built the experience they wanted.  Now is the time to make sure you did a good job.  Prior to the release to the world, you have to find a way to get the feedback from the same customers you relied on to build the experience.  If it is a web-based experience, run a test with them. Or have them call the new call center and test the script, or bring in a focus group to run through the new experience.  Involving the customers will bring two benefits: first, it will give you feedback as to whether the experience you implemented was the same they designed.  Second, and most important, it will close the loop with them.  Closing the loop when requesting feedback is paramount to build confidence in the customer that they are listened to, which builds a long-term loyalty and increases response rates.
  • Stick to the schedule – Delaying a release of a new experience program can cause more than just a late delivery.  Given all the people that are involved – internal and external customers, senior management, business stakeholders – the damage done to the reputation of the team is worse than that.  If you are late delivering on experiences, the collaboration that is necessary to make it happen in successive iterations will not be the same.  Remember that delivering world-class customer service is about under-promising and over-delivering.  Focus on that when setting a schedule for release.  Meeting expectations in each release is key to the long-term success of the initiative
  • Advertise the availability and the results – Even though it sounds like an oxymoron, it is essential to advertise what you are doing, and what are the results – both internally and externally.  Many experience projects think that just the buzz and momentum of the project will carry it, while in reality the only people who are expecting the new or improved experiences to be released are simply the ones involved in the project.  As soon as a new experience is released, the project should advertise the availability, monitor the results, and advertise the results.  Initiatives that advertise the release of the new experiences get a 35-40% higher initial use rate than those that expect customers to find out about it – and that increased rate justifies the existence of the program.

Thanks for hanging in there for this methodology.  Just two more, the most fun, installments.  Next one will cover measurement and the final one will talk about creating an index that spans the entire experience as opposed to single metrics.  Yes, they are related.

What are your thoughts so far?

Why The Obsession With Loyalty?

Organizations have an unhealthy obsession with Customer Loyalty.

Fact is, and I wrote about it before, that what we measure as loyalty is not even real loyalty. Loyalty, same as satisfaction, is a feeling, an emotion and it cannot be measured or repeated.

You can point me to the countless studies done that show correlation between loyalty and re-purchase, wallet-share, mind-share, upgrading, buying more and what not.  All I see is a metric being tracked, and a established relationship between that metric and another one.  Anyone with even a couple of classes in statistics would find it not that hard to do.

So, why do we chase Loyalty today?  Why did we chase Customer Satisfaction three years ago?

We are looking for a magic, easy, short and simple solution to the most complicated question: how do we keep customers engaged and have them return for more?

The idea of having to segment our customers, determine what makes each segment march, and find a way to leverage that knowledge into a marketing, sales, and service campaign is just too much work to even think about it.  It is simpler to believe there is a magic pill that will make it easy, and that it is our fault we cannot do it right — not the fact that the system may not work.

Chasing Loyalty, as with any other single-metric, is very wrong.

There is no method to know whether a specific customer will continue to do business with us or if they will increase their spending.  There are different metrics that we can track and co-relate to each other, but that only reduces the amount of guessing involved.

The best way to measure Loyalty is to not measure it, worry about it, or be obsessed with its implementation.

Just segment your customer base, find the key metrics for each segment, the co-relation to corporate metrics, measure and repeat on a historical basis.  The results may not be a “sexy” NPS score, but they will definitely be a good way to manage your business to success.

Measuring Up Social Media Events for CRM

How do you measure the effect of a conversation?

Until now, and still continuing in most contact centers, Customer Service has been measured on the efficiency of its performance: number of calls per hour, times it takes to answer a question, time to answer an email, etc.

Organizations that moved to managing experiences migrated their metrics to effectiveness metrics: customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and an effective delivery of the proper answer on time, not just the first time.

How do you measure the success of Social Media events in CRM? Is it about efficiency (answering as many twitter interaction as possible, for example), or about effectiveness (making sure the client gets that they need)?

The answer lies in the purpose of implementing Social Media in the organization.

Organizations that did things right actually have a strategic reason for adopting it. They also know that it should be tied to a corporate strategy with its own metrics.

Social Media will affect those corporate metrics, and that effect is what you must measure.

How do you measure that effect? By tracking metrics over time, detailing what changes were made, and the change in results.

A customer is unlikely to stop being a customer based on a single interaction. Customer satisfaction, loyalty, and commitment build over a lifetime of interactions between the customer and the organization (see this post for details).  This change in these lifetime of interactions is what justifies the addition of social media to CRM – not the result of any one specific interaction.

Social Media is unlikely to return value or generate an ROI on just one channel or one interaction.

Plan your social media strategy across all the social channels, tie the results to a long-term analysis and make sure you tie it back to your corporate strategy.


A Methodology for Crafting Awesome Experiences – Part 4

Part 1 – Introduction
Part 2 – Strategic Measurement Framework
Part 3 – Design

If you had not had a chance to read through previous installments, please do so you can find the proper context.

OK, so far we have designed (on paper mostly) the experiences and used our acumen to do what we think customers want to get done.  I know, this is not the way to do it.  Customer-centricity is about making the customer tell us what they need.  We need to build experiences the customer will use.  However, I learned a very valuable lesson in crafting experiences – you cannot put a blank slate in front of a customer if you want to accomplish something before you retire.

So, we have the experiences designed, we consulted and agreed with business stakeholders and got their temporary buy-in, now is time to bring in the fun.  Validate the design with the customers.

There are two methods to do this well: focus groups and detailed surveys.  If you have a very specific online-only process you need to work on, you could add a third in the form of usability studies (fun for future posts).  Alas, it does not apply if your online process also has offline components or comparable processes.

Let talk first about focus groups.

How do you successfully complete a focus group? No, not with practice.  With understanding.  You need to understand what experience you are designing, understand who are the better people to help you craft, and understand what feedback you are seeking.

Do you need users to help you determine if the timing of a set of steps is proper?  Or are you looking for feedback on the end-to-end experience?  Maybe you know you need to improve just one portion of the overall experience, say for example the question and answer that starts all phone conversations.  Whatever is that you are trying to determine, make sure you understand that before you start.  Once the focus group gets underway is often easy to forget what you need, lose your focus and end up asking questions about many other things.  Sure, that is good feedback too, but hardly what you need.

Focus on what you know you need and don’t let the group deviate from the goal.

There are users that really care about an experience, and others that — not so much.  Users that gave you feedback before, or that use the interaction more often, or that have complained in the past (whether it was on a direct feedback event or not) are the ones you want.  Also, if you are focused on a specific product or service, you definitely want people that use it.  Experience-crafting is the worse possible time to try to do some “marketing” disguised as something else.  The idea here is to get people who will use the service or product to tell you how to build the experience.

A short word here on segmenting.  Let’s say you are an advanced organization, and you have already done your segmenting.  It is adopted across the enterprise, you know who your customers are, what is their lifetime value, what is their net worth to you, and all that.  In other words, you know who you need to please: your VIP and Hopefuls (look at this post for more details).  If you are at that level, then by all means — use your segments to choose the people you want in your focus groups.  How to choose the right segments? That is fodder for another discussion.

A final word on focus groups.  Most people think of offices with one-way mirrors, stale sandwiches, and long discussions when they think of Focus Groups.  Did you know that a customer summit can easily turn into a focus group? That a retreat with your Customer Advisory Board is also a great place to have a focus group?  There are many, many different ways to convene and properly utilize a focus group.  Make sure you pick the one that fits your customers, your specific needs, and the information you need to collect.

A focus group sounds a little scary? Want to do something less complex, something simpler?  Enter the survey realm.

Surveys are a lot simpler to carry on, but a lot more complicated to prepare.

When doing validation via a survey, you are actually asking customers questions about very specific actions or interactions in the experience.  There is no “would you like to see” or “would you say this is good” type of questions.  There are much more poignant and to the point.  You want to know if the timing was too long or too short for a specific action?  Ask just that.  All the questions are going to be very specific, and very well worded.  This is where the complexity comes from.

If you need more details than a simple yes /no answer, then the survey is not the tool for you.  If you need to focus on a complex process, then the survey is the wrong tool.

Surveys are best suited for simple process, where we aim to collect simple feedback on simple processes.

If you cannot ask what you need to ask in a simple, 25-30 words sentence, then this is the wrong tool.

The same rules that we discussed for customer selection in focus groups apply for surveys, of course you want to ask relevant questions from relevant customers.

All in all, I recommend my clients use focus groups in most cases.  I favor Customer Advisory Board style of focus groups as it serves two purposes: it tells customers that they are important enough to be included in an advisory board, and it brings people into the process without outside distractions.

I do rely on surveys for process validation, but only for very specific, quick-hit projects where we need to find a new way to do something quickly.  Either by compliance, regulation, or internal pressure a process or action needs to be changed quickly, and a survey is the best way to find out whether the necessary changes will be welcome by the customers.

You want to know how to run a successful Customer Advisory Board – including a focus group?  Well, that is another post altogether.

Two more things you need to do.

First, you need to incorporate the changes suggested by your customers (as long as they were approved by them) into the new design for the experience.  Using the same tools you used to document them in the first place, add the new features, timing, or requirements you gathered from your customers.  Finish the design, and then present it again to the same customers.  You need to make sure their feedback was incorporated, and that they are satisfied with the results.  When bringing their feedback to bear in your processes, always, always remember the win-win rule: if you cannot do it without a victory for both, you are better off explaining that and moving on.

Second, you will bring the new design back to the business stakeholders that will be affected.  You still need to make sure it complies with their needs and requirements.  If they approve, fantastic – you are all done and can begin the implementation.

However, if they have any sort of feedback and or changes, you need to do a very careful consideration of that. You are not going back to the users for more feedback if you have to change something due to internal requirements.  You have to do a thorough evaluation of what needs to change, how, and what is the impact.

If the change is mandatory or necessary, then you have just one choice.

However, if the change is for ease of use within the corporation as opposed to the customer, then you have to analyze it within the win-win framework and with a customer-centric focus.  If after all that you still need to make changes, you have to notify the users of the changes you made to the version they approved, explain why, and let them know of the benefits to them of making that change.  This will ensure that they will participate again in focus groups.

We are all designed, validated and ready to implement the awesome experience we crafted.  What’s next? Come back next week for the fifth installment in this series.  We will begin to deploy these awesome experiences.

Before you go, I found this article quite interesting as an unconventional example of using a focus group to improve an experience.  Enjoy

I'll trade you SCRM for a Player to be Named Later

It has been a flurry of activity around these parts with the discussion of what is Social CRM, whether it exists, and what to call it.

First, I read this post from Brent Leary in Inc.  Unfortunately, Inc is not very social and comments are not allowed.

So, when someone else Twitted that it was available, I responded saying that S-CRM did not exist.  @Prem_K took exception to it, and a civilized, albeit very badly executed at 140 characters per text, conversation ensued.  He said he would write his post, and I said I’d do the same.

That prompted a couple of other posts (Rob Schneider and Brian Vellmure) to come up.  And before you knew it, it was an all out blog-slug-feast where everybody was expressing their opinion. And I really appreciated that, it gave me a lot of food for thought.  It actullay helped me come up with this kindling to add to the fire.

I wanted to know how was first to use it, I checked out Google Timeline (awesome tool), and found out that the term goes back to 2006 – Kintera was the first to use it.  Makes no difference, it is just giving credit where credit is due.

So, does Social CRM exist?  Yes.

Does it correspond to the current model of CRM? Sure, as extensions to it.

Does it matter? No.

It does not matter because this is no more than a temporary state as we move towards a new model.  A paradigm shift in customer relationships.  Customers won’t depend on the organization any longer for — well, mostly product and services but not much more.

They will have access to how-to from other customers, to data and systems via self-service solutions, to complaining and making their voice heard by communities, and to mandate how the organization should work by aggregating their voices and creating a Groundswell.

In other words, call it what you want for now.  It does not matter.  It is about shifting the power from the organization to the customer.  It is about changing the way to do business.  And it is going to be named later.

Forget Social CRM, Just Add Social to Your CRM

There is no such thing as Social CRM.

Back in the early 1990s we saw the first deployments of CRM emerge.  Aided by the very fast rise of the Internet as a network to connect distant and disparate machines, we also began to see the adoption of email as a communication channel, and slowly saw the rise of chat as well.

Vendors realized that these communication channels could be used to enhance and differentiate newly minted CRM solutions, giving birth to e-CRM.  Gartner debated whether to cal it e-CRM or to just add them as new communications channels.  The prospects of having a “new” hot technology skewed the decision to launch e-CRM.

Gartner prepared especial reports, notes, presentations, even allocated space in the CRM Summit.  The term was advertised, used, and disseminated around the world.  e-CRM had arrived and how it was going to revolutionize the world and the way to do  business.  Vendors adopted the concept into marketing and new products, companies struggled to catch-up and named their VP of e-CRM.  I was leading the charge for eService.  We were making history, changing the world, leading a revolution of instant, perfect, integrated relationships that led to more business, less cost, and better way to do business.

Sounds Familiar?

CEO after CEO began to wonder why they had spent millions of dollars, time and resources to implement CRM if it was outdated already.  One of my clients called me back about 2 months after they had made the decision to go for a CRM system almost yelling at me for telling them to go with CRM – they were now behind and they had not yet launched a single module.  They could not understand what this new e-CRM provided that was so different.

And then we explained.

There is nothing in e-CRM that you cannot do with CRM.  Actually, it is just an extension of your CRM setup where we add more channels and make it more powerful.  It is not mandatory per se – but all the cool kids are doing it and it brings great new abilities to your implementation.  You don’t have to change what you have, just add to your existing implementation and you are ready to go.  It was an easy explanation.

Their answer? Why call it something new if it is just an addition to what I have?

Good question.

Care to try your luck at explaining that for Social-CRM?

(note: we tried to do the same with m-crm for mobile crm, and rt-crm for real-time crm with similar results)