HBR: Let Your Frontline Workers Be Creative

“The researchers found that the creativity of front-line service employees directly affected customer services ratings.” Are you facilitating creativity in your employees? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by David Burkus,

Let Your Frontline Workers Be Creative

We know that creativity and innovation fuel new products, services, even strategies. But too many executives make the mistake of assuming creativity is just reserved for a certain department or just the white-collar knowledge-workers in their firms. New research shows how important it is for all employees to be creative, even if they’re not high up on the org chart.

One new research paper looked at how creativity, or the lack thereof, affected customers’ perception of customer service. The researchers found that the creativity of front-line service employees (which they called “service creativity”) directly affected customer services ratings. “Service creativity allows employees to delight customers in unusual ways or solve problems that existing protocol falls short of addressing,” said Jing Zhou, a co-author on the study and professor of management at Rice University. “The findings suggest that service creativity is a powerful avenue through which customer satisfaction can be achieved.”

The collaborators collected data from 3,550 customers and 380 hairstylists across 118 hair salons as part of a large chain in Taiwan. While that may sound like an odd source for customer research, it is actually a perfect setting for studying service creativity. The researchers chose it because generating novel yet practical hairstyles for a diverse set of customers is a fundamental skill needed by stylists. In addition, the interaction between stylists and customers lasts long enough to study the interaction between employee and customer and observe the employee’s creative performance. The data were collected through observations by the researchers and surveys completed by both the employee and the customer. (The researchers limited themselves to two interactions per stylist per day in order to avoid response fatigue.)

They found that the service employees were rated both more positively and more creatively when they showed customers they were responsive to feedback. But it wasn’t just about making the customer feel good by being approachable – it was about gaining actual insights and ideas from customers, which in turn allowed the employee to promote new options and solutions tailored to the customer. “Because front-line employees engage in contact with customers on a daily basis they may have a better sense of the issues that customers are concerned about and how to solve these problems in a novel and practical way,” said Zhou.

Managers can play a key role in facilitating the creativity of front-line staff by expressing confidence in their service employees and seeking out employees’ opinions on resolving customer issues or providing service.

This stands in contrast to how many customer service departments operate, especially call centers where employees follow standardized flow charts and are encouraged to close customer support tickets and end phone calls as quickly as possible. “Empowering employees — rather than closely monitoring and controlling them – may be a more effective way to enable employees to provide satisfying service,” said Zhou.

The exemplar here is Zappos. Unlike most online retailers, Zappos actively drives customers to contact them via phone, displaying their customer service number prominently throughout their website. Employees receive seven weeks of customer service training. Instead of giving employees scripts, managers encourage call center employees to go to whatever lengths are reasonable and necessary to please customers, including browsing competitor websites if a customer is looking for a specific item that Zappos doesn’t have. One time, when Zappos was out of stock, a customer service representative even visited a brick and mortar retailer to buy the specific shoes and hand-deliver them to a customer.

Especially notable from a service creativity standpoint, Zappos is one of the few call centers that measures average call time but doesn’t reward employees with the lowest averages. Instead, they praise the employees who set length records. That’s important given that creative ideas often take time to develop and that productivity and creativity are often at odds with one another.

While stories about Zappos and extreme tales of customer service aren’t new, this new research helps strengthen the case that it’s not just about doing it differently … service creativity helps companies do it better. Today, creativity is everyone’s job.

 

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HBR: Everyone Says They Listen to Their Customers—Here’s How to Really Do It

Are you measuring your customers’ experience? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Ana Brant.

Everyone Says They Listen to Their Customers—Here’s How to Really Do It

Almost everyone in the luxury service industry talks about “listening to the voice of the customer.” But listening is not the same as understanding. How you listen, and to whom you listen, is critical. Even a smart, high-end business can be led astray by misunderstanding the strengths and weaknesses of different customer feedback channels.

In this piece, I’ll lay out a few of the strengths and shortcomings of a few of the more common channels, based on my experience as global director of guest experience and innovation at the Dorchester Collection of luxury hotels.

Mystery shopper ratings

One ubiquitous tool for evaluating the quality of the customer experience in service industries is the mystery shopper. The mystery shopper plays the role of a customer, evaluating service on a checklist of criteria. With these checklists, mystery shoppers measure compliance to a set of standards related to physical attributes and service delivery. Your own company or an external evaluator (such as AAA or Forbes Five Star) may set these standards. Mystery shoppers are best for measuring efficiency — but not experience.

One checklist measure in the hospitality industry, for instance, is how promptly a guest is greeted upon arrival in the lobby, and whether she is greeted by name. But in this era of heightened sensitivity to privacy, does that always make sense? Suppose we’re talking about a luxury hotel guest who is a paparazzi-shy celebrity? A mystery shopper report would never alert me to the receptionist who had the good sense not to speak that guest’s name out loud.

A mystery shopper’s report is an important tool to help us deliver efficient service. But it’s equally important for my team to remember that a checklist, which tends to reward repetitive behaviors, cannot encompass everything we hope to be.

Opinion surveys

This is the easiest feedback channel to misinterpret, for luxury businesses and others. Results are best when it’s a scientific survey built on a proven customer-engagement methodology. One survey we recently did helped us distinguish between what business and leisure travelers look for in a hotel. It told us that we needed to work on winning back a greater proportion of business travelers as leisure guests, and positioned us to increase that by 6% over the following six months.

However, beware the opposite. A quick online survey (à la Survey Monkey) can set a luxury organization into fire-fighting mode about a one-off problem that’s not a true trend. Also, this data can be interpreted — and manipulated easily – by managers, to fit any agenda.

Social media feedback

Many businesses track Twitter and Facebook as measures of how well they are doing on customer service. For luxury brands, social media posts serve one main purpose — as online postcards.

When we looked closely, we found our guests most often use these channels to brag that they have stayed with us. What can we do with that sort of feedback? A lot. These insights don’t tell us about our customer service performance, but they can inform our marketing and customer experience strategies. For example, we see meal pictures showing up frequently on Instagram. So a question we can ask about a luxury room service meal is, is the presentation Instagram-worthy?

Looking at a series of posts from customers can also remind us of what differentiates us from our competitors: afternoon tea at The Dorchester and the soufflés at The Beverly Hills. At Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris, for instance, guests find a high-end fluffy robe and slippers – with a twist. The slippers have red soles, like Christian Louboutin shoes. We learned via social posts that guests love this touch (especially those who remember Carrie Bradshaw’s fashionable stay there during the last two episodes of Sex and the City).

Social and review posts can also deliver “aha” moments about competitors’ offerings. For example, are luxury hotels delivering the same items – say cake and champagne – to special occasion guests? If so, you can strive for something more distinctive.

Social media is best for discovering what customers really value about their luxury experience with you. This information shapes customer experience strategy. Of course, they can also provide early warning signals that service has slipped. If your social media posts read like comment cards, that’s an alarm bell.

Review sites

In our industry, it is a common misperception that the review sites are used only to find deals. That has led some luxury service providers to discount them. True, not everyone on a review site will be your target customer. However, we’ve learned that many luxury shoppers use sites such as TripAdvisor to validate their choices prior to making a final decision, and browse our reviews and those of our direct competitors. That’s a customer we certainly want to win, so our managers respond to TripAdvisor reviews. Sometimes, this also presents a bonus opportunity to turn a one-time guest into a repeat customer.

Sites such as TripAdvisor can also help identify gaps in what you think is important to customers vs. what customers say is important. While surveys only tell us what we think we want to know and social posts often showcase the best highlights of a guest experience, review sites highlight our blind spots. And when customer reviews include images, they show our products and services through our customers’ eyes, not how professional photographers pose and light them for our website. This can be a reality check for us.

They can also help you look into your competition’s customer experience. Ask this key question: What do you have that customers love — and your competitors lack?

First-hand observations

It’s also valuable to learn when your own eyes trump all. One of the most powerful and often underappreciated tools for improving service and performance is direct observation. Sit in the lobby and see how staff members greet guests, how traffic flows through registration, and how well people work together. Someone in the luxury car business could apply the same principle to seeing what really goes on in the showroom, or in the sales manager’s office.

Luxury innovations usually come from understanding and addressing new needs. For instance, while sitting in the lobby of The Dorchester, members of my innovation team observed guests walk to the theater desk to book tickets for a West End show, and then go to the Concierge Desk to arrange for dinner reservations and transportation. Why, they asked, should guests have to go to two desks to arrange one evening? Now the theater desk staff make all the arrangements a guest might need. I am not sure we would have discovered that less-than-seamless service issue any other way than by sitting in the lobby and watching.

While auditing and measuring the customer experience, remember the ultimate goal is to gather information that helps deliver a level of customer service that differentiates your business. Do not expect technology-driven and repetitive checklist-style evaluations to find it for you.

The new consumer decision journey

Are you using customer journeys as a competitive advantage? Below is a blog post from McKinseys & Company and Harvard Business Review by David Edelman and Marc Singer.

The new consumer decision journey

For years, empowered consumers have held the upper hand when it comes to making purchasing decisions. But companies are fighting back.

The flare-up around advertising blockers on mobile devices is just the latest salvo in the digital-technology “arms race” that has made today’s consumer a formidable force. From social media to mobile devices, technologies have given consumers unprecedented power to compare prices, complain loudly, and find the best deals.

This tipping of the balance of power in favor of consumers has been evident for years. In 2009, we declared that the traditional “funnel” model—in which consumers began with a set number of brands in mind and whittled them down until they decided what to buy—had been usurped by what we called “the consumer decision journey.”1 See David Court, Dave Elzinga, Susan Mulder, and Ole Jørgen Vetvik, “The consumer decision journey,” McKinsey Quarterly, June 2009. This journey involved shoppers taking advantage of technology to evaluate products and services more actively, adding and removing choices over time. And it included a feedback loop, where customers kept evaluating products and services after purchase, pressuring products to perform and brands to deliver a superior experience on an ongoing basis.

We now believe the consumer decision journey needs updating.

In the past few years, brands have been playing catch-up, investing in new technologies and capabilities in a bid to regain relevance with shoppers and exert greater influence over how they make purchasing decisions. Our experience advising more than 50 companies and researching more than 200 on best practices for building digital capabilities—coupled with detailed conversations with dozens of chief digital officers and more than 100 digital-business leaders worldwide—has convinced us that brands today can not only react to customers as they make purchasing decisions but also actively shape those decision journeys. A set of technologies is underpinning this change, allowing companies to design and continuously optimize decision journeys. More important, companies today can use journeys to deliver value to both the customer and the brand. Companies that do this well can radically compress the consideration and evaluation phases—and in some cases even eliminate them—during the purchase process and catapult a consumer right to the loyalty phase of the relationship (exhibit). The journey itself is becoming the defining source of competitive advantage.

Exhibit

The new consumer decision journey

In fact, a recent Association of National Advertisers survey2 The survey was completed by a total of 384 client-side marketers. Participants include members of various panels, including the Association of National Advertiser’s (ANA) Marketer’s Edge Research Community, ANA members and prospects, the American Marketing Association, Demand Metric, McKinsey, and Spencer Stuart. Findings from the survey will be available in “The marketer strikes back,” forthcoming on the McKinsey on Marketing & Sales website. found top performers understood the entire customer journey much better than their peers (20 percent versus 6 percent) and had much better processes for capturing insights about customers and feeding them back into their marketing programs to improve performance (30 percent versus 11 percent). They also valued automation as a critical capability to respond to disruption and deliver both consistent and personalized customer experiences (30 percent versus 11 percent).

We’ve found that a company’s ability to deliver that value relies on four distinct but interconnected capabilities:

  • Automation streamlines journey steps. One example is letting people take a picture of a check and deposit it through the bank’s app rather than doing it in person. While automation of processes is highly technical, the focus is on enabling simple, useful, and increasingly engaging experiences.
  • Proactive personalization uses information about a customer—either based on past interactions or collected from external sources—to instantaneously customize the experience. Remembering customer preferences is a basic example of this capability, but it extends to personalizing and optimizing the next steps in a customer’s journey, such as immediately putting a valued traveler on an upgrade list.
  • Contextual interaction uses knowledge about where a customer is in a journey to deliver them to the next set of interactions, such as a retail site showing a customer the status of a recent order on the home page. Some hotels are experimenting with using their app to operate like a key when a customer gets to his or her room.
  • Journey innovation extends the interaction to new sources of value, such as new services, for both the customer and the brand. Companies mine their data and insights about a customer to figure out what adjacent service her or she might appreciate. The best companies design journeys that enable open-ended testing to allow for constant prototyping of new services or features. This may include, for example, an airline’s app that has the ability to integrate with a taxi service so that travelers can book cars to pick them up when they arrive at their destination.

Activating customer journeys to capture value requires journeys to be treated like products that need to be actively managed, measured, and nurtured. How well companies are able to do that will dictate how successful they are in making customer journeys a competitive advantage.

Read the full version of this article, “Competing on customer journeys,” on the Harvard Business Review website.

McK: The Three Cs of Customer Satisfaction: Consistency, consistency, consistency

Below is an article from McKinsey & Company Insights & Publications  March 2014 issue. This article about talks how important it is to provide consistency across the customer’s journey to ensure satisfaction. I have another blog post which talks about how to map a customer’s journey: Using Customer Journey Maps to Improve Customer Experience.

The Three Cs of customer satisfaction: Consistency, consistency, consistency

It may not seem sexy, but consistency is the secret ingredient to making customers happy. However, it’s difficult to get right and requires top-leadership attention.

March 2014 | by Alfonso Pulido, Dorian Stone, and John Strevel

“Sustaining an audience is hard,” Bruce Springsteen once said. “It demands a consistency of thought, of purpose, and of action over a long period of time.” He was talking about his route to music stardom, yet his words are just as applicable to the world of customer experience. Consistency may be one of the least inspirational topics for most managers. But it’s exceptionally powerful, especially at a time when retail channels are proliferating and consumer choice and empowerment are increasing.

Getting consistency right also requires the attention of top leadership. That’s because by using a variety of channels and triggering more and more interactions with companies as they seek to meet discrete needs, customers create clusters of interactions that make their individual interactions less important than their cumulative experience. This customer journey can span all elements of a company and include everything from buying a product to actually using it, having issues with a product that require resolution, or simply making the decision to use a service or product for the first time.

It’s not enough to make customers happy with each individual interaction. Our most recent customer-experience survey of some 27,000 American consumers across 14 different industries found that effective customer journeys are more important: measuring satisfaction on customer journeys is 30 percent more predictive of overall customer satisfaction than measuring happiness for each individual interaction. In addition, maximizing satisfaction with customer journeys has the potential not only to increase customer satisfaction by 20 percent but also to lift revenue by up to 15 percent while lowering the cost of serving customers by as much as 20 percent. Our research identified three keys to consistency:

1. Customer-journey consistency

It’s well understood that companies must continually work to provide customers with superior service, with each area of the business having clear policies, rules, and supporting mechanisms to ensure consistency during each interaction. However, few companies can deliver consistently across customer journeys, even in meeting basic needs.

Simple math illustrates why this is so important in a world of increasingly multichannel, multitouch customer journeys. Assume a customer interacts six times with a pay-TV company, starting when he or she undertakes online research into providers and ending when the first bill is received 30 days after service is installed. Assuming a 95 percent satisfaction rate for each individual interaction—whether measuring responsiveness, the accuracy of information, or other factors—even this level of performance means that up to one in four customers will have a poor experience during the on-boarding journey.

The fact is that consistency on the most common customer journeys is an important predictor of overall customer experience and loyalty. Banks, for example, saw an exceptionally strong correlation between consistency on key customer journeys and overall performance in customer experience. And when we sent an undercover-shopping team to visit 50 bank branches and contact 50 bank call centers, the analysis was confirmed: for lower-performing banks, the variability in experience was much higher among a typical bank’s branches than it was among different banks themselves. Large banks typically faced the greatest challenge.

2. Emotional consistency

One of the most illuminating results of our survey was that positive customer-experience emotions—encompassed in a feeling of trust—were the biggest drivers of satisfaction and loyalty in a majority of industries surveyed. We also found that consistency is particularly important to forge a relationship of trust with customers: for example, customers trusted banks that were in the top quartile of delivering consistent customer journeys 30 percent more than banks in the bottom quartile.

What is also striking is how valuable the consistency-driven emotional connection is for customer loyalty. For bank customers, “a brand I feel close to” and “a brand that I can trust” were the top drivers for bank differentiation on customer experience. In a world where research suggests that fewer than 30 percent of customers trust most major financial brands, ensuring consistency on customer journeys to build trust is important for long-term growth.

3. Communication consistency

A company’s brand is driven by more than the combination of promises made and promises kept. What’s also critical is ensuring customers recognize the delivery of those promises, which requires proactively shaping communications and key messages that consistently highlight delivery as well as themes. Southwest Airlines, for example, has built customer trust over a long period by consistently delivering on its promise as a no-frills, low-cost airline. Similarly, Progressive Insurance created an impression among customers that it offered lower rates than its competitors in the period from 1995 to 2005 and made sure to highlight when it delivered on that promise. Progressive also shaped how customers interpreted cost-reduction actions such as on-site resolution of auto claims by positioning and reinforcing these actions as part of a consistent brand promise that it was a responsive, technology-savvy company. In both cases, customer perceptions of the brands reinforced operational realities. Such brands generate a reservoir of goodwill and remain resilient on the basis of their consistency over time in fulfilling promises and their strong, ongoing marketing communications to reinforce those experiences.

Becoming a company that delivers customer-journey excellence requires many things to be done well. But we’ve found that there are three priorities. First, take a journey-based approach. For companies wanting to improve the customer experience as a means of increasing revenue and reducing costs, executing on customer journeys leads to the best outcomes. We found that a company’s performance on journeys is 35 percent more predictive of customer satisfaction and 32 percent more predictive of customer churn than performance on individual touchpoints. Since a customer journey often touches different parts of the organization, companies need to rewire themselves to create teams that are responsible for the end-to-end customer journey across functions. While we know there are an infinite number of journeys, there are generally three to five that matter most to the customer and the business—start your improvements there. To track progress, effectiveness, and predict opportunities, you may need to retool both metrics and analytics to report on journeys, not just touchpoint insights.

Second, fix areas where negative experiences are common. Because a single negative experience has four to five times greater relative impact than a positive one, companies should focus on reducing poor customer experiences, especially in those areas in which customers come into contact with the organization most often. For instance, training frontline service representatives to identify and address specific customer issues through role playing and script guidelines will go a long way toward engendering deeper customer trust.

Finally, do it now. Our research indicates that since 2009, customers are valuing an “average” experience less and have even less patience for variability in delivery. In addition, companies that experience inconsistency challenges often expend unnecessary resources without actually improving the customer journey. Making additional investments to improve the customer experience without tightening the consistency of experience is just throwing good money after bad.

For more details about customer satisfaction across industries, see “Customer satisfaction survey: Who’s up and who’s down,” on the McKinsey on Marketing & Sales website.

About the authors

Alfonso Pulido is an associate principal in McKinsey’s San Francisco office, where Dorian Stone is a principal; John Strevel is an associate principal in the Toronto office.

Twelve Questions to Measure Employee Engagement

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The other day I found this questionnaire I’ve used to capture my employees productivity, profitability, retention, and customer satisfaction. These are from First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham. You could download the PDF by clicking on the Title:

The Twelve Questions

Please answer the following questions.  1 is “no, I strongly disagree” and 5 is “yes, I strongly agree”.  These questions will help to improve your workplace. Please return by[Insert Date].  Please do not write your name on the survey.

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?          1  2  3  4 5
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?        1 2 3 4 5
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?       1 2 3 4 5

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?   1 2 3 4 5

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?   1  2 3 4 5

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?         1  2 3 4 5

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?                                                  1 2 3 4 5

8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?          1 2 3 4 5

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?                   1    2    3    4    5

10. Do I have a best friend at work?                                                    1    2    3    4    5

11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?   1 2 3 4 5

12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?                 1 2 3 4 5