You Are Getting Customer Innovation All Wrong


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A Forrester 2014 report announces that  “the number of truly awful customer experiences is dropping like a rock. That’s good news for consumers and business buyers alike. It’s bad news, however, for the mass of companies that are now all “just average.” They’ve lost their ability to use the same old customer experience to grow share of wallet, retain customers, and get recommendations.”

Therefore the need to innovate and the speed of customer experience innovation is even bigger.  But who’s job is it to innovate to improve your customer experience? Your Customer Experience department (if you have one)? Makes sense. Or your “processes house”? Or perhaps the “product design” team. That makes sense too. I’m sure “innovation” is even in the job characteristics of those employees.

The question is: “Are those people enough?  Are you happy with the state of your Customer Experience progress?”

Poll: Are you happy with the state of your Customer Experience progress?

  • Yes

  • We could do better

  • Not at all

If you think “we could do better” then perhaps you should hear what Jack Welch says: “Innovation is everyone’s job! Don’t let it be a buzzword that isolates 10 people in your company while the other 90 sit on the sidelines, waiting for the innovators to innovate.”. Surely people will say “well I am not that creative, I am not Steve Jobs to come up with the idea about the new iPhone or a geek that does coding etc., or even what does my department has to do with customers or innovation.”

The problem is that this is the wrong mindset. People think of innovation in terms or big ideas and big changes whereas the reality is there are a lot of incremental improvements that could be done along the customer journey. To use football terms in honor of the recent World Cup, this would mean that you could rely on an instant burst of brilliance from one player like Messi or make it a whole team effort like the German team.

As Jack Welch argues, what the organization needs to do is to “make it their mission to reward every little incremental improvement their people make”.  This means:

  1. there should be a clear and easy channel for people to submit ideas / or create prototypes and

  2. people should get recognition for that (note I said recognition, it doesn’t have to be monetary rewards all the time)

Let me give you an example. My partner works in a bank with customers. Every night she comes home and shares with me how unhappy their customers are and how often they release their anger on her. With me being a management consultant I see the root cause of the customer anger be a company policy in one instance, an ineffective process in another, a lack of training / guidance of how to deal with issues in a third instant, etc. But here’s the thing, when I tell her “well why don’t you post in your Intranet your idea of how not to get any more customers like that”, she says “What?! No one will listen to me. Why bother?!”

So the company is missing a channel to get those ideas to improve the experience and has not provided any incentive for its front line employees to contribute with ideas to improve the experience.

The Key to Quality Customer Experience Innovation Ideas is…

True customer experience innovation starts with Empathy. We’ve long been advocates of this but I’m glad that an institution such as the coined the term.

There are 3 elements to developing more Empathy:

  1. Ability to put yourself in your customer’s shoes

  2. Observing customer’s behavior (i.e. Ethnography)

  3. Talking to customers

Whilst your “process”, “product” and “customer experience” teams could be trained how to do this, if you think about it, the people in the front line are talking to customers and in some cases observing customers (or at least hear their stories) every day. However, they are missing the encouragement to put themselves in their customer’s shoes and see things from their perspective.

I had a recent encounter with Bank of America that illustrates this. Whilst I was shopping at Amazon, Amazon offered me an incentive of a discount if I get their credit card plus it was coming with some points. So I took the Bank of America MasterCard.

The thing is though that I have 3-4 other credit cards and I only use 2 of them. I did use the card once to activate it  and then paid the bill but since then it just sat somewhere buried on my desk… until recently…

I received an e-mail saying “We have already contacted you to remind you about the arrears on your account. These now total £50.00 and this information is being registered with the credit reference agencies.”

The title of the e-mail was “Important information about your Bank of America credit card”. Now I clearly saw that e-mail but I wondered how is it that I’ve missed the previous contact. I do get 100+ e-mails a day like most people. And I do have 2716 unread e-mails like most people but still I though I can distinguish the junk from the important e-mails like the one above.

When I called Customer Service and after several conversations with two Customer Service agents and a manager (Andrew) I was told that  “We have already contacted you to remind you about the arrears on your account.”  was the e-mail I received about my statement. And then it all came to me…

Here’s what’s in that e-mail:

I realized how I have missed the “We have already contacted you to remind you about the arrears on your account.”. I receive e-mails where it says “Statement Information” (in bold) and then underneath it says “Balance: £00.00” and this whole section is highlighted which attracts your attention.

Poll: Do you think that receiving an e-mail saying “Statement Information”  and then underneath it says “Balance: £00.00” but that’s not an actual data is misleading?

This is where ethnography and putting yourself into your customer’s shoes comes. Nowadays people get so many e-mails and are bombarded with information from everywhere so they don’t read. People are skimming and scanning for information. Designers know that so they try to de-clutter, play with fonts, colors, highlight information to get you to “see” the message.

When designing / innovating you should also consider customer’s habits and expectations.

For example with my Barclaycard and American Express inside the same e-mails I do get an actual spend data:

So my habit is: I see “£00.00” as is the case with my Barclaycard, I don’t do nothing, I see “I owe some money”, I log-in to pay it. And if you are thinking, “well Bank of America don’t show the spend inside for data protection or regulatory reasons” then see this:

My Barclaycard commercial doesn’t show my spend in there but is not misleading me either. To see it I clearly need to log in, whereas BoA shows me “£00.00” but that’s apparently just a nonsense picture as it’s not actual data.

When I spoke with the Bank of America representatives and their manager they refused to see my perspective (i.e. how misleading their e-mail was) and insisted the e-mails saying Dear M. Dobrev and later Balance “£00.00” in-fact meant “We have already contacted you to remind you about the arrears on your account”.

That’s a failure on:

  • the 1st point of empathy i.e. the ability to put yourself into your customer’s shoes.

  • The way their e-mail was designed was a failure of the second point of Empathy – Observing customer behavior (Ethnography) as people don’t read, they skim and scan information and their design is misleading.

  • The fact that even after my official complaint and talking to two agents and a manager none of them said “Thank you for pointing this to us. I’ll pass this as a suggestion / idea to the management” is a failure of the company’s innovation process which either doesn’t:

    • Provide a clear channel for people to submit ideas

    • Or doesn’t provide an incentive for people to do that

    • Or if BoA has these in place then for sure it hasn’t trained it’s managers and staff on Empathy

The path to innovation would say:

  1. Start with Empathy (as discussed above)

  2. Define the problem i.e. root cause (misleading e-mail)

  3. Ideate (get ideas on how the new e-mail could look like)

  4. Prototype (i.e. create a new e-mail format / formats)

  5. Test (test with customers which design works best )

Over the years we have seen that employees, both on the front line and in the back office functions have lot’s of ideas to contribute. We use a method called “Experience Wall” in which we use brown paper that looks rough. The subconscious message there is that it makes people more comfortable to provide ideas, even if those ideas are quite rough as opposed to a polished diamond and it also resembles a construction site.

The byproduct of this activity is that it also engages people and they feel co-ownership of the design of the new experience as opposed to a top-down method that has seen so many good intentions fail.

If you go even further, you can also invite customers to collaborate and contribute with ideas and participate in your innovation process.

And what’s the cost of not doing it? For me, the lack of human centered design form Bank of America’s side means impacted credit rating and potential tens of thousands of pounds of extra costs if I was to get a mortgage.

For Bank of America it means that I will run from doing banking with it as if it was the plague (and judging from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) and Forrester CxPi ratings I am not alone). The bad news for the bank is that that those have been linked to the growth / decline in share price (i.e. the leaders outperform the market, the laggards underperform in the long term).

Let us know how you do customer experience innovation in your organization…

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Zhecho Dobrev
Zhecho Dobrev is a Senior Consultant at Beyond Philosophy with 7 years of management consultancy experience and more than10,000 hours devoted to becoming an expert in customer experience management. He has worked with a wide range of sectors and countries. Some of his clients includeCaterpillar, FedEx, American Express, Heineken, Michelin etc. Zhecho's expertise includes conducting customer research on what drives customer behavior, journey mapping, customer complaints, measurement, training and more. He holds an MBA and Master's degree in International Relations.


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