10 Nov Fooled by Frosting
Creating an excellent Customer Experience is easier than you think…
Many years ago I opened my dorm room door to find an amazing chocolate cake. The cake was beautifully adorned with sprinkles and chocolate shavings; it looked like the spawn of Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray. You could actually hear the angels sing and heaven’s rays shimmer around this divine cake! Accompanying the cake was a lovely little note inviting me to the “turnabout” dance with a stunning beauty—I was thrilled! …until I took my first bite. Apparently, not all college kids know how to bake. It tasted like baking soda and mustard gas with a hint of chocolate.
Too often, organizations believe they can overcome poor fundamentals with enough “frosting on the cake” such as gift cards, discounts, or other small perks. Effective organizations (and college date requests) focus on the fundamentals—the cake must equal the frosting.
Henry Ford once famously said his customers could have “any color they want, as long as it’s black.” Originally, quality philosophy focused on consistency and driving costs down. That thinking lasted decades and was known as a “one-to-many” approach: one model of car, for many types ofto customers. As time passed Ford’s thinking (and market share) was quickly surpassed by competitors who developed a “many-to-many” approach: many car models for many types of customers.
Today, with the advance of computers, communications, and automation, customers expect that “one-to-one” approach. When you buy fast food you can order the subway sandwich anyway you want. When you buy a car, you can go to the manufacturer’s website and order specific upgrades to satisfy your taste. Long gone are the days of 3 major TV networks. instant, individual streaming of nearly any movie or T.V. show. The days of doing one thing really well are gone. Instead, customers demand individual options on-demand and consistently.
How does an organization pivot toward customer-driven excellence?
Get in their head! You may think you know the voice of the customer, but do you? How do you know? Are they willing to pay a premium for upgrades and perks (think Ritz-Carlton hotels), or do they want low-cost options (think Wal-Mart)? How have customers’ wants and needs shifted recently? Nearly everybody does face-to-face with customers, but how do you know they’re being frank and honest with you? Does this dress make me look fat? Short of ESP just how do you know your customers are being honest about their needs and what they really want?
In addition to face-to-face, consider adding real-time surveys, at the point of sale/service, for example. Surveys can range from simple—net promoter score—to robust—each point of service. Want more robust feedback? Consider small focus groups or customer observations (like watching customers use your product or service). The more you truly know what your customers want and how they use your service or product, the more you’ll be able to amaze, retain, and grow your client base.
Wear their glasses! In high school I did fine, until one day I borrowed a friend’s glasses during class and realized I could see the chalkboard without squinting. I had no idea I needed glasses until I tried his on. Most organizations view is through their own myopic perspective, which is often blissfully unaware that their clients have a different perspective. Questions to consider are: 1) would your customer knowingly pay for this process or product? Burger joints don’t offer silk napkins because those clients most likely wouldn’t knowingly pay for that. 2) Are you required to keep that process or product to comply with regulations? If the answer to both questions is no – then consider eliminating or simplifying that process/product. No customer wants to pay for a bathroom, but regulations require one, especially where spicy burritos are served.…(HA!)
Get skinny! “Lean thinking” is an effective approach to reduce waste. After all, waste is anything not wanted by a customer or required by law. A primary key to lean thinking is “value-stream mapping.” Simply identify each touch point your customer has, prioritize THOSE touch points (from the customer’s point of view), then determine how effective you deliver high-priority items (again, from the customer’s view). To improve key areas, walk through that process from start to finish, step by step; I like to use a whiteboard or sticky notes on a wall to make notes of what needs to be addressed.
What steps could be eliminated? What forms are extraneous? What could be automated or simplified? Typical “deadly wastes” include waiting, duplication, excess processing – usually anything that adds cost or delays without offsetting benefit. Engage people on the frontlines of your company because they usually have the best perspective. When is the last time you sat with a group of employees and had a “brainsteering” discussion focused on reducing waste such as (delays, cost, etc.) in one of the many processes and from your client’s perspective?
And, yes, I accepted the cake date. She arrived all “dolled up,” I was SO excited, only to find she had swamp breath and the personality of a bus seat. Great frosting. Horrible cake.
Focus on the cake AND the frosting and you’ll have customers for life.
Director of Quality
Jeff Jones studied and worked many years in finance until 2005 when he volunteered to work in Baghdad, Iraq for two years. In Iraq Jeff learned that financial management alone doesn’t ensure success; effective organizations also require a customer-focused strategy, collaborative human relationships, and optimized business systems. As a result of his experience in Iraq, Jeff transitioned to focusing on quality in 2007, studying systems like Lean, Six Sigma, and Baldrige, along with interpersonal studies in leadership and organization development. Today, Jeff serves as Director of Quality at CH2M (an environmental engineering firm) where he leads teams around the world in strategic planning and continuous improvement efforts.
Jeff loves learning. At Brigham Young University, where he studied finance for his undergraduate many years ago, Jeff learned hard-nosed business skills. He paused those studies for two years to volunteer. He worked with recovering drug addicts in Spain, which taught him compassion (and Spanish). More recently, Jeff’s wife and two children teach him the joy of family. Now he’s working on a master’s degree in organization development at Colorado State University that teaches him how systems and people function. Regularly falling down Colorado ski slopes teaches him humility. Cheering for the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos teaches him to brag with gusto. And very recently, sending his oldest daughter to college is teaching him bankruptcy.