Don’t take your Customer’s word for it!

This week I had a conversation in which a friend said: “Bad results begin with bad assumptions”. We scrabbled around with the theme and got from “Assumptive Bias” to  “BIASsumptions” (which is not an actual word unfortunately). A fun to have conversation, but I believe underlying is a serious matter that brought me to write this post.

Let me start by saying that some form of guessing or interpreting facts is inevitable when you are embarking upon new roads, trying out stuff, experimenting or analyzing e.g. process failures and their consequences. ” Assumptions” are not the problem. It is how we treat assumptions and what we believe are good assumptions that worries me. My 3 main worries about assumptions are:

  1. Assumptions are often built upon “common knowledge or understanding” that are presented as facts
  2. When used for building business cases assumptions are hardly ever checked in hindsight
  3. Attempts to validate assumptions lead to “biased”  research aimed only to prove one’s assumption is correct

Assumptions based on Common Knowledge or Understanding, not supported by facts

I wrote about one of the most sticky assumptions, which is regarded knowledge in the Customer Services arena, before: Why keep chasing the wrong Goose? The assumption I’m talking about: One should pick-up the phone within (on average) 20 to 30 seconds to keep customers satisfied. As this might be true for a specific company, it is most likely not to be true for all companies. It actually doesn’t matter if it is true or not in general. What does matter is if it is true for you, or better, if you can change it to: what is customer waiting time tolerance for your company? For a good example on how one could prove what’s true for your company, take a look at this post by McKinsey. Research based on the facts & data of your company is the best you can get. You have it, why don’t you use it? As the example shows: a lot of waste can be prevented.

Assumptions are hardly ever checked in hindsight

Much attention gets paid to the assumptions in preparing a business case. It therefor has always surprised me how little time is taken to review afterwards, whether the business case came through or not. In both cases this is missed opportunity. First of all you can learn from the validation of your assumptions. It might be your assumption came through, but the result of your business case didn’t, or the other way around. There is always a great learning potential by checking in hindsight. Best case: you have proved your assumption for this business case. Now you know it is a better assumption for your next business case. But never forget: even if it came through 2 times or more, you need to check every time. Don’t miss-out on the opportunity to learn.

Biased research

The first two are about failing to check, my last one is about poor validation. The issue here is that most people tend to look only for the positive proof of the assumptions they made. We often disregard completely the proof against the assumptions. It is not only scientifically better to make a real effort to not prove your assumptions, it also makes your assumption (much) less of an assumption if it comes out as true (or highly correlated at best actually). True validation is about checking both sides of the coin.  It will provide you with great (personal) satisfaction if you do, even if your assumption proved false. At the same time you might have saved your company from adding more waste to the bottom line.

Bad results begin with hypotheses poorly validated

The best way to take the turn away from Assumptions in your business cases, plans or analysis, is to change from Assumptions to Hypotheses. As discussed above, assumptions are regarded truths without the facts supporting it, are poorly checked and often a result of bias. Hypotheses are not about that. Hypotheses are screaming to be challenged. Change your assumptions to hypotheses the next time you need one and dig in the facts.

And, if you get any of those facts from Customer Surveys, don’t take your Customer’s word for it: you have another Hypothesis in your hand..

What do you say?: will you start working with hypotheses and walk away from assumptions?

Social Media does not make a good listener

Social Media continues to be a “hot topic” in marketing and customer services discussion arena’s. I stumbled upon an article on Customer Think with the title: CrowdService: A Clear and Present ROI for Social CRM. One of the many articles that promote usage of Social Media or Social CRM for Customer Services.

Customer services in general is not that great

One line in the article caught my special attention:

About two-thirds of U.S. consumers believe that companies should ramp up social media usage to “identify service/support issues and contact consumer to resolve.”

This one line proves to me more than that there is “a clear and present ROI for Social CRM”. This line tells me:

  • Companies have not been listening to their customers very well, and
  • Companies have not been able to resolve their customer’s issues very well, and
  • One of the above, or a combination or both, is true for two-thirds of consumers
Little efforts in the past could cure Customer services

Despite all efforts been made over the past decade or two, despite of all good interaction channels we have available, despite (or maybe because of) the wide spread of Customer Relationship Management (systems), despite Total Quality Management, despite business process re-engineering, despite quality monitoring efforts in the call centers, despite … this list can go on and on and on…

Despite all of the above and more, we still have accomplished too little, according to two-thirds of consumers..

Is social media the cure for poor Customer service?

And now Social Media or Social CRM is being presented to be the solution to start listening, engaging with our customers and solve their issues. I like the idea, but have the following reservation: if in your company, all or a good part of the above mentioned efforts did not succeed, you will have very little chance that implementing Social Media or Social CRM will make you successful.

Only if you start listening first

If you want to be successful in your business, or with Social Media for that matter, you need to start with one thing first: listen.. seek first to understand and then to be understood..

If you want to be successful you need to change the DNA of your company, of your people. You need to change from an inside-out to an outside-in thinking and breathing customer-centric organization. This requires a change in the course of your company’s evolution.

Social Media cannot make you a good listener.. Can you?

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How to (not) end up chasing more Geeze

goose-headThe Goose represents the Goals that we pursue in our lives dedicated to excellent customer service experiences. I’ve written about chasing the Same Goose and chasing the Wrong Goose. If you want to follow the Goose Chase please hit the rss-feed button on the top right corner of my blog.

How to (not) end up chasing more Geeze  – will Social Media or Social CRM add value for Customer Services or not?

Unfortunately most companies do not have a well thought-through Customer Interaction Strategy. You will probably recognize from your own experience that companies jump on the next new wagon that passes because everybody is doing it. I wrote about this copy-cat behaviour before. Because there is no true strategy behind these choices, companies tend to follow the “benchmark” metrics to see if they are successful. They take too little time to do research in what their customers really want and expect. As a result they end up being mediocre companies, with mildly satisfied, mostly indifferent and disloyal customers, who will jump on the next best competition-wagon that passes by.

Now we have the next Goose flying in the air: Social Media & Social CRM. Highly recognized analysts from companies such as Forrester advice you to jump onto the wagon as quickly as possible. Some even say it’s time now to forget whatever you are doing or measuring now in Customer Service (or other areas) as a consequence of jumping onto the high-speed train.

The question is: do you, from a Customer Services perspective, need to jump? do you need to chase this Goose?

Honestly, I do not know. What I do know: if you fly out to chase the Goose without a map, a compass and jump the plane without a parachute, you will end up feeling pretty bad. If you do not have a clear goal and strategy defined with clear stepping stones and possible scenario’s worked out, you do not have a clue what you will encounter. If you do not have the metrics in place that give you a good idea of your position (how am I doing compared to my goals) you do not know whether the initiative is worth continuing. If you do not pilot or test in a small environment, with little risk involved, you will not know if your assumptions (that you based your strategy on) are true (or likely to be true). As a consequence, if you did not do all your homework, the likelihood that you will fall out of the sky and get injured seriously or even drop dead, is significantly increasing:

The probability that a service interaction will drive disloyalty is approximately four times greater than the chance it will create any positive loyalty impression

So, when jumping onto the Social Media wagon, the risk of getting hurt is huge, much bigger than the chance you will emerge out of the slopes.  This is not a law but a fact. It shows that we human beings in general are not that good in providing customer services experiences that matter positively. The vast majority just does not get it, and we know it. (I hit the . on the keyboard really hard there… some frustration coming out ;-)

Before you decide to step in or jump on you should ask yourself one important question: How am I doing today?

Can you honestly say that you have your customer services under control, that you are actually contributing positively to the value your company is providing to your customer? If so, you probably have a good chance of making it in the Social Media place too. (But hey, do not forget: what’s the purpose, the value for you and your customers?).

If you think you are doing ok today, take a break, rethink, research and know how you are doing today.

If you know you are not doing well today I suggest: fix that first. We all have limited resources and they are best spend where they add value to your customers and your business. We know that Customer Services can make a difference in the Customer Experience, and we know that Customer Experiences matter. So your first job is to fix that.

Tapping into the Twitter-stream or any other Social Media place will not fix it for you. It will just give you more Geeze to chase.

If your company is doing well and if you can honestly say that customer services is adding value in the total value bucket, implementing a social media or social CRM strategy will have great opportunity to contribute more value even (if you did your homework). If this is not the case, you will be overwhelmed with a completely new, not yet to be seen, volume stream of interactions you do not know how to handle or manage. Workloads will increase, staff who started out enthusiastically will be disappointed (they still cannot solve the customer issue) and then the worst of all things happens: Social Media starts doing its work, Bad word of mouth is out, and spreads faster than Mexican Flu (was supposed to ;-).

Honestly, do you want to end up with hundredthousands Geeze to chase?