How to Id if I am a being an IdIoT about IoT?

posted by Brian J. Curran

I know that is a mouthful but I felt compelled to put something out there for all my customer experience and human design friends about this subject. Just when we thought the communication assault of making sure we used the words social, mobile, big data, digital, disruption etc. in every conversation was going mainstream (which means we could stop saying it) along comes an acronym such as IoT that now requires us to bring this up at every cocktail party and spew from every presentation that we deliver. What’s a rational person to do?

I know! Keep it simple. Keep it approachable. Keep it accessible.

If you are one of my techie, super smart, brainiac friends who want to learn more about appropriate use of REST APIs or the role Raspberry Pi’s $5 computer will play in the proliferation of intelligent devices, stop reading. I love you all but I am not talking to you at the moment. I am talking to the rest of you, who have a business to run, customer needs to fulfill and a P&L that you are accountable to meet. We need to know how this is going to help us make all the constituents in our balanced scorecard happy and help us keep one step ahead of the expectations we are going to see from those same constituents.

So let’s keep this simple as I said. I think there are 4 components of a really good IoT strategy. The technology is already there to support these 4 components and will get better over time which will allow you to ramp up strategy as long as you get the fundamentals down in the beginning.

It’s really fascinating that we will be able to make a lot of objects “talk” that today are silent. These objects perform tasks everyday and go about their work unnoticed until something goes wrong. I think about things like my blender, vacuum cleaner, gas grill etc which some people would call dumb appliances. Please allow me to use these as examples as I know many of you sell much more sophisticated things.

All of us either use these sorts of things on a regular day basis and a lot of us sell these things or services that require the use of these things. Now imagine being the Dr. Dolittle of things. What would you want to know if you could speak their language? What questions would you ask? What would you do with the answers? How would you interact with this thing in the future? If only my blender could talk to me. What a conversation that would be and wouldn’t you like to know what it said. Scandalous!

Well first and foremost, if these things are going to talk, we will need a place to COLLECT all that information that is coming from these things in an orderly fashion as I imagine that it will be a lot of data. Look around your home or office and imagine if everything that you could see could talk. You also need to be clear about what you want to know so that you collect the pertinent information and design the COLLECTION process in such a way that it doesn’t overburden the thing and your storage.

So now you have all this information. Great! But being data rich and insight poor is not going to help you in any way towards achieving your goals. So now we have to put in a process that will allow us to ANALYZE all of this data to determine what is really happening. Think of it like a diagnostic process that allows us to read the tea leaves and really understand the correlation between disparate parameters that may forecast opportunities or issues in the present and future.

Ok. You found out something really interesting in your ANALYSIS. So now what are you going to do? You have to have a process in place that allows you to make DECISIONS based on parameters that you have either set ahead of time or in real time as you get new insights. These DECISIONS may only take the ANALYSIS about the thing or may be combined with other data points that you have about the customer, their location, the weather and a bevy of other data points outside your IoT data.  These DECISIONS are your action plan that comes from having a deeper understanding of things and the people associated with the things.

Last but not least, you are going to have to ENGAGE either directly back with the thing because you want to change something and affect something or with the person who works, owns, uses the thing either in a reactive or preeminent way based on the mission criticality of the insight. If my blender is working too hard and overheating because my blades have been dulled over time by making too many margaritas, I would like you to either ship me new blades, recommend a local shop that can sharpen them or invite me to buy the newest model that does a better job of pulverizing ice. What I don’t want to do is have the machine die as the party is getting started. I may not think too finely about your brand if that happens and neither will my guests. This will require us to change the magnitude of our customer’s preferences for engagement driven by this new knowledge.

COLLECTING, ANALYZING, DECIDING and ENGAGING are the basic components of the strategy that you will need to build as you start to embrace the use of IoT. I know that this is a very simple statement and that the execution of that strategy is the complex part but it will at least get you started on asking the right questions. Great strategies are built by having the right questions not necessarily the right answers in the beginning. It is about having enough to kick off your brand’s new Minimal Viable Experience (MVE) utilizing the basics of an IoT strategy and learning along the way. The biggest mistake that you could make is fully enabling all of your things and then never getting any value from that data.

I will try to put more information here in the future at a detailed level for those of you interested in deeper understanding of these 4 components.

All feedback appreciated!

Originally posted on LinkedIn

What to Expect when They are Expecting

posted by Brian J. Curran

Well…….what were you expecting? An article about pregnancy at the work place? A blog about balancing career and domestic life? What drove your expectation? The title? The picture? Having previously read this book?

Forgive me if I lead you astray and don’t meet your expectations (Spoiler alert: I’m not going to write about pregnancy in the workplace). However, unmet expectations – those moments where your customer’s expectation of the engagement with your brand leads to disappointment, frustration, or worse – is the topic at hand.

So to make sure we’re all on the same page about expectations, here’s a definition that makes sense to me:

Customer Expectations

Customer expectations are beliefs about an impending engagement with a brand that serve as standards or reference points against which value received is judged by the customer.

The important thing to understand about customers is that they are carrying a mental list about what they want to happen and what they think is going to happen. These “mental lists” influence how customers approach upcoming engagements, as well as how they ultimately perceive the experience delivered by the engagement.

Ouch! One more thing our brands don’t control in this ever changing, customer driven, digitally disruptive environment.

People’s expectations don’t just appear out of thin air. Expectations are formed based upon factors affecting people’s every day lives. These include: 

 P.E.S.T.L.E.

You might consider these the current “trends” that the customer is exposed to in their day-to-day lives. These include political, economic, social, technical, legal and environmental issues, beliefs and experiences central in their lives. Most PESTLE factors are outside the control of your brand.

Situational Context

Where is the customer at this moment? What are they doing? What is the situation that they are in?  Who is with them? What technology and objects surround the customer?  What time of the day is it? These and many other details paint the complete picture of the customer at the moment of engagement. These factors greatly influence the expectation in the moment.

Previous Engagements

Customers bring their memories of past engagements, whether real or perceived, to each of their engagements and start to determine up front what is going to happen or what should happen. These memories can happen with different brands, different industries and even within different countries.

Geo-Demographics

Finally, expectations are created based upon background and personal narrative, including financial status, age, gender, ethnicity, and the list goes on.

With these factors in mind, your challenge is to identify the specific elements that are driving your customers’ expectations. This investigation needs to be done at a Segment level (expectations will differ between groups of customers), with the ultimate goal of understanding customer needs and attitudes in order to drive their next behavior or set of future behaviors.

I highly recommend that you co-produce customer journey maps with your customers in order to help identify when and where expectations are formed, and then co-create engagements that meet customer expectations and deliver the kinds of meaningful experiences that drive the results you want.

The bottom line is this. You must have an engagement strategy that is aligned to your customer’s expectations if you want win. Better yet, set new expectations of what an experience should be by engaging in a Useful, Usable and Meaningful way and watch your competitors scramble as you set the new standard and the new expectation on what brands need to do to drive stickiness and advocacy.

I am expecting to hear your comments………..don’t disappoint me !

Originally posted on LinkedIn

Hands of the Customer

posted by Brian J. Curran

Lately, my inbox has been swamped with messages promoting the greatness of VOC: “How to Build an Effective VOC Program”, or “Ten Things Your VOC Program Needs to be Successful”, etc. To make matters worse, VOC is discussed  ad nauseum in leading customer service and customer care professional networks and communities. Of course, I’m not referring to Volatile Organic Compounds and their toxicity to people. I’m talking about a subject almost as combustible: The right way to think about Voice of the Customer.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe strongly in the importance and value of customer insight, as well as the criticality of driving customer empathy deep into an organization’s DNA, but do we really need another program with an acronym (or worse – a code name) designed for listening to our customers? My biggest fear is that the program itself becomes the primary focus, and we lose the essence of what’s really important. Action. Innovation. Transformation.

I’m a soccer (football to my friends around the globe) guy, and I often use the game to help illustrate my point. In the case of VOC, there are really only two approaches: 1) Continue to record the action on the pitch (i.e. remain a scorekeeper), or 2) decide to put one in the net (i.e. become a player).

Sometimes, when I engage with a brand on my own, things can go badly. Afterwards, if they send me surveys asking for feedback, I’ll fill them out. Yet despite my feedback, and the feedback from other customers receiving bad service, nothing changes. I’m sure I’m part of a report that provides precise data to these companies regarding my expectations, needs, emotions, etc., but again, nothing changes. This is my point: I suspect these VOC programs are engaged in score-keeping, and are not serious about trying to move the ball forward.

My challenge to you: Instead of using the words “Voice of the Customer”, we should change the name to “Hands of the Customer”. Let’s roll up our sleeves and make actual changes to the experiences we deliver to our customers, and focus energy on making those experiences useful, usable and meaningful.

Let’s show-up at leadership meetings with reports in hand, as well as plans to drive action using principles of good design and agile development. Designing innovations for customers should utilize testing and learning to capture customer feedback, ultimately leading to change and a value exchange (brands : customers). Heck, if we need a new acronym, then let’s use ADHOC            (Already Doing Hands of the Customer)

As always, I invite your comments or to engage with me personally at brian.curran@oracle.com

Originally posted on LinkedIn

Chief Brand Officer

posted by Brian J. Curran

I have been lucky enough and privileged to have worked with some fantastically customer centric leaders throughout my career. One that always pops up in my mind is Mike Linton, who was the CMO and my boss back in my Best Buy days and currently the CMO at Farmers Insurance. While Mike was loaded to the gills with skills and strengths, there was one lasting impression on me that is at the root of how I operate and that is that Mike cared passionately about the brand.

Chief Brand Officer.png

 I am not just talking just about the colors that we used or the logo or some other typical academic usage of the word. Mike cared about how customers felt about their experiences and how that translated into how they cared about the brand. I came to know this intimately under the forward thinking wisdom of my then boss John Walden, President of Internet and Direct Channels currently the CEO of Home Retail Group in the UK and their joint decision to move the newly built Enterprise Customer Care organization which I created and led under Mike.

We all of course want to impress our new boss with our command of the function that has been placed in our care and like any good manager, I plied Mike with all the details about how we were managing AHT, increasing occupancy and lowering the overall cost per contact. I might as well have been Charlie Brown’s teacher as he really didn’t care about those things. What he wanted to know was how the customer felt. Not just about how they felt about interacting with Customer Care and my CSAT and Quality scores. He wanted to know about how they felt about engaging with the brand across the entire buying and using cycle and across all the functions that interacted and all the channels. It was more important to Mike that I have real data that could be enacted upon by the retail store leaders and that I met with them on a weekly basis to share what we were learning.

What Mike knew as a fact was this. Your brand is driven by the experiences that you deliver. Period. Sure Mike had responsibility for marketing and advertising and a slew of other functions that drove traffic to our stores and websites. He knew he had to tee up the opportunity but he knew it that if you wanted to drive a sustainable business, you had to deliver the promise that was made through all the campaigns, inserts and commercials.

When I look up the word brand, I am always astounded by the origin of the word from Old Norse which is “to burn”. We of course know this from the old cattle stories of branding a mark of your ranch on the cattle to differentiate yours from someone else’s cow. I don’t know about you but I don’t want a brand "applied" to me like a mark for cattle. I want to be treated like an individual. The differentiation today is driven by “burning a mark” or driving a memory about your brand through the usage of your products and/or services you sell and the moments of engagement through each touch-point of the customer lifecycle. We all know what the byproduct of this experience is. Some call it loyalty, some call it stickiness, some call it NPS but we all know it is crucial to success.

Way before the our hypersensitivity to viral advocacy via social channels and our concern about Digital Disruption etc., Mike had the foresight to care about how our brand met the expectations of the customer while they were fulfilling their needs. He described words that he felt best fit the experiences and attitudinal results that came from those experiences. I remember how he would use the word authority to describe one of those brand attributes. Mike felt that if our associates on the floor, the blue shirts, could become experts in the products and their value, then customers would perceive us as having the authority to be the place to come for that expertise therefore differentiating ourselves in a much commoditized product environment with the likes of Amazon and Wal-Mart. Now we can argue whether we were able to create that experience back in early 2001 or not but Mike knew that it was crucial and in hindsight foretold about the rise in things such as show-rooming where the only value is that I can see and touch the product before buying from someone else online. Mike knew that is the absence of price parity, experiences especially focused around knowledge were the key differentiators.

With today’s tools and strategy at the disposal of many of us, there are really no good excuses left on why we can’t deliver the appropriate experiences to differentiate our brands and deliver compelling experiences to the sub set of general consumers we are targeting. It really is about being clear about what you want your brand to stand for in the market at a useful (functional), useable (effortless) and meaningful (emotional) level and aligning everyone around the organization to deliver this day in and day out. Now the only question left is when you are going to start.

Thanks Mike and John for your patience teaching me to become a customer centered leader. I hope everyone finds mentors like the two of you early in their careers and have the passion to transform their brand!

Originally posted on LinkedIn

Digital Service Everywhere

Digital Service Everywhere

Service Anywhere - As a leading service professional, there has never been a better time to have a seat at the table to driving your company's profits. This requires service leaders to change the way they think, working in tandem with sales and marketing, throughout the customer journey to really understand the life cycle and the challenges the customer will face in pursuit of fulfilling their needs.

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Thinking Inside the Box

posted by Brian J. Curran

Last night I received this shipment from Pottery Barn for some seat covers that my lovely wife Dana and I purchased for our outside furniture. After opening the 4 boxes, I soon realized that everything that we purchased could have fit into one of the boxes. This is when things went downhill quickly as my brain kicked in and I started thinking. Why didn’t they just use one box? How much money could I have saved on shipping? What impact will this have on the environment? How will I fit all this cardboard into my recycling bin? The questions raced one after another through my head until finally I was summoned from the garage to dinner finally breaking the perpetual barrage of cerebral energy.

I love Pottery Barn and I will admit that in public but this one small incident has started to tarnish how I feel about doing business with them. I mean this is a sophisticated company who runs a very nice multichannel engagement model of catalogs, stores and call centers. What do you mean they don’t extend that sophistication down to their logistics? Don’t they know that the last mile of getting that stuff to my house and setting it up and actually using it are just as important as researching what I want to buy and select?

I will tell you that when we bought these covers in the store, the salesperson was outstanding and the merchandising in the store was beautiful and the checkout process was simple and I could go on and on about the experience. Then this happens.

I obviously think about the world in journeys and the engagement that I have with a brand in an entire lifecycle. It is the peril of what I do for a living and as my kids will tell you, my life is made up of millions of post-it notes describing the behaviors, attitudes and emotions of these engagements and the onstage and backstage capabilities (people, processes and technology) it takes to deliver the experiences.

If you as a brand are not looking at the entire journey of your customer and determining the moments that matter and measuring the impact of not delivering to the needs and expectations of your customer, you will continue to disappoint them. Dirty bathrooms in restaurants, late installation technicians, trash collectors who leave containers strewn everywhere, and all the other little pet peeves that we have start to accumulate and then some disruptive new business comes along and eliminates all the things that irked us and gets our business and your brand dies a death by a thousand pin pricks of ignorance.

Take time to walk the complete journey, not just a mile, in your customers shoes and you will start to understand the entire experience. Find those moments that matter and design new experiences that drive stickiness and advocacy.

Pottery Barn, I still love you but let’s start to think “Inside and Outside the Box”.

Have questions? I’m always happy to discuss new ways to design valuable customer experiences: email me at brian.curran@oracle.com.

Originally published on LinkedIn

Is the Juice worth the Squeeze?

posted by Brian J. Curran

3 Thresholds Your Customer Experience Must Pass

If you hang out with me for long enough, you will undoubtedly be peppered with what my friends call “Curranisms”. These are the sayings, colloquialisms, and quotes I use over and over—ad nauseam. My favorite is the saying “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”

Juice worth the squeeze.png

As I have gotten older and wiser (or maybe just older), I have tried to reduce the amount of effort I exert (the squeeze) to achieve a valuable outcome (the juice). It’s not that I have become lazy, it’s that there is always a smarter, easier way to accomplish something. That’s what consumers are seeking when they engage with your brand. Will they get the maximum value for the precious time and energy they spend? If you can’t answer yes, it’s time to reevaluate your customer experience.  

Here’s a great example: My family recently planned a trip to Europe, and we decided to take trains in between the cities we visited. To ensure our seats were together, I set out to make reservations. I had a number of booking sites to choose from, including travel sites like The Man in Seat 61, travel service companies like RailEurope, and direct providers like Austrian Federal Railways. Like any consumer with a need, I began my journey by researching all of my options.

Before I gave my business to any of these service providers, I made sure they passed 3 key thresholds: 

Threshold #1: Is the Customer Experience Useful?

I determined if each booking site was capable of answering my most basic questions. Can I find a schedule? Do they have a seat map? Can I determine which trains will get me there the quickest versus which trains stop at every village between here and Timbuktu?

I needed easy access to all of that information, at any hour of the day. Sadly, not all of the providers made it past this first threshold. They were eliminated early in the process with no opportunity to be involved in the selection phase, and more importantly, the buying phase.

Threshold #2: Is the Customer Experience Usable?

While I appreciate the ability to speak with someone via chat or phone, I prefer to do my research without the pressure of someone asking me for an order before I feel ready and informed. I examined which sites made it easiest for me to navigate, try different options, and place orders in a seamless, intuitive way.

During this process, I remember thinking, I wish these guys had the XXX capability that Austrian Railways has, and, why don’t they show the same options to XXX as RailEurope does? I was deciding who to engage with not based on price, but on who was going to make this easy for me. A majority of the providers who made it past the first round were eliminated here, and that’s a shame. It doesn’t take much effort to map the journeys of your customers and design a site that’s usable by multiple segments.

Threshold #3: Is the Customer Experience Meaningful?

I was not just taking a train. I was taking my family on a vacation to Europe to immerse my children in another culture and build lifelong memories. It’s not just about being useful and usable –it’s about being meaningful. Did the websites address my concerns? Did each brand take into consideration that I am unaccustomed to the language, the culture, and the key places that would not only help me achieve my functional needs but allow me to achieve my emotional needs? While many of us don’t start our search looking for this, our subconscious keeps score and adjusts our attitudes toward a brand based on its ability to make us trust that our emotional needs will be met.

Two sites made it to this last round and, probably to your surprise, my decision was not based on a matrix that I created on paper. I had a gut feeling about who I wanted to do business with in the long run. The three thresholds were definitely in play, but beyond that, people make decisions every day based on feelings. I spent my money with the companies that made me feel the best throughout the process—and will more than likely use them again the next time I travel in Europe.

Ask yourself: Is your brand useful, usable, and meaningful to people who are engaging with you? Do you understand the journey they are on and what their functional and emotional needs are? Are you designing experiences that make your brand standout among your competitors—across the three thresholds and the feelings that drive gut decisions?

If so, squeezing your brand is well worth the juice for your customers.

Have questions? I’m always happy to discuss new ways to design valuable customer experiences: email me at brian.curran@oracle.com.

Originally posted on LinkedIn

Deflection is a Dirty Word

posted by Brian J. Curran

Words Matter. Words matter even more when you are in the midst of a transformation and want to get everyone aligned around key themes. Of course, the theme that I am referring to is around becoming a customer centric organization and embracing empathy as a key ingredient of that transformation. As Customer Care Leaders, you are the catalyst and voice for a lot of these transformations.

So let’s pretend for a moment that you are practicing empathy and now wearing your customer’s shoes and you are sitting in a meeting or at a conference. Ok, is everyone in the proper frame of mind?

Now, how would you react if I said that my goal was to deflect your incoming call or email? How many of you awoke this morning hoping that you would be deflected by someone before your day ended? Doesn't sound like a very positive experience to me? Sounds like rejection to me.

So let’s look at Merriam – Webster’s definition of the word.

deflect

  verb de·flect \di-ˈflekt, dē-\

: to cause (something that is moving) to change direction

: to hit something and suddenly change direction

: to keep (something, such as a question) from affecting or being directed at a person or thing

This doesn't sound like something that I want to do to customers. If you are like most companies, you are spending an inordinate amount of money to attract and retain customers and deflecting them after all of that investment doesn't seem to make business sense at all.

So why did we start using the word deflection and how did it become so invasive in the customer care / service vocabulary? Like most misguided strategy or language, it started with some form of executive edict to drastically change something in our business without preview to the long term effect of this change. In the case of deflection, I can assume that someone looked at the expenses associated with servicing customers and determined that this expense needed to be lowered. No one in their right mind would say to just abandon these customers and refuse to service them so the best alternative was to determine how to service these customers but at a reduced cost. To this, I say Bravo ! There is nothing wrong with being both effective and efficient in the way we service our customers. What is wrong is thinking about this strategy as a blunt instrument. Reduce the calls, emails or any other assisted service and replace it with some form of low cost self service by forcing the customer to “right channel” and then measuring this short term coup as deflection.

Now I know by now that many of you are saying “No Brian, that is not what we are doing or what we meant” or “You are taking this out of context” and you may be right. But why call it deflection?

I think what we all mean is that we want to offer alternatives to the high cost of assisted service by offering other capabilities that not only meet the customer’s needs but in most cases even offer a more superior alternative to a phone call. We are not deflecting the call but merely offering a solution that is efficient, effective, effortless and empowering to the customer that they can use on their own terms. This is not deflection but merely another form of service elevated to take advantage of all the mediums and trends available in today’s society.

So how about using some more modern terms to reflect what we really want to say? Remember that words matter.

I know that many of you have developed or are in the process of developing much more sophisticated approaches to delivering compelling service to your customers that drives stickiness and advocacy. These sophisticated approaches determine who the customer is, the context of the customer’s situation and the most appropriate way to provide the experience and solution that best fits the moment and the customer’s needs both at a functional and emotional way. Avant-garde strategy such as these cannot be measured by a Neanderthal like term that only talks about reduction. This is about matching the delivery of a tailored experience to the desired attitudinal, behavioral and financial outcomes associated with that experience.

For instance, you may be measuring attitudes such as satisfaction or willingness to promote or behaviors such as frequency of purchase and/or brand mentions. You may be even measuring the correlation of these attitudes and behaviors to financial results such as traffic, conversion rate, AHT etc.

But what if you combined the types of customers (segments) that you are engaging, the situation governing the engagement (journey moment, location etc.), the medium used to engage the customer (self, assisted, community etc.) along with the outcomes (attitudes, behaviors, results) and built a matrix that showed which capability was most effective and efficient and then determined where to invest? Maybe the phone call works best in a complex situation for baby boomers during normal business hours and the self service knowledge based question and answer works best for product support for millennials at 2 in the morning. I am not deflecting the customer but merely matching the capabilities of my brand to my customers in the most relevant way possible.

So let’s come up with a new name. I choose RELEVANCY. Did I offer the right capability, at the right time to the right person and did it offer a value equation that both served the customer and the brand in a long term valuable (LTV) way. Not as simple as saying that our phone calls went down and our self service went up but much more revealing in the long run.

Look for more conversations about how to measure this in the near future. I hope to hear lots of opinions on this subject matter and meet many of you as I am traveling around the globe. You will recognize me immediately as the guy having the allergic reaction to someone touting their deflection strategy.

Originally posted on LinkedIn