Use the 4 Action Levers to Improve Customer Experiences

Product and Service Village

Products and services don’t invent themselves, not yet anyway. And, their intended audiences rarely self-generate a groundswell of demand. Products and services with even a modicum of complexity require an organization to deliver those products and services over their life cycle. The organization should stand ready to provide assistance to customers from the moment they begin “kicking the tires” to the time they become a customer and hopefully a repeat customer and advocate. Inside the organization, it takes a small village to make all of this come together and to keep it operating smoothly.

Why Villages Need a Chief

Human history has taught us that villages want chiefs. What villagers really seek is a way to resolve disputes, a point person to make and enforce rules, and a source of wisdom. The chief is the supreme leader and organizer that hopefully keeps everybody safe, healthy, and prospering, even amid change and conflict. The chief is the one person accountable for everything, good and bad.

Product Manager as Chief
In many organizations, the product or brand manager is made to be the de facto chief of the product or service village. Think of the arrangement to be more of a central hub in a hub and spoke arrangement that keeps the business flowing around that product or brand. In smaller companies or startups the founder is often this chief.

Worry Might be the Chief’s Biggest Product

image of hub and spoke arrangement for Delightability blog postBut, talk to any product manager in those sorts of arrangements (if you are able to) and you’ll discover that they’re running the busy program and don’t have much time for anything, let alone your conversation. They simply have to worry about everything and everywhere. In many innovation cultures they are also expected to be thought leaders as well as the protective visionary that understands all of the nuances and continuous changes in the business landscape and customer ecosystem. It’s daunting and exhausting, rife with employee burnout, outright failure, and lost potential for employees, organization, and customer alike. If you have been a product manager or worked closely with one, you know what I’m talking about. The to-do list always exceeds the to-done list by a factor of 10 or more. And, worse, few seem to understand or care because they too are running some version of the busy program. In Switch vernacular, this isn’t so much of a people problem as it is a situation problem. The good news is that this is a solvable problem.

It’s time to spark a new conversation

If you’d like to change this, you need to spark a new conversation in your organization. Here is some thinking to accompany you. Any improvement you make to a customer’s experience can be force fit into one of four categories as shown in the figure at the top of this article, namely:

  • more relevant communications
  • improved customer thinking
  • organizational readiness
  • better product and service interactions

If you have my book, The Experience Design Blueprint, reference Figure 7.9 in Ch 7: Improving the Journey. So, your organization needs to build competencies in each of these areas. Expecting all of this to fall on the shoulders of one person is wishful thinking, but chances are it isn’t producing very good results.

Benefits of distributed leadership

Formalizing leadership across the 4 competencies will improve the performance of your product manager. It will increase the firms absorptive capacity, improve the organization’s overall performance, empower employees, and enable the organization and brand to better connect with its intended audiences.

But, that isn’t the only power of the levers. They also serve as a system of checks and balances. After all, you can’t have more relevant communications or better product and service interactions if you don’t have improved customer thinking. And, if your organization isn’t ready or up to the task, then better product and service interactions or more relevant communications will never actually materialize.

The 4 Action Levers give you a way to do mental bookkeeping for making improvements in the areas of more relevant communications, improved customer thinking, organizational readiness, and better product and service interactions.

Compare this to the act of cleaning a four room house by moving all of the mess into one of the rooms. You’ve only shifted the problem temporarily. If you visit the affected room, you’ll notice the problem straight away. If you know classical physics then you also know Newton’s third law states that for every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. That is an axiom that applies here. If you invest in activities behind one of the action levers then realize the other levers will be affected, too.

image of lever to gain mechanical advantage - Delightability blog postWhy the Metaphor of Lever
Lever is an intentionally chosen word because with a lever, you amplify a small input force to produce a larger output force. It is a simple machine to gain mechanical advantage. With customer experiences, we can invest small actions into better understanding customers and gain a greater output of Improved Customer Thinking.

Use the 4 Action Levers to identify projects and programs that aim to improve the organization’s ability to deliver more remarkable products and services, build more authentic relationships, and communicate more effectively with intended audiences.

  • Improved Customer Thinking –  Who are the audiences you are concerned with today and in the near future? What do you want them to think, feel, do and remember? Remember audiences can be internal or external to the organization. See related post Customer Schmustomer: Audience Schmaudience. See Project Ideas.
  • More Relevant Communications – What are the communications requirements across initiatives, time, and channels to authentically connect with your intended audiences? Remember that communications also includes internal communications. See Project Ideas.
  • Better Product & Service Interactions –  What are the intended experiences you want your audiences to have over time when dealing with your organization? See Project Ideas.
  • Organizational Readiness – Customer experiences and journeys don’t happen in a vacuum. Organizations must be ready to interact with customers and also be mindful of the behind the scenes operational requirements. What will be needed to get and keep others ready inside and beyond the organization? See Project Ideas.

image of zen stacked rocks for balance and good luck and leading the way - Delightability blog postConcentrate improvements in any one area and you have the potential to make incremental improvements.  But, synchronize improvements in each area and you have the potential to engage employees, create remarkable customer experiences, and smooth your operation. Do this correctly and you’ll still have time to leave early on Fridays, or work less each day as companies in Sweden have recently elected to do.

Recipe #28: Find the Critical to Executions

Reflect on your current and past execution gaps that prevented your organization from being ready to deliver remarkable experiences. As you go forward intentionally designing customer journeys, note what will be required in order to close the execution gaps. These comprise your list of CTEs: critical to execution. As you explore new projects and programs make CTEs part of your organization’s customer experience vernacular.

about the author

Gregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author. He authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.  The models in the Experience Design BLUEPRINT are equally relevant to organizations of all types and sizes including start-up entrepreneurs, nonprofits, for-profits, and government.

His latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor and financial institution, Oikocredit International.

Customer Schmustomer: Audience Schmaudience

Image of Landscape Design that Impacts Unknown Audiences - Gregory Olson - The Experience Design Blueprint

Customer Schmustomer: Audience Schmaudience
Chances are your organization has multiple stakeholders. And, chances are many of those stakeholders are sadly neglected. The reasons may vary and at first blush you might react with, “It’s because its too costly or too complex to manage all of those relationships.” But, that usually isn’t the reason for the neglect.

image for audiences are sometimes missing for journey map blog post - delightabilityIn reality, most stakeholders receive nary a thought from your organization. You simply have not acknowledged their existence, any more than you’ve inventoried the birds that fly overhead. OK, some smartypants somewhere is saying, “Whoa, wait a minute, our business IS tracking birds.” Yeah, yeah, OK, I hear you.

It isn’t that you’ve intentionally decided to neglect your audience, you didn’t. It’s that you haven’t given them much thought at all. Why would you? After all, you’ve been able to survive this long without paying any attention.

The problem you face, is when others begin to pay more attention to those you’ve neglected. That is often the birth of new organizations whose aim is to supplant yours. And, when that happens, the defection might be tough to prevent or overturn.

So, what’s a good first step? Inventory your stakeholder groups. An easy way to do this is to think of your promise delivery system – the invisible system by which your organization makes and keeps its promises. To whom do you make explicit and implicit promises? And, who is involved in delivering on those promises? Also, who in the extended enterprise helps you? Those are good starters to identify stakeholders beyond the obvious of customers and employees.

image for child as audience for journey map blog post - delightabilityHere are some audience types to spur your thinking, no matter the type or organization you may be involved with: member, customer, donor, investor, visitor, prisoner, voter, citizen, tenant, resident, student, guest, traveler, passenger, performer, elected officials, inspector, owner, parishioner, supplier, vendor, consultant, partner, board member, adviser, council member, leader, refugee, patron, staff, volunteer, client, shareholder, agency, patient, child, doctor, administrator, buyer, licensee, immigrant, refugee, soldier, driver, guide, occupant, person experiencing homelessness, employee, taxpayer.

image for wolves as audience for journey map blog post - delightabilityRemember not all audiences are vocal and present. Consider audiences that may not be vocal or present for interviews including people with disabilities, pets and domesticated animals, animals in nature, environmental resources, etc.

Audiences are varied and complex. When we provide average experiences for everybody, treating all the same, we miss opportunities to connect with people, make them feel special, respected, wanted, and meaningful. Instead, they can become agitated, irritated, disgruntled and disengaged, perhaps dismissing your organization all together. If you are not intentionally designing experiences for your various audience then they are accidentally evolved at best. Organizations can be at different stages of maturity when it comes to recognizing and serving their various stakeholders. No matter where you are at and no matter your resources, you can employ the same tactics as organizations with the most attentive service cultures.

Here are other tactics once you’ve inventoried the stakeholder groups:

  1. Inventory your stakeholder groups
  2. Prioritize audiences by assigning audience “owners”
  3. Develop personas to make the audience come alive inside the organization
  4. Explicitly create a promise delivery system for each stakeholder group
  5. Explore and create customer journey maps for each stakeholder group using the developed personas (and if possible) voice of the customer data
  6. Create an opportunity map with ideas you can implement to improve outcomes for audiences and for the organization
  7. Establish operating mechanisms that keep the promise delivery system working smoothly and the audience conversation alive, even as the external environment changes

about the author

Gregory Olson is the author of The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

His latest book  is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow , a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we all live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

Chapters in The Experience Design Blueprint that especially pertain to audiences include:

  • Chapter 2: Making the Customer Come Alive
  • Chapter 3: Who is in the Sandbox?
  • Chapter 6: Aiming for Remarkable, Unbroken, and Generous Design
  • Chapter 8: Promise Delivery System
  • Chapter 9: The Neighborhood
  • Chapter 14: The World of Work has Changed

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor and financial institution, Oikocredit International.

3 Easy Lessons from a Home Furnishings Company that Gives a Damn about the Customer Experience

Customer experience lessons are everywhere if we look for them. With so many broken and bad experiences and leaders indifferent to correct them, it is truly refreshing when you encounter an organization that breaks free from the herd. I recently encountered, or rather re-encountered, an organization that left me with a very positive brand aftertaste.

Although I’ve walked, biked, and driven by the Room&Board home furnishings store several, OK – hundreds of times, since its opening in my Seattle neighborhood, I’ve never given it much notice. This is partly because I miss the Barnes and Noble bookstore that previously occupied the space, but mostly because I already have a house stuffed full of furniture.

room and board catalog cover image

My numbness to their brand recently began to take shape though. After skimming through their catalog I received in the mail, I landed on the back page. It was here, that made all of the difference. It takes a special kind of company to offer a guarantee that doesn’t expire with hard time bound rules. Room&Board is such a special company. I’d be inclined to visit the store when I find myself in furniture shopping mode again. Here is why:

Our Guarantee
When you shop with Room & Board, you’re also buying the assurance that we’ll be here if you need us. There are no strict, time-limited warranties. We stand behind the quality of our products and the prices we charge. If you’re not completely satisfied with your purchase or any part of your experience, just let us know. We’re here to help.”

room and board catalog back page guarantee image

On the website they go on to explain, “We know that buying furniture for your home is more than just a financial decision. It’s also an emotional investment. From the first sketch to the final product, we work directly with the people who build our furniture, eliminating the middleman and saving you from unnecessary mark-ups. These relationships allow us to bring you the perfect combination of quality materials, craftsmanship, design and price.”

There are 3 immediate customer experience lessons to take away from this that you can apply to your own organization:

  1. Some interactions will have more impact than others. For me in this instance, it was a message on the back of a catalog received in the mail. Do you know which touchpoints and channels matter the most to your customers and prospects?
  2. Purchasing decisions are more complex than being purely economic. An important dimension to purchasing decisions is emotion. Room&Board recognizes that customers are making an emotional investment. Do your customer interactions and communications reflect the three dimensions of value (emotional, functional, economic) or are they stuck in a pattern that still believes customers are inherently ruled by logic and reason?
  3. A customer experience philosophy can guide an organizations response, communications, product roadmap, strategy, operations, etc. Does your organization have such a customer centered philosophy to guide you, or are you solely ruled by profits, margins, growth, and share price?

Please reflect on these lessons and this story, no matter the size, type, or shape of your organization. You are slowly becoming either more or less relevant in world full of customers that continues to reward brands and organizations that give a damn about the customer experience. The size of your organization and tenure do not provide you with any immunity from providing bad or broken experiences.

image of Greg Olson Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINT reminding business leaders that we all have the potential to do better including providing better customer experiences

For more guidance and self help read my book or reach out if you’d like some help. We’d love to help you build an enduring brand that matters.

Greg Olson is the author of The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. See the Book and Author Summary PDF or find the book on Amazon.

Delight-O-Meter: An Innovation in Measuring Customer Delight

Delight O Meter reveal from DelightabilitySo how do you know if you are delighting customers? Is there something more effective than the revenue yardstick or monitoring what people say on social networking? Customer satisfaction surveys don’t seem to work; people say they are satisfied and then leave anyway.

It turns out that most organizations don’t know if they are delighting customers. For those that do, they still lack a systematic framework to manage delight. Customer delight is not customer satisfaction plus Continue reading “Delight-O-Meter: An Innovation in Measuring Customer Delight”

Want a better Bottom Line, Deliver a better Customer Experience

Hindsight is 20/20.

How many of us kick ourselves for not purchasing a boatload of Apple stock a few years back? We tend to put off taking actions, not because we don’t see the upside potential, but because we’re busy fighting fires. Here is a tip you can bank on. Happy customers are your only source of long-term revenue for your organization. Our recent economic downturn has compounded the problem; organizations responded by cutting budgets and by diverting attention inward. You may be kicking yourself down the road when

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Road Signs & Signals Along the Customer Journey

Bridge out sign is much like a bad customer experience - photo copyright delightabilityHow are you doing with customers? How do you know? Which touchpoints matter the most in the customer journey, to your organization and to your customers? Are they the same? Do you even know what the customer journey looks like? Have you mapped the customer experience across all touchpoints? What does the conversation in your organization look like surrounding this?

It turns out that much of what I’m describing is invisible. For most, Key Performance Indicators related to the customer’s experience largely reflect, how many people were exposed, how many bought, and how many returned or got help. But, those are only base indicators. In a world with a new customer high bar you need to go beyond base indicators. You need to understand what is important from your customers perspective, when, and where. You need to understand this at each touchpoint. “Yeah yeah, customer service has that,” you say. But they really don’t until you dig for it. And when it isn’t easy to dig for it, you don’t. Likewise for your prospective customer. They don’t want to dig either.

“don’t be fooled into thinking that is good enough”

Prospective customers are motivated to do something when they arrive on your digital or analog doorstep Continue reading “Road Signs & Signals Along the Customer Journey”