When I first moved from Hawaii to California, the best way to get around was using the Thomas Guide -- an 8 1/2” x 11” book of street maps that I had to flip through, page by page. For a girl from an island that had one freeway, and it was really hard to get lost, it was an awful way to navigate, but after a while it just became the way you found your route….or not!
I imagine a lot of the people who joined me at Tractionforce -- a major cloud computing event that recently took place in Vancouver -- can understand the challenge of moving past “the way things have always been done” and transforming to the way they are now and how to create an outstanding customer experience along the way. Finding their route may be particularly tough, especially as customers become far more demanding.
In organizations that have been long-established, for example, the technology, organizational structure and culture are fairly established , making it more difficult to pursue sweeping changes. Newer organizations on the other hand -- the ones that have been around since 2000, for example -- may have been quicker to embrace things like the Internet and e-commerce, but now they have even more ways to build on their early investments with mobile, social, big data and now artificial intelligence (AI).
Sometimes these shifts in technology happen so subtly we barely realize it. Even today, for instance, I’m not always sure about travelling using some of the AI-driven apps that have been developed since the Thomas Guide. In my day-to-day life, though, I’m using AI that’s so ubiquitous it almost feels invisible, like the way Google auto-completes a phrase I type into its search engine. We get accustomed to AI when it’s convenient, but making a conscious human decision as a business leader to lean on AI is very different story.
I wanted to build on some of the conversations I had at Tractionforce to help people make these kinds of leaps. After all, I’ve personally experienced what a lot of them are probably going through right now.
When I was a sales rep, for example, I didn’t have a problem hitting my numbers. In fact, I can only remember missing my quota a handful of times over 15 years. The problem was one of time -- I was trying to manage my opportunities, my pipeline and other customer information through spreadsheets, post-it notes and a bit of bubble gum to hold it all together each day. Then I graduated to a single user version of Act! and eventually began using Salesforce around 2004.
Since my days of using technology to manage my day-to-day life, to a decade of advising other companies on how best to improve performance as a Research Fellow at Gartner, I’ve noticed a degree of fatigue among sales reps who have been told for years the benefits of using technology was going to be significant. However, the reality is that, in that time, there’s been research to suggest quota attainment has actually been going down over the past 5 years. How is that even possible in a world where we have solutions like Sales Cloud? While there may be a number of reasons, I know for sure that some of this is the failure to invest the time and other resources to train sales teams how to effectively make use of (all) these tools in an effective and productive way.
Beyond deploying technology and training people on how to use it, organizations need to think not only about what they do but the sequence in which they do it. This is an area I cover a lot in my upcoming book, Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business. Let me give you a quick case study that will illustrate what I mean:
When McDonald’s launched its All-Day Breakfast, growth was flat and signs of decline were immanent. After years of adding new things to their menu to attract more people, the company realized its food choices had ballooned. This made lines longer, and the notion of “fast food” became “Do I have time to go to McDonald’s?” In other words, it wasn’t just a financial issue -- the customer experience was starting to suffer, too.
McDonald’s may have launched the All-Day Breakfast in response, but the launch itself is just part of the story. The company also realized that it would have to change the way it organized its kitchens, because its grills could not cook things like eggs and burgers at the same time. A second grill was added and the menu was cut down by about two thirds. This freed up the kitchen staff, reduced the lines and allowed the All-Day Breakfast to become the success it has. Had they just launched the All-Day Breakfast without considering the downstream implications to the rest of the business, it would have been the right idea, poorly executed. The “last-mile” of executive decisions happens at the front lines. In this case it is the kitchen and counter staff at McDonalds. In other industries it might just be the sales people who are left delivering a less than optimal experience to customers.
Let’s step back and think about that for a moment to determine the best way you can marry technology, strategy, execution and people to improve your customer experience.
One of the big mistakes I notice organizations make all the time is benchmarking themselves against other companies in their category. A fast food company might benchmark itself against McDonald’s, or a hospitality firm might benchmark itself against the world’s biggest hotel chains. I think that’s a dangerous thing to do, because sometimes you need to think completely different about your customers and the kind of problems they’re facing.
If I’d had a hallway conversation with you about this topic at Tractionforce, for example, I might have started by asking you to tell me about the last, best customer experience you can remember. Not a customer experience you’d had on the job, necessarily, but even within your personal life. You might have talked about anything from buying a car to browsing in a candle shop.
Next, I’d ask you about what made the customer experience a great one. This is what you tend to hear: “They knew my name.” “They were immediately able to look up my order.” “They were able to track everything and make it easy for me.”
Contrast that with the average customer experience in (your) business, where people are often asked to dig up receipts, order histories and other details that make solving their problem more difficult. This is where you should benchmark yourself as an organization: how can you replicate the great customer experience you might have gotten in that candle shop? How can we benchmark ourselves against what the customer needs and expects, versus what our rivals are doing? One thing I often say on stage is "the customer is far more disruptive than the technology could ever be."
This is a journey that can involve many steps. It might start with moving to the cloud, where tools like CRM can give sales reps 20% of their time back. Then it’s looking at other areas like marketing, customer service and all the things surrounding our business decisions and the sequence in which we do them.
It might also be reimagining what business functions are really designed to do, like changing the name of your customer service arm to Customer Success. Why? Customer service has always been viewed as a cost center -- and if you approach it with a cost center mentality, you will never be able to inspire your people to pivot towards the tip of the spear and deliver an amazing experience to a customer. Customer success can’t just be a name change; it must be a culture and mindset change too.
Another example is the traditional way we’ve categorized businesses based on the way they work by the kind of customer they focus on. Companies today define themselves as either a business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B) organization. I think those lines are blurring so much so that the distinction is becoming less relevant especially in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. If you’re working in B2B, you’re not leaving your “consumer persona” at home when you go to work. Those consumer expectations influence your expectations of a company while you’re at work, and vice-versa.
That’s why instead, we should be thinking about B2E, where “E” stands for “everything, everyone, and the experience.”
With all the choices now available to customers, and the channels in which they can engage, rarely is anyone really selling a product anymore. You’re selling and competing on an experience. The experience is the product.
High-growth companies have realized this, and as a result they have a different take on “improving the business” -- one which starts with the customer and works backwards or otherwise known as a ‘customer-first’ or ‘customer-led’ organization. If an investment is made, there is a clear line to how it will improve the customer experience, the employee experience and the business overall. In other words, that’s how you really start getting traction -- and I hope everyone who came to Tractionforce this year will go out and start doing the same thing.