Category Archives: customer experience

Empathy in Customer Experience

empathyI often talk about how important empathy is, but I realised the other day that I was using it in two different ways:

1) Empathy as a tool to inform the design of customer experiences

2) Building empathy at the front line as an essential output of insight

Let’s look at both of those in a bit more detail.

Empathy for design

To design good experiences you need to blend a deep understanding of customers with the skills, informed by psychology, to shape the way they feel. Getting that understanding requires in-depth qualitative research to get inside the heads of individual customers, helping you to see the world the way they see it.

When you understand why people behave the way they do, think the way they think, and (most importantly) feel they way they feel, you can design experiences that deliver the feelings you want to create in customers.

Design, to quote from Jon Kolko’s excellent book Well Designed is…

“…a creative process built on a platform of empathy.”

Empathy is a tool you can use to design better experiences.

Empathy at the front line

Improving the customer experience sometimes means making systematic changes to products or processes, but more often it’s a question of changing (or improving the consistency of) decision making at the front line.

Those decisions are driven by two things: your culture (or “service climate”), and the extent to which your people understand customers. If you can help your people empathise with customers, to understand why they’re acting, thinking, and feeling the way they are, then they’re much more likely to make good decisions for customers.

I’m sure we can all think of a topical example of what it looks like when front line staff are totally lacking in empathy.

The best way to build empathy is to bring customers to life with storytelling research communication. Using real customer stories, hearing their voices, seeing their faces, is much more powerful than abstract communication about mean scores and percentages.

Empathy at the front line is necessary to support good decisions.

Two kinds of empathy?

Are these two types of empathy fundamentally different? Not really. The truth is we are all experience designers. The decisions we make, whether grounded in empathy for the customer or making life easy for ourselves, collectively create the customer experience.

You can draw up a vision for the customer journey of the future, grounded in a deep understanding of customers, but if you fail to engage your colleagues at the front line it will never make a difference to customers.

To design effective experiences you need to start by gaining empathy for customers, but you also need to build empathy throughout your organisation.

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What can the election teach us about customers?

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Once again, the pollsters got it wrong.

This article is the first of many examining the reasons why, and I’m sure we can expect another round of ferocious introspection from the polling industry.

Perhaps future polls will be more reliable.

Is there anything the rest of us can learn from what just happened? I think so, and I think there are some particularly pertinent lessons for the way we think about customers.

Margins of error matter

At the beginning of the night, it looked like a comfortable victory for Clinton, but if you examine the margins of error (as in this excellent New York Times graphic from their election forecast page) you can see that it was much less clear-cut than that.
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Margins of error are not a detail for the data geeks, they tell us what we know. Make sure that when you make decisions about customers, you’re making those decisions on firm foundations.

Perception is reality

People talk about a post-truth society. The fact is that there never was a “truth society”. Perception has always been more powerful than reality in shaping the decisions that people make.

There are all sorts of psychological and social mechanisms that underpin this. Social filtering, confirmation bias, the repetition principle.These may be becoming more powerful, but they have always been there.

With customers, it makes it incredibly important to tell customers about the changes you make. It also means that managing how customers feel is more important than what you actually do. Disney’s queue management is a great example of this. The length of the wait becomes secondary if you can make waiting fun.

Focus on what matters to customers…

…and not what you think should matter to them. The only way to deliver a great customer experience is to get inside their heads and really understand them, the context in which they live, and the things that they value.

Be prepared for a shock.

Qualitative research is a great tool for understanding how your customers see the world. It can give you an incredibly rich view of the context within which your product or service features in  their lives.

Guess what? It’s less important to them than it is to you. They didn’t read that carefully crafted email you sent them. They’re probably not the mythical “brand loyalists” we all wish for, but almost no one has.

Find out what customers want, and give it to them, and you will create great customer experiences. Great experiences lead to customer loyalty, not because of who you are, but because you understand who they are.

Simple messages are powerful

The reality is that most customers don’t care very much about what you do. Their lives are busy, the perceived differentiation between you and your competitors is small, and you’re all saying the same things.

Find a way to be different.

Package it into a simple, clear, message.

Make people believe it.

If you can do that the possibility to disrupt the status quo is enormous, as both Trump and the Brexit campaign have shown this year. It’s a powerful mix, but it’s only the beginning. There’s a crucial fourth step.

Deliver.

 

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Rules vs. Recipes – Process and Trust

noun_222171There are three types of cook…

Some people follow the recipe exactly, carefully weighing every ingredient and reading through all the instructions twice before they start.

Others use the instructions as a guide, but tweak the meal as they go by adding more of this ingredient and less of that. They might even leave out an ingredient entirely, or substitute something else.

Then there are the ones who scoff at the idea of following a recipe, and simply make it up based on instinct and experience.

Which gets the best results?

They can all work pretty well, but in my experience the most reliably good meals are the ones cooked by those who taste and make judgements as they go.

Using the recipe as a jumping-off point, rather than a rigid rulebook, allows the cook to adapt to minor differences in the size or taste of ingredients, and to cater for individual preferences. Sometimes the ones who just make it up may hit higher highs, but they also sink to much lower lows with the odd inedible disaster.

Customer service is exactly the same.

There’s nothing wrong with having a process. It’s very helpful for staff, especially the less experienced, to have a clear sense of what we’re trying to achieve and how we get there. Like a reliable recipe, a good process should give us the sense that if we follow these steps we won’t go far wrong.

But a recipe book is not a rulebook, and your processes shouldn’t be either. Good service happens when people use their judgement to make minor variations to a process if they think it will result in the best outcome for the customer.

Season to taste.

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Trust: is honesty more important than competence?

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Most theories of trust see it as multi-dimensional.

The details vary (some links below), but mostly boil down loosely to two things:

  • Competence
  • Integrity

Understanding how they relate to each other is really important.

For instance, Stephen M.R. Covey points out that the way banks set about repairing their reputations after the financial crisis was exactly wrong, from a trust perspective.

Their response was to employ lots of people to ensure they were “compliant”.

That’s all very well, and perhaps even necessary, but it won’t do anything to promote trust. Compliance, and rules more generally, are what we create when we can’t or don’t trust people.

Competence is a situational judgement. Each of us is competent in certain areas, and not competent in others. Moreover, competence does not require infallibility—customers are quite forgiving of mistakes (as long as you admit you’re wrong and make an effort to put things right).

Integrity is about who you are, and it’s much more long-term. If I lose trust in your integrity then it’s very hard for you to win it back.

The implications for customer service are clear—don’t be afraid of admitting a mistake, and never ever lie to a customer.

Strange how often we do the opposite, isn’t it?

 


We run a 1/2 day briefing on trust as it relates to Employee Engagement and Customer Experience. You can find more details on our website.

Three of the best models of trust are:

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