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March 29, 2017

Why “Your Why” means everything in Customer Service

dollarbadlineA personal story:

We were all a little excited, done being on a plane for four hours, and ready to get to vacationing.  My son, girlfriend, and I finally had a chance to get away to Orlando for a short, long weekend. As a Customer Experience Consultant, my schedule can run hot or cold depending upon my client’s needs and projects, so being able to plan a time to get away with the people I love can be difficult. I am sure it is difficult for most people now-a-days with work, kid’s sports, family obligations, and everything else.

After landing, we made our way over to the car rental area. As we approached the car rental corridor, we were buzzing about going to Universal and wondering what the river pool at the hotel was all about. The rental area was fairly clear of crowds, except for a couple of families in our rental agency’s line.

The Process Manager in me realized quickly that there was probably room here for some improvement in efficiency, but I was not working, right? There are four agents, three of which were not assisting any customers, and one is helping a customer who appeared to come from the car lot with an issue. 10 minutes go by. 20 minutes go by. A half hour in, and the two families in front of us are still there. A sizable line had started to form behind us. The other agencies were shuffling families off to their car to begin their vacations. Blood pressures started rising. We checked online to see what the cancelalation policy said, and it required a loss of deposit, so we decided to stick it out.

At the 45 minute mark, we were next in line, but I was well past aggravated. At the 50 minute mark, a man who was not helping anyone for the last 45 minutes, called us up. We got our car, and everything was fine with the transaction, but I was still fuming over the experience. As much as I wanted to let it go (even with my car mates singing Let It Go), the experience marred the beginning of my vacation. The vacation that took a bunch of planning, sacrifice, and dollars began with this impression.

So what went wrong? Probably a lot of things, but I think the most important part that went wrong was the car rental service forgot “Their Why”. I’m sure they collect Net Promoter Scores, measure some form of retention, and manage a number of service metrics and SLA’s. But those are results, not why it is important to service their customers well. “Your Why” is never a result, it’s a reason that means something substantial to your customer or WHY your company exist. Examples of possible why’s this rental agency (especially at a tourist town like Orlando):

·       Your vacation (or memories) starts with us

·       We know we are the last thing standing between you and your vacation, let us get you moving

·       We’re your first ride of your vacation (but the line is nothing like Space Mountain)

Your Why should be the foundation of your Customer Service culture, strategy, tactics, and metrics. It is part of a clear and articulated culture, upon which your talent, technology choices, process management, and data metrics should be looking to accomplish.

I am a huge fan of Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, and creator of the most valuable 15 minutes on YouTube.

Let’s look at an example from my consultancy of when a Why was clearly articulated, and the power of understanding it.

In the first official meeting with a luxury jewelry company’s Director of Customer Service, I asked her the question “Why is it important to create a great customer experience?” After a moment, her answers sounded like:

·       Strong C-Sat or NPS scores

·       Retention

·       Advocacy

·       Customer Lifetime Value

·       Loyalty

After each answer, I said no that is a result. Tell me why it is important to your customers to deliver an amazing experience. Finally, we started hitting on the real why’s:

·       Celebrating life moments (like weddings, anniversaries, special occasions, etc…)

·       Making memories

·       Retail Therapy (yes, it is a real thing)

·       Making a connection

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it.” – Simon Sinek

We articulated our culture around our why’s. Yes, you need to write it down. We used our why’s to recruit incredible talent. We didn’t recruit based on call center experience, but recruited people who could make instant or fast connections with our customers. We selected and leveraged technology that made it easy to make a connection and relate to customers. Our processes centered around making a connection, finding places to celebrate life moments, and budgeting for making memories.

The result was amazing and immediate. We launched their new customer service, and after the first month Stella Services™ rated them as the #2 eCommerce customer experience in the world. Not just other luxury brands, but we beat the Zappos, Amazons, LL Beans of the world. In our second month, we became the #1 brand among all brands. Since my project ended, they have remained in Stella Services™ top 10.

My rental car company forgot, lost, or never understood their WHY. They lost my business forever. My client who lives their WHY has beat their own high expectation eCommerce expectations every quarter since.  Find Your Why.


Net Promoter Scoring is Asking the Wrong Question

By michaelpace on February 4, 2014

Yoda Smarts

If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are … a different game you should play

I’m not a huge fan of Net Promoter Scoring (NPS).


I am sure this sounds like blasphemy from a Customer Service professional. 

Too bad.

I would not recommend a family member, friend, or colleague to blindly use Net Promoter Scoring to understand or forecast the retention of their customers. 

I’d give NPS a Net Promoter Score of 7 (Passive).

Take a second and answer these questions about Net Promoter Scoring:

  • What do you do with the score?  Individually and in aggregate?
  • What are you really trying to understand by collecting this information?
  • If last month you scored a 27, and this month scored a 28, what does that mean?
  • Is the verbatim on the general survey more important than the scores?
  • Should or do you alter retention or net add forecasts if your scores change?
  • What is the action if the score drops?
  • Do your customers know the difference between a 6, 7, or a 9?
  • How often do you ask yourself if this is a waste of time, energy and money?

Net Promoter Scoring is a good system.  It’s better to collect NPS than to not at all.  Since it’s relatively generic, it allows you to benchmark your industry and others.  It will provide a sense of your customers’ emotional connection to your company.

Why does “Ultimate Question” ask if you would recommend someone who is near and/or dear to you?  It is clearly looking for an emotional relationship versus a behavioral relationship because you would not recommend a commodity company.  I know the end goal is to get the recommendation or referral, but the real underlying question is quite different, and may be more powerful.

What Net Promoter Score is really asking is:

Do you trust <company X>?

Answers should be simple: Yes, No, or Sometimes

If a participant answers “Yes”, theoretically you are recommendable.  I say theoretically, because many companies make it difficult or complex to recommend.

If the answer is “No” or “Sometimes”, the likelihood of achieving a recommendation is low.  Would you recommend a company you do not trust or only sometimes trust?  Why do you think Financial Services, Healthcare providers and cable companies have such low scores?  – No Trust.

How might things be different if you asked, “Do you trust <company X>?”?

(For the score freaks out there, let’s pretend a “Yes” is +1, while “No” and “Sometimes” are -1)

  • How would your CEO respond to a low Trust score versus NPS?
  • Would you find more companies in the negative?
  • There is no question of whether a 7 is a 9 in another person’s opinion. It’s clearer to the participant.

Again, you will still need more context of the answer.  Regardless, if you ask NPS or Trust, this is always harder for participants to explain.  The areas of the brain that handle limbic functions such as liking, loving, referring, emotion, and trusting are not “connected” to the area that handles speech (Broca’s area).  That is why it is hard to describe why you love someone.  However, with help, participants can break down why they do or do not trust <company X>.

I believe trust is a combination of three factors:

  • Sincerity
  • Competence
  • Reliability

If someone does not trust you or a company, you are falling short on 1, 2 or all of the 3 factors above.  Follow up questions, should gather their feelings on your sincerity, competence, and reliability.  By understanding where you are weak in trust, you can take corrective action.  I am sure my cable company means well (sincere) and know how to do their jobs (competent), but their reliability or at least the perception of their reliability is poor.  People love Zappos and USAA because we believe they care about us or service, provide valuable advice, and deliver consistently. 

There are many ways to skin a cat, and other ways to determine the likelihood your customers will stay and even recommend.

More on Trust & Net Promoter Scoring

Customer Service Fortune Cookies for 2014 and Beyond

By michaelpace on December 16, 2013

Complete, wild guess predictions and thoughts by my cousin Pacefucious about the trends in Customer Service for 2014.

Note: The practice of adding “in bed” may or may not work with the following fortunes.

Customer Service Fortunes

Customer Service Fortunes

Pacefucious say: Successful Customer Service leaders will be Customer Success Leaders

Even now, Customer Success strategies and methodologies have been mostly delivered in the Software as a Service (SaaS) world, and even there it may not be considered part of the customer service strategy.  Customer Success is all about providing rapid value and adoption of your product or service to your newly sold customers or trialers.  In a SaaS environment, delivering value to customers in a timely manner is critical to reduce churn and/or boost retention.  In general, Customer Success strategies and methodologies place a considerably higher effort during the initial stages of the customer support lifecycle.  It may involve a “coach” or “relationship manager” helping the customer better understand how the product or service works, appropriate marketing or learning materials sent with context, and hand offs to deeper technical support. 

But there is no reason this level of service needs to remain solely in the SaaS world.  Providing rapid value and adoption leads to improved retention, and every customer service leaders primary responsibility is to retain customers (quality of service is a driver of retention).  Imagine if your newly selected bank contacted you to make sure you better understand the fee schedule or how you could save more.  Or if you buy a tablet, learn how to find the best apps for childhood learning.  Earlier in the year, I provided my steps for Customer Success; you find them here.

Pacefucious say: Mobile is the Combo Plate of Service – Everything at once

Mobile – it is probably the most discussed technology over the past few years.  But what does it mean for Customer Service?  Everything.  First off, mobile is not channel; it is the combination of a device, ecosystems, and circumstance.  A few examples:

  • Using a smartphone to check prices at retail establishment through the general internet
  • Purchasing an item through a company branded mobile application
  • Calling customer service while driving
  • Interacting with multiple screens such as tablet, smartphone, and TV while you are lounging on your couch at home
  • Amazon texting you when you receive a package at home while you’re at the office
  • Pay a bill while or deposit a reimbursement check from your office
  •  Tweeting feedback (positive or negative) to a company
  • Browsing Flipboard while you are waiting for your spouse to finish up the dressing room
  • A FitBit device uploading workout data to a user dashboard
  • I hate this term, but yes, the internet of things

How could or would customers interact with your company?  Do you have a responsive website or customer service site?  Do you have a mobile app?  What are all the customer service channels you can point to in a mobile situation?  Can they connect via phone, get answers from your knowledge base, get their most general questions answered, link to a chat, send an email (yuck), provide feedback or answer a survey, or even just consistently perform routine actions? 

Many mobile apps and sites are typically “controlled” by Product Development, and their goals may be different than the Customer Service Department’s goals.  How can you influence them to include more customer service features and options?  Start with understanding how, why and where your customers use their mobile devices.  The mobile “movement” is still in its early stages (hard to believe), so survey and meet with your customers (whether internal or external).

Pacefucious say: “Your customers will be your most valuable customer service agents” (repeat from ’12 and ‘13)

I still find it puzzling that so many customer service organizations do not utilize communities to help solve their customer’s questions or problems.  Some customer service organizations do not even have relationships with the people in their organization who manage their communities.  I am not sure I have ever even been to a customer service conference where community management was a topic.  Your customers, especially your advocates and superusers, have (collectively) considerably more knowledge than your support agents; why not let them help your customers too?  I am not advocating for the end of phone or chat service (maybe email  – see below), but having a shared community and knowledge base that can be added to and used by your customers is both incredibly efficient and can provide awesome service. I discussed this topic in an interview with Execs in the Know in March, find it here.

Pacefucious say: It may be Big Data buffet, but tummy still the same size

Big Data is all the rage.  How do we incorporate Big Data into the customer experience and their service?  Love this quote from Dr. Eric Topal at Digital Healthcare Innovation Summit, “Big data is like teen sex. Everybody is talking about it; everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.”

Big Data is a bit of hype.  Yes, technologies have improved that enable us to gather and analyze more data faster.  But data is still data, whether it is big or small.  You cannot be big dead or big pregnant, it is what it is. 

Customer Service and contact centers have been in the Big Data game for the last 20 years, and will be for another 20 more.  Contact centers produce so much quantitative and qualitative data it usually coming out of their headsets.  More often than not, service centers can gather immense amounts of data, but either do not have the ability, competency, or availability to do anything with it, let alone gain insight.  Most companies still need to focus on the basics.  Basics seem to be forgotten when we can look at or “need to look at” 15 different combinations of analytics.  Odds are you not Amazon or Google.  Don’t worry so much as to what Big Data is, and the promises that it can provide.  Instead of collecting more data, revisit the questions that you are trying to solve. 

  • How do I retain more customers?
  • What areas of the experience are pains for customers?
  • How do we do this efficiently for our customers and ourselves?
  • How do I hire, develop, and retain the best associates?

IBM’s Watson can probably give you the answer, or you can just ask the folks in customer service.

Pacefucious say: Why do you think the Menu has Such Pretty Pictures?

How can you be a company worth between $1-3 Billion (yes B), and still never create anything close to a $1 of revenue?  Just be a company like Instagram or Snapchat, where pictures rule.  Who knows how much Pinterest will be worth one day.  The old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” may need to be updated.  My point is that we have become a very visually dependent society.  And, there is nothing wrong with that, but it also means you may want to understand how visuals can reduce customer issues.  If we know that visuals (images) are enticing and important to our customers, how can customer service leverage the power of visuals to provide proactive or self service? 

  • Use images to link to your most popular questions answered in your knowledge base
  • Use slideshows to walk customers through longer step by step processes, better yet, link them to your branded Slideshare site (create virtuous cycles)
  • Create short videos (no more than 2 min.) introducing new products or enhancements to your service

The Poo Poo Platter: Things that I hope will disappear down some dark tunnel

  1. Email for Customer Service – email is atrocious for customer service. Let’s take a typical email situation: question to company (waits), reply and clarification from company, customer clarifies (waits), company provides standard message to solve problem, customer needs more specific information, blah, blah, blah, blah etc…  That is a horrible experience, and costs more than you think to provide.  Use email to accept issues during your non-hours of operation, but make sure the customer knows the expectations of service.
  2. Bullpen / Open cube areas – I am not sure how the concept of the open cube area makes for a more collaborative environment came about, but let’s put a chopstick in this idea and call it done.  All the bullpen does is make easier for you to see the person that is IMing you. 
  3. NPS (Net Promoter Score) Monitoring – You got a score of 43 this month. Next month it is 44.  Then it is 42.  The score is pointless unless you know why.  Also, gathering this information and not including it in your customer’s account information is even worse.  NPS has become one of those things that we have to do, but people have forgotten why we do it. 


A Gift That Keeps Giving: Review of Chip R. Bell’s “The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service”

By michaelpace on October 1, 2013

Chip Bell Book Customer Service

I can remember when Chip first changed my world.  Almost a decade ago, I attended an intra-company process management conference with the hope I would not literally be bored to tears.  Luckily, the conference was very well run and “edu-taining” as a whole.  On the morning of the second day of the conference, the morning keynote was introduced.  This man with an absolute crazy look in his eye, bound in his gait, and wild white hair appeared from nowhere and lit up the room.  He brought energy, a sense of purpose, and most importantly smart information and storytelling.  I was totally captivated.  

When I returned back to the office, I order a copy of his latest book at the time, Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service. I would say that I blew through the book in hours, but that wasn’t the case.  After each chapter, I was taking too many notes and streaming ideas for my contact center and customer service teams.  When I finished, I ordered another 15 copies of the book for my direct reports, supervisors, and even my bosses.  It drastically changed my customer service long term strategy, and I wanted everyone on the same proverbially page.  He helped me discover:

  • The Power of a Service Vision and Standards
  • How to deliver truly remarkable and memorable service
  • Part of my managerial style of today – helping others Exercise Their Responsible Freedom (my take on the subject)

Managing Knock Your Socks Off Servic

Since then I have read all of Chip’s other books including Magnetic ServiceManagers as Mentors, and Knock Your Socks Off Service Recovery.  But my well worn copy of MKYSOS, still comes with me on every engagement.  A couple weeks ago, I was honored to be asked to write a review of his latest book, The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service.  For me, it was a chance to give Chip just a little something back.

First, let start by acknowledging what the book itself is; it’s a gift book.  Its (obvious) intention is not to provide you with detailed strategies on how to create and develop a remarkable and innovative service organization.  There are plenty of books by Chip that provide that kind of information.  The book itself is only “106” pages.  The book is meant to share basic principles and inspire.  It will make a great gift for:

  • Personal inspiration
  • Thank you gift
  • Customer gift
  • Agent appreciation
  • Reinforce culture
  • Team development
  • Prospect gift

9 1/2 Principles provides the basis for a great experience, with a short story for each and inspirational quotes from leaders across industries.  All are great reminders what it takes to innovate in service.  My personal favorite is “The Speed Limit 23 MPH Principle”.  The story revolves around a group of visitors to a gated beach resort.  Over a game of stump-the-other-team trivia, someone asked what the speed limit around the resort was, and everyone cheered 23 MPH.  The principle is simple, even the littlest details make memorable experiences.  By “working the edges of the box” (a little Seth Godin there), the resort makes you stop and notice, creates a memory, and gives their customers a story to tell.  Give your customers a great story to tell.  In our sharing economy, word of mouth and great stories travel.

9 1/2 is a great introduction to Chip, and a nice gift for someone on your list. Check it out.

For more about Chip, head over to

Chip Bell

The Best Medicine for Customer Success – Prescription

PrescriptionBy michaelpace on February 26, 2013

  1. Take two of these every 4 hours for 5 days
  2. Go home and rest
  3. Drink plenty of fluids
  4. Make some chicken soup
  5. Take ibuprofen to reduce fever
  6. Gargle salt water for a sore throat
  7. Steam to loosen congestion
  8. Etc…

We’ve all been there.  There is something wrong with our bodies, and we visit a doctor.  After their years of training and experience, they know the path back to health.  They prescribe a solution to help you get back into optimum shape.  They provide clear steps on how to get from poor results to feeling great.  I think you are getting where I am going; Customer Success needs to be prescriptive.

Particularly in the SAAS, but also relevant in other areas, customers need guidance to help them on to the road of success.  A typical scenario has a customer researching a product for a need, considering options, developing intent to purchase, and finally purchase.  During this process, they may consult with a “Sales Coach” or “Sales Representative” from your company to help them understand the possible value and help with initial set up.  Then they are handed over to Support.  Essentially, you have given them the medicine, but as with your personal health, there are multiple steps to success.

Here’s my prescription to help you develop a prescriptive path to Customer Success.


Identify the most common paths to Customer Success or “Happy Paths” (no more than 5) – As the doctor has learned from years of training and experience, you must understand the best practices of customers to achieve success.  While product training and experience will be helpful, I believe, you should be leveraging the best practices of BPM (Business Process Management) to clearly understand your customers needs.Map out how your current processes are actually working.  The two best tools from BPM for this activity are SIPOC and Swimlane tools. These tools will help you understand the people and tools involved in the processes, and will help identify overlaps, holes, and general inefficiencies.  You will probably come out of this exercise with a number of opportunities.

  1. Map out how your current processes are actually working.  The two best tools from BPM for this activity are SIPOC and Swimlane tools. These tools will help you understand the people and tools involved in the processes, and will help identify overlaps, holes, and general inefficiencies.  You will probably come out of this exercise with a number of opportunities.
  2. Determine what is Critical to Quality for your customer.  A very helpful tool process managers use to flesh out who your customer is, what they care about, and how to measure what they care about.
  3. Get deep into your analytics.  Hopefully, in this age of Big Data, you are collecting information about your customer’s habits and trends.  You need to understand what your most successful customers are doing, and how they are doing it.  Examples: How often do they log in?  What activities are they doing?  Are they contacting Support or are they using Forums?  At my previous employer, we saw an incredibly strong correlation of success with the amount of times they contacted Support.  They more the better (odd but true).  Do they use your product or service in a specific way?  Understanding your data will assist in the Success Path creation.

Customer Success starts in the top of the funnel.  How have your built awareness, consideration, and intent to buy?  Ease of use is an incredibly important variable in your customer’s purchase decision.  You need to ensure your marketing, or the expectations your company is setting, is obtainable, and the value you provide can be evident quickly.  The most important part of Customer Success is providing evident value quickly.


The critical handoff(s) after purchase.  As I just stated, you must provide evident value quickly.  Hopefully, within your Sales process you are able to demonstrate real value to your customer.  This is one of the huge benefits of providing trial periods.  If you are lucky enough to have a fast sales cycle, you may need to take additional steps to ensure the handoff of post sales to implementation or support is done incredibly well.  In fact, the harder it is for the purchase to be made (financial, complexity, etc..) the more time and money you need to spend in designing handoffs that ensure effectiveness.  I highly recommend adding a Customer Success team to identify struggling customers.  If your customers just purchased, their will to achieve the skill is at its highest.  A Customer Success team is charged with developing exception reporting to understand customer usage gaps, and remedy the situation through a mixture of well placed content and some courtesy calls.  The behavioral analysis you conducted previously should provide what’s needed for understanding your exception reporting.


Monitor behavioral and emotional responses.  A low amount of companies are collecting behavioral information about their customer’s actions.  A much larger portion is monitoring emotional ties to your company (Customer Satisfaction and/or NPS).  Guess what? You need to be measuring both simultaneously.  Let me give an example:  I am a customer of a cable company that provides my phone, internet, and cable.  Behaviorally, I am a great customer; I buy all of their services and upgrades.  Emotionally, I can’t stand them.  My NPS for them would definitely be in the detractor category.  Conversely, I am a customer of an internet based music collection company.  I have them on my mobile devices and desktop, but I forget to use it 99% of the time.  I love the service and function, but I forget all about it.  You need to be able to monitor both to prescribe the right action.


Action. Action.  Action.  Sometimes we end up in analysis paralysis, and forget to do something with all this data.  Regardless, if you are collecting only NPS or behavioral scoring, or both, you need to do something with the info.  If you are scoring low on CSAT or NPS, you do not have a strong relationship with your customer or they do not trust you.  If you are scoring low behaviorally, you may need to increase awareness or education.  Regardless, you will need to determine strategies to move the needle on your customer.  Make sure your post sale marketing is directed to their particular issue.  Make sure your customer service agents can see their scoring and have effective means at their disposal to correct the situation.


Customer Success is complex, and has been overlooked for many years.  If you leverage process management tools, recognize your Sales team is deeply involved and it doesn’t start at Support, ensure solid handoffs, monitor behavioral and emotional responses, and take action, you have the prescription for Customer Success.

“Well, it’s all about Trust”

By michaelpace on January 8, 2013

Last week my friend passed away.  He wasn’t only my friend; he was a peer, my manager, a career changer, a mentor, and overall great guy.  Larry (Streeter) and I had met up the Friday before Christmas to catch up and talk customer service and leadership shop.  As it often did, the conversation turned to retention strategies, support, loyalty, and advocacy programs.


Me: “Well, it’s all about trust.”


Larry: “But what does that really mean?  You sound like someone who has guru at end of your title.”


(Good point)


Me: “What does trust mean to you?  And you can’t say what it is not, or how you break it or earn it. That’s not a definition buddy.”


We continued on for about another hour, until we started going off on tangents that will remain our own business.  But, looking back it is fitting that one of our last conversations was about Trust.
So what is Trust?  How do you impact it? And is it important to almost every facet of your business?


My Definition: Trust is the confidence that a party/company/person/group is sincere, competent and reliable to meet the customer/person or affected group’s expectations.


Sincerity, Competency and Reliability – I like to think these drivers are analogous to a 3 legged stool. If one of the “legs” is broken, the stool is going to rock or come crashing down (just like your trust).


Sincerity: Asking your “customers” if they believe you care about them, are not deceitful, honest or have their interest at heart.


Competency: Do you or your company have the ability (or competency) to deliver as expected? I am sure we all run across someone or a company that has the best intentions and is always available but their end product or service is just lacking. Sometimes lacking in this driver is due to poor operational processes, training, general knowledge or expertise.


Reliability: Do you deliver on time, per spec, within budget of your customer’s expectations consistently? This key driver is probably the easiest for you or your “customer” to measure, because it is very tangible. Did the delivery company show up on time? Has a company given you the right product? Did it cost more than the sticker on the box? Internally, companies can ask if they met their SLA’s (service level agreements) and how often. They can look at their uptime/downtime of their website. They can monitor and track billing issues.


Trust Drivers

3 Critical Use Cases involving Trust

People & Talent Management

I can do a lot of amazing things, but I cannot do them all myself.  Great leaders have people they can trust to get things done, and done well.  But have you ever stopped yourself from delegating a task to someone?  Why?  Somewhere along the line, you do not trust that associate to complete the task as you believe it should be done.  One or more of the key drivers of trust is not meeting your expectations.  Do you believe the person/team wants to complete the assignment to a high degree of quality or do they care about the initiative? (Sincerity)  Do the individuals have the competency or skills to get it done?  Have they failed you in the past on a similar project? (Reliability)


Understanding where you feel an individual or team is falling short here, is critical to their development.  If Reliability or Sincerity (or both) are not up to your standards, an open conversation about your fears is needed.  If Competency is lacking, find ways to develop those skills within the project or outside of it for the future.


Building a Social Business

You cannot build a social business without Trust; simple.  A social business requires that the organization trusts its associates to conduct its business over social networks with a high degree of autonomy and structure.  Usually Sincerity is not the main issue here, except in those incidents of associates ripping the company in public.  Usually, “the owners” of the social channels do not believe individuals, teams, or departments have the Competency (social and community management skills) and the Reliability (or consistency) to work in a highly competent manner.


The great news is that both Competency and Reliability can be corrected.  Developing Competency is all about continuous learning and training. Create training programs that give them the ability to work socially.  Build process and governance models that outlines boundaries.  Once competent, provide lower risk opportunities to prove Reliability (then audit and measure for quality).


Customer Trust

Maybe the Ultimate Question is not “How likely are you to refer Company X to your friends, family and colleagues?”, maybe the new ultimate question in today’s world is “Do you trust us?”  After all, you probably would not refer anyone to a company you do not trust.  In this social landscape, trust may be the most valuable commodity your company can offer.


As mentioned before:

Sincerity: Asking your customers if they believe you care about them, are not deceitful, honest or have their interest at heart. You may ask them to review your site, materials, products, etc.. to learn if they believe you have their interests top of mind or even if you understand them. Audit yourself as well. Drug and Oil companies seem to consistently fall short on this driver.

Competency: Do you or your company have the ability (or competency) to deliver as expected? I am sure we all run across someone or a company that has the best intentions and is always available but their end product or service is just lacking. Sometimes lacking in this driver is due to poor operational processes, training, general knowledge or expertise. I see consultants and inexperienced people/companies falling down on this attribute most often.

Reliability: Do you deliver on time, per spec, within budget of your customer’s expectations consistently? This key driver is probably the easiest for you or your customer to measure, because it is very tangible. Did the delivery company show up on time? Has a company given you the right product? Did it cost more than the sticker on the box? Internally, companies can ask if they met their SLA’s (service level agreements) and how often. They can look at their uptime/downtime of their website. They can monitor and track billing issues.  We trust FedEx here; rarely do we trust the USPS.


Yes, I understand there may not be a silver bullet metric for trust. The customer service world as a whole is the same, no one metric can provide the clearest indication if you are doing it well. However with Customer Service, we do have proxies, and we do understand what drives exceptional service. At a conference I recently attended, it was clear the wave of social media talk (within our social media bubble-very important distinction) is ending, and the discussion is moving to the question of “How do you operationalize and manage this space well?”  We will need to stop saying things like “You need to build trust with your customers”, and move to “How are you defining and measuring the trust your customers have of you?”


More on measuring Trust

I’m sad that I won’t be able to have another conversation like this with my friend, but I trust that he is looking down now and is happy the conversation continues.

Are there any other factors you think that drives Trust?

How many times in a day/week/month are you not delegating, because you do not trust someone on your team?

Can “Do you Trust us?” be the next ultimate customer question?

Customer Service Needs a Romper Room Magic Mirror or Transparency is Innovation

By michaelpace on April 23, 2012

Romper Room Transparency Customer Service

Magic Mirror, tell me today

Did companies do as they say,

I see Costco, Ritz Carlton, and Starbucks …

Ah nostalgia.  If you grew up in the late 70’s and the 80’s, you probably remember Miss Molly and the show that was Romper Room.  At the end of every episode, you waited with baited breath as Miss Molly would grab the magic mirror and peer through your television.  Would today be the day she see you?

Recently, I was researching a company called Zmags, which creates beautiful rich media catalogs for retailers and others.  On their support page, there is a simple and effective graphic showing customers when the slowest and busiest periods for support based on time zone.

Zmags Support pageIt’s open and honest approach to helping customers determine when the best time to call for non-urgent issues.  Ah transparency.  Having a graphic, like the one above, puts out a shingle and sets a level of expectation for customers.  It shouldn’t be used as an excuse for poor execution, and can be used for setting internal bars to overcome.  This simple graphic started the hamster in my tiny brain running, and what else can be accomplished if other customer service metrics were made available and accessible to the public or your customer base.

Incident, Customer Satisfaction and Net Promoter Scoring:

One of my greatest pet peeves of most companies today is the action of asking me for survey feedback and not providing any response in return.  Imagine if you could go to a link on a company’s website, and see near real time Incident, Customer Satisfaction and Net Promoter Scores.  Was your feedback inline with other customers?   Was your experience an outlier?  Was your verbatim feedback part of a larger trend?  I believe this level of transparency would improve the customer experience.  It shows your customers that your organization is open to feedback, taking action on your feedback, and is concerned about your feedback beyond just numerical scores.  It also can be a place for proactive messaging.  If your company has received feedback that a certain product or service has a defect, you could insert messaging to your customers as to how you are tackling this particular problem.  And probably the most impactful result of opening up the customer service score kimono, executives and leaders would know that their scores are out there for the world to see.  If your NPS or C-Sat score was below benchmark level, you can bet your last budget dollar that C-level leaders would be eager to invest more to bring those scores up.

Service Level Agreements: (Service Level, FCR, Compliance Scores)

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, service level metrics should not be the primary metric used to determine the quality of your service.  Unless your speed of answer is beyond acceptable (you know what acceptable is), how fast someone answers a phone, email, tweet or chat is a very small part of a customer experience.   However, it is an important metric that shows both a part of the customer experience and how effectively staffed your organization is to help customers.  Similar to the chart provided by Zmags, giving your customers an understanding of how often you answer their calls within an expected period, provides insight to how you often you keep your word (Walk matches Talk).  The same thought process can be applied to FCR (First Contact Resolution) and any Compliance scores that are important to your customers.  Again, by publicly providing how well you are serving your customers, you create even more accountability.

Employee Morale, Satisfaction and Engagement Scores:

You say your company is a great place to work, well prove it.  Every customer loves to work and deal with a happy, pleasant associate.  Everyone also knows when an employee doesn’t care about their job or their customers.  By posting your employee morale, satisfaction and engagement scores, customers gain insight to how well companies treat their employees.  Similar to companies doing social good, customers would rather transact with companies which take care of their associates.  I wouldn’t recommend conducting an associate survey more than once a quarter, and make sure you are surveying in combination with broader company surveys.

By pulling back the curtain to your metrics and satisfaction scores, you can create higher levels of trust between your organization and your current and future customer base.  Yes, this level of openness has some potential risks.  Customers may not understand the scores, what is excellent versus poor.  But if you provide excellent service, why not show it off.  The more you can open up your company to the public, the more they can build trust.  (more on measuring trust)  Innovation comes in many forms, you can make transparency your next.

Do you think you are open enough to show off your scores?

What would stop you from doing it?

If your scores were available to the public, how would you change your actions?

Do you remember Romper Stompers?  They rocked!

Image Credit:






5 Signs That Your Customer Service Sucks

By michaelpace on March 26, 2012

Does your customer service suck?

Talk to most any CEO, and they will tell you that they have great customer service.  They will tell you how proud they are of their service, and how important it is to their business objectives.  And it goes beyond C-Level executives.  Lots of people think their company provides great service.  So answer this for me then: If so many people think their customer service is good – great, why does most customer service suck or is adequate at best?

Yes, there are plenty of ways to score or quantify your service execution (NPS, CSAT, CES, CSI, etc…), but let me give you five behavioral clues that your customer service may suck.

How to tell if your customer service sucks (without the use of NPS or C-Sat scores):

1.       You use benchmark data

Benchmark data is for suckers (pun intended).  Let’s start with what benchmark data is, a culmination of average companies providing their averages.  If we start with the premise that most service sucks or is adequate at best, and you take the average of their averages, you get sucky (pun again) benchmarks.  I am in the business of trying to provide awe inspiring service, sucky doesn’t cut it.  Identify what is critical to quality of your customers and overdeliver.

2.     You prefer to handle customer service via email

Email customer service is getting worse by the day.  The service itself is mostly the same as it has been for the last 15 years, but with today’s need to be real time, email is terrible.  The analogy I like to use here is USPS and FedEx.  People were content with the speed of mail, until FedEx showed up and proved you could get reliable delivery the next day.  Sending things via USPS became relegated to packages that did not have any time constraints.  I am going to assume your customers have time constraints.  Email requires a lot of customer effort.  Email (typically) requires back and forth exchanges.  Email provides the right complete answer about 20% of the time. Email sucks.

 3.     Your daily representative (unplanned) absentee rate is greater than 5%

If you absentee rate is greater than 1 in 20 associates, they often dread coming to work.  If your associates often dread coming to work, they are not going to provide superior service.  This one is pretty simple.

 4.       You don’t allow your associates use social media

When companies block or do not allow their associates to access their social networks while at work, it is a clear sign that you do not trust them.  Connecting via social networks is the new hanging out at the water cooler.  People need people and conversation.  If you are afraid something bad is going to go viral, you are fooling yourself.  Emails, chats, conversations, and any interaction can go viral.  It’s the content, not the tool going viral.  Treat your associates like the adults they are, and/or provide the training needed to reduce the risk.  There are so many possible benefits of allowing them to access their networks (training, personal development, release, monotony breaks, recruiting, branding, etc…).  If you cannot trust them to access their social networks, do you really want to trust them with your customers?

 5.       Your goals and metrics do not include employee satisfaction scores

If you are not measuring it, you are not managing it.  If you are not including your associates morale, satisfaction and engagement metrics with your typical customer service metrics, you are providing validation they are less important than your other metrics.  I doubt you are going to get their best effort if you do not prove you’re concerned for their well being.  See #3.  You ask them to be concerned with your customers’ well being, show them you care about theirs.

So …. do you suck? Feel free to comment.

Image credit:

Why NPS should stand for Near Pointless Scoring

By michaelpace on February 28, 2012

NPS and Behavioral scoring model

Just stop for a second and answer a question for yourself:

Why are you measuring Net Promoter Score (NPS)?

  • Does it provide you the best insight to your customer’s satisfaction?
  • Maybe you read The Ultimate Question six years ago, and have found your silver bullet to customer service?
  • Or your boss told you to do it?

Does anyone else struggle with what to do with a score of 27 when last month was a 29?

Do you end up looking at all the verbatim to understand the differences?

Do you ever wonder if someone’s score of 6 is another person’s 8?

Just stop again, and think why are you tracking NPS; for what purpose are you asking people “would you recommend our services/product to a colleague, friend or family?”

(Most probably) The reason you ask this question is to understand “how likely is my company going to retain you as a customer?”  If that was the question you needed the answer, would you consider possible other ways to skin the cat?  The primary purpose of Customer Service departments is to retain customers.  Yes, great customer service can fill the top of the funnel with new, super-qualified and efficient leads. (Learn more about the traditional funnel and how to Flip the Funnel) However, if Customer Service is not focused first on retaining customers, they become a worthless cost center.  Let me be clear, there are clearly differences how companies approach retention (ex. Zappos and <insert name> cable company).  Back to the heart of the matter; if you step back there are more ways than just NPS to answer the question “how likely is my company going to retain you as a customer”.  It is not the silver bullet.

One recent trend that has peaked my interest is customer behavior scoring.  This scoring uses variables, determined by the organization, that help leaders, management, and agents understand how often engage with your product or service, how effective customers are at using your product/service, and how much of your full suite of solutions are they utilizing.  By leveraging behavioral data, you take the subjectivity out of scoring.  This methodology is gaining steam with SaaS model businesses.  For example, you should be able to infer a customer’s likelihood of retention or attrition by understanding how often they log into your application.  This data can be presented in more raw form to analyst teams to create proactive programs and/or fed to front line associates with specific actions to take if contact is made.  There is considerably more actions that can be taken based on behavioral data than from subjective Net Promoter Scoring.  A Boston based company Apptegic is making some nice progress bringing these tools to market.

And while I think behavioral scoring is incredibly interesting, I am not sure it is the answer either.  However, if you are able combine the emotional and subjective scoring with the behavioral and objective scoring, you start to see a much clearer picture of an actual customer.  Emotional scoring (NPS/CSAT) measures the depth of the relationship, and behavioral scoring can measure interaction; together you get what I would call an Engagement Score.

NPS and Behavioral scoring model

And it gets even more interesting if and when you are able to understand the potential impacts of their social graphs.

NPS, behavioral and social graph

Now, you have a clear understanding of who your brand advocates are, and can develop programs to leverage their enthusiasm and the power of their voice.   You can also be more prepared if you have active participants with loud voices who are more likely to comment on displeasure.  Once you understand which box your customer is in, you can develop effective actions to be taken by your leadership, marketing and floor associates.

All I am trying to say is NPS is not the only game in town.  We should all be questioning why we do things.  And finally, if you get to the root of you quest (the why), we can develop solutions that meet and exceed our needs in this dynamic landscape.

Are you fed up with NPS?

Are you using another customer scoring system that is working for your business?

Does a combination score lead us closer to a “silver bullet”?

How do you value the Customer Experience Executive role?

captain of shipBy Larry Streeter on October 19, 2011

A week or so ago, I was having a conversation with the SVP of Customer Service for a well known SaaS software company when the conversation turned to determining what value a Customer Experience Officer role would bring to their organization.  This was a company that clearly gets the importance of the total customer experience, but had not quite reached a size where they felt a full time role was justified.

The conversation hounded me for days.  And as I thought about how a company justifies the creation of a full time customer experience executive position, these are the questions I imagine are often asked.

Q.  “We already measure Customer Satisfaction and Net Promoter, isn’t that enough?”

Satisfying customers will always be important.  Think about it!  No customer becomes loyal without first being satisfied.   But Customer Satisfaction metrics only represent a customer’s opinion of you at that moment in time instead of looking at your entire body of work.  These metrics can often times be discrete measures of specific touch points, such as “how satisfied are you with our product” or “rate your satisfaction with our Knowledge Base”.  A customer may rate each of these isolated interactions high, but what if the experience of going from the product to the KB is kludge?

Remember, satisfied customers will always come back to see what you have to offer but also are just as likely to check out your competitor!  Building a complete customer experience that creates loyalty will keep them from shopping elsewhere!

Q.  “We already have someone responsible for User Experience.  Aren’t they one in the same?”

A User is just that: someone using your product or service.  A Customer is someone continuously evaluating you based on the total experience.

Not long ago I gave a presentation where I describe the overall Customer Experience as similar to being engaged.  Both represent:

  • a commitment to a long-term relationship,
  • being proactively involved in the relationship, and
  • having an emotionally, psychologically, and physically connection.

Someone using your product or service may like what’s right in front of them but not necessarily be committed to the long term.  Almost like “Yeah, he/she is fun to hang out with, but I wouldn’t bring them home to meet my parents”.  Someone in your organization needs to be looking at the total lifecycle of touch points your customers have with you, not just how to go seamlessly from screen to screen in your product.

Q.  “We’re already a customer-focused company from the top down.  What can an executive responsible for the Customer Experience offer?”

It’s hard to believe anyone would dispute the long-term value of a superior customer experience.  Many studies have been done quantifying increases in retention and revenue from companies that exhibit world-class effort on achieving an awe-inspiring customer experience.  But the ROI doesn’t have to take years to realize.  Making the leap to dedicate someone full time can bring immediate, short-term benefits companies often overlook.

Companies may have top-down commitment on being customer focused but is their alignment amongst the executives and senior managers on exactly what that means?  People may be working hard to build a great customer experience within their own silos but the glue that holds them all together is a well-defined customer experience roadmap.  With the input from others, a customer experience executive can bring exceptional focus to defining and shaping that roadmap and clarity and organization to achieving success.

Sustainability of customer experience improvement efforts is always a challenge.  Kick off meetings and initial efforts to begin making improvements can soon lose their momentum as people go begin slowly gravitating back to their day jobs.  Unfettered by anything else, the customer experience executive’s “day job” is just that: making sure the organization’s commitment to the roadmap remains top of mind.

And finally, there’s always the bottom line!  Accountability for defining and measuring results is often overlooked on cross-functional efforts to improve the total customer experience.  And while the customer experience executive can provide that single “ring-able neck” for the definition and reporting of customer experience improvements, it does not necessarily make them solely accountable for the results achieved.  In a company that defines themselves as “already focused on the customer experience from the top down”, everyone from the executives on down are responsible for the actual results!

Companies at the top of the lists for revenue growth and customer satisfaction already recognize the long-term value associated with a dedicated executive at the helm of the customer experience.  But they didn’t wait to achieve these results before bringing them aboard!  Can your company afford not to have someone with their “hands on the wheel” today?


Guest Writer: Larry Streeter

Larry Streeter is a contact center / customer experience executive with 20+ years experience building award-winning customer support organizations that drive customer long-term value through the contact center. 

His passion for delivering an extraordinary customer experience, building scalable infrastructure while increasing shareholder value, and developing top performing teams as well as future leaders has helped world-class companies achieve significant growth and customer satisfaction.

You can find Larry on Twitter @lstreeter01 & blogs at