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Archive for the ‘Customer Experience’ Category

Group Effectiveness Lessons from Playing Santa Claus

April 23rd, 2014 by The Forum Corporation
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In the midst of the 2013 holiday season, a wonderfully heartwarming video made the rounds at Forum. The video documented the story of WestJet, a Canadian airline that made a flight full of passengers’ Christmas wish list dreams come true. How did this happen? Prior to departure, passengers conveyed their request to  a Santa kiosk set up in the origin airport, only to be surprised when their gifts came down the baggage claim (along with their luggage) at their point of destination. Little did those 200+ passengers know that behind the scenes, 175 West Jet employees were working diligently to fulfill their video requests.

As someone who has planned and managed large scale projects and events, I’m acutely aware of what it takes to pull together an event of that magnitude. What could have been a nightmare of coordination and execution was instead a seamless implementation of warmth and goodwill. It’s clear that WestJet mastered three major components essential for group effectiveness:

Unifying Vision

A clear, unifying vision is the glue that binds a group together regardless of size, purpose or duration. When a clear vision is lacking, it’s like being in a boat where everyone is rowing in a different direction. The end result is a boat that just travels in circles, getting nowhere.

A strong vision, however, provides a clear compass by which a team can navigate and ultimately lays the foundation for group cohesion. The appropriate choices become clear and the team moves together in congruence rather than cross purposes. In the case of WestJet, that unifying vision bound the team together in a common value (doing good for others) and provided both inspiration and motivation. This effective team culture is an important attribute that can help teams overcome the challenges that can be inherent within large, complex projects.

Group Structure

Group structure ensures the right people are on the team in the right roles in terms of the appropriate skills, knowledge and abilities necessary to get the job done. Each team member has a clearly defined role laid out by their leader and a set of responsibilities that harmoniously blend together for smooth and seamless project execution. An effective group structure allowed the WestJet team to move in concert to ultimately deliver those wished-for presents in the destination airport. Teams that lack group structure often suffer from duplicative effort, inefficiency and an inability to deliver results on time or budget.

Group Processes

Effective group processes provide the ground rules for the team in the areas of communication, decision making, problem solving and conflict management. Without clear and effective group processes, the airline employees could have easily become caught in cycle of unproductive conflict, poor decisions and ineffective choices. Instead, the WestJet team worked together cohesively to get those presents bought, wrapped and delivered to their destination.

Next time you need your team to execute a initiative seamlessly, think about the WestJet elves and the hallmarks of high performing teams: a unifying vision, clear group structure and group processes. Your team may not create the experience of a lifetime for 200+ families at Christmas, but it could improve your bottom line.

Think about a time when you were on highly effective team. To what do you attribute your team’s effectiveness?

Sales and Service Intertwined: The Future of Retail Banking Success

September 5th, 2013 by The Forum Corporation
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In the financial sector, the only constant is change. Well, perhaps not the only constant. Yet it is virtually impossible to speak to anyone in the financial sector without mentioning change or uncertainty as a driving topic of conversation.

With that in mind, most financial professionals are all but too aware of the fickle nature in today’s retail banking customer. Numerous surveys have resoundingly concluded that more than 50% of retail banking customers today would consider changing banks within the next six months. Furthermore, Gallup has concluded that of all the factors affecting a customer’s loyalty, positive experiences resonated most as driving factors for customers staying where they are.

This insight begs the million (or perhaps billion) dollar question: how do banks transform a positive customer experience into long-term loyalty?

Deliver Service Experience

The first step involved in delivering a differentiated customer experience relates to the execution of such, as this is the first impression that will be made on any customer.

So how do you transform a customer experience into something that is truly unique and differentiated from the competition? At Forum, we have found that thinking backwards, or, having the end goal in mind before you even think to design the solution, is best.

To think backwards and truly transform your service model, you have to start with

  • A comprehensive profile of each client type that is served by the financial firm
  • The driving principles of client service and factors of service quality that resonate most with your prospective customer base

Once the above have been identified, you are ready to begin considering what the ideal client-interaction model might be. It is important to keep in mind that a positive customer experience is not necessarily differentiated from your competition. Think of customer experience/service as if it were akin to writing a 3 minute speech – value must be provided with every interaction, along every turn of the way (or in every line, as is the case with a compelling speech).

Linking Sales Skills to Customer Experience & Transforming Engagement

In our experience delivering results in sales transformation and customer engagement, there seem to be a few common denominators that unite these two areas of focus. The following skill-sets transcend both sales and customer experience:

  • Connecting – Establishing a personal bond with the customer.
  • Encouraging – Keeping the customer participating in the interaction.
  • Questioning – Gaining in-depth information about the customer’s situation, needs, and problems.
  • Confirming – Ensuring that the interaction is explicit and specific to the needs of the customer.
  • Providing – Share information and insight that creates a clear, positive image of you, and bonds the customer and employee together in a mutually trusting relationship.

Whilst instilling the above drivers will assuredly create a positive experience, which will serve to stabilize your existing customer base, the smooth execution will lead to a differentiated experience that empowers customer advocates with compelling stories and a will to share them.

A large part of how leaders channel the power of employees lies in creating the leadership climate that enables employees to deliver the experience that ‘sticks’.  In our experience, connecting, encouraging, questioning, confirming and providing do just that.

So I’d like to end this story with two questions: What value have you placed on sales through service in your organization? and, Where are you in the process of defining your own differentiated experience?

Does Training Matter?

June 19th, 2013 by The Forum Corporation
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Training can be arduous, expensive, and tough to make it stick.  So the question always comes up, is it really worth it? Last week, thanks to a disgruntled Dunkin’ Donuts customer in Florida, we all learned that it does. It really, really does.

For those of you that missed the video, I’m not going to link to it here, as it is pretty profane. To sum it up, a young woman was angry that she had not received a receipt for a previous order, and decided that in addition to going in the next day to get a free order, as is Dunkin Donuts policy, she would film her entire interaction and post it on Facebook, perhaps hoping she would get sympathy.

I don’t think she was anticipating the teenager behind the counter to be so well trained. While being confronted by an angry woman sticking a camera in his face, the young man never lost his composure, asked all the right questions and avoided any further incident.  When the woman posted the video to Facebook, it quickly went viral but not in the way she hoped.  She was faced with tons of backlash and the young man behind the counter was applauded for his poise and professionalism.

Dunkin’ Donuts came out unscathed, because this young man knew how to behave in the situation. At eighteen years old, he handled the pressure of the situation better than many adults would have been able to, which most likely comes back to training.

Most managers would hope that their teams keep this calm under pressure, and when faced with a difficult situation would remember their training.  Forum’s research shows that the trickiest part of training is getting it to stick long after it’s completed.  What can you do to ensure that when faced with a high stress situation or transition at your company, your team relies on their training? Make an investment into sustainment activities.

Organizations put so much of an investment into the actual training event, that often follow up and reinforcement go to the back burner. This graphic outlines the disconnect between investment and impact.

Impact vs. Investment of TrainingBy shifting the investment from being primarily on the training event to not only sustaining the learning afterwards but also on aligning your team beforehand, training can make a lasting impact. An impact that you may not see until your team is faced with a crisis or an angry customer with a cell phone camera.

Driving Sales and Keeping Customers in a Softening Economy

November 15th, 2011 by The Forum Corporation
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We received some great feedback on our first Forum Focus, so we thought we’d bring you an edition focused on sales and customer experience.

Although the economy is still relatively slow, there are several ways to keep customers engaged and obtain new sales leads. In this week’s Forum Focus, we’ll take a look at three tricks to getting sales referrals, how empowering employees will win customers, and why keeping customer engagement (beyond mere customer service) is crucial.

Last week, Inc. magazine posted a great piece from writer Geoffrey James about the right and wrong ways to get sales referrals.  James’s three tips to getting new referrals from your latest recommendations include asking after delivery instead of after closing; giving your customer a referral first; and encouraging your customer to contact the prospective referral first. We’ve found that these three tips can really help build a customer’s trust and open up new doors.

Sometimes in order to secure new customers, you have to get out of your own way. In a Harvard Business Review article, Hawaiian Airlines senior vice president of Operations Charles Nardello, encourages leaders to empower their employees to handle sticky customer situations. Why? With social media making it easier for customers to vocalize to businesses about their feelings, it’s even easier for employees to address their concerns. Nardello wrote that he finds his employees perform best when they are encouraged “to improvise and bring unmatched service to their customers in a sincere, personal way.” In these scenarios, a level of trust between employer and employee is created, allowing the employee to show customers that they will always be taken care of.

Rick Jensen, chief sales and marketing officer for Constant Contact, also acknowledged the social media explosion, saying that the customer service bar has been raised. In his latest piece for AMEX Open Forum, Jensen says that social media merely makes obvious the necessity of personalized service and in-depth expertise. Businesses should be able to go beyond the initial transaction by suggesting services or tools for future projects. Customers want to know that you are sincerely interested in helping them make the right purchasing decisions based on their needs.


3 Ways to Avoid “Measurement Whac-a-Mole”

October 25th, 2011 by Janet Goddard
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The best of intentions, quickly forgotten.   These six words describe most measurement systems.

Let me give an example. In working with a health care provider, I learned about their customer satisfaction survey. The hospital managers receive a monthly report on different aspects of the patient experience (“sensitivity to patients’ needs,” “time spent with patients,” “doctor provided information about medications,” and so forth.)   Measuring how patients feel about these aspects of their care makes perfect sense, but what managers actually do with this information does not.

When caregivers get a poor rating on “sensitivity to patients’ needs,” they get verbally flogged by management. So what do you think caregivers do for the next month? They run around trying to figure out how to be more sensitive to patients’ needs. Yet, this is not done systematically or consistently in that hospital location, let alone across the hospital system. Each caregiver just tries to deliver more sensitive care without clear guidance on what that means or how to deliver it.  Then, the next month, managers tell the caregivers that they scored poorly on how the “doctor provided information about medications,” so the focus of caregiver efforts haphazardly shifts.  And guess what happens the next month?

How long can this type of reactionary response to patient satisfaction scores go on? Eventually, caregivers wear out because there is a new problem each month and there are no systematic solutions provided.

Organizations need to use satisfaction data more effectively by looking at the scores over time and instituting systematic solutions that can be carried out consistently across the entire organization. If “time spent with patients” is an issue over a number of quarters, organizations need to develop a process that enables caregivers to shift their behavior to ensure that they are meeting patients’ needs regarding the time they spend with them.

Don’t use measurement data to flog employees.   Instead try these three things:

  • Highlight the good.  Use measurement data to highlight the good work of employees.   Rather than just looking at the areas that employees performed poorly, managers should analyze the data more thoroughly and reward employees for behaviors customers or patients applauded.
  • Stop the “issue of the month” insanity.  Look at the measurement feedback over time and determine what really needs improving. Then, pull together a team to address the issue and make recommendations.
  • Don’t measure too many things.   Instead, do a customer survey that enables you to determine your organization’s most important value drivers. Stay focused on those and your organization will be able to deliver what customers want most.


A Customer Experience Like No Other

June 23rd, 2011 by Janet Goddard
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You look everywhere.  And I mean everywhere.  It’s not in the junk drawer, not in the charger.  Out of desperation, you even post on your Facebook, “Anyone seen my cell phone?”  As the minutes tick down toward your call with your new client—whose contact info is only on your cell—panic sets in.

Then you remember!  The phone was near the magazines on the counter.  The magazines you just … slid into the trash chute! Oh no, no, no, no!  You rush to the front desk of your apartment building to see if the trash has already been collected.  It has.  It’s in the dumpster.  In your delirium, you hear yourself ask, “I don’t suppose there’s any way someone could go look for it, is there?”  But what employee would dive into a dumpster to serve a customer?

I’ll tell you who:  An employee at Archstone.  True story.

Customer experience at Archstone

Archstone is a real estate investment company that operates high-end apartment complexes.  Forum worked with Archstone to develop a customer promise based on the “Commitment to G‑R‑E‑A‑T.”  G‑R‑E‑A‑T is a useful acronym:  We trained employees to Go the extra mile, be Reliable and responsive, Empathize, Ask questions and listen, and Take ownership.  Archstone also set up clear guidelines to support the training.  For example, to enable property associates to take ownership, they allowed each associate to spend up to $1,000 to solve a resident problem without seeking prior approval. With this direction, each person in the organization clearly understood how to focus his or her time in ways that would impact the success of the business.

Teaching customer-focused behaviors to employees impacts everyday transactions in positive ways, and, beyond that, it helps your company create WOW experiences for customers.  WOW experiences happen when delivering on customer value drivers becomes second nature to employees.

At Archstone, the training was so successful that employees no longer need to deliberate about how to manage important customer interactions—their commitment to G‑R‑E‑A‑T is their guide.  For example, when a tenant lost her cell phone, an Archstone employee did what became known as the “dumpster dive” and retrieved it.  When asked about his heroics, he referred directly to his commitment to G‑R‑E‑A‑T service guides.

A customer experience resource for you

For more on how to create a superior experience for your customers, check out our new paper:  “Tame Chaos with Consistency:  The Superior Customer Experience.”


Experiencing a Customer Service Culture: From Flambé to Yoko Ono

October 5th, 2010 by The Forum Corporation
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The board members of one of GE’s financial services brands recently challenged us to arrange an experience of customer service for them that would leave “nobody in doubt that creating a service culture can become a systemic force for good.” No mean feat then.

The experience we came up with served to convince not only the board, but me as well.

After calling all manner of organizations with well known service brands (and doing some seriously desperate pleading), we chose the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in London. So powerful is Mandarin’s approach and management philosophy that even new members of the hotel staff (including many who do not speak English as a first language) immediately get how the guest experience and guests’ personal preferences shape the whole operating model. The Mandarin people were thrilled to immerse the GE board members in the hotel’s guest experience as well as its employee experience.

And immersed they were. The GE CEO valiantly attempted to flambé dinner in the kitchen. The CFO, in role as a doorman, helped Yoko Ono out of her car. These experiences drove home (for the board members and myself) the importance of creating a customer experience that pervades the entire organization. The experiences also exposed how the pursuit of insight into customer preferences, as instilled into the organizational climate, can lead to a continuous cycle of improvement.

Following this outstanding experience, we were able to go confidently back to GE’s board and say (to quote Yoko Ono’s late husband), “I hope we passed the audition.”

It’s often talked about, but rarely do you actually feel the extent to which a customer experience climate bangs the drum to which everyone dances (to nearly be poetic).

It’s just the way they do things.

Do you know any others who have genuinely cracked “it” from the inside out?

Forum’s Leadership Challenges Index: What Are Your Rankings?

September 14th, 2010 by Steve Barry
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In this inaugural version of Forum’s Leadership Challenges Index, we look for trends in the ways organizations are aligning and mobilizing their people to attain business results.

To see the trends, we tagged each of our requests for work from clients or prospective clients in the first half of 2010 as relating to one of eight business issues.  We then ranked the issues in order of frequency of requests (1 = most frequent, 8 = least frequent).  In addition, we ranked the number of clicks on each of the eight business issues on (1 = most clicks, 8 = fewest clicks) for the same period.  Interestingly, the clicks and requests rankings were nearly identical—which indicates some themes in organizational approach and interest.


Business Issue Client Requests (Rank) Web Site Traffic (Rank) Composite Rank
Restart growth by increasing leader bench strength 1 2 1.5
Reduce time to value and increase value over time by accelerating execution 5 1 3
Gain a competitive edge with an aligned, differentiated global sales model 4 3 3.5
Grow revenue and profits by creating a loyalty-building customer experience 3 4 3.5
Deliver on a key strategy by aligning organizational culture 2 5 3.5
Drive profits in commoditized markets by selling value over price 6 6 6
Grow your business by developing and retaining strategic accounts 7 7 7
Uncover opportunities and gain efficiencies by creating a one-firm firm 8 8 8

This is not a scientific study, and our marketing activities likely swayed some of the outcomes.  (At least, I hope they did!)  Specifically, with the release of our book Strategic Speed, it stands to reason that the accelerating execution challenge would top the site traffic chart.  However, the other challenges received roughly equal love and attention from marketing and show remarkable symmetry.  The Index provides a high-level snapshot of challenges facing leaders.

Three headlines jump out for me:

1. Leadership development, which waned as a concern in 2008-09, has returned.  Big time. In fact, there were three times the number of client requests relating to this business issue as there were requests relating to the issue of the next greatest concern.  Opportunity costs have grown too high to ignore today.  Several of our clients are focusing on the Strategic Speed model of clarity, unity, and agility as a development chassis to help their leaders handle personal and organizational transitions, accelerate execution, and capture market opportunities.

2. Sales gets aligned. Value-based selling and strategic account development can be successful aspects of a sales strategy.  Yet, their importance pales in relation to the importance of creating a clear, compelling sales and marketing strategy.  Sales leaders who create such a strategy are able to translate it into sales-force deployment decisions and align interrelated components of execution.  The result is a sales force that is equipped to consistently find, win, and keep customers.

3. Outside-in trumps inside-out. Prospective and existing customers favor a superior experience over a focus on organizational efficiencies or cultural alignment.  Although there is often a strong collaborative culture at the core of a superior customer experience, this could signal a tipping point.   Organizations have stripped many costs out of their business—perhaps few efficiency plays remain?

How would you rank these issues?  Which are most important to making your 2011 a success?

Customer Experience Exposed: Inside a Value Chain Breakdown

September 2nd, 2010 by Steve Barry
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We recently described a cause of a weak customer experience; poorly integrated functional excellence. But that’s not the only cause. Sometimes, people simply don’t realize the impact of their work on the customer.

To facilitate this realization, and guide them down the road to self-discovery, we bring a cross-section of senior leaders together and divide them into groups.  We charge the groups with the creation of an end product.

Inevitably, the groups toward the “front of the chain” focus on fulfilling their esoteric goals.  They take their time.  They (unintentionally) ignore the customer and their role in helping the other team provide value to the customer.  In the end, neither team meets its ultimate objectives because they’ve focused on their process far more than the customer’s needs.

To participate in such an exercise is to participate in the breakdown of a value chain.  It’s like a bucket of cold water in the face.  The debrief, often in combination with customer data, “kick-starts” leaders on their road to self-discovery and the creation of their own line-of-sight to their role in the value chain. 

In the real world, organizations that provide an outstanding customer experience have people who see the ‘line of sight’ to the customer from wherever they are in the organization. Everyone understands their role in the value chain, how it links to the next step in the chain, and how their actions ultimately impact the customer.

To learn more about Forum’s work in the area of Customer Experience, click here.


Why is it so hard to create a great customer experience?

August 20th, 2010 by The Forum Corporation
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“What were they thinking?!”

Mark Hurst used these four words to capture his “love-to-hate” feelings for poorly designed web site experiences.  Although Mr. Hurst focused on web experiences, poor customer experiences happen everywhere.

Why is it so hard to create a great customer experience?

Part of it has to do with the end-to-end nature of the experience, which requires not just one department in a company, but the coordinated actions of many.  Even in a simple trip to the grocery store, customers touch multiple functional areas—all organized around  a variety of policies, procedures, and systems.  Done well, the customer never realizes just how many groups create their experience; great experiences are seamless to the customer.  But creating and delivering that seamless experience consistently requires the alignment and orchestration of the organization around it.  And this is where it can get difficult.

It’s kind of like the parable of the blind men and an elephant.  In this case, the elephant is the customer experience and the blind men represent the major functional areas—Marketing, HR, Operations, etc.  Each man thinks he is describing what an elephant is, but in reality he has described just one aspect of it—it is a rope (the tail), it is a tree branch (the trunk), etc.  Similarly, functional leaders working in silos believe the customer interactions they have primary responsibility for deliver the full force of the experience, when in fact they have delivered only a fraction of it.  In the place of a seamless delivery—the “elephant”—the experience becomes inconsistent.  Sure the customer gets all the elephant parts—the trunk, the tail, the leg, and so forth—but too frequently the parts are not connected in a way to make a complete, attractive elephant.  The various company departments, wearing the blinders of their functional silos, have stitched together something that the customer experiences as disconnected and unappealing.

Companies wondering why they have not realized the full benefit of their investment in the customer experience may want to consider how they are—or are not—organized around the customer experience.  Do their customers experience an appealing elephant or something else?  Are their employees able to see through the eyes of their customers, or is their sight impaired by their functional silo?