Category Archives: Customer Experience

Can You Become the Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company?

Can You Become the Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company?

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

If I asked 10 people who they thought could be planet Earth’s most customer-centric company, I bet a majority would have the same answer. I’ll share that company’s name at the end of this article. For now, you can guess.

Cindy, from my office, had a customer service issue. Here are the steps she took to resolve the problem:

  1. She went to the company’s website and clicked on customer support.
  2. She answered a few questions, and once the technology identified her problem, a chatbot popped up.
  3. After interacting with the chatbot briefly, the bot wrote, “Let me transfer you to an agent,” moving from a chatbot to live chat.
  4. At some point, the agent suggested getting on the phone, and rather than have Cindy call, she asked for Cindy’s number. Once Cindy shared it, the phone rang almost instantly.
  5. From there, the agent carried out a conversation that eventually resolved Cindy’s problem.

I asked Cindy how she liked that experience, and she quickly answered, “Amazing!”

Just a few minutes later, Cindy received a short survey asking for her feedback with the message:

Your feedback is helping us build Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.

With that in mind, let’s look at some lessons we can learn from the company that aspires to be the most customer-centric company on the planet:

  1. Digital First – The company made it easy to start the customer support process with a digital self-service solution. While there was a live agent option, it wasn’t presented until later. Cindy had to answer a few questions and click a few boxes before moving on. And this part is important. The process was easy and intuitive. She was digitally “hand-held” through the process, which included the chatbot.
  2. The Human Backup – The chatbot was programmed to understand when it wasn’t getting Cindy’s answer, and it immediately transferred her to a live chat with a customer support agent. Eventually, the live online chat turned into a phone call when the agent wanted more details and knew it would be easier to talk than text. Rather than Cindy calling the company, she simply had to enter her phone number into the chat, and within seconds, the phone rang, and she was talking to the customer support agent.
  3. A Seamless Omni-Channel Experience – The definition of an omni-channel experience is a continuous conversation moving from one form of communication to the next. Cindy went from answering questions on the website to a chatbot, to live chat, and then to the phone. All was seamless, and the “conversation” continued rather than forcing Cindy to tell her story repeatedly. The agent on the phone picked up where the chat ended and quickly solved her problem. This is the way omni-channel is supposed to work.

This is a perfect example of the modern customer support experience. And did you guess what company this article is about? If you said Amazon, you’re absolutely right!

Image Credits: Shep Hyken, Pexels

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Is it Free or Unlimited?

Is it Free or Unlimited?

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

My friend Norman Beck sends me interesting articles and newsworthy information regularly. This one is worth talking about here. A grocery store chain had a sign in front of its entrance that read:

Free Delivery – $99 a Year!

I had to smile – even laugh out loud – thinking of how many people would roll their eyes when they read that sign. It’s not free if you have to pay $99 for it! But some brilliant marketers must think the public won’t know the difference. Perhaps a better sign would have read:

Unlimited Delivery – $99 a year!

I’ve shared similar information about this in the past. How often are we told a company offers free delivery, free returns, free refills on soda … you get the idea. It’s not really free. It’s in the price you pay.

I’m okay with that, and it’s actually a pretty good marketing strategy that works. As an example, if I order a soda at a restaurant, I like the idea of refills. But are they free refills? Or are they unlimited refills? Either way, I’m happy. It’s just that one is a more accurate description of the value provided.

So, consider this simple concept. For any business to make money, it has to charge for whatever it sells. By giving too much away, it would lose money. But if the company leaders know how much they can give away without losing money and incorporate it into a competitive price, they may have a value proposition that gets and keeps customers.

Southwest Airlines is the perfect example of this. It markets the heck out of Two Bags Fly Free®. Southwest knows that when other airlines charge for something that they don’t, it can be perceived as free. By keeping operating expenses low, they can charge a competitive price for an airline ticket that doesn’t require the customer to pay extra for checked baggage.

After reading this, some of you may think I’m against free. On the contrary, I’m a huge fan of free. Even if I have to pay for it, if the perceived value is that it’s free, that works for me. I just think that we should be careful about putting a sign in front of a store that basically says you have to pay $99 for “free” delivery.

And, while I’m talking about free, there is one other form of free that I love, and that’s hassle-free, something I know your customers will love too.

Image Credits: Shep Hyken

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Customer Service and CX – Not Just For Front Line Staff

Customer Service and CX - Not Just For Front Line Staff

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Customer service is not a department. It’s a philosophy that everyone in an organization must embrace. It’s the same with customer experience (CX), which most people view as a strategy. However, both customer service and experience must be rooted in a company’s culture. Everyone plays a part in the customer’s experience, regardless of how deep they are inside of the organization.

My friend Kelechi Okeke, a certified customer experience specialist in Lagos, Nigeria, recently wrote an article about the potential breakdown across different teams and departments when attempting to create a customer-focused culture. The goal is for the entire organization to work in unison, eliminating breakdowns due to disconnects in messaging, not aligning with the culture and just being so “siloed” the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. I contributed a few ideas to his article and thought I would expand on them and share them with the Human-Centered Change and Innovation audience.

When an organization chooses to be more customer-focused, the decision rests with leadership. The mistake is that the attention is fixed on the front line and anyone in direct contact with customers. Many don’t realize the effort must go much deeper than the customer-facing employees. Some, however, will recognize the disconnect and understand that customer service and experience must be an organization-wide effort that is embraced by all employees.

When we work with clients to create a customer-focused culture, the process starts with leadership and department heads meeting to create a customer service/CX vision I refer to as a mantra. This is a simple one-sentence (or less) statement that is short and memorable. For example, Texas Health Huguley created a purpose statement: “People serving people like those we love the most.” That sums up exactly how they want all employees to treat patients, their family members and other employees. That type of statement isn’t a theme for the year. It’s strong enough to be permanently baked into mission, vision and value statements. The mantra is where it starts. It’s the “north star” that everyone focuses on when it comes to customer service and CX.

Once that mantra is defined, it must be communicated. It needs to be reinforced in many ways through ongoing communication over time. This can be through leadership and management presentations, email signature lines, posters, wall art, promotional items, etc. No matter how long ago the mantra was created, all employees must know, understand and live by it.

The next step is training, which is where many companies fall short, specifically in two areas. Some don’t realize that training isn’t something you did. It’s something you do. It must be ongoing and reinforce the original intent of the training. You can’t take people into a room for a day, train them to be customer-focused and hope they will remember it five years later. Once an employee goes through the initial training, there must be (much) shorter training sessions, even just a few minutes in a weekly or monthly meeting, to reinforce and remind everyone what they need to do.

The second area in which many companies fall short with their customer-focus training is that they only train customer-facing employees, typically people in sales and customer support. As already mentioned, an organization must go deep with its training. Everyone must be trained. Of course, customer support agents’ training will be far different than that for employees in the warehouse. The point is everyone must know how they support the customer’s experience. For example, employees in the warehouse may never need front-line customer support skills, but they must understand that if they improperly pack a product that’s shipped to a customer and the product is damaged en route, that falls on them. They become a significant part of the customer’s experience, yet they never have any customer interaction. The point is that everyone must be trained to the initiative, not just people who interact with customers.

If you focus on the first three steps of the process—creating your mantra, diligently communicating it and properly training all employees—you’re on your way to becoming an aligned organization without the breakdowns of some companies and brands that are set in their old ways.

One final thought on this process. When people and departments—or the entire company—are meeting your customer service and experience goals, let them know. Celebrate successes, share stories and let people know they are doing a good job. Good behavior and success that are recognized beget more of the same!

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com

Image Credits: Shep Hyken

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Embrace Your Disgruntled Customers

Embrace Your Disgruntled Customers

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

Every day, businesses find themselves faced with unhappy customers; if you’re like most people, you might feel apprehension when an unhappy customer requests a meeting with you.

Most of us are in business to make people happy and to create satisfied customers, so every unsatisfied customer can seem like a failure. Research has shown that the impact of praise and criticism are not equal. For most people the same volume of criticism is felt much more deeply than praise.

Actually, disgruntled customers are an absolute gold mine of potential insights about your product or services, and your overall business. But only if you mine them in the right way.

First, let me encourage you to ask a high quality question that I learned from one of the smartest people I know, Tony Robbins.

What’s great about disgruntled customers?

When faced with any challenge, Robbins encourages people to ask, “What’s great about this?” or “What’s the opportunity inherent in this problem?” Take a moment and ask yourself that question in terms of your dissatisfied customers.

To get you started, here are five things I jotted down that I think are great about disgruntled customers:

  1. They care about your product. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be emotional and they wouldn’t be reaching out.
  2. They are willing to give you their time. Those who complain typically want to engage in some sort of dialogue.
  3. They chose you to begin with. They wouldn’t be customers if they hadn’t made a decision to buy your product.
  4. They have knowledge about the overall product experience. They have experienced your marketing, your sales process, and what it’s like to begin using your product. They have been through at least part, if not most, of the product lifecycle.
  5. They probably don’t want to leave you. If they did, they wouldn’t be disgruntled customers, they would be ex-customers!

Think of disgruntled customers as people who have selected to use your product or service, who care a lot about it, and who want to give you some of their time to provide their thoughts. Their negative feedback actually gives more opportunities to improve than a happy customer ever could.

Three Types of Disgruntled Customers

There are three types of unhappy customers, and it’s helpful to determine which type you are talking to.

Type 1. Customers who should be happy.

This is someone who signed up for your product or service for reasons that are consistent with the intent of your product, and is basically trying to use it the way it was intended.

If the customer represents your “typical” customer and isn’t happy, then you really want to understand what the problem is and how to fix it. There are probably more people with similar dissatisfaction, who may not care enough to complain. Your disgruntled customer is not your worst customer. Your worst customer is the one who doesn’t care enough to complain but simply leaves and you never know why. Whatever problem these unhappy customers have is likely the same problem that some prospects have — a problem that kept them from becoming a customer in the first place. Understanding these customers and making them happy has to be a high priority.

Type 2: Customers who shouldn’t be happy.

This type of customer is trying to use your product for something that really isn’t what the product was designed for.

Customers unhappy with the results of using oil paints meant for works of art to paint furniture fall into this category. It might be easy to dismiss these customers. They shouldn’t have bought you product in the first place, right? But they could represent a massive new market opportunity. You might learn that your paint comes in colors not available in traditional furniture paint, or has a different kind of sheen that made that customer want to use it for an “off label” application. Although it didn’t work in its current formulation, it might clue you in to adjustments you can make to reach this new market. We call these types of users Lead User; “failed” lead users, like in our paint example, can seed ideas for product innovation.

Type 3: Customers who will never be happy.

These are the customers who, no matter what you do, never seem to be happy.

It’s true that there are people out there who thrive on complaining, but it’s important to hear them out to make sure that they are not actually a Type 1 or Type 2 Customer. For example, some people always seem to exaggerate the impact of their dissatisfaction. If someone tells you, “I spent 30 minutes waiting in line at the rental car counter and it ruined my vacation!” that sounds a little crazy. However, just because people might not be reasonably reporting the emotional impact of their problem doesn’t mean they aren’t cluing you in to real, solvable problems. Be grateful for these “complainers”. A lot of other people might just have been unhappy, said nothing, and gone to a competitor!

Questions to Ask Disgruntled Customers

If you want to get the most out of your meeting with a disgruntled customer, you need to ask the right questions to fully understand the situation.

1. Ask who they are, and what their goals were in buying your product.

There are several benefits to this. First, people like to talk about themselves, so it tends to be a positive way to start the conversation. Second, it takes their mind back to a time when they were happy with you, when they decided to buy the product. And third, it helps you understand what type of customer they are: whether their expectations were aligned with the product’s intent, they just like complaining, or they have legitimate concerns. This helps you understand what they care about most and what you did “right”, from a marketing and sales perspective, to get this person to sign up in the first place.

2. Ask what the problem is (because they’re dying to get that off their chests).

The trick here is to let them blow off some steam, and then try to unpack the problem to find some clear actions to take. For example, “I can’t believe how bad your restaurant is  —  it was horrible!” doesn’t provide any actionable feedback. And sometimes a customer wants to tell a long, convoluted story, after which you need to probe for the one key thing that’s the root cause of the dissatisfaction. Where did the person’s expectations fail to be fulfilled?

If they tried painting the chair with oil paints meant for portraits and three days later the chair was still not dry and the paint was dripping off, it would be ridiculous to ask “Is that not what you expected?” Clearly that’s not what they expected! But what did they expect? How fast did they expect it to dry, how long did they expect it to last, etc?

Tony Robbins’ has a formula which conveys this type of thinking:

Satisfaction = Reality – Expectations

If the reality is better than your expectations, you are satisfied. If the reality is less than your expectations, you are dissatisfied.

This formula teaches us that reality isn’t the only place we can improve our offering — we can also improve the expectations we set. Ask your customers where their expectations came from in the first place. If the expectations were contrary to your actual offering, did something in your marketing or your sales process create that expectation? Is your distribution chain is making mistakes representing what your product can do? It can also be helpful to ask what impact the price of your product has on expectations. Sometimes people assume a product at a certain price point will have certain characteristics, even if that’s not necessarily true.

3. If the person is still using your product, ask why? Why haven’t they just switched to another product?

You don’t want them to switch to another product, but you might learn something interesting about your product by asking this question. Someone might say he hates the taste of your product, but stays with it because it’s the only gluten-free protein powder available in his state. Your product may have differentiating aspects that you aren’t even aware of, and that’s good information to have.

4. Ask how you can fix their problem.

Generally, talking to disgruntled customers is more about learning how to improve our overall business than saving that individual customer (though sometimes in doing this, we can save the individual customer, as well.) Studies show that a customer with a major point of dissatisfaction, who complains and is able to be heard and get their issue resolved, will often become a far more loyal customer than one who never had a problem in the first place.

“That’s another great thing about disgruntled customers: they are offering you an opportunity to transform them into your most loyal customers!”

Remember, sometimes just being heard is enough to satisfy a customer. They may be able to live with the problem if they just feel validated and heard. Once you get customer feedback, a personal message letting them know that you understand the issue and are trying to resolve it, and that you appreciate their feedback, can be worth a lot. If the customer is experiencing an acute problem, such as a broken product, you want to address the problem and let the customer know that you are committed to solving the problem, what steps you plan to take and how you’ll keep them apprised of the progress. Ideally you should have one problem “owner”, who is accountable for its resolution.

Lastly, if disgruntled customers are Type 2 Customers and they want something your product or service can’t provide them with, thank the customer for their feedback and advise them on how to be successful in achieving their goal  —  even if it means recommending a competing product or service! While you might not always succeed, every meeting with a disgruntled customer is an opportunity to make and unhappy person happy, and that’s a great feeling!

This article originally appeared on the Howard Tiersky blog
Image Credit: Pexels

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Master the Employee Hierarchy of Needs

Master the Employee Hierarchy of Needs

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Last week, I introduced you to The Customer Hierarchy of Needs based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This week, we focus on our employees. Before you can have a strong customer experience, you must have a good employee experience. So, here are the five levels of the pyramid that make up The Employee Hierarchy of Needs:

    1. The Paycheck: At the base of the pyramid is an employee’s primary need: money. Money is generally the reason people go to work. Without money, employees can’t pay their rent or mortgage, put food on the dinner table, send their kids to college, and more. And often, money is just part of the compensation. Other benefits include insurance, retirement contributions, and other less tangible, yet still important, reasons related to the paycheck.
    2. Alignment with Beliefs and Vision (The Culture): While money may be a basic need, the culture of the organization must meet the employee’s needs and what they value. This motivates them to come to work and helps keep them employed with you. Employees want to feel excited about going to work.
    3. Uniqueness: This is often an overlooked opportunity. One way to get more engagement and productivity out of employees is to recognize and appreciate their individuality and make it part of their jobs. For example, an employee may speak a foreign language. If one of your customers speaks the same language, doesn’t it make sense to let that employee talk to the customer? Whatever skill or talent the employee has, find a way to incorporate it into their job, even if just for a small percentage of the time.

  1. Growth Opportunities: Most employees want to advance their careers. They want to know there will be opportunities to grow, learn, and feel better about themselves. Early in the interview process, there should be discussions about opportunities to grow.
  2. Fulfillment: At the tip of the pyramid model is fulfillment. When employees are fulfilled, it usually means they love their job, who they work with, and even their boss. This corresponds to Emotional Connection on the Customer Hierarchy of Needs. Other words to describe fulfillment include satisfaction, happiness, and completeness – all emotions that potentially drive employee loyalty.

Nobody wants to work in a place that doesn’t emotionally fulfill them. Employees may tolerate a work environment that doesn’t meet their needs beyond a paycheck, but there is little incentive to stay when something better comes along. If you want to create a powerful and positive customer experience, work on the employee experience. Remember, what’s happening inside the organization with employees is felt on the outside by the customer.

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

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Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of January 2024

Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of January 2024Drum roll please…

At the beginning of each month, we will profile the ten articles from the previous month that generated the most traffic to Human-Centered Change & Innovation. Did your favorite make the cut?

But enough delay, here are January’s ten most popular innovation posts:

  1. Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2023 — Curated by Braden Kelley
  2. Creating Organizational Agility — by Howard Tiersky
  3. 5 Simple Steps to Team Alignment — by David Burkus
  4. 5 Essential Customer Experience Tools to Master — by Braden Kelley
  5. Four Ways To Empower Change In Your Organization — by Greg Satell
  6. AI as an Innovation Tool – How to Work with a Deeply Flawed Genius! — by Pete Foley
  7. Top 100 Innovation and Transformation Articles of 2023 — Curated by Braden Kelley
  8. 80% of Psychological Safety Has Nothing to Do With Psychology — by Robyn Bolton
  9. How will you allocate your time differently in 2024? — by Mike Shipulski
  10. Leadership Development Fundamentals – Work Products — by Mike Shipulski

BONUS – Here are five more strong articles published in December that continue to resonate with people:

If you’re not familiar with Human-Centered Change & Innovation, we publish 4-7 new articles every week built around innovation and transformation insights from our roster of contributing authors and ad hoc submissions from community members. Get the articles right in your Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin feeds too!

Have something to contribute?

Human-Centered Change & Innovation is open to contributions from any and all innovation and transformation professionals out there (practitioners, professors, researchers, consultants, authors, etc.) who have valuable human-centered change and innovation insights to share with everyone for the greater good. If you’d like to contribute, please contact me.

P.S. Here are our Top 40 Innovation Bloggers lists from the last four years:

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Master the Customer Hierarchy of Needs

Embrace Customer Expectations

Master the Customer Hierarchy of Needs

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who created a model for understanding human behavior. Specifically, he was interested in what motivated people, and he devised five levels in the shape of a pyramid representing each of those needs. For those who need a refresher in psychology, those levels, starting with the basic needs at the bottom and working their way toward the top, are physiological needs (such as food, water and sleep), safety, love and belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization.

I’ve been thinking about a similar model for customers. I’m not a psychologist, and I’ve not done formal research on this idea, but I’ve been studying customer and employee experience in some form for more than 40 years. I’ve identified five areas (at least) that are important to customers when they buy from you and put them into logical order. So, here is ‘The Customer Hierarchy Of Needs’:

Customer Hierarchy of Needs

1. Products that Work – We’re starting at the bottom of the pyramid and working our way up. This is the base, and it’s simple: whatever you sell must do what you promise it will do. It doesn’t matter how great your customer service and experience (CX) are, if the product or service doesn’t work, customers will find an alternative.

2. Alignment in Beliefs – Your mission and vision statements are your beliefs. Your customers shouldn’t have to read those statements to know what they are. They should experience them when they do business with you. They will quickly learn how you treat them. If they like the experience, they align with you and what you stand for. While that can be enough, they may also enjoy doing business with you because of something that may or may not be in your mission and vision statements. That is a cause, charity or community activity your company or brand is involved with or contributes to. It adds to the emotional connection you’re trying to achieve with your customers.

3. Trust and Safety – If the company or brand has a bad reputation, getting and keeping customers will be tough. Even customers willing to take a chance may eventually experience what others have warned them about. Trust and safety belong together, but let’s first discuss trust. A sense of trust comes from different areas that can include (but are not limited to) a good reputation, positive reviews and ratings, customer-friendly policies (like easy returns), simple and friction-less processes, fast response times and friendly, helpful employees. Safety comes from assurances, including data privacy, secure websites, safe physical environments and more. Even if you have products that work—the basic need—without trust and safety, you might not be able to keep your customers past the first sale, assuming you have any at all.

4. Feeling Appreciated – Every customer willing to pay you for your goods and services deserves to feel appreciated. If you don’t acknowledge the customer with a simple thank you, they may not notice the first time. But there will be a point at which they feel underappreciated, and when they do, you put yourself at risk of losing them. Never miss an opportunity to express appreciation to your customers.

5. Emotional Connection – This is where you move customers from being satisfied to becoming loyal. Satisfied customers come back until something better comes along. Loyal customers come back because they like doing business with you and have made an emotional connection with you. They know your product works, they trust you, you make them feel confident (and safe) when engaging with you, they believe you have a good company and there may even be a cause or charity you mutually support, and every time they interact with you, they feel appreciated. At that point, your customers are feeling emotionally connected to you. Trust and appreciation are emotions. When all the boxes are ticked, you have the emotional connection that drives customer loyalty, advocacy and evangelism.

I could have written an entire article—or even a chapter in a book—on each of these five customer needs. Consider this article as a conversation starter. Perhaps you can add to this list of customer needs. Just because Maslow had five in his model doesn’t mean we are limited to that number.

Next week I’ll cover a similar concept, but instead of customers, I’ll focus on ‘The Employee Hierarchy Of Needs’. Stay tuned!

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com

Image Credits: Shep Hyken

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Win Customers Not Arguments

Win Customers Not Arguments

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

In a confrontation with a customer, you have a goal: win the customer, not the argument. I’ve written about this before, and it’s worth coming back to this topic from another angle with a different example.

First, an interaction with a customer should never result in an argument. The best people in customer service, sales, or any front-line customer-facing job avoid escalating a confrontation to the level of a dispute. Instead, the best people de-escalate a confrontation to a mutually agreeable solution.

Here’s what I witnessed this week. I was on a plane and noticed that the flight attendant greeting passengers was more interested in telling passengers the rules than offering a warm, friendly greeting as people boarded the plane. There was a woman with a small pack strapped to her belt. It was maybe an inch thick and barely larger than a cell phone. It probably held her phone and maybe her wallet, but it wasn’t big enough for anything else.

Rather than the flight attendant saying, “Welcome aboard,” he pointed at her belt and said, “That’s going to have to go in the overhead or under the seat.”

The passenger said, “I’ve been flying with this for 15 years, and nobody has ever asked me to remove it from my belt.”

The flight attendant replied, “I’ve been flying for 20 years, and I know the rules.”

Shep Hyken Win the Customer Cartoon

So much for trying to win the customer. As I watched this, it was hard for me not to go to the flight attendant to introduce myself and suggest an alternative response that might have been friendlier and helped him convey his message. First, he could have extended a warm greeting. Then, he could have worded his statement as a friendly request rather than an order.

How is this different from what I’ve written about in the past? First, the customer (or passenger) didn’t walk on the plane with a bad attitude. She wasn’t coming into the conversation upset or angry. She didn’t have a complaint that eventually could turn into an argument. The opposite was happening. The flight attendant started it. Even if he was right and had to enforce a rule, he could have approached his request in a friendly manner that included an attitude of diplomacy and an explanation. Instead, he started the confrontation with an aggressive tone and a command that put the customer on the defensive and made the passengers around her uncomfortable.

There’s no good ending to this story. The passenger complied, but the employee never made things right. His angry and militant attitude continued throughout the flight.

It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s not about blame. It’s about a customer-focused, friendly approach that doesn’t taint the experience.

Image Credits: Shep Hyken, Pexels

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Customer Journeys and the Technology Adoption Lifecycle

Customer Journeys and the Technology Adoption Lifecycle

GUEST POST from Geoffrey A. Moore

Like everything else in this Darwinian world of ours, customer journeys evolve with changes in the environment. Ever since the advent of the semiconductor, a compelling source of such changes has been disruptive digital technology. Although we are all eager to embrace its benefits, markets must first work through their adoption life cycles, during which different buying personas come to the fore at different stages, with each one on a very different kind of journey.

So, if you plan to catch the next wave and sell the next big thing, you’re going to need to adjust your customer journey playbook as you go along. Here’s a recap of what is in store for you.

Customer Journeys in the Early Market

The early market buying personas are the visionary and the technology enthusiast, the former eager to leverage disruption to gain first-mover competitive advantage, the latter excited to participate in the latest and greatest thing. Both are on a journey of discovery.

Technology enthusiasts need to get as close to the product as possible, seeing demos and alpha-testing prototypes as soon as they are released. They are not looking to be sold (for one thing, they have no money)—they are looking to educate themselves in order to be a reliable advisor to their visionary colleague. The key is to garner them privileged access to the technical whizzes in your own enterprise and, once under NDA, to share with them the wondrous roadmap you have in mind.

Visionaries are on a different path. They want to get as clear an understanding as possible of what makes the disruptive technology so different, to see whether such a difference could be a game changer in their circumstances. This is an exercise in imagineering. It will involve discussing hypothetical use cases, and applying first principles, which means you need to bring the smartest people in your company to the table, people who can not only communicate the magic of what you have but who can also keep up with the visionary’s vision as well.

Once this journey is started, you need to guide it toward a project, not a product sale. It is simply too early to make any kind of product promise that you can reliably keep. Not only is the paint not yet dry on your own offer, but also the partner ecosystem is as yet non-existent, so the only way a whole product can be delivered is via a dedicated project team. To up the stakes even further, visionaries aren’t interested in any normal productivity improvements, they are looking to leapfrog the competition with something astounding, so a huge amount of custom work will be required. This is all well and good provided you have a project-centric contract that doesn’t leave you on the hook for all the extra labor involved.

Customer Journeys to Cross the Chasm

The buying personas on the other side of the chasm are neither visionaries nor technology enthusiasts. Rather, they are pragmatists, and to be really specific, they are pragmatists in pain. Unlike early market customers, they are not trying to get ahead, they are trying to get themselves out of a jam. In such a state, they could care less about your product, and they do not want to meet your engineers or engage in any pie-in-the-sky discussions of what the future may hold. All they want to do is find a way out of their pain.

This is a journey of diagnosis and prescription. They have a problem which, given conventional remedies, is not really solvable. They are making do with patchwork solutions, but the overall situation is deteriorating, and they know they need help. Sadly, their incumbent vendors are not able to provide it, so despite their normal pragmatist hesitation about committing to a vendor they don’t know and a solution that has yet to be proven, they are willing to take a chance—provided, that is, that:

  • you demonstrate that you understand their problem in sufficient depth to be credible as a solution provider, and
  • that you commit to bringing the entire solution to the table, even when it involves orchestrating with partners to do so.

To do so, your first job is to engage with the owner of the problem process in a dialog about what is going on. During these conversations, you demonstrate your credibility by anticipating the prospective customer’s issues and referencing other customers who have faced similar challenges. Once prospects have assured themselves that you appreciate the magnitude of their problem and that you have expertise to address its challenges, then (and only then) will they want to hear about your products and services.

As the vendor, therefore, you are differentiating on experience and domain expertise, ideally by bringing someone to the table who has worked in the target market segment and walked in your prospective customer’s shoes. Once you have established credibility by so doing, then you must show how you have positioned the full force of your disruptive product to address the very problem that besets your target market. Of course, you know that your product is far more capable than this, and you also know you have promised your investors global domination, not a niche market solution. But for right now, to cross the chasm, you forsake all that and become laser-focused on demolishing the problem at hand. Do that for the first customer, and they will tell others. Do that for the next, and they will tell more. By the time you have done this four or five times, your phone will start ringing. But to get to this point, you need to be customer-led, not product-led.

Customer Journeys Inside the Tornado.

The tornado is that point in the technology adoption life cycle when the pragmatist community shifts from fear of going too soon to fear of missing out. As a consequence, they all rush to catch up. Even without a compelling first use case, they commit resources to the new category. Thus, for the first time in the history of the category, prospective customers have budget allocated before the salesperson calls. (In the early market, there was no budget at all—the visionary had to create it. In the chasm-crossing scenario, there is budget, but it is being spent on patchwork fixes with legacy solutions and needs to get reallocated before a deal can be closed.)
Budget is allocated to the department that will purchase and support the new offer, not the ones who will actually use it (although they will no doubt get chargebacks at some point). That means for IT offerings the target customer is the technical buyer and the CIO, the former who will make the product decision, the latter who will make the vendor decision. Ideally, the two will coincide, but when they don’t, the vendor choice usually prevails.

Now, one thing we know about budgets is that once they have been allocated they will get spent. These customers are on a buying mission journey. They produce RFPs to let them compare products and vet companies, and they don’t want any vendor to get too close to them during the process. Sales cycles are super-competitive, and product bake-offs are not uncommon. This means you need to bring your best systems engineers to the table, armed with killer demos, supported by sales teams, armed with battle cards that highlight competitor strengths and weaknesses and how to cope with the former and exploit the latter. There is no customer intimacy involved.

What is at stake, instead, is simply winning the deal. Here account mapping can make a big difference. Who is the decision maker really? Who are the influencers? Who has the inside track? You need a champion on the inside who can give you the real scoop. And at the end of the sales cycle, you can expect a major objection to your proposal, a real potential showstopper, where you will have to find some very creative way to close the deal and get it off the table. That is how market share battles are won.

Customer Journeys on Main Street

On Main Street, you are either the incumbent or a challenger. If the latter, your best bet is to follow a variation on the chasm-crossing playbook, searching out a use case where the incumbent is not well positioned and the process owner is getting frustrated—as discussed above. For incumbents, on the other hand, it is a completely different playbook.

The persona that matters most on Main Street is the end user, regardless of whether they have budget or buying authority. Increasing their productivity is what creates the ROI that justifies any additional purchases, not to mention retaining the current subscription. This calls for a journey of continuous improvement.

Such a journey rewards two value disciplines on the vendor’s part—customer intimacy and operational excellence. The first is much aided by the advent of telemetry which can track product usage by user and identify opportunities for improvement. Telemetric data can feed a customer health score which allows the support team to see where additional attention is most needed. Supplying the attention requires operational excellence, and once again technology innovation is changing the game, this time through product-led prompts, now amplified by generative AI commentary. Finally, sitting atop such infrastructure is the increasingly powerful customer success function whose role is to connect with the middle management in charge, discuss with them current health score issues and their remediation, and explore opportunities for adding users, incorporating product extensions, and automating adjacent use cases.

Summing up

The whole point of customer journeys done right is to start with the customer, not with the sales plan. That said, where the customer is in their adoption life cycle defines the kind of journey they are most likely to be on. One size does not fit all, so it behooves the account team to place its bets as best it can and then course correct from there.
That’s what I think. What do you think?

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Top 100 Innovation and Transformation Articles of 2023

Top 100 Innovation and Transformation Articles of 2023

2021 marked the re-birth of my original Blogging Innovation blog as a new blog called Human-Centered Change and Innovation.

Many of you may know that Blogging Innovation grew into the world’s most popular global innovation community before being re-branded as InnovationExcellence.com and being ultimately sold to DisruptorLeague.com.

Thanks to an outpouring of support I’ve ignited the fuse of this new multiple author blog around the topics of human-centered change, innovation, transformation and design.

I feel blessed that the global innovation and change professional communities have responded with a growing roster of contributing authors and more than 17,000 newsletter subscribers.

To celebrate we’ve pulled together the Top 100 Innovation and Transformation Articles of 2023 from our archive of over 1,800 articles on these topics.

We do some other rankings too.

We just published the Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2023 and as the volume of this blog has grown we have brought back our monthly article ranking to complement this annual one.

But enough delay, here are the 100 most popular innovation and transformation posts of 2023.

Did your favorite make the cut?

1. Fear is a Leading Indicator of Personal Growth – by Mike Shipulski

2. The Education Business Model Canvas – by Arlen Meyers

3. Act Like an Owner – Revisited! – by Shep Hyken

4. Free Innovation Maturity Assessment – by Braden Kelley

5. The Role of Stakeholder Analysis in Change Management – by Art Inteligencia

6. What is Human-Centered Change? – by Braden Kelley

7. Sustaining Imagination is Hard – by Braden Kelley

8. The One Movie All Electric Car Designers Should Watch – by Braden Kelley

9. 50 Cognitive Biases Reference – Free Download – by Braden Kelley

10. A 90% Project Failure Rate Means You’re Doing it Wrong – by Mike Shipulski

11. No Regret Decisions: The First Steps of Leading through Hyper-Change – by Phil Buckley

12. Reversible versus Irreversible Decisions – by Farnham Street

13. Three Maps to Innovation Success – by Robyn Bolton

14. Why Most Corporate Innovation Programs Fail (And How To Make Them Succeed) – by Greg Satell

15. The Paradox of Innovation Leadership – by Janet Sernack

16. Innovation Management ISO 56000 Series Explained – by Diana Porumboiu

17. An Introduction to Journey Maps – by Braden Kelley

18. Sprint Toward the Innovation Action – by Mike Shipulski

19. Marriott’s Approach to Customer Service – by Shep Hyken

20. Should a Bad Grade in Organic Chemistry be a Doctor Killer? – NYU Professor Fired for Giving Students Bad Grades – by Arlen Meyers, M.D.

21. How Networks Power Transformation – by Greg Satell

22. Are We Abandoning Science? – by Greg Satell

23. A Tipping Point for Organizational Culture – by Janet Sernack

24. Latest Interview with the What’s Next? Podcast – with Braden Kelley

25. Scale Your Innovation by Mapping Your Value Network – by John Bessant

26. Leveraging Emotional Intelligence in Change Leadership – by Art Inteligencia

27. Visual Project Charter™ – 35″ x 56″ (Poster Size) and JPG for Online Whiteboarding – by Braden Kelley

28. Unintended Consequences. The Hidden Risk of Fast-Paced Innovation – by Pete Foley

29. A Shortcut to Making Strategic Trade-Offs – by Geoffrey A. Moore

30. 95% of Work is Noise – by Mike Shipulski


Build a common language of innovation on your team


31. 8 Strategies to Future-Proofing Your Business & Gaining Competitive Advantage – by Teresa Spangler

32. The Nine Innovation Roles – by Braden Kelley

33. The Fail Fast Fallacy – by Rachel Audige

34. What is the Difference Between Signals and Trends? – by Art Inteligencia

35. A Top-Down Open Innovation Approach – by Geoffrey A. Moore

36. FutureHacking – Be Your Own Futurist – by Braden Kelley

37. Five Key Digital Transformation Barriers – by Howard Tiersky

38. The Malcolm Gladwell Trap – by Greg Satell

39. Four Characteristics of High Performing Teams – by David Burkus

40. ACMP Standard for Change Management® Visualization – 35″ x 56″ (Poster Size) – Association of Change Management Professionals – by Braden Kelley

41. 39 Digital Transformation Hacks – by Stefan Lindegaard

42. The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Future Employment – by Chateau G Pato

43. A Triumph of Artificial Intelligence Rhetoric – Understanding ChatGPT – by Geoffrey A. Moore

44. Imagination versus Knowledge – Is imagination really more important? – by Janet Sernack

45. A New Innovation Sphere – by Pete Foley

46. The Pyramid of Results, Motivation and Ability – Changing Outcomes, Changing Behavior – by Braden Kelley

47. Three HOW MIGHT WE Alternatives That Actually Spark Creative Ideas – by Robyn Bolton

48. Innovation vs. Invention vs. Creativity – by Braden Kelley

49. Where People Go Wrong with Minimum Viable Products – by Greg Satell

50. Will Artificial Intelligence Make Us Stupid? – by Shep Hyken


Accelerate your change and transformation success


51. A Global Perspective on Psychological Safety – by Stefan Lindegaard

52. Customer Service is a Team Sport – by Shep Hyken

53. Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2022 – Curated by Braden Kelley

54. A Flop is Not a Failure – by John Bessant

55. Generation AI Replacing Generation Z – by Braden Kelley

56. ‘Innovation’ is Killing Innovation. How Do We Save It? – by Robyn Bolton

57. Ten Ways to Make Time for Innovation – by Nick Jain

58. The Five Keys to Successful Change – by Braden Kelley

59. Back to Basics: The Innovation Alphabet – by Robyn Bolton

60. The Role of Stakeholder Analysis in Change Management – by Art Inteligencia

61. Will CHATgpt make us more or less innovative? – by Pete Foley

62. 99.7% of Innovation Processes Miss These 3 Essential Steps – by Robyn Bolton

63. Rethinking Customer Journeys – by Geoffrey A. Moore

64. Reasons Change Management Frequently Fails – by Greg Satell

65. The Experiment Canvas™ – 35″ x 56″ (Poster Size) – by Braden Kelley

66. AI Has Already Taken Over the World – by Braden Kelley

67. How to Lead Innovation and Embrace Innovative Leadership – by Diana Porumboiu

68. Five Questions All Leaders Should Always Be Asking – by David Burkus

69. Latest Innovation Management Research Revealed – by Braden Kelley

70. A Guide to Effective Brainstorming – by Diana Porumboiu

71. Unlocking the Power of Imagination – How Humans and AI Can Collaborate for Innovation and Creativity – by Teresa Spangler

72. Rise of the Prompt Engineer – by Art Inteligencia

73. Taking Care of Yourself is Not Impossible – by Mike Shipulski

74. Design Thinking Facilitator Guide – A Crash Course in the Basics – by Douglas Ferguson

75. What Have We Learned About Digital Transformation Thus Far? – by Geoffrey A. Moore

76. Building a Better Change Communication Plan – by Braden Kelley

77. How to Determine if Your Problem is Worth Solving – by Mike Shipulski

78. Increasing Organizational Agility – by Braden Kelley

79. Mystery of Stonehenge Solved – by Braden Kelley

80. Agility is the 2023 Success Factor – by Soren Kaplan


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81. The Five Gifts of Uncertainty – by Robyn Bolton

82. 3 Innovation Types Not What You Think They Are – by Robyn Bolton

83. Using Limits to Become Limitless – by Rachel Audige

84. What Disruptive Innovation Really Is – by Geoffrey A. Moore

85. Today’s Customer Wants to Go Fast – by Shep Hyken

86. The 6 Building Blocks of Great Teams – by David Burkus

87. Unlock Hundreds of Ideas by Doing This One Thing – Inspired by Hollywood – by Robyn Bolton

88. Moneyball and the Beginning, Middle, and End of Innovation – by Robyn Bolton

89. There are Only 3 Reasons to Innovate – Which One is Yours? – by Robyn Bolton

90. A Shortcut to Making Strategic Trade-Offs – by Geoffrey A. Moore

91. Customer Experience Personified – by Braden Kelley

92. 3 Steps to a Truly Terrific Innovation Team – by Robyn Bolton

93. Building a Positive Team Culture – by David Burkus

94. Apple Watch Must Die – by Braden Kelley

95. Kickstarting Change and Innovation in Uncertain Times – by Janet Sernack

96. Take Charge of Your Mind to Reclaim Your Potential – by Janet Sernack

97. Psychological Safety, Growth Mindset and Difficult Conversations to Shape the Future – by Stefan Lindegaard

98. 10 Ways to Rock the Customer Experience In 2023 – by Shep Hyken

99. Artificial Intelligence is Forcing Us to Answer Some Very Human Questions – by Greg Satell

100. 23 Ways in 2023 to Create Amazing Experiences – by Shep Hyken

Curious which article just missed the cut? Well, here it is just for fun:

101. Why Business Strategies Should Not Be Scientific – by Greg Satell

These are the Top 100 innovation and transformation articles of 2023 based on the number of page views. If your favorite Human-Centered Change & Innovation article didn’t make the cut, then send a tweet to @innovate and maybe we’ll consider doing a People’s Choice List for 2023.

If you’re not familiar with Human-Centered Change & Innovation, we publish 1-6 new articles every week focused on human-centered change, innovation, transformation and design insights from our roster of contributing authors and ad hoc submissions from community members. Get the articles right in your Facebook feed or on Twitter or LinkedIn too!

Editor’s Note: Human-Centered Change & Innovation is open to contributions from any and all the innovation & transformation professionals out there (practitioners, professors, researchers, consultants, authors, etc.) who have a valuable insight to share with everyone for the greater good. If you’d like to contribute, contact us.

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