Category Archives: Customer Experience

What is Influence: Thoughts on the addictive nature of Twitter

For the longest time I resisted joining and using Twitter.  I did not see the point and did not need another digital time-suck. mannequin1

Recently, for a couple of reasons I joined the movement and I have to admit Twitter is a fascinating microcosm.  Here I will rant a bit on one specific aspect of the whole experience.  I believe that aspect to be the main reason behind Twitters success, considering the ridiculously simple value proposition – micro blogging or expressing and sharing thoughts and content in 140 characters or less.

In one word … INFLUENCE!

Being a “Top Influencer,” often somehow ratified by Forbes or other entities of authority, seems to be a badge of honor on Twitter.  Implicitly, influence is being sold.  It is being measured by the number of “followers” one has.

Let’s step back and think about this for a bit.

It is easier to think about influence in the traditional, off-line, real-world sense.  The dictionary defines influence as: ‘the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.”

When going in my mind through people who I consider influencers based on the above definition, I come up with the following:

  • Elvis Presley – sold 207 million records – this is REAL influence; people went out and parted with their hard-earned money willingly; they were influenced by Elvis
  • Mahatma Gandhi – inspired civil rights movement and millions of people – this is REAL influence that has made a real difference in people’s lives
  • Oprah – hugely influential media personality and business woman – has REAL influence on millions of TV viewers; an aspiring writer who appears on Oprah’s show and is endorsed by her, becomes an overnight best-selling author.

This list can go on, you get the point.

Now let’s return to all the so-called “influencers” on Twitter and other Social Media outlets.  Compared to the REAL influencers listed above, those self-proclaimed social media influencers seem laughable.  “I have 120K followers and I am a Top 50 Forbes influencer.”

So what?  What does that mean?  What is the real-life effect of this influence?  OK, 120,000 people have clicked the ‘Follow’ button on Twitter.  Do those people read your tweets?  How many do?  Of those people, how many click on the links you are frantically blasting out?  Of those people, how many change their minds or better yet, HOW MANY PEOPLE ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING IN THE REAL WORLD?

Is Social Media influence measured with meaningful KPI’s?  ‘Number of followers’ is a meaningless vanity metric.

I am not saying, this “influencer-follower’ phenomenon is not real.

Twitter has created an interesting online expression of a very basic human need which is rooted in our DNA and is explained by Evolutionary Psychology – the need to influence and control our environment.  To the extent that we are social beings and our environment is made up of other humans, it makes sense that we are biologically compelled to influence or control them.

This urge is natural.  I just find the blatant bragging about influencing others as an end goal in itself pretty disturbing …

What do you think?

3 Key Research Principles for Business Success

In this day and age of ‘data’ and ‘insights’, empirical research has taken its rightful place in the pantheon of useful business tools.  With that comes the potential for overusing the term to the point of diluting its meaning.

With that in mind, let’s examine two ways of talking about “research”:

THE SILLY WAY

– “Survey says …” – Richard Dawson, Family Feud host

– Prefacing any biased statement or personal belief with the phrase “research has shown that … ”

– You ask the librarian if they have a certain book available and she says “Let me research that for you” (meaning “I will go and check”)

– “4 out of 5 dentists recommend …”

THE MEANINGFUL WAY

– Empirical (primary) research in the context of business practices today (marketing research, user research, usability research, etc.) has its roots in the the philosophical traditions of Empiricism.

– The great Empiricist David Hume used his famous  question “How do you know?” to examine claims about the world.  This question ended up being know as the “empiricists’ wrecking ball”

– According to Hume, the only valid knowledge on how the world works comes through our senses and can be experienced and shared by individuals.  For example, we know how cold it is outside by the shared sensation of our skin receptors and our visual perception of the thermometer reading.

– Empirical, or primary, research is based on the foundation described above

– There is a wrong way and a right way of doing empirical research

– Research done in Academia has provided the basic tools for research done in the business arena

– Practical research done for business purposes and basic research done in Academia are two very different ball games with different rules

– Academic research aims to build basic knowledge

– Business-related research aims to provide practical information to support business decisions

THREE KEY RESEARCH PRINCIPLES for Customer Experience research

– Research the end-to-end customer experience,  all customer touch points (360 view)

– Research customer experience longitudinally, as it evolves through time (Lifetime Customer Value)

– Triangulate metrics to increase confidence in research findings

On the Origins of Two Business Buzz Words

motivation

We all have heard about employee motivation and a stimulating work environment. Those sound quite positive … until you look into the origin of the words.

MOTIVATE – late Middle English: from Old French motif (adjective used as a noun), from late Latin motivus, from movere ‘to move’ (Oxford Dictionaries). So it means to MOVE.

And what makes one move according to the good folks of times past? One moves with the help of a “stimulus.”

STIMULUS – late 17th century: from Latin, ‘goad, spur’ (Oxford Dictionaries).

Yes, it stands for the sharp instrument used in the picture below …

ox-goad P.S. This post was inspired by a conversation I had with my father, Boris Genov, who is a very learned man …

Be My Friend: A personal relationships framework for building a business

The Big Idea in a Nutshell

  • Creating customers that tell good things about your products and services to others, i.e. your promoters, is an excellent business goal.
  • An even better business goal is to help customers build an emotional connection or relationship with your products and services.
  • This approach will facilitate the creation of customer lifetime value (CLV) which focuses on long-term customers satisfaction and commitment rather than short-term sales.
  • The premise here is that people build relationships with brands, products, and services just like they build relationships with other people.
  • Social Exchange Theory explains how personal relationships operate on the basis of costs and benefits.
  • The theory is applicable in this case because it uses an “economic model of costs and benefits, much like the marketplace.” (Social Psychology, p.388).

Social Exchange Theory

“Social exchange theory states that how people feel (positively or negatively) about their relationships will depend on their perception of the rewards they receive from the relationship and their perception of the costs they incur, as well as their perception of what kind of relationship they deserve and the probability that they could have a better relationship with someone else. … We buy the best relationship we can get, one that gives us the most value for our emotional dollar.” (Social Psychology, p.388).

Social Exchange Theory-2

Practical Takeaways

  • In order to increase the number of loyal customers who influence other to become customers, we need to design the products and services in such a way as to facilitate a “relationship” between the customer and the product or service.
  • These relationships involve perceptions of both benefits and costs.
  • These relationships involve emotions that need to be understood and acknowledged.
  • These relationships go though phases that have to be understood and managed.
  • Long lasting relationships between customers and products and services increase customer lifetime value.

The power of a skilled BRAND to turn us into puppets

ImageI am a staunch individualist!

I have never been one to follow trends, follow the crowd, or allow myself to be brainwashed by advertising.  At least that’s how I see myself.  This makes the following story all that more interesting …

One morning in the very recent past, I was to meet a friend for coffee early in the morning at Pete’s Coffee.  I got there a bit before my friend and was eager to get some strong coffee in me.  You see, we have a toddler and an infant at home and the lack of sleep has turned my wife and I into zombies who function only on strong coffee.

So, I approached the counter and ordered a tall latte with an extra shot of espresso … The barista looked funny at me and repeated my order back to me – “a medium latte with extra shot.”  I repeated back to him – “yes … a tall latte …” He corrected me again – “you mean MEDIUM.”

At this point my mind cleared up a bit and I realized, much to my amazement, that I was not at Starbucks but at Pete’s.  It must have felt insulting to the Pete’s barista that I was confusing their establishment with the competition.  I, on my part, was slightly embarrassed and, as a result, motivated to figure out what had just gone on.

The Psychologist in me fairly quickly figured things out.  You see, extensive research in Behavioral Science has shown that many times we move around the world on auto pilot, driven by habit.  For example, have you ever headed for place A, fell deep in thought about something, and ended up at place B, just because place B is the one you usually go to?  A recent study reported by David Rock, shows that “humans are on autopilot nearly half of the time.”

What had happened to me was that during one of my (sleep deprived) autopilot mode episodes, I was under the influence of a powerful brand – Starbucks.  I had used the Starbucks lingo at Pete’s Coffee!  Moreover, this was the lingo that I had stubbornly refused to use during my first visits to Starbucks!

To me, that is an excellent example of how effective brands get under our skin – they pull the strings while we are asleep at the wheel … Scary?

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The obesity epidemic, Evolutionary Psychology, and product success

The world economy is stagnating.  Many traditional industries like manufacturing, housing, and construction, which brought world prosperity in the 18th and 19th centuries, are in miserable decline.  Yet, there is a bright spot and it is innovation and, more specifically, software product innovation in the context of the internet and cloud computing.

Software as a Service is growing fast, mobile application development is exploding.  One successful website like Pinterest, for example, spawns a multitude of copycats.  So how is one to pick from all those new and innovative products and services out there?

The two main questions before any successful innovation are:

1. Why should I, the consumer, choose to use this product and part with some of my hard-earned money in the process?  The alternative is not using it at all.

2. Why should I pick this product among all similar products out there?

These questions have been the domain of Marketing and, more recently, Behavioral Economics.  Those two fields are built around persuading consumers to use products and services and to choose one product or service over all the rest.  They highlight the value of products.  They re-frame the value of products.  They also invent the value of products.

Here I want to talk about a more foundational field, a field that has provided some basic axioms about human behavior that have been adopted by Marketing and by Behavioral Economics, among others.  This field is Evolutionary Psychology.

Very simplistically defined, Evolutionary Psychology (EP) is a discipline which explains why human psyche and behavior have developed to be the way they are.  The central tenet of EP is that human behaviors and psychological traits which exist today were the ones that made us more fit to survive and pass on our genes tens of thousands of years ago, in the “environment of evolutionary adaptedness.”

How can this piece of information be helpful in everyday conversation as well in business discussions?  Next time someone claims that a behavior is innate, inborn, or “natural” ask the question: How was that behavior helping our ancestors survive 12,000 years ago?  We are naturally afraid of the dark because 12,000 years ago there were many dangerous things lurking in the dark.  Those humans that were not afraid of the dark, did not heed the dangers, strolled carelessly into the dark, met one of those nasty lurking things and perished thus not passing on the “not afraid of the dark” gene.  Those that carried the “afraid of the dark” gene were more likely to survive and pass it on to their offspring.  In contrast, people are NOT naturally afraid of guns simply because guns did not exist 12,000 years ago when our brain wiring was being formed.  That logic also explains why there are spider phobias and there are no phobias of car doors, although there is a much higher chance of accidentally smashing one’s thumb while closing the car door than being accidentally bit by a spider.

So what does this all have to do with software product success, let alone with the obesity epidemic?

ORGANICALLY SUCCESSFUL PRODUCTS AND SERVICES ARE THOSE THAT TAP INTO OUR MOST BASIC, EVOLUTIONARILY ADVANTAGEOUS BEHAVIORS AND PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAITS

We can find striking and telling examples in the food and beverage industries.  These industries do not have to convince consumers to eat sweet, fatty, and salty things.  This is because humans are drawn to those substances.  The Evolutionary Psychology explanation is that back when our needs and wants were being hard wired in our brains, sweet and fatty foods were very rare and at the same time were essential for survival (providing energy).  People who craved those foods and sought them out had a better chance of surviving and passing on the “sweet tooth” gene.  Same is true for salt – a rare substance at the time that is essential for our body’s internal balance.

Fast forward 12,000 years and we have the food and beverage industries understanding these basic human cravings and using them to make profits.  In present time, the combination of those inborn human cravings and the abundance of substances that were once rare leads to weight gain, obesity, and the hosts of health, social, and economic problems that come with those.  Now there are movements that are trying to have people STOP overusing products high in sugar, fat, and salt.  Wouldn’t that be the dream of any business person – to have consumers be addicted to their products?  Here the problem becomes one of differentiation – why should I pick your chocolate bar over the 101 other chocolate bars on the shelf before me?

The author of the Hierarchy of Needs, Abraham Maslow, understood Evolutionary Psychology very well.  In his famous pyramid:

  • The most basic physiological needs tied to survival are at the base. Those include, among others, food, sleep, sex, and homeostasis.  It becomes pretty obvious why the notorious marketing cliche “sex sells’ is so true, along with “sugar sells”, “butter sells”, and “salt sells.”  Any product that satisfies those needs will ALWAYS have powerful appeal to consumers as human beings.
  • The next level of the pyramid is about safety, which includes security of body, family, health, employment, resources, property, and so on.  Products and services associated with these needs are guaranteed to generate a lot of unending demand.
  • The next level is about belonging: friendship, family, intimacy.  Have you wondered why Facebook is so successful?
  • The next level is about esteem: self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of and by others.  At this point, it stars getting tougher to connect products and services to the needs – not impossible, just more positioning and messaging work.  It is also a taller order to invent new products and services that meet those needs.  Maybe productivity software, for example, falls in this category.
  • The highest level is about self-actualization … and who the heck knows what this means 🙂

Hopefully this post have provided some food for product innovation and marketing thought.

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You cannot design an experience

When the pioneer of customer loyalty research writes about customer experience in the Harvard Business Review, you’d better listen.  In 2005 Fred Reichheld (who is also the father of the Net Promoter score) co-authored an article called “The Three D’s of Customer Experience.”  In this very insightful and even visionary piece, the authors point out that “[e]ighty percent of companies believe they deliver a superior customer experience, but only 8 percent of their customers agree.” Then, the authors proceed to outline three ways to remedy this situation. According to them, the following three behaviors set the 8% of companies which got it right apart from the rest:

  1. “They design the right offers and experiences for the right customers.
  2. They deliver these propositions by focusing the entire company on them with an emphasis on cross-functional collaboration.
  3. They develop their capabilities to please customers again and again—by such means as revamping the planning process, training people in how to create new customer propositions, and establishing direct accountability for the customer experience.”

I completely agree with the spirit of those three statements, but have a bone to pick with the phrasing of #1.

I submit that no one can actually design a human “experience!”  Experience is an emergent property of the interaction of people with products and services.  If you take the definition of “customer experience” outlined in another post here seriously, you will know what I mean.  “Experience” is a subjective state that is the result of several conditions – (1) the person with his or her personality, dispositions, moods, needs, and so on; (2) the situation or context of use, and (3) the product or service in question.

Companies can only control their products and services.  The really good consumer-centric companies also have gained deep knowledge about and empathy for their users or, specifically, their personality, dispositions, moods, needs, and so on.  It is only when you develop products and services based on such knowledge and when you constantly track consumer feedback and adjust accordingly, can you HOPE to affect the consumer experience positively.  There are no guarantees, but there is always hope …

Defining “Experience” – Part 2

In the previous post, I discussed the dictionary definition of the word “experience” and offered my own definitions for the phrases “customer experience” and “good customer experience.”  Now, let’s talk about a much more important and practically relevant definition of customer experience – the operational definition.  That is, how are we going to measure experience?  We need an operational definition here because “experience” is not a physical object or property that can be perceived and measured directly.  Unlike temperature, which we can perceive directly through our senses and have devices for measuring directly (thermometers), “experience” is a concept, a construct, or more simply put, an idea.  As such, we need to all agree on valid and reliable ways of measuring it.

Before we get to that point, however, we need to address another fundamental question – when it comes to “experience”, are we talking about a single property, aspect, dimension?  I submit that we are indeed not!

Customer experience is a complex, multidimensional concept and anyone who says the opposite runs into the possibility of sounding like one of the cast of characters of the Blind Men and the Elephant fable:

The gist of the story is the following.  A group of blind dudes were tasked with describing what an elephant is.  Each man touched only one part of the elephant.  Then they reported to the group their definition of what an elephant is …

After each one presented his vase as to what an elephant is, there was no agreement:

– For the one who felt the trunk, an elephant was a snake

– For the one that felt the tusk – a spear

– …. a fan

– … a wall

– … a tree

– … rope

Needless to say, they were all confused and not too productive …  We do not really want to be in the same position when it comes to defining “customer experience.”  If one person defines experience as the intent to recommend a product or service (Net Promoter Score), another defines it as usability or ease of use, another as “perceived value”, etc. things can get messy pretty quickly.  The results will be an uninformed approach to measuring this key business metric, lack of reliable and valid data, and ultimately lack of the desired business results.

Now that we have established that “customer experience” is a multidimensional construct, what are the dimensions.  Do we just pick some out of this air?  Nope – here we are lucky to have a well-researched, validate and widely accepted model from Psychology – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

Following Maslow’s model, I am offering this visualization of the structure of customer experience:

If we make the analogy between a product or service and a person (in Maslow’s model), we can see how the model is applicable to the topic at hand.  If a product/service does not satisfy a customer need, it will not survive long in the marketplace – just like a human’s chance of survival are limited if her most basic physiological needs of food, water, sleep, etc. are not met.  In the marketplace, big companies with deep pockets can keep a useless product on life support through expensive marketing means for quite a while, but this is mere survival and not thriving.

If the product/service addresses a customer need, the next question is: What is the experience like?  Does it just meet expectations by working as promised and being easy and intuitive to use?  If yes, this corresponds to the middle three layers of Maslow’s hierarchy.  Through longer-terms use, if the need is persistent and the product performance is acceptable, a usage habit can develop which can increase the product’s Lifetime Customer Value.  That is, people will purchase it year over year or will keep subscribing to the service.

And finally, if the product or service goes above and beyond customers’ expectations, it will generate strong positive emotions resulting in loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.  An experience like that results in customers spontaneously saying “Wow that was so good!”  The next day, around the water cooler, they will recommend the product to their friends and colleagues.

All of the above are, of course, hypotheses based on research from the field of Psychology and years of practical industry experience.  These hypotheses need to be tested, both with the rigor of academia, and the pragmatism of the business world.

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Defining “Experience”

‘You cannot manage what you cannot measure’

Kaplan and Norton, 1992, “The balanced scorecard: Measures that drive performance”, Harvard Business Review, Jan – Feb, pp. 71 – 80

‘You cannot measure what you have not defined’

George Kaempf, 2006, Personal Communication

The term “experience”, used in the context of business, design, innovation, marketing, and so on, has become so trendy and so overused, that it is in danger of becoming a meaningless cliche.  You will probably agree with me that it is worth stepping back and defining the meaning of the operative word in important phrases like: customer experience, consumer experience, user experience, experience design, experience research, and so on and so forth … Why should we care about the meaning of this word?  Simply because nowadays “customer experience” is one of the major levers for achieving business results.  In other words, it is widely belied that the bottom line is positively affected by: improving user experience, creating great customer experiences, measuring consumer experience … you get the point.

Lets start with the dictionary definition of the word and take it from there.  Here is what the Miriam-Webster Online Dictionary tells us about some of the meanings of the word (below I have listed only the relevant ones):

ex·pe·ri·ence

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin experientia – “act of trying”

– the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation

To relate this dictionary definition of “experience” to the business meaning of the word, I offer the following two definitions:

cus·tom·er   ex·pe·ri·ence

– the state of people interacting with products and services to complete jobs, achieve goals, get value and, in doing so, having emotional reactions

good   cus·tom·er   ex·pe·ri·ence

– the state of people interacting with products and services to complete jobs, achieve goals successfully with ease, get value and, in doing so, feeling positive emotions and sharing them with others

What do you think of this definition of “customer experience”?

In subsequent posts, I will examine the operational definition of the term, or the way in which we can measure it.

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