The Culture of Experience

The culture of customer experience is upon us… although very nascent, while there have been a few companies grounded in customer service over the last 20 years they are outliers and not the norm. Most large companies are organized to serve themselves while providing a service or product to the market. Typically, one part of the organization is dedicated to the customer in the context of sales or marketing.

In the customer experience economy, the entire organization needs to be designed to serve customers and deliver a shareable experience. It must be understood throughout the organization the real value of a consumer spending their money and time interacting with a brand. I used to say that all companies are becoming publishers whether they wanted to or not, because the competition and the way that all purchasing has become considered sales cycle was going to force the issue. However, I think that we are now seeing with the proliferation of connections between people and the speed of communication through technology that all companies are now experience providers.

For many years the experience, the interaction, was managed by a division within a Fortune 500 company who looked at the in store or in branch or in restaurant experience and created something that was visually appealing, memorable, pleasant and efficient. The design, well executed, helped consumers know where to stand in line, where to get help or look for specific products. It was staffed with friendly people who could naturally fill in the missing details or connections but most importantly provide a personalized experience or build a personal rapport with the consumer. They made the intuitively inefficient and efficient experience; if the design wasn’t quite right the personal connection filled the gaps.

As technology has replaced many of these branches, stores and human touch points, in part because it’s more cost effective, in part because the speed of the transaction or the convenience for the consumer held sway. Large companies have inarticulately made an effort to increase the number of touch points or tackle the gaps in service as a series of technology and marketing projects. As with all transformations, a serialized and interstitial set of projects never provide the harmony and richness of the experience a consumer demands. Often times when I hear large companies speak about their digital transformation or customer experience projects they feel like how a symphony would be written by series of committees each focused on the instrument they play.

It is the whole experience, in all its dimensions that need to be addressed. For a large company this is an almost achievable amount of organizational alignment required in a short period of time. Most companies have been built over decades and the organizational division, operating principals and culture cannot be rewired overnight. As with most disruption triggered by technology, the initial innovation is obtuse but with great promise. So while the value is well understood, the adoption model follows standard distribution curve, the early adopters take a leap of faith and when the point of leverage to value is understood the majority steps in. In some cases, the adoption curve can be accelerated when “killer” applications can be applied.

In the case of digital transformation, the killer application is personalization. Delivering experience in context, that is relevant and personalized is the key to moving an organization forward. In the case of customer experience and within the experience economy, the accelerant is the ability of large organization to deliver personalized or in contextualized experiences. While it may take a decade or more for a Fortune 500 company to reorganize, we can deliver value today through a more personalized experience.

As expected the organizational changes that will take time to work their way through a company that spent decades building for and organizing around 20th century models can recognize immediate value by through technology recreating the front line staff that helped clients find what they needed, answered questions and most importantly build a sense of intimacy between a consumer and brand.

We’re in the Relationship Business

When I think about the skills required to execute our mission, not only does it include a high level of expertise in the areas of marketing and thought leadership, it also means that we are excellent at building and maintain great relationships with our clients.

If you were asked what does Tahzoo do? Would your answer be; we build great relationships with our customer so we can help them change? Or would it be something like we do digital marketing? Or we’re a customer experience agency?

We are in the relationship business. It just so happens that the primary value add of Tahzoo is we work on customer experience problems. Here are my thoughts on developing a great relationship with your client.

You care for your clients –
Caring is not defined by how you feel, but by how you act. I’d go on to say that it’s a commitment. A commitment to your client’s success, to treat them with respect and to care enough to do your best work on their behalf. If you truly care about your client, you are obligated to find a higher purpose in your relationship with them.

You’re a servant –
You put the client before yourself, before the company and before profit. With a servant’s heart you assist your client in any way necessary to ensure their success. Zig Ziglar, a famous sales trainer used to say “you get what you want by helping others get what they want”.

You’re honest –
Honesty requires courage. Good consultants have opinions and in a respectful way they share their perspective and experience. If the primary goal is to ensure the clients success, then they need to hear from you what you really think. The better the communication, the stronger the relationship; build the trust and have the confidence to engage your customer in the marketplace of ideas.

You make friends –
I make friends with my clients. Many of my clients from my Microsoft days are still friends. Your work is important but a friendship creates a basis for trust. We are a company full of smart and happy people… share your happiness, be friendly and get to know your client.

You’re patient –
The work we do is hard… we are agents of change. Our clients built tremendously successful business over a long period of time and although technology and consumer expectations are changing rapidly, they need time to catch up. Be patient, take the time to explain things and don’t be afraid to stick with your client while they work through the internal challenges of managing change.

You’re loyal –
Trust is a function of consistency over time. The client needs to know that you’ll be with them through and through.

You check in regularly –
If you have a great relationship with your client, then you’re be continuously checking in to ensure that you share a common vision of success. Working together, building together, failing and succeeding together (all while pursuing a common definition of success) is what great relationships are made of.

You have fun –
Find the joy in your work and share it. Enthusiasm is infectious and sometimes your client will need your energy. All great relationships have an element of fun. Smile, laugh and find reasons to celebrate.

Growing a Business

growingabiz

As a young manager at Nordstrom, I was speaking with John Nordstrom one day and he was complimenting me on the great service my department was giving. I was pleased to be receiving the compliment, however I was curious about how he could know that when he’d only spent a limited time on the sales floor with me. So I asked him “how do you know we are giving good service?” He said “happy and well served customers spend more money. When I looked at your numbers, the increases in your sales are a result of good service.” At that time, my department was one of the fastest growing in the company. He was right in that we had a great team, giving great service and it showed in our numbers.
 
One of the core values of the company is that if we care about our employees and care about our customer, we’ll have a company worth caring about.
 
When I think about caring for clients, I think about how they are trusting us with their goals, their work and ultimately their credibility. This is a precious gift and we need to treat that with the honor and respect it deserves. Understanding and exceeding a client’s expectations is the hallmark of good consulting. When we disappoint a client, it’s rarely a blatant violation of their trust, more often it is what I call benign neglect. An apathy or an unwillingness to understand the client at the right level of detail or the unwillingness to do the little extra. At Nordstrom, if I saw someone walk past a messy table and pretend not to notice, I knew that person needed coaching about the importance of doing all the little extras that made up a great experience for our customers.
 
So what are the little extras in our business? First, it starts with building a relationship with your client. Most of my clients, I consider friends. Some better than others, but I build relationships based on trust and exceeding expectations. My goal is always to become a trusted advisor to my clients. Whenever I am asked about secret to building trust, I tell people that trust is a function of consistency over time. When client can depend on you to consistently meet their needs, they will trust you… If you consistently exceed their expectations, you’ll become a “trusted advisor”.  Back to the little extras, prompt return of phone calls or emails. Hand written thank you notes. Being on time and prepared for meetings. Ensuring that your work is client ready or pitch perfect. Ensuring that your team is informed so they can be effective working with your client. There are many ways in which each of us can do the little extras and build trusted relationships.

.Building trust with customers
 
We also employ something we call the employee thermometer with customer centricity and customer satisfaction surveys to understand how we are doing as a company and what needs to be fixed in order to make us a great service organization. These tools are critical to ensure that we have the insights we need to make the right investments in the business.
 
Based on the employee and customer feedback, we are instituting a new role in the company called the Delivery Lead. The Delivery Lead is the single point of accountability within Tahzoo to ensure the quality of our work. In short, the person responsible for making sure we are exceeding client expectations. A DL operates at an account level, overseeing, working on and guiding multiple work streams. It is and will continue to be one of the more important roles within our company as we build our digital transformation business. When we consistently deliver great work for our clients they will trust us with more work.
 
But back to the John Nordstrom story, survey results notwithstanding … how will I know if you’re building trusted relationships and do the little extras to make a client feel appreciated? I’ll see it reflected in the numbers.

On Commitment

oncommitment

Commitment is a powerful word. I have been reflecting on that word a bit recently. When I started Tahzoo I had a dream that we could build a company that would change the way that companies engage with their customers. I have been and will be committed to that dream until we have accomplished our mission.

I’m reminded of my time at Nordstrom, when I first started with the company. It was during the holiday season and we were very busy. An older gentleman I didn’t know joined us behind the counter to help ease the burden and make our customers’ experience better. As it turned out, it was John Nordstrom who helped me gift wrap packages for the afternoon. What an impression that made on me—not only of their commitment to great customer service, but his willingness to go beyond his desk job to actually roll up his sleeves and get behind the counter to help. His action was very powerful. And I was clearly impressionable, as I still recall this moment for the positive impact it has had on me.

The internet, while creating many efficiencies, has also removed much of the human touch. The digital age has depersonalized an important part of the human condition. Meanwhile, commerce—how we spend our money—is a very social part of the human experience … our cities are built around market squares, we create friendships at our regular cafés and we recommend to our friends and family experiences and products that we enjoy. We’ve resurrected a part of the human connection through social media, communicating with one another our likes, dislikes and preferences, however this hasn’t solved the problem of feeling disintermediated from the brands we enjoy.

The vast majority of companies provide a one-size-fits-all digital experience that requires you the end user to find the bit of information you care about … to me the internet feels a lot like shopping in a store without anyone to help you find what you want and then if you’re lucky enough to find something, you have to go through a self-checkout process. We can do better, we can teach our customers how to do better and we can make the world a little bit better.

A great company must do two things well … care about its customers and employees … and be dedicated to changing the way that information is shared and how business is done.

Not too long ago Tahzoo was just a small team, only 10 people, however we were committed to an idea and to one another … that if we cared about our employees and cared about our customers we’d be a company worth caring about. While at times this may seem trite, it was and is the fuel that propels Tahzoo. You see, businesses can be started for many reasons—to make money, to exploit a market opportunity, to arbitrage labor markets—or they can be built to do something meaningful. In our case, my first act at Tahzoo was creating our values, even before I decided what we would do as a company. I thought if I was going to start a company it should mean something, stand for something and do something that makes a difference.

With all that said, I want to change our little part of the world. I want to help our clients figure out how to do a better job of taking care of their customers. It’s really just that simple. They should hire Tahzoo because they believe we can help them. And, we should help them. We should understand the trust they have bestowed upon us and act accordingly.