Predict and improve, before customers churn

It has been a while since AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning) have been part of the discussions and conversations around how technology can help companies engage with customers, and ultimately earn their business by providing them with a better experience.

The more cocky software companies shout about how the AI and ML capabilities of their technology platforms “will completely transform” our businesses, and make us successful. Other companies, maybe more realistic, say their technology platforms “can enable transformation” and deliver improvements.

But if I’m honest, it always feels that they are exaggerating and over-blowing their own capabilities, and that is probably why many of us still struggle to see how, in reality and in practice, things work and could be applied to our case, and in our business.

One of the problems I see is people try to “run before learning how to walk”. Businesses must be at a specific level of maturity and readiness to adopt certain things, and my preferred approach is always to start with the basics, and make sure it’s done right, before “embarking in bigger adventures”.

And it is also extremely important to understand, that data is the key ingredient. No technology platform or capability (including AI or ML) will deliver any outcome without data. And if you have data, there are very powerful things you can do first, and that you are probably not doing, before trying to get robots to run your business.

An example: Predictive Analysis. Technology platforms with this capability allow you to perform statistical analysis and data mining, using current and historical data, to make predictions about future behaviors. They use ML and predictive modelling to find patterns in that data, and identify risks or opportunities.

Predictive analytics could be used by commercial industries, but also by organisations that serve citizens, students or patients, to determine their behaviour, predict future engagements (purchases or interactions), or even guess if they are about to stop engaging with you.

A use case: Customer Churn. Use technology to help you predict if your customers are in risk of leaving you, or stop buying from you. Understand when they are likely to do that. And, even more powerful, why they are about to do that – which could allow you to amend, correct or enhance things before they do!

If you are going to attempt this, the first thing you should do is define, what “churn” means to your business, as it could have different definitions. A few examples are:

  • A customer cancels a subscription
  • A customer hasn’t logged-in to the website
  • A customer hasn’t purchased over a period of time (e.g. 1 year)
  • A customer has reduced their purchases (e.g. by 50%)
  • A customer has stopped engaging in a community / forum

Once you have that defined, you need to gather a significant (maybe a few thousands of records) and relevant data set (maybe the last 12 to 18 months), which includes customer, operational and experience data, and where each and every record is tagged with “churn” or “no churn”.

You could then feed your technology platform, with this data set, and allow it to build a model, which will help you (with more or less accuracy, depending on the data set you used) predict your customer’s behaviour.

Curious about which technology allows you to do this kind of thing, or how to go about implementing this?… At Capventis, the company I work for, we have helped and enabled a few clients, using technologies like Qualtrics, Qlik or Alteryx.

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Wanna be a CX Rock Star?

One of the most well known (and surely the funniest) CX specialists in the world, most famous for the series This week in CX(which you can find in Amazon), James Dodkins, has launched the CX Rock Storecxrockstore.com – where we can now buy some CX swag (hats, hoodies, t-shirts, phone cases and even back packs).

How cools is this?!… I’m definitely going to get some swag and proudly wear it!

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I will take two CX programs, please!

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Almost every week I see people who work in the Experience Management industry talking about Customer Experience (CX) Programs as if it was a standardised, mass-produced, product that you can just go and buy off a shelf.

I believe this is due to the fact that human beings have a natural incline to being lazy – i.e. if there is a way to accomplish something with a small amount of work or less effort, then that is the preferred option. Unfortunately that doesn’t apply to CX programs.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all CX program! In order to design, build, deploy and manage one, you have to put some work and effort into it. And with this, I don’t mean it is hard or that it takes a long time. Just that it is something you must create (make new).

And you cannot do it on your own! Or even think that someone with a job title of CX Consultant will do it for you. You have to work collaboratively and involve all areas of the company (customer-facing and otherwise), and drive, co-ordinate, orchestrate (or hire a CX Consultant to do that).

What made sense for a particular company may not suit yours. Even if you are in the same sector, industry, or country. Even if you have the same size, revenue or organisational structure. It is extremely likely that you will need a CX program that is specific to you.

More often than not, those who look for an out-of-the-box CX program are the ones who focus only on numbers, and forget that in the foundations of a CX program is the need to listen to customers, and then act on that Voice-of-Customer (VoC).

Don’t measure CX for the sake of it! You must be able to focus on what is really important – the voice of your customers and their feedback – and be able to derive insights and actions that will inform your product or service enhancements, as well as experience improvements.

Don’t obsess with the numbers! It’s so typical to find companies that are fixated in increasing their NPS or CSAT scores, as if that was the ultimate goal. They forget the purpose of a CX program, and the meaning of “C” in the acronym “CX” – it stands for Customer, not Company!

When it comes to CX, each and every company will be at a different level of maturity (if at any level at all), and the first thing you should do is assess that, and understand the readiness of your company to start a CX program.

Each and every company will also have its own business strategy – vision, mission, execution plan, etc. – and you should align the CX strategy with that, so that the board of directors and stakeholders understand how a CX program will improve financial performance.

And so on… and so on… everything in a CX program should be considered, thought trough, in context. And not copied from some other company or program.

Simple but crucial customer need: Ritz-Carlton, Nando’s, Tossed

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Recently, on her CX podcast, Human Duct Tape Show, Jeanne Bliss interviewed Horst Schulze – founder, Chairman & CEO of the Capella Hotel Group, and Co-founder & Former COO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.

Horst shared very interesting things, from the time when he was founding Ritz-Carlton Hotel – which is now recognised by their outstanding customer-centric culture and the experience delivered to customers.

According to him, at the time, they realised there were three basic customer needs that needed to be fulfilled, and one of them was crucial, as it was the one that drove greatest satisfaction – they needed, as a company, to “be nice to customers”.

The interesting thing is that they didn’t stop there. They went to determine what “being nice to customers” meant. So they researched, and even consulted behavioural analysts.

No matter what you are doing, you look the customer in the eye and say: Good morning, how are you doing”. You don’t just say “Hi” as that is putting yourself at the same level. You want to lift your customer higher.

It made me think of two recent experiences I had. One in Nando’s (the famous chicken restaurant) and another one in Vital (from tossed a very healthy salad place).

At Nando’s (in Gatwick Airport) I approached the counter to order and was greeted with a “table number?”. The girl took my order and payment without looking at me once, and the only thing she said was “anything else?” and “twelve pounds, fifty pence, please!”.

Food arrived to the table in the hands of another visibly bored staff member, who put the plate down, took the table number and menu away, without saying a word. What if I wanted to order something else? I didn’t, because I no longer had table number or menu.

At Vital, things are completely different. I’m always greeted with “Hello sir, how are you today?” and whilst they prepare my salad they keep going “How has your day been so far?”. Always with a smile on their face, and clearly looking after you and paying attention.

This week I was about to get in when a homeless man approached me “Excuse me sir, could you buy me something to eat?”. “Sure, come on in, choose whatever you want, and I will pay for it”, I said. He came with me to the check-out, I paid and he thanked.

Two days later, I went to pick up my lunch. At the check-out the girl (funnily enough not the one I paid the previous time) said “The other day, you paid for that man’s lunch, right?”. I nodded. “Well done sir, today your lunch is on the house. Kindness generates kindness”, she said.

It’s going to be hard for me to return to Nando’s in Gatwick Airport, but I will definitely keep having 4 out of 5 meals (lunch during week) at Vital.

10 Lessons from an uncomfortable booking

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This real experience involved me (the customer), booking.com and Comfort Inn Downtown Salt Lake City. After reading this blog post you will understand why, after 72 bookings with booking.com and 3 stays at Comfort Inn, I will never use their services again.

  • I booked 3 rooms for 5 nights, via booking.com, at the Comfort Inn Downtown in Salt Lake City, 2 months ago
  • Today (after a 16-hour journey from London) at the hotel check-in desk, I was informed that the hotel was over-booked, they could do nothing about it, and I should call booking.com

Lesson #1 – When you (or your partners) fail the customer, don’t tell him you can’t do anything about it, putting the burden on him to sort himself out. Contact your partner and try to resolve the situation.

Lesson #2 – If the communication or process between you and your partner has failed, don’t throw your partner under the bus, as it will only make you look even worse (the words used by the hotel receptionist were “If I were you I would never use booking.com again… they always mess up”).

Lesson #3 – If the procedures and policies make it impossible for you to help the customer, at least empathise, apologise, make an effort to be helpful, and be supportive (even if just morally).

  • After a winding IVR and 10 minutes waiting, booking.com put me on hold for another 10 minutes, only to tell me “we will get back to you in 30 minutes with a solution”

Lesson #4 – When you pick up a call from a customer that has been on hold for 10 mins, don’t put him on hold again for endless minutes. If you need time to find a solution, at least check-in every couple of minutes to apologise, update, and ask him to bear with you.

  • The “solution” arrived by email, and suggested I went to booking.com, looked up an extremely scrappy side-of-the-road motel, and booked it myself.

Lesson #5 – If you are going to offer a solution to your customer, make sure it is at least as good as the original one. And if not possible or available, provide an explanation (in this case, everything else was fully-booked) and show some goodwill.

Lesson #6 – If the solution you are providing the customer is one that he could find himself, you should first confirm if he has already done it (I had already gone to booking.com myself searching for alternatives).

  • After a winding IVR and 10 mins waiting, booking.com put me on hold for another 30 mins (yes, 30 mins!), only to tell me “we found an airbnb, will send you a link via email, you can book it yourself, and then claim the difference”

Lesson #7 – If you are providing a solution via email, get in touch with customer straight after, to ask if he is happy with what you proposed, provide other alternatives if not, and confirm he is all sorted or in need of further help.  

Lesson #8 – Review Lesson #5 (the original booking was for 3 hotel rooms, and the airbnb had 3 rooms but only 1 bathroom) and Lesson #6 (I had already gone to airbnb myself searching for alternatives).

Lesson #9 – Try not to mess up with a CX-zealot, otherwise you will end up like Deirdre (the unlucky agent who picked up my call) and put up with a frustrated Portuguese guy giving you a 15-min long speech on the Customer Experience topic, and how you should treat customers.

Lesson #10 – If the resolution you are suggesting is going to ask even more effort (and money!) from the customer, the least you can do is trigger the refund claim process yourself, escalate for it to be processed ASAP, and give the customer a guarantee that it will be approved, rather than using works like “maybe“, “probably“, “likely” or “few weeks“.

3 elements of trust. 6 elements of powerful tech

In a very recent and interesting Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, Jack (CEO) and Joseph (President) from Zenger Folkman (a leadership development specialist company) talk about how trust is crucial for leadership, and describes the 3 elements of trust.

  1. Relationships
  2. Judgement
  3. Consistency

I really do encourage you to read the full article here.

But what also caught my attention were a few statements that tell us a bit about their research and study, and how they were able to derive such insight.

  • by looking at data from the 360 assessments of 87,000 leaders
  • able to identify three key clusters of items
  • “we looked for correlations between the trust rating and all other items
  • after selecting the 15 highest correlations
  • performed a factor analysis that revealed these three elements
  • By understanding the behaviors that underlie trust

It caught my attention because these are the challenges that most organisations and companies face today, when it comes to measuring and assessing customers and employees experience…

  • How can I easily reach out to my audience – all my employees or customers?
  • How can I easily correlate variables to understand what is impacting the bottom line?
  • How can I easily carry out the necessary analysis to reveal relevant findings?
  • How can I easily identify trends and drivers that can lead to actions?
  • How can I easily understand the behavior of my audience – employees or customers?

Well the answer is… you can do it if you have an established strategy, well defined processes, and very specialist resources. But you can only do it easily if you have an outstanding and powerful technology platform, that enables you to…

  1. Reach out to massive audiences and collect large volumes of data
  2. Combine operational (O-Data) and experience (X-Data) data
  3. Perform statistical analysis on the data collected
  4. Carry out text and sentiment analysis, on free text/comments
  5. Find trends, drivers, and solutions to prioritise
  6. Generate relevant insights and drive actions

In recent years, I have been focusing a lot in helping companies and organisations implement and use technology for such purposes. And within the portfolio of available technology platforms, there are a few that stand out. The one which I believe is best positioned and most powerful is Qualtrics which was recently acquired by SAP. I encourage you to have a look, and try it out, if you haven’t already.

Rosa’s Thai Cafe and a 1-5 NPS scale

Yesterday my wife was craving for coconut rice, so we decided to have a late lunch at Rosa’s Thai Cafe – which many say is the best thai in London. We had been there a few times already, and as always the food was excellent, but this time there was something new.

The bill came in a tablet (see picture below). And the app, enabled by Yumpingo, not only had the detailed bill, but also a thumbs up/down against each item, as well as a final quick survey to collect our feedback.

This made our experience at Rosa’s even better. A paperless transaction is a great innovation and, in my opinion, should be mandatory (mainly for environmental reasons). And the willing to collect customer’s feedback is still something most companies, let alone restaurants, are still not keen to do.

But in the middle of all this, something made me raise the eyebrow. The first question in the short survey was “How likely are you to recommend Rosa’s Thai Cafe to a friend or relative” and the answer had a 1 to 5 scale!… When this was clearly a NPS question, which should have a scale between 0 and 10.

A few months ago, in my blog post Does changing NPS scale make sense? I raised the question around NPS, and if it would make sense to have a European variant where 6-7 were Passives (rather than standard 7-8) and 8-10 were Promoters (rather than standard 9-10).

What didn’t cross my mind was having a different scale of 1 to 5, rather than the 0 to 10, set by Fred Reichheld, Bain & Company, and Satmetrix; Accepted and adopted by the majority of CX practitioners and specialists; Ensuring that the market had a standard and consistent way of measuring NPS.

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