Tag Archives: Customer

What is Customer eXperience (CX)?

(This originally appeared as an interview/blog at http://www.zykrr.com/blog/2016/09/11/Tathagat-interview.html)

How will you define CX to a layman?

CX to me is that unequivocally superior experience for the specific purpose of a given product or a service every single time – even when sometimes I have to pay more for it. Let’s take an example of something that we are very familiar with – say taxi. In the past, we had limited options with mostly unprofessional taxi services, product discovery was difficult, the pricing was not very transparent, and it was difficult to trust the cab driver, especially for a lot of women passengers, and so on. Today, we have services like Uber and Ola, which not only deliver a superior experience in discovering the services, estimating the service lead times, etc. but even have a in-built trust and reliability in the services. Now, even between these services, because they are all beginning to look alike, there will be different levels of customer experience. For example, I have observed in Bangalore that one particular such service has generally very high level of cleanliness or the quality of upholstery, whereas the other one is much lower on that factor. On the other hand, when I have to take a redeye flight, I often can’t find any of these on-call cab services at that unearthly hour, so I end up using totally different (and much costly, I must say!) cab services because I need an assured service lest I miss my flight. So, CX is not some universal constant but is very subjective not only to the type of customer but also on how a given product or service meets my specific needs from it, which could be very different for different purposes, and even vary with the time of the day.

Please share a real-life experience where customer experience management has provided an extra edge.

One incident that I still remember was many years back at MK Ahmed, a popular grocery chain in Bangalore. Once we bought our monthly groceries, and when we got home, we realized there was one bag less. We called them up and told them of the problem. They were not only sympathetic to our complaint, they also were very keen to resolve it. They asked us what time we were there so that they could look at the video footage to establish facts about the incident. They were able to confirm that indeed one of the bags was left near the counter, and perhaps got mixed up and was take along by the next customer. Having established the credentials of our complaint, they asked us to tell what all items were left in that bag (without doubting if we were telling the truth!), and then replaced them promptly. We were always impressed by their clean aisles and fresh stocks, and their staff’s helpful and courteous attitude, and after this incident, we became even bigger fans of their customer service. Needless to say, we don’t shop anywhere else!

Keep it simple. Simple just work!

Keep it simple. Simple just works!

Feedback is monotonous to provide. How do you combat this question from you customers?

The reason why companies face this problem with feedback is because they do such a lousy job of handling customer complaints. Most companies go on defensive when a customer raises an issue with a deficient service. Companies must remember that the reason they don’t get positive feedback is because they hardly address the negative feedback to the reasonable satisfaction of their customers. If you don’t your customers when they bring issues to you, why do you expect them to trust you?

Shall a company bother about every individual customer using their product?

Yes, yes and YES! You can’t discriminate among your customers – they have trusted to buy your product or service and depending on their circumstance or needs, that might be a big deal to them! By not focusing your attention to them, you are creating at least one dissatisfied customer which is bad enough, and who knows, what he or she might be capable of! I am sure you have heard of the music artist Dave Carroll whose beloved guitar was broken by United Airlines and after running close to a year from pillar to post and still not being able to get his grievance addressed, he uploaded a musical “United breaks guitars” and took his sweet (and melodious!) revenge. Not only has the video been viewed millions of times (and yes, there is no “delete” button on the internet, so that song is there till eternity!), it is also very embarrassing for the airlines – in fact so much so that they decided to use that video for their customer service training. Surely some good sense prevailed

“Feedback is not necessary”. What can be your advice to a person with this thought?

You have to understand that from customer’s point of view, there is only one feedback that is important, and that is the negative feedback about a poor customer experience he is she had. And if you are not going to act on it in a timely fashion to the satisfaction of the customer, you are only going to alienate your customers further – perhaps to the point where they give up on you and stop sharing any feedback altogether – which essentially means they stop shopping with you! When that happens, you should worry, because you are likely to become irrelevant to your customers very soon.

What is the most challenging task for CX Management?

I think the most challenging task for an effective and a memorable customer experience is actually changing the mindset of people inside the company. I think it is like this – people who are used to inferior customer experiences themselves can’t probably provide a superior customer experience, howsomuch we train them on it. And generally speaking, we are used to really pathetic customer experiences in our lives. So, it is not a surprise that people who are expected to provide superior customer experiences – and that includes everyone in the company – most people struggle and fail miserably because in their minds, they can’t think of what would be a world-class customer experience. I think hiring the people with skills is easiest but hiring the people with the right mindset is probably the single-most critical differentiator that you will ever have in order to become a great company.

How do you connect Customer Acquisition to the Feedback?

You should work on feedback not so you can acquire new customers but so you can meet the expectations of your existing customers. If they go home happy, they are likely to share positive feedback with their friends. If not, they will most likely share their disappointment on social media and chat forums, and there is a strong possibility that depending on their social credibility, their immediate circle of influence will be affected accordingly – certainly more than your paid media / marketing ever will! So, don’t worry about customer acquisition, simply focus on making it easier for customer to do business with you and to use your product or service.

What shall be done first when a product gets repelled by the market?

In an ideal world, you shouldn’t be launching a product without first listening to your customers and doing extensive amount of testing to ensure you are building what they need, and not what you think they should need! However, in the real world, most people seem to conveniently ignore this simple advise! And they are surprised when their product is rejected. My advise to them is to be as sincere, prompt, empathetic and honest as they need to be – in listening to the customers, in acknowledging the problem and in expeditiously resolving it. Don’t give the excuse of your internal problems – customers don’t care about them (and why should they?). Take the famous case of Pentium bug recall that Intel had to face. Intel was forced to change itself literally overnight, but they did what was the right thing to do and even though they had to write-off almost half a billion dollars, they were able to regain customer confidence and they continue to be a great company that is trusted by its customers.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is facing heavy anger and embarrassment from across the world. How you would have managed the situation if given the charge?

First of, I have every reason to believe that they have people far more competent and experienced than me, so I can’t really hold a candle to them! That said, I would probably create some public awareness campaigns as well as work with the services such as airlines and security to both understand the problem as well as apprise them of what we have done to rigorously test the problem. Even the Boeing Dreamliner had battery problems due to which it was grounded briefly, but once the problems were rectified, the planes were back in the air. People understand that problems happen, and they happen to the best of us despite all the right intentions and utmost care. What is important is how sincerely we listen to our customers, and maintain a communication during such crisis moments while the technical people work on solving the issue. I don’t think Note 7 was as much as a technical problem as it was a social media / public anxiety problem that quickly went out of hand.

Happy customers do not interact back to the company. What is the best way to connect them to the company?

At I wrote earlier, the reason customers don’t interact with a company is because the company has stopped listening to them. The way to make it happen is surprisingly simple – start solving their problems 🙂

Feedback culture is not yet prioritised in India. How will you initiate it at your end?

I won’t probably generalize it. On the other hand, I will surely reflect on it that by and large, companies don’t know how to create truly magical customer experiences and worse – when people complain thereby creating opportunities for improvement, the tendency of most companies to ignore or simply reject such feedback has actually led to the demise of a feedback culture. However, with more international businesses coming to India, more product awareness, more options to customers, symmetrical power of social media, etc., we are now clearly in the age where the customer is the queen, and if the businesses still don’t wake up and mend their ways, they will be left to bite the dust. So, if there is just one thing they must do, that would be start listening to their customers and act as if that customer was their most important customer, and very soon, they can change the entire climate.

How does the Customer influence your definition of Quality ?

Most definitions of ‘Quality’ are very esoteric, quantitative, or routinely bookish and highly cliched. We struggle to connect those definitions to everyday life objects, actions and experiences. We all say that we want quality, but how do we really relate our daily actions to those theoretical definitions? Do these everyday actions effectvely demonstrate our love for a specific aspect of quality – something that we would not have done otherwise? Of course, we surely do several things. Choosing brands is one – in our mind, a great brand invokes strong emotions of reliability, safety, childhood memories, family bonds, hygiene, fairness, value for money…the list is endless (and another endless list for negative emotions that lousy brands invoke !). Apart from choosing a specific brand, does our behavior refelect what we consider as ‘quality’ in everyday life.  

In my view, Quality is that differentiator in a product or a service that:

  • makes me drive a few extra miles just so that I could buy or experience something I really like even when other, relatively cheaper options are available nearby. (= willing to sarcifice reasonable amount of time and effort to get something I truly value). There is a great water park on the outskirts of Bangalore, known as Wonder La. Even though some options are available within 10-15 kms of where I live, I am willing to drive ~50 kms and perhaps pay 2-3 times what I would pay at some other place, I still make it a point to only visit that place. Why ?  
  • makes me choose one over other even when, everything else being rather equal, the one I choose might be costlier but not exorbitantly priced. (= availability of other alternatives, freedom and ability to choose what I want).  Actually, it even need not be costly. Sometimes, the best things comes at the most unbelivable rockbottom prices. But sticking to the point here, the key is freedom and ability to choose an option that I like and at the price-point that I am willing to accept at this point in time.
  • makes me patiently wait in a line for my turn to come (= sacrificing my comfort to get something that I believe is worth it). Many of us would recall the news stories about people lining up overnight to get the first few iPhones. Another recent example is Tata Nano more than half a millions people have already booked at car at something like $78 booking amount even though only about a fifth (or is it a tenth ?) of them will be able to get the car this year – and that too after a 3 month wait!
  • makes me pick up a product blindfold (= blind trust, but not trust blindly; reliable everytime). Why is it that anyplace, anytime, you can choose a Toyota car blindfold, or that none of the copycat Post-Its come anywhere close to the real Post-In Notes ? 
  • I can recommend to my friends and family (= what is good enough for me is good enough for people I care)

I am very comfortable with these ‘working’ definitions of quality. They tell me what is it that a customer is willing to do (and equally important, what s/he is not willing to do) in terms of concrete actions in order to get a quality product or service. These represent a customer-centric view of what s/he desires and not what the manufacturer or the service provider does assuming that is going to create a quality product or service. In most cases, a manufacturer’s view and a customer’s view of quality is aligned, but quite often, there is a serious misalignment as well. I believe it is high time we rewrote the philosophy of quality keeping such customer-centric view in mind. Perhaps, a new type of GQM model could be created that identifies customer’s behavior as the goal to be achieved, and strives to align all internal steps and checkpoints towards the end-customer behavior!

So, does your quality model encourages you to ‘just do it’ because that’s what the process manual says, or it is backed by customer-centric view of What is Quality ?

(Parts of this are from my response to a question on LinkedIn sometime back, What is Quality ?)

What is your Software Development Religion today ? And where does the Customer fit in that ?

The Swiss Army manual says: When the map and the terrain disagree, trust the terrain. However, in software industry, there seems to be an unending effort to make sure the terrain is retrofitted so that it looks much more like the map in hand ! So, I have modified the Swiss Army saying to suit the reality in the software development community as: When the real-life and bookish process definition differs, it clearly shows you have not understood the bookish definition, and hence you must change the real-life until it looks like the bookish definition and then trust the bookish definition.

Statutory Health Warning: Reading this blog post further could be bad for health, especially for those who love the process vocabulary more than the process intent, see the means more clearly than the ends and anyday favor the established processes of the day even to solve newer class of problems that clearly require fresh thinking lest they end up shaking the establishment. Author takes no material responsibility for anyone proceeeding from this point beyond and suffering serious health problems because of the radical views presented in this blog.

The conventional definition, popular understanding and state of practice of Software Quality is seriously flawed. They have created a very lopsided perspective that adherence to certain standards is Software Quality, howsoever hard- or soft-baked those standards be. On one hand of the rather colorful spectrum are the die-hard process zealots who won’t stop short of anything less than an ISO, CMMi or the likes and on the other end of the spectrum are the neo-rebels who believe anything Waterfall is bad and unless anything is Agilized, it ain’t good enough. On the innumerable discussion boards that I subscribe and listen to, completely petrified to speak up lest be asked my credentials to back up my anti-establishment views, I find more productive hours being lost on what should be the exact definition of a ‘product owner’, what should an ‘iteration zero’ be better known as, and whether you pass the Nokia test or not. I find the neo-rebels falling in the same honeytrap that they once so detested and fought tooth and nail – compliance over creativity. I see more mail threads getting fatter and longer because there are linguistic differences that probably should be settled so that practitioner’s camp can have peace after all, but where is the Customer in all this ?

We are probably forgetting that software came first, the generic notion of Quality came much earlier and everything else is only a recent model that some wise men and women have put together – and is likely to change with time. In fact, if that doesn’t change, there is something seriously wrong. So, there is a shelf life associated with Waterfall, and there is a shelf life associated with Agile as well ! Granted that Waterfall has had a rather long-tail that simple refuses to die (much to the chagrin of agilists), and so is Agile likely to have, but the fact remains if the software community stops innovating at and after Agile, it is not just bad enough for Agile – it is bad enough for the entire industry for the wheels of innovation and continuous improvement would have come to a grinding halt. 

I believe quality is not about how much the goods or services that a manufacturer or a service provider produces confirms to requirements. They are also not about whether it is achieved using Waterfall or Agile, whether CMM or ISO, whether done in-house or oursourced, or qualified using random testing or automated testing. Quite frankly speaking, I couldn’t care less if it was done by a bunch of social misfits or comforming cousins as long as I get what I want. But in all the noise and the alphabet soup of neo-processes, I think “what customer wants” isn’t audible much these days.

So, what really is quality. Well, to me, Quality is THAT differentiator in a product or a service that

  • makes me drive a few extra miles just so that I could buy or experience something I really like even when other, relatively cheaper options are available nearby. (=sarcifice time, effort and comfort to get something I value)
  • makes me choose one over other even when, everything else being rather equal, the one I choose might be costlier but not exorbitantly priced. (= availability of other altarnatives, freedom and ability to choose what I want)
  • makes me patiently wait in a line for my turn to come (=sacrificing my comfort to get something that I believe it worth it)
  • makes me pick up a product blindfold (=blind trust, but not trust blindly; reliable everytime)
  • I can recommend to my friends and family (=what is good enough for me is good enough for people I care)”

When I view quality from this perspective, it becomes very easy to substantiate what I said earlier – who cares what process was used, where the software was written, which language was used and what metrics were collected as long as I got what I wanted ? When one is willing to take a customer-centric view of software quality like this, the choice between Waterfall or Agile is only a matter of what class of problem we are trying to solve and what is the best-proven technique to address that situation. There are no permanent ideologies nor permanent religions – you must be flexible to choose what suits the problem at hand, rather than view it from a fixed-focus lens and try to ‘retrofit’ the problem to your software development religion.

So, what is your Software Development religion today ? and where does the Customer fit in that ?

PS: This post happened in response to a question on my favorite Q&A forum – LinkedIn.