Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Customer Experience Conversations: Len Ferman

Welcome to our brand new Customers 1st blog series entitled, “Customer Experience Conversations.” This series will highlight customer experience leadership ideas and insights from the experts who will be speaking at the 2014 Total Customer Experience Leaders Summit (TCEL) in April.

This year, TCEL will explore the new realities of building brands and relationships in today’s socially driven and data abundant world. The event will shine an important lens on the power of insights and the critical need for marketers to focus on factoring emotion into the bigger equation to get a return on customer relationships.

With the onset of the New Year, I wanted to get an in-depth look at the ever-changing customer experience landscape from an expert’s point of view. I was fortunate to sit down with Len Ferman, managing director, Ferman Innovation, to discuss the importance of empathy when it comes to customer experience leadership.

Here is what Ferman had to say:

IIR: Describe your best customer experience.

Ferman: When I think about great customer experiences I like to focus on the intentional experience rather than the typical story of a "lone wolf" hero acting on their own and bending the rules. I absolutely applaud those who go above and beyond the call of duty and shows true empathy for a customer. However, from a corporate point of view we should be creating intentional customer experiences that demonstrate empathy for our customers. 

In this light, my best customer experience involved my teenage son losing his iPhone. Verizon delighted me with their process of transferring the account to a new phone two times in the same day at no charge and without having to visit the store. First, my son transferred his account to an old droid phone I was no longer using. He needed a phone immediately because he was driving back to college. Then when he got back to school he found a friend who had an extra iPhone.  He then contacted Verizon and transferred his account a second time. Each time the transfer was handled remotely in a couple of minutes and at no charge. This was a huge improvement over several years ago when you would have needed to bring the phone in and might be charged a transfer fee.

IIR: Why are empathy and emotion so important in when it comes to customer experience?

Ferman: Corporations often lose sight of customer needs in the perpetual quest to meet next quarter’s earnings. What's good in the short term for the stock price is usually at conflict with long term customer satisfaction and shareholder value. Corporate leaders need to spend more time attending traditional face to face focus groups and watching their customers talk about their pain points and challenges in everyday life and in interactions with the company. 

When you see customers face to face you pick up the body language and expressions that you cannot discern in the most disciplined reading of a market research report. And, only when you have seen your customers talking about your company can you truly empathize with their needs.  This is what is required for companies to develop the stimulus to identify the improvements they need to make to their products and services.
IIR: What are the key traits of a great customer experience leader?

Ferman: Great customer experience leaders ensure that the customer comes first, always, period. What's good for the customer will ultimately be good for the shareholders and stakeholders of the company. This doesn't mean you give away your products for free. This means you design your products and services in a way that they create value and intentional "wow" experiences for your customers every day. By creating value for your customers you create customer advocates, and you spawn a willingness to pay that will generate superior returns for the shareholders. 

IIR: If your customers have a bad customer experience, how do you reconnect with them moving forward?

Ferman: The most important thing you must do immediately following a bad customer experience is to acknowledge and apologize for the bad customer experience. You must empathize with the customer and show you are on their side. Customers want to know that you are a partner, not an adversary. But, just a simple show of empathy is not enough. There must be a short and long term strategy to reconnect with the customer. 

In the short term, you can actually leverage a bad customer experience as a way to create a valuable customer advocate.  I have seen repeatedly that an individual customer's bad experience can be turned into a unique opportunity to delight that customer when the solution is handled properly. Often these customers report higher satisfaction scores after the remedy that prior to the problem. Long term, you need to incorporate the bad experience into the process you need to have for continuously evaluating and improving your overall intentional customer experience for your products and services. 

IIR: How has the digital revolution changed the overall customer experience?

Ferman: The digital revolution has changed the game in terms of the expectations of customers and has provided an expansive array of new opportunities to delight customers. In the digital age customers expect change to happen fast.  Customers expect that your systems all "talk" to each other and that they should not have to explain their problem more than once. Customers want instant gratification, so you must be prepared to solve their problems quickly on the first call.  

From a corporate point of view the digital revolution has created fantastic new opportunities to create intentional great customer experiences. Forward thinking companies are finding ways to use the web and mobile platforms to deliver their products and services in a way we couldn't dream about 20 years ago. The possibilities are limitless and simply require a commitment to constantly understand customer needs and generate new solutions. 

IIR: Employee recognition can positively influence employee behaviors and cultivate a customer-centric culture. How do you recognize and motivate your employees?

Ferman: I have found the best way to motivate employees is to include them in the process of developing customer solutions. When you ask an employee to participate in a brainstorming session to determine how to improve the customer experience you create a "wow" experience for the employee. Instead of showering employees with costly incentives in an effort to buy positive behavior it is much better to partner with your employees and make them feel like they are a valuable part of the equation to create a customer centric culture. In addition, you will find that your employees are the best source of great new ideas.

IIR: How do you strategize and innovate on your company’s customer experience to continuously improve it as the marketplace grows increasingly competitive?

Ferman: The key is to have a standing process in place of continuous customer innovation. It can't be something you do once in a while. You have to have a team in place that is constantly gathering and synthesizing information about your customer's experience. This includes primary market research with your customers as well as a disciplined approach to capturing and evaluating customer problems. Then you have to have a process that looks at all the data and identifies and evaluates potential new customer solutions. When you do this continually you create the ability to identify and respond to your most pressing customer experience issues.

Want to hear more from Len Ferman on customer experience? Join me at Total Customer Experience Leaders Summit 2014 in Miami in April. To learn more about the event and register, click here:

About the Author: Amanda Ciccatelli, Social Media Strategist of the Marketing Division at IIR USA, has a background in digital and print journalism, covering a variety of topics in business strategy, marketing, and technology. Amanda is the Editor at Large for several of IIR’s blogs including Next Big DesignCustomers 1st, and ProjectWorld and World Congress for Business Analysts, and a regular contributor to Front End of Innovation and The Market Research Event,. She previously worked at Technology Marketing Corporation as a Web Editor where she covered breaking news and feature stories in the technology industry. She can be reached at Follow her at @AmandaCicc
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