Sunday, February 8, 2015

Customer Experience 101

Getting back to the work-a-day world on this blog. The last 6 months have been enlightening:  getting situated in a new position and feeling the difficulty of changing a work culture from the inside out. To follow are some of the things I've learned in this shift.

My organization is a 100 year old, conservative workplace. Customers have always been somewhat important, but the huge shift in the health insurance landscape from  plans mostly offered through a job to a free for all marketplace where average citizens have to decide between networks, deductibles and a dizzying array of benefits, is changing the game.

In 2014, I moved from being a Sr. Usability Researcher on a web team to a Customer Experience Manager working with the entire organization. In many organizations, I'd be a Design Research Manager or just a Research Manager, but Customer Experience is our buzz word of the day.

To assist that change, people like myself who are trained to integrate what we call the voice of the customer, more readily have a voice in the process. We help balance what the customer wants, what technology can do and what the business needs.

But, change is hard; really hard when you still have a culture and a bottom line that lean strongly towards doing what we've always done. The only issue is, and the realization comes from the top, that bottom line isn't likely to change if we do what we've always done. So, we try this new approach, but again, change is hard.

In my ongoing efforts to work with groups in the company to help them understand what the customer is thinking, feeling and doing at any given time in the process, I've learned a few things. So here they are, in no particular order.


1. Assume you are speaking a foreign language. Speak carefully and define your words.
This goes both ways. I use words like "personas," "journey maps," "usability testing," "recruit" - most of which have little context or familiarity to my colleagues. Much like "actuarial," "claims integration," and "stop loss," are foreign to me.

Sometimes it feels like we are literally speaking different languages. Take the time, upfront, to define your working words and those of your team mates. User acceptance testing (UAT) and usability testing are really not the same thing. (for those not in the industry, trust me this is a point of contention and too detailed to explain here) Discuss. Educate. Learn.

2. Enthusiasm and persistence go a long way.
If you come in to a meeting believing so strongly in what you do, others will start to follow. Eventually. You may even squeeze the necessary budget out of them. But first, you need commitment. You must unequivocally believe in the strategy you are setting out for the project. And you will probably have to believe it, explain it and sell it to at least 5 stakeholders. But do it.

3. Align yourself with a change leader.
I couldn't do my work without my amazing manager. What I excel at is making sure we put our customers first, that we focus on empathy and understanding our end user is not necessarily a person who sits in a cubicle all day thinking about health insurance (what a surprise). What she excels at is politics and moving money and resources around plus not taking no for an answer. She is firm and elegant in her "sales pitches" and has done more for this type of work in the organization in the last year than I think has ever been done.

4. Then find your every day champions. 
Once my manager has helped teams understand the need to put the customer first, I start working with those teams. Those teams usually have at least 1-2 people who have either done this type of work in another setting or are just general advocates because they are forward thinking and see the value. Align with those folks as the project gets started. When the project is wrapping up, let them be advocates for this type of work with internal case studies and have them tell their colleagues the value (hopefully) of your work.

5. Share your successes and use failures as lessons learned. 
To the point above, be loud and proud about progress made with your customers and in the organization. Use data and anecdotes to share the impact of thinking about how a project will work for people outside of your four walls before launching a product or service that everyone inside your four walls is convinced is simply awesome.

For those of you also initiating this change, does this resonate for you? If you are in another industry, are there lessons learned here? Let me know your thoughts and good luck changing the landscape. Listening to customers should make us better organizations and even increase the bottom line.