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How (NOT) to Gather Customer Feedback that Instigates Positive Change

Sometimes, if you really want to know what your customers are thinking, you just have to ask. I launched an experiment earlier this Spring meant to help three retail businesses garner these kind of insights. We set up physical comment boxes in all of their stores, and posted signs inviting them to “text the manager” (I was simultaneously testing a customer feedback service for a software buyers’ guide I write).

My overall goal was to see if the stores could receive enough feedback to instigate the following changes:

  • Workers would improve their behavior because customer feedback was more transparent and immediate.
  • Managers could use the feedback to create incentives (e.g. the store with the best, or most positive feedback would be rewarded).
  • The feedback would provide insights that could be used to make changes that would improve the customer experience.

I left the signs and comment boxes out for a total of four weeks. Between four bicycle shops, one ice cream store, and three burger joints we only received five comments. This wasn’t enough to affect anything. This bad news was worse when I started to read the comments.

“We love your store!” Nice to hear, but not really useful for any of the goals I wanted to achieve. After the experiment was over, I took a step back to try and find out what went wrong. I called customer feedback experts and asked for their ideas on how I could have garnered more actionable feedback. Here’s what they had to say.

Enforce a Customer-Feedback Centric Culture
One of the biggest reasons the experts thought my experiment failed was that I didn’t properly prepare staff. I interviewed several employees and managers for each store after the month was over. A few reported customers asking about the signs, but it was clear they did not have a process in place influencing these interactions. They were not invested in getting or using the data.

If the culture isn’t built in such a way that people know they are the first line of defense for customer feedback, just making the service available isn’t going to change anything. Management needs to enforce rules and expectations. This could be something as simple as verbally explaining the service to customers as they check out, or are walking around the store. And of course, responding to feedback when it is received.

Creating the appropriate procedures and culture for leveraging customer feedback isn’t exclusive to the in-store experience. Companies should make sure it is obvious for customers where on their website they can submit customer feedback, be that from a form, surveys or another request. Creating context is the most important factor. The customer needs to feel like there’s benefit to them in providing the feedback, as in you will take their feedback and implement real changes.

Correct Bad Experiences in Real Time to Increase Customer Loyalty
Customer feedback shouldn’t just be used as a data set. It can also uncover bad experiences in the moment, and provide an opportunity to correct them.

Think, for example, when you’re eating at a restaurant. A good waiter will ask a few minutes after receiving your meal whether everything arrived okay, and if there’s anything else they can do to improve the experience. If your order was wrong or cold, you could let them know at that moment and the waiter could correct the issue. This would not be the experience if the restaurant asked as you while walking out the door, or emailed you a week later. Sure, you could still let them know about the cold food, but they can’t actually do anything about it.

This same concept extends beyond the dining experience. In my experiment, for example, one comment we did receive in a text message said, “no one talked to me the whole time I was in the store.” The manager could have responded at that moment apologizing and emphasizing that that’s not how they want their customers to be treated. Then, he could have provided a coupon, or other incentive to come back and allow them to correct that experience.

Look for Opportunities Beyond Just Measuring Customer Satisfaction
When I started the experiment, I assumed that companies used customer feedback primarily to measure and benchmark satisfaction. While many companies do use survey and feedback technologies exclusively for this purpose, I learned that this kind of goal really limits the value of generating the customer feedback in the first place. After all, what do you actually gain from learning whether satisfaction is improving or declining if you don’t know what you can do about it?

To gain insights other than overall customer satisfaction, you have to ask more specific questions. In my experiment, the ice cream store could have asked “What kind of flavors would you like to see this summer?” Or the bike store could say, “What clothing brands would you like to see in our stores?”

Answers to these questions can provide more specific points of feedback the business owners could have used to change what they are doing. But you would also need to know if these suggestions actually improve the customer experience. Would more flavors or brands actually influence more customers to buy from you?

Instead, companies should work to determine the causal relationships and key drivers that lead customers to buy from you. Once those are determined, you can ask for feedback around those specific drivers in the right context, and to the right customers.

How does your company generate actionable customer feedback? Join the conversation with a comment here.

Do You Have the Heart For It?

Do you have the heart for it?If you were an artist, which would you choose: To create your own unique and inspired works of art (even if it meant scratching a meager living) or bring others’ inspiration to life as a well-paid, commissioned painter? In world of business, each of us makes this choice. The real question is whether you know it or not.

In high school, I was perfectly prepared to launch into a career as a starving artist. I could weave wonderfully twisted stories through oil pastels and water colors, but sadly discovered the business-side of “starving” wasn’t quite as glamourous as I’d expected. While some aspiring young artists make it in the big city, I had a change of heart. I knew it would be a long road to success (if at all), and most artists who could afford to put food on the table were commissioned. In other words, I’d have to paint others dreams to make a decent living.

While youthfully noble, I quickly inventoried my other skills and determined I would fair better in the world of technology — and actually enjoy it. So I pursued another of my goals in tandem and joined the United States Marine Corps. I became expert at  two things:

  1. Expert Rifleman: I was an expert marksman with an M-16 assault rifle, and could put a bullet in a man-size target 500 yards away in a 30 knot wind 9 out of 10 times. (Thankfully, I never had to use this skill in real life).
  2. Expert Technologist: I became expert with all manner of computer technologies, and got to work in some of the most challenging technology environments on the planet. (Thankfully, I got to use this skill a lot in real life).

Over the years, I’ve made my trade as a commissioned painter of sorts, painting beautifully intricate designs with technology for employers and clients alike. I’m especially proud of some of the things I’ve accomplished individually and as part of a larger team. My heart is always beating, leading me to new adventures.

Are You Lost?

I recently heard a speaker say, “The surest way to attract others is with a smile. Why? Because deep down, that lets others know you are passionate about what you do!”

Neither being your own artist nor being a commissioned painter is wrong. But as I look around, I see a world filled with people who want to be artists but are living off of the commission. They are desperately seeking fulfillment in a mismatched existence, falsely living the life of the other sapping their passion and joy. This ultimately leaves them impotent and dissatisfied.

Which choice have you made? Do you have the heart for it?

Are You the Boss?

Every one of your team members wants do good work. Most may not think of themselves as artists or commissioned painters, but that won’t stop you from seeing them this way. Take some time to look at yourself and your team. Seek out your hidden artists who want to be set free to create beautiful things for you and your customers. You may find that you’ve chained some too tightly, while others have unwittingly allowed themselves to become chained as a commissioned painter.

It takes a confident leader to recognize the signs, but it takes a true visionary to help others see the “right choice” in themselves. Do you have the heart for it?


6 Keys to Drive Revenue and Increase Loyalty

Increase Your Customer LoyaltyWhen you find yourself in a tough economy and your market share is under attack, what is the one thing you are hyper-focused on? Customer loyalty.

World-class companies are fanatics about loyalty, regardless of the economic cycle or their own market dynamics. But what is the definition of loyalty? More importantly, how do you measure loyalty?

When asked, most of us might say things like customer retention, stickiness, or even customer satisfaction. But what does this really mean? At the end of the day, what we are talking about is revenue per customer. That is the real measure of loyalty, isn’t it? Will they spend their hard-earned money with me again and again?

In a market with many choices and fewer dollars to go around, standing out in your customers’ minds often boils down to a lot of intangible nuances. In other words, your customers must not only like you they must love you!

It seems to me the manufacturers are really struggling with this, and it becomes even more complex when selling non-inventory items like services – especially through an independent reseller channel. Some have even suggested that their MPS programs are simply ‘straw men’ thrown out to keep some level of mindshare. My take is that they are just like the rest of us trying to figure it all out; they are happy to provide programs that incent growth and traction for channel providers, but dealers and resellers are hitting the same wall: That is, the customers are more informed, have more choices and are hanging on to their money more now than ever.

So do we just suck it up and say the economy is what it is? Do we simply adjust our expectations to our current climate? Maybe, but those that are thriving have become experts in what I’m about to tell you. These best-in-class companies understand there are six key ways to generate revenue:

  1. More Leads (Pipeline): Did you know that it typically takes between 7-12 “touches” to convert a suspect into a qualified prospect? Best-in-class organizations are experts at driving more leads to the front door. They may have been good at sales, but they are great at marketing to new and existing customers to increase overall opportunity.
  2. Higher Conversion (Relevant Messaging): What are you doing to ensure messaging is truly relevant to your audience? Being on target with your prospects and current customers is one of the most painful lessons I’ve had to learn, right after generating more leads.
  3. Raise Prices (Increased Value): At first, this seems like an absolute “NO”, but by raising prices you don’t have to convert as many leads and also get to spend more time with the customers you love. You’ll generally expend the same effort in the sales process, so consider how you like to present yourself.
  4. Higher Frequency of Sales per Lead: This really goes well with the “blue ocean” strategy. The more lines of business you have, the more opportunities you have to generate additional revenues with the same customer.
  5. Increased Frequency of Sales: This method is the one most of us gravitates towards. But we are often faced with the real world issues surrounding the actual execution. Finding a way to shorten your sales cycle or increase actual sales is generally accomplished in one of two ways: Increasing the number of sales staff or dramatically improving your ability to touch customers’ pain point. My experience has taught me either method can be rather expensive.
  6. Selling Partner Products: One key area most of us miss is the ability to gain affiliate fees from partners. You may not have a core expertise yourself, but if you hold a trusted advisors role with your customers they’ll look to you to refer key goods and services. A great partnering strategy is often a great reinforcement to overall loyalty.

What’s critical to understand is that world-class companies have installed processes to effectively target each one of these key six drivers. They are relentless in their pursuit of customers, but also in their ability to generate additional revenues across their entire portfolio.

Your customers have problems just like you and I do, but we can become so focused on our own day-to-day issues that we may actually miss helping them solve them. Increased loyalty really comes at the cost of listening well, and delivering what solves our customers’ problems. In other words, if you show your customers how to put money back in their own pockets they’ll be forever grateful. This tends to translate into the best revenue generator of all, and results in extremely loyal customers.

Skype, Can I Get Some Love?

Sales support gone wrong“It’s all about who you talk to,” is evidently Skype’s new tag line!

When you match a product and service that fits a need (Skype) and a customer that has a need and budget (me) the rest should be pretty easy, right? Not so fast.

I’m a big believer in customer experience during the buying process; most of that is simply shortening the distance to your sale. So you can imagine my dismay when over a week ago, what was supposed to be a simple purchase from a self-service system created a recipe for disaster.

Skype, now part of Microsoft, has to be one of the most well known voice, video and chat business tools in the world. Not only is it great for SOHO professionals like myself, it’s wonderfully flexible for businesses of just about any size. I moved to the for-pay version a little over 12 months ago as it offered some wonderful leverage points for conference calls and recording interviews for later playback.

Without much fanfare, I began the process of renewing my service this year. However, after about an hour of wrestling with the payment system, I finally gave up and moved on. After a few hours, I checked back in and sure enough my service had been purchased. But it didn’t apply my $20.00 credit.

So off I go, through the maze of websites and some abysmal form of Twitter-based tech support. After a week of scattered tweets and a few emails from someone I’ll call John, I finally receive a call back. John began his onslaught of “teaching” me the way Skype did things: No refunds, no upgrades, no tech support, and you should’ve called me first. I was even told that Skype purposely made it hard for customers to purchase things because of past fraud in the system.

What happened to shortening the distance to your sale?

Needless to say, I was rather frustrated – and had become the worst kind of irate customer you want: A crusader casting aside money for ‘the cause’. I no longer cared about credit or how much I’d spent!

But then John did something that saved the day. He forwarded me one, simple link that saved Skype’s reputation in my book — a link to Frank. In less than the time it takes me to dial a phone number, Frank had refunded my full amount and told me exactly what I needed to do in order to utilize my credit and even upgrade my account.

Was this a case of ‘bad cop’ and ‘good cop’? Maybe, but all I know is that Frank gave me some love – and now I’m happy to say that Skype account support is solid. Unfortunately, I found out there’s a twilight zone between ‘free-mium’ and Skype’s ‘premium’ subscription that you have to watch out for though!

My recommendation to Skype? Make it easier for customers who want to spend money with you; help them upgrade, downgrade and even receive refunds. Don’t hide your contact links; just do a better job of explaining what a customer has to do in order to talk, chat or email you.

Update: After successfully negotiating my refund, I was happy to return as a Premium customer. That is until I learned that I can no longer apply my $20.00 credit towards the purchase of the 12-month premium account. Once again, Skype has found a way to create distance between their customer and a sale. Simply amazing!

For Help: For anyone needing to contact a person via Skype’s live chat function, at the time of this writing you can follow this link.

Did You Make My List? My 10 Twitter Lists

Are you experiencing information overload? Are you using new media, especially social media like Twitter, as effectively as you can?

Everyone enjoys being on the in-crowd, in the know and on top of things. With all of the information floating around, it’s become a necessity to have a great filter to look through. In 2008, Clay Shirky gamed Alvin Tofler’s famous phrase ‘information overload’ by saying, “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.”

Indeed, the answer you seek clearly sits hidden in plain site. It is up to your filters (friends, experiences and media channels) to help you connect your desires and needs to the context of data relevant to that very end.

I decided to circle around and update my lists on Twitter. Why’d I do this?

I’ve been pretty slack on interaction over the past few months, and I realized that I’m not getting as much useful information out because I’m not using the filters to enhance the relevancy to me. I know you always share the most choice content on Twitter, but there is a lot chatter from everyone else!

Here’s the deal:

I want to listen to you more closely and find out what’s relevant to me today (and what will be relevant to me tomorrow)! To that end Twitter has a great option to create lists, or groupings centered around an interest topic, like music, love, or Bob Dylan.

You can add people to multiple lists, or an individual list. Others can then follow your list if they find the content useful (and you are now a curator).

Did you make my list?

I’ve created several lists around areas that I focus on. In other words, I’ve created little media channels to watch as well as engage with. I encourage you to check these out, and if you think you should be on here, follow me on Twitter and let me know. I’ll get you added in after reviewing your Twitter stream for some relevance and context to what I or my followers might find useful.

  1. Humor: Funny stuff and/or funny people. You take your pick…
  2. Business-Sales: Things relating to business and sales.
  3. Financial Times: Financial news and other little tidbits relating to money.
  4. Quotables: Folks who often offer quotes and things I like to RT.
  5. Marketing: Folks I enjoy reading on the topics of marketing, SEO and so on…
  6. Time Management Tools: Time management tools and techniques. Things to help you stay productive.
  7. Friends: Pretty self-explanatory, but this is the one list that I don’t just add anyone. I actually have to know you, and be friends with you.
  8. Tech Injection: All things tech…
  9. MPS-MDS: Managed print services (MPS) and managed document services (MDS)
  10. News-makers: Tweeters making or breaking the news.

The lists have been great so far, giving me the ability to digest chunks of my followers traffic. From their I can refine results by more customized searches. Oh, and the great upside to applying this simple method to help me be more productive and share better content, my followers have increased by close to 15% in the past week.

Hmmm… it’s pretty amazing that when you listen more, people enjoy listening back!

If like the content you read here, think about following me on Twitter.

Did You Get the Email?

Did you ever get one of those emails?

Maybe it started with something like, “To Whom This May Concern” or “Dear Management”, but it always ends with that deflating sense of  WTF (and don’t make me spell that out for you).

The worst of it is that you worked your tail off on a product, a service, or simply putting on your smile while you went about your business; for what, so this one person can take such delight in raining on little ‘ole you?

What was your reaction — your instinct upon reading it?

I start to feel  it in my ears — the tips start burning. Then I get tunnel-visioned and want to pick up a hammer and smash the monitor in. Hmmm, I wonder where the phrase, “don’t kill the messenger,” came from?

I’ve found myself feverishly writing a hasty response back, and have found so many times it only served one purpose — to make me feel better, vindicated even.

But what is this person really trying to tell you? Is it really a personal attack?

In my 15 years of using email as a vital ‘productivity tool’, I’ve never seen one issue solved by writing back to such an email. Instead, stop and read between the proverbial lines, then engage with them, in person.

After splashing some cool water on your face and taking a brief pause (maybe a few days even), ask yourself, “What is this person really trying to say?”

Once you unlock that critical piece of the puzzle , you’d be amazed at how cooperative a person becomes. As the proverb goes,

“If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink. You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads…” Proverbs 25:21-22

Stay Focused: The Little Things That Matter

The little things that matterDo you ever feel a little overwhelmed – or a lot? Do the mountains of to-do’s seem overwhelming or the projects seem daunting?

Sanity comes from being able to maintain productivity in highly demanding environments. If you wonder about the magic of how people take on huge projects and complete them so effortlessly, there is a simple secret:

Take it apart and break your desired outcome into achievable parts, called milestones. This has three overall positive results:

  1. Sense of accomplishment: You feel like you are really in a zone of productivity when you can check off item after item you have completed.
  2. Ensures project success: By completing each milestone you take one step close to completing your quest while destroying possible obstacles to success.
  3. Lessen stress: In Aikido, I learned the phrase “Mizu no kokoro”, or mind like water. In simplest terms, the concept is that you react exactly like you should in the given situation. When you are able to focus and deliver results, it’s a great way to reduce the stress.

However, one key component of the “break-down” is that you maintain the context of your milestones in relation to your overall vision. That is, all of your roads (milestones) must lead you to Rome (your outcome). Get everything else out of the way, or set a time when you know you can focus.

“You’ve got to think about the big things while you’re doing the small things, so that the small things go in the right direction.” – Alivin Toffler

All too often, in our daily activities, we allow ourselves to lose focus of our vision and focus on the problems at hand. This causes us to replace our original goal with a smaller much less meaningful goal that was originally  stepping stone in our project; it just seems to find it’s way in!

It’s easy to get stuck in the proverbial weeds; When this happens, I’ve always found it best to step back and ask that clarifying question, “Why was I doing this again?”

Only when we overcome these tasks in the context of achieving our grander plan, do we feel as if we are truly progressing towards a path of accomplishment.

Stargazers Wanted!

In years past, many travelers used the night sky to navigate uncharted oceans and unclaimed lands. They looked into the deep, black sky filled with the stars of legend and the like. Orion, Leo, Pisces and Crux — all constellations standing upon centuries of lore. But most could not read their stories, making way for a special breed to spin their long tales — the stargazers.

Many would listen as a talented few told these stories spanning across time. The past and present were often fair game, but most curious of all was the futures they held. Proclaimed as heresy by some, and discounted by many more, these stargazers told stories lost on most. But a fortunate few heard the future whispered in the wind. By listening closely and seeing the unseen, a way was revealed as if from a dream.

These stargazers were often proven true, able to find their way when others were lost and steering weary travelers safely to shore.

Most travelers fix their sights upon the horizon, always fixated on the setting sun. But a fortunate few of us discover a latent gift; looking up into that deep, black sky, we pluck our choice of stars by hand. Carefully choosing each stitch, we weave our own constellation to throw back for all to see.

— But only a few see the convergence ahead. Are you ready?

FREE Time Management Tool: Download the Daily Focus Pad

Destroy Distraction Daily Focus Pad by ChangeForgeOf all the workplace productivity and time management tools I’ve tried over the years, I never could find one that had everything I needed in one spot. So I created my own called the Daily Focus Pad.

In their book, Rework (affiliate), Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson speak about creating their products to scratch their own itch. After such strong feedback from many of those who’ve been using the Daily Focus Pad, I decided to make it available for download with no strings attached.

It’s a super-easy way to prioritize your day, stay focused and stay motivated!

Many had signed up for my eBook, 7 Secrets to Destroy Your Daily Distractions: A Field Guide to Focusing Today!, and received the Daily Focus Pad. This is still available, but I’ve added a form-fillable PDF because so many of you had asked for it.

Keep the feedback coming, because I’m happy to keep helping everyone be effective and destroy the BIG ‘D’ — Distraction!

Download is freely available using this link. While you’re at, pay it forward and share it with a friend, too!

PS – I’ve been tinkering with the idea of creating an iPhone and Android app. Answer 2 simple questions to let me know if  you like the idea!

The Results Are In: How Are You Taking ACTION?

project management and change management made easy

Click for Larger Image

What’s the biggest problem you face in your business, right now?

In my recent series about my PROACTIVE system of making change easier for you and your customers, I asked this question as part of a brief survey (take it here).

The answers you gave indicated there is a real desire to create a long lasting, high value relationship with your customers and continued disconnects within your own company to execute as a unified team.

Sixty percent of you were interested in learning more about how to create a rock-solid pre-implementation plan. This is a great sign, because it means you know that preparation + practice makes for an excellent customer experience!

Because it’s not sexy and slick, we often overlook the operational details in a technology-centric rollout, focus on the technology instead of the culture, and often get frustrated by the seemingly petty details of an implementation.

In his recent book, FLIP (Amazon store link), Peter Sheahan makes the point time and again that you must sweat the small stuff — especially in today’s market. But does sweating the small stuff mean that it has to be complicated?

I have spent a lot of time working on many different projects, and the one thing I found is that most small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) don’t want or need the formal project and change management practices of the larger enterprises.


As one of the key steps in the PROACTIVE system for making managing projects and making change easier, step one centers on how you can create a rock-solid pre-implementation plan and take action without the headaches. The six steps can be easily remembered using the acronym ACTION:

  1. Asset Specification & Order Processing: Your customer has bought what you were selling, so it’s critical you get the order right! Your customer  wants you to make it easy for them, so don’t let your order process make a fool of you.
  2. Contract Setup & Financing: When you put legal contracts in front of your customer, it’s like you just turned from professing your undying love and desire to marry your true love to asking him/her to ensure plan for the eventuality of a divorce! The trust you’ve earned during the relationship building process is on your side, but their hard-earned trust is put to the test from this point on. Remember, now you are dealing with their money; be sure to make it easy for them to spend it with you because of their trust in your company’s services.
  3. Team Meeting: I am an huge believer in the internal team meeting — to get everyone on the same page. I have a very specific agenda I’ve found that works in these meetings, which creates a highly effective meeting and wastes as little time as possible to get everyone out of the gates and working on your customer’s implementation.
  4. Inspect the Site(s) & Survey the Customer: Having an effective on-site survey is often thought to be too complex. One of the keys to success is in surveying the customer. This process is a quality check to ensure everything lines up. Your customers find this extremely professional, you avoid costly shipment errors and on-site delays, and everyone has a smile on their face in the end!
  5. Operational Review: In the world of construction, a ‘punch list’ is used to identify gaps between what is currently built-out and what should be built. The Operational Review helps you, your team and the customer’s team begin the project with the same perspective – and on equal footing.
  6. Next Step: Be sure to always clearly identify the next step (or steps) as you move to begin your implementation. No one should be left in the dark as to what their role is in the project or what is expected of them.

In just another week, I’ll be presenting the entire process in Orlando, Florida. Be sure to Register today for an exclusive action packed day!

PS – If you can’t make it, or simply want more information on this topic, I’ll make it easy for you: simply fill in your contact information below (or click this link); I’ll be sure to send you more information personally.