As I’ve written before, in the beginning God created the Value Delivery System…and there was light. Or so the folks at McKinsey would have you believe. That of course is a reference to the seminal 1988 paper entitled “A Business is a Value Delivery System” by Michael Lanning and Ed Michaels. Basically, it states that product-oriented businesses should recast themselves around a value-oriented mindset.
But today everybody’s talking about Customer Experience. Could we simply update the title to be “A Business is an Experience Delivery System” and be done with it?
Maybe. But I think we can do better.
Customer Experience Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story
Customer experience is where it’s at, no doubt about that. Tons of great material out there too, timely and relevant. But I think a few points are being under-emphasized in the current discussion:
- Customer experience often implies a one-way, outward-facing delivery of value proposition rather than a two-way, participative and evolving relationship with the customer
- Customer experience tends to highlight the moment of interaction with the customer, rather than what occurs before or after. Meaning, it often focuses on the discrete interaction rather than the overall customer journey as a continuum
- Customer experience usually addresses experience as defined today, rather than ensuring a process of continual (and never-ending) reassessment, optimization and refinement over time
- Customer experience often focuses on digital and online, rather than a human-centric approach across the board that just happens to be supported by process, technology and information
Customer Engagement Implies a More Participative, Human & Holistic Approach
There’s a reason why McKinsey never refers to client projects as projects, but rather always as engagements. An Engagement Manager (even their titles use the word) will constantly drill into you, “did you engage the client?” Because they instinctively know that it’s about more than a specific deliverable, and more than a particular experience – it’s about relationship.
It’s kind of like dating. People (and customers) have choice and they elect who to get involved with. Sure, you can go to the bar and get lucky one time. But if you want a lasting relationship you’ll need to:
- Participate – and foster participation over time
- Respect – the other person’s need for space. Let them choose how (and when) to interact
- Personalize – one size fits all certainly won’t work
- Suggest – be creative and preemptive with a dose of surprise
- Evolve – people, times and situations change. You should too
Updating for Today: The Engagement Delivery System
McKinsey said “Choose the Value, Provide the Value, Communicate the Value”. I like that. There’s a timeless and foundational quality about it. And nobody, certainly not me, will argue it isn’t relevant anymore.
But today we’re talking about
experience engagement. So let’s respectfully nod to the original and try this instead:
Engagement Delivery In Action: The Apple Stores
Easy enough, right? I mean, marketing people always hail the Apple Stores as the great example of customer experience, as if that’s the cure for all the world’s problems. Just follow the Apple example and you’re done. Easy…Right?
Not at all.
Forget all the fluffy nonsense that marketing people will tell you about Apple stores. By and large, they don’t grasp the detail and depth of it. Those stores are actually extremely hard-core:
- Overall Objective: clearly stated, product-anchored, suggestion oriented
- “People don’t just want to buy personal computers anymore, they want to know what they can do with them” (Steve Jobs in Video Tour of 1st Store)
- Training Manuals: objective-oriented, meticulous and exhaustive
- “Your job is to understand all of your customers’ needs—some of which they may not even realize they have”
- “Probe politely to understand all the customer’s needs”
- “Present a solution for the customer to take home today”
- Front Entrance: consistent, rehearsed
- Employees positioned to greet & steer (on entrance) and cheer (on exit)
- Store Areas: Genius Bar, One-on-One Training, Personalized Pickup, Etc…
- Each similarly broken down, defined and executed
And they’re enabled by many integrated technologies & processes:
- Front Entrance:
- iPhone/iPad-based reservation, scheduling and communication applications
- Mobile Cash Register Technology:
- Sales associates can complete transactions anywhere in the store with mobile credit card readers transmitting to hidden remote registers
- Back-Office Technology:
- New store inventory arrives (often twice) daily. Scanning. Shelving. Security Monitoring.
- Reserved with printed personal-pickup tags
- Customer Management Technology:
- Apple store app: mobile purchasing, order status & notifications, inventory status & alerts, etc.
- Paperless: online receipts, invoicing, account history etc.
And they’re always analyzing information to improve, enhance and optimize your encounter with Apple as a whole – not only at the store – but whenever and wherever you elect to show up:
- Data: Apple traps data on everything. They track all interactions you have with them, which later comes into play in the store, online, on the phone, etc.
- Measurement & Analytics: Apple uses data to track and optimize current performance but also to predict what might happen next – a forward-looking bias at all times
The Engagement-Driven Organization
It isn’t easy. In fact, it’s extremely difficult and incredibly detail-oriented. So how would you get there from here? After all, engagement is a subjective notion, hard to define by definition.
But you can – and you must – be rigorous and methodical about delivering engagement to your customers. You need to become an engagement-driven organization. There is no single way to achieve that, but a framework might help:
1. Envision the Engagement
Business School 101: start with the vision. If you can’t say it, you certainly can’t build it. This is analogous to spelling out your value propositions. A few thoughts:
- Successful engagement means both personalized information and human touch at the point of customer interaction. The human touch dynamically molds and applies that information in the moment. So envision all the ways that both can work hand-in-hand.
- Identify the supporting technologies – and the integration across them – that will come into play in order to deliver personalized information to the moment of interaction
- Define the levels of human involvement that might be offered at all points of interaction (including “none” or “on-demand”). Those human resources will need to be continually prepared to not only deliver information, but also to suggest.
2. Build the Engagement
Technology is not the destination. It’s really the great enabler. And it’s rarely just one piece of technology, it’s usually a collection of them, as the Apple Store shows. Think of technology as the pillars supporting your engagement-driven organization. As such:
- Pick your technology portfolio carefully: first assess each component as a standalone and make sure it has all the capabilities – and that you have the skills and know-how – required.
- Make sure they all integrate smoothly: you’re building a system, not a single application. Each component should easily interoperate with the others as a seamless whole
- Process & collaboration spans across everything: don’t skimp here, cross-functional processes are like glue holding everything together. Customers want to engage with one company, not a variety of different departments. Process makes that happen.
3. Enhance the Engagement
So you diligently envision, you carefully build, you roll it out and now you’re finished, right?
Well, let’s continue the earlier dating analogy: you got married and now you just gave birth to a beautiful baby – no, you’re not done, that’s just when the puking and crapping starts.
Our friends at McKinsey always stress the importance of change management, and they’re right. Change management always comes into play in the world of customer engagement, with two important points:
- You’ll need to collect all kinds of data, measure it against performance metrics, figure out what works and doesn’t work and continually optimize and enhance from there.
- Your human capital is at least as crucial as your technology, probably more. This is much more than HR. It’s about motivating, developing and retaining people as crucial assets. People are the agents and stewards of change management. They’re also the heart and soul of engagement delivery, so treat them as such.
Putting it All Together
Like most things, doing it right and doing it well requires an incredibly broad and deep skill set. Today more than ever Renaissance men and women, equipped with tools and technology (which are increasingly readily available), can make a huge impact. But you probably won’t find any single person that has the full deck of cards.
There’s No Substitute for Great Teamwork
Engagement is about much more than one individual, one interaction, one moment in time. As noted earlier, there’s a continuum across the customer journey and across every part of your organization that touches, influences or supports that.
Enlist people from all functions. Enlist senior and junior people. Look for diversity. Put them in the blender, keep them together. Set operating parameters, but also empower them.
Start Now and Stay Committed
You can plan to death, but sometimes you just need to get started. As I pointed out earlier there is no finish line but there’s always a starting point: how about right now?
But most of all, stay committed: to your team, to your customers, and to fostering engagement between them at every step.