Allstate’s customer experience journey


This blog post comes to you live from the second annual Forrester Research Customer Experience Forum 2010 at the Grand Hyatt in New York. The theme of the event is creating breakthrough customer experiences. Through an energetic keynote, Patty VanLammeren, chief customer experience officer of Allstate Insurance, discusses the Allstate customer experience journey. (She emphasizes “journey” because she knows the process of pleasing a customer is one of never-ending improvement.)

Allstate began its customer experience journey about six years ago with the creation of a customer loyalty index and a dedicated team to look after customer experience. In 2008, Allstate made a critical decision: improving customer loyalty would be one of only three corporate priorities. In Patty’s words, “That’s when the game began to change,” and when she was appointed to the role of chief customer experience officer.

Her first task: get facts in front of her. She studied Allstate’s previous efforts to satisfy customers. She reviewed details like the average amount of time Allstate takes to resolve a customer conflict. But, she decided that the metrics had limited value “because customers do not experience averages.” She realized that Allstate needed to do something that data was not measuring: “shift our culture to focus on the customer.” So how to do that?

One of her first steps: create a customer experience forum, which is a monthly meeting where Allstate execs (including the CEO) have a spirited discussion on how to improve customer service. She also enacted monthly “customer staff meetings” with managers at a more tactical level to come up with ways to improve service. At one of her first meetings, she required managers to role play as if they were Allstate customers — from angry to happy.

She also dedicated customer satisfaction specialists to specific business units (like embedded journalists) in order to focus on day-to-day management of customer satisfaction.

But the process did not stop there. In the ensuing months, she:

1.  Made customer satisfaction everyone’s business by linking employees’ 401(K) profit sharing matching contributions to improvements in Allstate’s customer loyalty index.

2. Improved customer service standards and held agents accountable to them.

3. Acted as chief customer experience evangelist throughout the company. She made 54 presentations to 9,000 employees in 2009.

4. Clearly communicated throughout Allstate customer wants and needs in the voice of the customer. She asked every business unit owner to develop and refine actionable and measurable “declarations” for improving customer service.

5. Changed Allstate’s public reporting. On earnings announcement day, Allstate began reporting its customer loyalty index scores along with earnings results to send a message: customer satisfaction is intertwined with business results.

6. Improved the customer complaint management process to be faster and more responsive. “We decided we needed to view customer complaints as a gift” — a way for Allstate to learn and improve its operations.

7. Began to attack the company’s operating processes. She discovered that Allstate has too many processes for servicing customers inside business units — but not across business units. Allstate is now examining all its processes and figuring out how to make them span the entire company — not an easy thing to do because “at Allstate we have a process for everything except eating and going to the bathroom.”

8. Improved metrics mostly by examining other companies’ best practices. She realized that Allstate needed to do a better job tying customer satisfaction measures to company leading performance indicators. As she says, “We are just scratching the surface on measurement.” Also, Allstate now compares its satisfaction results with other companies inside and outside its industry (something Allstate previously never did).

Some lessons learned:

1. Allstate needs to move faster to keep pace with customers’ rapidly changing needs.

2. Allstate needs to let its customers lead them instead of trying to lead its customers.

2. Allstate must empower people. As Patty says, “Customers do not want a relationship with technology. They want a relationship with people.” Empowering employees means “hiring people who like people” — sounds obvious, but Allstate realized it was hiring too many technicians who really understand the content of insurance but lack adequate customer service skills. She also enacted a self-selecting employee ambassador program. Ambassadors receive special attention from Allstate. (For instance, ambassadors received a preview of the company’s social media guidelines before the guidelines were launched throughout the company.) To date, more than 3,000 employees have volunteered to be ambassadors. (She likes making the program voluntary because employees who sign up are more likely to be motivated.)

Results so far: the best-ever one-year improvement in the company’s customer loyalty index.

“But we are not even close to where we want to be,” she concludes. “We have made the customer experience a part of everyone’s jobs.”

USAA: kill your website to service customers


This post comes to you live from the second annual Forrester Research Customer Experience Forum, held at the Grand Hyatt in New York. The theme of the event is creating breakthrough customer experiences. During one of the afternoon sessions, Principal Analyst Paul Hagen hosts a panel on trends in creating customer experiences. He is joined by Janice W. Brown, manager, channel strategy and orchestration, FedEx Services; Kathleen Cattrall, vice president, branded customer experience, Time Warner Cable; and Neff Hudson, assistant vice president, enterprise member experience, USAA. Here are a few highlights.

Paul sets the stage by discussing the obvious signs that companies are getting more sophisticated about serving customers, with nearly half of companies surveyed by Forrester having a chief customer experience officer in place. He asks each panelist to describe a breakthrough that has taken customer experience to a new level at each person’s company.

Time Warner Cable: “nowhere to go but up.” In Kathleen Cattrall’s words, ‘There is nowhere to go but up” at Time Warner Cable when it comes to improving the customer experience. She describes how improving the customer experience has meant being creative and resourceful without a clear corporate mandate from on high. She started by simply asking her customers what her company needed to do better, and she talked with competitors’ customers. Doing so gave her scores of ideas to improve service. With that information, she went on a road show with field service representatives to inspire them to improve. Her road workshops included people in finance and engineering, not just the obvious candidates who touch the customer — because she saw the need to show as many people as possible how their jobs affect the customer in some way. Months later, the vast majority of the people she visited in her road show are doing their jobs differently and realize how their roles touch the customer.

FedEx: an executive mandate to improve. Janice W. Brown indicates that FedEx saw a mandate to improve service after seeing a drop in satisfaction and loyalty numbers. In her case, she operated with an executive mandate. Her job has been to tackle thorny issues like getting more employees to be customer advocates and to work with executives to effect real cultural change. She has spent an entire year just putting into place a program for identifying how FedEx can improve across multiple channels, and the year ahead will be about enacting improvements across channels.

USAA: using mobile to improve customer service: Neff Hudson says USAA focuses on the “small stuff,” not breakthroughs. USAA focuses on customer problems that intersect with the company’s business challenges. For instance, USAA realized it needed to address the business challenge of enabling more customers to perform personal transactions even though USAA lacks branch outlets. So USAA created a program called Deposit@Mobile, which allows members to use scanners at home to deposit checks. Since August 2009, USAA has done $5 million in revenue via an iPhone and Android application.

And what should customer service professionals be doing to improve service?

Time Warner Cable: get customers involved in product development. Kathleen Cattrall: Embed customer-centric thinking into your product development. Time Warner is figuring out how to take customer feedback and improve product development through a company certification program that affects how company engineers do their jobs.

FedEx: listen and respond to customers via social media. Janice Brown says that FedEx is more actively listening to what customers say about its service and then responding. But FedEx is also mining customer insight for longer-term trends in how customers perceive FedEx, not just to put out immediate fires.

USAA: websites are dead. Neff Hudson: Your website is dead. If you are not in the process of deconstructing your website and distributing your service across multiple channels, you are way behind. Don’t build new destination sites to service customers. Distribute your service across Twitter, Facebook, mobile apps, and anywhere else your customer is. “I have spent my whole life building websites,” Neff concludes. “Now I’m learning how to take them apart”

What do you think? Is Neff exaggerating, or does the future of your customer service reside elsewhere than your website?

How Dunkin’ Donuts keeps its customers happy


This post comes to you live from the second annual Forrester Research Customer Experience Forum 2010 at the Grand Hyatt in New York. The theme of event is creating breakthrough customer experiences. John Costello, chief global customer and marketing officer for Dunkin’ Brands, discusses how Dunkin’ Brands understands customer needs and develops a 360-degree approach to meeting those needs.

John oversees the marketing and brand efforts for Dunkin’ Donuts as well as Baskin Robbins, but the focus of his forum talk is Dunkin’ Donuts.

Essentially the Dunkin’ brand has remained consistent with what it stood for when the company was founded 60 years ago: coffee and donuts. The challenge: how do you keep a 60-year-old icon relevant to customers today? How do you honor your heritage while meeting consumers’ evolving needs, especially in a world where power has shifted to the consumer?

To Dunkin’, everything the customer touches defines the brand — events, social media, the web, advertising, signage, the in-store environment, the Dunkin’ community presence, and, of course, the product itself. Accepting the reality that every customer touch point defines the Dunkin’ brand is what drives the company’s approach to being customer-centric. The company follows six specific principles to satisfying its customers and keeping its brand relevant:

1. Make sure you understand who your best customers are. The Dunkin’ customer is a “regular person,” which is more of a state of mind than a demographic. Interestingly, Dunkin’ understands that its most loyal customers “cheat on Dunkin'” — they buy coffee elsewhere. Dunkin’ realizes that even with its superfans, the company always has room to grow and cannot afford to take them for granted. Its superfans, in his words, “cruise the world,” and if Dunkin’ is not obsessed about preserving their loyalty, they’ll lose them. So Dunkin’ does things like making it easy for repeat customers to easily auto-charge their Dunkin’ cards

2. Differentiate or disappear. Concentrate on what makes the Dunkin’ brand unique. If a long-lost cousin visited your company and asked, “Why should I choose your brand?” you had better be able to answer that question in one or two easy sentences. Dunkin’ is all about “getting you ready in the morning and keeping you running all day.” Dunkin’ Donuts not the place to hang out and surf the internet but rather a place to get fueled for the day and to return for a  quick refuel. Dunkin’ also realizes that its brand personality is important — customers like its down-to-earth, unpretentious personality. In essence, Dunkin’ is how the everyday folks who keep America running get fueled everyday. Hence, the Dunkin’ tagline, “America runs on Dunkin'” and Dunkin’s cheeky TV spots that poke fun at highfalutin-sounding coffee with esoteric names available at more upscale shops.

3. Embrace the 360-degree touchpoints. Look at every aspect of the customer experience and reinforce the most desirable ones everywhere. Dunkin’ is all about “fast, friendly, and helpful.” The company invites customer feedback on their in-store transaction receipts (customers are motivated to respond with the promise of a free donut). Dunkin’ takes that feedback to improve, with a focus on the in-store experience. Why? Because customers don’t interact with a store; they interact with store managers and their staff at the individual store level. Dunkin’ teams in-store act as the chief Dunkin’ brand ambassadors, even (or perhaps especially) with the drive-through experience, where Dunkin’ really needs to deliver on its promise of getting everyday folk fueled fast.

John also stresses that providing a 360-degree experience, at its core, is about offering products customers want — both the reliable products like glazed donuts and limited edition products. Of course Dunkin’ offers its core product of donuts, but the company has diversified its fare to include more breakfast options and beverages like the Dunkin’ Coolatta or triple chocolate muffins. Importantly, Dunkin’ is not abandoning its focus on delicious and indulgent foods like limited edition goodies for chocolate lovers during Chocolate Lovers month.

John also discusses how establishing a two-way dialogue with customers via social media has been central to a 360-degree approach to being customer-centric. Dunkin’ has used social media channels such as Facebook to Twitter as a customer feedback mechanism. And now Dunkin’ has gotten its customers involved in product creation. Through a social media contest, Dunkin’ Donuts got customers involved in designing a new bananas foster donut flavor that the company will soon produce

4. Think long term. Invest in your brand, not just your sales. It takes a long time to build a great brand. Doing so means investing into a consumer insights team that looks at customer needs over the long run. And relying on the customer feedback (as stated previously) to improve the guest experience.

5. Don’t just hire good people — hire people who are better than yourself. People who work for you and with you can do a lot more than you can do yourself. Assemble great teams who will delight the customer.

6. Have fun. Take the business seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously.

Interestingly, John concludes his talk by discussing how Dunkin’ is expanding across Asia, including Korea, where the brand is established already. So far the branding in Korea is more playful than in the States. An open question: as Dunkin’ goes global, what are the implications for the “America runs on Dunkin'” branding?

How Sprint Nextel turned around customer service


This blog post comes to you live from the second annual Forrester Customer Experience Forum 2010 at the Grand Hyatt in New York. The theme of the event is creating breakthrough customer experiences. Dan Hesse, CEO, Sprint Nextel, discusses how Sprint has improved it customer service rankings — a process he calls a “long, multi-year journey.”

With self-effacing humor, he states that he’s sure many in the audience are surprised to see Sprint talking at a conference on customer service. He admits that at the beginning of 2008, cost cutting at Sprint hurt the Sprint brand, damaged customer service, and cost the company revenue. So he helped Spring get focused on three simple objectives: improving the Sprint customer experience, improving the brand, and generating more revenue.

The key to Sprint’s improvement was embracing “The Magnificent 7” in 2008 — 7 customer service operating principles around which the company would rally. For example, Sprint would align compensation and rewards around clear metrics like improving customer satisfaction and reducing the volume of customer care calls. Sprint pledged to analyze religiously root causes of customer unhappiness and hold its managers accountable for the problem, be it a needlessly complicated rate plan or a dropped call.

Sprint also simplified its rate plans, which were causing confusion among customers and contributing to a perception that Sprint was not customer centric. And Sprint created a series of TV ads holding itself accountable for better customer service.

In short, Sprint made customer care the entire company’s business — not just a problem for its call center.

Within two years, Sprint reduced calls to its care center by more than 30 percent and overall improved its customer satisfaction scores. In 2010, Sprint was one of three firms that saw the biggest improvement in the Forrester Research Customer Experience rankings.

But “most imporoved does not cut it,” Dan concludes. He vows to make Sprint the leader in customer service — a journey that began in 2008 when one CEO aligned his entire company around simple improvement goals.

Forrester: online experiences define the brand


This blog post comes to you live from the second annual Forrester Research 2010 Customer Experience Forum at the Grand Hyatt in New York. Research Director Harley Manning sets the stage by asking, What exactly is customer experience? Answer: how customers feel about their interaction with your company. To that end, Forrester surveys 133 companies in 14 industries to create a Customer Experience Index that tracks how consumers feel about their customer experience.

The most recent index shows Barnes & Noble coming out on top with retailers in general scoring higher than other industries. At the low end of the scale: health insurance plan providers. And on average, companies who score high on the index also have customers who are willing to buy more products and services from them.

The key to improving one’s Customer Experience Index score: creating breakthrough experiences, the theme of the event.

The first speaker, Principal Analyst Ron Rogowski, discusses the connection between emotional experience design on websites and creating a great customer experience. His premise: online experiences define the brand. As John Thompson, senior VP at Best Buy said, customers are first experiencing the Best Buy brand online.

But there’s a problem: today’s web experiences leave an emotional void. They are, frankly, boring. The website for retailer Fry’s is a boring catalog of inventory, according to Ron. And Canon, which touts “moving photography” in its advertisements, provides a boring catalog of products on its website. In all, more than 90 percent of websites reviewed by Forrester fail to engage the consumer emotionally.

So how do you create interactions that engage consumers by catering to their emotional needs?

1. Address customers’ real goals. Understand customers’ latent needs through research. Anticipate and answer customers’ questions before they ask them, which is the key to creating an intuitive website. For instance Sallie Mae’s Education Investment Planner focuses tightly on goals like giving parents investment information during a time of uncertainty (e.g., planning and saving for family college needs). By using persona design to define customer goals, Sallie May created an online tool — a breakthrough customer experience — that gives parents a benchmark for knowing how they compare with their college savings program. The Sallie Mae online that meets an emotional need (worry and uncertainty about planning for college).

2. Develop a coherent personality. Lady Gaga and Elton John have talent — but they have personality, too. So what does personality mean to your brand? Personality is about being consistently recognizable. Aligning your online experience with your brand attributes. And, perhaps most importantly, adopting a human tone. Example: Progressive Insurance has created a personality for itself though the character of Flo, the fictional cashier on TV who also guides you through the Progressive website

3. Engage a mix of senses. The more senses you engage, the more memorable the experience. And how? Invest in the site’s production values. Provide a purposeful, tactile experience. Heighten the effect of your website with audio and video. Example: Armstrong Floors presents an attractive site that makes you want to hire the company to stain and finish your hardwood floors. Tazo Tea uses sound and motion to make you want to buy its tea products ( so long as you’re willing to install Flash 7).

Undertaking those three steps means making a more serious investment in rich media in your website budget.  Documenting your brand attributes and making those attributes meaningful to consumers. And orchestrating your customer’s emotional experience journey from awareness to consideration to purchase.

In short, make the experience its own reward.