Founder and Chief Experience Officer of CX Journey Inc and author of Customer Understanding, Annette Franz joins me for an episode of The Experience Maker. We talk about how the customer experience has changed because of COVID-19 and selling to the right customer.
Dan Gingiss: Annette Franz, CEO of CX Journey and author of Customer Understanding, and I were talking about working on our businesses and fighting the same fight that all small businesses are fighting – business is down. I found it very fascinating because as somebody said to me, this is the only time that every single person on the planet is experiencing the same thing.
Annette Franz: So true. I like the one where people say, “We’re all in the same storm. We’re not in the same boat.” because it’s true. We are not in the same boat, but we are in the same storm all around the world.
Dan Gingiss: That’s a good point. Four letters appear after your name: CCXP, and I wanted you to explain what those mean.
Annette Franz: CCXP is Certified Customer Experience Professional. It is a certification that is offered through the CXPA: the Customer Experience Professionals Association. It is really neat. It’s different from other certifications that you see out there because it’s experience-based.
There are two different qualifications. It’s three years plus a certain amount of education, or five years and then another amount of education. Then you take a rigorous exam covering the six competencies of customer experience. We’re seeing more and more people wanting to take the exam and we’re seeing jobs posted where it’s a requirement.
Dan Gingiss: That sounds like you’ve got your Master’s in Customer Experience. You had a big life accomplishment, which was your book Customer Understanding. It’s on Amazon with a five-star rating. Tell me about it.
Annette Franz: The book is really interesting. It’s been brewing for the last five years or so. I started it several times in various iterations and hated it. I was doing a keynote pretty regularly and I walked off stage one day after giving that keynote, and I was like, “That’s it! That’s my book right there!”
On the flight from New York back to Orange County, I had six hours to do nothing but take my notes from my presentation, plunk it into Word and start putting it all together. The book is in three parts.
The first part is “What is CX?” and “Why CX?” – building the business case. The second part is talking about those three ways. The subtitle of the book is, The Three Ways to Put the Customer in Customer Experience and at the Heart of the Business. And then the last part of the book, “how-to”, really focuses on the third way, which is empathizing—walking in your customers’ shoes. So, it takes the reader through my six-step process, mapping the process in detail and tells you how to do it, and how to do it right.
Dan Gingiss: Your book has a special spot on my bookshelf.
I want to talk about this—walking in your customers’ shoes, because I think right now, as we said before, that everybody’s in the same experience. I think that’s a really interesting way to help companies react now. And I just did an interview this morning for my second book that’s being written right now.
I was talking to the CEO who told me that she developed the UX in her website and app based on what she wanted to see as a consumer. And she said, “You know, I’m a finicky consumer and I hate when things are difficult. So, I just designed it to make me happy. And it turned out to be a great experience.” And so, talk about how we can use this idea of getting in our customers’ shoes right now, to help them through what is a really difficult period, obviously, for all of us.
Annette Franz: That’s a great story because it doesn’t always turn out that way, right? Because I have worked for some technology companies in my past life, and the features of functionality are built based on either what the CEO wanted in it, or what some of the engineers thought, “Hey, this is great.” And then it turns out, 17 clicks later, it’s something that you have no idea what you’re doing. So, that worked out well.
I did a mentorship program this morning with a group of folks where we talked about exactly this. “What can we do differently today? What tools can we use today to help us do any number of things?” I kept referring to journey mapping and I didn’t need to; it wasn’t a session about journey mapping. But it’s such a powerful tool because it informs your customer experience strategy in so many different ways.
If we take the time to walk in our customers’ shoes and understand the experience that they’re having today, we can do a couple of different things. We can fix those things. We can use it to design a better experience for tomorrow. We can develop new products and services. And I think that’s where you’re going to be, what we’re dealing with in this crisis today. Maybe it’s also about developing new products and services. You know, I think about examples of where local restaurants have become grocery stores. They’re now selling kits. You know, maybe it’s $150. But in that kit, for $150, you get everything, even toilet paper!
Journey mapping is really such a great tool to walk in your customers’ shoes, to understand the experience they’re having today, understand the pain points and the problems they’re trying to solve, and how well you’re doing that, and how you’re forcing them to do things your way when you should be doing things their way.
Dan Gingiss: I agree. There’s only so many Steve Jobs in the world that know what the world needs before they need it. I do think that listening to what your customers need is a better way, generally. In my first job out of college, I worked for a collectibles company. I sold plates, dolls, figurines, and all these different trademarked brands. What I realized was—we had hundreds and hundreds of products—what I realized is that not everything we sold was for everyone, but there was always something for someone. And I remember I’d sit and literally put it on my desk, sort of stare at it and almost talk to it.
I’d be like, “Okay, so who wants you? Like, who’s gonna want to buy you?” And I remember distinctly that the product development team came to the marketing team one day. “It’s alright, we got a brand new product that we want you to sell. They put down on the desk a hand-painted porcelain red barn.
Annette Franz: Oh my gosh.
Dan Gingiss: I’m looking at this thing and it’s got like . . . haystacks and like a little sheep outside. I’m like, “Who in the world wants this?!” And my job was to figure out who wanted it. I started researching and seeing how many farming magazines there were in the country and how huge the subscriber bases were. There were farming mailing lists. This is pre-social media. And P.S., the red barn turned out to be not only one of our best-sellers ever, but it ended up spawning a collection of ten different barns.
That was not a product I was buying. I didn’t know anything about farming or barns. So it didn’t speak to me. And yet what I had to do was figure out who it did speak to, and then talk in that language. I think I’ve always kept that story in my head because no matter what we’re selling: a product, a service, whether B2C or B2B, we have to understand who our target audience is before we can start selling it. And oftentimes we’re not the target audience.
Annette Franz: You bring up a great point, which is number two in the book — to characterize which is personas.
What you’re talking about are personas. You have to know who your customer is and not just why they buy and what they buy. But all of that pain points, problems of solved jobs that they’re trying to do so that you can sell them a red barn or whatever.
I mean, if you know who that person is, and this especially applies today. In this crisis, you can’t just do blanket communications. You have to know who your customer is and communicate with different people differently.
You know, I always bring up this example: The spa that I go to locally was sending out emails—just blanket emails every day saying, “We’re here to help.” What I didn’t do is read down after that first paragraph because I was like, “Oh Lord, how many times do we have to hear this? We’re now ten days in and I’ve got the same message.” But because they’re a spa, they had sanitizers and all these other things that they use within the spa. They were selling those products as well. I emailed them one day and I said, “Why are you sending this every day?” And they’re like, “Well, some people want to buy those products from us.” I was like, “Okay, now if you knew who your customers were and who the ones are that are likely to buy that stuff in bulk because I’m not going to buy it; I’m an individual consumer and don’t need 50 bottles of hand sanitizer and cleaning spray!” Although there are some of those people out there. Knowing your customers and shaping your communications and sending them to the right people based on who they are and making sure that’s relevant to them is so important. Persona is a big piece of that.
Dan Gingiss: I later got into sports collectibles, and that’s where it made it a little easier for me because my friends would make fun of me. They’re like, “Betty Boop, whatever!” And I’m like, “Yeah? Where’d you go to college? Oh, you went to Ohio State University? How about a replica of that football stadium? Are you interested in that?” They’re like, “Really, you sell that?” And that’s where I also figured out that there was something for everyone. You just have to understand the product and the person and where there’s an overlap.
I think it’s important to know where there’s not an overlap. For example, you were talking about a spa, right? So, I: a) Don’t get my haircut; b) Hate massages. I am not a real ideal person for a spa to be marketing to. But if they know that, it saves them a lot of time and a lot of money to just skip down in the whole contact list, right? Because it’s not going to turn into a win.
I had an experience once with a salesperson where one of the things he did, which I always recommend to salespeople, is he leveraged direct mail. I grew up in the direct mail business, I’m still partial to it because I think there’s a reason why we still get as many credit card offers as we get, right? Because they work.
But what I think is particularly interesting is—at least back in the day where we all worked in offices when you got mail at work, that was like a special thing. Not like when you go to the mailbox at home and it’s just full of junk mail, but you get to work and it’s like, “Woo, mail!” I had a very famous company and the CEO sent me the new book that came out. As it turns out, I had a pretty bad relationship with this company at a past job. So, there was no chance I was gonna do business with them again. But because this guy sent me a book in the mail, I felt obligated to get back to him. And so, I called him, and I said, “Thank you so much for the book. I appreciate it.
Listen, I kind of had a really bad experience. This is probably not happening between us.” The guy was so thankful that I contacted him. And literally, I think he just felt good crossing my name off the list because it was one less thing that he had to do and one less person that he had to chase that wasn’t ever going to turn into a sale. That’s why I always tell people who it isn’t for because that can help you. Then you’re spending the time on who it is for.
Annette Franz: My brain went to the flip side of that. I thought he was going to try to fix it for you and try to win you over.
Dan Gingiss: No, it wasn’t happening. You know, sometimes I’m a guy who loves to give honest feedback. I like to get honest feedback as well. I didn’t want to lead him on. I wanted to be very clear that this wasn’t happening. Now that we’ve sort of been in this COVID situation for a couple of months now, both within your own business, but also what are some of your clients seeing?
Annette Franz: An interesting thing with my business. And I think we as individual consultants or small business consultants have probably all seen this.
As soon as this lockdown hit, everybody was like cockroaches. Everybody just scrambled, and away they went into the woodworks and never to be seen again kind of thing. Every proposal that was out there just died, we had no money to spend, “Don’t talk to us until this thing is over, whether it’s six months or three years from now.” It was a “Don’t talk to us” kind of thing.
Then some clients were just trying to figure out, “Can we still work together virtually? Does this work?” Like, “Yeah, we can!”
And then just shifting a second to what I’m seeing now is that the proposals are coming back. Like, I can start to see that people are, as soon as the talk of reopening was happening. Conversations are slowly, very slowly starting to happen again, but they’re starting to happen again. For my clients, the interesting thing was that they were all struggling.
Most of my clients are either brand new chief customer officers or heads of CX or in the higher up in the CX food chain in their organization. And they were being repurposed to do whatever it took to deal with the situation at hand immediately.
Right now, we’ve got all hands on deck to do whatever it is we need to do versus another group that was like, “You know what? They care about customer insights. They want to hear what customers have to say. They want to know what I do.” That part has persisted. Yes, there is still some being repurposed, but people are starting to come back, especially with this re-opening. Now, people are starting to come back and are saying, “I’m busy with the work that I was doing.” And it’s picking up again.
There was a point where it was like, “Should we be listening to customers? Should we be serving? What should we be doing?” And those that had already had the data and everything were happy to hear that people finally want to hear what customers have to say. And that’s persistent. That part I’m still hearing more about today is that more CX folks are excited that people around the organization care about what customers are saying. They want to know because they want to be able to communicate the way that customers want to be communicated with.
And then what we’re seeing from the profession in general: a lot of folks have gotten laid off, especially in those industries that were hit hard. Anybody that was related to something that had been completely shut down, it trickles downhill. But I have heard that people are hiring. They’re still looking for people. So, not all hiring is dead right now. But a lot of folks have lost their jobs.
Dan Gingiss: I think it’s so interesting that for some companies, this newfound focus on customer experience. I’ve been saying, “Hey, there’s never been a better time to be focused on customers, right?” Sometimes it is those negative experiences that bring people together instead, and frankly get people thinking in the right direction. I’ve seen as well that there are companies that are more focused on CX than they have before.
Relatedly, do you think today’s COVID customers have more needs right now? So, more opportunities to add value or maybe not?
Annette Franz: I think it’s a mixed bag. I think some have different needs and more needs. And then there are some of those that are like, “I can’t go out. I’m just going to keep doing what I do, and that’s it.” I think it’s a mixed bag. That’s my short answer.
Dan Gingiss: That’s good.
Annette Franz: I can go one way or the other on that one. Because seriously, I have seen both. I’ve seen and I’ve talked to friends where it’s both ways. I think they’re excited, though. about companies who have pivoted to do things differently.
Dan Gingiss: My answer is that I do think COVID customers have more needs right now. Whether that provides more opportunities to create value is a different story because the problem is the customers—they do have more needs. The companies are so perplexed and don’t want to spend money and are already cutting in lots of other places that it makes our job sometimes more difficult because we’re in a situation where people aren’t quite sure where they want to spend their money right now.
I think customers are looking for companies to provide some confidence and some calm in the storm, because if the people that we’re doing business with aren’t showing the calm, where are we going to get that? I think that’s the challenge. We don’t get it from the government. We don’t get it from the media. Our families are awesome. But at this point, we’re sick of them because we’ve been living with them so much. We got to look somewhere, and to me, it’s the companies we do business with where they can provide that value.
Annette Franz: Maybe I’m just too deep into the CX thing of it, where I go, “You know what? I don’t think they have more needs because I think they’re the same needs that have always been there. They’re just amplified now, or people are more aware of them.” And that’s your point. That’s a good thing. That can only be a good thing.
Dan Gingiss: Great point.
Check out the full interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2E3AEeLPyOQ