Tag Archives: cx

Key to Better CX: Think Like NTSB

Airlines are rarely held up as models of customer experience (CX) excellence, but, in one important respect, the aviation industry actually deserves that recognition.

At many airlines, the traveler experience leaves a lot to be desired. People are subjected to a host of annoyances and indignities, from baggage charges to ticket change fees, from cramped seating to overbooking.

But one aspect of the airline customer experience is remarkably good, and consistently getting even better: the industry’s discipline in identifying and addressing the causes of accidents.

Say what you want about the awfulness of air travel, but it does have one undeniably redeeming quality: It’s really safe. While commercial airline accidents obviously garner a lot of media attention, they are extremely rare. Accounting for just 0.006 deaths per billion miles of travel, flying is the safest form of transportation out there, far safer than driving.

We were recently reminded of this, when a United Airlines plane suffered an engine failure moments after departing Denver International Airport. Pieces of the engine rained down on a Denver suburb. Fortunately, no one was hurt on the ground, nor on the plane, which quickly returned to the airport and made an emergency landing.

Within hours of the incident, the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) “Go Team” was mobilized, and it’s from their tireless work that all businesses can learn a valuable lesson.

Established in 1967, the NTSB is an independent government agency that investigates all civil aviation accidents, as well as major incidents involving other forms of transportation (such as train derailments).

The Go Team is a cornerstone of the NTSB’s investigative process. Ready to travel anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice, the team includes a variety of specialists – in aircraft structure, engines, hydraulic systems, crew performance and even air traffic control. They all descend on the accident site to piece together what happened and to determine what went wrong.

Within a matter of days, the NTSB issues a preliminary report. (An official, final report can take months if not years to publish, depending on the complexity of the incident.)

See also: 9 Months on: COVID and Workers’ Comp

But here’s the most important part: Based on its investigation, the NTSB releases safety recommendations, which can then be turned into “airworthiness directives” by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Those directives, which can be issued on an emergency basis if necessary, establish legally enforceable rules that can dictate anything from aircraft design changes (which would be handled by the manufacturer) to maintenance procedure enhancements (which would be handled by the airline).

What does that disciplined process of investigating aviation accidents and addressing their root causes yield? Decades of consistent improvement in the civil aviation fatality rate, with the five-year moving average hitting an all-time low in 2019 (despite a marked increase in the number of flights).

Now, imagine if the above graph were charting the failure rate for your company’s customer experience, perhaps measured through product defects, complaints or some other indication of an experience gone wrong.

Because that’s really what the NTSB Go Team (and other countries’ aviation safety agencies) do. They root out the underlying cause of a failure in the experience. Granted, in the case of the NTSB, they’re looking at failures that can be grave, resulting in harm to dozens if not hundreds of passengers. But the value of the NTSB’s approach is applicable to any business, regardless of product or service sold.

Think of it this way: There are a finite number of reasons why an aircraft will suffer an operational failure. By rigorously investigating every failure, and directing aviation partners to pursue remedial action, the NTSB and FAA have gradually narrowed the list of potential failure points. Hence the remarkable and steady long-term decline in accident rates.

The same logic applies to your business. There are a finite number of reasons why your customer experience may fail, from a product design flaw to an outdated website link to an inaccurate instruction sheet. There may be a long list, but it is a finite list.

You would be remiss then, if you didn’t take the opportunity to investigate failures when they occur, pinpoint the root cause and address the underlying issue. Only by doing so can you start to check items off of that finite list and begin removing potential sources of experience failure from your customers’ lives.

To bring the NTSB’s proven approach to your organization, keep three things in mind:

  • Invest in investigation. When experience failures arise, people’s focus is (rightly) on solving the problem for the affected customer. Once that’s done, though, organizations just move on to the next task – answering the next call, resolving the next complaint, manufacturing the next widget. Resist that temptation. Culturally, people in your organization must understand that an essential part of experience recovery is asking yourself, “How did my customer even end up in this situation?”
  • Turn insights into action. It doesn’t help anyone if a field sales rep or a call center agent figures out the root cause of a customer experience failure, but then doesn’t have an outlet to communicate that to people who can do something about it. After all, the NTSB’s investigations would be pointless without their safety recommendations and the FAA’s associated airworthiness directives. Make sure there is a clear avenue for your staff to share their findings with those who can drive change, such as a manager or an internal CX improvement team.
  • Make it about progress, not punishment. Interestingly, conclusions from an NTSB investigation cannot be entered as evidence in a court of law. That is by design: The architects of the NTSB wanted the organization to be viewed as an independent party, focused on preventing future accidents, not facilitating litigation. In the business arena, staff need to be forthcoming to assist with root cause analysis. If they sense that the exercise is punitive, they’ll likely be reluctant to participate in a genuine way. Keep the exercise constructive, with an emphasis on continuous CX improvement.

Every company, even legendary ones, has to occasionally deal with customer experience failures. What separates the good from the great is how the organization approaches the resolution of those issues. Does it fix the problem for just one customer, or does it address the problem for all customers in the future. The NTSB has certainly demonstrated its proficiency in the latter approach, chipping away at root causes and turning air travel into the safest transportation experience on the planet.

See also: COVID, and How to Pivot to Innovation

So, the next time your organization encounters a customer experience failure, ask yourself, “Who’s on our Go Team?” Whether it’s a responsibility that lies with a dedicated unit, or an accountability that’s embedded in every staff member’s role – ensure this investigative work consistently gets done, because it’s that discipline that will keep your business flying higher.

A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Why CX Must Trump Efficiency

There isn’t an insurance business in the land that isn’t talking about digital transformation. Whether talking about AI, robotics or platforms, the majority of the industry is confident it’s heading toward a brightly lit, digital future.

The motivation for transformation? We are told customers are demanding a better experience: an interaction that is quick, clean and gets the job done with minimal fuss.

But, for all the effort made, the customer experience in insurance is fundamentally the same as it was 10 or 15 years ago – it’s still based on call centers. I think that is because, while the stated driver for digital change may be the customer, its primary purpose has been to reduce costs.

That efficiency-first approach has resulted in many organizations looking to webforms to digitize their customer-facing processes.

Webforms do a decent job leveraging digitalization to automate the beginning of processes normally done manually. Yet any claim coming from a webform still requires the capable hands of an operations employee, who will perform the rest of the process and communicate the outcome to the customer. In addition, webforms can’t converse — reducing them, essentially, to digital monologue. While customers want a quick, hassle-free experience, many want that done through conversation of some kind. Conversations are comforting, familiar and create a sense of engagement that a static form can never replicate. 

A true digital experience is one that takes all the benefits of a one-to-one conversation and automates it using conversational process automation (CPA). That is the world that webforms were trying to create but failed to produce because of the focus on efficiency.


CPA leverages a chatbot conversational interface to deliver an efficient customer experience, thinking about the customer first while saving cost. It allows for the execution of high-value, customer-facing processes, integrated into insurance platforms and systems and complying with security and audit requirements.

CPA will, I believe, bring the digital change that so many seek. They can replicate the conversational style and effectiveness of a human call handler for the vast majority of recurrent insurance interactions – from quote and buy through to claim notification. 

CPA has the capacity to handle call volumes that only a very large, very expensive call center could match. Of course, there are limits to what CPA can currently do, but it is improving all the time — getting smarter at predicting queries, reacting to something that doesn’t fit into the box and leading the customer through complex processes. Webforms, for all their value, can never do that. 

As we collect more and more data through CPA, performance becomes more accurate and, according to a report from IT advisory firm Gartner, by 2022 70% of white-collar workers will interact with conversational platforms on a daily basis. 

See also: Insurtechs’ Role in Transformation

The combination of process automation and superior customer experience will drive efficiencies. A recent report by McKinsey estimates that, in the claims process alone, automation could reduce the cost of that journey by as much as 30%.

For insurance to be part of that digital future and to reap its rewards, the industry has to have customer experience as its main motivator, replicating all the value that a one-to-one conversation brings and putting the customer in control of the experience while keeping costs to a minimum.

If we persist in letting costs saving alone drive transformation, we are going to end up with fancier, more expensive tools than webforms that will deliver marginal efficiency while continuing to leave customers frustrated. And that would be a failure of purpose and progress.

Bold Prediction on Customer Experience

If there’s one thing management gurus like to do early in a year, it’s make predictions – and customer experience (CX) experts are no different.

But business predictions are like weather forecasts. Everybody consumes them, but rarely does anybody look back to check their accuracy.

Back in 2014, for example, 89% of companies surveyed predicted that – within two years – they’d be competing mostly on the basis of customer experience (Gartner). Yet, here we are five years after that prediction, and there’s widespread stagnation in customer experience quality (Forrester Research). Overall U.S. customer satisfaction is at the same level it was a decade ago (American Customer Satisfaction Index).

In study after study, companies say they’re going to increase their focus on customer experience. At the same time, CX gurus issue rosy annual prognostications about how that enhanced focus will manifest itself – such as in these examples, culled from prediction lists over the past couple years:

  • Companies will create more customer-centric cultures, using new recognition systems and training programs.
  • Companies will use technology to digitally transform the customer experience.
  • Companies will go the extra mile by empowering their employees to surprise and delight.
  • Companies will use robotic process automation to speed customer transactions.
  • Companies will leverage AI to automate customer interactions without making them feel mechanical.
  • Companies will break down silos and align customer experience strategies across functional domains.
  • Companies will use predictive analytics to create more personalized customer experience.
  • Companies will overhaul their voice-of-the-customer programs, relying more on text analytics of unstructured content, such as survey comments, call center recordings, social media conversations and online chat sessions.

However, despite all the expert predictions, despite all the pledges to focus on CX, the needle has not moved much for many companies. The disparity can’t just be attributed to heightened customer expectations, as even objective measures of CX maturity indicate that the vast majority of organizations lag in this regard (so much for that increased focus).

The problem is that many companies pay lip service to customer experience, pursuing it to create good annual report copy, rather than to drive fundamental changes in how they do business. When push comes to shove, CX initiatives are often subordinated to other priorities and starved for funding, according to the Qualtrics “State of Customer Experience Management” report.

That’s an unfortunate outcome, given the compelling evidence available that illustrates the ROI of a great customer experience (as well as the penalties exacted for a poor one). 

See also: The Best Boost to Customer Experience  

This is the reality in today’s business world, though, which is why there’s one bold customer experience prediction that actually has a high probability of coming true this year. That prediction is simply this: Not much will change.

Most organizations will lumber along, spinning their wheels on customer experience, discussing it endlessly, executing on minor improvements that amount to corporate window dressing, just so someone can “check the box” on their next performance review.

Most organizations will continue their navel-gazing, focusing inward on structural changes, role shifts, political infighting and inter-silo strife.

Most organizations will lose whatever little momentum they may have gained around customer experience improvement, as top executives with “Organizational Attention Deficit Disorder” spot some shiny new object that becomes the next initiative du jour.

Granted, this is quite a pessimistic outlook. But the fact is, most organizations are unremarkable, and are destined to stay that way. That’s precisely why, when a company actually does break from the pack and deliver a differentiated customer experience, it turns heads.

So, rather than obsess over what everyone else will be doing (or what the CX gurus say everyone else will be doing), focus instead on what your company can do to avoid the fate of mediocrity.

See also: How Fine Print Ruins Customer Experience  

Think about how to send a clear, unmistakable signal to the marketplace — and your workplace — that something fundamental is changing. 

A signal that you’re no longer going to do it “like we’ve always done.” 

A signal that you’re disrupting the status quo in your industry. 

A signal that you’re liberating customers from long-simmering frustrations.

A signal that you’re dispensing with the typical CX platitudes, in favor of very tangible and compelling changes that will make a difference in the lives of your customers and the employees who serve them.

It’s disheartening to say that little will change in the state of most companies’ customer experiences next year. It’s not a fait accompli, though.  If you don’t want your company to be among those validating this bold prediction, well then…  go do something bold!

You can find this article originally published here on Forbes.

5 Words That Will Undermine a CX Plan

More and more companies are seeking to differentiate themselves with an effective customer experience strategy. To advance those efforts, some firms hire highly skilled “chief customer officers” or engage expert consultants for assistance.

But there’s also a fair share of firms that choose to go it alone, proudly proclaiming that “we know what we’re doing.”

Those five words, though, could undermine the effectiveness of those firms’ customer experience (CX) improvement strategies. Why? Because there’s more to customer experience strategy than meets the eye.

It’s easy for most anyone to think they’re a customer experience expert. After all, each of us is a consumer ourselves. We know what it takes to make a customer happy – keep promises, abide by the golden rule, serve with a smile, etc.  It’s not rocket science, right?

Well, maybe not rocket science, but definitely science.

See also: Why Isn’t Customer Experience Better?  

The fact is, there’s a whole science to shaping great customer experiences and, contrary to what many business people think, it’s not all common sense. To help illustrate that – to underscore how “we know what we’re doing” could be a dangerously overconfident viewpoint – below are a few examples of customer experience strategy considerations that may surprise you:

  • What’s most important isn’t shaping customer experiences, it’s shaping customer memories. For a business to derive strategic advantage from its customer experience, people need to remember it positively. When a friend or colleague asks you – “what do you think of [Company/Product X]?” – your response is grounded in your recollection of the experience, which is actually different than the experience itself. It’s for this reason that the best CX strategies capitalize on cognitive science to shape customers’ memories more positively, thereby elevating people’s impression of the overall experience.
  • Fixing customer pain points won’t get you where you want to be. Business leaders are, by and large, fixers. They are trained early on, and subsequently coached and encouraged, to find problems and fix them. Fixing problems is a good skill to have, and many a career has been built on such aptitude. It’s also a valuable skill when managing the customer experience – after all, a customer experience with fewer pain points is a better customer experience, right? Yes, but there is a catch. Merely fixing pain points may help achieve competitive parity, but it doesn’t necessarily deliver competitive differentiation. It doesn’t make your customer experience memorable. Achieving that often requires more than just fixing existing customer touchpoints; it requires introducing entirely new ones that enhance the experience in a meaningful way.
  • What customers don’t see is as important as what they do see. Most companies focus their customer experience strategy on the live, digital and print touchpoints that people encounter when patronizing the business (call them “onstage” components). That’s entirely appropriate, but it’s also only a partial solution. Equally important are the “backstage” components – the behind-the-scenes workplace practices that help shape the mindset, behavior and engagement of company employees. From hiring profiles to training programs to compensation practices to cultural norms, these are all backstage elements that customers never see, yet they materially influence the quality of the experience delivered. The most successful customer experience strategies take this into account, balancing their attention across both the onstage and backstage parts of the equation.

If you found some or all of these operating principles eye-opening, you’re not alone. While engineering a great customer experience definitely requires a heavy dose of common sense, it also involves science and subject matter expertise that isn’t at all common.

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once famously declared that there are “known knowns” (things we know we know) and there are “known unknowns” (things we know we do not know). But, he cautioned, there are also “unknown unknowns” (things we don’t know we don’t know).

See also: The Best Boost to Customer Experience  

So, if you’re a business leader launching a customer experience transformation, be wary if you hear your team confidently declare that “We know what we’re doing.” Consider that moment a coaching opportunity, and engage in a little pushback.

Challenge your team to honestly evaluate their expertise.

Challenge them to augment their CX knowledge, through books, training and other resources.

Challenge them to entertain the very real possibility that “unknown unknowns” – things they don’t realize they don’t know about CX – could sabotage their best efforts to create a winning customer experience strategy.

[A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.com.]

8 Key Changes for Customer Experience

Transforming the customer experience is a powerful way for an organization to shift and bring about quantum change, improving retention without huge IT investments that take years. A better customer experience will optimize operations, as well.

In all my years of working in insurance and technology, I have never experienced anything with such power and potential as changing the perspective on customer experience.

It all begins with shifting away from the traditional inside-out focus, driven by customer service, and flipping the lens toward an outside-in focus driven by empathy and the customer experience. And it does not matter who you call the customer: the policyholder or agents and other distribution partners, or even other stakeholders, as well.

See also: Customer Experience Gets a Major Facelift  

The new approach requires understanding the customers’ roles and motivations, goals and pain points to begin to have an empathy that drives a new and different operational response. That response must include a redesign for the ease and quality of customer interactions and deliver value in each and across all interactions. With empathy as an integral part of the lens, the conversation changes. With the common goal being the customer, silos are broken down, and organizations are changed. It’s quite powerful.

SMA believes that eight customer-experience areas need attention and investment as your company launches into and matures in CX. Embracing customer experience throughout an organization requires transforming traditional strategies, workflows, processes and technologies in each of the areas so that they become an organic part of who you are, what you do and how you do it. The eight areas are: Advanced UX Designs, Customer Analytics, the Voice of the Customer Empowerment, Customer-Experience-Driven Metrics, Customer Journey Mapping, the Service Blueprint, the Customer Experience Playbook and the Culture Shift from Service to Experience.

SMA has recently released a report that assesses each area in terms of insurers’ investment levels, maturity levels, the business areas that will be most affected and current or emerging trends in each area for commercial lines insurers: 8 Critical Investments for Customer Experience Excellence: State of Commercial Lines Investments, Adoption and Maturity.

How to start? Education is the first step toward advancing and embracing customer experience across the enterprise. Understanding the customer is the only sure way to be able to provide customers with the experiences that they want – and the experiences that will cement the relationship of trust and loyalty between the insurer and the customer.

See also: 3 Ways to Optimize Customer Experience  

The importance of empathy cannot be understated. Every effort made by insurers to put themselves in the shoes of the customer will result in better customer experiences. And the goal to give customers excellence in service goes beyond supplying mere satisfaction. The key is to infuse empathy into the insurer-customer relationship. And that involves caring, understanding, personalization and commitment. The technologies, resources and initiatives deployed to this end will benefit the customers – as well as insurers as they position for success in the digital, connected world.