The Six Golden Rules of Customer Experience

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Robert Fulghum's classic All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten tells us that daily living doesn't require complicated formulas. All that's needed is an understanding of basic lessons, such as share everything, play fair, don't hit people, put things back where you found them, and clean up your own mess.

Customer experience wisdom is also not rocket science. While not as simple as what is commonly known as the Golden Rule ("Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"), the following, more robust version is what I call the Six Golden Rules of Customer Experience.

1. Focus on journeys, not interactions. When customers interact with you, they're only doing it because they're trying to get something accomplished. Rather than focusing on the individual touchpoint, try to help customers achieve their goals. If a USAA member calls to change his address, reps are trained to understand why and deal with bigger issues. If the call is from a soldier about to be deployed, the rep might check if the member has thought about a will, power of attorney, and life insurance. The rep might even put a hold on the member's car insurance, so the soldier doesn't have to pay for a car he's not using.

2. Treat employees as assets. If your employees are not engaged in the overall mission of the company, there's no way to consistently deliver a good experience. Why? Engaged employees are more than twice as likely to work late if something needs to be done, help someone at work even if they're not asked, and do something good for the company even if it's not expected of them. They are almost three times as likely to make recommendations about an improvement and more than six times as likely to recommend that a friend or relative apply for a job.

3. Build your brand from the inside out. No matter how much you spend on marketing and advertising, you can't get customers to believe you offer a great experience if you don't. Make sure that employees understand, believe in, and are prepared to deliver on your brand promises. Before BMO Financial Group's new brand went live, it launched an internal campaign that identified eight actions every employee could demonstrate, including "Our heads are up, not down"; "Everyone pitches in...titles don't matter"; and "Help in choosing, not choices." Employees were given a brand book, which covered the brand principles, including a breakdown of what's different "tomorrow from today."

4. Make every ending count. People make decisions based on how they remember experiences, not on how they actually experience them. This is important because it means people don't remember experiences the way they actually occur. Memories are constructed as stories people create in their minds, based on fragments of their actual experiences. Nobel Prize–winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman's research identified something called the "peak-end rule," which states that people's memories tend to be heavily influenced by the most severe (good/bad) parts of an experience and the way it ends. Improving the way you end experiences will have a disproportionate effect on what customers remember.

5. Tap into the power of why. Most corporate communications focus on the "what" and "how" of a situation. This may elicit short-term compliance, but its efficacy decays quickly, and it loses value completely when situations change and the "how" no longer applies. Leaders need to elicit buy-in by starting communications with "why," explaining the reason that something is important to the company and to the people being asked to do something.

6. Only ask if you plan to act. Asking customers a barrage of multiple-choice questions might have made sense five years ago, but today it's an ineffective use of a key asset, customer feedback. When you're trying to figure out what feedback to collect, focus on the actions you plan to take. Intuit, for example, won't send out a survey unless it's prepared to follow up with unhappy clients.

Make sure to follow the Six Golden Rules of Customer Experience...and also to clean up your own mess.

Bruce Temkin is customer experience transformist and managing partner of Temkin Group, a research and consultancy firm focused on enterprise-wide customer experience transformation. He is also the chair and cofounder of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a global nonprofit organization, and author of the blog Customer Experience Matters (ExperienceMatters.wordpress.com).

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