Company Culture is your Company Reputation

Building on the theme from yesterday, I am now more motivated than ever by an article on the Fast Company site today: Culture Eats Strategy For Lunch

A number of books on my list this past month (Tribal Leadership and Delivering Happiness to name two) showed me just how critical a true, strong, and real culture is in allowing any organization to step beyond the brand. When a company can step beyond its brand, it has the rare opportunity to demonstrate what it means to be a great, not merely a good, company.

How do you do it? The examples are everywhere, and they all show the same thing – the company comes last.

Ok, so maybe not last, but you get the point. Doing what’s right for the company (and in really bad companies, what’s right for me!) has turned organizations so many companies into examples of corporate inertia: If we keep doing this, maybe they won’t hate us.

How has your company REALLY (no lip service allowed!) put the customer first today?

Can you find an example where the whole company put the customer (not A CUSTOMER) first?

Image courtesy of Jacob Nielsen

Still trying to brand yourself? That must hurt…

I’ve been enjoying the articles posted by Matthew Prince on PandoDaily from the WEF in Davos over the last week. But the one that got me in the right place at the right time is the one where he described how Paddy Cosgrave, inspired by the desire to make something happen in Ireland, created the F.ounders conference.

How did this hit me? It focused on how someone stood up and created a reputation that he can carry anywhere he goes. Not a brand; a reputation.

As I have said before: Personal Branding is all about you, closed source. Everything has to come back to the “I” that’s not in team (although there is a “me”, so a person can still screw up a team).

Taking what you have, and giving it to others to advance everyone, that builds reputation.

Are you building a personal brand or a personal reputation?

The Three Pillars of Web Performance

Had a great conversation with a colleague today. She and I were bouncing around some ideas, and I listed my top 3 topics in Web performance as “Speed, Revenue, and Experience”. She was quick to correct me.

“No, not revenue, conversions”.

She was right. Just last week, I talked about how critical it is to convert visitors into customers. Doing this in some businesses doesn’t mean that there is any revenue, but the goal remains the same.

Speed is the one everything thinks is the same as Web Performance. It’s not. It’s the don’t be that guy measure of Web Performance, the one that can be easily quantified and put on display. But performance for an online application is so much more than raw speed.

Experience is the hardest of the three to measure, because what it is depends on who you ask. Is it design, flow, ease of use, clarity, or none of these things? But a fast application can still make people cranky. There are online applications that are clearly designed to make the customer do things the way the vendor demands and these are the ones that make you go “Why am I here?”.

Now, can all the metrics that measure Web Performance be distilled to Speed, Conversions, and Experience? If you stepped away from the very product specific terms the Web Performance industry uses every day, what would describe the final, bottled, and served essence of Web Performance?

Web Performance: The Myopia of Speed

In February 2010, Fred Wilson spoke to the Future of Web Apps Conference. He delivered a speech emphasizing 10 things that make a Web application successful.

The one that seems to have stuck in everyone’s mind is the first of these. People have focused, quoted, and written almost exclusively about number one:

First and foremost, we believe that speed is more than a feature. Speed is the most important feature.

Strong words.

Fred has worked with Web and mobile companies for many years, so he comes at this with a modicum of experience. And for years, I would have agreed with this. But Fred goes on to describe 9 other items that don’t get the same Google-juice that this one quote does. There are probably 10 more that companies could come up with.

But a maniacal focus on speed means that in some companies, all else is tossed in order for that goal of achieving some insane, straight-line, one-dimensional goal. Some companies are likely investigating faster than light technologies to make the delivery of online applications even faster.

Can you base your entire business on having the fastest online application? What do you have to do to be fast?

Strip it down. Lose the weight, the bloat, the features. And what’s left is a powerful beast designed to do one party trick, likely at the expense of some other aspect of the business that supports the application.

If a company focuses on a few metrics, a few key indicators, they might evolve up to NASCAR, where it is not just speed, but cornering, that matters. Only left-hand corners, mind you, but corners nonetheless. Here speed is important, but is balanced against availability and consistency to ensure that a complete view of the value of the site is understood.

But is that enough? Do your customers always want to go left in your application? What happens if you are asked to allow some customers to go right? Do all of the other performance factors that you have worked on suddenly collapse?

As you can tell, growing up means that my taste in fast cars and racing forms has evolved, become more complex. Straight-line speed, followed by multi-dimensional perspectives have led me to realize that speed is only one feature.

So, if top-fuel and stock-car racing aren’t my gig, what is?

For a number of years in the 1980s and again since 2008, I have had a love of Formula One. The complexity of what these machines are trying to achieve boggles the mind.

Formula One is speed, of that there is no doubt. But there is cornering (left and right), weight distribution, brake temperature, fuel mix, traffic, uphill (and downhill, sometimes with corners!), street courses and track courses. And there are 24 answers to the same question in every race.

And then, there is a driver. In Formula One, a driver with an “inferior” car can win the day, if that inferiority is what is particularly suited to that course, in the hands of a skilled manager.

There is no doubt that like Formula One, speed is key to coming out on top. But if the organization is focused solely on speed, then your view of performance will never evolve. The key to ensuring a complete Web performance experience is a maniacal focus on a matrix of items: speed, complexity, third-parties, availability, server uptime, network reliability, design, product, supply-chain, inventory management integration, authentication, security, and on and on.

The Web application is a just that: a web. Multi-dependent factor and performance indicators that must be weighed, balanced, and prioritized to succeed. No web application, no online application, fixed or mobile, will survive without speed.

However, if speed is all you have, is that enough to keep someone coming back?

Is your organization saying that speed is all there is to performance?

The Customer Investment

Who uses the products or services your company sells?

The usual answer, once you get through the marketing spin and positioning, is customers.

Companies spend a large amount of time, resources, and treasure converting prospects into customers, but where is the investment in keeping customers from becoming anti-customers?

The mobile phone business is an ideal example for this ebb and flow, a prime case study for customer investment.

I’m a T-Mobile USA customer; have been since 2004. This year, T-Mobile USA has decided that 2012 Is The Year T-Mobile Fixes Churn. Does this mean just the customers at the end of their contract or the one leaving because of the lack of the iDevice they want?

Or will T-Mobile USA extend this churn-loss plan (Go New Year’s Resolution!proactively to all customers.

Will T-Mobile bother to personally contact (hey, with a phone call?) every one of its current customers?

Will T-Mobile ask customers who are leaving why? Not in a stupid, aggressive way, but in a way that admits that they didn’t do enough for that person, but they really want to understand what went wrong.

Will T-Mobile USA take the time to invest in their customers?

Investing in customers means proactively working with them to ensure that the service they are getting:

  1. Meets the customer’s current needs
  2. Is flexible enough to adjust to the evolution of the customer’s business.

 

Joseph Michelli discusses the concepts of service velocity and service recovery in The Zappos Experience. These are items that companies need to consider. Customers want you to adapt and evolve to meet their post-sales needs (service velocity) and then be truthful, upfront, and solution-focused when there is a problem (service recovery). Customers want you to invest in them, in sickness and in health.

It’s so much easier to keep a customer than it is to get a new one to replace them. So why are so many companies lacking focus and discipline when investing in their customers.

Career Reform – The Changing Face of Expertise

Empty Road - William WarbyIn August 2011, I took the title “consultant” off my business card after having it for eight years. It was sad to see the old friend leave, but it was for the best – for both consultant and for me.

Two years ago (22 months for those of you who are more precise), I composed two pieces on what it meant to me as I evolved out of the role of “analyst” and into the role of “consultant” (here) and how this meant developing the skills of a “selling consultant” (here). It was a heady time. I was learning a lot of new skills, meeting the challenges of a post-technical role, managing to a new level of “success”.

Many things have changed since then. But the key lesson that I learned is that the career path that was in front of me was not headed in the direction I wanted to go. The true sign of this, that I ignored at the time, but which is so obvious to me now, is when I started counting down the days to my annual vacation.

Having just finished Onward and Delivering Happiness, I read that these moments come to all people. It’s how they choose to face them that determines their happiness after.

Due to a serious of weird misfortunes, fortune shined upon me. A new opportunity was presented to me, and I was able to use it to shape a new path forward, one I think that many maturing consults imagined that their roll would look like when they started their journey.

My new role is to act as a consultant to the entire organization. And what does that mean? My goal (and I get to invent the role as I go along) is to develop and share the knowledge of the strategic use of the product line, approached from a technical and sales perspective, to help current and new members of the company not only learn the How of the product line, but the Why that motivates prospects to become company customers. I also get to see how the product plan morphs, shifts to meet new information and new ideas.

Am I happy? Yes. When I began my change from analyst to consultant, I had hoped this is where I would end up.

If I stayed the course, would I have ended up here?

Despite being a counter-factual question, I think that the answer is no. I was being squeezed, shaped, and directed by the role of consultant. I had lost control of my own career and was being driven to the next destination in a blacked-out van.

Now I have gotten out of the van, checked my bearings, and started walking in the direction I want to go in.

What’s next? Well, I’m sure that in two years, I’ll have something to share.

Customer Experience: The Vanishing Reviews

SJE is an excellent supporter of the online economy. However, she is also very focused on the experience she suffers through on many online retail applications. The question I get frequently from the other end of the living room (Retail and Wardrobe Management Control Center – see image) is: “Is Company X a customer? Because their site (is slow | is badly designed | doesn’t work | sucks)!”.

Most of the time, there isn’t much to do, and the site usually responds and SJE is able to complete the task she is focused on.

Last night, however, a retailer did something that strayed into new territory. This company unwittingly affected the customer experience to such a degree that they actually destroyed the trust of a long-term customer.

This isn’t good for me, as I wear a lot of fine products from this retailer. But even in my eyes, they committed a grievous sin.

This retailer decided, for reasons that are known only to them, to delete a number of negative comments, reviews, and ratings for a product that they have for sale.

I just checked, and sure enough, all of the comments, including my wife’s very strong negative feedback about the quality, are gone.

I can think of a number of really devious and greedy reasons why a company might do this. It could also be an accident. If it was an accident, you might want to note that reviews and comments for this product were accidentally lost.

Now, if you went to a retailer and saw that your comments and reviews had been deleted, how would you feel? Would you trust that retailer ever again? What would happen if the twittering masses picked up the meme and started to add fuel to the bonfire?

A strong business, a solid design, an amazing presentation, and unrivaled delivery aren’t enough for some businesses. As a company, there is substantial effort, time, and treasure dedicated to converting visitors into customers. And it sometimes takes only one boneheaded move to turn a customer into the anti-customer.

This Post Rating:  

Customer Experience: Standing on your own four legs

Tables. They’re pretty ubiquitous. You might even be using one right now (although in the modern mobile world, you may not. LAMP POST!).

A strong business is like a table, supported by four legs.

  • The Business. The reason that resources and people have been gathered together. There is a vision of what the group wants to do and what success looks like.
  • The Design. Don’t think style; think Design/Build. This is where the group takes the business idea and determines how they will make it happen, where the stores will be, what a datacenter looks like, who they will partner with.
  • The Presentation. How the Business and the Design are shown to people. How the shelves are stocked, the landing pages look, the advertising is placed, how the business looks to potential customers.
  • The Delivery. This is the critical part of how the business uses the systems they have designed and the presentation they have crafted to deliver something of value to the potential customer.

Without any one of these, an organization will fail to meet the most critical goal it has set to be successful: an experience that turns a visitor or browser into a customer.

All the Business and MBA grads in the audience are yawning, and slapping their Venti non-fat, no-whip, decaf soy lattés down on the table. This message isn’t for you. Well, it is, but you can stand up and give your chair to one of the people behind you.

Now that I have Dev, QA, and Operations sitting with me (remember, the Business guys are still in the back of the room, tapping away on their Blackberries), tell me what you think of this conceptual table. How does the Table of Customer Experience relate to you?

Ok, put down the Red Bulls and Monsters and listen: Everything that Dev, QA, or Operations does has an effect on the experience (negative or positive) of the potential customer. If one of the table legs is broken (or even shorter than the others), the rippling shockwaves will eventually affect the entire operation.

So, if I were to ask the member so of your organization how their daily activities supported the online application in each of these four areas, do you think they could answer?

Grab a white board. This is going to be a long day.

Picture courtesy of sashafatcat

9/11 – Where were you?

On that Tuesday morning, I was in the air, on a flight from San Francisco to Denver, the first leg of a trip to Boston on business. I was excited – it was a client I had been looking forward to working with, and it seemed like an exciting opportunity. The flight was mostly empty and I had the luxury of a Bulkhead seat on a 777 – the middle section of my row was my kingdom to command, at least until Denver.

I don’t know where we were (probably near Tahoe) when the plane made a hard and very sudden turn away from the direction we should have been traveling in. All the passengers on this mostly empty flight (remember those flights?) seemed to get a quizzical look on there faces. This turned to concerned looks on our faces when the pilot came on the intercom to announce that the flight had been diverted to Sacramento in response to a “National Security request”.

Through the remainder of the short flight to Sacramento, it was clear that the flight attendants were visibly shaken (it was a United flight) and were having a hard time holding it together. Professional to a fault, they graciously brought me an extra yogurt when I asked. I had no clue.

The landing in Sacramento, an airport that was just barely long enough to accept a 777, is one that I remember to this day. As soon as the wheel touched the tarmac, the brakes screamed and reverse thrusters howled, the pilots trying to bring a “heavy” plane to a stop on a runway that was nominally rated for the beast they were bringing in.

We were still unsure what had happened, but the few of us who had the limited Web available on our phones were reading very conflicting and inaccurate news items. The flight attendants asked us to put them away, but for once they were doing it for optics, knowing full well we wanted to know what was going on as much as they did.

Outside the windows, planes of all stripes and sizes, from airlines I had never heard of or only seen in the air on approach to SFO. And clearly, there were two problems.

  1. There were no gates for us to pull up to.
  2. When we pulled to stop, the ground crew looked at us with dazed looks, going “How the hell do we offload a 777?”

We finally staggered off the plane, via a 60s style airplane ladder. By this time, the flight attendants were crying and holding each other. It wasn’t until later that I realized that they had all lost friends on the planes.

After this process, the few of us streamed into the Sacramento terminal, headed for the baggage carousels. It was then that we saw the first tvs.

The line of passengers briefly stopped in shock. A few of them peeled off to the bar, where it was clear that the drinks were on the owner. The rest of us grabbed our bags and shuffled out of the terminal.

I called my wife and got through to our house on the second or third try. My mother-in-law, who was visiting, picked up the phone. I said I was alright, and asked to speak to my wife. SJE picked up and I told her I was on the ground in Sacramento and I was alright.

She was clearly confused and asked why I was calling. Our youngest was only a few months old, and sleep was at a bit of a premium. I knew she would have had no clue, and told her to go turn on the tv. Five minutes later, she called back and, in a clear but very stressed voice, told me that she was going to come and get me.

By that time, I told her that it was completely unnecessary. By an act of organization that has amazed me and endeared me to United until this day, they had arranged for a bus to come to the Sacramento terminal and take us back to SFO.

The bus ride was surreal. Completely quiet, except CNN radio. No one spoke. No one spoke on cell phones. We were all processing what we thought had happened, as CNN Radio tried to do the same.

The bus arrived back at SFO, making us some of the few who at least got back to where we had started our day. We gathered our bags, and shuffled off to wherever we were going to go. In an eerie silence.

Coming down the stairs from the top level of the airport, I saw the pandemonium at the ticketing counters as thousands of people desperately sought a way to get somewhere – home, away, flee. I was lucky. I got to go down to the arrivals area and wait.

I was picked up by SJE about 20 minutes after I got off the bus. As we headed home, south on 101, we watched a lonely aircraft descend out of the crystal blue (ok, it’s the Bay Area – gray brown) sky. It was clearly one of the final flights to land at SFO that day. The 747, a plane from one of the major Asian national carriers was a glorious sight as it approached. But then we noticed the frightening parentheses that summed up the day – this glorious feat of engineering was bringing its passengers in accompanied by two F-16s.

We heard the roar of the fighters peeling off as the 747 put its wheels down behind us. And, as we drove, the great silence began.

The Joy of the Platform

In the last few months, I have found myself uttering the word platform on an almost daily basis. As I was flying home last night, I began to consider what that actually means.

In the world I work in, customers bought a product or a tool. The purchase is driven by a desire to solve a problem or prevent a problem from appearing in the first place. It was a point solution, a single point of entry into an organization and added a very limited amount of value to a siloed compartment of an organization for a limited period of time, before the next shiny toy came along that purported to do the same thing, only better.

Economies of scale be damned, full inefficiencies ahead!

Companies that sell platforms, or have begun to to consider doing more than just paying lip-service to the word, look at the world with a different filter. The customer is seen as a holistic entity, as complex as any patient who comes to a doctor for treatment. If two people come to a doctor with the flu, they don’t always get the same treatment, as the one patient may be sent home for rest and the other rushed to hospital because their compromised immune system means the flu will kill them without specialist care.

The best platforms are those that are focused on one to three key aspects of customers business or way of doing business and provide a unified way to perform these 1-3 functions. The customer should not be forced to go to completely different places to use each tool on the platform.

Platforms have unified flows, and customers can expect that using different parts of the platform will be easy to learn, as they all work the same way. An example of a bad platform is Microsoft Office. When you go to the File Menu in a Microsoft Office product, you know that regardless which product in the suite you are using, the same items will be there. Where Microsoft Office fails as a platform is in the way that the rest of the menus and actions are not unified, with Powerpoint behaving differently from Word, which are both different from Excel. Microsoft Office is a the case study of history is getting in the way of ease of use, of standalone products loosely linked, like cheap knock-offs of Lego™.

Platforms are truly extensible. If a customer needs an additional component of the platform, it can be enabled (after the appropriate business negotiations) in minutes.

Platforms need to allow simplicity when needed and complexity where required. While a 10-person company and a 10,000-person company have different needs, the same platform should be able to support these needs. Salesforce.com is a classic example of this – in their world, they don’t care what the size of your company is.

And, platforms have to guided by product management teams, to have a shared vision. Product management has to enforce a strong adherence to the core values of focus, unity, extensibility, and complex simple complexity. A product management team that lacks the leadership to drive these values will produce a broken platform

How does your platform compare against this checklist?