I’ve been thinking about a Customer Experience Management (CXM) and Technical Communications lately. For those not in the know, CXM is a new fangled term for what companies should be doing already, which is ensuring that their customers have a great experience when dealing their company.
Many people, me included, think it’s really a different way to say “Brand” but without the agency speak. Of course, many of us have thought that a great brand was a synonym for reputation, which is generated by the creativity of the company’s products (iPod vs Zune), dependability of the company’s work (Tiffany’s vs. Bob’s Discount Den for jewelry) and the capabilities of the employees (Apple customer support vs Verizon not knowing where WV was located).
You’ll notice that most of the things I shared about reputation really come during and after the sale of a product. Yes, good advertising is helpful but if Microsoft’s ads prove anything, it’s that being able to find a future top 10 pop-charts hit and producing a great product aren’t the same. In fact, I’d suggest that about 80% of a customer’s interactions with a company come after the sale (I’m using the 80/20 rule here and will update the post with links when I find them), which provides excellent opportunities to ruin the good vibes that clever marketing and a good sales process bring.
The current approach and discussions on CXM revolve around ensuring that people, processes and especially technologies are all aligned to make certain that interactions with customers are both “on brand” but also help them out as much as possible. This is normally the sweet-spot of small companies since they’ll only have a few employees (often with ownership supervision), processes that are almost always broken but volume low enough to allow for human correction (marketing, sales and support are often the same person, so they are the knowledge management system) and technologies they use are good enough to handle small quantities of customers (Word Doc copied to the website, accounting systems on paper that are referenced to know the last time a customer was billed).
However, now-a-days technology is allowing SME and large companies to train, monitor and support all areas of the customer journey. Other than that finicky people problem of having terrible employees from the top down and absolutely horrific management / training / hiring practices, it is possible to have computer systems create wonderful operational capabilities.
Technical communications comes into its own with the abilities of great information technologies such as content management systems (not web, corporate) and knowledge management systems. The technical communicators in any company are, or at least should, be the communicators of the company’s products capabilities and chief educators on products and services. They spend their entire working lives striving to better understand the products and then writing about them so that the users of those products can understand how to get the most out of the products.
How do I get it working in the beginning? How do I use it now that it is running? How do I fix it? And, how do I get the most out of it?
These are all questions the Tech Pubs folks are handing each day, or you know, ensuring that the customer experience post-sale is great. These good works aren’t new, they’re just too often overlooked by most companies and until recently were far harder to share across work functions (by most recently, I mean the last 15 years but everyone has a 3-ring binder with specs in it somewhere).
Recently, I’ve been thinking about the interaction of CXM and Technical Communications not because the value proposition is hard to understand, but more along the lines of the challenges companies face in really leveraging the assets they’ve had all along.
Some problems as I see them:
Leaders and managers seem to lean toward a sales first culture rather than a Lifetime Value of the Customer culture for reasons that make absolutely no sense to me. I can say with authority as TechWhirl’s main biz dev person that it’s a heck of a lot easier to work with my current customers and help them find new ways to work with us than trying to score new people.
I can dive into details but let’s be clear – silos are not the fault of Senior Mid-Managers – it’s not even the fault of out of date computer systems; it’s the fault of Executive Leadership who allows divisions and infighting to occur. The fact that most Customer Service groups rarely play well with Tech Pubs groups is non-sensical to me but happens everyday. It’s bad Executive Leadership and bad mental models on the right way to bring companies together that are the ultimate cause of these problems.
A majority of companies have not invested in the right technologies to ensure that the right information get to the right places at the right time. This is partly the fault of vision being ahead of the developers since a great content management system should allow all business communications starting with marketing/sales to sit beside technical communication, which then flows to customer facing employees. The customer facing employees should be able to document their work, easily retrieve information and then push that work back down the channel.
In fact, customer facing technologies and people should be able to provide great ideas to the product development teams since they’re constantly getting product feedback. They should also be able to suggest clearer ways to solve a problem, or raise the red-flag on serious problems with a current design.
Work flow and processes, along with company governance need to continue to evolve to ensure that people are working as efficiently as possible, while doing high-quality work. This area plays closely with the technologies since as a new system comes up to speed these things will have to be updated.
Companies who really care about their customers should over invest in training, over invest in employee development and over invest in hiring the right people, with the right skills and most importantly the right temperament. Oh, and they should over invest in ensuring that the wrong hires find their way to the door. They’ll need to pay a premium and aim to have lifetime employees who value lifetime customers.
I’m writing this on my blog rather than going through the full article process on TechWhirl because this article isn’t sourced as well as it should be and it’s my opinion on how great companies should operate. I do plan on diving into a lot of these areas because I think the easiest way to explain technical communication to the world is to explain that it’s dedicated to creating great customer experiences. The tools and technologies in the content management area are perfect for solving some of these areas and the inevitable approach will be seeing companies organize around sales / marketing & customer experience management, which all roll up to company communications.
For the record, the ideas that post here are my own and I know that they’re not fully fleshed out. The post sort of came together without much planning so I know there’s bunch of areas in CXM and there’s more areas that can be discussed on good operational structure.