A Look Back At My First Year Of Blogging

1st Year Aniversary For Customer Experience Matters

Today is a big day. It’s exactly one year after my first post “Lessons Learned From 1,001 Web Site Reviews.”

It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been doing this for a whole year. Or as the song from Rent goes, for five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. But my measurement is not in daylight, sunsets, midnights, or cups of coffee. It’s in blog posts, 184 of them!

While blogging takes a ton of time (I’m constantly looking for interesting topics and drafting posts), it’s been a great experience. Why? Because of you! Readership continues to grow and this blog now has more than 10,000 visitors per month. So I want to say thank you to everyone who has been reading, linking to, writing about, and passing along my blog.

In honor of the 12 months of blogging, I’ve picked out 12 of my favorite posts (in no particular order):

  • Experience-Based Differentiation. This is the core idea which drives my research; it also  won the best research award at Forrester. Experience-Based Differentiation, or EBD as I fondly call it, is based on three principles: Obsess about customer needs, reinforce the brand with every interaction, and treat customer experience as a competency. This remains a powerful blueprint for customer experience excellence. If you’re interested in customer experience (who isn’t?!?), then you may want to use the EBD self-test as a starting point. You can also find many other posts about EBD on this blog.
  • My Manifesto: Great Customer Experience Is Free. This post summarizes my perspective on customer experience; it’s a lot like the quality problems of the 1980s. While customer experience is not an easy situation to deal with, it can DEFINITELY be improved with a systematic effort; it just takes discipline (see EBD above). There was also a follow-on to this post called Great Customer Experience Is Free, Part II.
  • Don’t Let Profits Replace Purpose. Companies need to make profits, but here’s the dilemma: if they just focus on making profits, then they lose sight of what makes them special. Firms that lack a strong raison d’être have a hard time aligning the efforts of their employees. In a related post, I discussed how Firms Need Some Soul Searching.
  • The Holy Grail: A Link Between Customer Experience And Loyalty. I’ve been hoping to do this for a while: use data to provide the connection between customer experience and loyalty. And I finally did it. My analysis shows a high degree of correlation across the 9 industries that I examined, with the the strongest linkage for banks. That finding fits nicely with an earlier post which said that banks need to prepare for customer experience wars.
  • Trend Watch 2008 Wrap-Up. I really enjoyed writing a series of posts over the New Years break that examined trends published in The Economist, The McKinsey Quarterly, Advertising Age, Business Week, and Trendswatch.com. While I discussed 52 trends across all of the posts, this wrap-up looked at 14 that covered 4 areas: Consumer needs, online opportunities, required skills, and strategy & culture. 
  • Learning From The Good Fortune Advice Of Others. Fortune Magazine published advice from 25 famous people, and I commented on 8 of them that I really liked. There was great advice from big names like HP’s CEO Mark Hurd, Disney’s CEO Bob Iger, and Ford’s CEO Alan Mulally. But my favorite person on the list is Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of Pepsico (who I found out about in a Time Magazine article). Her advice: “Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent.”  
  • Discussing Zappos’ Culture With Tony Hsieh. As a researcher, I get to interview a lot of people. But my discussion with Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos was really memorable. It started a few minutes before our call when Tony twittered that he was waking up early (7:00 AM on Memorial Day) and needed a Red Bull before he spoke with me. Tony was great and I’ve become an even bigger fan of Zappos after the call. I also wrotr about another CEO that really understands customer experience, Wachovia’s Ken Thompson.
  • JetBlue’s “Happy Jetting” Is More Than Empty Promises. After a series of posts that looked at companies trying to change their customer experience through advertising efforts (JP Morgan Chase, Circuit City, and John Hancock) it was great to see that JetBlue was engaging its employees in its Happy Jetting efforts. I also wrote about how Ford is starting to view employees as potential brand ambassadors
  • Forrester’s 2007 Customer Experience Rankings. We used responses from nearly 5,000 consumers to rate the customer experience of 112 US firms. Our customer experience index (CxPi) examined three areas:meeting customer needs, being easy to work with, and being enjoyable. The three organizations with the highest CxPi were Costco, Borders, and Barnes & Nobles. The bottom three: Charter Communications, Medicaid, and Cablevision.  
  • Amex CEO Gains Insights From Napoleon. Kenneth Chenault, Amex CEO, used a quote from Napoleon that I really liked: “The role of the leader is to define reality and give hope.” This gave me an opportunity to discuss key leadership attributes: Deal with the reality of the world, engage your employees, provide a clear vision, and maintain a sense of purpose. While I’m discussing quotes, I really liked this one from Mackey McDonald, Chairman of VF Corp: “We realized we didn’t have to come up with brilliant ideas – we needed brilliant ways of executing good ideas.” 
  • Mashup: Halloween + Red Sox + CxP. This was a unique opportunity for me to combine three of my favorite things: my family, Red Sox, and customer experience. We had a great interaction with Jason Varitek on Halloween that ended up with my kids getting his autograph. You can see where he signed my son’s World Series ticket in this post. In another mashup of my interests, I my posted about how The Colorado Rockies Embraces Its Guests.
  • The Best Of CxP Matters: Volume #1Volume #2, and Volume #3. It’s amazing how quickly time (and many blog posts) just flies by. That’s why I’ve been writing “The Best Of Customer Experience Matters” to summarize every 50 posts; they also give me a reason to reflect on what I’ve written. So I decided to bundle all three of these as one of my favorites. 

In case you’re interested, here are the 10 posts that have been read the most:

  1. Experience-Based Differentiation
  2. My Manifesto: Great Customer Experience is free
  3. Forrester’s 2007 Customer Experience Rankings
  4. USAA: A Positive Example Of Customer Experience
  5. Trend Watch #5: Trendwatch.com “8 Important consumer trends for 2008”
  6. Webkinz: An example of a disruptive customer experience strategy
  7. Five Disruptive Customer Experience Strategies
  8. Are you listening to the voice of the customer?
  9. Apple’s Truly Genius Service
  10. Trend Watch #4: Business Week “Innovation Predictions 2008″

The bottom line: If you’d like to celebrate this anniversary, send a link to this blog to five of your friends.

More About Tony Hsieh And Zappos

If you enjoyed my post Discussing Zappos’ Culture With Tony Hsieh, then you should definitely read an article in Forbes called “A Step Ahead.” It provides a great sense of Tony as well as the Zappos culture . Here’s one of my favorite parts of the article:

Not long ago Hsieh created a “cultural fit interview” for prospective hires. It includes questions such as: “On a scale of one to 10, how weird are you?” “If they say ‘one,’ we won’t hire them,” says Hsieh. “If they’re a 10, they’re probably too psychotic for us. We like 7s or 8s.”

The bottom line: I guess it’s accurate to say that Zappos is a little wierd.

Discussing Zappos’ Culture With Tony Hsieh

As I mentioned in my post about popular customer experience topics, I’m currently researching best practices for the 3rd principle of Experience-Based Differentiation: Treat customer experience as a competence, not a function. It’s a topic that I sometimes call customer-centric DNA.

As part of that research, I’m interviewing a number of executives. So I reached out to Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, a company that’s renown for its great customer service.

Given our schedules, Tony and I ended up speaking on Monday (Memorial Day) morning at 10:30 AM EDT (7:30 AM his time). I checked out Tony’s twitter right before we spoke and found this tweet:

About to do a conference call. Way too early to be awake, couldn’t find another time to do it. Getting out of bed was not easy. Red Bull!

So let me start by thanking Tony for getting on the phone so early on a holiday. That shows his commitment to getting the Zappos word out!

How good is Zappos’ customer experience? Well, my wife loves Zappos. And my mother-in-law, after finding out about my discussion with Tony, excitedly told me that she loved Zappos because “it is so easy it use.” She once ordered a pair of shoes at 10:00 PM and was amazed to receive them before noon the next day.

Those are not isolated impressions about Zappos; the retailer has a lot of adoring customers. As a matter of fact, Tony shared an interesting fact with me: the company’s Net Promoter Scores (NPS) are so high that they do not provide any guidance on areas for improvement.

Well, the interview was great. Tony was open, informative, and inspiring. Here are some of the interesting factoids from our discussion:

  • The company’s culture is defined in its ten core values that include items like “deliver WOW through service” and “be humble.”
  • Tony felt funny when the company codified those core values, because it felt a bit too corporate. But he realized that it needed to happen given the company’s growth.
  • Tony doesn’t want to prescribe actions for employees that show how much Zappos cares about customers; he wants employees to do things because they genuinely care about customers. 
  • Zappos uses its culture as a reason to hire and fire people. All new hire candidates have a separate interview with the HR department that focuses just on cultural fit.
  • New employees go though 4-5 weeks of training that includes education about the culture and spending time on the phone with customers.
  • To ensure that employees have a strong fit with the culture, new employees are offered $1,000 to quit after their first week of training. That way they weed out the people who aren’t committed to working at Zappos. Hsieh didn’t feel like enough people were taking the company up on its offer, so he discussed raising the bonus to $1,500.
  • Every year Zappos publishes its “Culture Book” in which all employees are encouraged to write about what the culture means to them.
  • Tony recognizes that cultures often go downhill when companies scale. He wants Zappos’ culture to get stronger as it grows.
  • Tony offers this advice to Zappos employees: It’s completely up to you guys. I can’t force the culture to happen; so part of your job description is to display and inspire the culture.

I asked Tony if I could share some of our discussion in my blog. He said yes. Why? It met his basic principle for deciding what he’s willing to share:

Would sharing it make the world a better place?

The bottom line: Most firms would be a better place if they were more like Zappos.

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