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Innovators Q&A: How Blink Fitness Embraced Digital Transformation During the Pandemic

Can you think of a global event that shook the fitness industry as much as COVID-19 did? With no option to continue business as usual, fitness gyms across the world were forced to contend with digital transformations– and fast – by developing apps, delivering content, and finding new, creative ways to provide value to members that were indefinitely stuck at home. And while some succeeded, for many, the weight of the pandemic was too great, and they were forced to shut their doors.

 

In fact, the IHRSA estimates that the US gym and health club industry lost $20.4 billion in 2020. By May 2020, about 500,000 people in the gym industry had been laid off; and by July 2020, 60% of Americans reportedly planned to cancel gym memberships.

 

On the flip side, brands who invested in and focused on delivering digital-first experiences saw a boom of success. With 74% of Americans reportedly using at least one fitness app during the pandemic, home fitness app downloads saw a 46% increase between quarter one and quarter two of 2020, while companies like Peloton, Beachbody, and Tonal (as well as businesses that produce at-home fitness equipment) reported massive revenue growth.

 

Alas, it was fitness gyms that had formerly relied on in-person experiences and only dabbled or recently entered the digital space that were given an ultimatum: Hurry up and create new experiences that put members’ needs at the core or throw in the towel. One gym that experienced this first-hand is Blink Fitness. With 100+ franchised gyms in 10 different states, Blink Fitness strives to change the narrative – and emotional landscape – often associated with gyms.

“Blink is a motivating space with a staff of mood-lifters. We take pride in challenging fitness industry norms and celebrating every unique body,” their website reads. “It’s what’s on the inside that counts… Blink offers a sparkling clean, spacious design with bright colors, scientifically proven to enhance your workout and elevate your mood.”

 

Sounds cool, right? Well, definitely. Except when you can’t actually access the space.

 

So, as the global pandemic reared its ugly head, Michelle Horowitz – Blink Fitness’s Senior Vice President and Head of Marketing and Communications – was tasked with ensuring that the uplifting, body-positive brand could transcend and traverse new digital demands.

 

To learn how Blink Fitness tackled the challenge, our own Partner Robert Wallace sat down with Michelle for our Innovators Q&A Series to discuss the evolving consumer journey, member-first mentality, data-backed strategy, and the future of the fitness industry.

Q&A with Blink Fitness’s Senior Vice President & Head of Marketing & Communications Michelle Horowitz

Robert Wallace: Hello everyone. My name is Robert Wallace. I’m a partner at we’re a customer experience design company, and I am pleased to an honor to be the host of our fourth installment of the new interview series that we’re putting on called the innovators. I’m really happy to have a conversation today with Michelle Horowitz, which she was named one of Brand Innovators Top 100 Women in Brand Marketing, and she’s a visionary in e-commerce marketing and leader experience in a variety of industries – B2C and B2B. She’s built high performing teams that and [has been] really customer obsessed throughout her whole career in marketing communications. And now she is the Senior Vice President and Head of Marketing and Communication at Blink Fitness, which is a premium and affordable fitness brand that challenges conventional fitness stereotypes. [Michelle is] responsible for leading the brand and digital evolution of the company through innovation and movement.

 

[Michelle], obviously that is a timely industry that you’re in and we’ve all gone through a tough year, and an interesting year. So, first of all, welcome, and thank you so much for taking the time. I just went through [your] standard bio, but I’d love to hear in your words a little bit more about your professional journey. You’ve been through sales and marketing… I’d love to just hear really briefly about your career and your journey and how you landed where you are.

 

Michelle Horowitz: Yeah, for sure. Thanks. Thank you, Robert. I’m super excited to be here and it’s an honor to have this conversation with you. So, thank you for having me. I took a circuitous route to be where I am today and where I am today is completely passionate about the health and wellness industry and obviously the impact that fitness can make. It’s never been more apparent than right now about how important it is for us to stay well. And certainly, you know, it’s not just the physical impact of what we’ve been going through [but] also the mental impact. So, to be with a brand that [lives that] ethos is super exciting.

 

Previous to this, I spent some time in fashion and then retail-specialty area, particularly in lifestyle. So, I’m super proud of the work that I’ve done during that time. And it really was all about customer centricity as we built and developed the Loft brand and expanded beyond the US borders into Mexico and Canada. And then I was part of the team that created the Lou & Grey brand, which was really the first foray from a specialty retail perspective that moved into lifestyle. So, it was a big, bold step that the brand took prior to being acquired, and was part of the growth from a D2C brand into 12 stores. So, that’s been the majority of my CMO experience – in the fashion space – but always with an eye to customer centricity and the impact that a brand can have on its consumer base.

Similar to how people feel about the e-commerce experience, they want [fitness] to be there when they want it to be there.

RW: How would you say you’ve segued that customer and member-first mentality, so to speak, in your new role at Blink?

 

MH: Yeah, it’s interesting. I recently took responsibility of the customer service center, as well. So, I think it really speaks to a marketer’s responsibility of the customer journey and thinking about it from the moment of acquisition through to retention and then, obviously, loyalty. So, to put the consumer at the center of it all, from identifying the issues that come through customer service and then being able to be really thoughtful about how we treat our customers and how we have that sort of member-first mentality. But I would say that, stepping back – as we hopefully are through that gateway of the end of the pandemic – that we really pivoted quite quickly at the beginning of the experience, which is more than a year ago, where we had to close down the business and had to really think about how important it was for not only our employees, but also our consumer base to keep them actively engaged and to put their health and wellness first.

 

So, we were very fortunate that we actually have an app – a fantastic app – that was created in 2019, that has three functional areas. One is obviously about the capability to have access to classes, where we partner with a lot of brands, but also create our own content. And then we have nutrition and rejuvenation. So, to be able to sort of engage fully behind that and share it with the community and really open it up – because at the time, it was one membership that had access – we opened it up to everybody. And then, as an engagement vehicle, we actually worked very closely with our personal trainers to create our own content. We began to host live stream content every day that really allowed people to [make] their health and wellness [a priority] as we transitioned to working at home.

 

That was another example of how we did it. And now, as we come out of this pandemic, or we’re traveling through hopefully the tail end of it… As we reopened the gyms, we actually, again, used [and are using] the app as a vehicle to help people feel more comfortable coming back to the gym. And, obviously, health and wellness was the priority for our employees, our communities, and the members that we serve by following all of the CDC guidelines, as well as local guidelines. But, in addition to that, we wanted to use the as a vehicle to help make it easier for everybody. We had that frictionless entrance where they didn’t have to touch or engage with anything. They could use their app. But, in advance of even doing that, they could still reserve their space in the gym, [and] look at capacity.

 

And if they’re not ready to come back to the gym, which some people are not yet ready… They can actually currently take personal training classes through the app. So, we’re constantly trying to think about the consumer experience. And, I think, a natural evolution of this is: “How are we going to continue to marry the digital world with the in-gym experience?” Which I think, until we find stasis, is definitely an “and,” I would imagine that people sort of live in both of those worlds.

RW: It’s interesting because it sounds to me that it boils down to – or what has happened – is it’s almost what does Blink Fitness really stand for? Meaning what businesses is it really in? And the delivery mechanism has changed. So, it has forced you to think about, “Oh, we’re about accessibility and democratization of really high-end health and wellness and fitness. And that used to be delivered through the gym, and now, when the phone goes away – at least partially goes away or has fundamentally changed – how else are we going to fulfill our brand promise while they can’t get to that particular delivery vehicle?” And it’s really interesting how you’ve thought about that and broadened your perspective. The only way you can do that is by putting [the] customer first.

 

MH: I think, even as people sort of flex and figure out what it all looks like, the nice thing about it is, if you [are] coming into the gym and [are] enjoying – whether it’s the weights or the elliptical or whatever the machines are that you choose, or even the stretch area – you might not have time, or you might be doing it in-between appointments or whatever. [But] you can always go home and continue that journey, whether it’s doing a yoga class or a meditation class or more stretching from home. So, I think, similar to how people feel about the e-commerce experience, they want it to be there when they want it to be there. And the app is definitely a vehicle that gives our members what they’re looking for.

 

RW: That’s fascinating, too. The idea of a 360-degree brand is one that that has come up. It came up in my footwear experience, and you probably saw too, where– and I’m dating myself here – but there was a time when you started selling online or selling catalogue or whatever channel is new, there was this fear that you would be cannibalizing your existing channel. And that never happened because it really just made it a 360-degree brand. I can buy whatever it is I want to buy whenever and however I want. I can do it on my phone. I can do it online. I can order through the catalog, if you still want to do that, or I can go into the store. So, it’s fascinating that fitness is going through that same thing.

 

MH: Yeah. And interesting, too. I remember from my retail days, it’s like that haptic social community feeling that you get when you’re walking through a retail store or you might have the urge or that window of time that you’re able to do it at home through the digital experience. I think there [are] some similarities there, for sure.

When you look at the true customer journey, that's not a marketing thing. That's not a product thing. That's not an operations thing... It's everything. The customer – or the member, in your case – doesn't much care what departments or silos exist.

RW: There’s an emotional connection that you touch on, in some cases from actually shopping, but certainly I think a lot of gyms – you have an emotional connection. How do you cultivate that? First of all, how do you think about cultivating connections with your members, but [also], how have you thought about how that has changed online or how you had to evolve that?

 

MH: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. It’s a very community-focused brand, right? When we come into the community, we are committed to the community and the local members. And we think a lot about local. When we first come in [to set] up the gym, we partner with a lot of nonprofits. We work very closely with local government to really engage and let them know that we’re here and we want them to come in and be part of that community. We have – what we call the people that work in the gym – we call them “Mood Lifters,” and they really set the tone and the feeling for coming into the gym.

 

We want people to come in and feel like they’re part of something… The music sets the tone and the friendliness of the Mood Lifters and the personal trainers really create that local community touch point. And often people obviously establish relationships, whether it’s with their trainers, their Mood Lifters, or their local managers. So that really, in and of itself, was really the ethos of the brand that was built. And when we went through COVID and started to create those live streams, we really began to allow the personal trainers – when they taught the daily classes – [to let] their personalities, their excitement for their brand, and for health and wellness, really shine through. And we actually included the capability for people to ask questions and engage, whether it was during the workout or after the workout, so we could really create that continuity.

 

Obviously, in the digital world, it becomes a little bit more difficult, but in the same way that we want to help people curate or navigate their fitness IQ, we see that as a lot of potential in the digital world to sort of [help] continue people on their journeys in the digital world. So, I think part of it is the content that we provide on the app by curating from the nutritional, from the rejuvenation, and then from the classes. And the partners that we’ve chosen, whether it’s Daily Burn or SworkIt or Aaptiv, it’s been very thought through. Of course, there’s tons of opportunity to continue to personalize that experience and really think of that journey. But we look at one as being an extension of the other.

 

RW: Yeah, fascinating. When I think about personalization, I invariably get to the data issue or the data situation. How are you thinking about data? The collection of data? We may soon be in a cookieless world… How does Blink think about this? How do you think about it?… Tell us a little bit more about the personalized experience that you touched on.

MH: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. And, you know, obviously from a brand perspective, it’s a member-first mentality, right? So, you know, and it’s a value exchange, by understanding more particularly, [it] becomes a lot easier obviously in the digital world – through the app – to understand what content appeals to people, where their interests lie, and we can begin to really curate that.

 

So, for us, it’s all about making the experience [and] constantly evolving the experience to make it better: Being really thoughtful in the data-sense from a marketing perspective – obviously, in addition to focusing on the member experience – we have to be very attuned to the applicable laws, legislations, and I think an ever-changing landscape.

 

Also read: How Johnson & Johnson Is Pairing Data With Creativity to Connect With Customers Like Never Before

 

At the beginning of the week, I was listening to Kara Swisher’s podcast “Sway” from the New York Times and she was interviewing Tim Cook. Tim believes that privacy is at the forefront of what things are going to be about. And certainly, from Apple’s perspective, you know, they’re introducing the ATT – the ability for people to choose their privacy settings. So, I think it’s still an interesting time. There are many different things happening at many different levels, from the policy perspective – around section 230 – and, you know, there are some… Amy Klobuchar is very involved with making refinements [to] – I think she’s calling it the Safe Tech Act. You have Virginia announcing that they’re going to be doing very similar [things] to what California did with the CCPA. That they’ve now adopted their version of that. And, I think, from what I heard, there’s another eight states following suit.

 

So, a brand has a responsibility to align with and be aware of that. And then, in addition to that, you also have the platforms, right? Like, Facebook has a lot of responses to Apple and there’s a lot of activity. I look – from a marketing perspective – the importance of staying on top of it and putting member privacy at the forefront is what we are looking at. And staying in tune, too. But there’s, there’s so much going on from a marketing perspective, we work very much in line with our legal department and technology [teams] to make [sure] everything aligns. So, needless to say, I guess there’s a lot going on, Robert.

RW: The ground is shifting, too. I mean, what you just spoke about is going to be different maybe even by Monday. Every day you see that there’s new legislation, or just new technology, and how companies – all of them – are reacting to it. To me, the brands that at least make it, first and foremost, “Hey, we’re paying attention. And we’re doing our best to put you – the member – first.” That starts to build enough of a trust factor that, “Hey, we may not keep up with every single thing, but we’re trying and your first, so you – the member – are first,” I think that’s critically important for most brands to think about, because it’s not necessarily possible to keep pace with everything.

 

MH: Yeah. But I think it’s our responsibility to, as brands, to do that. But I think it also speaks to, you know, the agility and the cross-functional partnership that takes place now, certainly through this time… We’re in it together and navigating through it.

 

RW: So, for sure. When you look at the true customer journey, that’s not a marketing thing. That’s not a product thing. That’s not an operations thing. It’s all of those things – [including] service. It’s everything. The customer – or the member in your case – doesn’t much care what departments or silos exist.

 

MH: One hundred percent. I love that you say that. I mean, we work so closely together – the Head of Operations – we all work so closely together to create this member-first experience and we’re, like you said, it’s an evolution. Simon Sinek talks about “The Infinite Game“. It’s this constant [goal of] doing it better and putting the member first.

 

Also read How to Holistically Map Your Customer Experiences

 

RW: I think organizations are being forced, especially during COVID – because [the] customer became front and center, whether you thought about it or not – and it forced a lot of companies to think about, “How are our departments interacting with one another? And how are those interactions even touching the customer? How do we need to maybe be more agile?”

Our North Star really is thinking about the member first and that member experience.

MH: Yes, I love that you said that. I was just going to say, I think these keywords came out of the pandemic, right? Like, the acceleration of behavior or technology, resiliency, agility. And, obviously, from a leadership perspective, empathy is at the, at the cornerstone, which I think has only made us better and stronger as individuals and teams. So, I agree with you. I think those are some of the keywords that are definitely coming out of this moment in time.

 

RW: Ultimately, that’s a good thing. So, there’s some silver linings. I think it’s all good. So, we’re almost at time, but if you cast your vision forward a little bit, what do you see in terms of the fitness industry, or technology, or any trends, or any combination of the three? What do you see out there in the market? Where do you see things going?

 

MH: Yeah, I think – just touching back on what we started talking about – I really do believe it’s this constant continuation of the member experience. And what does it mean to offer that member experience? From a technology point of view, from a people point of view. Bringing that all together and continuing to deliver that. And, I think, it’s about understanding this moment of stasis: When, you know, the technology and the digital world and the four walls live together. What does that look like? So, I feel like we’re on a journey that was accelerated by COVID, for sure. I don’t think we’re the only industry. Obviously, there’s many that we can point to that have been [impacted by] this acceleration. But, again, a lot of the behaviors that you’re talking about, and that we’ve touched on – the agility, the resiliency, the cross-functional partnership – will be key in this experience. But I think our North Star really is thinking about the member first and that member experience.

 

Also read: Trends Driving CX Design In the Hospitality Industry: Q&A with Marriott International’s Christine Kettmer

 

RW: Yeah. Awesome. Well, I I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few conversations with you. Each one is awesome, and each one, the time sneaks up on us. We could keep on going for a while. But I do want to thank you, again, for taking the time. This has been wonderful. I know our audience is going to appreciate it and learn a lot from it. Is there a URL for Blink Fitness that [people] should check out?

MH: [Yeah], it’s just BlinkFitness.com. Right now, we actually are allowing people to download the app for 60 days trials, no matter where they live. So, I welcome anybody that would be interested. Just go to our website and download the app, or to the app store and download it that way.

 

RH: Excellent. Everyone go do that, go download [the app].

 

MH: Stay healthy, stay well, right?

 

RH: Yeah. Everyone: Stay fit and stay well. That’s exactly right. This will help you do that. So, I’ll do that when I hang up here. But thanks again. It’s really been a lot of fun.

 

MH: I look forward to continuing the conversation. Thank you so much.

Want to be featured in our Innovators Series? Reach out to us now!

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Strategy

How to Holistically Map Your Customer Experience

But what is a customer experience map?

 

It’s a visual timeline that illustrates and examines a customer’s entire experiences with a brand, identifying every behavior, interaction, and touchpoint across a variety of channels. Unlike a customer journey map – which only outlines touch points involved from exposure to sale (and sometimes post-sale) – customer experience (CX) maps dive deeper, evaluating omnichannel experiences and internal processes and workflows to illuminate who and what customers interact with, pain points that arise, and moments of truth that are ripe for innovation and improvement.

Overview of the Customer Experience:

  • Start with the customer perspective. Utilize a mix of qualitative and quantitative data (methods below) to map key touch points
  • Map the internal stakeholder journey, including people, processes, systems, via a service blueprint
  • Combine the maps to begin comparing and contrasting the data and employee expectations versus consumer feedback
  • Identify gaps and opportunities, assess impact of innovation and prioritize for the future

While collecting customer feedback through both qualitative and quantitative (also known as moderated and observational) techniques is key (think web analytics, customer surveys, customer marketing data, customer recordings and interviews, industry research, etc.), it’s also equally important to map your internal stakeholder’s (aka, employee’s) journey, detailing moments they believe to be most important in an end user’s experience (this is often referred to as service blueprinting).

 

Once both maps are completed, they can be compared and contrasted to uncover discrepancies in the customer and internal experience. Pinpointing moments of friction illuminates root causes of customer experience breakdowns that create incredible drag on company retention and growth. Only by taking this holistic approach can you truly start to cultivate next-level strategies for improved customer experiences.

How to Create a Customer Experience Map

As you venture into making your own customer experience map, here are some things to watch out for:

 

  1. Don’t get stuck in the surface. Make sure that you’re driving to the core and really trying to identify the root cause of experience friction points or issues.
  2. Ensure you take an interdisciplinary approach. It’s important not to be siloed in this thinking.
  3. Don’t just take qualitative notes. When interacting with customers, take a multi-faceted approach. You want to ultimately be able to map your qualitative data with quantitative data. Incomplete data can lead to poor decision-making.
  4. Don’t get too bogged down in the details. Come up for air and focus on the biggest areas of opportunities for improvement. It’s all about prioritization. Lots of companies try to solve or map everything, when in reality – sure, you need to challenge your data and ensure you have a complete view – but you also have to prioritize as you go. It’s a delicate balance to strike.

To get started, you must first acknowledge that every touch point is interconnected and feeds into a customer’s perspective and sentiment towards your brand as a whole. The exercise must be authentic. Your goal is to understand your brand’s latent needs and to uncover opportunities that exist due to changing market dynamics, customer expectations and technology breakthroughs.

 

Then, you must allocate one person or team to see the exercise through to completion. Typically speaking, customer experience mapping should be co-created with an external party. Research done solely in-house can be blanketed by unconscious bias, thus muddling results and growth opportunities. Plus, it’s important stakeholders surveyed throughout feel comfortable expressing their true and honest opinions in a confidential and removed setting.

 

Once that’s done, it’s time to get to work.

Step 1: Define your goals, scope, and personas

Your team must first align on goals. Conduct a half-day session with the key internal stakeholders across a number of teams to define business and user goals and pinpoint what you want to learn, what you’re hoping to uncover, where you want to drive focus, and how you plan to quantify and validate insights uncovered.

 

Then, define the personas you want to explore with during the experience mapping exercise. Many businesses have numerous consumer groups. While you can (and eventually should) map the experience and expectations of all of them, you’ll want to identify who they are first. Key details like age, marital status, occupation, daily activities, needs, wants, hobbies, internet behaviors, social media interactions, etc. are all a great starting place. Remember the 80/20 rule and prioritize which groups you’re going to start with. These are your primary personas.

 

Now that you have them identified, you’ll want to start the mapping exercise by capturing existing hypotheses about your customers and their experience. Be sure to capture their needs and emotions felt throughout all of their experiences with your brand. Some key questions to remember here:

 

  • What is driving their buying behavior? Why are they interacting with your business?
  • Where do they interact with your brand (before and after purchase)?
  • How many steps do they go through to purchase?
  • How do they feel as they decide to purchase? Is there a touchpoint after they purchase?
  • How do they interact with your brand after they’re a customer? etc.

Next, decide which part of your experience you want to map. In an ideal world, you’d map the entire experience over the tenure of a customer’s relationship with your brand, but that’s likely not doable in your first few sessions. To get started, break experience mapping into segments. Do you want to map the onboarding or registration process? The purchasing journey? Gauge the interactions your brand has with customers once they’ve already bought in? .

 

Also read: Understanding the Buyer’s Journey to Drive Targeted Campaigns

If you’re stuck – simply try to pinpoint where you think there is the most pain, friction, or confusion in your customer journey. Whether it’s the first, tenth or fiftieth exchange, one bad experience can greatly increase risk of customer churn. A customer who is dissatisfied with an experience will tell between 9-15 people about it* (and that number increases quickly if they take their negative review to social platforms!).

Step two: Evaluate from within

Holistically mapping out your current end-to-end customer experience requires that you evaluate every touchpoint from the surface to the core. That means, you must first evaluate your own people, processes, and systems that impact and touch the customer experience in any way (many organizations refer to this as service blueprinting).

By doing this, you can uncover deep rooted issues or discrepancies between what internal stakeholders and external customers deem important. This is a critical step in effecting meaningful change to your customer experience. But be mindful to avoid these common pitfalls as you execute:

 

  • Getting bogged down in the internal perspective: Make sure all focus efforts are on pain point identification as it relates to the customer or your ability to deliver to the customer. This isn’t an exercise solely dedicated to internal frustrations – if you’re wanting to improve the employee experience, that’s a true service blueprinting exercise. For holistic customer experience mapping, you want to make sure your focus is on pain points that have a line of sight to your end users.
  • Settling for the surface answers: Push to go beyond and really discover the root cause or root opportunities present in your current experience.
  • Missing the opportunity to loop in interdisciplinary perspectives: Often, the connection between business units – especially ones that have overlapping activities related to the customer experience – is where you’ll uncover the greatest opportunities for improvement. Every company has handoffs. It’s important to consider them all.
  • Hinder real discussions from happening between stakeholders: Bringing people together can be massively beneficial. This is an opportunity to create alignment. By bringing teams together to work towards one common goal and share their individual team’s hurdles, your teams will naturally discover micro-solves that can be executed immediately, and contribute to the macro-solution.

Now, to get a revitalized understanding of your business’ performance and efficiency, conduct workshops with internal stakeholders – this can include customer service and sales reps, researchers, customer experience specialists, marketing leads, product owners, designs and more. These service blueprinting workshops should include a few important exercises:

 

  1. Hypothesize and map out internal interpretation of the customer’s journey. Be sure to identify each phase and define customer interaction points.
  2. Map out the people, process and systems that are in play at each of those key interaction points.
  3. Capture what internal stakeholders say about those key interactions (qualitative). Simple things like definitions of words, or what they want customers to feel after that interaction can all be important in understanding the internal impact on your CX.
  4. Articulate underlying assumptions and beliefs around language commonly used to describe KPIs and company-wide goals. This will help identify and deconstruct misunderstandings between teams and enable a fresh start where everyone is on the same page and working from a consistent understanding.

At the end of the workshop, you should be able to identify each phase in the customer’s experience, who and what they interact with within your organization, and how you meet their needs along the way.

 

Keep in mind, for some companies, a workshop is all that is needed to gather internal perspective. On the other hand, sometimes workshops are just the starting place and then require deeper dives with specific departments, business units, or individual role types to further precipitate areas where exploration is needed. So, once your workshop is completed, identify whether or not you need to go deeper, and, if so, what types of roles, departments or business units you need to go deeper with.

 

Continue to conduct stakeholder interviews until you feel confident that you’ve really mapped out the impact those areas have on the internal customer journey or end customer experience.

 

Need an example? Let’s talk about articulating underlying assumptions. Healthcare organizations often use the word “encounters” as a measurement for improving patient engagement. However, when we’ve asked organizational team members to define the term, no one in the room has the same definition or knows how to explain it. If everyone perceives and defines a goal and/or measurement like “encounters” differently (or in many cases, can’t define it at all), it’s impossible to know how or when to measure and define success. The solution? Get it on paper (or a whiteboard or shared digital document)! When you put something down in writing and rally around a common definition, you can identify optimal procedures to measure it. This will ultimately contribute to agreeance and alignment necessary for not only standing up successful marketing programs, but proving ROI.

If everyone perceives and defines a goal and/or measurement differently (or in many cases, can’t define it at all), it’s impossible to know how or when to measure and define success.

Step 3: Hone in on the end users

Now it’s time to look beyond the internal perspective and focus the lens on your customers. This requires the most time and could take anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple years to complete, depending on your scope.

 

Before you get start, there are a few tips to consider that will help you avoid common pitfalls at this stage:

 

  • Ensure you get to the real root cause of pain or opportunity and don’t get caught in optimizing for the surface level. As with other phases, this requires that you push beyond the surface of what users tell you qualitatively. A great way to do this, no matter what process you use, is to ask “Why?” three to five times. Once a user shares an observation that seems important, ask why. Then ask why again, and again. Many companies gather initial observations and never get to the true root cause, therefore they’re stuck treating only symptoms of problems.
  • Don’t rest on qualitative data. Instead, pair it with quantitative data. Find ways to objectively measure what is happening to your user’s experience at key milestones throughout the journey. We often do this by merging qualitative data with surveys or other analytical data (think customer CRMs, google analytics, website data, or MPS data).
  • Avoid intuition as your primary method of gathering user experience. Qualitative techniques we often employ include interviews, focus groups and ride alongs.
  • Give yourself time to really hone in on the user experience. Many companies never gather this information, at all; instead, they architect their journey based on internal perspective and move forward. It’s always important and useful to get real, quality feedback from end users.
  • Don’t forget that your customer base is diverse. Get feedback from multiple personas as you go.

Also read: Qualitative vs. Quantitative Data in CX Design: Everything You Need to Know

 

During this phase, you and your team should use qualitative and quantitative techniques (learn more about that here) to obtain real customer feedback by guiding them through each phase of the outlined journey to validate their needs, wants, and experiences. 0 By sitting down with real customers, you’re able to explore their goals and needs respective to your product, services, and/or digital presence. In the end, you’ll be able to expose valuable insights that can drive future focus. Often, this phase identifies opportunities for re-engagement. While your goals may be more specific, it is still important to see the full picture before drawing any conclusions about your overall customer experience. At this stage, compiling as much information as possible is key.

 

Need an example? Sometimes this phase can give rise to specific problems, including the root cause of customer conversions. One of our clients – a leading nation-wide insurer group of automobiles, homes and small businesses – was seeing a dip in quote yields and overall conversion rates. After doing a deep data dive – using both qualitative and quantitative techniques – we discovered the majority of drop offs were occurring moments before clicking the, “I’m ready to complete my quote” button. Why would users go through the trouble of filling out 99% of the form, only to abandon the process right before getting the information they originally sought? The answer was buried in the messaging.

By speaking to customers, we discovered the last question in their quote-request form – one that asked the user if they’d like to enter information to receive additional insurance quotes – was causing feelings of exhaustion and frustration for potential customers. Instead of marking “No,” and continuing on, they simply bounced away from the site – and, likely, with no intention to return. This not only illuminated the main pain point, but allowed us to execute focused competitive analyses to get inspiration from competitors, develop potential solutions, test them, and then launch the solution/s to the market.

Step 4: Review, analyze, and map it out

It’s time to start putting the puzzle pieces together.

 

With an integrated team spanning a variety of disciplines (including research, business innovation, experience design, and consulting), review the customers’ experience data from every angle. Doing this will provide a more holistic view necessary for creating a more robust and useful map.

 

Conduct another workshop to synthesize and compare data from internal and external perspectives on your customer experience.

 

Starting with the qualitative data, use tools like an an affinity map to clearly identify where your customers’ needs are being met – and where they’re not. This should expose service gaps and highlight opportunities.

 

Next, test the customer feedback against the internal perspectives map previously created. More often than not, it will reveal discrepancies between what internal teams believe is important, versus what customers really assign value to. This visual approach, while also displaying challenges within the current experience, will make achieving cross-functional alignment around future plans easier.

 

Also read: Crafting Employee Experiences to Improve Customer Experiences

 

Keep in mind that the ultimate goal is continual evolution. Take the time to test and, as you do, update your journey map.

Lastly, to pinpoint exact moments of friction and/or leverage in your customer experience, pair the quantitative data – which analyzes customer sentiment and perspective at every stage and interaction – with your new qualitative understanding of the user experience. By overlaying these data points – like a customer’s likelihood to renew – you’ll be able to pinpoint specific moments that drive loyalty or churn and their financial impacts.

 

At this point, now all that’s left is to prioritize the areas of opportunity and roadmap short- and long-term focuses to improve business workflow. Keep in mind that the ultimate goal is continual evolution. Take the time to conduct ongoing testing and, as you do, update your experience map.

 

Need an example? A major broadband communications company who had been in the business of delivering entertainment and connection companies and companions long before the internet existed was struggling with gradual increases of customer dissatisfaction and churn. Month over month, the company’s acquisition and retention numbers decreased. Thei business and market share was at risk. By pairing quantitative sentiment with our qualitative understanding and visually mapping both, we were able to pinpoint the main points of friction that we needed to solve for: Severe client and market variability, inconsistent structure and resources a reactive servicing model, disparate systems and processes, a need for continued product training, and shifting client expectations. To summarize, the experience being delivered was afflicted with challenges and creating volatility throughout the journey, ultimately contributing to churn.

By outlining the specific issues, we were able to build a path forward to develop a proactive and consultative CX that focused on the most essential needs, including:

 

  • Elevating the customer care solution to create a repeatable experience that promotes consistency while preserving autonomy
  • Simplifying the employee experience to reduce friction by streamlining backend systems and processes
  • Modernizing client interactions with omnichannel and digital-forward experience
  • Invest in delivering an experience that is predictably proactive and drives consultative value
  • Clearly demonstrating the ongoing value of partnering with a customer care solution

Pinpointing the needs and developing solutions enabled us to become part of the client’s strategy, not just a one-off tractic. Next, we built a roadmap that encompassed recommended initiatives, identified workstreams, defined what success would look like and outlined how the work would enable continual program evolution.

The Bottom Line

By consistently completing the customer experience mapping exercise (don’t set it and forget it!), you can empower your team to problem solve from a data-driven perspective and establish plans for future CX initiatives and investments.

 

At the end of the day, customer experience mapping is about connecting with your customer, and deeply understanding and empathizing with their needs and wants. If your company can prioritize solving customer’s problems as the world evolves, you’ll set yourself up for unstoppable momentum.

Categories
News This Week in CX

What’s In Store For the Future of Travel?

Airports, airlines, hotels, and businesses that rely on local tourism are rapidly trying to build new and innovate old customer experiences to make customers feel safe, and encourage the resurgence of travel sooner, rather than later. Just this past week:

 

  • Air France announced plans to test new ICC AOKpass health passes starting March 11 on all flights from Paris to Pointe-à-Pitre and Fort-de-France. The tests will be provided to travelers willing to volunteer, and be an opportunity to assess real-life application and gather consumer feedback. The ICC AOKpass is one of many solutions being evaluated to manage digital health documents. If successful, it is meant to improve the customer experience and streamline the airport journey so that the skies can safely reopen and traveling without fear can resume.
  • Emirates announced a new partnership with GE Digital Aviation Software and TE FOOD  to trial a new smartphone app that empowers safer and easier international travel. The app, currently titled TrustOne, will house all medical screenings of employees and travelers. Additionally, users preparing for a trip will be able to use the app to find testing and lab locations, book appointments, and review test results. Use of the app will cost money – around $40.84 – but a representative for GE Digital said in a press statement, “This is the first step in making international travel during the pandemic as convenient as possible by facilitating pre-travel requirements.” As trials ensue, the GE Digital team will continue to iterate to ensure the app meets government testing and verification requirements.
  • FlySafair, an airline dedicated to transporting travelers to South Africa, also released an app that they hope will simplify the customer experience and in turn, increase their pandemic travel market share. “Customers can manage their journeys on their own devices,” explained FlySafair’s Chief Marketing Officer Kirby Gordon. “Boarding devices are kept on the device which supports our ‘No Touch’ approach at the airport and live updates through the app will keep customers abreast of any possible schedule changes.” Individuals who wish to visit South Africa can also use the app to search for and book flights.

Reimagining the Hotel Customer Experience

While airports and airlines scurry to announce new plans and fight to be the first to lead pent-up travelers into the new normal, hotels are also planning for what the future may hold. According to Christine Ketter, the Senior Director of Customer Experience and Innovation for Marriott International, the forecast for future travel is bright.

 

“We know that people are definitely looking forward to booking [their] next trip,” she told our Vice President of Strategy, Jesus Ramirez, during a Brand Innovators live discussion. “And if anything, they’re going to be more appreciative, [and more] cognizant of what it will mean when they’re on that [first] airplane ride or checking into that hotel. I think [that’s] one of bright spots, that – even though it took a little bit longer than obviously anybody would have hoped or anticipated – there is that excitement [and] enthusiasm that when people want to plan a trip, they’re willing to do so. They’re [proactively] looking for that next vacation, or even [getting] excited about conferences or in-person networking opportunities to reconnect with colleagues.”

 

To ensure hotel visitors have exceptional experiences, Christine said it’s important for hotels not only to personalize the visits, but provide them with socially distanced yet engaging opportunities on-property and off.

 

“[Marriott International has] done an amazing job pivoting and repurposing different spaces. We have family yoga sessions [and] old rooms [that have been converted] into sanctuaries. [It’s all about] what guests are wanting and requesting. It is so important for our guests [to feel] very comfortable when they come to the properties through all elements of the journey, from the moment that they arrive to the times when they’re enjoying some of our food and beverage outlets. Some of our hotels [have redesigned] guests rooms to be private dining spaces or [spaces] for evening social events.”

 

Local partnerships are also creative ways to improve guest experiences. For example, Christine says various Marriott locations allow guests to be farmers for a day or take Marine biology courses for intellectual stimulation.

 

Also read: 3 Companies Launch New “Unparalleled” Experiences Aimed at Improving Common Life Events

 

“Travel used to be for escape. And now it’s more for connection. That’s connection to others [and] connection to yourself,” Jesus said, pointing out that intention and introspection will all be themes that travelers weave into their vacation plans. “So travel just isn’t about travel. It’s always had a larger meaning,” he says. “it’s quite possible that the meaning of travel is going to change or has changed during this time.”

 

Christine agreed, saying hotels need to spotlight guest’s mental health and wellness by providing options for them to engage in both physical and mindfulness exercises.

 

To learn what else Christine and Jesus predicted for the future of travel, watch the full conversation below or read the full transcript here:

What Our Travel Expert Predicts For Airlines & Hotels

We wanted to pick other Tallwaver’s brains so we reached out to our Senior Consultant Matthew Kiesel, who worked for two airlines at headquarters (United and American Airlines) and did airline management consulting for Sabre prior to joining our team, for his take on the current and future state of travel.

 

What is your perspective on the travel industry right now?

I think the piece that’s still been hit the hardest is corporate business traffic. And there’s a couple of reasons behind that. One: Companies have travel restrictions for health and safety reasons. They don’t want their employees traveling when there’s liability and risk. Two: Many companies have faced extreme budget cuts, so travel is one of the first things to go in terms of controllable expenses. And three: People have just adjusted to the Zoom world in a way that no one thought was possible. Some of those meetings where professionals may have flown somewhere for just a day or hopped across the world for a sales pitch, that’s changed because everyone is surprisingly comfortable meeting virtually now.

 

Do you think travel is going to return anytime soon?

I think the segment we see coming back quicker than others is domestic travel and leisure travel. People are anxious to go somewhere. The fares and room rates are unbelievably cheap right now, so people that feel comfortable taking small risks are willing to take advantage of those deals. I think international travel is a bit of a different story, though. There are so many restrictions going between countries – you have to research what countries are allowing travelers and inbound traffic, or even where you are allowed to make connections. Additionally, there are so many additional travel requirements. You need a test before you get there, then you need a test to get back into the United States. Some places have even instituted mandatory quarantines. So, that type of travel will be slower to come back.

 

What do you think needs to happen to increase traveler confidence and make the experience easier to navigate to support a resurgence of travel?

Airlines, airports and hotels have done a surprisingly good job of being nimble and dynamic. Airlines, in particular, are typically slow to react because they’re massive companies and kind of old school in their management style. So, they’ve really used the technology and tools at their disposal, like apps, to be more nimble, change more quickly and adapt to the various updates in rules and regulations. And I think the apps, when they’re official and a part of the travel journey, will really help out. Travelers won’t be tasked with figuring out the rules or where to get tested by themselves. If travel and hospitality organizations integrate those requirements into the process at a reasonable cost, people will likely be willing to accept that.

 

What do you think the customer experience associated with travel will look like as we enter into a post-pandemic world?

For both health and safety reasons – and, equally so, cost reasons – airlines have stripped away nearly every component of onboard service. They’re barely even offering water service unless you need it. They’ve been able to make that work, and have forced passengers to lower their expectations even further. But I think as travel returns, the airlines will have a difficult time figuring out how to bring back the onboard experience. They have to really evaluate what their model is going to look like. Are they going to return to exactly the way they were before? Or do they use this as an opportunity to reset their customer and onboard experiences in terms of identifying what people are willing to pay for?

 

Are there any data insights you think organizations within the travel & hospitality industry should be paying attention to?

When airlines first started coming back, they were all blocking the middle seat, that way travelers knew there wouldn’t be anyone directly next to them. Now, I believe all the big carriers except Delta have eliminated that feature. What’s interesting is that we haven’t seen any data that suggests Delta outperformed other carriers by keeping that customer friendly component. That proves that people are still primarily price conscious when it comes to traveling – and that might transcend airlines and relate to hotel accommodations, as well. All organizations in the travel and hospitality category need to experiment to figure out what people are willing to pay for and, therefore, what customer expectations they need to strategize around and plan for. More than ever, organizations need to understand consumer behavior and what’s driving them to travel, either now or in the future.

 

Also read: Qualitative and Quantitative Data in CX Design: Everything You Need to Know

 

As travel and hospitality organizations seek out solutionists and partners to help innovate their customer experience, what should they be looking for?

A company who can look at the experience holistically, starting with journey mapping. In the airline world, we often performed customer journey mapping. It’s an exercise that traces every touch point, from booking or searching all the way to picking up your bag and getting into your car after a flight; a good journey map should even evaluate the post-flight experience and communications. Travel and hospitality organizations should look for partners who have experience evaluating the various touch points and illuminating moments of friction and opportunities for improvement. Further, for any project, the recommendations from partners should be substantiated by strong qualitative and quantitative data to ensure they’re not only giving customers what they want, but also predicting what they’re going to need and how their behaviors and expectations are going to evolve.

Is your organization looking to grow, optimize, or digitally transform your customer experience? Reach out to us today. We’d love to help. 

Categories
News This Week in CX

This Week in CX: 3 Big Healthcare Tech Companies & Providers Announce Future CX Plans

The healthcare industry was always going to need to integrate and provide more personalized digital-first experiences for patients. The 2020 pandemic just sped up that demand.

 

Patient experiences in healthcare – and how to improve them – is something we talk about a lot. Whether with prospects, our current healthcare clients or internal teammates, we’re always hypothesizing, testing, and implementing new data-driven strategies designed to solve the acquisition, engagement, and retention challenges that many organizations are facing. These solutions always have one theme in common: They’re developed with humans at the core and with heart.

 

This week, a number of companies dedicated to developing technologies and holistic strategies that streamline healthcare experiences and improve patient engagement made announcements that will help organizations get one step closer to delivering truly personalized CX. No matter your CX speciality, these stories serve to showcase the ways in which companies are getting creative with innovative technologies and may provide some much-needed inspiration into CX takeaways for businesses small and large.

 

Here are the biggest business, tech and data developments that occurred this past week and will most certainly impact how we design and deliver the customer experiences of tomorrow.

 

HIPPA Just Gave a New Telehealth Video Feedback & Engagement Platform the Green Light

 

Twenty-first century technology is so cool. A new “video feedback and engagement platform” designed for healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies fits that bill. Medallia, Inc., a SaaS company that develops technologies for customer experience management, is getting ready to change how healthcare needs are heard and understood with their newest product, Medallia LivingLens.

It all comes down to making patients feel seen, heard, understood, and authentically cared for.

The video solution – which achieved HIPPA compliance this past week – gathers real-time customer and employee sentiment (feelings, perceptions or attitudes that arise during experiences) during telehealth sessions. Using proprietary AI technology, the solution “captures six times more information with video feedback than tradition, open-ended text based solutions, including nonverbal communication, such as body language.” This results in action-based insights that enable practitioners to predict and overcome barriers associated with providing optimal care and exceptional telehealth experiences.

 

One company currently using the solution, Just Worldwide, says the Medallia LivingLens allows them to analyze patient “video diaries,” understand how patients feel, and uncover what they wish their caregivers knew. “We use it to get the emotional impact of a patient,” explained Sally Udayakumar, Research Manager at Just Worldwide.

 

This is going to open up a whole new world of care that practitioners are able to provide to patients – including preventative care.

 

“Organizations and practitioners can only truly be lifelong partners if they are emphasizing and providing preventive care to patients,” says Tallwave Product Designer Chelsey Gloetzner. “Those who are proactively providing preventative and whole-person care will naturally improve patient engagement in-between sick visits.”

 

Also read: Innovators Q&A: How Avidon Is Solving the Patient Engagement Problem In Healthcare

It all comes down to making patients feel seen, heard, understood, and authentically cared for. Previously, practitioners could only know what patients verbally told them or they could physically observe. Now, Medallia LivingLens allows them to dig so much deeper, and provide a level of care that they’ve never been able to before. And it will only contribute to increased satisfaction and loyalty.

 

“Patients that know and believe you have their best interest in mind will more willingly partner and trust healthcare providers long term,” says Chelsey.

 

But will this technology – and telehealth appointments – still persist as the pandemic chapter comes to a close? You can count on it.

 

“Many patients who have become comfortable with telehealth will still prefer this type of appointment in a post-COVID world,” predicts Chelsey. “More doctors are experiencing the benefits of taking these types of appointments as well. In the future, it is feasible that telehealth will not lose its demand.”

 

That doesn’t mean all telehealth challenges are resolved. In fact, there’s one outstanding problem that we’re currently helping clients solve for: The need for increased education to help onboard older generations.

 

“It is a unique challenge because those who would greatly benefit from telehealth appointments due to age, physical limitation or challenges finding transportation to appointments, tend to have the most difficult time utilizing the technology,” Chelsey says. “Without the proper introduction and training for this technology, a large demographic of potential users will not be able to benefit from telehealth appointments. Putting walkthroughs or training within the technology itself will not meet the needs of those who must learn how to utilize this type of technology and the devices they would use it on.”

 

So, once you know how to connect with your practitioners via the internet, you can bet that computer or mobile phone lens is allowing them to peer right into your soul.

Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot Migrates to the Azure Platform

 

If you haven’t noticed, you’re surrounded by robots.

 

Internet bots, that is (think chatbots, Alex, Siri – you get it). And if healthcare organizations weren’t using them before, you can bet they’ll be embedding them into their customer experiences soon.

 

Microsoft announced their plans to migrate their Healthcare Bot to the Azure platform, enabling healthcare developers to customize bots for both clinical and/or operational uses and build new conversational tools. Additionally, organizations will be able to use the new Azure Health Bot as virtual health assistants, ensure compliance requirements related to privacy and security mechanisms, and merge electronic medical records into touchpoints to drive more personalized, holistic experiences.

 

“It’s really great to see healthcare companies leveraging and investing in technology to remove barriers and friction from the customer experience,” says our Senior Product Designer Alyssa Hayes. “Healthcare on its own can be notoriously complicated and stressful. Even the routine stuff, especially when you toss in some unexpected illnesses or accidents, can be a burden to navigate. Using technology to naturally provide personalized care – while delivering an experience that’s more approachable and predictable – will help put patients at ease and enable them to understand what they need to do to achieve better health. It gives them one less thing to worry about.”

 

That’s something everyone could use a little more of, these days.

 

Also read: Real People Tell Us What They Want From Healthcare In 2021

"This type of bot technology is providing great opportunities for healthcare practitioners and organizations to build trust and provide care that is truly valuable."

“There’s nothing more personal than your own health,” says Alyssa. “This type of bot technology is providing great opportunities for healthcare practitioners and organizations to build trust and provide care that is truly valuable.”

 

Our Chief Operations Office Ed Borromeo is also on the bot train. “It’s great to see this technology advance,” he says. “It provides so many opportunities to improve experiences within the healthcare space, overall – for both patient and healthcare workers.”

 

And the benefits aren’t exclusive to the healthcare industry. “We see increasing use of this class of innovation in a lot of other verticals: Banking, travel, even HR. Bots have a lot of utility and, frankly, they’re super cool. Beyond efficiencies, those who can seamlessly transition a bot user experience to, say, a human-to-human user experience with no clunkiness will be winners in the CX space.”

 

Note for all businesses out there: If your customers already explain their problems to bots, don’t make them repeat it when connected to human representatives. Make the changeover from robot to representative as smooth as a cut from a scalpel.

Walgreens Taps Microsoft & Adobe to Drive New Personalized Experiences For Shoppers

Walgreens is doing big things.

 

On the heels of an 18 month partnership with Microsoft, in which the two companies worked together to modernize technology and move their health-related operations to the cloud, Walgreens announced a second phase this past week – one that brings Adobe into the powerful fold to help craft next-level experiences and improve engagement with the store’s customers, both in-store and online.

 

By partnering Walgreen’s global customer data with Microsoft’s cloud-based data platforms and Adobe’s Customer Experience Management solutions, the trio will design holistic CX strategies that connect pharmacy, immunization, and retail interactions.

"Having a personalized experience like this can help customers feel like their time and business matters.”

One example of this is what they’re calling “individually tailored” prescription experiences: Today, customers are contacted numerous ways – by text message, email, phone call – when prescription refills are ready. In the near future, instead of being bombarded through multiple channels, none of which drive a valuable experience, they’ll receive an email that not only reminds them about the refill, but provides a “landing page” filled with information that encomapsses dosage, prices and other educational resources.

 

And since so much of a great customer experience is saving customers time, shoppers will also receive alerts that refills are available when inside Walgreen stores, so they don’t have to make a second trip later.

 

“Customers want to have your undivided attention,” says Alejandra Guillen, a Tallwave Content Specialist. “They want to feel like they matter and like businesses actually care about them. Having a personalized experience like this can help customers feel like their time and business matters.”

 

And Walgreens’ goal to connect their in-store and online experiences are key to sustaining customer affinity and loyalty.

 

“Before, in-store purchases were the gold standard,” explains Alejandra. “Now, especially with the pandemic, online shopping is becoming crucial. While people will always make in-store purchases, online shopping will continue to thrive even after the pandemic for convenience.”

One brand doing this well? According to Alejandra, Target.

 

“The Target app remembers your in-store purchases and combines them with your in-app purchases to deliver personalized deals and reminders to buy goods you have purchased in the past. This method is great for both an excellent customer experience and boosting a company’s profits.”

 

And last, but certainly not least, Walgreens’ new strategy to educate shoppers when reminding them about prescriptions will increase the bond and attachments customers have with them.

 

“Customers want to know what they’re buying and what they’re putting in their bodies. When it comes to prescriptions, no one is reading the long pamphlets that come with medications,” says Alejandra. “Formatting this crucial information into easy-to-understand landing page content will help customers build and establish longtime trust with Walgreens.”

 

Anyone else switching their regular pharmacy to Walgreens?