What is the Real Ultimate Question?

This Heinz Tomato Ketchup photo is making the rounds on most social channels and is being touted as the perfect illustration of Customer Experience.  Smart CX professionals know better.


Ketchup CX

Although the bottle design changes are easy to see, understand, and use, this is not an illustration of fabulous customer experience.  Why?

Customer experience, by its very nature, is about the whole experience not any one individual component of an experience.

In this case, Heinz has offered a packaging change that could help customers use product easier, which many of their customers may have told Heinz they want based on surveys and research.  Heinz can also increase revenue as customers can now use their product more often, thereby needing to purchase more often.  So far, sounds like a win.

Additionally, the new PET plastic used to create the bottle (in partnership with Coca Cola) is in large-part plant-based and recyclable, it is lighter so costs less to ship, there is less in-shipment breakage, and these plastic bottles probably (not confirmed) cost less to produce.  Now, sounds like several wins, right?

But, is yet another plastic bottle in the market desirable given that many of these end up in landfills or floating in our oceans, do chemicals leach from these bottles into product and anyone who ingests product, and why would anyone want to go from an easily recyclable glass bottle to a plastic bottle that is less easy to recycle?  The number of wins is dropping.

This ketchup’s ingredients, taken from their corporate website, include:



Two ingredients listed here, corn syrup-based, are becoming more and more publicly controversial, plus there are undefined spices and undefined flavoring as well.  Likewise, distilled vinegar leaches from any container it is stored in, glass being the safest container with the least amount of leaching. More wins lost.

With this photo being so widely shared, I question how customer experience professionals really define customer experience.  For example:

  • What helps drive increased revenue and brand loyalty?  Is it just easy to use packaging or something a combination of factors?
  • Was this packaging in and of itself the best use of company resources or could they have created an even better experience (and increased revenue) by improving the product instead of or in conjunction with their packaging?
  • Will the savings gained by moving to plastic containers be passed along to customers or will there be some sort of off-setting investment into recycling that helps to negate environmental issues caused by these new plastic bottles?
  • Are these new plastic containers safe given the product that is stored in them and are there future liabilities waiting to happen; meaning does a short term packaging design win over the possibility that the product along with the new packaging could be seen as not contributing to good customer health?
  • How many components of a customer experience does a company need to deliver simultaneously to ensure for a whole positive experience; creating value for both entities?
  • Do customers want companies to provide them with healthy products, both from an ingredient perspective as well as from a packaging perspective?

I wonder how many of us succumb to the internal corporate pressure of process improvement and expense reductions positioned as improving customer experiences as opposed to creating fabulous inclusive healthy customer experiences which ultimately lead to revenue and profit gains.

Maybe The Ultimate Question is really “Would/will you actively encourage your kids, mother, sister, or grandmother to eat/use this product?” instead of “Would you recommend?”.



The disclaimer.  This post is simply meant to offer thinking to CX professionals using a live illustration of some group think floating around on the web at the moment.  This post is NOT meant as +/- commentary about Heinz or its products.  Likewise, I have no personal or financial interest in Heinz.

Democracy: The Ultimate Customer Experience Strategy

“The US Gov needs a #CX touchpoint assessment.  Seems the GOPs and the DEMs are no different than siloes in companies where bonuses and infrastructure aren’t aligned and where each person in their silo is desperately clinging to their own jobs.  It’s driving me NUTS!!!” – @MaryMarkowicz

I was so frustrated by the lack of focus our political leaders have on our country’s major issues that I did exactly what every other frustrated customer does; I tweeted.  Annoyingly, even though I am a Chicago-based customer experience (CX) professional who has a decent Klout score, I did not get a response from President Obama, CEO of the United States of America, to handle my customer service concerns, to resolve his “company”’s branding problem, or even to take me out to one of his famous burger lunches; interaction a more forward-thinking company might have offered.

President Obama and before him, President Clinton, signed and ordered several actions over the past few decades aimed at improving the service federal agencies provide consumers; Executive Order 12862 Setting Customer Service Standards and Executive Order 13571 Streamlining Service Delivery and Improving Customer Service to name a few.  Implementing business best practices, putting people first, streamlining processes, and leveraging technology are the core tenants of all of these executive actions.

According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), federal agencies seem to be complying with leadership orders.  Agencies are achieving reasonable improvements by sending out customer surveys, creating plans to streamline transactions, and conducting more business on-line and via social.  Although the improvements gained from these actions are encouraging and commendable, there is still a lot of work to be done.

In January 2012’s press release, Claes Fornell of ACSI says, “At present, the federal government is 5 points below the lowest-scoring private sector economic segment information at 72.3—an improvement over a 7-point gap in 2010.  … While people generally distrust federal government as a whole, they are much more positive towards the job that individual agencies are performing.  … The lack of trust has much more to do with politicians than it does with federal workers and the services of the federal government.”

Because customer satisfaction improves when both the operational level and the strategic level of a company work synergistically, it is clear that presidential mandates may now be well intentioned yet woefully outdated.  When a customer satisfaction effort isn’t bringing about needed results, it is time to regroup by understanding new market forces, rethinking approaches, and then revamping accordingly.

Federal agencies and our country leaders now need to take a giant leap from customer satisfaction as a mandate simply at the agency level into the world of Customer Experience at an integrated level; a strategy and approach centred around customers and proven by many companies to have significant and enduring positive impact on customer behaviours, revenue, and financing.

What are the top three things that the public sector – agency/operational and leadership/strategy levels – can do to pivot to a Customer Experience strategy?

1. Reconsider the core belief that all citizens are a captive customer base.  Why?  Competition and customer expectations – market forces – now come from everywhere, not just in like industries or even in the same country.  Customers expect instant access to accurate information in a fast, easy, effortless manner, wherever they are and whenever they want it and public sector entities must align with customers’ needs and wants.  The specific market driving forces include:

  • The internet and its associated proliferation have created a common customer expectation that all commodity transactions can and should be handled on-line quickly.  Zappos.com, Amazon.com, and UPS.com consistently provide examples of how customers expect all transactions to occur no matter what entity they are dealing with.
  • The internet is now the place to go to do research, get instant answers, and to input information for others to use, whether broad or deep.  Wikipedia.com, Google, com, and Mashable.com are examples of very popular information portals.
  • Social media has changed how every business talks to its customers and the public sector is not immune to this requirement.  Customers now drive the dialog and yes, it is now two-way and often group dialog, no longer a one-way communications channel.  Facebook.com, Twitter.com, and WordPress.com are examples of digital communities.
  • Public sector customers have the option of opting out of US citizenship, an option that several high profile people have taken recently.  Just as consumers of products and services in the private sector can take their business to a competitor and vote with their wallet, public sector agencies and leadership must recognize that this too can and is happening here in the US at several different levels.

2. Revamp compensation plans at every level.  Embracing a customer experience strategy means reinforcing fabulous service behaviour from front line staff to executives in offices in the form of bonuses and promotions.  Deeply entrenched public sector thinking regarding salary structures and promotions can change when based on the right metrics.

3. Update how customer experience feedback is collected and analysed.  Customer satisfaction surveys and their associated C-Sat scores were the only tools we had ten years ago but not now.  Today, more relevant, timely, and dynamically actionable customer feedback methodologies include Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Effort Scores, Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs, sentiment analysis, transactional feedback, Big Data, touch point analytics, and customer lifetime value (CLV) metrics.  Many large businesses use most if not all of these approaches to get holistic views of their customers’ thinking and market trends.

It is interesting to note that several business analysts and financial investors are now including a company’s NPS scores into analyst calls or when making investment decisions.  This very same expectation could easily happen when analysts or investors wish to know how focused a country’s leaders and its agencies are in serving its constituencies before they rate credit worthiness or investment options.

The time is now.  With the lowest ACSI scores in the country, below that of even the lowest-rated cable company, and the obvious growing unhappiness people have with federal agencies and leadership, the public sector obviously needs to quickly pivot efforts to a customer experience strategy.

And how more appropriate could this be?  After all, we are a Democracy of the People by the People for the People – the ultimate Customer Experience strategy!

© Mary Ann Markowicz

Originally published 08-27-2012 on Customer Management IQ.

Can CX Help USA Co.?

Gallup Federal Government Customer Satisfaction Cloud

Being a CX professional and watching this year’s election process, I am dumbfounded at how out of touch our whole election process is and how badly the Federal Government services we constituents/customers.  I seems to me that the participants in our current election reflect private sector company department heads who are siloed and fighting with very sharp elbows to keep their jobs; knocking others down while creating urgent problems that “only they” can fix in order to remain employed.  Quite unproductive.

I will be publishing an article in an upcoming Customer Management IQ special edition on ways federal agencies can use CX to improve the service they offer us and that we pay for.

Outside of that article, I would like to explore with you how a best practice CX methodology could actually change our entire political system.  Let’s open dialog on this….  who knows, maybe we can change the World.

Discussion assumptions:

  1. We agree that in this discussion context, the US Government is a business, designed to serve and protect its citizens.  It is in the business of people and provides services to help residents protect and advance their/our lives.
  2. We do not include the regulatory branches of government in this ideation (eg. Supreme Court, SEC, FTC, etc.).  We might consider these to be outsourced legal counsel.
  3. Each federal agency such as the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Administration, and Housing and Urban Development are considered departments within USA Co. For example, HUD might be like a typical Facilities team, the VA might be like a security department, and the SSA might be akin to the retirement benefits offered by Human Resources.
  4. Senators and Congress(wo)men are like regional sales people or account executives.
  5. POTUS is the CEO of USA Co., VPOTUS is like the VP, Operations, and the Secretary of the Treasury is like any company’s CFO.

As a benchmarked metric, the American Customer Satisfaction Institute (ACSI) regularly publishes customer satisfaction scores from many industries, government included.  In January 2012’s press release, Claes Fornell of ACSI says,

At present, the federal government is 5 points below the lowest-scoring private sector economic segment information at 72.3—an improvement over a 7-point gap in 2010.  … While people generally distrust federal government as a whole, they are much more positive towards the job that individual agencies are performing.  … The lack of trust has much more to do with politicians than it does with federal workers and the services of the federal government.

Not only do we have lower than cable company customer satisfaction scores at the federal agency levels (USA Co.’s operational departments) but we have a leadership crisis that is impeding the growth of USA Co.  If USA Co. was on an analyst call, the analyst would be asking for USA Co.’s NPS scores or some indication of how committed they were to their customers in order to determine credit worthiness and stock guidance.  I doubt any analyst would listen to campaign promises on these types of calls.

What are your thoughts on these questions?

  1. If we treated USA Co. as an SEC-registered company, would we tax-paying citizens actually be shareholders with all of the power that goes with same or would we be customers buying a service?
  2. If we were all shareholders, wouldn’t we be voting directly for USA Co. leadership; meaning that the Electoral College would be unnecessary?
  3. If we were all customers buying a service – security, retirement services, etc. – are we thinking that we are a captive customer base instead of finding alternative vendors to provide the same services?
  4. If we all believe that we have alternatives to choose from, whether moving to another country that works better for our goals or simply not using USA Co.’s services (vote with our wallets), what alternatives would we have?  Should USA Co. be considered a monopoly?  Should they give we customers the option to purchase the services that we wish to purchase and not others meaning that they need to be competitive and unbundle their services?
  5. As customers or shareholders, should we require strong ethics and compliance adherence, just like other executives must comply to?
  6. No matter if USA Co. had customers or shareholders, how would a CX strategy help them and us?  Would it help focus everyone on the same goals, get paid for achieving goals, realign resources to focus on those same goals, and yield a better financial return overall?  Likewise, would we customers start trusting USA Co. again and would customer satisfaction scores go up?
  7. Could VoC programs and Sentiment Analysis replace Gallup polls and endless pundit guessing?
  8. How could Touch Point mapping and analysis help?

The big question is…

If we all got serious about advancing our country and civilization in general, how would/could a CX strategy help?


Looking forward to reading your ideas!!!


As a disclaimer, I have no financial or business interests in USA Co.

© Mary Ann Markowicz