Customer Experience Is Emotional By Definition

Harley Manning recently wrote a post that explained Forrester’s definition of customer experience as:

“How customers perceive their interactions with your company.”

The key word I want to focus on here is “perceive.” While business success is viewed by metrics like conversions or average order size, for customers, their level of satisfaction is tied to the sum total of all interactions they have with a company from the first time they click on a link from an online ad all the way to opening and experiencing a product. That satisfaction is based on some rational justifications such as price, but it’s also largely based on the overall feeling customers have about those interactions. It’s that emotional component that can be the X factor in how consumers report whether or not they are satisfied with a brand — and more importantly determine whether they’ll do business with you again.

Think about it, emotions drive needs, wants, and desires and are the triggers that are the basis for most interactions consumers have with a company. Think about something as seemingly mundane as cleaning products. Why do people care about cleaning products? Because maybe they want to have a clean house that smells nice because they’re going to entertain soon and, secretly, they want to leave their guests not with an image of their home, but of how they keep their home. Or, maybe there’s a concern over the ingredients that are in the cleaning supplies that people use because they have young children and want to keep them safe from harmful chemicals. The bottom line is that people bring all sorts of baggage to every experience and that baggage is emotional — even the things that cannot be explicitly stated.

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Help Forrester Predict The Top 2011 Customer Experience Trends!

Our team is pretty floored by everything that’s happening in the customer experience space right now. We’re seeing massive changes in technology, which are enabling personal and social experiences unlike any we’ve ever seen. In addition, customer experience is gaining unprecedented importance across the enterprise. We think the combination of these influences is going to make for a pretty spectacular 2011.

Ron Rogowski and I are collaborating on a report that will outline Forrester’s thoughts on what 2011 has in store for customer experience professionals. Among our predictions:

  • Customer experience will (finally) connect with marketing. If you read my last blog post, it’ll be no surprise that I think there’s a pretty strong connection between customer experience and marketing. For CCOs and CMOs, 2011 will come in like a lion (with tension between their two groups) and go out like a lamb (with true collaboration).
  • Brands will (wrongfully) rush to abandon their Web sites. With the skyrocketing market for mobile phones and tablets, firms will look to engage users through differentiated experiences on these devices. But in the process, many will neglect a critical touchpoint — the Web — in favor of apps that have less reach.
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Customer Experience Improvements Can Be Worth Billions — Yeah, “Billions” With A “B”

Forrester just published Megan Burns’ new report that models the business impact of an improved customer experience. I’m proud of this report because it:

  • Quantifies the correlation between a rise in a company’s Customer Experience Index score and the corresponding increase in three loyalty metrics that every company cares about: purchase intent, likelihood to switch business to a competitor, and likelihood to recommend.
  • Makes conservative but realistic assumptions about the business fundamentals of companies in 13 different industries.
  • Produces eyepopping projections of increased annual revenue as a result of realistically attainable improvements in customer experience — by industry.
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Customer Experience Defined

If you’re reading this post, you’re someone who cares about customer experience. You might even be one of the professionals who works in the field of customer experience full-time.

So I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you occasionally get the question, “What is ‘customer experience?’”

Now maybe when you’re asked that question, it isn’t phrased so directly (or politely). For example, I get asked, “Isn’t customer experience just marketing?” And, “How is customer experience different from customer service?” But the bottom line is that people are looking for a definition that’s crisp, useful, and distinct from the definitions of other things that companies do. They are right and reasonable to ask for this — but collectively those of us who work to improve customer experience have failed to answer them.

I mean no offense to the many people out there who have tried to define “customer experience.” I’ve read many of the attempts that are out there, and the ones I’ve seen tend to be longer and more convoluted than necessary.

Not that customer experience is an easy concept to define. The customer experience team at Forrester has been debating the definition of customer experience for a while now, and it took us until recently to reach consensus. We now define customer experience as:

“How customers perceive their interactions with your company.”

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Correction: Direct Partners

For the past few years, we've updated a report called, "Where To Find Help For Web Design Projects." It's a survey of interactive marketing agencies — one that can be fairly complicated to fill out. Hopefully, the report serves as one of the first stops for companies looking for agency help for online design projects because it seeks to compare some basic capabilities and focus areas of as many firms as are willing to fill it out.

Because it's difficult to fact-check every detail reported with every agency, sometimes the data by the time we publish the report is already out of date. And sometimes (hopefully less often), there are minor mistakes that everybody misses before the report gets published. This time, it was that the name of the agency Direct Partners was listed as Skip Reed — the name of the member of the executive management team who filled it out. So, if you're interested in an agency in the report called Skip Reed, you'll find it at DirectPartners.com. Sorry about the error!

Customer Experience And Marketing: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

In my last post, I promised I might have a thing or two to say about marketing. I just didn’t realize it would be so soon!

Last week, Peter Merholz from Adaptive Path posted a rant entitled, "The Pernicious Effects of Advertising and Marketing Agencies Trying To Deliver User Experience Design." In it, he calls ad agencies unethical, poisonous, and “soulless holes” and extols the virtues of user experience (UX) design firms. (Go have a read — you don’t see polarizing tirades like this every day.)

On the surface, this argument pits agency against agency. But I think the issue goes much deeper: the growing intersection — and tension — between customer experience and marketing. Here’s how I see the landscape:

  • Neither customer experience nor marketing are going away. Customer experience is gaining importance in companies — we can see this in the rise of the chief customer officer (CCO) role, which several years ago was virtually nonexistent. But the rise of one discipline doesn’t mean the complete and utter downfall of the other. Even companies like Apple and Zappos — the poster children for great customer experiences — advertise.
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Suits On The Floor, Call Center Disconnect, And Boarding Idiots

Most companies have the intention of providing excellent customer experiences. However, most find it difficult to translate those intentions into the cultural fabric of their companies. I like to give companies feedback on how they’re doing — and to see how customer service people deal with feedback. Three recent incidents with employees made me question how well these firms were making this translation:

  • Suits sitting on the floor. Finding an available electrical outlet in O’Hare Airport is a hassle. While looking, I couldn’t help but notice the number of United Airlines customers sitting on the floor, because the outlets in the main thoroughfare were the only ones available . . . some of those people were even in suits. One would imagine that an employee in a truly customer-centric company would be mortified by seeing their customers sitting on the floor like that. When I approached the United Airlines customer service employee to pass a message on to her superiors about it, instead of seeing the problem, she merely gave me a litany of reasons why it wasn’t United’s issue.
     
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Top 10 Web Design Fixes For Improving Business Results Workshop (December 7th, San Francisco, CA)

Even the best Web sites have usability flaws that stop customers from buying products or services, finding information, and getting help. Yet many of these problems are easy to find and not much harder to fix — if you know what to look for. And the benefits of fixing these common usability problems can be huge.

If you are looking for a fast, objective way to spot the common — but serious — design problems that hurt online business performance, please join me in San Francisco on Tuesday, December 7th, for Forrester’s Top 10 Web Design Fixes For Improving Business Results Workshop.

This one-day intensive session helps participants uncover 10 Web design problems that afflict more than half of the 1,200+ sites tested by Forrester, are easy to spot, and produce ROI when fixed. During this Workshop, participants will learn and apply the same objective techniques Forrester analysts use to find well-known usability problems for research and for clients. These methods apply to any type of site, including B2C or B2B Web sites, extranets, and intranets.

This promises to be an educational, interactive, and entertaining way to learn the tools that will help you find and fix problems that frustrate your customers and limit your business performance. For more information, and a detailed agenda, please visit the event page.

How Zappos Brought Me Back To Forrester

In 2008, after nearly four years as an analyst on Forrester’s Customer Experience team, I left to explore the world of the Mad Men. I led the interaction design team at a top-20 advertising agency in Boston and, after a move to San Francisco, advised marketing agencies on things like their corporate strategies and go-to-marketing messaging.

While it was an exciting time for me, I kept coming back to a belief that I’ve held for years: A great customer experience is truly the best marketing.

And then I read Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness, the story of Zappos’ rise to one of the best-known (and, some could argue, most successful) customer-centric companies. I devoured the entire book, cover to cover, on a flight from JFK to SFO. I dog-eared pages and highlighted passages. I even ignored a really great in-flight episode of 30 Rock in order to keep reading. And as we pulled into the gate in San Francisco, I realized that I needed to return to my passion: customer experience. Ultimately, what really makes me happy is helping companies make their customers happy.

And so here I am. (Thanks, Tony!)

I’m thrilled to be back on Harley’s team and doing a job I love. Here are the types of things I’ll be exploring through my research:

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Q&Agency: POP

Welcome to Q&Agency! Each week, I talk to agencies small and large and get to hear (in their words) what differentiates them and the experiences they create. To help bring some of that information to you, I'm showcasing an ongoing series of interviews with small to midsize interactive and design agencies. If you'd like to see your agency or an agency you work with here, let me know!

On November 1st, I talked with Laura Porto Stockwell, the VP of experience strategy at POP. Edited excerps from that conversation follow.

Forrester: Tell me a little bit about POP.

Laura: POP was founded in 1996 by our President, Bill Predmore. So, we’ll turn 15 this summer. Over the past 14 years, we’ve grown to more than 150 people, primarily in Seattle and an office in New York that services clients on the East Coast. We create innovative experiences for the Web, mobile devices, and digital platforms. Our clients include Target, Microsoft, EA, and Epson. Our primary services are experience strategy, design, Web development, mobile application development, and social media.

Forrester: What is your elevator pitch?

Laura: Informed ideas and flawless execution; that speaks to our two key strengths. We’re strategic thinkers, and we’re able to get things out the door. We pride ourselves on that.

Forrester: What are the three key things that differentiate POP from your competitors?

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