Customer Experience Outlook For 2011: Lopsided Battle For Differentiation

We recently published the results of our annual survey of the members of our customer experience professionals peer research group. The group is interesting in that they’re pros: They all work to improve the customer experience delivered by their organizations.

This year, their responses are encouraging — but also very sobering.

Here are some of the encouraging data points. A whopping 86% said that customer experience is a top strategic priority at their company. More than half work at companies that already have a single set of customer experience metrics in place across the entire company, and another 20% said that their firms are considering this move. What’s more, almost as many respondents said that their companies have a voice of the customer program in place, and another 29% said that their firms are actively considering a voice of the customer (VoC) program.

At this point I’m thinking, “Fantastic! Their companies care about customer experience, and they are implementing mission-critical programs that will help them succeed!”

Plus they’re coming from a good place. When we asked our panelists how they’d describe their executive team’s goal for customer experience, 63% of respondents said that their senior executives want to be the best in their industry, while another 13% said that their execs shoot higher and want to be seen as a customer experience leader across all industries.

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What It Means When “Customer Experience” Appears In Marketing And Advertising

I waited until the last minute to get my car inspected this year. It was a Sunday, so my usual service station was closed. Luckily, the Firestone near my house was open and had availability. I was happy just to find a place, but the folks at Firestone made me happier by delivering a positive experience from end to end — clean store, polite service guy, clear expectations about timing, and a call to make sure I wanted to replace a rear brake light bulb. Then, when I went to pay, a message on the self-pay screen reinforced the idea that I had gotten a good experience. It read, “Committed to providing a positive customer experience, every time.” Naturally, I was glad to see the company making this commitment — and actually living up to it. I also got a chuckle out of the message, imagining the boardroom discussions that led to it appearing in front of me. And that got me thinking . . .

What does it mean when companies use the term “customer experience” when they’re talking to actual customers?

I’ve noticed this happening more and more over the past year or so, not in my research but in my life as a customer. Firestone’s not alone. AT&T uses “customer experience” on its website. Amica uses it in a TV ad. What does this trend mean? To me, two things:

  1. More companies are interested in customer experience. We already know that customer experience is a growing area of focus for companies, but seeing the term seep into marketing and advertising is just more evidence of this phenomenon. At the very least, it shows that companies think that their customers desire good experiences — versus just low prices or good products — and that companies feel the need to address the desire somehow.
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Back From My Pilgrimage To Mobile’s Mecca

Once again, I spent a couple of days in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress (MWC). 

With 60,000 visitors (10,000 more than last year) — including an amazing 12,000 developers (!), 3,000 CEOs, and 2,900 journalists — MWC is the place to be for anyone wanting to make the most of mobile technologies.

Year after year, it is interesting to see how the show is becoming more global, more open to non-telecom players (advertisers, developers, etc.), and more open to connected devices other than just phones.

While it is difficult to summarize all the news and announcements, here are my key takeaways from MWC 2011:

  • Android, Android, Android.Google’s Android stand was the hit of MWC this year. Why? Very clever marketing: It was located in the main hall away from all the other players in the App Planet hall; it had a “cool” bar with animations; the Android robot logo was all over the place; and it featured interesting demonstrations from startups and key players. Google’s Android was helped by Apple’s absence and the lack of a serious upgrade to Windows Phone 7, unlike last year. Of course, the Nokia-Microsoft deal came up in most conversations. Forrester has already published its take on the strategic implications of this key announcement (clients can read it here). As my colleague Charles Golvin sums it up: “Nokia hopes to produce its first Windows Phone in 2011, but it will not bring a significant portfolio to the market in volume until 2012 — a lifetime in today’s smartphone market.” With 300,000 Android phone activations per day and 170 Android-based handsets currently available from 27 vendors, Android is definitely getting a lot of traction. 
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How To Build A Customer-Centric Culture

Building a customer-centric culture is occupying the minds and activities of a lot of companies that I’m talking with lately. This is great, because culture is the difference between going through the motions of a script and internalizing a set of values that dictate actions beyond the script.

Let me give an example: I recently was on the phone with an incredibly chipper call center rep at a telecommunications company. He didn’t answer either of the two questions that I had, yet remained friendly throughout the call. As the call ended, he said: “We aim not just to meet your expectations, but exceed them. Have I done that for you today?” Not only was the question a setup that will skew results, but the asking of the question made it clear that the company hadn’t succeeded in infusing customer-centric DNA into at least this person. A more customer-centric response is what you typically get from Vanguard or Fidelity: “I’m sorry that I can’t answer your questions. Let me find someone who can. Would you like to hold or can I call you back?”

Don’t get me wrong: Company intentions are important. Before I get into the culture part, I always step back with clients and ask "what kind of culture?" Don Norman's story about Southwest Airlines, in which the company refused to give customers reserved seats, food, and baggage transfers is a great example. The company's primary value proposition to customers is low prices (along with on-time service that's fun). That sets the stage for the kind of culture the company sets out to create. It's not customer-centric at all costs. It's focused on what’s valuable to customers.

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Calling European Interactive Design Agencies — Do You Want To Get Your Name In Front Of Forrester Clients?

"Where to get help for interactive design projects in Europe?" That's the question I want to answer for customer experience professionals in my next research. To do that, I'm inviting all interactive design agencies in Europe to help me. Would you like to be included in a report that will help Forrester clients with their interactive agency selection process? If the answer is yes, please complete this 15-minute survey at:

https://deploy.ztelligence.com/start/index.jsp?PIN=15ZN9YWFM8K4N.

The survey is designed to gather data from European firms that have significant experience in designing and developing digital experiences (web, mobile, etc.). Survey questions cover interactive agency size, practice areas, industry expertise, locations, and a range of costs for typical engagements. If you know any agencies that should be included in my report, please forward the survey link to them or show them this blog post.

If you have questions, please send me an email: jbrowne at forrester dot com.

[16/Feb/2011]: Some people asked to see the questions before going through the survey online. That's a fair request, so I've uploaded a PDF of the survey to this page:

http://community.forrester.com/message/11355

[16/Feb/2011]: The deadline for this survey is Feb 28, 2011. The sooner we receive your submissions the better.

[28/Feb/2011]: I'm extending the deadline for this survey to Mar 7, 2011.

For The Love Of God, Will Everyone Please Stop Copying Apple?

Yes, Apple is amazing. In no uncertain terms, the company has had a seismic impact on our society. Apple has changed everything from what we buy to how we work and awakened both corporate executives and the general public to the value of good design. Apple has raised our awareness of the value of simplicity (and the rejection of feature overload); the importance of paying attention to every little detail (down to the layout and typography on product manuals); and the seemingly unbelievable business domination that comes from examining not just isolated customer touchpoints but the entire customer experience ecosystem.

Not surprisingly, customer experience professionals at other companies want to follow Apple’s lead. And it’s only natural for one company to be influenced by another.

But in the case of Apple, I’ve been completely stunned over the years to see the degree of blatant copying that’s taken place. This has come, of course, from Apple’s direct competitors. Take, for example, the roughly 40 tablets that were announced at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show; the various Android-based phones, which look more like iPhone clones than not; and the app stores that have popped up to support every major mobile platform.

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