How To Close The Loop Without Being Creepy

As Andrew McInnes pointed out in his report "Ten Major Voice Of The Customer Trends," more companies are closing the loop with their customers. During Forrester's 2009 Voice Of The Customer Awards, entrants with closed-loop processes were the exception. In 2010, they were the rule, with many top finalists integrating closed-loop processes into their sales and marketing efforts. For this year’s awards (by the way, nominations are now open), we expect to see a new crop of innovative closed-loop applications.

But just like any well-intentioned action, closing the loop isn’t always the right thing to do.

A few months ago, a friend of mine got married. I was really excited to see that her gift registry site included severable charitable donation options, and I quickly decided on a $100 donation to the Massachusetts SPCA. On the gift registry site, I needed to enter a “quantity” of $1 donations to get to my desired total donation which is a bit weird in and of itself but the real problem I had was that the quantity field would only accept two digits! So instead of making a nice round $100 donation, I ended up donating $99.

Because I didn’t want to look like a complete weirdo to my friend and her new hubby, I added this explanation to the gift message I sent them through the donation site: “Hmmm. The field where I could enter the quantity of our donation would only allow for two digits, so that's why you're getting a wacky $99 donation.  :)  I just can't take a break from usability . . . ”

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Differentiate Digital Experiences By Building A Strong Brand Personality

Ever wonder why most digital interactions fail to engage users? In part, it’s because users can’t easily decipher who they’re dealing with. Instead of actively developing unique experiences that support how they want their brands to be perceived, companies chase features and functions that others have implemented. At best, the result is bland cookie-cutter experiences that leave users uninspired. At worst, brands can seem downright schizophrenic to users who get unpredictable experiences as they move from channel to channel.

It’s not easy to create a strong emotional bond through an interface because it’s difficult for users to see the people behind digital interaction points. Instead, they see a mere screen or a system. But people are far more predisposed to creating connections with other people than they are with an interface. That’s why firms need to pay attention to the brand personality they’re trying to convey and make their digital experiences feel more human. Of course, the solution isn’t just to plaster your website with happy faces or buzzwords. Instead, firms can take a more systematic approach and follow the principles of Forrester’s Emotional Experience Design framework. Here are a couple of ways for firms to establish brand personality:

  • Match visual designs across channels so that users can easily recognize the brand as they cross interaction points.
  • Keep in sync with the brand attributes that they want people to associate with them by creating content that conveys brand messages and by crafting the right voice to further convey those messages. 
  • Adopt a human tone that lands in the right place in between robotic, just-the-facts approaches and overdone marketing speak that comes off as fake.
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Voice Of The Customer Programs Need A Better Business Story

More than half of companies say that they have voice of the customer (VoC) programs in place today, and many others say that they’re planning to establish programs within the next year. That’s a good thing, because collecting, analyzing, and acting on customer feedback is a recipe for success in financial as well as customer experience terms. The firms recognized in Forrester’s 2010 Voice Of The Customer Awards attributed impressive business results to their VoC efforts, ranging from increases in customer retention to increases in revenue per customer.

Unfortunately, most companies still aren’t feeling the business value of their VoC programs. We recently surveyed members of our Customer Experience Peer Research Panel Survey. The vast majority of respondents said that their VoC programs were extremely or very valuable in improving customers’ experiences. But fewer than half said that they got the same financial value from their programs. This might not be a huge shocker, but it is a problem.

Companies that see gaps between the customer experience and financial benefits delivered by their VoC programs are likely:

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Differentiating On Customer Experience

Michael Porter famously wrote that companies differentiate themselves by performing a unique set of activities from their competitors' or by performing the same activities differently.

Here are some numbers: 86% of companies say customer experience is a top strategic priority for 2011; 76% seek to differentiate based on customer experience; 46% have a companywide program for improving customer experience currently in place and another 30% are actively considering it; and 52% have a voice of the customer program in place with close to 30% more actively considering it.

With the majority of companies focused on improving customer experience, how can a company expect to differentiate on it? Because there remains a tremendous amount of lip service and intellectual dishonesty about what it takes. Let me give a few examples:

  • Friendly agents game the numbers. Although not able to answer the two questions that I had, a super-friendly phone agent at a major telecommunications firm ended the conversation by asking: “We aim to not only meet your expectations but to exceed them. Have I done that today?” From the tone of the agent’s voice and the question asked, it’s clear that someone at the company is thinking about customer experience. However, the gaming of the question indicates that the company’s culture has a long way to go to actually improve the experience beyond the superficialities. 
     
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Why Companies Overpromise And Underdeliver On Customer Experience: One Hypothesis

Last weekend I used my AAdvantage miles on a plane ticket for my husband. I went to AA.com, it was easy to trade off options based on number of miles used and flight schedule. When I went to book, my name and AAdvantage number were pre-populated into the form. I changed the name and number to his but got an error: “The AAdvantage number for Passenger 1 does not match the name entered. Please verify and re-enter.”*

Problem #1: A design problem stopped me from booking the ticket myself on the site.

Problem #2: An unhelpful error message didn’t help me fix the first problem.

Without any other choice, I called for help. Before I could reach a person – or even a menu, I got this message:

“With the refreshed and redesigned AA.com it’s easy to book, explore, and plan all of your travel needs in one place because we’ve organized things better, made it more intuitive, smarter, simpler, cleaner, all to help bring your next trip closer to reality. This is the first step of more exciting changes we have planned for AA.com. Whether you are looking or booking, a better travel experience awaits with the new, easy to navigate AA.com. Book a trip now and see for yourself. To expedite your call, please have your Advantage number ready.”

Problem #3: I had to spend a full minute hearing about how American’s new site could help me — the same site that had already failed to help me.

When I finally reached an agent and explained my problem, she said: “Well, you just had to think on it harder. You needed to leave the Advantage number blank.”

Problem #4: The agent told me I’m stupid.  Who likes that?

Armed with new instructions, I tried to book the ticket. But instead I got an error message saying the site had timed out.

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Forrester’s Voice Of The Customer Awards 2011 – Nomination Period Begins March 25th

It’s that time of year again. We’re already in the midst of planning our annual Customer Experience Forum, and now we’re gearing up to collect and evaluate nominations for our Voice Of The Customer Awards — which we’ll present at the Forum.

If you’re new to the awards, here’s some background: Forrester's annual Voice Of The Customer Awards recognize organizations that excel in collecting, analyzing, and acting on feedback from their customers — incorporating customer insights into everyday decisions. We conduct the awards for three basic reasons: 1) to emphasize the importance of VoC programs; 2) to celebrate organizations that are leading the way; and 3) to highlight best practices.

If you (or, if you’re a vendor, your clients) have a strong VoC program, we encourage you to participate. It's free and offers a great opportunity to earn some solid PR while also sharing your wisdom with other customer experience pros. Also, we only reveal the names of the finalists and winners, so the potential downside is limited.  

You can find all of the information you need on our VoC Award home page. The 2011 nomination form will become available there on March 25th. In the meantime, you can review this year's timeline, get answers to FAQs, and check out information about past winners.

Brand Experience Workshop: Learn The Tools Of Website Brand Experience Reviews (April 4th, San Francisco Marriott Marquis)

Ever wonder why websites offer such lackluster brand experiences? Want to know how your site can help you differentiate your brand?

If you care about how your brand succeeds online and are attending Forrester’s Marketing Forum 2011, I encourage you to consider attending our Website Brand Experience Review Workshop on Monday, April 4th (the day before the forum), at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis.

During this one-day session, I will be presenting insights into the dos and don’ts of creating website experiences that effectively build brands. Attendees will learn the same methodology Forrester uses to evaluate how well sites build brands as published in reports such as “Best And Worst Of Brand Building Web Sites, 2008,” “Best And Worst Of Financial Services Brand Building Web Sites, 2009,” and "The Best Of Website Brand Experiences 2010." 

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Wake Up Call: Call Centers Hold Enormous Potential For Brands

Call centers sit on the frontline of customer experience where they provide sales, support, and customer service functions. They’re often customers’ first — and sometimes their only — human interaction with a company.

Even with conservative estimates, it’s easy to make the case that large call centers have customer influence on par with, if not greater than, that of mass advertising campaigns. (Assuming a call center with 3,000 agents and an average of only 50 calls per agent per day, a company has the opportunity to make 1.05 million personal connections each week — and 54.6 million each year.) 

Call center interactions have the potential to build a company’s brand image, delight people so much that they recommend the brand to friends, and even generate incremental sales. 

But bad call center experiences spoil millions of daily opportunities to drive business value. 

Despite their reach and potential impact on the business, call centers go largely ignored. Instead, companies are making deeper investments in the Web and other sexy of-the-moment digital service interactions, like mobile and Social Computing. Consumers have noticed — they tell us that phone conversations with live agents just don’t stack up to online or in-store experiences. What's worse, Forrester has been tracking US consumer satisfaction with phone conversations across multiple industries since 2007 and 2008, and all but one industry saw their satisfaction rates sink during this time period. Only investment firms bucked the downward trend, and even there, the story isn’t a whole lot better: Satisfaction scores have been effectively flat since 2007.

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Enterprise Feedback Management Vendors Power Voice Of The Customer Programs

Most customer experience professionals recognize that the voice of the customer (VoC) is critical to their success. After all, if you're trying to improve customers' perceptions, you better understand them. But building a comprehensive VoC program isn't easy. It involves complex challenges, such as collecting customer feedback across channels and tailoring reports for diverse internal audiences. Nothing can erase these challenges completely, but the right set of tools can help overcome them. Enterprise feedback management (EFM) vendors offer many of these tools, simplifying VoC activities by providing central systems for feedback collection, analysis, response, and reporting.

To get a better sense of the EFM market, Roxie Strohmenger and I scanned the space and asked 26 of the vendors to provide information about their software and services. You can find the vendor responses and my analysis of the market from a customer experience perspective in my latest report. Or you can check out Roxie's take from the market insights professionals' perspective.

Here are the key findings from my report:

The EFM market is crowded and hard to navigate. Most EFM vendors are small. Twenty-four of the 26 we surveyed generated $30 million or less in revenues from EFM in 2010. The lists of common competitors provided by the vendors suggest that survey technology is still the centerpiece of the market, but many vendors are evolving beyond that traditional area of focus.

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The Online Change Of Address Nightmare

At some point in our lives, we all go through the challenge of moving, and it isn’t a whole lot of fun, even when it should be. You have to find a place to move, make offers, secure loans and income verification… all that fun stuff that you swear to yourself you’ll never go through again because it’s such a hassle.  For me, it’s not the boxes, the upheaval of routine, or even the challenge of dealing with all the administrivia that seems to pop up just when you think all the paperwork is in order. No. What I dislike most is changing my address for subscriptions, financial accounts, and other services.

At some point we all have to go through the basic task of updating our personal information with a company. It’s simple self-service task, right? You log in to your account, click on a link that says “change mailing address,” input your new information, and move on. You may even get a reassuring email confirming that your information has been changed.  It seems so simple — and in this day and age it should be. But why, then, do companies make it so hard to change your address online?

In the past week I must have gone through the process at least 20 times and found a range of problems including:

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