Advertising The Customer Experience

My research director Harley Manning has a lot of quips that we affectionately call Harleyisms. One of them goes like this: All ads promise one of three things — you’re gonna get rich, you’re gonna live forever, or you’re gonna get (um, I’ll be polite here) some nookie.

While this might have been somewhat true during the golden age of advertising, I’ve noticed a new ad trend over the past several years: More marketers are advertising the customer experiences that their companies deliver. Here are a few examples:

  • Apple’s iPhone and iPad ads put viewers in the perspective of holding the devices in their own hands, all while demonstrating how easy they are to use and the real-world value they provide (like finding the best price on a book or getting step-by-step cooking instructions).
  • JetBlue promoted its customer experience in a series of hilarious ads that poke fun at the draconian policies employed by its competitors.
  • Virgin America’s San Francisco subway ads say, “LAND WITH AN EMPTY INBOX. SFO -> DALLAS FORT WORTH WITH WIFI.”
  • San Francisco bus ads for Saint Francis and Saint Mary’s hospitals promise: “ER WAIT TIME: UNDER 30 MINUTES.”
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Apple Store 2.0: Why Customer Experience Leaders Should Care

This week, Apple upgraded its in-store experience. In case you missed all of the hype, iPads placed next to every Apple product now provide interactive product, service, and support information — and the devices also give shoppers the ability to beckon a store employee to their side at any moment. In addition, the updated Apple Store app provides shoppers visibility into the number of people in line ahead of them and the wait time to talk to someone at the Genius Bar.

Customer experience leaders outside of the retail space might be tempted to file this away in their cool-but-not-quite- relevant-to-me drawers. But I see three compelling reasons why executives should take notice, regardless of what industry they’re in.

Reason No. 1: Apple continues to raise the bar on your customers’ expectations.

Brands no longer compete solely against the companies in their immediate industry. Why? Because customer experience leaders like Apple (and Zappos.com, Disney, and a handful of others) delight their customers on a daily basis. These great customer experiences, in turn, continually reset people’s expectations for the types of interactions they believe they should be able to have with the banks, insurance companies, TV service providers, and airlines they do business with. The Apple Store 2.0 has yet again upped your customers’ expectations for the type of in-person customer experiences they now expect from your brand.

Reason No. 2: Even with a heavy technology focus, human help seems even more accessible.

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Why Seth Godin's Service Design Tips Miss The Mark

In Seth Godin’s recent post, "Who’s responsible for service design?" he points out several service issues with questions like, “How many people should be answering the phone at Zappos.com on a Saturday? What’s Southwest Airlines' policy regarding hotel stays and cancelled flights? Should the knobs on the shower at the hotel go side by side or one above the other?” He then goes on to say, “Too often, we blame bad service on the people who actually deliver the service. Sometimes (often) it’s not their fault.”

I’m totally with him up to that point.

But then he goes on to blame two sets of people for service delivery issues: overpaid executives and service designers.  Yes, executives set the direction for customer experience. And yes, there is a growing cadre of service designers in service design firms and in-house design teams. But I’d argue that these professionals are responsible for just a tiny fraction of the service experiences that exist today. Unfortunately, most companies just aren’t aware of the field of service design or the value it brings, so they haven't hired service designers to assist with customer experience efforts.

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Want To Win A Voice Of The Customer Award? Prove Business Impact

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been part of a group that picked the winners of Forrester’s Voice Of The Customer Awards for 2011. I can’t yet tell you the names of the three winners — those companies will be announced on June 21 at our Customer Experience Forum in New York, along with the other seven entrants that made up our top 10. But I can share some insight into what separated the winners from the contenders.

At one end of the spectrum, the clarity with which entrants described their programs didn’t create much differentiation. With very few exceptions, descriptions ranged from very clear to extremely clear and “please stop with the detail already, my eyes are starting to bleed” clear.

At the other end of the spectrum, the business benefits that companies derived from their voice of the customer (VoC) programs provided diamond-hard clarity as to which companies were great and which were just good.  

To understand why that is, consider the question in the awards submission form that asks about business benefits. It was worded exactly like this:

“How has this activity improved your organization's business results? Please be as specific as possible about business benefits like increased revenue, decreased cost, increased customer satisfaction, or decreased customer complaints. Please specify how you measure those benefits.”

The judges were looking for a response along the lines of:

  1. We heard these specific things from customers through our VoC program.
  2. As a result of what we heard, we made these specific changes.
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Why Surveys Aren't The Best Tool For Designing Experiences

While most design researchers and practioners would agree that surveys aren't the best tool for designing experiences, I'm still suprised that we get pushback on the value of other (primarily qualitative) research methods from customer experience professionals and of course their business colleagues. While many of these people will argue to the grave that surveys are "better" than qualitative research methods because they mitigate risk by being both quantifiable and statistically significant, they don't realize that when designing experiences, surveys introduce "risk" well before a survey is analyzed. How? Well, surveys:

  • Limit responses. Most surveys (whether they're open-ended or offer restricted responses) ask users for their reaction or input to a specific question or situation. If you're asking for something that's relatively black and white, that's a perfect technique. But if you're asking people to explain why they did (or didn't do) something or about the nuances of how they did something, or if you want to see how their context influences their behavior, then surveys are difficult to craft because you essentially have to know the answers before you ask the question. And if you don't know all of the right answers, then you're introducing risk by guessing what they may be.
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Taking VoC Programs To The Next Level

A few weeks ago, I described the sobering fact that most voice of the customer (VoC) programs don’t deliver business results. I recently dug into the responses to Forrester’s Q1 2011 Global Customer Experience Peer Research Panel Survey to find out why. Here’s some of what I found (full results will be available in my new report titled, “Voice Of The Customer Programs Don’t Deliver Enough Value,” due out later this week):  

  • Lack of processes for taking action. Sixty-five percent of respondents admitted that their VoC programs don’t systematically take action based on customer insights. Without clear processes in place, it’s no surprise that VoC programs don’t drive enough value-generating activities.
  • Lack of accessible, relevant insights. Sixty-five percent of respondents also admitted that their VoC programs don’t make customer insights easy to access, and 52% said that they don’t tailor insights for different internal groups. That means many potential participants within companies don’t get the information they need to take action — even if they’re inclined to do so. As a result, VoC leaders are left to personally move actions forward, and that approach doesn’t scale.
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The Root Of Most Customer Experience Problems

I recently read a story about the butterflies in Zion National Park. Apparently, there aren’t as many of them as there used to be. And after decades of research, scientists have finally figured out why.

Zion National Park was developed in the early 1900s — and with that development came an influx of tourists. Scared off by human foot traffic, cougars retreated from certain areas of park. And with no natural predators, the deer population exploded. These cute (but ravenous) animals became unstoppable in their quest to devour everything in their path — including cottonwood tree saplings. And with fewer cottonwood trees reaching adolescence and maturity, the streambanks lost their primary source of erosion protection. Soil erosion made it difficult for wildflowers to bloom — and fewer wildflowers meant fewer butterflies.

Natural ecosystems, like the one in Zion National Park, comprise complex interdependent relationships that change over time.

A customer experience ecosystem is quite similar. It encompasses a complex set of relationships among a company’s employees, partners, and customers — and it’s these people’s decisions and actions that collectively determine the quality and characteristics of all customer interactions. 

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Beyond CRM: Managing Customer Experiences

Well-intentioned customer relationship management (CRM) efforts that focus on internal processes and objectives have largely failed to serve the most important stakeholder: the customer. Business process professionals characterize CRM as “the business processes for targeting, acquiring, retaining, understanding, and collaborating with customers.” Although CRM leaders and customer experience professionals share goals like extensive customer knowledge and increased service quality, the fundamental approaches of these two disciplines differ vastly. Typical CRM efforts take an inside-out approach that serves specific business needs but does little to improve or manage customer experience. This locks in mediocre customer experiences when CRM focuses on “moments that matter” for companies instead of customers, company perceptions of the relationship that misrepresent customer reality, and technology silver-bullet solutions that support department silos instead of fitting into an ecosystem that serves customers’ needs holistically.

Customer experience professionals need to bring an outside-in perspective to CRM efforts. To do this, they can borrow a typical CRM best practices framework that looks at strategy, process, technology, and people — but follow it from a customer-first perspective. Do this by:

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