“Customer experience is everyone’s business” is a mantra that I often hear from customer experience leaders. Of course, it’s true. The entire purpose of a company as an entity is to provide value to customers in exchange for a payment. Every activity that the company performs is part of the ecosystem that delivers the perceived value that a customer receives.
But connecting the dots to those behind the scenes from IT to logistics planners and compliance individuals challenges many customer experience leaders . . . as well as the leaders of those behind-the-scenes departments. I’m feeling this challenge poignantly right now as I prepare a keynote speech for Forrester’s joint Infrastructure & Operations and Security Forums coming up in a few weeks. Let me share a few pointers that I’ve gathered from customer experience leaders who helped guide my thinking:
Translate the language. As customer experience professionals, we have built a vocabulary to describe the tools and methodologies of our practice in the same way every other department has created its own language. Customer experience leaders have to translate these practices into the beliefs and behavioral norms of the departments if they are going to change the way things are done. Change agent, champion, or customer advocate programs at firms like John Deere, Philips Electronics, Intuit, and Fidelity are great mechanisms to provide these translators.
Many customer experience initiatives don't meet their full potential — or worse, fail completely — because companies don’t have a complete picture of the dynamics that go into creating it. In order to break from their tunnel vision, companies need to understand their customer experience ecosystem: the complex set of relationships among a company’s employees, partners, and customers that determines the quality of all customer interactions.
In their quest to seek out the root causes of customer experience issues, companies often overlook the impact of sourcing and vendor management (SVM) professionals — often referred to as “procurement” by the rest of the organization. That’s too bad, because these decision-makers influence the customer experience in two key ways.
They influence which technologies and tools will be purchased. Some of these technologies are used internally. One example is: customer relationship management software, which enables employees across the organization to better understand customers and their ongoing relationships with the company. Other tools — like content management systems — directly affect the information that customers can access through digital touchpoints like the Web and mobile devices.
They shape the nature of service-based partner relationships. Some partners — like interactive agencies — help from behind the scenes to design and develop customer interactions. In contrast, partners like outsourced call centers and service technicians have direct contact with customers every single day.
“Customer experience (CX) maturity” was the topic of Forrester’s recent chief customer officer (CCO) roundtable meeting. Based on a recent report by Megan Burns called “Customer Experience Maturity Defined,” the customer experience leaders present took Forrester’s self-test of key CX practices, discussed their own company’s strengths and weaknesses, and shared successes and challenges they faced at their companies in interactive discussions throughout the day.
Here are some of the highlights from the discussion.
Governance and project investment. A significant portion of the discussion revolved around customer experience governance and getting funds for projects. There was clear agreement in the room on needing CX leaders at the top levels of management. For instance, the CCOs were saying:
“Customer experience loses at the corporate budgeting level. You need to be there or have an exec like the CFO fighting for you there.”
“Get on the decision-making body for investments and make sure you at least have veto power over projects.”
“When I’m making the business case for CX-related projects and pushing it up to the C-level, I always build ranges into the outcomes (e.g., reduce churn by 0.5% [worst case], 1% [middle case], and 2% [best case]; increase word of mouth by 2% [worst case], 5% [middle case], 10% [best case]). I get less argument about even the low number . . . people are overly optimistic.”
For decades, companies have been promising to delight customers, while simultaneously disappointing them in nearly every channel. That tactic won’t cut it anymore. Why not? We’ve entered a new era that Forrester calls the age of the customer — a time when focus on the customer matters more than any other strategic imperative. In the age of the customer, companies find that:
Commoditization has stripped away existing sources of differentiation. Competitive barriers of the past like manufacturing strength, distribution power, and information mastery can’t save you today — one by one, each of these corporate investments has been commoditized.
Traditional industry boundaries have dissolved. Companies in every industry find themselves competing with new types of competitors — automakers with services like Zipcar, newspapers with Google News, travel agents with Expedia, and the entire retail industry with eBay.
Customers have more power than ever. With online reviews, social networks, and mobile web access, it’s easy for your customers to know more about your products, services, competitors, and pricing than you — and to share their opinions of your company with their friends.
Those of us who work in the field of customer experience are especially hard hit by the passing of Steve Jobs. He symbolized the power of experience — how much a great experience can transform a product, a business, an industry, and even our daily lives.
Do you remember personal computers before the mouse, how you bought and listened to music before iTunes and the iPod, or how many animated films you watched in theaters — with or without the kids — before Pixar?
Steve Jobs even changed the way many of us think. If you own an iPhone or an iPad, you’ve probably found, as I have, that you don’t bother to memorize very much anymore. Why should you when you can dig up facts anytime, anywhere with just a few taps on a touchscreen?
Now please don’t get me wrong: I don’t idealize the man. For one thing, many people contributed to the success of everything I just mentioned. And not all Apple experiences are perfect, and Jobs didn’t succeed at everything he did (remember the NeXT Computer?).
But to go cynical is to miss the point, or more specifically, the point of view — the one that makes Jobs an icon for customer experience professionals. He put it out there when he famously said, “You've got to start with the customer experience and work back to the technology — not the other way around.”
Frankly, “the other way around” is how most companies still operate. Not just technology companies but firms in every industry. Someone has an idea (maybe great, maybe not), and that turns into a product or service in the marketplace. The customer experience that results is whatever it turns out to be.
I just added up the time that I spent last week having frustrating interactions with companies as a customer: 1 hour and 10 minutes (roughly). I owe most of that to my wireless carrier, but a few other companies also made generous contributions. In each case, I ended the interaction feeling worse than when I’d started — edgier, tenser, and more negative in general. It’s not as if I could turn those emotions off either. Petty though they were, they lasted awhile. How did this affect my subsequent interactions with co-workers, friends, and family? I don’t know exactly, but I’m sure it made them at least somewhat worse. And the impact rippled out from there.
Not surprisingly, I’m not the only one feeling the social effects of bad customer experience. In a recent poll from the UK’s Universal Channel, Brits reported spending an average of 1 hour and 19 minutes per day feeling angry.* The most frequently cited reason was bad customer service. Actually, many of the top 10 reasons relate to customer experience — some, like the last one, are just funny. Take a look:
I don’t advise organizations to invest in improving customer experience because it’s the right thing to do socially. I advise that they do so because it will drive long-term financial success. But what really helps me sleep at night is the knowledge that improving customers’ experiences is actually improving customers’ lives. It’s creating less irritation and more happiness. No rationalizing required — it’s just true (or else you’re not doing it right).