Many of the conversations I have with clients about voice of the customer (VoC) programs center on ways the programs can improve and best practices they can adopt. What I think is really underlying these discussions, though, is the question, "How does my program compare with all the others that are out there?" Or, more succinctly, "How am I doing?"
My anecdotal conversations, though frequent, do not make for a quantitative study. So I did just that: I surveyed our Global Customer Experience Peer Research Panel about their VoC programs. The results will be published shortly in a Forrester report called, "The State Of VoC Programs, 2012," but in the meantime, I'd like to give you a sneak peak.
Our most important finding was that customer experience professionals aren't getting the value they could be from their programs. Specifically, we asked how valuable their programs were in improving customers' experiences and how valuable they were in delivering financial results. It turns out that VoC programs help companies improve the customer experience; we saw more respondents getting that kind of value. But firms struggle to connect the dots to financial value.
So why the gap? It turns out that customer experience value is pretty easy to recognize. Respondents told us that the feedback data they collect helps them identify problems with the experience that need to be fixed. It also helps them prioritize what to fix because they can take the input from their customers into account when looking at all the various improvement project opportunities. The resulting projects make the experience better.
I’m not the biggest NFL fan in the world, but now that I live in Boston, I follow the Patriots. I think it’s actually a requirement of citizenship.
And I do have a passing interest in some other teams. Who doesn’t love watching anyone named “Manning” throw a football? (Unless it’s against the Pats in the Super Bowl.)
With that as background, may I say that the now-ended lockout of NFL refs set the low watermark in football customer experience? Yeah, customer experience — not just for all those who buy tickets, but for all of us who “pay” for the games with our time by watching ads.
Lest we forget, let’s count some of the ways that the replacement refs ruined our Sunday afternoons and Monday nights:
Stopping the game every other play to try and figure out what really happened. Football is supposed to be a sport, guys, not a meeting of the local debate team.
Making game-changing calls that the replay showed were dead wrong. Hey, if you screw up, 'fess up — then make it right and move on. My sixth-grader knows that, so why doesn’t Roger Goodell?
Clogging the air time on ESPN with self-righteous defenses of their bad calls. (Okay, that didn’t happen on Sunday afternoons or Monday nights, but it was worse because it spread more pain across three weeks when all I wanted was to see the top 10 sports plays from the previous day. Argh!)
We received so many questions that we couldn’t answer them all during the webinars. So we split them up, and we’re answering them (in brief) in two blog posts. Harley posted Part 1 yesterday, and this is Part 2.
How can you develop a customer experience strategy before you know your customers?
You can’t. In the webinar, I described how Holiday Inn developed a customer experience strategy that led to a completely new lobby experience. (You can read more about this in one of my recent blog posts.) It’s important to note that the reason Holiday Inn’s strategy was so successful is that it was rooted in a clear and accurate understanding of who the hotel’s target customers were and what they needed when they were traveling. If you don’t know your customers, it’s nearly impossible to create a customer experience that will meet (or exceed) their needs and expectations.
How does social media affect the ability to understand the customer experience?
We received so many questions that we couldn’t answer them all during the webinars. So we split them up, and we’re answering them (in brief) in two blog posts. Here is Part 1. You can see Part 2 from Kerry here.
How many full-time employees are needed to build and maintain systematic customer experience processes?
Becoming systematic about customer experience isn’t about adding people to your company. It’s about changing the activities that the people you have today perform. Instead of proposing projects with no consideration for how those projects will affect customer experience, for example, add a mandatory customer experience impact assessment — as companies like FedEx, Fidelity, and Bank of Montreal do.
Are there benchmarks for measurement? Can you please provide some guidance for what a “good” customer experience is?
If you want to drive business benefits like increased sales and positive word of mouth, create a customer experience measurement framework and then start by benchmarking against yourself.
While Google and Microsoft downplay the significance of their Nexus 7 and Surface tablets, the message to their device manufacturers is abundantly clear: If you’re not building devices that surpass what we can do ourselves, you’re not adding value. Their intent in sending this message is to push device manufacturers to abandon their race-to-the-bottom strategy that emphasize low prices and incremental improvements over new product innovation.
As I discuss in my new report, Humdrum Hardware: Why Google And Microsoft Are Goading Their Partners To Innovate, this strategy worked well in the Windows PC era, when there were no other viable ecosystems to draw consumers away and device manufacturers competed primarily on price, but they are no longer relevant in today’s post-PC world, where multiple ecosystems (Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft) compete against one another. To survive in the post-PC era, device manufacturers must get tough:
Pick sides in the platform wars. Device manufacturers need to concentrate their resources and commit to a single platform if they expect to develop compelling and innovative products that can compete against Apple.
Start playing hardball with Google and Microsoft. When Nokia went all-in on Microsoft, Nokia demanded special benefits, support, and concessions in exchange for platform-exclusive innovations. Other device manufacturers should replicate this model.
Push Google and Microsoft to adopt a co-opetition-based ecosystem model. In order to compete effectively against the vertically integrated ecosystems of Amazon and Apple, Google and Microsoft need to coordinate and optimize the innovation efforts of device manufacturers.
If you scroll down, you’ll see a link to part two of my appearance on Jim Blasingame’s talk show, The Small Business Advocate. Among other things, in this segment, we talked about one of the keys to customer experience success: hiring the right employees.
Hiring is one of the tools for creating a customer-centric culture that my co-author Kerry Bodine and I describe in our new book, Outside In. Although hiring is fundamental, it’s something that many hiring managers get wrong. That’s because they’re still looking primarily at what their candidates know — their job skills — and not focusing enough attention on to who their candidates are.
Here’s why that’s a problem. You can teach people how to perform tasks, whether it’s stocking shelves or doing the books. And you can teach them enough about your products and services to be able to help your customers. But if they’re people who don’t want to help customers, you’re not going to teach them to be different people.
Are there really that many people out there who just don’t want to help customers? Yes. That’s a lesson Kevin Peters, the president of Office Depot North America, learned several years ago.
Kevin asked all 22,500 store associates to take a personality assessment test designed to evaluate employees’ skills, behaviors, and aptitudes as they related to serving customers. To his surprise and disappointment, a significant percentage agreed with statements like, “If the job requires me to interface with customers, I’d rather not do the job.”
Henry Ford purportedly quipped that if he had asked customers what they wanted, they would have said, “a faster horse.” It’s a well-trod line, one that’s guaranteed to receive nods and chuckles in any business meeting. We can all relate. After all, nothing’s really changed since Ford’s time. Customers today still can’t tell us exactly what they want or imagine products and services that don’t currently exist. No one in 2009, for example, was screaming for a computer that was smaller than a laptop and bigger than a phone — and yet the iPad has become one of the most successful consumer devices on the planet, spawning dozens of copycats.
But here’s the problem: Ford’s quote is a cop out. It bolsters our self-serving belief that we know what’s best for our customers. We hide behind Ford’s lesson, using it to justify our decision to not ask customers what they really want or need. Perhaps this approach worked in the early 1900s. But today, in the age of the customer, the balance of power has shifted from companies to consumers — and companies can no longer afford to make business decisions based on what they think they know about their customers.
One of the most effective ways to make sure you’re delivering products, services, and experiences that meet your customers’ needs is to actually bring them into your design process. I know this can sound like a shocking suggestion, so let me say it again. You should ask your customers to work with you on developing potential solutions to their biggest pain points. Designers call this co-creation.
Whenever I talk about the business impact of customer experience, there’s one thing that always grabs people’s attention. It’s an analysis done by Jon Picoult of Watermark Consulting, who took five years of data from Forrester’s Customer Experience Index and constructed two model portfolios. One is a portfolio of the top 10 publicly traded companies in the index (customer experience leaders), and one is a portfolio of the bottom 10 publicly traded companies in the index (customer experience laggards).
You can read details of how Jon conducted his analysis in our new book, Outside In, and in this post on Jon’s blog. The results are striking. Over the course of the five-year period, the customer experience leaders spanked the laggards in stock performance. The leader portfolio had a cumulative total return of +22.5%, compared with a -1.3% decline for the S&P 500 market index and a -46.3% decline for the laggard portfolio.
Five-Year Stock Performance Of Customer Experience Index (CXi) Leaders Versus Laggards Versus S&P 500 (2007 to 2011)
What follows is an interview I recently conducted with Jon to get his thoughts on why making a compelling business case for customer experience is so challenging — and so important.
Apple's new iPhone 5 is a case study in incremental improvement. Nearly every aspect of the product -- the CPU, display, cameras, radio modem, size, weight, etc. -- are all improved over the iPhone 4S and at the same $199 price point. No doubt, the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 will sell millions of units, preserve Apple's momentum, and hold off the competition, but significant threats are mounting that Apple cannot afford to ignore:
Nokia is delivering Apple-quality innovation. As Nokia demonstrated last week at its Lumia 920 event, Nokia's innovation engine is firing on all cylinders. When the Lumia 920 launches (rumored for November 2), it will outclass the iPhone 5 in key areas such as imaging (PureView imaging, Cinemagraph) and location (Maps, City Lens, Transit) as well as bring wireless charging and NFC into the mainstream. While the breadth of accessories will be nowhere near what the iPhone offers, Nokia gets strong marks for showing Apple how NFC can enhance the accessory experience.
I had fun last week speaking with talk show host Jim Blasingame, the “small business advocate.” (In fact, listening to the first segment of the show — embedded below — I was probably having a little too much fun at first.)
One reason I was keen to do the show is that I’ve been thinking a lot lately about showrooming. You’ve probably heard about showrooming — maybe you’ve done it yourself. It’s when a customer goes into a retail location to touch and feel a product and then goes online to buy the product at a lower price.
Showrooming causes a particularly acute problem for small business owners. Their very existence is at stake: Just last weekend, I walked by a small bookstore in Concord, Mass., and saw a sign in the window that said, “If you see it here, buy it here, to keep us here.”
I sympathize with that small store owner’s plight, so I’d like to offer some advice: Putting a sign in the window that begs people to buy from you is the wrong approach. Do customers want to “keep you here” because of convenience? Nope. They can get lower-priced products delivered the same day at little to no shipping cost. Do they want to add you to the list of charities they support? No, and you don’t want that either — you’re in business to make a profit, and you probably take pride in being able to do just that.
Here’s a better way to compete: Focus on delivering a superior customer experience. As a local business owner, you have the chance to know your customers better than any website can know them — even the increasingly sophisticated websites that make recommendations based on past behavior. If you develop that understanding and marry it with expertise about the products or services you offer, you’ll have a winning combination.