My colleague John Dalton and I recently published a report outlining our major predictions for customer experience in the coming year. What we envision is perhaps best summed up by the old William Gibson quote: “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”
Here’s why: As I wrote in a recent post, roughly half of the attendees at Forrester’s three customer experience forums in 2013 said that their organizations are in the first phase of the path to CX maturity (repair). Their priority is — and for the immediate future will remain — finding and fixing broken experiences.
A much smaller group of companies — no more than 10% — say that their organizations are in the ultimate phase of CX maturity (differentiate). In contrast with companies in the repair phase, they'll build on their past success with well-funded efforts that leverage their skills in strategy, customer understanding, and design.
With that as background, we predict that two major themes will deserve the most attention in the coming year.
Companies in the repair phase will fight to advance along the path to customer experience maturity. Companies just starting to fix their broken experiences will find themselves in a struggle that's hard, slow, and increasingly costly. They'll focus on getting key infrastructure in place to assess what's broken, manage a portfolio of repair projects, and measure the results they need to build enterprisewide support for CX.
The top spot this year went to Amazon.com, but not for its score in the retail category. Amazon earned an Index-leading score of 91 for its debut in the consumer electronics manufacturer category (for the Kindle). I guess that’s what happens when one of your company’s core principles is to obsess about customers. (It’s also worth noting that our study happened to coincide with the launch of the Kindle’s innovative Mayday feature and corresponding ad campaign.)
The Forrester Asia Pacific team is currently meeting in Bangkok to discuss how we support our clients in the age of the customer. Meeting friends and colleagues overseas is always a great experience. We get away from our desks and exchange ideas, bringing focus to our efforts for the following year. But, of course, you have to get everyone to the destination venue for this to happen.
One of the first things we always end up discussing on first meeting one of our colleagues is the quality of the journey. “How was your flight?” is the first question we end up asking each other. As I talked with two of my colleagues from Sydney, I learned that all three of us had been on the same Qantas flight to Bangkok that same afternoon. As we compared our journeys, it was amazing to discover that we had had three markedly different experiences, despite all being on the very same aircraft.
I was in economy, having paid a little extra for emergency exit seats. The flight wasn’t full, so I had a row of three seats to myself. Lots of room to spread out, and the flight was very quiet, easy, and uneventful. My experience, though, was of an older plane with technology that was, frankly, no longer meeting my minimum standard. The entertainment units were old and tiny, and the user interface was absurdly complex. But because I was comfortable, I was willing to overlook it.
One of my colleagues, the regional sales director from Australia, was one section ahead of me on the plane, also in economy. She reported a nightmare flight with no air conditioning, poor food, and crowded seats. Her experience was quite negative. We both ate the same food, but her experience of it was undoubtedly influenced by the hot temperatures and crowded seating.
Roughly half of companies on the path to customer experience maturity say that they’re in the repair phase today — and that’s probably a conservative estimate. But there are companies at more advanced stages of CX maturity, including a few in the most advanced phase, differentiate. That’s where firms reframe business challenges in the context of unmet customer needs, connect innovation ideas to their customer experience ecosystem, and infuse innovations with the brand.
We had two speakers at our event who represented companies in the differentiate phase: Dean Marshall, director of Lego brand retail store operations Europe, and Declan Collier, CEO, London City Airport. What is it that their organizations do that’s so different?
Lego stores goes beyond even the typical design best practices used by companies in less advanced (but still pretty advanced!) phases of CX maturity, practices like ethnographic research and co-creation. How? By combining the two.
Companies can turn to a variety of experts — like interactive agencies and customer experience transformation consultants — for help with improving or innovating the customer experience. But despite years of experience and a thriving professional network, one type of expert remains virtually unknown to customer experience professionals: the service design agency. Customer experience professionals should seek out service design agencies because:
Service designers tap into the power of human-centered design. Unlike customer experience firms that take an approach akin to management consulting, service design agencies leverage human-centered design practices like ethnographic research, co-creation, and low-fidelity prototyping. The combination of these practices enables service design agencies to more quickly — and cheaply — identify the real customer and corporate problems that they need to address and develop effective solutions. These activities also serve as potent communication vehicles, exposing assumptions and marshaling early buy-in from employees and stakeholders.