It came out of nowhere: A muffled, mechanical voice with electronica undertones called out “Hel-lo there.” It was leering down at me and a few other eTail West attendees: Over 7’6”, a fiberglass robot straight out of a Transformers movie with giant glowing blue eyes and dark mechanical fingers that looked as if they had 300 psi of hydraulic force – enough to crush a car.
Of course, this robot was a ContentSquare-emblazoned suit with a person inside, but the subsequent conversation was surreal. “Can I take a picture?” a fellow attendee blurted out. “Cer-tain-ly. Step ov-er here for a nice-ly lit shot,” in staccato English with the eerie, deep mechanical voice. The neurons in my head started firing.
Suppose this robot was real? The technology is mostly here. We have natural language processing, basic AI functionality, robotic prosthetics, centralized controllers. Now – how about if we gave it a bit more capability – perhaps even manage basic functions in a retail environment. How about pick and pack capabilities, identifying objects on store shelves and labeling processes. What about moving it to the front room and engaging with actual customers? I’m sure it could handle basic questions such as where to find my size 34 jeans or directions to the restroom. Add a camera or two and it becomes a surveillance device as well – mobile and dynamic for loss prevention and security. Maybe even a checkout with a torso based kiosk to scan items and a POS.
As a music lover, this has been a year of goodbyes for me, with many of my teenage heroes like David Bowie, Prince, and earlier this week, George Michael, passing away. It makes you realize how fast time moves on, and nothing lasts forever. As I’ve shared before, I love this time of year: Thinking about what has been, and having a world of opportunities in front of us. And I can’t wait to see what next year will bring.
This year, there were a number of surprises and new developments that nobody predicted. And 2016 was the year of Pokémon. As my colleague Anjali Lai shared in an earlier blog post about this phenomenon: “The Pokémon Go phenomenon is not only about adopting technology or using new, cutting-edge features; it is also about designing a sticky experience that is enabled by the ways customers are changing.”
There are plenty of good brands. And some great ones. But few can arouse the intensity of emotions that make them inseparable. Brands achieve resonance at the point of inflection where the interaction transforms from transaction to relationship. And like any relationship, resonance occurs in intensifying layers, with the best brands being able to trigger an enduring and self-amplifying relationship.
Patagonia has practically written the book on how to do this right. Newer brands like Spanx and Dollar Shave Club have built a loyal following by rewriting the rules. Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants and CrossFit have built communities that thrive on shared experiences. And “legacy” brands like USAA and Delta Air Lines have effectively engaged their communities to strengthen their bond.
If you deliver a great customer experience, you’re halfway to building an amazing brand. Now, ramp up on emotional connections — they are much stickier than functional excellence.
An engaged community will do the heavy lifting around building brand and salience for you — if you give them a reason to. Create the right environment and the context for your brand communities to thrive.
Your business model is under attack. And it’s not by your competitors. It’s under attack from your customers. Three years ago, Forrester identified a major shift in the market, ushering in the age of the customer. Power has shifted away from companies and towards digitally savvy, technology-empowered customers. They now decide winners and losers: Our Empowered Customer Segmentation shows that more than a third all US online adults want new and engaging digital experiences. They will switch companies to find these experiences. In this environment, being customer-obsessed can be your only competitive strategy.
In Forrester’s 2017 Prediction Reports, we are tracking firms’ progress on their customer-obsessed journeys. In our annual collection of predictions, we look at business strategy, leadership, customer experience, and technology dynamics to examine progress and predict the key events, changes, and trends that will occur in 2017.
Here are three key findings from our 16 predictions reports:
The next wave of Customer Experience will have a profound impact on firms’ P&L: The shift to a customer-led market represents an immediate and prolonged threat to company survival. Our research shows a clear correlation between the quality of customer experiences and revenue growth; it also affirms that emotion is a core driver of customer loyalty and spending. The next wave of CX will connect these dots, blending analytics, technology, and design to evoke emotions to drive affinity and directly impact revenue.
Technology has become the foundation for nearly every customer experience, enabling companies to provide new sources of value to customers with each interaction. It’s no surprise, then, that business leaders are shifting their mindset and their approach to technology.
Specifically, tech-empowered customers and their rising expectations have led to changes in:
Business priorities and areas for improvement.
Who is involved in the decision-making process for tech purchases.
Overall budgets for technology investments.
The infographic below dives deeper into these new purchasing trends:
As business leaders begin to play a larger role in tech investments, it’s important to know the kinds of decisions they’re making and what they expect from you along the way. A deep understanding of your changing tech buyers will help you succeed in an era where technology underpins everything we do.
For years, technology purchasing has been moving away from a central IT approach and into the business. Forrester Data shows that in North American enterprises, 73% of technology spending is either business-led or the business provides significant input into IT’s purchase — up from 71% last year.
Clearly times have changed when it comes to technology purchasing, and business decision-makers (BDMs) are more critical to the process than ever. For example, North American enterprise BDMs reserve 41% of their respective budgets for technology purchases and expect to increase their total spend by 5% over the next year.
When asked why they are spending more of their business budget on technology, North American enterprise BDMs cited three critical reasons. First and foremost, technology is too important for the business not to be involved:
Second, the rising expectations of customers require the business to push IT to keep technology current. And finally, business executives’ understanding of technology is increasing; so, they can interact more effectively with IT.
Thirty-nine percent of North American enterprise BDMs believe that “software is the key enabler for their business,” and helps them to engage with customers. This trend is even more prevalent in Europe and Asia Pacific, where 51% and 58% of BDMs, respectively, believe the same thing. This significant attitudinal shift will continue to shape how software is acquired, deployed, and used to drive business success.
So how can you capitalize on the widespread and significant changes to the B2B technology landscape?
Charles Dickens once wrote that: “Change begets change. Nothing propagates so fast.” In today’s evolving marketplace, where innovators are setting new customer expectations and companies are racing to meet rising demands, Dickens’ words ring true. The first step on a company’s path to thriving in this environment is understanding customers accurately – specifically, identifying how consumer expectations are changing and how fast.
Our Empowered Customer Segmentation measures critical shifts in customer behaviors and attitudes to gauge how consumers are both responding to innovation and demanding it. While the segments are globally consistent, we see insightful differences when applying the framework to unique markets. For example, Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data shows how the segments differ between Spain and France:
These country differences reveal unique opportunities and challenges for companies aiming to win or retain customers in Europe. For example, forward-looking brands such as Banco Sabadell and BBVA can engage Progressive Pioneers in Spain to test innovative concepts before planning a broader rollout. On the other hand, brands with large proportions of French Settled Survivors or Reserved Resisters can retain customers by convincing them of the effectiveness of an experience.
Employees are the lifeblood of a customer-obsessed enterprise. No matter how advanced a company's technology, how big its data, or how trendy it’s marketing, businesses today simply cannot succeed without employees who devote themselves to customers. However, many companies struggle to build a customer-obsessed workforce because they:
Hire for skills and experience. Siloed hiring managers focus primarily on job candidates' technical skills and experience and seek little input from applicants' potential colleagues. Knowing how well candidates can code, lift boxes, or write marketing copy is important. However, skillset alone doesn't tell employers if applicants are willing and able to use their skills and cooperate with their coworkers in customer-obsessed ways.
Have weak training programs. Most training programs consist of long and dry classroom, online, and coaching sessions rather than short and engaging sound bites that employees can access when they need to. Even worse, training focuses solely on employees' job responsibilities, businesses processes, and operation of technical systems — topics that rarely help employees become more customer-obsessed.
Fail to recognize and reward customer obsession. Our data shows that although 42% of companies claim that excellent customer treatment is one of their core values, only one-third of companies actually hold employees accountable and tie employees' incentives to customer experience (CX) metrics.
Leading through change requires that right mix of imagination, inspiration, and gritty execution. And we are in a world of change. Empowered customers and the constant and rapid wave of digital innovation are changing market fundamentals. Leaders are now challenged to respond.
I had the pleasure of hosting a discussion with James McQuivey, Carl Doty, and Sam Stern to talk leadership in the age of the customer. Our conversation covered a range of topics from having the wisdom to see the market for what it is versus how we would like the market to act to putting in motion strategic and operational change that is necessary, new, and risky. Here are the five takeaways:
The customer is in motion. Customers rapidly adopt — and rapidly abandon — technologies, services, and brands. That is wonderful and scary thing. It creates new possibilities. But it also redefines the norms for churn where a decision to shift spend is made by a single experience — good or bad. This dynamic can represent a major threat to growth if companies need to absorb 10%+ churn.
During a recent discussion of the Age of the Customer and how it applies to government, one of the participants from a government agency essentially asked why they should care. The argument was “If I’m providing passport services why does customer experience matter to me? My “customers” can’t walk out that door and find another passport services provider.”
Needless to say I was taken aback – not shocked really, this is the government after all and not traditionally known for accessible or user friendly services. But personally my experiences have never been as bad as the stereotype of government. In fact, I just received a new passport in 2 weeks, having been told that it might take 3 – 6 weeks. And, at least the rhetoric of late has certainly embraced, in principle, more customer centricity in government. But here it was, the government monopoly argument rearing its ugly head. At least to play devil’s advocate, suggesting that the sentiment did exist somewhere in the organization.