Earlier this year, I spoke with Kathleen Cattrall, interim chief experience officer at VCA Animal Hospitals about the company’s customer experience transformation efforts. VCA is a publicly traded company (fittingly, its NASDAQ ticker symbol is WOOF) that owns and operates more than 600 pet hospitals in the US and Canada. Its work to create more customer-centric hiring processes features in my latest report, "How To Hire And Onboard Customer-Centric Employees."
Kathleen and her colleague Aaron Frazier were gracious enough to answer a few more questions about their progress in building a more customer-centric culture and what they’ve learned about creating great pet-owner experiences. Here are some of their insights.
Q. How did VCA know it needed to improve customer experience? Was there a “burning platform,” or did someone senior at the organization decide it was time to make a change?
A. Art Antin, co-founder and COO, was the real visionary here. VCA was approaching its 25th anniversary, and Art was frustrated with clients visiting less frequently. Our customer retention rate was lower than VCA wanted to see. Complaints were escalating, and they all pointed to a poor customer experience. Art said, “We’ve spent 25 years becoming the leader in veterinary health services. We’ve accomplished more than any other company in that regard. We need to focus the next 25 months on improving our customers’ experiences with us.”
Firms must actively engage external vendors and third-party partners to deliver a unified customer experience (CX). Why? Because partners across the supply chain influence the quality of customer interactions. Sometimes these partners are the face of your company on the front lines in the form of agents, dealerships, value-added-resellers (VARS), distributors, and outsourced call center reps or technicians. Alternatively, they might act behind-the-scenes in the case of suppliers, outsourced credit or risk services, or billing and invoicing vendors. These 3rd parties are a critical component of what Forrester calls the customer experience ecosystem: the complex, interdependent set of relationships and interactions between customers, employees, and partners that determine the quality of every customer experience.
Failing to engage partners not only degrades customer experiences, it costs companies money. Here are a few examples:
Supply chain issues that plagued Google around its Nexus devices through this past holiday season left countless customers empty handed, undermining sales numbers. It also resulted in the UK managing director at Google to issue a personal apology to British customers and offer a refund for shipping to those who were able to purchase a device.
I’m excited to finally be able to talk publicly about our CX Forum East in New York at the end of June. The theme this year is “Boost Your Customer Experience To The Next Level.” We picked that theme because ever since last fall when we published Outside In, our book about customer experience, people have been asking us to show them how to either get started on the path to CX maturity or accelerate their progress. This forum is all about helping people create customized roadmaps for their organizations.
Megan Burns will kick off the first day of the event with a speech about “The Path To Customer Experience Maturity.” The speech will debut new research about companies that successfully adopted new competencies and changed employee behavior. Attendees will be the first ones to get copies of Megan’s new report that details her findings – I’m editing the report and I am really jazzed about what she’d discovering.
Kerry Bodine, my co-author for Outside In, will kick off the second day of the event with a speech about customer experience innovation. Her speech will also be based on new research. She’ll detail her findings into what distinguishes incremental CX improvements from true innovations. She’ll also describe how companies can create innovation engines within their organizations – the “road map” for the advanced class. For those of you who want to leap ahead of the pack and truly differentiate through customer experience, this is a “must see” presentation.
Companies are grappling to maintain their traditional sources of competitive advantage in the age of the customer — a world where empowered consumers, commoditized products, and intense competition stretch organizational capabilities to their limits. Enter the customer-obsessed CMO who can transcend the operational status quo and lead a companywide journey to establish new sources of competitive advantage. In my presentation at Forrester’s Outside In: A Forum For Customer Experience Professionals EMEA in London next week (November 6th to 7th), I will be explaining how CMOs can positively change the corporate culture around customer obsession. I will also be leading the track “Why We Need To Build A Customer-Obsessed Corporate Culture,” which takes a closer look at the challenges involved.
In preparation for the event, I caught up with one of our industry speakers from this track, Veronique Tordoff, UK market customer experience leader, Philips Electronics, to talk about how Philips Electronics is dealing with these challenges. Check out a preview of Veronique’s session in the below Q&A, or join me in London to hear the full story.
Recently we’ve seen a lot of interest in the emotional aspects of customer experience by some of the smartest practitioners we know — chief customer officers. There’s a reason for this. Recent advances in the behavioral sciences now give us a better understanding of how people make decisions, experience pain and pleasure, and recall their experiences.
Maybe you’ve read about some of these studies in books like Predictably Irrationalby Dan Ariely, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, or Switch by the Heath brothers. If you have, then you picked up on the fact that we now know our customers to be inherently irrational, making most of their daily decisions without any particular logic.
For example, we know that people experience the pain of loss more acutely than they feel the pleasure of gain. That’s the reason why people dump shares of well-run mutual funds when the economy turns down, irrationally converting their paper losses to real losses. It’s also why it’s easier to lose a customer than to gain one — people are less likely to forgive you when you inflict pain on them (got the order wrong, didn’t resolve the problem) than they are to love you for satisfying them.
To be candid, I originally agreed to give the speech as a favor to Jim, whose inspirational story kicks off the chapter on chief customer officers in our upcoming book. I didn’t know what to expect of the event and somehow imagined that when I joined hundreds of doctors, nurses, and other caregivers in a big auditorium, I’d get trapped inside an episode of House — and I’d be the only one who didn’t know what the other cast members were talking about.
Was I ever wrong. The event was an extraordinary experience from beginning to end, and the content was accessible to anyone who works to improve customer experience, regardless of industry. As someone who helps put on Forrester's Customer Experience Forum, I even got a little envious.
A few things leapt out at me from the sessions I attended:
Executive-level commitment to customer experience as a business strategy. Dr. Delos “Toby” Cosgrove, CEO of Cleveland Clinic, and Dr. Kurt Newman, CEO of Children’s National Medical Center, appeared together on a panel. It was clear from their answers to moderator and audience questions that both of them connect the dots between high-quality patient experience and the bottom line.
Although the book won't be available to the general public until August 28th, attendees of our Customer Experience Forum at the end of June will get digital copies of the manuscript. They'll also hear keynote speeches from some of the people who appear in the book, like Kevin Peters, the president of Office Depot North America; Laura Evans, chief experience officer at The Washington Post; and Laurie Tucker, senior vice president of corporate marketing at FedEx.
If you'd like to get a preview of some of the concepts in the book, check out the video below — and then stay tuned for more announcements!
In our continuing research on the emerging role of the chief customer officer (CCO), we recently looked at the kinds of authority their firms vest in them to drive change across the organization. This authority can affect the activities they do, the composition of the teams that report into them, and the budgets they control. For firms considering putting this kind of senior customer experience leader in place, Forrester has identified three archetypal models that characterize the most typical modes in which CCOs operate.
Advisory CCOs Play A Coaching Role
Companies that are early in their customer experience transformations are often reluctant to commit too many resources or cede control of core company processes to a CCO. These firms tend to place CCOs in an advisory or coaching role for peers with operational responsibilities, particularly if the company has had past success with centralized teams to drive change management efforts. CCOs running these teams have little control over decision-making and execution and instead derive authority through their expertise and personal reputation within their companies. A mandate from senior leadership in a business unit, the executive management team, or the CEO bolsters these CCOs' ability to change behaviors in other departments. These CCOs:
Build core capabilities and spread awareness. Because they don't directly control operations, advisory CCOs and their teams focus on building core foundational customer experience capabilities and standards as would a center of excellence.
I recently updated our research on enterprisewide customer experience leaders, who we refer to as “chief customer officers” or CCOs. While they often don’t have that exact title, we identified around 600 individuals who carry a mandate to improve the end-to-end customer experience at their company. We did some deeper research on close to 200 of them in order to understand the general profile of these people as well as how their positions are structured within their companies.
Forrester has witnessed a marked increase in the position over the past six years. And for good reason: Competitive forces are shifting dramatically in what we call the “age of the customer” (from Forrester report "Why Customer Experience? Why Now?"). Firms struggle to compete on product innovation alone, as global outsourcing and cloud-based computing lower barriers to entry and create scores of substitutes. Customer power has grown, as 73% of firms trust recommendations from friends and family, while only 19% trust direct mail (from Forrester report "Consumer "Ad-itudes" Stay Strong"). Firms have turned to customer experience as a way to differentiate in this commoditized world, which has led to the surge in CCOs. In my new report, I profiled key characteristics of CCOs as well as models for the kinds of organizations they oversee.
At the same time, as high-profile firms like Fidelity, The Washington Post, and General Motors have put in place senior customer experience leaders over the past year or so, I’ve been struck by the wide assortment of reasons that firms use to rationalize NOT putting a chief customer officer in place.
“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.”