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.”
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!
Over the past few weeks, Paul Hagen, Kerry Bodine, and I have been posting our takes on Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum, 2011. We’ve included video of moments we like from 10 out of the 11 main-stage sessions (sadly, we don’t have video of the Voice Of The Customer Awards, but at least we have a list of the winners!).
One of the challenges in putting together Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum is that we have a very limited number of main-stage speaker slots. And that’s frustrating because as the content champion for the event, I wanted to put the top bank, the top credit card provider, and the top insurance provider on stage.
And that’s why we were so happy to have Wayne Peacock as a speaker.
Wayne is executive vice president of member experience at USAA, where he oversees its marketing, channel management, sales, and service functions. We profiled him earlier this year as part of our series “Conversations With Chief Customer Officers.”
As always, the USAA story is inspiring. As Wayne put it, it accomplishes its mission by focusing on three things that are deceptively simple but very hard to execute well:
Know your customer.
Organize your business around your customer’s need.
Make it about a bigger mission.
To which I will only add: If you do those things, you might also have a year-over-year customer retention rate of 97% to 98% like USAA.
But don’t take my word — listen to Wayne yourself. Enjoy!
I was recently fortunate enough to host a panel of three chief customer officers (CCOs) on the main stage of Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum 2011.
They’re all quite different. Fred Leichter from Fidelity Investments has a background in customer experience, having guided the design of Fidelity websites for many years (and as a Fidelity customer, I can say that those sites are pretty darn good). In contrast, Jim Merlino of The Cleveland Clinic is a practicing surgeon as well as CCO, and Jeff Harvey of SAP (who was recently promoted out of the CCO position) has a diversified leadership background that’s more typical of the customer experience executives we recently studied.
Interestingly, despite their differences, they all spend time as CCOs on evangelizing customer experience, building empathy for customers among their organizations’ employees, and embedding customer-centricity into projects.
Check out this video excerpt from our session and share your own thoughts about this emerging role!