Over the past few weeks, I’ve been part of a group that picked the winners of Forrester’s Voice Of The Customer Awards for 2011. I can’t yet tell you the names of the three winners — those companies will be announced on June 21 at our Customer Experience Forum in New York, along with the other seven entrants that made up our top 10. But I can share some insight into what separated the winners from the contenders.
At one end of the spectrum, the clarity with which entrants described their programs didn’t create much differentiation. With very few exceptions, descriptions ranged from very clear to extremely clear and “please stop with the detail already, my eyes are starting to bleed” clear.
At the other end of the spectrum, the business benefits that companies derived from their voice of the customer (VoC) programs provided diamond-hard clarity as to which companies were great and which were just good.
To understand why that is, consider the question in the awards submission form that asks about business benefits. It was worded exactly like this:
“How has this activity improved your organization's business results? Please be as specific as possible about business benefits like increased revenue, decreased cost, increased customer satisfaction, or decreased customer complaints. Please specify how you measure those benefits.”
The judges were looking for a response along the lines of:
We heard these specific things from customers through our VoC program.
As a result of what we heard, we made these specific changes.
Every year in January, Forrester publishes its Customer Experience Index (CxPi), which reports how customers rate their interactions with major companies. We learn a lot from studying leaders in various industries — like USAA, which was the top credit card provider, top bank, and top insurance provider this year.
Last week, we published a follow-up report, which examined companies that raised their CxPi scores by at least five points year over year. Among others, these brands included Aetna (up six points), Citi’s credit card business (up 12 points), Charter Communications (up 20 points as an ISP and up seven points as a TV service provider), and Office Depot (up nine points). Our goal was to discover what, if anything, these firms did to earn their improvements.
And as it turned out, their big gains came as a result of major efforts.
Our research uncovered customer experience initiatives that fell into two buckets. The first bucket was business process re-engineering. Efforts here included creating or enhancing voice of the customer programs, measuring customer experience consistently across the enterprise, and changing incentive programs to reward customer-centric behavior by employees.
But perhaps the biggest impact came from upgrading the customer experience governance process at the enterprise level. For example, Aetna transformed its decentralized part-time customer experience task force into a full-time enterprise customer experience team. Cox Communications made an even more drastic change, consolidating any function with material customer interactions into one group led by a new senior vice president of customer operations.
Lately I’ve noticed a theme in my conversations with customer experience professionals — they’re feeling a bit overwhelmed as to where to start the enterprise customer experience transformation process. Some aren’t sure what to do first, second, and third. Others have a plan but are struggling to get executives to understand it and lend their support (a.k.a. resources).
To help clients solve that problem, I'm leading a workshop called Transforming Your Firm’s Customer Experience on May 11th at Forrester's New York City office. It’s a one-day workshop that starts with an overview of the state of the practice in customer experience today and then takes attendees through our latest research on how to:
Choose the right customer experience strategy for your company.
Build a world-class voice of the customer program.
Generate active executive participation in customer experience programs.
Transform your company culture to be more customer-centric.
I’ll share what’s working inside real companies and lead a series of exercises designed to help attendees benchmark their own firms against best practices. At the end of the day, we'll put it all together into a set of customized, actionable steps designed to jump-start your customer experience program.
This session will be an educational, interactive, and entertaining way to figure out how to start turning your organization into a customer experience powerhouse. For more information and a detailed agenda, please visit the event page for this workshop. I hope to see you in New York!
Like it or not, government services face many of the same pressures that companies face. Companies like Amazon.com, USAA, Disney, and Zappos.com raise customer expectations when they deliver stellar service. As they raise the bar, other companies and government agencies risk getting fired when they fail to deliver the value that customers expect, make customers jump through hoops to access it, or begrudgingly deliver it through unengaged employees. Customers and citizens simply choose to take their money elsewhere.
It’s through this lens that I’ve watched the recent battles over state budgets and public employees along with their unions. When citizens don’t perceive they're getting a good value for the buck, they take their money elsewhere, even if that is through the ballot box — no wonder, when the citizen experience is so often sub-par.
Here are a few examples I’ve witnessed just in the past couple weeks: A group of on-duty cops spend an hour drinking coffee in Starbucks when people don’t feel comfortable walking around the streets a few blocks away; DMV workers look bored and move at the pace of sloths while I spend an hour waiting in line, even though they’re likely making way more money than the waitress at a local restaurant who’s super-friendly and efficient; a public transportation worker holds a sign at a street car stop urging people to smile, even when the lines often experience large delays; a gruff postal worker begrudgingly gets off his stool to get my package and then throws it on the counter.
Last weekend I used my AAdvantage miles on a plane ticket for my husband. I went to AA.com, it was easy to trade off options based on number of miles used and flight schedule. When I went to book, my name and AAdvantage number were pre-populated into the form. I changed the name and number to his but got an error: “The AAdvantage number for Passenger 1 does not match the name entered. Please verify and re-enter.”*
Problem #1: A design problem stopped me from booking the ticket myself on the site.
Problem #2: An unhelpful error message didn’t help me fix the first problem.
Without any other choice, I called for help. Before I could reach a person – or even a menu, I got this message:
“With the refreshed and redesigned AA.com it’s easy to book, explore, and plan all of your travel needs in one place because we’ve organized things better, made it more intuitive, smarter, simpler, cleaner, all to help bring your next trip closer to reality. This is the first step of more exciting changes we have planned for AA.com. Whether you are looking or booking, a better travel experience awaits with the new, easy to navigate AA.com. Book a trip now and see for yourself. To expedite your call, please have your Advantage number ready.”
Problem #3: I had to spend a full minute hearing about how American’s new site could help me — the same site that had already failed to help me.
When I finally reached an agent and explained my problem, she said: “Well, you just had to think on it harder. You needed to leave the Advantage number blank.”
Problem #4: The agent told me I’m stupid. Who likes that?
Armed with new instructions, I tried to book the ticket. But instead I got an error message saying the site had timed out.
We recently published the results of our annual survey of the members of our customer experience professionals peer research group. The group is interesting in that they’re pros: They all work to improve the customer experience delivered by their organizations.
This year, their responses are encouraging — but also very sobering.
Here are some of the encouraging data points. A whopping 86% said that customer experience is a top strategic priority at their company. More than half work at companies that already have a single set of customer experience metrics in place across the entire company, and another 20% said that their firms are considering this move. What’s more, almost as many respondents said that their companies have a voice of the customer program in place, and another 29% said that their firms are actively considering a voice of the customer (VoC) program.
At this point I’m thinking, “Fantastic! Their companies care about customer experience, and they are implementing mission-critical programs that will help them succeed!”
Plus they’re coming from a good place. When we asked our panelists how they’d describe their executive team’s goal for customer experience, 63% of respondents said that their senior executives want to be the best in their industry, while another 13% said that their execs shoot higher and want to be seen as a customer experience leader across all industries.
Building a customer-centric culture is occupying the minds and activities of a lot of companies that I’m talking with lately. This is great, because culture is the difference between going through the motions of a script and internalizing a set of values that dictate actions beyond the script.
Let me give an example: I recently was on the phone with an incredibly chipper call center rep at a telecommunications company. He didn’t answer either of the two questions that I had, yet remained friendly throughout the call. As the call ended, he said: “We aim not just to meet your expectations, but exceed them. Have I done that for you today?” Not only was the question a setup that will skew results, but the asking of the question made it clear that the company hadn’t succeeded in infusing customer-centric DNA into at least this person. A more customer-centric response is what you typically get from Vanguard or Fidelity: “I’m sorry that I can’t answer your questions. Let me find someone who can. Would you like to hold or can I call you back?”
Don’t get me wrong: Company intentions are important. Before I get into the culture part, I always step back with clients and ask "what kind of culture?"Don Norman's story about Southwest Airlines, in which the company refused to give customers reserved seats, food, and baggage transfers is a great example. The company's primary value proposition to customers is low prices (along with on-time service that's fun). That sets the stage for the kind of culture the company sets out to create. It's not customer-centric at all costs. It's focused on what’s valuable to customers.
The most important finding was that for almost two-thirds of the brands in our study, their customer experience ranges from just “OK” to “very poor”. In fact, 35% of scores fell into the undifferentiated “OK” range — our most heavily populated bracket and not a good place to be if you want your brand to stand out from competitors. Only 6% of firms ended up in the “excellent” category, down from 10% of the brands in last year’s report.
What this tells us is that mediocre-to-bad customer experience is the norm, and great customer experience is really hard to find. But why does this matter? Because the old adage “A customer who gets good service will tell one person, yet a customer who gets bad service will tell 10 people” is very true. Another Forrester study shows that about one in three financial customers with a bad experience tells her friends, about one in five recommends that her friends avoid that given company, and one in 10 reduces their value of her accounts.
Over the past five years, Forrester has observed an increase in the number of companies that have a single executive leading customer experience efforts across a business unit or an entire company. Whether firms call these individuals a chief customer officer (CCO) or give them some other label, these leaders sit at high levels of power at companies as diverse as Allstate, Dunkin’ Brands, Oracle, and USAA.
We define the CCO as: “A top executive with the mandate and power to design, orchestrate, and improve customer experiences across every customer interaction.”
Who are these new customer experience executives? Why do companies appoint them? And does your company need one? To answer these questions for a newly released report called “The Rise of the Chief Customer Officer,” we gathered data on 155 CCOs, surveyed a panel of customer experience decision-makers from large North American firms, and conducted in-depth interviews with CCOs from both B2C and B2B companies. Here are a few of the nuggets we found:
Title. Forty-four percent have the title of “chief customer officer,” 23% are called “chief client officer,” and 8% go by “chief experience officer.” The many, highly varied titles of the remaining 26% highlight the extreme difficulty of trying to spot CCO-level people by title alone, such as USAA’s “executive vice president, member experience” and Sirva’s “customer experience, operational excellence, and chief innovation officer.”
There are rare moments in technology when everything changes. When the entire framework defining how we interact with machines (and consequently, each other) shifts perceptibly. That happened when the TV was invented, it happened when the computer mouse was made available commercially. These kinds of changes forever alter our economics, our social life, and our individual experiences.
It's now about to happen again. Only this time, the shift that is coming is on such a large scale that not only will it change things dramatically, it will usher in a new era in human economics (and therefore, everything else).
We call the new era the Era of Experience. I'm working furiously to complete a report detailing all the specifics so you'll understand what this era entails and, importantly, what you can do to anticipate this era rather than follow it.
In fact, at our Customer Experience Forum in New York City during the last two days in June, I gave an exclusive preview to the 600+ attendees of what the Era of Experience was. In my speech, I gave a live demo of the PrimeSense technology that the people at Xbox built on to create the Kinect for Xbox 360 platform. This platform incorporates a full-body gesture control interface, voice control, and face recognition. It's as if all the science fiction we've been reading for decades was really just a how-to manual for Kinect. Oh, and this future-defining platform costs all of $149.99 at Amazon.