Last year we published not just one but two reports that featured the outstanding customer experience transformation process that took place in the American Express call centers. The first report described the winning entry submitted by American Express for a 2010 Voice Of The Customer Award — the data from that VoC program drove many of their call center improvements. The second report was a profile of the transformation itself based on a talk by Reena Panikar, vice president and business leader of American Express' Customer Service Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
We were so impressed by this story that we invited Jim Bush, executive vice president of world service at American Express to speak at Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum 2011.
Jim is responsible for leading the company’s global customer servicing operation — which includes 25 proprietary locations across the globe and a team of tens of thousands of customer care professionals who provide service to more than 63 million customers. He was the driving force behind the American Express call center transformation.
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!
No offense meant to any of the other great speakers at Forrester’s recent Customer Experience Forum 2011, but I have to admit that I had a favorite: Kevin Peters, Office Depot’s president, North American retail.
Kevin had some stiff competition from executives like USAA’s Wayne Peacock, Jim Bush from American Express, the members of our chief customer officer panel, and others. But Kevin won me over by giving one of the best speeches I have ever seen anywhere.
As someone who A) gives speeches on a pretty regular basis, B) attends a lot of events where I see other people give speeches, and C) feels compelled to analyze everything, I’ve been thinking a lot about why Kevin was so good.
Let’s start with the fact that he rocked it old school by standing up and delivering a speech without slides or any other kind of visual aids. Yeah, that’s right — he stood up and told a story so interesting that I just sat there riveted.
How did he manage that trick? It was a combination of great content and passion about that content. Let me be clear: If you’ve ever wondered what an executive who is deeply committed to his customers looks like, just watch this.
Forrester’s book Groundswell made the power of social media tangible with real-world examples and laid out a framework to help onboard organizations. However, many companies today still struggle to benchmark their social media journey, manage bottom-up social activities, and prove the ROI of social media activities. The new chapters published in the just-released expanded and revised edition of Groundswell highlight some best practices. Here are some of them:
Understand why you are embarking on the social journey, and connect social media objectives to the company strategy. Ask hard questions like “Will my social presence help move the customer satisfaction needle?”, “Will it help sell more products?”, and “Will it deflect costs from my service center?”.
Treat social media as another channel in which to engage customers. Customers still want to call you (a surprising 67% of the time), email you, and chat with you. Make sure that your processes, policies, and communicated information are the same across all channels — traditional and social.
Connect your social media efforts. There may be many social media technologies used within your company. Ensure that there is some level of coordination between internal organizations so that you can uphold a consistent experience and brand for your customers.
Start small and staff social media initiatives with existing employees who understand your customers and your business. This is important to help extend your brand — your DNA — to your social channels.
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!
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.
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.