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.
If you’re reading this post, you’re someone who cares about customer experience. You might even be one of the professionals who works in the field of customer experience full-time.
So I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you occasionally get the question, “What is ‘customer experience?’”
Now maybe when you’re asked that question, it isn’t phrased so directly (or politely). For example, I get asked, “Isn’t customer experience just marketing?” And, “How is customer experience different from customer service?” But the bottom line is that people are looking for a definition that’s crisp, useful, and distinct from the definitions of other things that companies do. They are right and reasonable to ask for this — but collectively those of us who work to improve customer experience have failed to answer them.
I mean no offense to the many people out there who have tried to define “customer experience.” I’ve read many of the attempts that are out there, and the ones I’ve seen tend to be longer and more convoluted than necessary.
Not that customer experience is an easy concept to define. The customer experience team at Forrester has been debating the definition of customer experience for a while now, and it took us until recently to reach consensus. We now define customer experience as:
“How customers perceive their interactions with your company.”
His big takeaway is that consumers are still much more likely to provide feedback directly to companies through more traditional channels (like surveys, phone calls, email, and postal mail) than provide feedback through social channels. More specifically, 71% of US consumers who had unsatisfactory service interactions in the past 12 months provided feedback through at least one traditional channel (including email), while only 16% provided feedback through any of the social channels we asked about.
Despite the buzz around social media, this data shows that the majority of customer feedback comes directly to companies via surveys, phone, and email. Organizations should implement sophisticated voice-of-the-customer programs that use text analytics and other technologies to mine this information to better understand customers' needs and the issues they're dealing with, identify best practices, and come up with improvements whenever possible.
We just finished judging the entries for Forrester's Voice of the Customer Awards 2010. Announcing the winners will have to wait until we’re onstage at the Customer Experience Forum in New York on June 29. But there is something I want to announce right now: I am really impressed by the entries! :-)
Because I was also a judge last year, I couldn’t help but notice some big changes from last year. Here they are in no particular order:
For a track session at Forrester's Marketing Forum at the end of April, I dived into the topic of customer satisfaction. For market researchers looking to set up a customer satisfaction (CSAT) study, much guidance is available. However, it also became clear to me why, despite all this advice, many customer satisfaction projects fail.
Most of the information I found -- or the conversations I had, for that matter -- were around the ‘science’ part of CSAT studies: the methodology and set-up. There are many discussions online about questions like which scale to use, which questions to ask (or not), whether a company should focus on relational versus transactional measurement, or if it's better to conduct a customized CSAT project or use an established method like Net Promoter.
However, in my conversations with market researchers, I found that the success of CSAT projects isn't based as much on science -- although a sound and repeatable set-up doesn't hurt -- as much as it is on ‘art.’ The art lies in understanding the company’s business issues; translating these into a well-structured questionnaire; finding the drivers for success; and later, when the results are in, presenting the results in an actionable format.
Any customer satisfaction project that focuses on numbers misses out on the 'art' element of CSAT. Of course, using a standardized methodology helps the company benchmark itself against its competitors. But what does it mean when 80% of your clients are satisfied? The organization will look at this number and want to drive it up, without any understanding of what the impact on the bottom line will be when the percentage of satisfied customers increases from 80% to 82%.
New technologies follow a pattern. They start by imitating older technologies before they evolve to their true forms. The first automobiles looked like horseless carriages. It wasn't until the Vintage Era of the 1920's that cars evolved to a form that we'd recognize today with features like front-engines, enclosed cabs, and electric starters. Televisions started off copying radios - they looked more like an armoire with a small screen stuck on the front.
In the process of working on my latest piece of research, it became clear that the Web has followed a similar pattern. Early sites imitated a much older medium - paper. And even though 'web page' still dominates our thinking, online experiences have begun to evolve away from the page-based metaphor. In the next 5 years, the evolution of online experiences toward their true form is about to take off at a much faster rate than in the previous 5 years.
Consider that today's default Web platform - a browser running on a PC - is rapidly giving way to diverse online environments. The types of devices we use to connect to the Web are proliferating. In addition to the growth of netbook adoption, there are new devices like the Chumby and the Energy Joule. Portable devices are rapidly getting more powerful - as a result, the tradeoff between mobility and capability is shrinking. And even as the hardware evolves, the interfaces on the devices we use to connect to the Web are becoming more and more customizable. And the reason any of this matters at all is because consumers are already adopting these technologies.
So what are the implications of these trends? What does it mean for the future of online experiences? At Forrester, we've concluded that the resulting online customer experiences of the future will be: