Yesterday afternoon, I moderated a panel on the role the IT department can play in the business's employee engagement efforts. Any follower of this blog knows that this is a topic I've talked about a lot lately (see previous posts here and here) because hiring, developing and retaining talented and productive employees is critical in the Age of the Customer. The panelists were Ed Flahive, Vice President Global Learning & Development at State Street, Mike Peterson, CIO and Vice President at CHG Healthcare Services, and Ray Velez, Chief Technology Officer at Razorfish. As you've probably observed, this was an eclectic group, representing human resources, IT and client delivery groups respectively. Well, that was on purpose. This topic requires perspectives from both business leaders and technologists. Having had 24 hours to think about that discussion, I thought I would share a few a-ha's I had from my conversation with these gentlemen:
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.
A chemical manufacturer with a solid customer listening program noticed an uptick in complaints about pricing. Unlike many firms, which would take the comments at face value and take action accordingly, this company first stepped back and reflected on its strategy: it sold premium chemical for advanced applications targeted at particular industries, so it surmised that the company shouldn’t see this kind of feedback. It did some root cause analysis, talking to those customers. It learned that some distributors were selling chemicals for applications in markets better served by off-the-shelf, commodity products. As a result, not only were these distributors driving detractors, which were creating a headwind for selling into their target market, but they were wasting time on low-value sales and more importantly, using valuable resources internally that made the company competitive in target markets (e.g. scientists to help innovative clients discover new applications for the chemicals). The company decided that the right course of action was to re-visit its distributor training and communications programs to better ensure sales teams understood the core value proposition and how to find the high value opportunities.
There are at least a few lessons to take away from this story.
Know your customer experience strategy. Firms often have blanket statements such as “we aim to delight our customers.” When these lack a connection to a company strategy, which should clearly articulate value propositions for specific target markets, firms can spend a lot of time and energy jumping through hoops trying to serve customers it never should have acquired in the first place. A situation that the chemical manufacturer avoided by reflecting on its strategy to direct its activities.
As an avid personal investor I’m often appalled by cable shows that report on the markets as if they were non-stop sporting events. Seriously, how many people care how the NASDAQ or the Dow are doing on any given minute of any given day? But apparently there are enough day traders out there that noon reports from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange are as compelling as half-time reports during the NFL playoffs.
I have to confess that there is one piece of financial analysis that I do look forward to – though in my defense, this is an annual occurrence and not an hourly update. The analysis comes from Jon Picoult, a gentleman who runs Watermark Consulting.
For a while now Jon has been taking the data from Forrester’s Customer Experience Index (CXi) and using it to do a thought experiment. In this experiment he looks at what would have happened if, back when we first published the CXi, an investor had taken two equal buckets of money and created two U.S. stock portfolios. The first portfolio would have consisted of the top 10 publicly traded companies in our index (the customer experience leaders). The second portfolio would have consisted of the bottom 10 publicly traded companies in the index (the customer experience laggards).
In Jon’s model the investor would have held each portfolio for a year, then sold them both and taken his profits (or losses). He would have then used the proceeds to purchase the new year’s leaders and the new year’s laggards, continuing this cycle of selling and buying for all six years that the CXi has been in existence.
Intriguing, right? Even those of us who believe in the business value of customer experience (or in my case can prove it through research) don’t normally look at the impact on stock performance.
We all hear and read stories of terrible customer experiences; like me, you probably have had your own share of bad experiences. And social media has made it possible for these bad experiences to be shared instantly with millions of people. But in our journey through life, we also experience service that exceeds our expectations. And as we read reviews online, we're more likely to see a mixture of both good and bad experiences. For example, I recently posted a glowing review for a B&B in Bethel, ME, even though a few things about my stay would have typically caused me to deduct points. My five-star review was extremely positive because the proprietor had blown away my expectations on service, delivering an experience way beyond any I've had in a five-star hotel.
But excelling at the personal touch in a small-town B&B is far easier than doing it at scale in a multibillion-dollar business. Yet there are companies that consistently deliver great customer experiences. (My colleagues even wrote a book on them). They aren't perfect all the time, but, on average, they are better than their competitors. At Forrester, we identify these companies through our annual Customer Experience Index (CXi) research. Toward the top of the 2013 index, we find companies like Marshalls, Courtyard by Marriott, USAA, TD Bank, Southwest Airlines, Vanguard, Home Depot, Kohl's, Fidelity Investments, and FedEx.
These positive attitudes toward the IT department's performance stand in stark contrast to the views of employees who aren't achieving these outcomes. For example, while 65% of employee advocates are satisfied with the service they receive from the IT department, just 27% of employees not fully advocating for the company share a similar opinion. So what creates this chasm in opinion? We find clues when we look at some of the attitudes employee advocates have about what their organizations allow them to do:
There are six award categories for the Outside In Awards:
Best customer experience strategy.
Best customer understanding program.
Best customer experience design.
Best customer experience measurement program.
Best customer experience governance program.
Most customer-centric culture.
You can find all of the information you need on our Outside In Awards home page. The 2013 nomination forms are all available there, and nominations are due by 5:00 p.m. ET on May 3rd. You can also review this year's timeline, get answers to FAQs, and check out information about past customer experience award winners.
It disappoints me when customer experience (CX) professionals at business-to-business (B2B) companies won’t even consider CX practices from business-to-consumer (B2C) companies.
Sure, B2B firms can learn a lot from other B2B firms: Cisco has an amazing voice of the customer program, Boeing does great work conducting field studies of its customers, and Adobe has a notable CX governance practice. But unless B2B customer experience practitioners want to run the CX race with one foot in a bucket, they should also learn strategy from Holiday Inn and Burberry, customer understanding from Vanguard and Virgin Mobile Australia, and design practices from Fidelity and the Spanish bank BBVA — the list of relevant B2C case studies goes on and on.
There are two reasons why B2B companies should take this advice to heart. First, no industry has anything close to a monopoly on best practices. So unless companies cast a wide net, they’re cutting themselves off from lessons that could give them an edge over their navel-gazing competitors. Secondly, every customer that B2B companies serve is not only a businessperson but also a consumer, one who has his or her expectations set by daily interactions with Amazon, Apple, Starbucks, and Zappos. And those B2B customers no longer lower their expectations when they go to work — especially because work now gets interspersed with their personal lives.
Employee engagement is a hot topic in many C-suites today. There's a growing body of research that says engaged employees are productive employees, contributing positively to the bottom line. Forrester's own workforce research shows those who feel supported by managers, respected for their efforts, and encouraged to be creative are more inclined to recommend the company as a workplace or a vendor. So, we see a debate within the upper echelons of organizations on how best to create engaging workforce experiences which give an employee's contributions meaning, provide the flexibility they require to be successful, and continuously develop the skills they need to serve customers. It's critical that the CIO is at the table during these conversations. Why? Regardless of the talent retention and management strategy, technology will be necessary to help unlock the potential within the workforce.
The CIO at a large software vendor with a reputation for great employee engagement said it best: "Technology is expected, but [business leaders] do not think about how it enables people." Technology is an ambient part of the workspace. Businesses outfit their workforces with a range of gadgets and give them access to numerous systems which facilitate interactions, manage orders, track projects, store data, and more. Of course, deficiencies in these corporate toolkits lead employees to find and embrace things like iPhones, Galaxy Tabs, Dropbox, and Evernote on their own. But has anyone given serious consideration to how these disparate tools come together to help engage employees so they can properly support the customer?
Even companies that make customer experience a strategic priority struggle to implement major long-lasting improvements. That's because they fail to connect behind-the-scenes activities to customer interactions. These firms need a new approach to customer experience management: one that considers the influence of every single employee and external partner on every single customer interaction. Forrester calls this complex set of relationships the customer experience ecosystem.
Healthy customer experience ecosystems create value for all of the actors in the system. To nurture a healthy ecosystem, firms must balance the needs of and engage all of the parties involved. Customer experience leaders need to:
Engage employees to meet business and personal objectives.
Engage partners to drive results for their organizations too.
Engage customers to create experiences that meet their needs, are easy, and are enjoyable.