How do you choose the right customer service solution for your needs? It’s always best to take a systematic approach: (1) benchmark your current operations using our Assessment Framework to pinpoint areas for opportunity and (2) pragmatically investigate options to source your missing capabilities. Options range from repurposing technologies used elsewhere in your company, to outsourcing, to purchasing suites or vendor point solutions. I recommend using the following process to step through the choices:
Step 1: See if your company is using similar technologies that you can leverage. Web self-service, mobile, social, email, and chat solutions, for example, are often deployed by sales and marketing. If you choose to leverage existing technologies, make sure that they can scale and operate at the level of performance and reliability to support customer service operations. Also make sure that the experience that the customer receives when interacting with these technologies is consistent across functional organizations.
Step 2: Consider outsourcing. If there are no existing technologies that you can leverage, consider outsourcing this entire capability, or perhaps a portion or all of your customer service operations, to a third-party organization. In a recent Forrester survey, we found that 10% have already outsourced some or all of their operations or are very interested in doing so. Outsourcing can help reduce cost of operations, but can also improve the quality of services delivered and allow you to focus on core business activities that are mission-critical to your company.
Recently I was on a panel about the impact of cultural change on customer experience. My fellow panelists included Meltem Uysaler, a senior vice president of customer experience for Citi, and Patricia John, the customer experience director for Europcar UK (a car rental agency).
Right at the end of the session, Patricia responded to an audience question by saying that Europcar focused on creating a customer-centric culture because they can’t script every interaction. Therefore, employees need to be able to make the right judgment calls on their own when dealing with customers (or anything having to do with customers, which includes virtually everything a company does).
Patricia John is right. At Forrester, we see this dynamic time and again through our research. For example, every time I see USAA’s Wayne Peacock speak, he always uses the phrase, “We do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.” That’s extremely credible coming from Wayne: He’s the EVP of Member Experience at USAA, which is the number one bank, the number one credit card provider, and the number one insurance provider in our Customer Experience Index.
You, too, probably see this dynamic because it plays out in the news every day. Just compare the decision made by a Southwest Airlines pilot to the decisions made by some United Airlines employees.
I was both encouraged and perplexed by an article in The Wall Street Journal that described the internal debate at Bank of America over how to grow revenue. One side of the debate wants to charge new fees for basic services like checking accounts. And who do they want to charge? Their unprofitable customers who “typically have less than $50,000 in annual household income.” Those customers do little business with the bank, and Bank of America reportedly loses a couple of hundred dollars a year on them.
The other side of the debate wants to raise revenues by getting these unprofitable customers to buy more financial products from the bank — for example, get a credit card or buy a CD or take out a mortgage. If that happened, the problematic customers would generate enough revenue to become a money-making proposition for Bank of America.
If I were picking the winner of this debate, the decision would be easy. A growth plan that depends on extracting ever-increasing fee revenue from the very people who can least afford to pay it – for services that were formerly free – doesn’t seem like a growth plan at all. But getting a bigger share of those same customers’ wallets by selling them products that they’re going to buy from someone is a strategy that’s already working today for a bank that I’ll talk about in a minute.
The real question in this debate should be, how can Bank of America get its unprofitable customers to do more business with it? The answer: Provide a vastly improved customer experience — toe-dipping will not get the job done.
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.
Like millions of Americans who live along the Eastern seaboard, my family got hit by Hurricane Sandy.
Now don’t get me wrong: Compared with residents of New York, New Jersey, and several other states, we had it easy in our little suburb north of Boston. Even so, there were a few exciting episodes, like this tree that fell on my neighbor’s house.
And then there was this power line that came down on the sidewalk across the street from our home, about 4 feet from where I had been standing 20 minutes earlier (I had been talking to a firefighter).
What fascinated me, however, was what came after all the excitement: service recovery by our electrical utility and telecom provider.
Let’s start with our local electric utility, NSTAR. As you can probably guess from the above, our power had to be cut. To restore it, NSTAR needed to coordinate with both our local fire department and our local public works department in order to get that giant tree off the power lines before it could repair them.
When I looked at the job ahead for the utility, I guessed that we would be without power for at least a day. But exactly 12 hours after NSTAR cut power so that the burning lines wouldn’t pose a hazard, the tree was gone and our electricity was restored. In fact, NSTAR beat its own estimate by about 90 minutes.
Customer experience horror stories are not quite as inevitable as death and taxes but they are close cousins and we all have a large back catalogue of screw-ups to rant about operatically. That crappy cheese sandwich, the misleading advice about product features or being ushered into an avoidable gargantuan queue by a staff drone. Some of my own frustration exotica include annoyances like harmoniums couriered from India and only good for firewood (or modern art) on arrival in Edinburgh*. Yes, the world is a stage but some brands can look like The Three Stooges on it.
First, our final lineup of external speakers is confirmed. All of our main-stage speakers are from companies featured in our new book, Outside In — some of them are even the subjects of case studies in the book.
Many of you have asked us to feature more business-to-business content in our events, so in response, we have both Randy Pond, EVP of operations, processes, and systems at Cisco Systems, and John Taschek, VP Mof market strategy at salesforce.com. Both companies are in the book, and Randy is the executive sponsor of the program that won one of our 2012 Voice Of The Customer Awards.
In addition to Randy and John, we have Dr. Jim Merlino, the chief experience officer for Cleveland Clinic, a world-famous, $6 billion healthcare provider. The work he is doing is as applicable to organizations outside of healthcare as it is relevant to all of us who have ever been (or will ever be) patients.
We’re also excited about our main-stage panel on building a customer-centric culture with Nancy Fratzke of US Cellular and Kelly Harper of BMO Financial Group. Transforming a culture is one of the hardest things any of us will do, and both of these panelists have successfully done it.
Softbank, which owns Japan's third-largest mobile carrier, just announced that it will buy a 70% stake in Sprint Nextel. What exactly will that mean for wireless customers?
First, a little background . . .
In our new book,Outside In, my co-author Kerry Bodine and I describe the customer experience turnaround that CEO Dan Hesse engineered at Sprint. By relentlessly identifying the top problems that customers called to complain about and then systematically eliminating those problems, he took the company from having the lowest customer satisfaction rating of any major US carrier to having the highest customer satisfaction rating. Fewer unhappy customers meant fewer calls to Sprint's contact centers. As a result, Hesse recently reported that Sprint saves $1.7 billion a year from averted call center contacts.
Hesse’s current challenges have centered around shareholder displeasure with the cost of licensing the iPhone and the cost of building out Sprint’s high-speed network capabilities. As I said in a previous blog post, that lack of shareholder support seems strange to me. Isn't it obvious that it's critical to offer customers the smartphone they want and a fast network with a lot of capacity to support that phone — especially in a world where they have so many choices? It should be.
In contrast to current Sprint investors, Softbank President Masayoshi Son understands that smartphones and the networks that fuel them are essential: Not only is Softbank already building a high-speed network to help it compete in the smartphone war in Japan, but also Son said that the iPhone 5 was a trigger for the Sprint deal.
Last week I got a question via email from one of Forrester’s clients, who asked:
“How do you explain the success of companies that consistently provide a poor experience but perform well financially?”
I wish more people asked this question because it shows that they’re thinking about customer experience in the right context: as a path to profits. Here’s my answer:Creating a superior customer experience is the most important thing that companies need to do. But it will never be the only important thing they need to do.
My co-author and I describe the relationship between customer experience and other factors that lead to business success in Chapter 13 of our new book, Outside In:
“Is customer experience a silver bullet that will kill off all your company's problems and make your stock price soar? No. If there is such a bullet, we haven't seen it. The fact is, regardless of your customer experience, you can still get clobbered by a big, strategic threat like a new market entrant (Netflix if you're Blockbuster) or a substitute product (digital photography if you're Polaroid). That's especially true if the new market entrant or the provider of the substitute product offers an amazing customer experience (Amazon.com if you're Borders or Barnes & Noble).”
When you have a virtual monopoly, you can get away with providing a poor customer experience — right up until you can’t.
After moving to a new apartment in September, I needed to get a new TV. My first instinct was to gather information from a few sources. I browsed online retailers to get an idea of prices, and I looked at manufacturers’ marketing content to understand the latest technologies like 3D TV. After all of that, I turned to consumer reviews and discussions to get a feeling for whether I would actually find those features valuable. (For example, some customer reviews helped me confirm that I didn’t want 3D TV.)
Where did I find those reviews? Everywhere — there are star ratings and comments on product pages at retail sites (like John Lewis and Amazon.com), technology media sites (like CNET) and manufacturer websites. Interestingly — I got the feeling that the manufacturers still aren’t entirely comfortable with the transparency that social media brings. They’d like to put a spin on the message, even if they can’t entirely control it — For example, Panasonic’s UK site has a page that promotes “5 Star Reviews Of The Month” (see the screenshot below). I can't think of a situation when I'd want a firm to guide me only to the most positive reviews of its products. Can you?