It may come as a surprise to some to hear that technology teams play an important role in the implementation of an effective customer experience strategy, but that's the conclusion from our latest research.
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.
Here’s a typical conversation we have with businesspeople when trying to gauge the level of customer experience maturity at their company:
Forrester analyst: “Do you have a customer experience strategy?”
Manager: “We sure do!”
Forrester analyst: “Great! What’s in it? What’s the intended experience that it describes?”
Manager: “Well, uh, hmmm… You know, maybe we don’t have a customer experience strategy.”
The fact is, people at most companies are in the same boat as that manager (or director or VP or SVP or…). Why? For the most part, it’s because it never occurred to them that customer experience – like other business disciplines such as marketing and branding – requires a strategy to keep it on track.
Here’s why your organization needs a customer experience strategy: Without one, you’ll tend to mix and match best practices that may be great for someone but don’t align at all with the customer experience that you want to deliver.
People love those genius bars in Apple stores, right? And Apple is known for delivering a great customer experience. So why doesn’t Costco put genius bars in their stores? Simple: A genius bar provides an experience that aligns with Apple’s overall strategy of differentiating through innovation but flies in the face of Costco’s overarching strategy to be a cost leader.
In our continuing research on the emerging role of the chief customer officer (CCO), we recently looked at the kinds of authority their firms vest in them to drive change across the organization. This authority can affect the activities they do, the composition of the teams that report into them, and the budgets they control. For firms considering putting this kind of senior customer experience leader in place, Forrester has identified three archetypal models that characterize the most typical modes in which CCOs operate.
Advisory CCOs Play A Coaching Role
Companies that are early in their customer experience transformations are often reluctant to commit too many resources or cede control of core company processes to a CCO. These firms tend to place CCOs in an advisory or coaching role for peers with operational responsibilities, particularly if the company has had past success with centralized teams to drive change management efforts. CCOs running these teams have little control over decision-making and execution and instead derive authority through their expertise and personal reputation within their companies. A mandate from senior leadership in a business unit, the executive management team, or the CEO bolsters these CCOs' ability to change behaviors in other departments. These CCOs:
Build core capabilities and spread awareness. Because they don't directly control operations, advisory CCOs and their teams focus on building core foundational customer experience capabilities and standards as would a center of excellence.
Over the past few weeks, Paul Hagen, Kerry Bodine, and I have been posting our takes on Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum, 2011. We’ve included video of moments we like from 10 out of the 11 main-stage sessions (sadly, we don’t have video of the Voice Of The Customer Awards, but at least we have a list of the winners!).
Today’s digital landscape is complex. As companies use digital interfaces to engage with customers and foster long-term relationships, customer interactions are spanning an increasing array of touchpoints, with customers often crossing multiple channels in the pursuit of a single goal. While this new reality is riddled with challenges, it’s also ripe with opportunities for companies that have a strategic plan for digital customer experience.
In a recent report, and subsequent Mashable article, I made the case that companies need to develop and execute digital customer experience strategies. As opposed to digital marketing strategies that focus mostly on what a company will provide and where, a digital customer experience strategy determines the “what” and the “where” based on the “who” and the “how.” That is, a digital customer experience strategy balances company goals and strategy with user expectations (the “who”) and describes the intended experience (the “how”). This, in turn, guides specific investments based on what customers need and a well-thought-out way of delivering on those needs that leaves a lasting positive impression.
Late last year, I attended a workshop at a small but quite interesting conference in London. The two guys running the workshop separated the attendees into small groups where each of us took turns describing the worst customer experience we’d had, and then the best customer experience we’d had.
I thought it was a remarkably effective exercise, and I would have liked to try something like it at Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum, 2011. Of course with roughly 1,200 attendees, we couldn’t do that so instead we did the next best thing. A few weeks before our event we took a camera crew out to Harvard Square and asked some people on the street to tell us about their experiences.
Let me tell you a little bit about Harvard Square. It’s right in the heart of the Harvard University campus, which is right in the heart of Cambridge, Mass. — a town that Amazon.com recently ranked as the country's most well-read city.
The day we were there, it was graduation week. So in addition to the usual students and tourists from around the world, we met parents there for their kids’ graduation and alumni there for reunions.
We heard some fascinating stories, which led us to a few conclusions. For example, it’s very hard to satisfy every customer, every time — even for a customer experience icon like Apple.
Hopefully that first segment scared you just a little because when companies get the customer experience wrong, it makes a big impact.
But of course, there’s good news, too. When companies get the customer experience right, that also makes a big impact.
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!
Michael Porter famously wrote that companies differentiate themselves by performing a unique set of activities from their competitors' or by performing the same activities differently.
Here are some numbers: 86% of companies say customer experience is a top strategic priority for 2011; 76% seek to differentiate based on customer experience; 46% have a companywide program for improving customer experience currently in place and another 30% are actively considering it; and 52% have a voice of the customer program in place with close to 30% more actively considering it.
With the majority of companies focused on improving customer experience, how can a company expect to differentiate on it? Because there remains a tremendous amount of lip service and intellectual dishonesty about what it takes. Let me give a few examples:
Friendly agents game the numbers. Although not able to answer the two questions that I had, a super-friendly phone agent at a major telecommunications firm ended the conversation by asking: “We aim to not only meet your expectations but to exceed them. Have I done that today?” From the tone of the agent’s voice and the question asked, it’s clear that someone at the company is thinking about customer experience. However, the gaming of the question indicates that the company’s culture has a long way to go to actually improve the experience beyond the superficialities.