I attended Gainsight’s Pusle conference on customer success, held in San Francisco, on May 12 and 13. This conference, which focused on the economic value of customer success, actionable customer success best practices and insight from customer success practitioners, drew over 2000 attendees across 20 countries. This was more than double the size of last year's conference. The speaker list read like a who’s who in the world of young B2B SaaS companies: Apttus, Box, Zuora, Yelp, Satmetrix, MindTouch, Zendesk, Influitive, InsideSales, Docusign, Atlassian amongst others, as well as more established companies such as SAP, ATT, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Workday. It also drew a long list of VC luminaries including Roger Lee from Battery Ventures, Jason Lemkin from Storm Ventures and SaaStr, Tomasz Tunguz from Redpoint Ventures and Ajay Agrawal from Bain Capital Ventures,.
So why the interest in customer success?
Our world has moved to a subscription economy. Categories like media and entertainment and telecommunications have fully embraced this model. Other industries like publishing, computer storage, healthcare, are moving in this direction. This shift is most notable in B2B software.
In the past week, I have booked a flight using a travel voucher, questioned a charge on my credit card bill, and bought an electric toothbrush. What do these experiences have in common? In each case, I had a relatively complex question and I received a helpful answer – without talking to anyone in person or by phone. Instead, with a little online research, I was able to identify which blackout dates applied to my travel voucher, clear the charge on my credit card bill, and learn the best settings for my toothbrush.
Essentially, I sought answers immediately by turning to digital channels first. In this regard, I’m not the only one. For the first time in the history of our research, more US online adults report using company websites than speaking with agents by phone when resolving customer service needs. Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data shows that 76% of consumers turn to FAQ pages, and usage across other digital channels is growing notably:
The fact that technology is disrupting the way in which customers seek information is not merely a trend – it’s at a tipping point. In the age of the customer, consumers expect accurate answers with greater speed and less friction than before; as companies offer them detailed online content with increasingly effective navigation strategies, consumers will embrace self-service digital channels at the expense of offline communication.
What’s the top imperative at your company? If it’s not a transformation to make the company more customer-focused, you’re making a mistake. Technology and economic forces have changed the world so much that an obsession with winning, serving, and retaining customers is the only possible response.
We’re in an era of persistent economic imbalances defined by erratic economic growth, deflationary fears, an oversupply of labor, and surplus capital hunting returns in a sea of record-low interest rates. This abundance of capital and labor means that the path from good idea to customer-ready product has never been easier, and seamless access to all of the off-the-shelf components needed for a startup fuels the rise of weightless companies, which further intensify competition.
Chastened by a weak economy, presented with copious options, and empowered with technology, consumers have more market muscle than ever before. The information advantage tips to consumers with ratings and review sites. They claim pricing power by showrooming. And the only location that matters is the mobile phone in their hand from which they can buy anything from anyone and have it delivered anywhere.
This customer-driven change is remaking every industry. Cable and satellite operators lost almost 400,000 video subscribers in 2013 and 2014 as customers dropped them for the likes of Netflix. Lending Club, an alternative to commercial banks, has facilitated more than $6 billion in peer-to-peer loans. Now that most B2B buyers would rather buy from a website than a salesperson, we estimate that 1 million B2B sales jobs will disappear in the coming years.
The CRM market serving the large enterprise is mature. A great amount of consolidation has happened in the last five years. For example, Oracle, focused on providing consistent end-to-end customer experiences across touchpoints, has acquired a great number of point solutions to round out its customer experience portfolio. SAP, like Oracle, aims to provide consistent end-to-end customer experiences via its breadth of products and has also made a few key acquisitions. Similarly, Salesforce has made a series of moves to round out the Service Cloud. It has used this same tactic to broaden its CRM footprint with the notable acquisition of ExactTarget for business-to-company (B2C) marketing automation (2013).
The large CRM vendors increasingly offer broader and deeper capabilities which bloat their footprint and increase their complexity with features that many users can't leverage. At the same time, new point solution vendors are popping up at an unprecedented rate and are delivering modern interfaces and mobile-first strategies that address specific business problems such as sales performance management, lead to revenue management, and digital customer experience.
The breadth and depth of CRM capabilities available from vendor solutions makes it increasingly challenging to be confident of your technology choice. In the Forrester Wave: CRM Suites For Large Organizations, Q1 2015, we pinpoint the strengths of leading vendors that offer solutions suitable for large and very large CRM teams. Here are some of our key findings:
That's right, Forrester's Customer Experience team is jumping on the podcasting bandwagon and launching a weekly CX podcast! Each week me and my cohost, Senior Analyst Sam Stern, will be speaking with an analyst from our team about their hot-off-the-press research or discussing relevant CX topics in the news. We'll package these up in easily digestible 10 to 20 minute episodes and best of all, these podcasts are available to everyone.
In our first episode, Sam interviews me about how to build a shared customer experience vision. You can listen below, but we recommend you subscribe on iTunes or through your favorite iPhone podcasting app by searching for "Forrester's CX Cast" so you never miss an episode. If you need help accessing or subscribing to the podcast, please contact our producer Curt Nichols at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Industry analysts travel—a lot. It is, therefore, no surprise that I care deeply about airlines’ frequent flyer programs and track the changes to those programs as closely as baseball obsessives track star players’ slugging percentages. When I want information on what these changes mean practically in my situation (Will the new loyalty program make it harder for a 75k+ elite member looking to book a companion ticket’s upgrade on an alliance partner airline, for example), I typically do not turn directly to the airline. Instead, I log on to Flyertalk, a forum that bills itself as “the largest expert travel community.” The forum—populated by thousands of frequent fliers far more obsessive than I will ever be—consistently houses discussions of exactly the thing I want to know.
The lion’s share of people answering questions on Flyertalk and other forums like it—Cruisecritic for the cruising fans, TripAdvisor for travel and hospitality broadly, AutomotiveForums for car enthusiasts, etc.—are other consumers, albeit well-informed ones. But these non-brand controlled communities provide opportunities to brands to differentiate themselves through service. Because affinity communities have barriers to entry, including registrations and jargon, community members are usually deeply interested in the topic at hand. In communities that regularly discuss brands, these customers are also more likely to be exactly the type of high-value customers that companies want to provide with great customer experiences. But brands need to decide when and how to engage customers in these forums they do not control.
I had the pleasure of presenting to Singapore’s DBS Bank yesterday on customer experience and listening to CEO Piyush Gupta’s thoughts on the bank’s journey since he joined in 2009. He spoke about his conclusion upon joining five years ago that a critical challenge to be addressed was an inside-out perspective by the bank’s employees. Since then, he’s driven the bank through a successful transformation project Forrester wrote about in an August case study. Looking forward, he sees the bank working toward “joyful” banking and is seeking ways to embed more emotional connections into their customer experiences.
Listening to Piyush speak reminded me of my interactions with another regional CEO this year who has driven a successful company transformation: Telstra’s David Thodey. David also joined in 2009 and has driven Telstra’s success through a focus on the customer. He has given his customer focus organizational teeth by linking it to Net Promoter Scores (NPS) that determine part of the compensation system at Telstra. The importance of measurement is the key reason we recommend our clients leverage Forrester’s CX Index.
Improving the U.S. federal customer experience (CX) is crucial to our nation’s long-term security. I’m not exaggerating. Improving federal CX is about far more than just boosting an agency’s ranking on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) or raising a Net Promoter Score. It’s even about more than influencing the success or failure of major policies – and we all saw how the initial breakdown of healthcare.gov hurt the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Poor federal CX actually weakens the underpinnings of our political system by making people less proud and optimistic about the country itself. Forrester has the data to prove it. The pilot run of our enhanced CX Index shows that the worse a citizen’s experience as the customer of a federal agency, the less likely that person is to say he is proud of the country and optimistic about its future. Not a particular agency, official, or administration – the country itself.
2014 wasn’t a good year to be average. Since 2007, the average customer experience in the industries that Forrester tracks has gone up across the board, and the number of truly awful experiences has dropped like a rock. So if your CX is average, it’s just not good enough to win, serve and retain customers. And it won’t get any easier next year: With companies investing more than ever to differentiate their customer experience, your average offering will soon be considered poor.
In 2015, the race from good to great CX will hit the gas pedal. Smart CX teams will increasingly use customer data from diverse sources like social listening platforms, campaign management platforms, mobile apps and loyalty programs – to personalize and tailor experiences in real time so that they inherently adapt to the needs, wants, and behaviors of individual customers. And as companies strive to break from the pack and gain a competitive edge through the quality of the CX they provide, we’ll see the battleground shift to new areas like emotional experiences and extended CX ecosystems, and into laggard industries like health insurance and TV service providers, and even the Federal government.
As we do every year, we’ve just published our Predictions report for CX. I want to share a couple of those predictions with you:
Allow me to make a confession: In the debate over whether people are rational or emotional decision-makers, I have persistently seated myself on the rational side of the table. However, recent research has challenged my views. Witnessing cross-discipline academics reinforce the motivating power of emotion has resulted in a general consensus among fellow rationalists that “reason leads to conclusions; emotion leads to action.”
We are now recognizing the power of emotional decision-making in consumer behavior and — most importantly — the effect that it has on a company’s bottom line. Nothing is more convincing than the data itself. For example, a combination of Forrester's Consumer Technographics® quantitative and qualitative insight shows that when banking providers fail to meet a customer's expectations in moments of high emotional investment, they risk losing that customer altogether:
From the moment they open an account to their on-going interactions with bank employees, customers navigate a series of emotional experiences that directly affect their decision to enhance or withdraw from the brand relationship. Companies that appeal to customer emotions during such engagements master these "moments of truth" and ensure that outcomes are positive — and profitable.