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.
When I ask government employees why improving customer experience (CX) is so important, I often hear a version of the same answer: "It's the right thing to do." But I'm not about to take an easy answer like that at face value, so I dig deeper.
I try getting them to admit that they're really motivated by the CX mandates in Executive Order 13571, the digital government strategy, and agency mission statements. Time and again, I'm politely told I have it backward. These documents were inspired by the core moral imperative to improve government CX, and they exist only as practical guidance for agencies in pursuit of this obligation. The maxim is the motive; the documents just articulate it. I next try arguing that government employees are motivated by the political quest for public acclaim — that they pursue customer experience improvement simply because it will make them or their agencies popular, winning them promotion or reelection. Again, they tell me I'm all turned around. Doing the right thing for the customer is the real motive, and luckily the American people reward it.
Maybe their answers aren't surprising, given that many government employees chose public sector careers due to their dedication to public service. But what about customer experience professionals in the private sector? Are they motivated by a moral imperative, too? In recent interviews with companies at the top and bottom of Forrester's Customer Experience Index (CXi), I found some surprising answers.
A lot of people have been talking about Facebook’s new Nearby Friends feature for their mobile app, which gives users the ability to see which friends are nearby. But less discussed, and perhaps just as significant, is another change — to a more contextually-relevant Facebook profile.
In the past, when you checked out other users’ profiles, you would see the same static information including their profile photo and links to their friends and “about” pages. There were two problems with this. First, the information is rarely updated, so it becomes stale. Second, if you don’t know the person, it takes a bit of digging through their pages to find out if you know them or have anything in common.
The Facebook iPhone app’s recent update addresses these concerns by taking a contextual approach. Specifically, it presents more personalized and dynamic information, such as whether you and this person share any mutual friends, whether you happen to live in the same city, and what the friend has been up to recently. The app also prioritizes this information, so it’s one of the first things you see after you click on a user’s profile.
In fact, we’ve seen this trend in mobile apps — the best apps are moving away from static web-like experiences and are delivering more personal, relevant content, fast. In my report, "The Best And Worst Of Mobile User Experience," I found that leading mobile user experiences share common attributes that separate them from the pack. These leading experiences:
Do industry innovations change the consumer or do consumer demands change the industry? That's the question when looking at how US online adults prepare their annual income tax returns. When the IRS ceased its mailings of paper forms before the 2011 tax season, approximately 15 million more consumers began filing their taxes online. But would this have happened anyway? We could argue that as media consumption, financial management, shopping transactions, and other traditional behaviors moved online, it’s only natural that consumers’ tax filing practices would have too.
At a subliminal level, the decision about how to file taxes speaks to one's comfort level with new technology, sensitivity to data privacy, desire for convenience, and embrace of old habits. Our Consumer Technographics® data shows a variation in how US online adults prepare their taxes: While 33% defer to professionals, 27% file their own taxes by downloading computer software, and 22% do so through a website. One in 10 of these consumers still files taxes by hand using paper forms.
Simultaneously: using two devices at the same time to “multitask for efficiency.” Despite overwhelming evidence that humans cannot really split their attention among multiple tasks, 82% of global consumers believe that multiscreening makes them more efficient, and they act on that belief.
But investing in customer experience is tricky because it’s often seen as an abstract thing with little tangible ROI. Companies like USAA, a US insurance company with a strategic focus on customer experience, have spent years re-shaping their entire organizations to think from the outside-in, focusing on the end customer. USAA did this because they believed it was the right thing to do, not because of some compelling business case.
As far as I'm concerned, the best CX presentation by a guest speaker was given this morning by a former CIO, Paul Heller. Paul is now Managing Director of the Retail Investor Group at Vanguard. While his session was energetic and full of humor, it also conveyed his message about the business of delighting clients very clearly. Paul suggests we all need to get in touch with the why, how and who of our business:
Why are customers doing what they do? To answer this question we really need to get to know the reasons for customers doing business with us. Vanguard took the time to ask their customers why they invest and they discovered people want to have more time to do the things they enjoy, they want less stress and to avoid being bored. Trust me, it's way funnier the way Paul describes it.
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.
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.