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.
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.