It disappoints me when customer experience (CX) professionals at business-to-business (B2B) companies won’t even consider CX practices from business-to-consumer (B2C) companies.
Sure, B2B firms can learn a lot from other B2B firms: Cisco has an amazing voice of the customer program, Boeing does great work conducting field studies of its customers, and Adobe has a notable CX governance practice. But unless B2B customer experience practitioners want to run the CX race with one foot in a bucket, they should also learn strategy from Holiday Inn and Burberry, customer understanding from Vanguard and Virgin Mobile Australia, and design practices from Fidelity and the Spanish bank BBVA — the list of relevant B2C case studies goes on and on.
There are two reasons why B2B companies should take this advice to heart. First, no industry has anything close to a monopoly on best practices. So unless companies cast a wide net, they’re cutting themselves off from lessons that could give them an edge over their navel-gazing competitors. Secondly, every customer that B2B companies serve is not only a businessperson but also a consumer, one who has his or her expectations set by daily interactions with Amazon, Apple, Starbucks, and Zappos. And those B2B customers no longer lower their expectations when they go to work — especially because work now gets interspersed with their personal lives.
Last month, I was in Europe with a group of customer experience professionals from various divisions of the same large company. Although their expertise was at varying levels, no one was clueless, and everyone seemed highly motivated. About halfway through the all-day session, one of the attendees asked me a question that I’m going to paraphrase here.
After some preamble about the pressures the company was under to increase revenue and profits, he asked, “Given that, when should we put aside the need for profits and fund customer experience projects instead?”
His question surprised me. And I clearly surprised him when I responded, “Never.” I let that hang in the air for a moment so that it could sink in. Then I added, “You should never put aside the need for profits when you fund customer experience projects.”
I could see that people were a little confused, so I went on. “You should only fund customer experience projects that will produce profits. That’s why you do those projects in the first place. And if you have other kinds of projects that will produce better business results, do them instead. But if you take the time to create the business models for your CX projects, you’ll probably find that they’ll produce better ROI than most of the initiatives they’re competing against.”
To be clear, the guy who had asked the question seemed very bright and had a lot of expertise in his area (metrics and measurement). But he had fallen into the same trap that so many customer experience advocates fall into. He wasn’t thinking of improving customer experience as a path to achieving business results. Instead, he was thinking of it just as a generally good thing to do for customers (which it is, but that’s not why you should do it).
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.
Over the past decade, BBVA has worked hard to become more customer centric and match its offerings to its customers’ needs. Given the pace of technology change, customers’ rising expectations and the digital disruption those forces cause, innovation is a critical part of the role of eBusiness and channel strategy executives. I thought I would share a few of Gustavo’s insights here for those of you who couldn’t attend. BBVA has become systematically innovative, launching a continuous succession of innovations many of which were a first in Spain, in Europe or in the world, such as:
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.
In response to many requests to feature more business-to-business (B2B) content at our events, next month’s Outside In: A Forum For Customer Experience Professionals will feature several B2B keynote presenters, including Randy Pond, EVP of operations, processes, and systems at Cisco Systems. In preparation for the event, I caught up with Randy to talk about his keynote and the importance of championing the voice of the customer at Cisco. Check out a preview of Randy’s session in the below Q&A, or join me in Los Angeles, November 14th to 15th, to hear Cisco’s full story.
Q: What gets in the way of delivering the right experience to your customers?
First, in some areas, I believe we lack consistent policy and practices in the business that we can inspect, enforce, and govern. It’s a combination of the legacy of our entrepreneurial spirit, drive to market, and speed to market. The second is related to the fact that we have a regular influx of acquired companies that we have to embed into our offering, scale into the marketplace, and turn loose to our customers. This can get us into trouble when we may not have the same sense of urgency when we release products. As well, there is a big push on the sales team to get new products moving and out to customers and a big pull from our customer base to get these new offerings in the marketplace. And that stretches our ability to make them as effective and easy to use as we would like.
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.
Mobile phones and tablets are becoming the remote controls of our daily lives. Smartphones are the new digital hub for a growing percentage of consumers, while tablets are starting to rule the personal computing landscape at home and at work. In a previous post, I elaborated on why I think tablets are not mobile devices per se. Moving forward, new mobile form factors will emerge, and we expect wearable computing to gain traction. The definition of mobility is likely to evolve, but what’s certain is that increasingly connected devices will enable us to interact with the world around us by leveraging a host of new technologies packaged into smarter devices — be they QR codes, NFC, image recognition, Bluetooth 4.0, new sensors, etc. The physical world will be a catalyst for spontaneous interactions and for commerce via mobile devices. I think we’re only scratching the surface of new mobile behaviors (and what those will lead to), but mobile devices will become the primary digital connection to your customers.