As an avid personal investor I’m often appalled by cable shows that report on the markets as if they were non-stop sporting events. Seriously, how many people care how the NASDAQ or the Dow are doing on any given minute of any given day? But apparently there are enough day traders out there that noon reports from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange are as compelling as half-time reports during the NFL playoffs.
I have to confess that there is one piece of financial analysis that I do look forward to – though in my defense, this is an annual occurrence and not an hourly update. The analysis comes from Jon Picoult, a gentleman who runs Watermark Consulting.
For a while now Jon has been taking the data from Forrester’s Customer Experience Index (CXi) and using it to do a thought experiment. In this experiment he looks at what would have happened if, back when we first published the CXi, an investor had taken two equal buckets of money and created two U.S. stock portfolios. The first portfolio would have consisted of the top 10 publicly traded companies in our index (the customer experience leaders). The second portfolio would have consisted of the bottom 10 publicly traded companies in the index (the customer experience laggards).
In Jon’s model the investor would have held each portfolio for a year, then sold them both and taken his profits (or losses). He would have then used the proceeds to purchase the new year’s leaders and the new year’s laggards, continuing this cycle of selling and buying for all six years that the CXi has been in existence.
Intriguing, right? Even those of us who believe in the business value of customer experience (or in my case can prove it through research) don’t normally look at the impact on stock performance.
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).
Last week I got a question via email from one of Forrester’s clients, who asked:
“How do you explain the success of companies that consistently provide a poor experience but perform well financially?”
I wish more people asked this question because it shows that they’re thinking about customer experience in the right context: as a path to profits. Here’s my answer:Creating a superior customer experience is the most important thing that companies need to do. But it will never be the only important thing they need to do.
My co-author and I describe the relationship between customer experience and other factors that lead to business success in Chapter 13 of our new book, Outside In:
“Is customer experience a silver bullet that will kill off all your company's problems and make your stock price soar? No. If there is such a bullet, we haven't seen it. The fact is, regardless of your customer experience, you can still get clobbered by a big, strategic threat like a new market entrant (Netflix if you're Blockbuster) or a substitute product (digital photography if you're Polaroid). That's especially true if the new market entrant or the provider of the substitute product offers an amazing customer experience (Amazon.com if you're Borders or Barnes & Noble).”
When you have a virtual monopoly, you can get away with providing a poor customer experience — right up until you can’t.