Okay, maybe “demigod” is a little over the top. But maybe not.
John Maeda is both design partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and chair of the eBay Design Advisory Board, where he collaborates with design leaders across eBay to disseminate design thinking. But that’s just what he’s doing now. He previously served as the president of Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and before that, he was a professor and head of research at the MIT Media Lab.
Now where I come from (Cambridge, Massachusetts, these days), RISD and the Media Lab are synonymous with innovative thinking. But eBay already changed the way about 145 million people shop — most people would say that’s already pretty innovative. So how do you improve innovation by disseminating design thinking at eBay?
In advance of John’s talk, he was kind enough to answer some of our questions about what he’s been doing and why. I hope you enjoy John’s responses, and I look forward to seeing many of you in New York on June 24th and 25th!
Q: When did your company first begin focusing on customer experience? Why?
As Marshall McLuhan once said, “Most of our assumptions have outlived their uselessness.” This has never been truer than now, and we have customer data to thank for it.
While data has always played a role in experience design, the digitization of customer experiences — both online and in physical environments — has greatly expanded the depth and breadth of customer data available. As a result, the way CX pros use data is undergoing a significant change. Rather than be passive recipients of data reports, CX pros are becoming active data miners and explorers.
The effect of this exploration is that CX pros, empowered with data that they now have direct access to, are challenging long-held orthodoxy, assumptions, and conventions. Consider the following:
CNN tunes its coverage to consumers' tastes . . . to the displeasure of critics. While critics may heap scorn on CNN for its extended coverage of Malaysia Airline Flight 370, the numbers tell a different story. After crunching the data, CNN concluded that viewers were not tiring of MH370 coverage. In fact, the analysis indicated that viewers wanted more of it. This led CNN to extend the coverage well beyond what CNN producers (and other network producers) intuitively assign to such an event. The call paid off as consumers continued to tune in, helping CNN boost its viewership.
Sure, Steve was responsible for the development of new trading tools and technology enhancements for the thinkorswim trading platform. And he does an incredible job of connecting customer experience improvements to technology innovation (as you’ll see if you read on).
No, we recruited Steve because TD Ameritrade shot up seven points in our Customer Experience Index this year, edging ahead of last year’s leader in the investment category, the formidable Vanguard. How it did that and why it did that is a story we want customer experience aficionados to hear.
In the run-up to the event, Steve answered a series of our questions about some of things he’ll talk about. His answers appear below.
I hope you enjoy his insights, and I look forward to seeing many of you in New York on June 24th and 25th!
Q: When did your company first begin focusing on customer experience? Why?
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.
Voice of the customer (VoC) programs play a critical role in improving customer experience. They gather data for customer experience (CX) measurement efforts and uncover insights that help improve customer understanding.
To assess the state of VoC programs, we asked companies how long their VoC program has been in place, how valuable the program is to drive CX improvements and deliver financial results, how the program governance works, and if it is supported by VoC consulting and technology vendors. And we asked participants to rate their program’s capabilities on the four key tasks of VoC programs — listen, interpret, react, and monitor.
Here are some highlights of what we found:
Most VoC programs have been around for three or more years, are run or coordinated by a central team, and consist of fewer than five full-time employees. Many also turn to outside vendors for help.
But VoC programs are still not taken as seriously as other programs in an organization: They improve customer experience but struggle to deliver financial results. And they aren’t embedded enough in the organization. The good news is that many have some executive support, but they lack the resources they need and aren’t fully embraced by employees.
For VoC capabilities, we found that VoC programs are still better at listening than at acting on the insights they find.
When Forrester first introduced the customer experience (CX) ecosystem concept three years ago, we found that companies’ attempts to innovate their CX were limited by tunnel vision. They couldn’t see beyond the surface layer of individual touchpoints to understand the intricate web of behind-the-scenes dynamics that really create the customer experience.
To update our research on the CX ecosystem, I’ve spent the past few months conducting dozens of interviews with senior executives from a range of industries. I’ll reveal my complete findings at our Forum For Customer Experience Professionals East next month, but I’d like to start the conversation here by sharing one piece of good news: Companies are starting to get it — at least theoretically. Most companies now understand that interactions deep within their own organizations and outside their borders determine the quality of all customer interactions.
In the age of the customer, you need to be obsessed with your customers. And that obsession can pay off big time — as we have shown over and over again: Years of Forrester data confirm the strong relationship between the quality of a firm's customer experience (CX) and customer loyalty.
And this means revenue growth! Find out how exactly we calculate the revenue upside in the report "The Business Impact Of Customer Experience, 2014." But here are the cliff notes: We built a model that shows how improving customer experience scores from below to above average affects loyalty, which in turn affects revenue in three categories:
Repurchase: incremental purchases from existing customers in the same year.
Switching: revenue saved by lower churn.
Recommendation: new sales driven by word of mouth.
When we looked at the data, this year, we found new and important developments that affect the revenue upside:
“Ok” is the new “poor.” Converging Customer Experience Index (CXi) scores mean that companies cannot rely on average customer experience to prevent churn and get people to buy more.
People talk. Consumers recommend companies more if they had a good experience, and they talk to more people about it — a multiplier in the effect of CX on word of mouth.
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:
It’s that great time of year when I finally get to talk publicly about Forrester's Forum For Customer Experience Professionals in New York at the end of June. If you’ve ever been to one of our events, you know that we always have a theme, and this year that theme is “Why Good Is Not Good Enough.”
We picked our theme because of the good news/bad news story told by our Customer Experience Index (CXi) results this year. First, here’s the good news: The number of brands in the “very poor” category of the CXi is down to one out of 175 brands we studied. What’s more, only a handful of brands — 10% — are in the “poor” category. Together, those findings show that as customer experience improvement efforts got traction over the past year, the number of truly awful experiences dropped like a rock.
Now for the bad news: Just 11% of brands in the CXi made it into the “excellent” category.
Taken together, those two pieces of news mean that most brands are bunched up in the middle of the curve — not awful in the eyes of their customers but not differentiated either. I think of this situation as “okay is the new poor” or, in my darker moments, “the year of ‘meh.’” Regardless, it adds up to the same thing: A merely good customer experience is no longer good enough if you want incremental sales, positive word of mouth, and better customer retention.
My latest report, 5 Steps To Create And Sustain Customer-Centric Culture, is now live on Forrester.com. The report answers the question I hear most often from clients: What are the steps in the process to actually transform organizational culture to be customer-centric? We interviewed companies that have successfully completed this transformation, and companies that are in the midst of that process right now. We learned that there are five steps companies must take to create and sustain customer-centric culture:
Step 1: Secure Executive Support (No, Really). We do not want to sugarcoat this step. Customer experience professionals who don't already have commitment from their executives need to either get it or give up their hopes of transforming their organization's culture. Every successful transformation we studied began with a customer experience epiphany by a CEO or COO. If that realization hasn’t happened yet, CX pros can help create the spark of inspiration with executives. For example, Brad Smith, the Chief Customer Officer at Sage North America, established a program where executives sign up to spend time in the call center or join sales teams on customer visits. And he created a new leadership routine of bringing customer stories to their monthly meetings. His goal was to get senior leaders to see the importance of customer focus.