Earlier this year, I spoke with Kathleen Cattrall, interim chief experience officer at VCA Animal Hospitals about the company’s customer experience transformation efforts. VCA is a publicly traded company (fittingly, its NASDAQ ticker symbol is WOOF) that owns and operates more than 600 pet hospitals in the US and Canada. Its work to create more customer-centric hiring processes features in my latest report, "How To Hire And Onboard Customer-Centric Employees."
Kathleen and her colleague Aaron Frazier were gracious enough to answer a few more questions about their progress in building a more customer-centric culture and what they’ve learned about creating great pet-owner experiences. Here are some of their insights.
Q. How did VCA know it needed to improve customer experience? Was there a “burning platform,” or did someone senior at the organization decide it was time to make a change?
A. Art Antin, co-founder and COO, was the real visionary here. VCA was approaching its 25th anniversary, and Art was frustrated with clients visiting less frequently. Our customer retention rate was lower than VCA wanted to see. Complaints were escalating, and they all pointed to a poor customer experience. Art said, “We’ve spent 25 years becoming the leader in veterinary health services. We’ve accomplished more than any other company in that regard. We need to focus the next 25 months on improving our customers’ experiences with us.”
What is “customer experience maturity”? We define it as the extent to which an organization routinely performs the practices required to design, implement, and manage customer experience in a disciplined way. In other words, does the organization apply the same level of business discipline to customer experience as it does to well-established business practices like marketing, logistics, and accounting?
In our study of how companies become mature at the practices in the customer experience discipline, we’ve discovered that successful firms all follow the same path, which passes through four phases:
Repair. Companies find broken experiences, fix them, and measure the results.
Elevate. Firms start to adopt practices that lead them to deliver sound experiences in the first place.
Optimize. Companies become systematic at customer experience practices.
Differentiate. Firms reframe business challenges in the context of unmet customer needs, connect innovation ideas to their customer experience ecosystem, and infuse innovations with the brand.
In my new report, "How To Hire And Onboard Customer-Centric Employees," I describe how companies can transform their hiring processes to ensure new employees are customer-centric. CX professionals must partner with their HR department and hiring manager colleagues to change the way they screen, interview and onboard new employees. The report describes specific ways to make each step in the hiring process more customer-centric. For example:
Get customer-centric applicants into the hiring funnel. A customer-centric hiring process starts by attracting the right kind of applicants and filtering out the wrong kind. The careers section of a website provides an opportunity for companies to tell applicants what they value in employees. For example, The Container Store's website describes the company's commitment to putting employees first and draws a clear distinction from other companies that focus on shareholders first. Contrast that first impression with the careers landing page on Bed Bath & Beyond's site, where the opening sentence talks about stock performance and its expansion.
Business-to-consumer (B2C) financial services provider Ally Bank and business-to-business (B2B) professional services firm PwC Australia took home top honors in the design category of Forrester’s first annual Outside In Awards. In our recent report, Amelia Sizemore and I describe how — despite vastly different business models and target customers — Ally and PwC followed strikingly similar approaches: human-centered design processes that involved a collaborative kickoff stage, extensive research, contributions from customers and multiple parts of the business, and numerous iterations of prototyping and testing.
Ally evolved its mobile banking app quickly — without sacrificing customer input.
Ally gave itself just nine weeks to design and test its new mobile banking app. Incredibly, team members managed to involve customers during seven out of the project’s nine weeks.
After an initial round of customer interviews, the team asked 10 mobile banking customers to complete a two-week diary study. Participants noted the financial activities they needed to accomplish and sent in photos of places where they wanted — but weren’t able — to bank. Next, the team conducted informal tests of its initial sketches and paper prototypes with a new group of customers. Finally, the team brought yet another group of customers into its usability lab for formal prototype testing.
I am writing this down now, so in one year or so I can say, "I told you so!"
Here is how you'll experience and pay for flying in the future. It has to do with the use of cell phones. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission is considering allowing cell phone use on flights. And when I traveled to Forrester's Customer Experience Forum in London just this week, my Virgin Atlantic flight already allowed us to use our mobile phones to roam the cell phone skies.
It won't be long, and we'll all be able to use our mobile devices to talk to our friends and colleagues on airplanes — much like we already do on trains.
And —in style — airlines will charge for the advantage: by requiring a separate charge, by charging a fee for seat selection generally like Scoot, or by making the quiet zone part of a higher class, like Economy Plus.
Long live customer experience — just not in the air?
Design is, without a doubt, the sexiest of the six customer experience (CX) disciplines. So when we talk about CX design at Forrester, our favorite example comes from a really sexy industry: water utilities.
That’s right — water utilities. And one in particular: Southern Water, located in the southeast of the UK.
We like the Southern Water example because it shows that CX design is not about what shade of blue your logo should be, and it’s not just for people who wear black turtlenecks. No, CX design is about a repeatable problem-solving process that incorporates the needs of customers, employees, and other business stakeholders.
And that’s why we invited Darren Bentham, chief customer officer at Southern Water, to speak at our SOLD OUT Forum For Customer Experience Professionals EMEA in London on November 19th and 20th. Darren has taken on one of the biggest, toughest CX challenges we know of: installing thousands of water meters for customers who have never had them before, didn’t ask for them, and in many cases don’t want them. And yet, by applying CX design principles, he’s making this a positive experience for all parties involved.
In the run-up to the event, Darren took the time to respond to a series of questions about what he’s been doing to improve customer experience and what advice he’d give to others in his shoes. His answers appear below.
I hope you enjoy his insights, and I look forward to seeing many of you in London on November 19th and 20th!
Q. When did your company first begin focusing on customer experience? Why?
Calling all interactive design agencies in the US and Canada! I'm writing the update to Forrester's "Interactive Design Agency Overview, 2012" report, and I need your help to do it. Please complete our survey by following this link.
If you would like your agency to be featured in the research, please complete the survey to share details of your agency's size, capabilities, industry strengths, and so on. If you would like to see a preview of the questions in the survey, you can download a copy of the survey instrument here.
The deadline for completing the survey is November 27. Please spread the word among interactive design agencies — I hope to include as many agencies as possible in the report this year.
Last month, I delivered a webinar about digital CX teams in the post-PC era. I described the importance of having a clear strategy for the digital customer experience and how it should align with the overall customer experience vision in nondigital touchpoints. I shared examples of how companies hire and train essential in-house skills like journey mapping and storytelling to avoid overreliance on partners. And I talked about how companies should take an ecosystem approach to organizing their digital resources. There were some great questions posed during the call, and I wanted to answer them here.
Q. What is the typical team structure of a post-PC CX team?
A. There is no one standard model for digital CX teams — we see a variety of different structures. Some teams, like the one at Target, are quite large and encompass many disciplines and skills. Others, like the team at Express Scripts, are smaller and focus more on the high-level vision and orchestration of projects.
What is consistent across teams is that they build strong connections with key stakeholders throughout the company. Teams actively foster collaboration and skills development both within the team and with key partners inside and outside of their organizations. Many teams provide career paths for individual contributors and mentors for junior team members by promoting strong performers to manage subteams within the larger digital CX team.
I am a new senior analyst on the customer experience team, based in London, and I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself and share some thoughts about my first report. My areas of expertise include digital customer experience, measurement, strategy, customer understanding, and design. For my first report, I have decided to tackle a topic that occupied a lot of my time as a customer experience (CX) practitioner, namely technology.
As a former customer experience practitioner, I found myself gravitating between the driver seat, the passenger seat, and the backseat when it came to technology decisions — part buyer, part advisor, and part bystander. I worked closely with IT on digital CX and had some very fruitful interactions with IT colleagues about customer experience in general — and customer journey and ecosystem mapping, in particular. I also experienced firsthand the fragmentation of IT spending as more business owners spend more from their own budgets on IT in order to win, retain, and engage with customers. And of course, as many of you, I witnessed IT projects derail or gain a life of their own, to the detriment of the customer experience. Technology is everywhere, every business is now a digital business, and customer experience professionals are facing a tsunami of technology choices as the tech industry enters a period of unprecedented innovation and more and more vendors align themselves with the customer experience buzz. In this first report, I want to explore:
How involved are customer experience professionals in technology decisions? Are they in a position to influence these decisions?
In 2011, the executives at Bertucci’s, a 30-year-old restaurant chain in the US Mid-Atlantic and New England regions, faced a big problem: The restaurant had become nearly invisible to younger generations of diners. Bright lighting and rows of faux-leather booths beckoned parents with messy young children — not ever-shifting groups of young friends on the move. And its traditional table service felt increasingly irrelevant for diners who wanted to get in and get out — or park themselves for hours with a laptop.
Bertucci’s saw that it had to throw out its old restaurant model in order to court (and keep) a younger generation of diners. Rather than rework its existing locations, the executive team decided to create an entirely new brand. “What we wanted to do is cut the competition off at the pass,” says James Quackenbush, chief development officer of Bertucci’s.
Partnering with design and innovation consultancy Continuum, the firm created a new restaurant concept called 2ovens. The success of the pilot restaurant demonstrates the power of following a structured approach to customer experience innovation.