You Are In The Customer Experience Business, Whether You Know It Or Not

Harley Manning

Customer experience is fundamental to the success of every business. For most companies, in fact, customer experience is the single greatest predictor of whether customers will return — or defect to a competitor.

Customer experience goes to the heart of everything you do: how you conduct your business, how your people behave when they interact with customers and each other, and the value you provide. You literally can’t afford to ignore it, because your customers take it personally each and every time they touch your products, your services, and your support.

In our new book, Outside In, my coauthor, Kerry Bodine, and I explore the real meaning of customer experience; prove the business benefits of delivering a great experience; and describe the six disciplines of customer experience leaders like American Express, JetBlue, Office Depot, and Vanguard. Our goal is to help readers understand why and how customer experience leads to profits — which it does, but only if you treat it as a business discipline.

Why is customer experience so important?

“Customer experience” is literally how your customers perceive their interactions with your company.

Those interactions occur at each step along a customer journey. That journey begins when people realize that you offer a product or service they might want, then compare your offer to other options. If things go your way, they’ll buy from you. Then they’ll use what they bought. If they encounter a problem, they’ll call for support.

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Culture: Why Your Company Needs Customer-Centric DNA

Kerry Bodine

No matter how solid your strategy is or how carefully you design your customer experience, it’s simply impossible to plan for every single customer interaction at every last touchpoint. At some point, you need to put your trust in your company’s most valuable resource, its employees, to do the right thing for customers. Similarly, sharing customer insights, measuring the results of your work, and introducing customer experience governance programs will only get you so far if your company’s workforce — from your top execs down to entry-level staff members — isn’t ready to embrace new ways of working.

That’s why building a customer-centric culture is critical to customer experience success.

In Forrester’s soon-to-publish book, Outside In, Harley Manning and I illustrate the importance of a customer-centric culture through a case study about John Deere Financial, one of the largest providers of financial services to agricultural and construction customers in the US. Like many companies, it had a product and process focus for decades. Then, as part of a recent call to action to become more customer-focused, the company developed a new set of customer promises:

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Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare: How United’s Culture Failed Its Customers

Harley Manning

You’re at home when your phone rings. It’s your child’s summer camp calling to tell you that she never arrived. No one knows where she is.

Make your gut churn? Yes, if you’re a parent — or even if you’re not.

If you were following the news last week, you know that Annie and Perry Klebahn did get that phone call. That’s when they found out that their 10-year-old daughter Phoebe hadn’t gotten off a United Airlines flight to Traverse City, Michigan.  

Here are the highlights of what happened.

Phoebe had been traveling alone. Her parents had paid United a $99 fee for the “unaccompanied minor” service and had every reason to believe that their daughter was in good hands. According to the complaint letter that her parents wrote to United, when they dropped Phoebe off at the San Francisco airport, a United employee put an identifying wristband on her and told her to “only go with someone with a United badge on and that she would be accompanied at all times.” But when Phoebe arrived in Chicago to change planes, no one met her. The little girl reportedly asked flight attendants three times to let her use a phone to call her parents, and they told her to wait. She also asked if someone had called camp to tell them she had missed her flight, and they said they’d take care of it (but then didn’t).

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Introducing Forrester's Digital Customer Experience Improvement Playbook

Ronald Rogowski

Firms are increasing their focus on and investment in digital touchpoints. Why? Because digital touchpoints are critical parts of the customer experience ecosystem that offer your customers access to your firm anytime, anywhere. But when these touchpoints aren't optimized to reflect the way customers want to interact, firms:

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Patient Experience: Personal, Emotional, And Critical

Harley Manning

Last week my son, Alex, had reconstructive surgery to repair his torn ACL (the ligament that holds the inside of a knee together).

He’s 11 years old.

I have to admit that this procedure worried me like hell for all sorts of irrational reasons. Sure, things could have gone wrong. But the surgeon who operated on my son literally invented this type of surgery, which is only used on children and pre-adolescents who are still growing. Plus we had the procedure donev at Boston Children’s Hospital, which topped the U.S. News & World Report honor roll of best children’s hospitals.

All that gave the left part of my brain comfort, even as the right part of my brain tried its hardest to give me high blood pressure. Fortunately, the operation was an unqualified success, and as I write this, we are three days into the recovery period, which is also going well.

Now normally I wouldn’t blog about something this personal. But throughout the process, Alex — who knows what I do for a living — kept telling me that he was having a great experience and that I should write about it.

Frankly, I was quite curious as to why Alex thought — and forgive me for being graphic — that getting his leg opened up and put back together with a bunch of new parts was “a great experience.” So I asked him.

Harley: You’ve said a number of times that you had a great experience at Boston Children’s Hospital. From your point of view, what made it a great experience?

Alex: Everyone was really nice to me. And they did a great job at keeping my pain level down.

Harley: Were you scared?

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Designing A Great Customer Experience In The Age Of Irrational Customers

Harley Manning

Recently we’ve seen a lot of interest in the emotional aspects of customer experience by some of the smartest practitioners we know — chief customer officers. There’s a reason for this. Recent advances in the behavioral sciences now give us a better understanding of how people make decisions, experience pain and pleasure, and recall their experiences.

Maybe you’ve read about some of these studies in books like Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, or Switch by the Heath brothers. If you have, then you picked up on the fact that we now know our customers to be inherently irrational, making most of their daily decisions without any particular logic.

For example, we know that people experience the pain of loss more acutely than they feel the pleasure of gain. That’s the reason why people dump shares of well-run mutual funds when the economy turns down, irrationally converting their paper losses to real losses. It’s also why it’s easier to lose a customer than to gain one — people are less likely to forgive you when you inflict pain on them (got the order wrong, didn’t resolve the problem) than they are to love you for satisfying them.

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Measurement: How To Quantify The Quality Of Your Customer Experience

Kerry Bodine

Despite the fact that measurement is deeply embedded in business functions like finance and IT, companies still struggle with measurement when it comes to customer experience. In fact, I was chatting to a seasoned executive next to me on a plane a few weeks back, and he said, “This customer experience stuff is so important. But you can’t really measure it, right?” Wrong! Customer experience can be measured — you just have to know how.

In Forrester’s soon-to-publish book, Outside In, Harley Manning and I illustrate the importance of measurement through a case study about JetBlue. The JetBlue customer experience was designed to “bring humanity back to travel” with features like more legroom, seatback TVs, and snacks that people actually want to eat. But for many years, the young airline didn’t measure how well it delivered on all that — and as a result, JetBlue employees really had no way to assess how well they performed their jobs every day.

To remedy the situation, JetBlue implemented a comprehensive set of measurement tools. The workhorse of the program is an email survey that asks passengers to grade each part of their end-to-end travel experience, starting with making a reservation and continuing on through the end of a flight. When the survey responses come back, an internal system attaches operational data like what channel the customer used to book her flight and whether that customer experienced any problems on board, like a broken TV. In addition, JetBlue looks at what customers say they’re going to do as a result of their experience, like fly JetBlue again or recommend the airline to a friend.

These are the three building blocks of a solid customer experience measurement framework:

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Design: Because Great Customer Experiences Don’t Happen By Accident

Kerry Bodine

The discipline of design remains largely misunderstood in the business world. Let me dispel a couple of myths for you: Design isn't simply about picking the right shade of blue for the company logo. And it’s not solely the domain of black-turtleneck-wearing creative types.

Design is a straightforward and repeatable problem-solving process that incorporates the needs of customers, employees, and business stakeholders. It’s also a way of working that focuses on making and refining tangible solutions. Everyone in an organization can learn and leverage design to meet or exceed their customers’ needs and desires. That’s key, because great customer experiences don’t magically spring into existence — they need to be actively designed.

In Forrester’s soon-to-publish book, Outside In, Harley Manning and I illustrate the importance of design through a case study about Mayo Clinic. The physical layout of Mayo’s outpatient rooms has basically remained static over the past six decades. The equipment for physical examinations — the reclining table, dressing area, sink, and tools like scopes and blood-pressure cuffs — still dominates each room, but these days, the bulk of each appointment is simply a conversation between the doctor and patient.

A team working to improve the outpatient experience came up with the idea of creating separate consultation and exam rooms. But that solution wasn’t going to work. There simply wasn’t enough floor space in the Clinic’s facilities to accommodate the number of separate rooms required to serve patients.

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Customer Understanding: Do You Really Know What Your Customers Want And Need?

Kerry Bodine

Right now, companies around the world are barreling down a perilous path — one that isn’t illuminated by customer insights. These companies might think they know what their customers want, but Forrester’s research shows that most companies today have an incomplete — or worse, downright wrong — understanding of who their customers are, how they perceive the current interactions, and what they want and need in the future.

In Forrester’s soon-to-publish book, Outside In, Harley Manning and I illustrate the importance of customer understanding through a case study about Virgin Mobile Australia. The company recently earned the No. 1 spot in customer satisfaction in its market. But in their hearts, Virgin Mobile’s execs knew that the customer experience they provided was pretty much indistinguishable from those of their competitors. And for a company operating under the Virgin brand name, that was a big problem.

Matt Anderson, the former COO of Virgin Mobile, told me, “We weren’t interested in being up to par with industry standards. We wanted to create a differentiated customer experience: one that was uniquely Virgin.” To do that, the company had to take an outside-in view and examine what the Virgin brand meant from the customer perspective.

So Virgin asked some of its customers to create online diaries, and every day for a week asked them questions about Virgin’s brand values: simplicity, fairness, and control. (Words we all naturally associate with our wireless carriers, right?)

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Introducing The Experience-Driven Organization Playbook

Megan Burns

If you are trolling around our website, you may have seen that we’ve introduced a new way to organize our research, something that we call playbooks.

We made this change because for years we’ve been producing reports that connect to each other in many ways. The connections are obvious to those of us who create the research, but until now, they may not have been as obvious to our many readers.

Playbooks make it easier for you to find the research we have about every one of your customer experience challenges. What’s more, playbooks suggest related research on topics that you might not have even thought to look for. For example, if you’re looking for best practices for how to improve your Customer Experience Index Score, you’ll also see advice on how to sustain continuous improvement once you take the first step.

The first playbook for customer experience professionals is called The Experience-Driven Organization Playbook. It lays out our vision for what it takes to deliver a consistently good customer experience. You can get an overview of all of the research in the playbook by reading “Transform To An Experience-Driven Organization” by my colleague, Harley Manning. Or dive right in with my report that sets the vision for what it takes to build a mature customer experience practice, “Customer Experience Maturity Defined.”  

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