The Forrester Blog For Customer Experience Professionals
This blog is a roll-up of all the posts from analysts who serve Customer Experience Professionals. Individual analyst blogs are listed below. Visit Forrester.com to learn how we make Customer Experience Professionals successful every day.
Like it or not, government services face many of the same pressures that companies face. Companies like Amazon.com, USAA, Disney, and Zappos.com raise customer expectations when they deliver stellar service. As they raise the bar, other companies and government agencies risk getting fired when they fail to deliver the value that customers expect, make customers jump through hoops to access it, or begrudgingly deliver it through unengaged employees. Customers and citizens simply choose to take their money elsewhere.
It’s through this lens that I’ve watched the recent battles over state budgets and public employees along with their unions. When citizens don’t perceive they're getting a good value for the buck, they take their money elsewhere, even if that is through the ballot box — no wonder, when the citizen experience is so often sub-par.
Here are a few examples I’ve witnessed just in the past couple weeks: A group of on-duty cops spend an hour drinking coffee in Starbucks when people don’t feel comfortable walking around the streets a few blocks away; DMV workers look bored and move at the pace of sloths while I spend an hour waiting in line, even though they’re likely making way more money than the waitress at a local restaurant who’s super-friendly and efficient; a public transportation worker holds a sign at a street car stop urging people to smile, even when the lines often experience large delays; a gruff postal worker begrudgingly gets off his stool to get my package and then throws it on the counter.
We use mobile devices throughout the day to communicate with each other, get timely information, and entertain ourselves. And, because they’re almost always within a few feet of us, these devices offer myriad opportunities for brands to insert themselves into our lives in meaningful ways. But brands have been slow to realize this opportunity.
Whenever I browse the Apple app store, I’m always shocked by the small number of apps that have been commissioned by big brands — and this holds true for the Android and BlackBerry app stores, too. The app landscape is absolutely dominated by new startups — and big brands are getting left in their dust.
Take, for example, Apple’s list of top free iPhone apps from 2010. Big brands were noticeably missing from the following categories, where only one of the top 10 apps was from a big brand:
Education (kudos to NASA, which was the only big brand)
As Andrew McInnes pointed out in his report "Ten Major Voice Of The Customer Trends," more companies are closing the loop with their customers. During Forrester's 2009 Voice Of The Customer Awards, entrants with closed-loop processes were the exception. In 2010, they were the rule, with many top finalists integrating closed-loop processes into their sales and marketing efforts. For this year’s awards (by the way, nominations are now open), we expect to see a new crop of innovative closed-loop applications.
But just like any well-intentioned action, closing the loop isn’t always the right thing to do.
A few months ago, a friend of mine got married. I was really excited to see that her gift registry site included severable charitable donation options, and I quickly decided on a $100 donation to the Massachusetts SPCA. On the gift registry site, I needed to enter a “quantity” of $1 donations to get to my desired total donation — which is a bit weird in and of itself — but the real problem I had was that the quantity field would only accept two digits! So instead of making a nice round $100 donation, I ended up donating $99.
Because I didn’t want to look like a complete weirdo to my friend and her new hubby, I added this explanation to the gift message I sent them through the donation site: “Hmmm. The field where I could enter the quantity of our donation would only allow for two digits, so that's why you're getting a wacky $99 donation. :) I just can't take a break from usability . . . ”
Ever wonder why most digital interactions fail to engage users? In part, it’s because users can’t easily decipher who they’re dealing with. Instead of actively developing unique experiences that support how they want their brands to be perceived, companies chase features and functions that others have implemented. At best, the result is bland cookie-cutter experiences that leave users uninspired. At worst, brands can seem downright schizophrenic to users who get unpredictable experiences as they move from channel to channel.
It’s not easy to create a strong emotional bond through an interface because it’s difficult for users to see the people behind digital interaction points. Instead, they see a mere screen or a system. But people are far more predisposed to creating connections with other people than they are with an interface. That’s why firms need to pay attention to the brand personality they’re trying to convey and make their digital experiences feel more human. Of course, the solution isn’t just to plaster your website with happy faces or buzzwords. Instead, firms can take a more systematic approach and follow the principles of Forrester’s Emotional Experience Design framework. Here are a couple of ways for firms to establish brand personality:
Match visual designs across channels so that users can easily recognize the brand as they cross interaction points.
Keep in sync with the brand attributes that they want people to associate with them by creating content that conveys brand messages and by crafting the right voice to further convey those messages.
Adopt a human tone that lands in the right place in between robotic, just-the-facts approaches and overdone marketing speak that comes off as fake.
Michael Porter famously wrote that companies differentiate themselves by performing a unique set of activities from their competitors' or by performing the same activities differently.
Here are some numbers: 86% of companies say customer experience is a top strategic priority for 2011; 76% seek to differentiate based on customer experience; 46% have a companywide program for improving customer experience currently in place and another 30% are actively considering it; and 52% have a voice of the customer program in place with close to 30% more actively considering it.
With the majority of companies focused on improving customer experience, how can a company expect to differentiate on it? Because there remains a tremendous amount of lip service and intellectual dishonesty about what it takes. Let me give a few examples:
Friendly agents game the numbers. Although not able to answer the two questions that I had, a super-friendly phone agent at a major telecommunications firm ended the conversation by asking: “We aim to not only meet your expectations but to exceed them. Have I done that today?” From the tone of the agent’s voice and the question asked, it’s clear that someone at the company is thinking about customer experience. However, the gaming of the question indicates that the company’s culture has a long way to go to actually improve the experience beyond the superficialities.
Last weekend I used my AAdvantage miles on a plane ticket for my husband. I went to AA.com, it was easy to trade off options based on number of miles used and flight schedule. When I went to book, my name and AAdvantage number were pre-populated into the form. I changed the name and number to his but got an error: “The AAdvantage number for Passenger 1 does not match the name entered. Please verify and re-enter.”*
Problem #1: A design problem stopped me from booking the ticket myself on the site.
Problem #2: An unhelpful error message didn’t help me fix the first problem.
Without any other choice, I called for help. Before I could reach a person – or even a menu, I got this message:
“With the refreshed and redesigned AA.com it’s easy to book, explore, and plan all of your travel needs in one place because we’ve organized things better, made it more intuitive, smarter, simpler, cleaner, all to help bring your next trip closer to reality. This is the first step of more exciting changes we have planned for AA.com. Whether you are looking or booking, a better travel experience awaits with the new, easy to navigate AA.com. Book a trip now and see for yourself. To expedite your call, please have your Advantage number ready.”
Problem #3: I had to spend a full minute hearing about how American’s new site could help me — the same site that had already failed to help me.
When I finally reached an agent and explained my problem, she said: “Well, you just had to think on it harder. You needed to leave the Advantage number blank.”
Problem #4: The agent told me I’m stupid. Who likes that?
Armed with new instructions, I tried to book the ticket. But instead I got an error message saying the site had timed out.
Call centers sit on the frontline of customer experience where they provide sales, support, and customer service functions. They’re often customers’ first — and sometimes their only — human interaction with a company.
Even with conservative estimates, it’s easy to make the case that large call centers have customer influence on par with, if not greater than, that of mass advertising campaigns. (Assuming a call center with 3,000 agents and an average of only 50 calls per agent per day, a company has the opportunity to make 1.05 million personal connections each week — and 54.6 million each year.)
Call center interactions have the potential to build a company’s brand image, delight people so much that they recommend the brand to friends, and even generate incremental sales.
But bad call center experiences spoil millions of daily opportunities to drive business value.
Despite their reach and potential impact on the business, call centers go largely ignored. Instead, companies are making deeper investments in the Web and other sexy of-the-moment digital service interactions, like mobile and Social Computing. Consumers have noticed — they tell us that phone conversations with live agents just don’t stack up to online or in-store experiences. What's worse, Forrester has been tracking US consumer satisfaction with phone conversations across multiple industries since 2007 and 2008, and all but one industry saw their satisfaction rates sink during this time period. Only investment firms bucked the downward trend, and even there, the story isn’t a whole lot better: Satisfaction scores have been effectively flat since 2007.
At some point in our lives, we all go through the challenge of moving, and it isn’t a whole lot of fun, even when it should be. You have to find a place to move, make offers, secure loans and income verification… all that fun stuff that you swear to yourself you’ll never go through again because it’s such a hassle. For me, it’s not the boxes, the upheaval of routine, or even the challenge of dealing with all the administrivia that seems to pop up just when you think all the paperwork is in order. No. What I dislike most is changing my address for subscriptions, financial accounts, and other services.
At some point we all have to go through the basic task of updating our personal information with a company. It’s simple self-service task, right? You log in to your account, click on a link that says “change mailing address,” input your new information, and move on. You may even get a reassuring email confirming that your information has been changed. It seems so simple — and in this day and age it should be. But why, then, do companies make it so hard to change your address online?
In the past week I must have gone through the process at least 20 times and found a range of problems including:
We recently published the results of our annual survey of the members of our customer experience professionals peer research group. The group is interesting in that they’re pros: They all work to improve the customer experience delivered by their organizations.
This year, their responses are encouraging — but also very sobering.
Here are some of the encouraging data points. A whopping 86% said that customer experience is a top strategic priority at their company. More than half work at companies that already have a single set of customer experience metrics in place across the entire company, and another 20% said that their firms are considering this move. What’s more, almost as many respondents said that their companies have a voice of the customer program in place, and another 29% said that their firms are actively considering a voice of the customer (VoC) program.
At this point I’m thinking, “Fantastic! Their companies care about customer experience, and they are implementing mission-critical programs that will help them succeed!”
Plus they’re coming from a good place. When we asked our panelists how they’d describe their executive team’s goal for customer experience, 63% of respondents said that their senior executives want to be the best in their industry, while another 13% said that their execs shoot higher and want to be seen as a customer experience leader across all industries.