A Great Customer Experience Depends On Customer Understanding

Harley Manning

My colleague Andrew McInnes recently wrote a post about the tunnel vision that results when companies rely solely on analytics for understanding customers. By neglecting qualitative research methods like ethnography and related tools like personas and customer journey maps, firms run the risk of thinking they know what customers want and need but in reality not having a clue. And that’s the root cause of some of the worst customer experience problems — issues that can drag down a business.

Take the case of Kevin Peters, Office Depot’s president, North America. Kevin recently spoke at our Customer Experience Forum where he described the biggest puzzle that confronted him when he got his job. Even as sales declined, store mystery-shopping scores compiled by a third-party research firm were going through the roof. How could this be? How could customers be having a great in-store experience but not actually buying?  

As it turned out, the mystery shoppers had been asking the wrong questions. They were accurately reporting that the floors and bathrooms of Office Depot stores were clean and that the shelves were stocked with merchandise. But as Peters put it: “Who cares?” When he personally visited 70 stores incognito, walked the aisles, and talked to customers, he discovered his real problems. For example, the combination of very large stores, weak signage, and employees who weren’t all that helpful made it hard to find products. That resulted in customers who walked in determined to buy and walked out without a purchase.

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Connecting Frontline Staff To Customer Experience: Two Conundrums

Kerry Bodine

I started an unusual research project recently. As a follow-up to my report on the customer experience ecosystem, I wanted to dig into the highly visible role of frontline employees like call center agents, in-home service technicians, and retail staff. Specifically, I wanted to know how customer experience professionals could help these folks understand how they personally affect customers’ interactions and perceptions of the brand.

The topic was – I thought – pretty straightforward, and it essentially boiled down to two main questions: What’s the best way to share customer feedback with frontline employees? And should you compensate frontline employees based on their individual feedback?

But what made this research effort so unusual, and so unlike most of my other projects, is that as I conducted more and more interviews, the opinions and “best practices” began to diverge wildly. I found a variety of incompatible tactics. But more than that, I uncovered major differences in management philosophies and deep passions underlying those beliefs.

What’s the best way to share customer feedback with frontline employees?  

A bevy of enterprise feedback management solutions can help managers collect and analyze feedback from customers – and not just about their overall impressions of a company, but about interactions with individual frontline staff members. Firms can collect survey-based quant data and/or verbatims. But what to share? The answers I’ve encountered include:

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When A Customer Experience Ecosystem Fails

Adele Sage

Oh, look what came in the mail yesterday: The order I tried desperately to cancel last week. But, no, UPS dropped it off, and the packing slip said nicely, “Thank you for your order! We are committed to ensure [sic] your experience exceeds your expectations.” Well, you failed.

Let me start from the beginning.

You see, I’m working on reviews for the latest “Best And Worst Of Website User Experience” report (check out last year’s report if you’re curious), and this year we’re evaluating the user experience at the top four tablet manufacturers’ sites. Instead of actually ordering brand new tablets, we are substituting an inexpensive accessory, completing the checkout process, and then immediately canceling the order so that nothing ships and no cards get charged. All went fine in canceling three of the orders, but the fourth, from a company that shall remain nameless, proved more difficult.

Here are all the steps I took to try to cancel the order:

  • I tried chat. I went to the “Help” page on the site and found listed in the contact info section a link to chat and a phone number. I initiated the chat and reached an agent, but the conversation was very slow (about 20 lines of communication in 15 minutes), the rep was hard to understand, and she couldn’t help me. She told me to call 1-800-[company].
  • I tried the website itself. I could check order status very easily on the site, but the info just told me the status (“In process”) and provided no contact information in context for order questions.
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Give 10 Minutes, Get Free Customer Experience Data!

Kerry Bodine

Are you a customer experience professional? Do you have 10 minutes to spare? Would you like some free data about the current state of customer experience?

If you answered “yes” to these three questions, please be a lamb and fill out Forrester’s Q3 2011 Customer Experience Survey.  (We’ve designed this to be super speedy for you to fill out 10 minutes at the maximum. We promise!) We’ll ask you a few questions about:

  • How people throughout your organization get involved with customer experience efforts.
  • The intersection of marketing and customer experience at your company.
  • The interaction of social media and customer experience at your company.

The info you provide will help shape several reports that we’ll be publishing over the next few months. 

The survey closes Wednesday, September 14th. After that date, we’ll analyze the data and send you the aggregate responses to each question — even if you’re not a Forrester client.

So give some, and get some! And thanks in advance for helping fuel our research.

(By the way, this survey is for customer experience professionals who are working to improve customer interactions with their own companies. Agency folks, tech vendors, and consultants: We’ll hit you up another time.)

Executive Q&A: Customer Experience Ecosystem Mapping

Kerry Bodine

I’ve just published a new report in response to all the great questions I’ve been getting about the customer experience ecosystem and the process of ecosystem mapping. Here are a couple of the questions (and answers!) from the report.

What is ecosystem mapping?

Ecosystem mapping is a collaborative process that helps companies identify the set of complex interdependencies that shape all of their interactions with customers. Typically conducted in a workshop setting, teams identify and document the people, processes, policies, and technologies that create the customer experience. This includes those parts of the ecosystem that are in plain view of customers as well as those parts that influence the customer experience from behind the scenes.

What benefits should companies expect to get out of ecosystem mapping?

Companies that undertake ecosystem mapping exercises can expect multiple benefits, including:

  • Detailed knowledge of customers’ journeys. When customers and frontline staff join ecosystem mapping workshops, teams can construct a detailed picture of what customers go through when they interact with their company. More often than not, teams identify interactions that frustrate customers as well as opportunities where companies could interact with customers, but don’t.
  • Greater understanding of the interdependencies within the ecosystem. Ecosystem mapping helps teams identify previously hidden people, processes, policies, and technologies — and the customer interactions they influence.
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Want To Transform Your Customer Experience? Learn More About Service Design

Kerry Bodine

In my keynote at Forrester’s recent Customer Experience Forum, I introduced the audience to the emerging field of service design. Here’s a short video clip in case you missed it:

Because of their breadth and their focus on creating value for customers — as opposed to, say, developing marketing communication programs — service design agencies are key partners for companies looking to improve or overhaul their customer experience. If you’re not familiar with service design or haven’t yet worked with a service design agency, you should:

  • Read the Touchpoint journal. Touchpoint is the publication of the Service Design Network (SDN), a professional association for service designers and customer experience professionals.  You can order hard copies on the SDN website or get Kindle editions from Amazon. (Disclosure: I’m on the Touchpoint advisory board, contribute a regular column, and act as an occasional editor.)
  • Attend the 2011 service design conference on October 20th 21st in San Francisco. This year’s global service design conference will look at service design’s impact on business. (I hope to see you there!) Companies in Europe can also attend several regional conferences that take place each year.
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Attention Tech Vendors: You Can’t Sell A Box Of Customer Experience Management

Megan Burns

(This post was co-authored by Megan Burns and Andrew McInnes so appears on both of their personal blogs.)

Customer experience management (CEM) has become a marketing buzzword for technology vendors as of late. While this isn’t surprising given the current energy around customer experience in general, it is a problem. Here’s why:

  • Customer experience management is a discipline, not a technology. To truly manage customers’ experiences, an organization must understand its customers’ needs, how it intends to meet those needs, and how it is currently performing. It must also have people, processes, and tools in place to use that insight in order to design and deliver the right experiences and continuously improve them over time. Vendors that currently claim the CEM name (Adobe, Medallia, RightNow, Tealeaf, and others) help clients with various aspects of the management process like experience insight and delivery. But they can’t replace the overall discipline and activities required for a company to get customer experience right.
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New Report: "What Are The Right Web Customer Experience Success Metrics?"

Megan Burns

For the past five years, I’ve been leading Forrester’s research on measuring customer experience. With the recent explosion of interest in customer experience overall and the perennial popularity of metrics as a topic within that space, we’ve decided to expand the team that covers it.

I’ll continue to write reports about general measurement best practices and how to apply them in an enterprise-level experience measurement program. My colleague Adele Sage is adding to that body of work by exploring how the latest experience measurement theory applies in digital channels like Web, mobile, tablets, and whatever new channel they dream up next. And in fact, she just published her first two reports in this research stream:

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How US Cellular Socializes Its Customer Experience Ecosystem

Kerry Bodine

To get a grip on your customer experience ecosystem, you need to map it, co-create it, and socialize it.

In a previous post, I talked about how Fidelity Investments co-creates its customer experience ecosystem. Through co-creation exercises and workshops, you can engage a fairly large number of internal employees, external partners, and customers in the design of your company’s customer experience. But for most large companies, this group will still only represent a small fraction of the people in your entire ecosystem.

That’s why you also need to socialize the ecosystem. You need to help every single employee and every single partner — especially those in behind-the-scenes roles — understand how their actions and decisions affect the customer experience.

US Cellular spends a lot of time doing just that. US Cellular certainly isn’t the biggest wireless service provider in the US, but it consistently receives industry recognition for providing a great customer experience.

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Join Us For A Workshop In Our Brand New Headquarters: Transforming Your Firm's Customer Experience on September 20, 2011

Megan Burns

Earlier this year, I ran a workshop designed to help customer experience professionals get a jumpstart on the process of transforming their organizations to be more customer-centric. We got great feedback from that session, so we've decided to run it again on September 20 at Forrester's brand new headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As before, this will be a one-day workshop that starts with an overview of the state of the practice in customer experience today and then takes attendees through our latest research on how to:

  • Choose the right customer experience strategy for your company.
  • Build a world-class voice of the customer program.
  • Generate active executive participation in customer experience programs.
  • Transform your company culture to be more customer-centric.

I’ll share what’s working inside real companies and lead a series of exercises designed to help attendees benchmark their own firms against best practices. At the end of the day, we'll put it all together into a set of customized, actionable steps designed to jump-start your customer experience program.

This session will be an educational, interactive, and entertaining way to figure out how to start turning your organization into a customer experience powerhouse. For more information and a detailed agenda, please visit the event page for this workshop. I hope to see you in Cambridge!