Want To Win A Voice Of The Customer Award? Prove Business Impact

Harley Manning

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been part of a group that picked the winners of Forrester’s Voice Of The Customer Awards for 2011. I can’t yet tell you the names of the three winners — those companies will be announced on June 21 at our Customer Experience Forum in New York, along with the other seven entrants that made up our top 10. But I can share some insight into what separated the winners from the contenders.

At one end of the spectrum, the clarity with which entrants described their programs didn’t create much differentiation. With very few exceptions, descriptions ranged from very clear to extremely clear and “please stop with the detail already, my eyes are starting to bleed” clear.

At the other end of the spectrum, the business benefits that companies derived from their voice of the customer (VoC) programs provided diamond-hard clarity as to which companies were great and which were just good.  

To understand why that is, consider the question in the awards submission form that asks about business benefits. It was worded exactly like this:

“How has this activity improved your organization's business results? Please be as specific as possible about business benefits like increased revenue, decreased cost, increased customer satisfaction, or decreased customer complaints. Please specify how you measure those benefits.”

The judges were looking for a response along the lines of:

  1. We heard these specific things from customers through our VoC program.
  2. As a result of what we heard, we made these specific changes.
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The Root Of Most Customer Experience Problems

Kerry Bodine

I recently read a story about the butterflies in Zion National Park. Apparently, there aren’t as many of them as there used to be. And after decades of research, scientists have finally figured out why.

Zion National Park was developed in the early 1900s — and with that development came an influx of tourists. Scared off by human foot traffic, cougars retreated from certain areas of park. And with no natural predators, the deer population exploded. These cute (but ravenous) animals became unstoppable in their quest to devour everything in their path — including cottonwood tree saplings. And with fewer cottonwood trees reaching adolescence and maturity, the streambanks lost their primary source of erosion protection. Soil erosion made it difficult for wildflowers to bloom — and fewer wildflowers meant fewer butterflies.

Natural ecosystems, like the one in Zion National Park, comprise complex interdependent relationships that change over time.

A customer experience ecosystem is quite similar. It encompasses a complex set of relationships among a company’s employees, partners, and customers — and it’s these people’s decisions and actions that collectively determine the quality and characteristics of all customer interactions. 

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Beyond CRM: Managing Customer Experiences

Paul Hagen

Well-intentioned customer relationship management (CRM) efforts that focus on internal processes and objectives have largely failed to serve the most important stakeholder: the customer. Business process professionals characterize CRM as “the business processes for targeting, acquiring, retaining, understanding, and collaborating with customers.” Although CRM leaders and customer experience professionals share goals like extensive customer knowledge and increased service quality, the fundamental approaches of these two disciplines differ vastly. Typical CRM efforts take an inside-out approach that serves specific business needs but does little to improve or manage customer experience. This locks in mediocre customer experiences when CRM focuses on “moments that matter” for companies instead of customers, company perceptions of the relationship that misrepresent customer reality, and technology silver-bullet solutions that support department silos instead of fitting into an ecosystem that serves customers’ needs holistically.

Customer experience professionals need to bring an outside-in perspective to CRM efforts. To do this, they can borrow a typical CRM best practices framework that looks at strategy, process, technology, and people — but follow it from a customer-first perspective. Do this by:

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Harvard Business Review Feature On Creating A Customer-Centered Organization

Kerry Bodine

Harvard Business Review (HBR) is currently running a month-long feature on its blog called Creating a Customer-Centered Organization.  We’re thrilled that HBR is focusing on this topic, as it indicates that customer experience is finally rising to the attention of top business executives.

The HBR editors asked Forrester to contribute a couple of pieces to this feature based on our recent research, and we happily obliged.

My post, Focus on Your Customer’s Customer, looks at how B2B companies can be successful by taking a B2B2C approach. Here’s an excerpt: “Often, the best way for B2B companies to satisfy the multitude of business customers is to focus on the needs of their customers’ customers. That’s exactly what Portuguese airport operator ANA Aeroportos de Portugal did in its quest to attract more major airlines and connecting routes. To understand the work, first you need to understand an airport’s business model: Its real customer isn’t travelers, but the airlines that rent the gates and terminals, much like a mall owner leases space to retailers.”

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How The “Most Improved” Companies Raised Their Customer Experience Game Last Year

Harley Manning

Every year in January, Forrester publishes its Customer Experience Index (CxPi), which reports how customers rate their interactions with major companies. We learn a lot from studying leaders in various industries — like USAA, which was the top credit card provider, top bank, and top insurance provider this year.

Last week, we published a follow-up report, which examined companies that raised their CxPi scores by at least five points year over year. Among others, these brands included Aetna (up six points), Citi’s credit card business (up 12 points), Charter Communications (up 20 points as an ISP and up seven points as a TV service provider), and Office Depot (up nine points). Our goal was to discover what, if anything, these firms did to earn their improvements.  

And as it turned out, their big gains came as a result of major efforts.

Our research uncovered customer experience initiatives that fell into two buckets. The first bucket was business process re-engineering. Efforts here included creating or enhancing voice of the customer programs, measuring customer experience consistently across the enterprise, and changing incentive programs to reward customer-centric behavior by employees.  

But perhaps the biggest impact came from upgrading the customer experience governance process at the enterprise level. For example, Aetna transformed its decentralized part-time customer experience task force into a full-time enterprise customer experience team. Cox Communications made an even more drastic change, consolidating any function with material customer interactions into one group led by a new senior vice president of customer operations.

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Upcoming Workshop: Transforming Your Firm's Customer Experience (May 11th, New York City)

Megan Burns

Lately I’ve noticed a theme in my conversations with customer experience professionals — they’re feeling a bit overwhelmed as to where to start the enterprise customer experience transformation process. Some aren’t sure what to do first, second, and third. Others have a plan but are struggling to get executives to understand it and lend their support (a.k.a. resources).  

To help clients solve that problem, I'm leading a workshop called Transforming Your Firm’s Customer Experience on May 11th at Forrester's New York City office. It’s 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 New York!

Seize Your Opportunity For Big-Time Brand Differentiation Through The Call Center Customer Experience

Kerry Bodine

Back in March, I blogged about how bad call center experiences spoil millions of daily opportunities to drive business value. But the business value of improving these interactions varies, of course, by industry and by individual company — and my most recent report, "Call Center Experiences Leave Consumers On Hold For Something Better," sheds some light on this.

For example, satisfaction rates for the five banks in our study spanned nearly 40 percentage points. An independent credit union took top honors with an impressive satisfaction score of 90%, while Bank of America came in at just 53%. Ouch. The credit card industry fared similarly: Discover Bank took the top spot with 81% consumer satisfaction, while Citi and Capital One tied for last place with twin scores of 58%. Meanwhile, phone interactions with the four Internet service providers (ISPs) in our study — AT&T, Comcast, Road Runner (Time Warner Cable), and Verizon — were universally loathed. The average satisfaction score for the ISPs was the lowest of any industry, and scores for the individual brands saw only an eight percentage-point spread.

Low call center satisfaction is admittedly bad news for brands, agents, and callers alike. But it also means that firms have a near-term opportunity for big-time brand differentiation through the call center customer experience.

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Citizen Experience Can Help Agencies And Unions Address Budget Woes

Paul Hagen

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.

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How To Create Real Value Through Branded Mobile Experiences

Kerry Bodine

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)
  • Entertainment (kudos to Fandango)
  • Healthcare and fitness (kudos to WebMD)
  • Medical (kudos to WebMD)
  • Photography (kudos to Adobe)
  • Utilities (kudos to AT&T)
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How To Close The Loop Without Being Creepy

Kerry Bodine

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 . . . ”

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