I scanned the list of industry high scores and wasn’t surprised to see names like USAA (banks, credit card providers, insurance providers), Apple (consumer electronics manufacturers), and Southwest Airlines. But there were names we don’t hear about as much in customer experience like Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (investment firms), Bright House Networks (ISPs), US Cellular (Wireless service providers), and Dish Network/EchoStar (TV service providers)*.
To me this says that brands trying to differentiate on the basis of customer experience need to look in a variety of places for possible competitive threats and standard-setters, not just the most obvious ones. History is full of examples of small firms that could transform more quickly than their larger competitors or introduce a disruptive innovation that no one saw coming. I expect both those scenarios to play out in customer experience over the next few years. The question is just where and when.
As part of our research in 2012 you can be sure we’re going to look into what these lesser talked about brands are doing to raise the bar in their industries, but in the meantime here are two of my favorite examples of CX innovations that came from places I would have never thought to look:
If you’re reading this post, there’s probably at least one person in your company (you) who’s already working to improve your customer experience in some way. That means your company’s CX efforts fall somewhere on the curve below.
Improve: This is where most companies start their customer experience initiatives. Typically, a small group implements a voice of the customer program, prioritizes customer feedback, and routes it to different parts of the organization so that they can make changes. Some employees might adopt new customer-focused work practices, but these efforts remain ad-hoc or siloed. The net result is incremental customer experience improvements.
Transform: At a certain point, some companies decide that they want to leverage customer experience in order to create a jump in customer loyalty, accelerate growth, and differentiate themselves from competitors. When that happens, incremental customer experience improvements are no longer sufficient. The company begins to change just about every part of the business — including processes, policies, technologies, and incentives — to focus on the needs of customers.
Sustain: For companies that decide to take the path towards transformation, this is the end goal. Once a company puts customers at the center of all business operations, employees need to figure out how to sustain the new ways of working so that they can continue to deliver a great customer experience indefinitely.
Since publishing our Customer Experience Index, 2012 last week, we've gotten a flood of questions about the research, methodology, and results. I'm putting the finishing touches on a full Forrester report that answers the ten most common questions but thought I'd give everyone a sneak preview with a blog post summarizing a few of the answers.
1. Who are the people rating the brands in Forrester's Customer Experience Index?
To produce the CXi each year, Forrester conducts an online survey of US individuals ages 18 to 88. This year, there were 7,638 such folks who answered the survey during October 2011. We weighted the data by age, gender, income, broadband adoption, and region to demographically represent the adult US online population. The sample was drawn from members of MarketTools' online panel, and respondents were motivated by receiving points that can be redeemed for a reward.
2. Which touchpoints are consumers rating when they answer the CXi questions?
The short answer to this question is "any touchpoints they used to interact with the brand." We don't direct consumers to think about any specific touchpoints as they rate their interactions. Instead, we want them to consider all of their interactions with that brand over the past 90 days, regardless of how they happened.
Today we published Forrester’s 2012 Customer Experience Index (CXi). It’s our fifth annual benchmark of customer experience quality as judged by the only people whose opinion matters — customers. The CXi is based on research conducted at the end of 2011 and reflects how consumers perceived their experiences with 160 brands across 13 industries to be.
For those new to the index, let me explain how it works. The process has three steps:
We ask more than 7,600 consumers to identify companies they do business with in 13 different industries.
We ask them to tell us how well each firm met their needs, how easy the firm was to work with, and how enjoyable it was to work with. We ask these questions at the brand level to get a sense of their overall experience with the company regardless of channel.
For all three questions, we calculate each firm’s CXi score by subtracting the percentage of its customers who reported a bad experience from the percentage who reported a good experience. The overall CXi is an average of those three results.
2011 was a pivotal year for the field of customer experience. A major increase in the number and types of consumer technologies had a wide-ranging impact on daily life: People controlled their TVs with tablets, asked their phones questions, and played video games without using physical controllers. The extensive reach of these changes — and the screaming pace at which they happened — triggered a corporate awakening to the value of great customer interactions.
Brisk consumer technology adoption may have been the ultimate driver of many customer experience initiatives in 2011. But an increasingly competitive industry landscape, the ever-increasing power of consumers, and a slippery economy will be the major drivers of customer experience efforts in 2012.
In our latest report, Ron Rogowski and I outline what these market drivers mean for customer experience professionals in the year ahead — and what they’ll need to do to keep up. The report includes predictions for how organizations will change the way they work, what types of interactions they’ll focus on, and the resulting implications for customer experience vendors. For example:
C-level execs will officially name customer experience as a top strategic priority. Toward the end of 2011, we started hearing of more companies in which the CEO or board of directors decreed customer experience to be a top strategic priority. For example, the chief information officers at several large telecom companies recently told us that, for the first time ever, customer experience was one of their top concerns. We expect this trend to accelerate in 2012, much to the delight of customer experience professionals who have been clamoring for executive support for years.
Your company’s goals and objectives for customer experience in 2012.
How your organization manages customer experience on a daily basis.
The customer experience categories you plan to funnel budget into for 2012.
Once the survey closes in mid-December, we’ll analyze the data and write a summary report titled “The State Of Customer Experience, 2012.” We’ll send you a copy of that report when it publishes in January — even if you’re not a Forrester client.
Thanks in advance for helping with our research. This data will fuel not only this report but also much of our other research throughout the coming year.
(By the way, this survey is for customer experience professionals who are working to improve customer interactions with their own companies. Agency employees, technology vendors, and consultants should take a pass on this one. There will be surveys for you later in the year.)
It’s that time of the year again . . . Most of you are well into your 2012 planning, and at Forrester, we’ve also got our eyes on the year ahead.
But first, we’re taking a look back. Ron Rogowski and I recently revisited our 2011 customer experience predictions report and chatted about what’s happened over the past 10 months.
In some cases, our predictions were accurate (if we do say so ourselves). For example, we said that tech vendors would engage in an “all-out war to own the customer experience management space” and that it would create a “confusing marketplace that will not shake out in 2011.” We also said that “customer service will gain popularity as a key opportunity for engagement.” Given our ongoing research and client conversations, we think these predictions were spot on.
And on a few points, we missed the mark. When we wrote our last doc, people had just started hacking the Kinect for Xbox 360 to create fun demos like real-time light sabers and digital shadow puppets. We wrote, “In 2011, we'll see companies start to leverage this technology, too, with healthcare (think guided physical therapy exercises) and marketing (a la interactive product demos) diving in first.” Well, we haven’t exactly seen a tsunami of activity in this area. But were we way off? Or did we just jump the gun? Only time will tell!
In either case, the fun continues.
Ron and I are collaborating again on our 2012 CX predictions report — and we want to know what you think. So here’s your chance for fame and fortune — or at least the opportunity to be mentioned in a Forrester report! If your ideas or comments contribute to our final analysis, we’ll add you as a contributor to the research.
Many customer experience initiatives don't meet their full potential — or worse, fail completely — because companies don’t have a complete picture of the dynamics that go into creating it. In order to break from their tunnel vision, companies need to understand their customer experience ecosystem: the complex set of relationships among a company’s employees, partners, and customers that determines the quality of all customer interactions.
In their quest to seek out the root causes of customer experience issues, companies often overlook the impact of sourcing and vendor management (SVM) professionals — often referred to as “procurement” by the rest of the organization. That’s too bad, because these decision-makers influence the customer experience in two key ways.
They influence which technologies and tools will be purchased. Some of these technologies are used internally. One example is: customer relationship management software, which enables employees across the organization to better understand customers and their ongoing relationships with the company. Other tools — like content management systems — directly affect the information that customers can access through digital touchpoints like the Web and mobile devices.
They shape the nature of service-based partner relationships. Some partners — like interactive agencies — help from behind the scenes to design and develop customer interactions. In contrast, partners like outsourced call centers and service technicians have direct contact with customers every single day.
For decades, companies have been promising to delight customers, while simultaneously disappointing them in nearly every channel. That tactic won’t cut it anymore. Why not? We’ve entered a new era that Forrester calls the age of the customer — a time when focus on the customer matters more than any other strategic imperative. In the age of the customer, companies find that:
Commoditization has stripped away existing sources of differentiation. Competitive barriers of the past like manufacturing strength, distribution power, and information mastery can’t save you today — one by one, each of these corporate investments has been commoditized.
Traditional industry boundaries have dissolved. Companies in every industry find themselves competing with new types of competitors — automakers with services like Zipcar, newspapers with Google News, travel agents with Expedia, and the entire retail industry with eBay.
Customers have more power than ever. With online reviews, social networks, and mobile web access, it’s easy for your customers to know more about your products, services, competitors, and pricing than you — and to share their opinions of your company with their friends.
Those of us who work in the field of customer experience are especially hard hit by the passing of Steve Jobs. He symbolized the power of experience — how much a great experience can transform a product, a business, an industry, and even our daily lives.
Do you remember personal computers before the mouse, how you bought and listened to music before iTunes and the iPod, or how many animated films you watched in theaters — with or without the kids — before Pixar?
Steve Jobs even changed the way many of us think. If you own an iPhone or an iPad, you’ve probably found, as I have, that you don’t bother to memorize very much anymore. Why should you when you can dig up facts anytime, anywhere with just a few taps on a touchscreen?
Now please don’t get me wrong: I don’t idealize the man. For one thing, many people contributed to the success of everything I just mentioned. And not all Apple experiences are perfect, and Jobs didn’t succeed at everything he did (remember the NeXT Computer?).
But to go cynical is to miss the point, or more specifically, the point of view — the one that makes Jobs an icon for customer experience professionals. He put it out there when he famously said, “You've got to start with the customer experience and work back to the technology — not the other way around.”
Frankly, “the other way around” is how most companies still operate. Not just technology companies but firms in every industry. Someone has an idea (maybe great, maybe not), and that turns into a product or service in the marketplace. The customer experience that results is whatever it turns out to be.