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.
I’ve been talking a lot lately about customer experience ecosystems. And I’ve been getting tons of questions from people who would like to learn the tools and processes for mapping their own ecosystems.
Good news! Paul Hagen and I are hosting a Customer Experience Ecosystem Mapping workshop in San Francisco on Wednesday, November 16. During this full day of presentations, hands-on exercises, and discussions, you’ll learn how to use Forrester’s ecosystem framework to:
Detail a specific customer journey and key touchpoints. (If you’ve got them, bring your existing personas and customer journey maps.)
Identify the people, processes, policies, and technologies that influence those customer interactions — both the 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.
Identify the root causes of customer experience problems.
Prioritize fixes to these problems.
You’ll leave with a solid start on your own ecosystem map — and the know-how to complete it back at the office with your extended team.
Ecosystem mapping is a collaborative exercise, and we feel you’ll get the most out of this workshop if a colleague joins you — so we’re offering a 10% discount to companies who send two attendees.
I’m a Dropbox customer. I originally signed up for the basic plan — 2 GB for free — but ran out of space quickly and decided to upgrade to 50 GB of storage. So I forked over my $99 and got the following confirmation page:
A gold star! A hand-drawn cartoon! Now I know this page wasn’t designed specifically for yours truly, but when I saw it, I felt special. Like the people at Dropbox actually gave a damn that I had just given them $99 of my hard-earned money.
Compare that with the $700 I spent recently for several nights at a large hotel. My final bill was printed on a plain white sheet of paper and was so devoid of any brand messaging that I feared it would raise eyebrows with our finance department! Consider the $1,600 I just plunked down for a multi-leg transcontinental flight. The airline’s confirmation email didn’t waste any time trying to sell me on a rental car, hotel room, and credit card — but didn’t even wish me a pleasant trip. Or take my credit card company — which processes tens of thousands of dollars of business expenses for me each year. When I look at my bill, the things that pop out are how much I owe them, by when, and a late payment warning — key pieces of information, yes, but reading that bill leaves me feeling like I need a shower.
These small touchpoints — a receipt, a confirmation email, a bill — play a functional role in customer interactions. But they also represent prime opportunities for companies to reinforce their brands and (perhaps even more importantly) make customers feel good about where they spend their time and money.
In the US alone, Forrester is forecasting nearly 100 million smartphones by the end of 2011. And digital customer experience professionals are meeting the new mobile demand by creating or redesigning mobile experiences: 34 of the 48 customer experience professionals we surveyed at the end of last year said that they’re planning major mobile design projects in 2011.
In the rush to create great mobile experiences, most end up focused only on what occurs within the browser/app experience. But we know that consumers often call the call center when they can’t accomplish their goal on the Web. And that transition isn’t always seamless.
Let’s say we have a customer using a mobile banking app to look up the balance on his mortgage. Once he sees how much is left, he wonders what his options are to refinance at a better interest rate. He can get some basic refi rates in the app, but he wants to know whether, as a longtime customer, he can get a better rate. He goes to the "Contact Us" screen in the app and clicks on the phone number.
What happens next? He starts at the top of the IVR. He has to identify himself all over again and route to an appropriate agent. Talk about a frustrating experience for the customer and a waste of time for the agent to recapture what he was doing!
Remember: A smartphone is also a phone.
If the browser or app experiences are built for seamless transitions to phone agents, they should:
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.
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:
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.
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.)
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.