Companies are waking up to the business value of customer experience. Many have made customer experience a strategic priority and have dedicated teams to oversee customer experience efforts. Yet consumers report that their customer experiences with roughly two-thirds of US brands range from just OK to downright bad. Lackluster interactions plague every industry and every channel.
The root cause of this dilemma? Tunnel vision.
Many organizations place too much emphasis on top-of-mind channels such as the Web and social media, ignoring hundreds of touchpoints that influence customers' perceptions of the brand — such as call-center conversations, retail displays, product packaging, shipping invoices, and physical receipts. In addition, companies place too much of the responsibility for customer service on frontline employees — but in reality, behind-the-scenes employees from departments as diverse as finance, legal, and marketing can play an equal or even greater role in determining the nature of customer interactions.
Take Sprint's marketing department as an example. Because this behind-the-scenes team did not promote the benefits of Sprint's network in its ads — and competitors' marketing departments did — customers perceived the Sprint network to be lagging, regardless of the actual network performance they experienced.
Forrester recently asked US consumers to rate their satisfaction with call center agents from companies across 11 industries. As a part of that survey, we also asked consumers about their loyalty to those same companies. Then we analyzed the correlation between the quality of call center customer experiences and customer loyalty.
What we found was pretty compelling.
As customer satisfaction with the call center goes up, the willingness of a consumer to make another purchase and to recommend that brand to others increases. In addition, likelihood to switch to another provider goes down.
These correlations were particularly high for PC manufacturers, parcel shippers, Internet service providers, TV service providers, and credit card issuers.
We also asked consumers about the usefulness, ease of use, and enjoyability of their interactions with these same companies. We used that data to analyze the correlation between the quality of call center conversations and consumers’ overall perception of the customer experience delivered by the brand.
Across every industry we looked at, call center satisfaction highly correlates with consumers’ perceptions of how well the company met their needs and how easy and enjoyable it was to work with the company.
Customer experience professionals, call center execs, and marketers need to start discussing these connections and developing a plan to improve the call center customer experience. Your brand and your customers’ loyalty might just depend on it.
Back in the summer of 2007, I wrote a report called “Taking In-Person Self-Service From Blah To Brilliant.” Here’s an excerpt: “Speaking of steel-enclosed stale fruitcakes, there's been a dearth of evolution — let alone revolution — in kiosk fixture design. Forrester has attended semi-annual kiosk industry conferences since 2005, and the only thing staler than the kiosks’ designs have been the bagels.”
In addition to boring kiosk enclosures, my research from the time found kiosk software riddled with usability problems — like missing content, confusing language, bad grammar, inappropriate pacing, and weak and annoying feedback — in industries as varied as retail, financial services, and transportation.
Unfortunately, not a lot has changed since then. Until last week.
With the launch of the Apple Store 2.0, Apple ushered in a new era of in-store self-service. In my post about the news, I suggested that this might mark Apple’s entry into an in-store customer experience platform: “For years, Apple employees have had the seemingly magical ability to check customers out from anywhere in the store. Now, with the addition of relatively cheap interactive signage and employee paging, Apple is positioned to sell a more complete in-store customer experience solution to companies ranging from independent boutique owners to multinational banks.”
My research director Harley Manning has a lot of quips that we affectionately call Harleyisms. One of them goes like this: All ads promise one of three things — you’re gonna get rich, you’re gonna live forever, or you’re gonna get (um, I’ll be polite here) some nookie.
While this might have been somewhat true during the golden age of advertising, I’ve noticed a new ad trend over the past several years: More marketers are advertising the customer experiences that their companies deliver. Here are a few examples:
Apple’s iPhone and iPad ads put viewers in the perspective of holding the devices in their own hands, all while demonstrating how easy they are to use and the real-world value they provide (like finding the best price on a book or getting step-by-step cooking instructions).
JetBlue promoted its customer experience in a series of hilariousads that poke fun at the draconian policies employed by its competitors.
Virgin America’s San Francisco subway ads say, “LAND WITH AN EMPTY INBOX. SFO -> DALLAS FORT WORTH WITH WIFI.”
San Francisco bus ads for Saint Francis and Saint Mary’s hospitals promise: “ER WAIT TIME: UNDER 30 MINUTES.”
This week, Apple upgraded its in-store experience. In case you missed all of the hype, iPads placed next to every Apple product now provide interactive product, service, and support information — and the devices also give shoppers the ability to beckon a store employee to their side at any moment. In addition, the updated Apple Store app provides shoppers visibility into the number of people in line ahead of them and the wait time to talk to someone at the Genius Bar.
Customer experience leaders outside of the retail space might be tempted to file this away in their cool-but-not-quite- relevant-to-me drawers. But I see three compelling reasons why executives should take notice, regardless of what industry they’re in.
Reason No. 1: Apple continues to raise the bar on your customers’ expectations.
Brands no longer compete solely against the companies in their immediate industry. Why? Because customer experience leaders like Apple (and Zappos.com, Disney, and a handful of others) delight their customers on a daily basis. These great customer experiences, in turn, continually reset people’s expectations for the types of interactions they believe they should be able to have with the banks, insurance companies, TV service providers, and airlines they do business with. The Apple Store 2.0 has yet again upped your customers’ expectations for the type of in-person customer experiences they now expect from your brand.
Reason No. 2: Even with a heavy technology focus, human help seems even more accessible.
In Seth Godin’s recent post, "Who’s responsible for service design?" he points out several service issues with questions like, “How many people should be answering the phone at Zappos.com on a Saturday? What’s Southwest Airlines' policy regarding hotel stays and cancelled flights? Should the knobs on the shower at the hotel go side by side or one above the other?” He then goes on to say, “Too often, we blame bad service on the people who actually deliver the service. Sometimes (often) it’s not their fault.”
I’m totally with him up to that point.
But then he goes on to blame two sets of people for service delivery issues: overpaid executives and service designers. Yes, executives set the direction for customer experience. And yes, there is a growing cadre of service designers in service design firms and in-house design teams. But I’d argue that these professionals are responsible for just a tiny fraction of the service experiences that exist today. Unfortunately, most companies just aren’t aware of the field of service design or the value it brings, so they haven't hired service designers to assist with customer experience efforts.
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:
We heard these specific things from customers through our VoC program.
As a result of what we heard, we made these specific changes.
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.
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.”
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.