Yes, Apple is amazing. In no uncertain terms, the company has had a seismic impact on our society. Apple has changed everything from what we buy to how we work and awakened both corporate executives and the general public to the value of good design. Apple has raised our awareness of the value of simplicity (and the rejection of feature overload); the importance of paying attention to every little detail (down to the layout and typography on product manuals); and the seemingly unbelievable business domination that comes from examining not just isolated customer touchpoints but the entire customer experience ecosystem.
Not surprisingly, customer experience professionals at other companies want to follow Apple’s lead. And it’s only natural for one company to be influenced by another.
But in the case of Apple, I’ve been completely stunned over the years to see the degree of blatant copying that’s taken place. This has come, of course, from Apple’s direct competitors. Take, for example, the roughly 40 tablets that were announced at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show; the various Android-based phones, which look more like iPhone clones than not; and the app stores that have popped up to support every major mobile platform.
The explosion of smartphones and tablet computers has companies frantic to build useful apps for serving their customers. Forrester agrees that companies should be building ways for customers to interact with them at the time and place that’s most relevant to them.
Lately it’s become en vogue to talk about how to “surprise and delight” your customers. And why not? If companies are competing on experience, they need to find ways to impress and engage their customers. Figuring out how to do this is difficult but doable.
I recently had the pleasure of editing a report that Vidya Drego wrote that outlined three categories of customer research techniques: exploratory, evolutionary, and evaluative (read or download the report here). That process led me to think about my own research on Emotional Experience Design, which asserts that in order to engage their customers, companies have to craft interactions that address real goals, craft a cohesive personality, and deliver the right sensory experience. It’s this first principle of addressing real goals that I’ve looked into more deeply in a new report called, “Mastering Emotional Experience Design: Address Customers’ Real Goals.” Here are a few examples of companies that address real goals by extending value beyond the functional needs of a single interaction:
Customer experience transformation efforts don’t happen overnight. It can take years to develop the right customer experience strategy and roll out improvements across interaction points. But the screaming pace of technology innovation over the past year has sparked major changes in customer behavior and expectations. The net result? 2011 will be a pivotal year for the customer experience field.
In our latest report, Ron Rogowski and I outline what these changes mean for customer experience professionals in the year ahead — and what they’ll need to do to keep up. The report includes predictions for the customer experience ecosystem, its impact on organizations, and the resulting implications for customer experience vendors. For example:
The complexity of the customer experience ecosystem will mushroom. 2011 will bring major changes in the number of devices consumers have at their disposal as well as the types of interactions they’ll expect on those devices. Forrester expects the number of connected TV sales to double in 2011 — and consumers say they’ll be gobbling up eReaders and tablet computers at the roughly same pace that they’ll purchase new laptops. This will force customer experience professionals to expand — and differentiate — their reach. Despite the growing popularity of mobile and tablet devices, the Web (no, it’s not dead) will continue to be a vital part of the customer experience ecosystem in 2011.
How should you measure customer experience? Is it even possible to measure something that feels as squishy as customer experience?
As it turns out, you can measure it, you should measure it, and you even have some decent options for measuring it. Your alternatives range from monitoring the real-world interactions your customers have with your firm (like clicks on a site or the length of a call) to asking your customers for their perceptions of those interactions (the real customer experience) to tracking what your customers do as a result of the experience (like making another purchase or recommending you).
At Forrester, we have our own direct measure of customer experience that we’ve been using since 2007: the Customer Experience Index (CxPi). Today we published the results for 2011, which are based on research conducted at the end of 2010.
To help understand those results, let me explain how the CxPi works. We ask more than 7,000 consumers to identify companies they do business with in 13 different industries. We then ask respondents 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 (questions that correspond to the three levels of the classic customer experience pyramid). Then for all three questions, we calculate each firm’s CxPi score by subtracting the percentage of its customers who reported a bad experience from the percentage who reported a good experience. The overall CxPi is an average of those three results.
Back in October, I traveled to Berlin and Cambridge, Mass., to attend the annual conferences of the Service Design Network, an international organization for professionals and academics working in the field of service design.
Um . . . What’s service design?
Great question! Service designers broadly define what they do as a collaborative process of researching, envisioning, and then orchestrating experiences that happen over time and across multiple touchpoints. Unlike traditional design disciplines, service designers typically examine — and often re-engineer — the strategy behind a service as well as the operational systems, processes, and resources that deliver it.
Um . . . Can you give me an example?
Sure! There are lots of examples in my latest report. But one story in particular stands out because it includes some very cool design solutions for a very unsexy industry: utilities. When the UK recently mandated that water billing switch from estimated to actual use, English utility company Southern Water faced a massive meter installation project. The company turned to service design agencies for help – and through several interrelated projects that spanned roughly 18 months, the Southern Water teamexplored how meter installation could be a positive experience and how consumer behavior toward saving water could be influenced.
In the end, they streamlined the rollout of 500,000 new water meters. (That’s about 400 new meters a day over a period of five years!) Here are some of the project highlights:
Two Finnish service designers recently unveiled a prototype for a social media toy that’s constructed out of a classic Brio shape-sorting box outfitted with magnets and LEDs. Called the IOBR (the first few letters of its Iobridge tech backbone and an anagram of Brio), a small child can use the toy to let her friends know what she’s up to. Yup, it’s a toddler-sized status update.
From the designers’ Web site: “The actual status update is done by placing the appropriate block in its designated place on the box. For example, an ‘eating’ update is sent by placing the square block with the ‘plate, spoon, fork’ icon in the square-shaped hole on top of the box. This results in the illumination of the corresponding status light on the friend’s device.”
The system has received press from major media outlets dubbing it “Twitter for toddlers.” CNN reported: “No word yet on . . . whether or not you're going to want your kid to learn about these status updates, so to speak, at such a young age.” But focusing just on the IOBR’s status update feature is really missing the point of this project.
I stopped by my local Whole Foods the day before Thanksgiving to pick up some appetizers. And as I deliberated at the cheese counter, I couldn’t help but overhear what one cheese monger said loudly to the other: “This lady came up to me complaining about the store. This store’s too small, you don’t carry the things I need. I told her she’d have to talk to customer service. I mean really, I just work here.”
I just work here??! Did I honestly hear someone say that? In Whole Foods? Not only did this guy undermine the Whole Foods brand with his interaction with the original customer, but he made a bad personal decision to relay his story in front of other customers!
As Steve Portigal mentioned in a comment on one of my previous posts, employee authenticity is key to great customer experiences. (To see just how bad an inauthentic customer experience can be, check out my last post, "Worst Online Chat Ever!") But employee authenticity is really only effective if it aligns with a company’s brand attributes. Being an authentic jerk isn’t going to cut it in customer experience land!
A lot of employee behavior comes down to corporate culture — and in his "How To Build A Customer-Centric Culture" report, Paul Hagen mentions two things in particular that I think directly influence employee authenticity. Companies need to:
In October, Ron Rogowski provided a couple of excerpts from one of our colleague's online chat with her cable and Internet provider. But this chat session was so bad that I couldn't resist the urge to share it in its entirity. (Read to the end for a fantastic Yoda moment.) By the way, I made no edits to the transcript other than to change the names and obscure identifying information.
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User Elizabeth has entered room.
Elizabeth (Sat Oct 2 11:36:45 EDT 2010) > I don't know my [company] ID or my password, so I can't log in to my account. I tried to set up a new account, but the site says my account already has an online account. Can you please reset my information (so I can create a new account) or help me log in?
Analyst Carol has entered room.
Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:36:50 EDT 2010)> Hello Elizabeth, Thank you for contacting [company] Chat Support. My name is Carol. Please give me one moment to review your information.
Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:37:05 EDT 2010)> My pleasure to have you on this chat, Elizabeth! Remaining committed and focused on my goal which is to provide quality customer service at my fullest effort will always be at the pinnacle. It is with utmost sincerity that I want to extend apologies for any trouble, inconvenience and frustration the log in issue has brought along your way. I simply hope you are doing fine.
Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:37:26 EDT 2010)> No worries. As your [company] service representative, I want you to know that issue resolution and your satisfaction are my top priorities for today. Together, we can work this out, Elizabeth.