Forrester’s 2012 Customer Experience Predictions

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.
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Help Forrester Make Its 2012 Customer Experience Predictions!

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.

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Sourcing & Vendor Management: A Key Driver In The Customer Experience Ecosystem

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.

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Why Customer Experience? Why Now?

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.
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Customer Experience Ecosystem Mapping: The Workshop!

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.

For more details, please check out the Customer Experience Ecosystem Mapping workshop page on our website.

We hope to see you in San Francisco!

Corporate Customer Experiences Need Startup Mojo

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.

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Connecting Frontline Staff To Customer Experience: Two Conundrums

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:

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Give 10 Minutes, Get Free Customer Experience Data!

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.)

Executive Q&A: Customer Experience Ecosystem Mapping

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.
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Want To Transform Your Customer Experience? Learn More About Service Design

In my keynote at Forrester’s recent Customer Experience Forum, I introduced the audience to the emerging field of service design. Here’s a short video clip in case you missed it:

Because of their breadth and their focus on creating value for customers — as opposed to, say, developing marketing communication programs — service design agencies are key partners for companies looking to improve or overhaul their customer experience. If you’re not familiar with service design or haven’t yet worked with a service design agency, you should:

  • Read the Touchpoint journal. Touchpoint is the publication of the Service Design Network (SDN), a professional association for service designers and customer experience professionals.  You can order hard copies on the SDN website or get Kindle editions from Amazon. (Disclosure: I’m on the Touchpoint advisory board, contribute a regular column, and act as an occasional editor.)
  • Attend the 2011 service design conference on October 20th 21st in San Francisco. This year’s global service design conference will look at service design’s impact on business. (I hope to see you there!) Companies in Europe can also attend several regional conferences that take place each year.
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