Why Seth Godin's Service Design Tips Miss The Mark

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.

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The Root Of Most Customer Experience Problems

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. 

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Harvard Business Review Feature On Creating A Customer-Centered Organization

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.”

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Seize Your Opportunity For Big-Time Brand Differentiation Through The Call Center Customer Experience

Back in March, I blogged about how bad call center experiences spoil millions of daily opportunities to drive business value. But the business value of improving these interactions varies, of course, by industry and by individual company — and my most recent report, "Call Center Experiences Leave Consumers On Hold For Something Better," sheds some light on this.

For example, satisfaction rates for the five banks in our study spanned nearly 40 percentage points. An independent credit union took top honors with an impressive satisfaction score of 90%, while Bank of America came in at just 53%. Ouch. The credit card industry fared similarly: Discover Bank took the top spot with 81% consumer satisfaction, while Citi and Capital One tied for last place with twin scores of 58%. Meanwhile, phone interactions with the four Internet service providers (ISPs) in our study — AT&T, Comcast, Road Runner (Time Warner Cable), and Verizon — were universally loathed. The average satisfaction score for the ISPs was the lowest of any industry, and scores for the individual brands saw only an eight percentage-point spread.

Low call center satisfaction is admittedly bad news for brands, agents, and callers alike. But it also means that firms have a near-term opportunity for big-time brand differentiation through the call center customer experience.

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How To Create Real Value Through Branded Mobile Experiences

We use mobile devices throughout the day to communicate with each other, get timely information, and entertain ourselves. And, because they’re almost always within a few feet of us, these devices offer myriad opportunities for brands to insert themselves into our lives in meaningful ways. But brands have been slow to realize this opportunity.

Whenever I browse the Apple app store, I’m always shocked by the small number of apps that have been commissioned by big brands — and this holds true for the Android and BlackBerry app stores, too. The app landscape is absolutely dominated by new startups — and big brands are getting left in their dust.

Take, for example, Apple’s list of top free iPhone apps from 2010. Big brands were noticeably missing from the following categories, where only one of the top 10 apps was from a big brand:

  • Education (kudos to NASA, which was the only big brand)
  • Entertainment (kudos to Fandango)
  • Healthcare and fitness (kudos to WebMD)
  • Medical (kudos to WebMD)
  • Photography (kudos to Adobe)
  • Utilities (kudos to AT&T)
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How To Close The Loop Without Being Creepy

As Andrew McInnes pointed out in his report "Ten Major Voice Of The Customer Trends," more companies are closing the loop with their customers. During Forrester's 2009 Voice Of The Customer Awards, entrants with closed-loop processes were the exception. In 2010, they were the rule, with many top finalists integrating closed-loop processes into their sales and marketing efforts. For this year’s awards (by the way, nominations are now open), we expect to see a new crop of innovative closed-loop applications.

But just like any well-intentioned action, closing the loop isn’t always the right thing to do.

A few months ago, a friend of mine got married. I was really excited to see that her gift registry site included severable charitable donation options, and I quickly decided on a $100 donation to the Massachusetts SPCA. On the gift registry site, I needed to enter a “quantity” of $1 donations to get to my desired total donation which is a bit weird in and of itself but the real problem I had was that the quantity field would only accept two digits! So instead of making a nice round $100 donation, I ended up donating $99.

Because I didn’t want to look like a complete weirdo to my friend and her new hubby, I added this explanation to the gift message I sent them through the donation site: “Hmmm. The field where I could enter the quantity of our donation would only allow for two digits, so that's why you're getting a wacky $99 donation.  :)  I just can't take a break from usability . . . ”

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Wake Up Call: Call Centers Hold Enormous Potential For Brands

Call centers sit on the frontline of customer experience where they provide sales, support, and customer service functions. They’re often customers’ first — and sometimes their only — human interaction with a company.

Even with conservative estimates, it’s easy to make the case that large call centers have customer influence on par with, if not greater than, that of mass advertising campaigns. (Assuming a call center with 3,000 agents and an average of only 50 calls per agent per day, a company has the opportunity to make 1.05 million personal connections each week — and 54.6 million each year.) 

Call center interactions have the potential to build a company’s brand image, delight people so much that they recommend the brand to friends, and even generate incremental sales. 

But bad call center experiences spoil millions of daily opportunities to drive business value. 

Despite their reach and potential impact on the business, call centers go largely ignored. Instead, companies are making deeper investments in the Web and other sexy of-the-moment digital service interactions, like mobile and Social Computing. Consumers have noticed — they tell us that phone conversations with live agents just don’t stack up to online or in-store experiences. What's worse, Forrester has been tracking US consumer satisfaction with phone conversations across multiple industries since 2007 and 2008, and all but one industry saw their satisfaction rates sink during this time period. Only investment firms bucked the downward trend, and even there, the story isn’t a whole lot better: Satisfaction scores have been effectively flat since 2007.

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For The Love Of God, Will Everyone Please Stop Copying Apple?

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.

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Forrester’s 2011 Customer Experience Predictions

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.
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Service Design Creates Breakthrough Customer Experiences

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 team explored 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:

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