Customer Experience Is Emotional By Definition

Harley Manning recently wrote a post that explained Forrester’s definition of customer experience as:

“How customers perceive their interactions with your company.”

The key word I want to focus on here is “perceive.” While business success is viewed by metrics like conversions or average order size, for customers, their level of satisfaction is tied to the sum total of all interactions they have with a company from the first time they click on a link from an online ad all the way to opening and experiencing a product. That satisfaction is based on some rational justifications such as price, but it’s also largely based on the overall feeling customers have about those interactions. It’s that emotional component that can be the X factor in how consumers report whether or not they are satisfied with a brand — and more importantly determine whether they’ll do business with you again.

Think about it, emotions drive needs, wants, and desires and are the triggers that are the basis for most interactions consumers have with a company. Think about something as seemingly mundane as cleaning products. Why do people care about cleaning products? Because maybe they want to have a clean house that smells nice because they’re going to entertain soon and, secretly, they want to leave their guests not with an image of their home, but of how they keep their home. Or, maybe there’s a concern over the ingredients that are in the cleaning supplies that people use because they have young children and want to keep them safe from harmful chemicals. The bottom line is that people bring all sorts of baggage to every experience and that baggage is emotional — even the things that cannot be explicitly stated.

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Top 10 Web Design Fixes For Improving Business Results Workshop (December 7th, San Francisco, CA)

Even the best Web sites have usability flaws that stop customers from buying products or services, finding information, and getting help. Yet many of these problems are easy to find and not much harder to fix — if you know what to look for. And the benefits of fixing these common usability problems can be huge.

If you are looking for a fast, objective way to spot the common — but serious — design problems that hurt online business performance, please join me in San Francisco on Tuesday, December 7th, for Forrester’s Top 10 Web Design Fixes For Improving Business Results Workshop.

This one-day intensive session helps participants uncover 10 Web design problems that afflict more than half of the 1,200+ sites tested by Forrester, are easy to spot, and produce ROI when fixed. During this Workshop, participants will learn and apply the same objective techniques Forrester analysts use to find well-known usability problems for research and for clients. These methods apply to any type of site, including B2C or B2B Web sites, extranets, and intranets.

This promises to be an educational, interactive, and entertaining way to learn the tools that will help you find and fix problems that frustrate your customers and limit your business performance. For more information, and a detailed agenda, please visit the event page.

Brand-Building Web Site Best Practices From 2010

During 2010, my colleagues on the Customer Experience team at Forrester and I evaluated the Brand Experience at the Web sites of 14 companies across three industries (and wrote individual reports for each industry). Specifically, we reviewed five auto manufacturers (Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota), four hotels (Crowne Plaza, Hilton, Marriott, and Sheraton), and five skin care brands (Dove, L’Oreal Paris, Neutrogena, Nivea, and Olay). We’ve summarized our findings in my latest report, “The Best Of Web Site Brand Experiences 2010.”

Using our Web Site Brand Experience Review methodology, we set out to test 1) how well the sites supported their key brand attributes in a manner consistent with other channels (Brand Image), and 2) how well the site supported user goals (Brand Action). While none of the 14 sites Forrester reviewed with our Web Site Brand Experience Review methodology passed both dimensions of our tests (Brand Image and Brand Action), there were some good practices that companies across industries can learn from.

Results of Web Site Brand Reivews of 14 Sites Across Three Industries

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Now More Than Ever, Firms Need Frameworks For Managing Global Online Standards

I’ve recently had several conversations with companies that are looking to improve how they standardize online experiences around the globe. It’s something I’ve been helping firms with for some time. It’s always been a complex issue, but now it’s getting even more challenging because we’re moving to a new era of online experience.

As outlined in the Forrester report, “The Future Of Online Customer Experience,” consumers will increasingly demand experiences that are customized for their context, aggregated from multiple sources, relevant at the point of consumption, and social by rule, not exception. As touchpoints proliferate across a range of devices, it will become increasingly difficult to manage the online experience in a single country, let alone in dozens of them. Add to that the increasing need for more specialized (and, by extension, localized) experiences, and it’s easy to see how a cookie-cutter online experience will be difficult to duplicate from one country to the next with maximum relevance.

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Great Customer Experiences Balance Empathy With Problem Solving

I recently wrote a post describing an experience I had with an Empowered customer service rep at American Express. To sum it up, my 2-year-old was getting credit card applications in the mail so I called to get it stopped. The agent was surprised that this could have happened and moved quickly to get my daughter’s name off the marketing list. She was genuine and helpful. It was a great experience.

Since then, I’ve had a couple of not-so-positive experiences with other companies that have amplified the impact of the experience I had with American Express. I’ve also witnessed another that a colleague of mine had that made the American Express experience even more genuine.

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Brand Experience Workshop: Learn The Tools Of Web Site Brand Experience Reviews (October 27th, Hilton Chicago)

Ever wonder why Web sites offer such lackluster brand experiences? Want to know how your site can help you differentiate your brand online?

If you care about how your brand succeeds online and are attending Forrester’s Consumer Forum 2010, I encourage you to consider attending our Web Site Brand Review workshop on Wednesday, October 27th (the day before the forum) at the Hilton Chicago.

During this one-day session, I will be presenting insights into the dos and don’ts of creating Web sites that effectively build brands. Attendees will learn the same methodology Forrester uses to evaluate how well sites build brands as published in reports such as “Best And Worst Of Brand Building Web Sites, 2008,” “Best And Worst Of Financial Services Brand Building Web Sites, 2009,” and "Web Site Brand Experience 2010: Hotels." 

This promises to be an educational, interactive, and entertaining way to learn the tools that will help you create the online experience your brand deserves. And, if you are attending the forum, we are offering a special discounted rate. For more information, and a detailed agenda, please visit the event page.

(By Any Other Name) RIAs Will Power Future Online Experiences

For a long time, people have debated the meaning of every part of the acronym RIA (rich Internet application). What is rich? What do you mean by "Internet"? What's an application as opposed to a site that renders content? (The last one has become clearer for some apps that sit outside of the browser but is still contested for functionality that runs within a browser.) The debate was really a way of making the case for player-based technologies like Flash and Silverlight vs. AJAX and dynamic HTML. While the former powered experiences that were more akin to software than sites (generally speaking), the latter enabled more dynamic, yet still page-based, experiences (again, generally speaking). But the lines are about to blur even further as we look at experiences that are increasingly fragmented across interaction points.

What does the future look like? Forrester believes that four attributes will characterize the online experience of the future. As my colleague Moira Dorsey points out in her report, "The Future Of Online Customer Experience," experiences will be: customized by the end user, aggregated at the point of use, relevant to the moment, and social as a rule, not an exception. 

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An Experience With An American Express HERO

Ever since I signed my daughter up for a frequent-flier program, she's been receiving at least one credit card offer from American Express every week. Problem is, she's 2. It's unnerving to say the least to have these kinds of offers coming to your kids, but it's not hard to imagine how it happened. In fact, I know exactly how it happened since I had the same issue with my 4-year-old about a year ago — one company shares a contact list with or sells it to another, and somehow nobody filters for age (if that's even in the database, though one would assume it is). And voilà, mail campaigns are targeting your kids.

We started receiving these emails for about six months, about the time we took a family trip to Chicago. Finally, I got fed up and put in a call to American Express, which, to be fair, is not the real culprit here. However, I called, and after negotiating the IVR system (that seemed determined to give me an unwanted download on my account status, though that's a bit off-topic), I was routed to a representative who listened to my problem and expressed genuine shock at the situation, immediately making me feel like there was someone who understood — someONE, not some nameless, faceless database that was spitting out those credit card offers. It put me at ease to the point where I would have felt comfortable if the representative told me she had to mail some forms that I'd have to fill out and return. Instead, the representative asked me to wait a moment while she sorted this out. Clearly, this was not a typical request, so I figured it would take some time. However, after a few short minutes of waiting, the representative came back to tell me that she had submitted the necessary paperwork and that the mailings should cease within a few weeks. She apologized for the inconvenience in a human — not robotic — tone and sent me on my way.

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How Good Is The Brand Experience At Hotel Sites? Not Very

As part of Forrester’s ongoing initiative to provide annual industry benchmarks of online customer experiences, we recently evaluated the Brand Experience of four hotel brands’ Web sites (Crowne Plaza, Hilton, Marriott, and Sheraton). Using our Web Site Brand Experience Review methodology, we set out to test 1) how well the sites supported their key brand attributes in a manner consistent with other channels (Brand Image), and 2) how well the site supported user goals (Brand Action).  

The results were disappointing. None of the sites passed our Brand Action Review. Actually, that's not terribly surprising since our data show just how challenging the online booking experience is for travelers. Our review found that most sites suffered from common problems that plague sites across all industries, such as missing or misplaced content and illegible text. Again, not surprising. But what was surprising was that only one site, Sheraton, passed our Brand Image Review.  After all, hotels (at least those on the nicer end of the spectrum like those we reviewed) take great pains to keep their lobbies clean, their grounds manicured, and their rooms inviting. But the underperforming sites suffered from poor quality in their visual designs, bland imagery, and just-the-facts content that failed to hit on key brand attributes. In contrast, Sheraton stood out for its high-quality visual design and messaging that's consistent with how the brand is presented in other channels.

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What Should Customer Experience Professionals Do About HTML5?

The increasing popularity of Apple’s iPhone and iPad – neither of which supports Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight – has piqued interest in HTML5 as an open source solution for creating Rich Internet Applications (RIAs).  Steve Jobs’ recent attack on Flash as being unfit for the iPhone calls into question the long-term value of player-based application platforms. But can HTML5 really replace Flash and Silverlight? 

To understand the user experience pros and cons of HTML5, Rich Gans – one of our Researchers serving customer experience professionals – talked to designers and developers at Cynergy Systems, EffectiveUI, Roundarch, and Yahoo! who are building complex online functionality. We have just published the results of this research in a report entitled “HTML 5: Is There Any Truth To The Hype?”

The truth is that while HTML5 is promising and can help improve experiences for text-based content, it is not yet a viable alternative to player-based technologies for designing rich, highly functional user experiences. 

The downside to using HTML5 today is that it:

  • Could lead to inconsistent experiences across today’s browsers
  • Will require that users download a browser that supports the technology
  • Compromises performance for graphics-heavy experiences

 

 However, there are a few places where HTML5 can help improve user experiences today, including: 

  • Experiences for people with disabilities
  • Apps that are solely intended for Apple devices
  • Producing text-heavy sites that require text resizing

 

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