The Age of the Customer has arrived. Because of the growing empowerment of customers, the discipline of customer experience (CX) is transforming both B2C and B2B businesses.
That’s exactly what last month’s Customer Experience Exchange West Coast, in San Diego, was all about. The conference was a follow-up to the Customer Experience Exchange held last October, in Miami. The May event played host to 50 senior CX leaders from a diverse range of Fortune 500 companies, including Verizon, Sony Electronics, and Wells Fargo.
“What struck me at the event were the varying levels of maturity of customer experience adoption and commercialization,” said Abigail Manders (@cmexchange), group head of products at IQPC Exchange, which ran the event, co-sponsored by Forrester Research. “The overall outlook, however, is hugely encouraging, with most organizations recognizing the shift toward increased consumer control, and embracing a more customer-centric operating model.”
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CMO.com editor-in-chief Tim Moran and contributing editor Steven Cook were, once again, in attendance at the CX event. They heard use cases, strategies, and insights from CEOs, CMOs, and their teams. Here’s a recap of some of what they learned about CX and why it is essential for today’s CMOs to be taking a more active role it.
Your Business Is In The ‘Age of the Customer’
Kerry Bodine (@kerrybodine), vice president and principal analyst in the Customer Experience Practice at Forrester Research, is one of the world’s most prominent thought leaders on the topic of CX. She focused her keynote on the various stages through which businesses have evolved.
“Based on Forrester analysis, we have entered the ‘Age of the Customer,’ and this is why it is so important for companies to understand what they need to do to deliver an exceptional customer experience,” said Bodine, who co-authored the recently released seminal book on this topic, “Outside In.”
Forrester defines customer experience as how customers perceive their interactions with a company. The researcher’s annual CX benchmarking survey asks thousands of consumers myriad questions about the companies they’ve done business with in the past 90 days, such as: How effectively did the company meet your needs? How easy was it to do business with them? And how enjoyable was it to do business with them?
“Based on their answers, we calculate a score for each company. . .and those scores, in aggregate, form our Customer Experience Index (CXi),” Bodine explained.
The survey also poses several questions related to loyalty. “We find strong positive correlations between companies’ CXi scores and customers’ willingness to consider another purchase and their likelihood to recommend to a friend, and we find a negative correlation between CXi scores and customers’ likelihood to switch business and buy from a competitor,” Bodine said. “In other words, the better your customer experience, the more likely your customers will buy from you again and tell their friends about you.”
The result? Significant revenue benefits, she said. “When we model the business value associated with a better customer experience and increased loyalty, we find that it’s worth millions of dollars in additional revenue for many companies every single year,” Bodine said. “For businesses to realize these benefits, however, they need to get serious about the way they define, implement, and manage the customer experience.”
As change-management operators, marketers play a significant role in this shift, she added. “Marketing communications of every shape and size set customers’ expectations about the types of interactions they’re going to have with a company. If those expectations aren't aligned with the company’s actual ability to deliver on them, customers’ perceptions will plummet and the business benefits will evaporate,” Bodine said.
A CEO’s ‘People-Powered’ CX Transformation
When Tom Feeney became president and CEO of Safelite AutoGlass a few years ago, he recognized that a CX focus could unleash untapped opportunity in a relatively low-interest and infrequent-purchase cycle service category, transforming customers into brand advocates while also driving top-line growth. So he started the company on a customer-centric transformation journey.
“At the heart of Safelite’s transformation was the realization that satisfying customers is simply not enough,” Feeney said during his keynote. “The average person may only have glass damage on their vehicle once every seven years. We really have to make a strong impression to earn a referral or recommendation to friends and family. By incorporating the Net Promoter Score, we were able to change our internal vocabulary and conversations about how to delight a customer.”
That led to discussions about what business strategies would lead to better service, he added. “The first strategy was investing in our people and empowering--even encouraging--our people to use their personalities to show pride in their work and delight our customers,” Feeney said.
He next shared his “secret sauce” to Safelite’s transformation: “Our philosophy at Safelite is simple. Being ‘people-powered‘ enables us to be ‘customer-driven.’ They work hand in hand. Happy, talented people create happy, loyal customers who deliver profitable growth. . .I don’t believe you can deliver a great customer experience without employee engagement. You’ll have individuals that might offer great service, but if it’s not part of your company’s DNA, you’ll lack a consistently memorable customer experience.”
The next phase of Safelite’s transformation was to become “customer-driven”--seeing the business through customers’ eyes, making it easy for them to do business with Safelite, and ensuring their experiences are memorable. “This requires us to be curious and listen to customers--both the good and bad. We seek to understand customer pain points and learn from their experiences--from promoters and detractors alike,” Feeney said. “Once we absorb their feedback and dig into all of our data to understand the customer on a deeper level, we’ll ultimately be able to anticipate and identify better ways to meet their needs.”
Social Media Key Component Of Great CX
The Customer Experience Exchange included an impressive cross-section of leading CX providers to add to the conversation, including Michael Schanker (@mschanker), global VP of marketing at Lithium Technologies.
“I spend a lot of time with brands that are trying to figure out the impact social will have on their business,” he said. “The conversation invariably hinges on the notion of customer experience as the next battleground in their industry, whether they are in high-tech, telecom, financial services, media and entertainment, or other industries.”
Schanker provided a trio of “key tenets” to keep in mind when building a social CX:
1. Don’t fall for social media fads. Schanker cautioned against chasing the latest shiny object. “Consumer tastes and behaviors on these networks are constantly evolving and vary broadly by segment,” he said. “Today’s teenagers think Facebook is for their parents, and they are spending their time on SnapChat and Vine. This last sentence will likely be outdated by the time it appears online, that’s how quickly things evolve in this fickle segment.
“Remember that no matter what public social media network you invest in, you can’t control the customer experience the way you want to. You operate at the whim of the platform owner. Just think how many carefully crafted brand strategies on Facebook were wiped out overnight when Timeline was rolled out. Your social customer experience is too important to outsource.”
2. Bring the conversation back to your own Web site. Schanker pointed to companies’ building their own customer communities as a means to create deeper reach than can be provided by public social networks. “Not only will you own the customer experience, but you will also own the data created by these customer interactions,” he said. “While these communities should be fully integrated with the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, bringing your social customer experiences on-domain will allow you to test, innovate, and learn more about what makes your customers tick. You can spot trends, find out what customers want and need, and make data-based decisions about how you iterate on the next generation of experiences you deliver.”
In addition, these customer insights can also inform sales, marketing, customer service, and PR. “If you continue to depend on public social networks for your social presence, you’ll never gather the data you need to remain competitive,” Schanker said.
3. Put trusted content at the heart of your social strategy. User-generated content (UGC) is enabled once your customers are talking to each other. “The old sales funnel is outdated, while the new nonlinear customer journey is centered on trusted content--whether the customer is exploring possible purchases, deep in the evaluation process, post-purchase and looking for help using the product or service, or moving toward loyalty and advocacy,” Schanker said. “The common currency throughout is content-generated by other customers, which is considered much more trustworthy than content generated by the brand. Your job is to encourage and reward customers for all the valuable UGC they produce, then make that content discoverable across the web for others to find and consume.”
Great social customer experiences aren’t easy to create, but there are companies doing it successfully in many industries. These companies recognize that if they don’t adapt to the new expectations of their customers, they could be out of business in the next few years. This is not a business fad; it’s a business imperative.
Early CX Adopter’s Wisdom
Ingrid C. Lindberg (@iclindberg), chief customer experience officer at Prime Therapeutics, co-chaired the event. She said she has seen much growth in the industry during her 15-year CX tenure: “In 2009, I attended a Forrester conference when they had three CXOs on stage. We were some of the only customer experience officers in the country at the time. I just saw a Gartner report that stated that over 2,000 companies now have a chief customer officer.”
In addition, Lindberg noted how the CX role is permeating businesses. “As the CXO role grows and evolves, there are a wide range of responsibilities and functions getting involved,” she said. “We have people who are in call centers, product, marketing, even technology, who I've met who have some sort of corporate responsibility for the customer experience.”
Lindberg said the CXO is responsible for determining and orchestrating the entire experience a customer has with a brand. She also echoed Safelite’s Feeney’s sentiments about the importance of employee empowerment. “It is critically important to recognize that your brand is your promise. And your people are your brand. It doesn't matter how awesome your brand is--when the boots hit the ground, or the call center is picking up the phone--you're simply a myth if you're not delivering on your promise,” she said. “If you aren't putting your employees first, how can you expect them to deliver an exceptional customer experience?”
She also agreed with Feeney about having to hire from the outside to drive big change. “If you helped to make the problem, it is really hard to fix it. Safelite has created a culture where they promote from within for more functional and traditional roles, but always hire from the outside for transformative change,” Lindberg said. “You have to have the C-suite driving support. This is top-down stuff. Otherwise, customer experience will just be a marketing program or a service project, [not] about how a company. . .marries its DNA to what it delivers.”
Another customer experience veteran, Robert Cowie, VP of customer insight and advocacy, post sales support, at Sony Electronics, emphasized the importance of including your employees into the CX equation. “As our company, along with many others, continues its journey to focus on our customers and ensure that we create the experiences that will exceed their expectations, it is important that we do not lose sight of how critical our employees are to exceeding our customers’ expectations and building our companies to be stronger than ever,” he said.
Sony’s first CX wave has largely focused on listening and acting on the voice of its customers, Cowie explained. “Our next wave needs to be firmly focused on our employees and the need to listen to them and empower them to define experiences and strategies,” he said. “In 2013, we will be working to launch an Employee NPS program. . .to bring about our company’s focus onto our two greatest assets: our customers and our employees.”
Are You Measuring Your CX Ground Game At The Store Level?
Claudia Bremser (@B_Claudia), associate director of customer experience and loyalty marketing at Verizon Wireless, described in her panel how she has helped Verizon’s field team better understand what is happening on the ground at retail, and how she is doing this at scale.
“Managing customer experience at the individual store field level is possible. Using NPS trends and insights pulled from survey verbatims, you can look for store-specific trends in the feedback about customers’ experience with your brand,” she said. “The customer insights help [Verizon store managers] understand if they’re growing or losing customers as a result of the experiences they’re delivering. Staff training, building product knowledge, improving sales etiquette, and process re-engineering are all actionable initiatives that can be leveraged with a small team and replicated over hundreds of stores.”
The key, Bremser added, is to start with the right CX metrics. Then, “identify the drivers of those results, even if it’s one single store, then partner with that leader, and manage solutions together until you find the desired result,” she said.
-- Story contributors: Kerry Bodine, Claudia Bremser, Robert Cowie, Tom Feeney, Ingrid C. Lindberg, Abigail Manders, Michael Schanker
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