Earlier this month I was able to attend the Total Customer Experience Leaders Summit sponsored by the Institute of International Research (IIR) in Boston, Massachusetts. It was an energizing, three day conference with attendees from consultancies, research organizations (client and supply side) as well as corporate client experience managers. What I liked about the conference – which is my normal bent – was its concentrated focus on one topic (customer experience) with different viewpoints provided by multiple experts and practioners. It's likely we all walked away with some new and usable knowledge (or twist on conventional wisdom) as well as affirmation that the paths we are on are inherently the right ones.
Here is my list of 11 things worth repeating from the conference sessions and ensuing discussions. I tried to keep it to 10 but they're too important (in my view) to cut any!
- Remember – the customer is VERY important – seems obvious (and this was "The Total Customer Experience Leaders Summit" after all) but it was compelling to listen to presenter after presenter discuss the strong, statistical linkage they have been able to make between: specific and intended actions → customer sentiment → customer behavior → customer loyalty and advocacy → improvement in financial performance, E.g., great share of wallet, improved margins, increased sales per order, etc.). The evidence is undeniable – providing customers what THEY want (more on this in # 4) leads to improved business performance.
- A 'successful' customer experience program HAS to be tied to business performance to be relevant – if customer experience measurement is worth doing, it's solely because it leads to certain desired customer behaviors that drive financial performance (sales, profitability, etc.). Programs that demonstrate a linkage between the customer experience and performance are ultimately more customer-centric (because senior management pays attention) and effective. Programs that fail to make this linkage are usually ignored or short-lived.
- Customize key customer experience metrics for YOUR business – it was encouraging to see several presentations throughout the conference where companies discussed the approaches they used to identify meaningful customer experience metrics for their business rather than automatically relying solely on standard measures such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) or the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). Ultimately, metrics should be developed that have statistically valid linkages to financial performance measures – for one bank, certain customer experience metrics were proven to link most closely with share of deposits, a key performance indicator for the bank. Ultimately, these metrics were (rightfully) selected as areas of focus with defined targets.
- Don't assume you know everything your customers want – it's reasonable to expect that to stay in business, any company has at least some sense for what its customers want and how to satisfy their needs. However, companies can fall into two traps in this regard – 1) they assume they know EVERYTHING their customers want and don't take the time to ask them, and 2) customer needs and expectations change over time and companies fail to keep up with them (particularly in dynamic industries such as Technology). Periodic qualitative inquiries with customers are easy to do, increasingly less expensive with the advent of online methodologies, and provide the assurances needed to make sure there is consistent and tight alignment with the customer.
- Involve employees early on in the process – Katherine Bromage, SVP, eBusiness from The Hartford, shared a terrific story at the conference whereby Hartford employees were asked two basic, yet illuminating questions – 1) What do we [The Hartford] look like when we're great (or at our best) with customers?, 2) What do we look like when we're at our worst? Two simple questions with powerful insights and impact. Besides creating a groundswell of pride and customer best practices that The Hartford leveraged throughout the organization (impressive in its own right!), this input also helped ensure the company is focused on measuring the 'right' things – not only the basics, but things that really 'wow' the customer.
- Don't forget the core – creating memorable customer experiences has its place and is certainly helping companies differentiate themselves effectively in the marketplace. However, these memorable (or 'wow') experiences cannot come at the expense of the core products, services, and support provided to customers – if you get that wrong, the rest won't matter. Imagine checking into a hotel room that offers a complimentary robe and slippers, satin sheets with a plush down comforter, and a chilled bottle of champagne – terrific right? Not so terrific if this same room is missing towels, has a broken TV, and the Internet goes down. Get the core right, then worry about the 'wow'.
- Prioritize improvement efforts based on customer insights – as with many customer experience measurement programs, several different areas are typically identified where there is gap between actual and desired (or ideal) performance. For one company 75% satisfaction with call center resolution time may be below their 90% self-imposed target. The key question is whether improving satisfaction further in this area will lead to increased business performance making any investments of time and resources worth the effort. Ultimately business is about choices – few companies have the resources to 'fix' everything. A sound customer experience measurement program, coupled with the right analytical techniques, permits objectives assessments of what areas should be sustained, improved, or even deemphasized.
- Define specific objectives for key customer touch points – not all touch points are created equal – some can/should be defined as 'signature' touch points where you may look to create memorable experiences that impress customers and build brand loyalty and advocacy. Other touch points may be built around simple efficiency and timeliness. Defining specific objectives for each customer touch point is a critical and foundational step that will guide all downstream activities and investments.
- Use blueprinting to enable business action and impact – the process of blueprinting – mapping specific areas of improvement to key processes to accountable/responsible stakeholders – significantly increases the chances recommended actions that result from a well designed and executed customer experience research program will be acted on. Blueprinting also improves organizational buy-in and accountability for action BEFORE the first customer survey is administered. For example, if improving call center response times is deemed to be a key driver of customer loyalty, blueprinting will have already defined key actions to take for improvement and accountable/responsible stakeholders. This improves the chances that change will occur and the speed and effectiveness in which it does.
- Make customer experience results highly accessible – in particular, make them accessible to senior management and those 'on the ground' that touch the customer every day that can best make use of them. Several presentations included mention of online portals where in-house personnel can access customer experience results in real-time and use them to make investment decisions, set performance targets, strategize around improvement opportunities, take quick and targeted actions, and monitor progress. These online portals are easy to set up and can be customized to fit the specific needs of any organization.
- Tell a story – Scott Swift, VP Customer Information, Hunter Douglas did a terrific job reminding conference attendees the importance of telling a story when disseminating key insights from customer experience measurement programs. Stories related to these insights are memorable and are much more likely to make an impression with senior management – ultimately this leads to needed organizational commitment and investments that drive customer experience improvements. Conversely, dense charts with lots of 'data' and little interpretation do not.
That's my 11 highlights – hopefully you're already practicing these today in your organization and reaping the benefits (along with your customers!).