4 Ways to Boost Customer Experience
A new Forrester Research report reveals methods to make customer experience projects matter to companies and consumers.
Posted Jul 9, 2010
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When thinking of companies that deliver outstanding customer experiences, some old champions might come to mind: Barnes & Noble, Zappos.com, Apple, Amazon.com, for instance. But what is it that makes these companies stand out? And how can low-performing businesses climb up the ladder to deliver better experiences?

According to Paul Hagan, Forrester Research analyst and author of the report, "How Companies Improve Their Customer Experience Scores," there is no secret sauce. Reconfiguring customer experience doesn't happen with a software implementation or a fancy marketing scheme; rather it happens with process reorientation, enterprise-wide adoption, and close attention to what customers like. 

Now a familiar acronym within Forrester, CXPi refers to the analyst firm's Customer Experience Index. Each year, Forrester surveys a panel of customer experience decision-makers from large North American firms to discover the customer experience activities happening at their companies. Then, it also asks thousands of consumers about their interactions with the companies. The results are used to calculate CxPi scores.

In his most recent research, Hagen looks at the differences between the top-performing and the low-performing firms on the CXPi. High performing companies generally have well adopted multi-channel strategies, and focus on making online interactions more enjoyable.

Largely, Hagen found that although low-performing companies might blame budgets for misaligned strategies, it's the money they lack, it's the perspective.  In comparison to high performing companies, low-performing companies, he writes, often complain of the following inhibitors:

  • Insufficient budgets. 
  • Lack of executive support. 
  • Focus on online channels. (18 of 21 survey respondents from lower-scoring companies say that improving online usability is a major objective in 2010)

Low-performing companies should take nods from their top performing counterparts. Such efforts include:

1. Create (or revisit) customer journey maps that cross channels and silos.
It's difficult to understand what your customers want without knowing where they are coming from. Forrester recommends creating a customer experience journey map to lay out the various touch points the customer might have withy you, the vendor. For instance, a customer may first get an impression from a search engine, and then the customer visits the online channel, leaves to consult social media reviews on a third-party portal. That same customer might spend two weeks considering, then upon viewing an email promotion, decide to visit your brick-and-mortar location and make a purchase in person. That journey, although a bit complex, is nothing unusual for today's multi-channel customer. Understanding how and why a customer finds you and your products can befit you for reaching the customer and providing the right messages at the right part in the journey.

Doing so will also enable companies to see the areas where they fail to meet their customers' needs, Hagen writes. 

1. Broaden voice of the customer (VoC) programs beyond simple satisfaction scores. 

Forrester suggests creating a VoC program--one that's enterprise wide--to make customer information and feedback widely available. "Customer feedback inevitably highlights problems, but this canlead stakeholders to become defensive," Hagen writes. "To encourage buy-in, focus on improvement opportunities." By improvement opportunities, Hagen refers to specific instances of customer complaints. If a bank's customers are constantly vocalizing about confusing fees, for instance, that could be an area to zero in on. 

2. Create and manage a prioritized portfolio of customer experience projects. 

Companies can easily create a laundry list of customer experience improvements. The key is prioritization, Hagen states. Companies should investigate efforts that fit the needs customers and matter to the firm. "Customer experience initiatives that are scattered across project portfolios in marketing and IT are likely to drop to the bottom of the priority list," he writes. Tying metrics to customer goals can help in boosting support for customer experience projects. Some companies, the report states, may choose to use Net Promoter as a company-wide goal.  

3. Create an action plan for building active executive support. 
Low-performing firms often list lack of support as a cause for gaps in customer experience. In order for firms to gain executive support, Hagen writes that customer experience champions must convince the C-Suite that such projects will be as powerful as other projects competing for money. "To sway these executives, customer experience professionals need to position projects as a tactic for achieving business goals like cutting costs," the analyst says.

Additionally, customer experience managers should chart a course of action. They must provide specific tactics and outline anticipated results. Lastly, Forrester suggests that customer experience team members harness enthusiasm in order to win over other executives. By publicizing initiatives, organizations can create more allies and get projects off the ground.  

Even the best performing companies struggle at times. Hagen insists that central to a successful customer experience strategy is following to creating a customer-centric culture: clear beliefs, constant communications, collective celebrations, compelling stories, consistent tradeoffs, and commitment to employees.

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