Speak with executives from virtually any company or any vendor offering customer service solutions and they'll repeatedly insist that customer service is becoming a key competitive differentiator -- even more so than product and price differentiation. A recent study concludes all this talk right now is just talk, with very few actionable steps being taken to foster this quality customer experience to keep consumers loyal.
Research and consulting firm Strativity Group released telling new statistics from its Customer Experience Management (CEM) global benchmark study, which surveyed 379 executive participants who examined their respective organizations' complete customer experience cycle, including definition, customer-centric organizational alignment, and mechanisms to respond to customer feedback. The results leave Lior Arussy, the firm's president, shocked. "This is a big surprise," he states. "[The results] are a wake up call for organizations."
According to the study, 80 percent of the executives surveyed "strongly agree that customer strategies are more important to companies' success than ever before." However, Arussy insists that additional study results show companies are not following through on what they believe to be important.
Other statistics from the CEM study include:
- 43.9 percent of respondents believe their companies deserve their customers' loyalty;
- 42.6 percent believe their companies' products and services are not worth the price they charge;
- 56 percent of respondents say their companies have differentiated and beneficial products and services;
- 34.8 percent indicate that their company has a dedicated CEM role;
- 27.2 percent say the definition of the customer experience is "well-defined and communicated" in their companies;
- 28.8 percent of respondents indicate their employees have the tools and authority to solve customer problems; and
- 23.9 percent agree that their employees are "well-versed in how to delight customers."
The fact that 56 percent of respondents believe their respective companies differentiate on their products and services, while only 34.8 percent indicate their company has a dedicated CEM role leads to a lingering problem, according to Arussy. "Organizations are still operating on a product centricity model," he says. "[Companies are] trying to put nice packaging on a value proposition that has yet to fully address the complete customer problem. Companies need to make the leap toward complete customer centricity and redefine the problem solely from the perspective of the customer instead of...what they do and their skill set."
To illustrate this point, Arussy gives the example of what Apple did with the iPod. He explains that there were other MP3 players on the market, and if the software giant decided to define the customer problem from its skill set, "it would say 'the world needs another iPod,'" he recalls. However, the problem didn't loom solely around product differentiation. "In reality, there were no available legal digital music sites, and there were no portals in which they could download in a seamless way," he says. "The whole digital music user experience was rather difficult." Apple attacked the issue by creating iTunes, which offers legal music downloads and integration with a digital music collection and the iPod. Just like Apple, Arussy says companies need to define core competence and look at things from the customer's perspective in order to determine "what's holding them back from enjoying [products and services] all the way."
While Arussy says all the statistics are alarming, he notes the 28.8 percent of respondents claiming their employees have the tools and authority to solve customer problems is very disappointing. "That's an extremely low number," he insists. "We're talking about 72 percent of employees in customer service and sales showing up to the customer with nothing more than a smile on their face."
While it seems as though companies are alone in their customer experience failures, Arussy maintains vendors providing customer service solutions should also be held accountable. He argues companies are rushing to buy tools from these vendors without having any strategy or operational context to use the tools optimally. "There's a great irresponsibility that's happening in the CRM industry, selling tools out there and we know that [companies] don't know what to do with them in order to fulfill whatever promise there was," he laments. "That's why we end up with the same exact thing as when we started, and [this study] is a wake-up call to all the vendors as well. I think technology vendors should assume greater responsibility in helping organizations develop the strategies and operational context necessary."
Arussy says the greatest hope with the results of this study is that everyone will "understand that business as usual is not getting us anywhere." It's going to take, he argues, a hard look at the complete journey of the customer experience. "It's not just anecdotal and not just customer service," he concludes. "We need to go back to the core of what we are selling to customers, and is it worth the money."
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