At Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum, Leading Thinkers Stress Improving Pain Points

NEW YORK — In trying to improve customer experience, speakers said on day one of Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum, companies should keep one aspect high on the list: the emotions caused by the experience. More often than not, unfortunately, that means fixing problems rather than finding new ways to delight.

In his opening remarks, John Dalton, director of research at Forrester, presented a series of photographs to illustrate the ways in which people will seek to correct poorly planned options. In his architecture,  the routes people want to take manifest as mud paths, in contrast with the artificially constructed paths or walkways city planners lay out for them. “When we let human beings into our planning, that’s when really beautiful things happen,” he said.

“Human beings are not as logical as we’d like to think,” Anjali Lai, a self-proclaimed rational thinker and analyst at Forrester who specializes in customer behavior and decision making, said during her keynote presentation. “We’re unconscious of how emotion is driving our behavior…. Emotion is often the strongest driver of customer retention, enrichment, and advocacy.” She outlined three steps companies should take to win a customer’s commitment: prioritizing the moments in a journey that are inherently the most emotional ones for customers; architecting the emotional context to drive sentimental value; and understanding the customer holistically to resonate with their identity. 

Megan Burns, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, followed Lai onto the stage with a similar message. “You can’t afford to neglect your customers’ emotional experience,” she said. Just as a person is likely to have a more pronounced reaction when they’ve lost money than if they happened on it by chance, customers will feel negative interactions with companies to a greater degree than the positive ones. And since such negative interactions tend to resonate in customers’ minds, they are also likely to disrupt their long-term relationship with a brand. Rather than focus on finding new ways to please customers, companies would often be well advised to find ways to annoy them less.

In a breakout session titled “Cure What Ails your CX,” Roxana Strohmenger, director of data insights and innovation at Forrester Research, illustrated how companies in different verticals can use Forrester’s CX index to figure out how they stack up with the competition. The goal is to discover what areas they should focus on in the short term in order to improve customer loyalty and drive revenue. “What we have found is that certain emotions can amplify loyalty, while other emotions can weaken it,” she said. As an example, she used a United States–based credit card company’s path to an improved bottom line. The areas the company assumed were in need of most attention were in fact the wrong ones to focus on if it wanted to make a difference.

Though customer experience is not always correlated to an immediate impact on the bottom line, it will be in due time, said Harley Manning, vice president and research director at Forrester Research. “Frankly, every industry moves in the competitive direction,” he said.

Two representatives from different industries demonstrated how their company had been able to create a competitive advantage in customer experience.

Raul Leal, CEO of Virgin Hotels, stressed that in order to disrupt an industry, a company doesn’t necessarily have to reinvent it from scratch. Rather, they should improve upon it in significant ways that the customer will notice and appreciate. “You don’t have to redefine everything,” he said. “Just look at the pain points.” With the launch of its flagship hotel in Chicago, Virgin Hotels made it a goal to make customers’ lives easier and to improve upon the areas in which guests might get annoyed. For instance, the company offers patrons the option of adjusting their room temperature through a mobile device instead of forcing them to get up and do so manually. Likewise, the company does not charge extra for Wi-Fi, or place plugs in inconvenient spots.

And Rasesh Patel, senior vice president of CX at DirecTV, spoke to the ways in which the 20- year-old company has been able to establish itself as a customer-preferred cable provider. The company reached 39 million customers and $33 billion in revenue worldwide by challenged certain quirks of the industry. Rather than making their clientele miss a day of work waiting for a cable guy to show up, for instance, DirecTV has engineered a more efficient system, whereby subscribers are kept in the loop via digital text updates. Likewise, the company came up with a simplified and more transparent bill that lets customers choose how information is presented. 

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