Forrester Customer Experience Forum 2017: Aim to Delight

NEW YORK — To kick off day one of Forrester’s annual customer experience forum (CXNYC), George F. Colony, Forrester Research’s chairman and CEO, noted that increasingly, the factor that will allow companies to rise above their competitors and thrive in their respective industries is a distinctive customer experience. "When we talk about customer experience, what always blows my mind is the nuance," he said. In the next five to 10 years, many businesses will face an "existential crisis," he said, as they try to keep up. And as the crisis unfolds, "it's going to come down to nuance."

Colony's remarks were echoed in various forms throughout the day, as speakers agreed that there is no area of customer experience that is too small or insignificant to improve upon, if it is revealed through research to be important enough to warrant attention. Yet it is incumbent on companies to figure out where to put their focus and how to set their priorities, rather than following a preset playbook.

"Perception—customers' perceptions of their interactions with your company—is at the core of customer experience," David Truog, a vice president and research director at Forrester, told attendees. "And the reason that matters...is that a customer's perceptions are typically not the same as the company's perceptions."

Many companies fail to meet their customer's’ expectations because they place equal weight on the various stages of a buying cycle, said Truog. He pointed to a familiar model of the buying cycle, broken into six stages consisting of the "discover," "evaluate," "buy," "access," "use," and "get support" phases often linked with brands, services, and products. While many companies are under the impression that they should improve each part of that model in equal measure, the areas that matter most to customer are often the "use" and "get support" phases. These are the areas where companies should be putting more emphasis than they might believe, he suggested.

"Moments matter," argued Chip Heath, an author and professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. "And in particular, peak moments"—positive and pleasurable moments—"matter." Rather than dedicate great amounts of their time and attention on fixing problems, he urged companies to place more focus on building those peak moments because they hold value. He pointed to Southwest Airlines, noting that passengers who heard the humorous safety announcements on 1.5 percent of their flights were likely to take half a flight more per year than those who didn't. When calculated, he said, that adds up to $138 million extra in annual revenue for Southwest, which could go towards paying for extra airplanes, for instance. "Don't underestimate emotions," he said.

Joana van den Brink-Quintanilha, a principal analyst at Forrester, emphasized using predictive skills and, of course, data to assess each customer's intent and give them the most suitable experience at the best times. She urged attendees to stay curious, "become detectives" who can uncover trigger opportunities, and pay attention to the small details at each touch point that can make big differences.

"Just like no two people ever read a book in exactly the same way, no two people have the same reality, and in fact we know that our realities can change pretty quickly as well," van den Brink-Quintanilha said. "So in order for us as customer experience professionals, as brands, to make better predictions about what our customers are going to do next, we need to start treating our customers as individuals. We need to start looking at individual, one-to-one journeys, and look at the people behind those journeys, their motivations, their expectations, their emotions, so that we can start to connect the dots in their personal lives."

Anjali Lai, senior data analyst at Forrester, had a similar message: "Understanding empowered customers is critical to designing breakaway emotional experiences," Lai said. "Use the data to navigate to the customers that matter most, and to the specific emotions that drive them."

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