Forrester CX Forum Day Two: Brands Need to Break Out of Old Ecosystems

NEW YORK—On Day Two of the Forrester Customer Experience Forum, analysts focused on redefining the customer experience ecosystem and urging brand managers to reach past the limits of the status quo. Businesses are locked in by old behaviors and can't let bad habits go, analyst Rick Parrish said during his keynote presentation. "It's time for businesses to stop being their own victims and evolve to fit in the new ecosystem—the Age of the Customer," he said.

Vision, culture, and operating environment are the three key elements to refining a brand ecosystem, according to Parrish, and though it's a daunting task, "redefinition" is possible in even the most regulated industries. Delta Airlines, for example, redrew the lines of its customer experience ecosystem with a major vision overhaul in 2012. When the company realized that cancelling flights was causing its customers much more frustration than delaying them, the company vowed to never cancel its flights again.

Delta also sought to tackle the challenge that limited resources, such as fuel, present—the airline bought its own oil refinery in Pennsylvania and established itself as a "price influencer," CEO Richard Anderson said. "I don't want to hear from anyone that fuel is out of their control. You may as well just raise a white flag," Anderson said. "We now have control over 100 percent over our business, and are no longer a victim of the ecosystem," he added.

After implementing these changes, Delta immediately noticed an improvement. The company saw a 5 percent bump in first quarter earnings, improved its customer experience index and Net Promoter Scores, boosted revenue, and "made its customers happy," Parrish said, adding that the case study proves that change is possible in any industry. "If Delta can do it in such a tightly regulated space, you can take control of your customer experience too," he said.

A reimagined customer experience ecosystem takes more than vision and initiative, however—it also requires creative, powerful design. Good technology is no longer the reason that consumers make purchases, John Maeda, design partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers said. "Design is what sells," he said, "and design is what will power the new 'I love it' economic climb."

Great design isn't just "cool"; it can have a significant economic impact, and can make a company truly unique, Maeda went on. "I'm not just talking about companies like Apple. Smaller businesses and start-ups are following their lead—look at Uber. For them, with their iconic car tracking display and easy to use technology, great design and great experience go hand in hand," he said.

Design plays such a crucial role because it represents the intentional crafting of a relationship between experience and audience, and is the medium through which consumers engage with the brand. Designers are becoming inventors, Maeda said, because they're driving business concepts, not just visualizing others' concepts. Airbnb, for example, receives constant praise for its design, which is centered on making travel more personal and convenient. "Its design echoes that vision—it's inherent to its business model," he said.

Though it's tempting to assume a simple design is best, a complex design that works simply is actually best. "Simplicity pulls you in, but complexity makes you stays. There needs to be a combination," Maeda said. Finding the right recipe will take time, but paying attention to design is more pressing then ever. "It's moving away from being very costly to being worth the cost," according to Maeda.

Taking a turn for the more creative rather than data-driven side of customer experience, the second day of the Forrester Customer Experience Forum was all about finding the courage and inspiration to experiment with all facets of customer experience. When it comes to a new product release, for example, brand managers shouldn't sweat the small stuff. "Only you know what is missing from your minimum viable product launch. Be confident in what you release," analyst Allegra Burnette said. "Try things you haven't tried before, and expand your creative parts," she added.

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