Compromising Experience

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We spend billions of dollars on customer and product strategy, branding, creative, marketing, and sales each year. Certainly, our approaches are well researched; they have been heavily contemplated by a lot of smart people. So, why do we consistently produce experiences that short-change the customer? Perhaps one reason is that our corporate operational infrastructures often prevent planned designs from becoming realities. Departmental silos, competing priorities, technology constraints, data limitations, communication and process breakdowns, and other operational inefficiencies result in postplanning changes that often subvert customer experience. Each iterative adjustment can work to undermine customer experience by limiting or disconnecting customer access, or by altering touch dynamics and dialog. Compromise can also work to cumulatively undermine initial business cases, which can result in wasted investment. Left unchecked and unchallenged, compromises and quick fixes can also become institutional legacies that can create problems on a broader scale. Sorry, sir, I can't find that offer in my system.
A top media and entertainment company encountered problems tracking call center offer response. Under scrutiny, it became clear that the company had no policy mandating the load of offer information into the call center's offer management system. Evidently, loading data into the system had become a cumbersome task, which bottlenecked at one individual inside the company. As a temporary workaround, marketers started issuing flyers to the call center instead. These provided instructions for manual offer assembly and/or coding. Imagine the flyers, piling up and falling off message boards and desktops. Imagine the customer, waiting for a representative to locate a flyer. Not only did this undermine order tracking, customers who called in to respond to offers were often met with seemingly clueless customer care representatives. Not good. The entire mess originated with a broken process for loading and managing offer data. This resulted in a silo-based, band-aid solution for one campaign, which soon became a common, lazy practice. Left unchecked, this created much broader problems for the customer and the organization. Sorry ma'am, we can't match our own offers. Last month I bought a new laptop. I poured through a retailer's glossy (read: expensive) direct mail catalog. This successfully drove me to the retailer's Web site, where, like a majority of computer purchasers, I did some research and competitive shopping. Later, secure with my choice, I walked in to the same retailer's pleasantly remodeled store to see, touch and purchase my computer. However, in the store, my cross-channel experience fell apart. The computer's unit pricing on the Web matched the store's pricing. However, the purchase incentives (worth $300) did not. With reluctance, the salesman explained, "Our retail stores are not allowed to match offers from our Web site." I responded with disbelief. He responded with embarrassment, acknowledging that I wasn't the first customer to be frustrated by the policy and irritated with the brand. When experiences are allowed to break down at fundamental levels, all the vision, strategy, creative, branding, technology, messaging, and tap-dancing in the world won't help your brand. It is the cumulative customer experience that makes the indelible impression on the customer; it is shared with friends and family; it drives brand success or failure. Certainly, we dwell in a complex and real world. Our own corporate infrastructures can serve as unwitting opponents. Many of us are not empowered to fix some of the problems that most impact customers--and we fight many uphill battles. We can't solve every operational problem over night, but we can employ more rigor to minimize the impacts of compromise on the customer.
  • Drive disciplined, accountable, and comprehensive strategic planning 1. Position all stakeholders as accountable agents of customer experience 2. Drive more efficient collaboration across departments and channels 3. Plan around significant limitations in advance
  • Encourage and reward customer-centric dialog and process 1. Use visuals and maps to document flow, touch and timing 2. Identify and prioritize operational barriers 3. Engage leadership to crush barriers to customer satisfaction
  • Walk a mile (or two) in the customer's shoes 1. Build awareness customer profiles, priorities, and needs 2. Plan experiences to incorporate all channels at the appropriate level 3. Conduct experience walk-throughs at key phases to identify issues
  • Carefully evaluate the impact of change 1. Don't be bullied into compromise 2. Make sure impacts are fully considered 3. Don't allow quick fixes to become surrogates for real solutions to customer problems
  • Measure and track the impact of change on the customer experience 1. Document changes and impacts thoroughly 2. Identify individuals who drive or mandate compromise 3. Incorporate changes into business cases and maps for executive review Following these suggestions will help drive additional accountability and motivate each contributor to think and behave in a customer centric manner. Collectively, this can help prevent a culture of compromise from consistently short-changing the customer and the brand. About the Author Leigh Duncan is a 15-year marketing, e-commerce, CRM, and usability veteran and the founder of LivePath. She can be reached at
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