• April 22, 2009
  • By Syed Hasan, president and CEO, ResponseTek

It’s the Experience, Stupid

If you're the head of customer service, customer satisfaction or customer loyalty, one can only imagine your confusion as you go down the road of improving the customer experience.

Your job is to ensure service delivery to your customer is consistent, and meets your organization's exacting standards for quality. Happy customers are more likely to be loyal, and that means revenue.

Links must be made between their actual experiences, and the experiences you want them to have, which means your customer-facing operations must reflect your company's brand, and vice-versa.

Making that happen is the tricky part. You need outside help-a strategy, some processes, a piece of technology. A key question may be, "How will I track, measure and improve the customer experience?"

The irony? Getting an answer to this question is a frustrating experience in itself.

An evolving industry

That's because it's both an exciting and problematic time in the customer experience field. Exciting because we're witnessing the evolution of a strategic practice that will become standard business practice in the future, just like CRM. The incorporation of customer experience intelligence into critical operations and planning processes will change business decision-making entirely. Problematic because, unlike CRM-a well-defined, strategic field of practice with generally agreed-upon principles, needs and outcomes-the "what" and "how" of customer experience management is still poorly defined. The players don't just compete on business models and feature/function capabilities. They debate what the field is, and how it's practiced. And so we return to the buyer's dilemma: What do I need? Where do I turn?

The name game

Moving your customer experience strategy from concept to execution is dependent on knowing the terms of reference:

  • CEM: Customer experience management, a comprehensive business improvement and brand-building strategy, encompassing strategic planning and operationalization. CEM includes envisioning the desired customer experience, collecting, manipulating and interpreting all forms of customer experience data, and using customer experience intelligence to improve products, service delivery, customer-facing processes and policies, and business planning.
  • VOC: "Voice of the customer," market research programs designed to uncover customer requirement and needs. While VOC is often considered a synonym for CEM, it is less oriented to improving day-to-day customer experiences as it is concerned with the longer view of business improvement. VOC programs ensure customer needs are considered as part of product development and service delivery strategies.
  • EFM: Enterprise feedback management, encompassing the automated survey technology space, and other customer feedback technologies. EFM solutions consolidate enterprise-wide surveys onto a single platform for the purpose of centralizing information and creating efficiencies for managing the submission and manipulation of large volumes of survey data.

The problem with these terms is that players in the customer experience space are lobbying behind any one of these terms as the ultimate name for the overall field of practice, as if they are functionally equivalent. Even the analysts participate in the name game, with the separate camps issuing definitions and categorizations for the industry.

Subsequently, if you're trying to connect the dots between your pains and these supposedly interchangeable industry labels, you're closer to engaging in an unnecessary intellectual exercise than creating the change your company needs.

Cut to the chase

Nobody's asking for an ultimate definition for the customer experience field, but for solutions to problems. It's time for the industry to eat its own lunch by talking about the issues companies are burdened by:

  • Customer retention. You're having trouble retaining customers in a loyalty-deficient global marketplace, and need to understand the processes and programs required to improve the customer experience. Search for vendors offering comprehensive, customer experience-driven retention programs.
  • Customer feedback. CEM, VOC, EFM... you just want customer insights, so you can understand what customers think. It's not enough to know customer feedback has value-you want to demonstrate that to executive sponsors. Search for vendors providing business intelligence systems around customer feedback.
  • Satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy. Knowing that the customer experience has improved is dependent on goal-oriented, customer experience metrics that are meaningful to your business. Search for vendors who understand the difference between satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.

Fulfilling market needs can be better achieved by providing practical answers to common business questions, than by debating ways to define the space. As an industry, we need to be clear on the capabilities and value of each approach-CEM, EFM and VOC-and to focus on delivering tangible results to companies, in the form of improved business performance and service from the customer point of view.

Until that becomes the focus-problems, needs, and defined paths to improvement-customer experience strategies will continue to be associated with a myriad of buzzwords and acronyms, but no better understood than as an offshoot of CRM.

About the Author

Syed Hasan (syed@responsetek.com) is the president and CEO of ResponseTek, and a respected thought leader and speaker on customer experience management best practices. Syed's blog can be found at http://syedhasan.typepad.com. For more on ResponseTek, visit www.responsetek.com.

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

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