Zero One: The Sorry State of Customer Experience
Most business executives believe they’re selling a product or service when, arguably, they’re really selling an experience. Another way to think about it: Given how quickly product features and prices commoditize in the global digital economy, nine out of 10 companies now expect to compete mainly on customer experience, Gartner says.
But a new Forrester study suggests an equal number of companies are still trying to get customer experience basics right, and few, if any, are truly innovative.
“They’re still looking for the light switch,” says Forrester analyst Rick Parrish. “Customer experience and business success are inextricably intertwined. If you want to prioritize business success, you have to prioritize for customer experience, too.”
Such a bad report card on customer experience can be viewed either as a giant disappointment or a big opportunity to leap ahead of the competition.
Among the latter, there’s lots of work to be done. If you’re far behind the customer experience curve, you’ll first need to focus on creating a customer-centric culture. If you’re higher up the food chain, which probably means you have culture somewhat figured out and boast a good mobile customer experience, you’ll need to overcome complacency.
Let’s start at the bottom.
Here’s a list of industries that suffer from poor customer experience, the laggards of the corporate world, courtesy of Forrester: health insurance providers, TV services providers, Internet service providers, airlines, rental car providers, and federal government agencies.
(Among airlines, the United Airlines customer experience debacle earlier this year turned its motto, “flying the friendly skies,” into a punchline.)
Companies in these industries face challenges on multiple fronts, none more important than needing to develop a customer-centric culture. The idea is to get all employees to think about customers, not just sales, marketing and customer service, through incentive programs, collaborative technology, and a better employee experience.
“If you aren’t creating a great experience for your employees, they tend to be less engaged and less able to meet your customers wherever they are,” Michael Gretczko, Deloitte’s HR transformation principal and general manager of ConnectMe, told Zero One last spring.
Another tactic for nurturing a customer-centric culture is to start hiring empathetic employees. Seriously, Parrish says. A growing trend among software companies is to hire software developers with the top criteria being their willingness and ability to deliver a good customer experience – not their technical prowess.
“They’re hiring software developers in two rounds,” Parrish says. “The first round is when the software developer can prove that he or she is an empathetic person willing and able to think and act from the customer’s perspective. Only after a candidate passes that review, they get the opportunity to show what a hotshot coder they are.”
This candidate vetting practice can apply to accountants, lawyers, just about everyone in every department, Parrish says.
For technology professionals already on staff, it might help getting them out of their comfort zone and into the field talking to real customers. For instance, a mobile development team at a bank can spend time inside bank branches speaking to customers, testing new ideas, and getting instant feedback.
Conversely, you can connect with technology professionals in their comfort zone by finding mutual interests. Perhaps that’s sci-fi movies and television shows showcasing the awesome power and potential of technology to change the world. Again, seriously.
This is how Lisa Woodley, vice president of customer experience and channel at NTT DATA, an IT services firm helping companies transform digitally, and self-proclaimed sci-fi geek, gets technologists to think about the customer experience.
“This vision of a ‘Star Trek’ future where there’s technology that does things in a simpler way, I can turn to my R&D and tech guys and say, ‘For this experience, I think the customer should be able to take a picture of the dent in his car and upload it right away. We should never have to talk to him. All of a sudden, he should get a payment in his account,” says Woodley, in an interview with Zero One earlier this year.
While most companies haven’t taken the customer experience to such lofty heights, a few stand out, particularly when it comes to the mobile “eight second window” for customer interaction. (According to a popular Microsoft study on modern mobile culture, the human attention span has fallen to eight seconds.)
The Home Depot, for instance, earned the highest marks on Forrester’s mobile web usability rating system. Consumers typing in search words on the site receive product and category suggestions. The content, including videos, is easily consumed on a mobile device. For mobile shoppers, there’s single-page checkout, live chat, and more.
However, customer experience leaders have become a little “stagnant” over the past couple of years, Forrester’s Parrish says. Complacency is a problem for them, given that they’re enjoying a sizeable lead with most companies still struggling with the basics.
But customer experience is too important for companies to rest on their laurels. Mobile apps for shopping, hotel check-in, and airline boarding are old hat these days, Forrester says. The next frontier is artificial intelligence agents that interact with people in all sorts of ways, such as natural language, gestures, facial and image recognition, and augmented reality.
These next-generation customer experiences will fuse the digital and physical worlds, delight customers, play to emotions, and make people’s lives easier, seamless, and more sci-fi like.
And they’ll lead to business success.
Tom Kaneshige writes the Zero One blog covering digital transformation, AI, marketing tech and the Internet of Things for line-of-business executives. He is based in Silicon Valley. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.