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Perception: The Customer Journey and Business Success
Posted on March 9th 2012
The customer life cycle consists of every experience with an organization – taking place as interactions with staff, systems and sites, inside and outside the firewall. It would make a big difference if enterprises would understand that each customer experience is actually a customer service opportunity. The customer experience should always be about customer service, no matter what it is or where it takes place in the customer journey. High quality customer experiences, like high quality and reliable customer service, are competitive differentiators – and they are becoming competitive imperatives. And yet, many companies still fail to provide top-notch customer experiences and excellent customer service.
From the company perspective enabling excellent (or even good) customer experiences can seem complicated, even ephemeral. Some marketing programs are trying to make the “customer experience” quite intricate, perhaps overly convoluted. Software solutions are being developed around marketing processes for “customer experience management”, where too much emphasis may be on the “management” part, and too little on what are positive or desirable experiences from the customer perspective.
Further complications can come from the hard work of orchestrating all customer touchpoints. Customer experiences are occurring as events, related to cross-functional and cross-channel processes that need to be merged into a “single experience” for the customer, as well as integrated in terms of data, process, people, and practices within the enterprise. And this is tricky and complicated, even when the best of intentions are in play.
But from the customer’s perspective, it’s simple: did I get what I wanted or needed -- or not? Guess which perspective matters more to company success.
If you google customer experience management (CEM), a flood of marketing plans, tips, guidelines, and technology solutions comes pouring out. Many have overtones of manipulation and control, reminiscent of the “command and control” executive management in many companies. To sell the idea of “customer experience management” to enterprises, some consultants and vendors resort to inside-out thinking, where it’s all about what the company gains, instead of what value accrues to the customer:
…it’s the grand design to find customers, gain their business, and bring them back...it will help to own the customer and the rewards are building loyalty and increasing profits…
There are also many consultants and vendors who are offering on-target assistance and useful software tools. But it’s essential always to keep in mind that the customer experience is outside-in: focus on the customer perception of the experiences and on the value that should be gained by the customer. I sometimes wonder if companies are taking the notion of “customer experience management” to mean literally managing customers into outcomes that the companies want, without really understanding or caring about the experience part. The key phrase is customer experience: the customer’s experience.
The reality of customer experiences and customer service at many companies is still not-so-great – but improving customer experiences overall holds great potential for the company side of the story:
Satisfaction at all stages across the customer life cycle is low. While conventional wisdom focuses on customer service as the pivot point for customer satisfaction, only 32% of consumers and a paltry 11% of business buyers feel satisfied with the online research process. Similarly, fewer than half of consumers and just 17% of business buyers feel satisfied with the online purchase process. This unhappiness negatively impacts customers’ likelihood to purchase again or recommend the company to friends or colleagues.
Fixing the research and purchase process represents a big opportunity for vendors. A basic model for looking at the financial implications of improving online customer experience shows that a company could increase revenues by over $12 million annually in the research and sales process, while the cost savings for improving service could reach $2 million.
Adobe-Forrester study, 2010
The value that customers would receive from improving customer service and all other interactions with an enterprise is obvious.
Perceptions Are Reality
In most cases, companies cannot truly manipulate what customers actually experience, but companies have ownership of providing consistent high quality interactions in many channels, and making sure that the same positive interaction carries over from one channel to another. Companies can engender an internal “culture” where customer service is high priority and employees are enabled and empowered to provide it. Customer is the focus, the starting point, the point-of-view – actually the whole point, so again outside-in should be the over-arching mindset.
But it looks like too many organizations and enterprise teams are tripping over themselves with inside-out strategies that define their staffing roles, technology, marketing, and enterprise business processes. This approach will fall short, even fail.
The customer perception of interactions with a company is often the guts of the customer experience. For a company to “manage” customer experience at all, it should turn most of the management on itself: well-integrated processes plus excellent products, pricing, engagement – all oriented to serving customers well and meeting their real needs and desires. Companies have the power to very thoroughly own that sort of management and should exploit it to its fullest. Then it’s likely that the customer will have a good experience with the company, which generally leads to companies meeting their goals.
Not only do customers have no interest in being “managed” by a company, it’s really not possible. But solutions and practices for customer-focused touchpoints that occur through websites, social media, CRM, CEM, and product fulfillment can and should make it easier for customers to acquire products and services in ways that can also meet company goals. If dropping the notion of customer “command and control” in favor of recognizing that considerable power belongs to the customer proves to be more effective for gaining and retaining customers, then solutions for the above systems should facilitate customer-enabling functions. Customer experience management in particular should be about the ‘power of pull’ – a concept well-known from the work of John Hagel and John Seely Brown.
The Customer Journey - Orchestrating Touchpoints
In a way, what is being called customer experience management might be designated as “customer interaction touchpoints and business process orchestration” – but it’s highly doubtful that such a name would catch on. Orchestration is about multiple components working together in harmony. Touchpoints are all interactions with any and all enterprise functions, employees, and marketing / digital channels. They all matter – they are the milestones of the customer journey, some more important than others at times. Touchpoints are also components of multi-channel marketing, which has the challenge of nurturing and sustaining a unified customer experience across all channels, during the customer journey.
The hard work is taking what frequently is a collective of separate touchpoints and harmonizing the collective to enable the potential of excellent customer experiences. Orchestration and integration are key aspects of approaching a seamless experience across touchpoints – again this only works if the customer truly perceives the unified experience.
Certain significant touchpoints can be overlooked when considering how to engender positive customer experiences:
Think the only impressions your company makes are through branding, sales calls, and customer service? Think again. Mishandling interactions like reference management and billing can cause customer defection as quickly as a poor contact center experience
In fact, organizations of all sizes and levels of CRM sophistication often overlook six primary customer touch points: Reference management, Field service intelligence, Workflow management, Sales quoting, Customer segmentation, and Billing
More Wrong Turns
Bruce Temkin has a thorough series on mistakes companies make in their customer experience management efforts including Mapping Your Internal Touchpoints where “Companies often confuse internally-focused touchpoint mapping with externally-focused customer journey mapping”. Some of the mistakes made include:
Rely on internal analysis… examining internal processes (without) the context of how customers view their interactions with the organization.
Lack emotional design components Touchpoint mapping efforts often lead to redesigning of internal processes. But these changes are based on efficiency goals, not customers’ emotional needs.
Temkin shares this advice to change the company perspective to the customer POV:
Assume that customers view their journey differently than you do. This will force you to do the research to understand how customers perceive their entire relationship…reframe the objective in customer terms. For instance, find out how “customers want to buy” not “how we can sell.”
Uncover differences across customer segments. It’s unusual for all customers to share the identical journeys.
Answer three questions. Push hard to answer these three questions: 1) What are the most important touchpoints; 2) How are we doing in those key touchpoints; 3) What can we do to improve the customers’ perception of those touchpoints.
One of the biggest opportunities and challenges for enterprises who want to nurture excellent customer interactions is to implement high quality, in-depth customer analytics. In the IBM 2010 Global CEO Study, 88 percent of CEOs said “getting closer to customers” was the top priority for their business over the next five years. Many company leaders see opportunities through the right analytics to understand customer needs, desires and behaviors, to improve customer attraction and retention, and to ultimately drive revenue and growth.
Company goals will evolve with customer experience and engagement initiatives, both at tactical and strategic levels. As a result, metrics for successful customer interactions will also evolve. It’s likely that a hybrid of quantitative and qualitative metrics will become more pronounced, to reflect increased focus on high quality customer experiences, communications and outcomes when interacting with the company. Companies also want to measure the effectiveness of different engagement channels, cross-channel activities, touchpoints for the customer journey -- but measurement is now more complex due to the qualitative as well as quantitative aspects of customer engagement.
Bruce Temkin discusses the traps of applying metrics to company efforts when building out culture, initiatives and opportunities for positive customer experiences:
Companies often get enamored with a metric like Net Promoter Score (NPS) and lose sight of what’s really important: making improvement...the true power comes when (a metric) provides insight into where and how to make improvements.
Can’t answer “why.” Reporting on a metric can highlight strengths and weaknesses of a company’s overall customer experience…But if the company does not understand “why” customers are either happy or unhappy, then they can’t systematically improve customer experience and positively affect the metric.
Overuse a metric. Understanding if a customer is happy overall with an organization is quite different than understanding if her needs were met during a specific service call. But some companies blindly use the same metrics for each of those areas. A metric like NPS, for example, may be appropriate for examining relationship strength, but it’s not necessarily good for evaluating interactions.
Here is some of Temkin’s advice for deriving the right value from metrics:
Treat relationships and interactions differently. The questions you ask a customer about how they view your company can (and often should) be quite different than those that you ask about an interaction. Think about different questions and methods for five different types of insights: Relationship tracking, interaction monitoring, continuous listening, project infusion, and periodic immersion.
Measure relevant attitudes and behaviors. Businesses aren’t in the business of getting random people to recommend them. They hope to get that type of loyalty from successfully executing their mission. Develop measurements that test the attitudes and behaviors of target customer segments, making sure they line up with your specific business and brand strategy.
Build a robust voice of the customer (VoC) program. Creating isolated metrics will not drive change in an organization; especially when people don’t understand what drives the metric. Companies need to develop a voice of the customer (VoC) program that continuously shares actionable customer insights across the organization.
The Customer’s Experience and Customer Experience Management may not always be about the same thing, depending on how an enterprise goes after a customer-focused strategy that is not only tied to corporate goals, but to providing excellent customer service for every interaction on the customer journey.
My concern is not about turning a cultural construct into a technology solution, with the notion that this is the way to provide and control Customer Experiences. My concern is for the mindset that ‘customer experience’ can be owned and manipulated by companies through an ever-growing proliferation of digital marketing and technology platforms that give companies the illusion that they can “solve the problem of the customer experience”. First, customer experience is not a problem. Second, The customer experience is owned by the customer where the experience with a company is totally dependent on the customer’s perception regarding company interactions, both individually and as a harmonized collective.
People, processes, and practices, supported by the right technologies and a customer-focused strategy, all have a part in orchestrating the channels, the touchpoints, the interactions that comprise the customer journey. Excellent customer experiences really come from enterprise commitment, from top to bottom, to make sure customers are successful in every interaction and every experience with company products and services.