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What’s on Customer Experience Professionals’ Minds in 2012?

Posted by: Kevin Perlmutter on July 09, 2012

Forrester Research Forum Feedback 

There is no doubt that customer experience is more important than ever before for many companies – no longer viewed as nice to have, but a must have. Improving customer experience is foundational to Interbrand’s work for every client, every day.

After last year’s Forrester Customer Experience Forum, I reflected on the conversations Interbrand was having with many clients and the key themes that resonated during the forum. In 2011, five key themes emerged around crucial activities for launching significant customer experience improvement programs:

• Centralize customer experience leadership and embed key stakeholders across the company, working as cross-functional ambassadors.

• Have a clearly defined customer experience strategy that is integrally linked to the overall brand strategy - helping to guide how customers experience the brand at all touch points.

• Uncover actionable customer insights to serve as a road map to creating clear and relevant strategies to improve the customer experience.

• Orchestrate well-designed, seamless and consistent experiences that address customer needs efficiently and exceed expectations.

• Remember customer-centricity is not merely an initiative, but a long-term cultural commitment.

The difference in 2012 is many companies have gotten over the first hurdles in their efforts and they are looking to develop ways to take foundational elements up a notch. Those who have truly committed to customer-centricity are now deeply engaged in activating their strategies. Breaking down organizational barriers, they are proving what we all know to be true – good customer experiences add value to the brand and business.

What became clear this year are five key tactics that customer experience front-runners are using to overcome obstacles, drive activation and find success. They are evident in Interbrand’s client work, and were echoed throughout the Forrester 2012 event:

1. Recognize that Customer Expectations are High

2. Begin with an Outside-In Perspective

3. Drive Cultural Change

4. Think Mobile First

5. Measure What’s Relevant

A quote that came up in at least three presentations is, “We need customers more than they need us.” One speaker suggested attendees post this quote on the walls in their offices. The fact is if customers are not getting what they desire from a business in terms of product or experience, they will most likely go elsewhere the first chance they get. Customer expectations are high and businesses need to recognize this and plan for it to thrive, beginning with self-audits to see where improvement may be needed.

Getting an outside-in perspective is such a big topic, it was actually the official theme of the Forrester event and is the subject of an upcoming book by Forrester analysts. While the rigor of customer journey mapping is still important, there are other ways to get a perspective on how customers are experiencing a brand - mining customer data, conducting ethnographic research, mystery shopping or undercover observing. Today we need to get out from behind desks and into the shoes of customers. As we’ve seen with our own clients, “You may not like the way you look.”

For many companies sub-par customer experience is certainly not their intention, but has become systemic. The technology systems, layers of bureaucracy, departmental silos and the need for investment all get in the way of making improvements. Customers, however, don’t want to experience the “white space between channels,” as said by Laurie A. Tucker, SVP Corporate Marketing at FedEx. Therefore, it is crucial to break down organizational and cultural barriers to serving the customer how they want to be served. This was a consistent theme shared by forum presenters.

At Interbrand, we’ve helped those who have the courage to gather evidence, put together the vivid examples and business cases, and evangelize a vision of a better brand. We’ve worked with businesses to begin to turn around the most stubborn of corporate cultures.

As companies work to revolutionize their cultures, many are turning to technology to help them revolutionize the tools they’re using to improve customer experiences as well. In 2010 I published the article “Driving Demand with Wireless.”  The premise was that the impact of wireless was beginning to revolutionize how customers experience brands and how industries conduct business. This not only remains true, but is happening at an accelerated pace, especially as 4G LTE networks begin to light up.

Today, consumers want to experience things as intuitively as they do on a mobile device - as simple as “Finger to Glass” as said by Phil Bienert, SVP Consumer Digital Experience at AT&T. Marketers need to seriously consider the simplicity people have in accessing all that is core to their work and personal life, and recognize that it certainly shouldn’t be more difficult to get great customer service or make purchases. Lots can be accomplished by applying the simplicity of a mobile app to their other customer touch points.

Many companies collect large amounts of data. But how much of it is acted upon? More importantly, how much is truly taking the pulse of customers’ experiences? Those who have been successful are focusing on the right metrics. They are seamlessly connecting customer experience improvements to specific tangible results in terms of customer metrics and financial performance. They are also using that data to determine priorities for the next round of improvements.

Across many industries, Customer Experience is THE competitive battleground. Whether you recognize it or not, you can be sure your customers do.

According to Forrester, “Customer Experience leads to profits, but only if you treat it as a business discipline.” In other words, you may need to take it up a notch.

Kevin Perlmutter is a Senior Director of Brand Strategy in Interbrand’s New York office.

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