We have entered a defining moment in customer experience—and most people are barely aware it's happening. The convergence of three very different factors is completely redefining how customers are engaged, and the landscape is shifting quickly.
To begin, the most recent financial crisis has resulted in wholesale organizational focus on cost cutting. Customer expectations have plummeted as programs overseeing customer satisfaction have lost priority. At the same time, customers have never been savvier or better informed and their loyalties have practically dissolved. Finally, access to customer information and new technological possibilities (read: big data) is providing insight and engagement opportunities like never before.
With customer expectations significantly lowered, organizations that embrace and invest in paradigm-shifting customer experience management strategies will have the power to disrupt markets, redefine industries, and most significantly, make laggards obsolete.
Until recently, consumers have resigned themselves to companies behaving like companies. That is to say, companies were focused on making the most money they can, even at the expense of their own customers. In such an environment, it's easy to see why airlines give peanuts instead of meals, why checkout lines are longer, or why the DMV no longer even bothers to perforate my auto registration card before mailing it out. We bemoan the loss of mom-and-pop shops for exactly this unqualified and extensive personal attention.
There was a time when it didn't matter whether you bought a hex nut or a riding mower—you’d likely get a follow-up call to see if you were satisfied. No longer. Unless explicitly tied to improving sales, customers have been long overlooked.
Consider These Two Customer Experience Examples
Amazon has a solid track record of customer satisfaction, but their predictive shopping feature, which uses an algorithm pairing an item search with their massive database of shopping habits to offer other items, highlights a flaw in their CX strategy. It's helpful, but let's face it, the intention is mainly to encourage additional consumer purchases. An optional hotlink would be visually more appealing and improve the overall shopping experience.
Contrast that with Verizon Wireless's phone plan comparison tool. This intuitive, easy-to-use feature helps customers review their monthly usage history and then suggests a phone plan best suited to their habits, even if the plan costs less. On top of that, customers can change plans as many times as they like all without incurring a fee. The difference in those approaches is subtle, but clear.
Understanding these differences is important because the impacts of varying approaches to customer experience management will be far-reaching and immediate. Home Depot now has a policy that allows me to return items without the receipt. Any returns on credit card purchases go straight back to my card, which makes perfect sense, since they already have the information. Saving receipts, worrying about expirations, finding the right scrap of paper for the right return: it's all a massive pain, and Home Depot just made that pain go away.
I didn’t have to join a club, didn’t need to use their credit card, or jump through any special hoops. Without even having had to ask, I’m afforded the pleasure of no longer needing their receipts, and honestly, that makes me really happy. Then consider the broader result: I now expect all stores to provide that same service. I know they all have the same payment information, and I'm now annoyed if they don’t offer the service. That's right: I'm annoyed by a company that hasn't even had a chance to win my loyalty! If you are an executive running an operation, that statement should be terrifying. If Lowes didn't offer the same service (they do), I'd likely change my behavior and only shop at Home Depot.
That is your disrupter, and that’s what is starting to happen in small pockets all around us. The visionaries recognize we have entered the Age of the Customer, and that customers now determine our engagement with them, not the other way around. Uber emailing maps of your ride to ensure you were satisfied with the route; supermarkets texting discounts when you're nearby; USAA representatives recognizing your phone number, and asking if you're calling about a topic you recently searched on their website—these things are happening TODAY. These are the game changers borne out of programs focused on customer satisfaction, not bottom lines.
Three years ago, I joined Liferay as their first Customer Experience Manager and got to work creating a role for myself based on these standards. Since then I’ve been tasked with building our company's Customer Experience Department. From journey mapping and engagement strategies, to building a reference program, hiring other CXMs (and everything else in-between), it’s been an ever-evolving challenge—but a great one.
In subsequent posts, I'll be sharing what I've learned, where I’ve failed, and even a few success stories. I hope you'll share your customer experiences with me in return!