Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Never Confuse Movement for Action

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Journey maps are my favorite tool in the CX toolbox.

If you've been reading my blog -  or following me on social media - for a while, that statement should not be a surprise!

I've written many times about the reasons to map, the benefits of mapping, and some of the basic principles to ensure mapping success.

By now you know that journey mapping is a necessity if you want to understand the current state of the customer experience. You can’t transform something you don’t understand - in order to improve the experience and redesign to the desired future state, you need to map and understand the current state. Oftentimes, that understanding is not even so much about the map but more about the process – the discussions, the sharing, the learnings, and more.

The good news is that everyone seems to be mapping; the bad news is that not everyone’s getting it right. As a matter of fact, only a few are. And that leads to unnecessary frustration and the sentiment that maps are worthless … or that maps are not actionable. When you hear people saying that maps are a waste of time and maps aren’t actionable, then you know that something is missing, something hasn’t been done correctly. Just because you created a map doesn’t mean you're done. The map is just a picture at this point - hopefully a picture with a lot of information.

You know you need to act now. But you can’t. You don’t know how or what to do or what the map has done for you, right?

And that’s why I recently partnered with Passenger, an online community platform provider, to host a webinar about the 14 principles of journey mapping - principles that ensure that maps are actionable and acted upon. There can be no customer-driven transformation without adhering to these rules. Click the link to have a listen. There's a lot to do and to consider to ensure your maps are actionable, but adhering to the principles will be worth it!

Never confuse movement with action. -Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Why is Employee Retention Such a Challenge?

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I originally wrote today's post for Intradiem. It was published on their blog on February 23, 2016.

The phrase "employee retention" sends shivers down the spines of some folks.

And it ought to. Employee turnover is expensive to any company in a variety of ways, not the least of which is the impact on the customer experience, too.

According to Gallup:
Engaged employees are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work. Gallup's extensive research shows that employee engagement is strongly connected to business outcomes essential to an organization's financial success, such as productivity, profitability and customer engagement. Engaged employees support the innovation, growth, and revenue that their companies need.
Employee engagement is dismally low, hovering around 32%, based on Gallup's recent survey findings. Look around you; seven out of ten people you see are basically just showing up at work and doing the minimal requirements of the job. Those seven people are likely either complacent, biding their time til the right opportunity comes along,  or actively looking for another job.

Employee retention is a challenge!

And, to add to it, this headline surfaced on a Fast Company article recently: You Should Plan On Switching Jobs Every Three Years For The Rest Of Your Life. It raises mixed feelings for me. But with advice like that, retention becomes even more challenging. Or even, to some degree, almost nonexistent.

As an employee, I'm not opposed to this concept. I think that staying in one place too long can serve as a disservice to both the employee and the employer. The employee is only exposed to "how we do things." And the employer gets stuck in the "we've always done it this way" rut. The employee doesn't get a broader, more diverse perspective, which is often gained from working for a variety of employers. The employer loses out on innovation and creativity that often comes from "fresh blood."

As an employer, it raises a few concerns. Namely, I don't want to incur the costs associated with hiring new employees every year. And the impact on the customer experience every time I lose a more-seasoned employee and have to start over again with a new one is huge. Plus, the time invested in training and developing the employee also becomes costly. But, then I'm reminded of the saying...
What if we train employees, and they just leave?
What if we don't train them, and they stay?
... and so that cost needs to be absorbed, either way.

In light of that headline, how can we make "employee retention" a reality? Don't get me wrong; there are plenty of people who have worked for their current employers for 10 or 20 or 30 years or more. That longevity does still exist; I think it exists more so in larger, more traditional corporations. If you're like me and have worked for startups or smaller companies for much of your career, you're familiar with the frequency of job changes that occurs when working for those types of companies.  They're fast moving and evolve at the speed of light. They afford employees a lot of opportunities to do, learn, and experience different parts of running a business, to build their skills and their resumes at a much faster pace. I think the speed of these businesses often drives burnout; the speed is also a bit of a time warp: three years at these companies is like 10 years anywhere else.

But, I digress.

How can employers ensure that employees will stay for longer than three years? There are a few ways, but they all fall under one large umbrella topic: leadership must focus on the employee experience. There are a lot of components of a great employee experience, but I believe the key factors ultimately driving retention are:
  • development and growth opportunities: if you've got ambitious employees (and if they're leaving their jobs every three years to "move on up," then they are ambitious), not laying out a career development plan - and making sure you execute on it - is going to be detrimental
  • education and training: ongoing education and training on the latest and greatest trends, challenges, products, methodologies, innovations, and thinking not only in your industry but also relevant to each employee's individual role; employees who aren't always learning and being challenged remain stagnant and will end up getting left behind (or leave you behind)
  • recognition: making sure employees know how their work contributes to the overall vision of the business, that their work matters, and that their contributions matter are of utmost importance
  • leadership: be a leader that cares, is well respected and trusted, communicates clearly and honestly, and encourages and facilitates the development and growth of her employees
Oftentimes, companies don't find out until it's too late why employees are leaving. Companies are keen on conducting exit interviews, presumably for the benefit of the employees who remain. If they were to conduct stay interviews, instead, there can be a regular check-in about how well those four items above are being delivered on.

While exit interviews are more like autopsies in nature, stay interviews are more like your wellness visits, focusing on what current employees enjoy about working for the company, as well as on aches and pains and what needs to be fixed. As an employee is walking out the door, there is really nothing that a manager can correct immediately to keep him, while employees who are staying can be reassured that they are appreciated and can witness their feedback being used to transform the organization and its culture.

How well are you delivering on your initiatives to retain employees? You do have employee retention initiatives in place, right?

Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to. -Richard Branson

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Intelligent Customer Touchpoints: What Are They and Why Do You Need Them?

Image courtesy of Unsplash
Today I'm pleased to share a guest post by Stamos Kanellakis.

In the late 20th century, marketers began to make products and services available through digital channels. Today, product portfolios have morphed into feature-rich apps. Customer expectations, swayed by the latest digital innovations, have put stress on traditional models and have prompted companies to transform their businesses to deliver better customer experiences. Complications arise when businesses try to understand what constitutes a better customer experience. At CohnReznick, we have identified five “universal” attributes to answer that question:
  • Identity: Today’s customers are more diverse, more connected, and more powerful than ever before, making identification and micro-segmentation absolutely necessary
  • Consistency: Most customer interactions happen during a multi-event, multi-channel journey. As customers switch channels, they expect to receive the same level of quality
  • Responsiveness: The majority of U.S. online adults say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with a good experience and retain them
  • Convenience: Companies that help consumers simplify the purchase journey have customers who are more likely to purchase their products and more likely to recommend their brand to others.
  • Personalization: Consumers are acknowledging that businesses can influence shopping behaviors by delivering relevant messaging and making shopping experiences more personal
When customer interactions (or “touchpoints”) are identity-driven, digitally enabled, rapidly drive outcomes, require low levels of effort, and utilize a broad spectrum of known information, customers not only receive better experiences but businesses are also able to provide such experiences at lower cost. Let’s take a look at a few examples:

1. Identify and Understand Customers
Identity-driven touchpoints are designed to understand who the prospect or customer is. Data points include demographics, psychographics, behavioral attributes, and value-based. Dafiti Brazil is the largest e-commerce for fashion and lifestyle in Latin America. Dafiti introduced social login, which simplifies the process of creating an account because customers no longer need to remember an extra login/password, and it also helps to automatically fill out registration forms. When customers use the social login, they grant Dafiti permission to capture their social profile to be used for personalized messages, product recommendations, and a personalized website, all of which increase engagement and conversion rates.

2. Deliver Convenience Digitally
Digitally-enabled customer touchpoints include mobile web, mobile apps, text messaging, live chat, online customer communities, live videoconferencing, and self-service portals. These digital channels address the customer need for convenience. BBVA Compass is one of the leading banking institutions in Latin America. The bank’s recently-released mobile app features broad capabilities and an interface that anticipates customers’ needs. If a customer checks transactions, for instance, it prompts him or her to make a transfer, deposit a check, or set an account alert without forcing the user to visit the main menu. If a customer needs to pay a bill, he or she simply types in the business name, and the app fills in the address, and then makes a payment when the user says “go.” The mobile deposit feature automatically takes a photo of the customer’s check as soon as it registers a clear image.

3. Accelerate Outcomes
The speed of doing business has been accelerating, and today’s consumers are expecting companies to rapidly drive outcomes. Intelligent customer touchpoints do just that. Akamai is the leading content delivery network services provider. The company’s recently-introduced online community gives customers, partners, and guests access to a wide variety of content, news, and events, as well as training materials. Members collaborate with each other via discussions, Q&A, documents, ideation, and polls. In addition to public groups, the community hosts private account groups where customers and partners collaborate securely and directly with their account teams. Improved self-service helps customers get answers and information quickly, leading to stronger relationships and improved customer satisfaction.

4. Reduce Effort
Customer Level of Effort (LoE) refers to the combination of the required skill and time put forth by customers to complete required activities. Think about the basic task of accessing detailed product information while shopping in a store. Shoppers have to verify the product’s manufacturer and model or type, then conduct searches online, a process that often takes time and effort to complete. To address this frustration, BestBuy introduced technology that enables shoppers to scan a product’s RFID and instantly access detailed product information as they navigate the store. In case shoppers need even more information, they can easily get expert service right in the palm of their hands with the simple touch of a button or shake of the phone. Requests are prioritized to receive a response within seconds. This intelligent customer touchpoint results in significant cost-to-serve savings while reducing customers’ LoE.

5. Leverage Information to Deliver Personalization
Not long ago, businesses’ access to customer information was limited to transactional data. Today, consumers prefer to do business with brands that use personal information to make their shopping experiences more relevant. Macy’s gives online shoppers a tool to obtain feedback from friends on products that they are considering purchasing, using a polling widget on their site. Once the poll is created, the shopper shares it directly to his or her Facebook timeline for friends to see, along with a message asking for their opinion, and vote, for the product. 48 hours later, the shopper has input. Macy’s has earned impressions from the shoppers’ friends by tapping into their social graph. Macy’s can then utilize fresh information to personalize the shopping experience and improve the accuracy and relevancy of marketing campaigns.

According to a recent Gartner survey research report, by the end of 2016, 89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, up from just 36% four years ago. Customer experiences are no longer just about usability and ease-of-use but also about connecting, inspiring, and engaging with customers. Deploying “intelligent” customer touchpoints is the only way to stay competitive.

Read the full CohnReznick whitepaper here.

Stamos Kanellakis helps businesses deliver relevant, sustainable and competitive customer experiences. He currently serves as the Senior Manager for CohnReznick’s Digital and Innovation Services practice.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Is Your Company Led by Lean Leaders?

Image courtesy of 12:51_photography
Are your company executives lean leaders?

Last month, I wrote about the concept of lean management and what that means not only for your company but also for your customers.

If company leadership wants to transform the culture of the organization and become a lean company, they've first got to understand what comprises lean leadership. And then ask themselves if they "qualify." In other words, they need to be lean leaders themselves.

What does that mean?

Lean for Dummies outlines the following behaviors of lean leaders.

They know how the business serves the customers by:
  • Understanding what customers want, need, and value, or what will thrill them
  • Knowing how the business satisfies the customer
  • Improving the effectiveness of how the business satisfies the customer
They build ability in the people through:
  • Guiding problem solving — root cause, right problem, right resources
  • Leading from gemba; applying 3Gen
  • Asking open-ended, probing questions
They show a continuous improvement mindset by:
  • Continually challenging the status quo
  • Knowing that there is always room for improvement
  • Understanding that the customer changes — what delights today is a necessity tomorrow
They focus on process and results by:
  • Obtaining results
  • Ensuring that how the results are achieved is the most effective utilization of all resources, in the direction of the ideal state
  • Improving how the organization accomplishes results
They demonstrate an understanding of the value stream at a macro and micro level through:
  • Knowing what the customer requires and how the value stream satisfies them
  • Having knowledge of the overall value stream, including tributaries
  • Asking questions when changes are made at the local level to ensure that the team understands how the change will impact the customer and the rest of the value stream
They create a culture to sustain improvement by:
  • Identifying, modeling, and encouraging Lean behaviors
  • Finding the lessons in every “failure” — blame does not foster improvement or innovation
  • Respecting and improving standards — questions when the organization is deviating from the standard
I could've stopped right there and claimed that I knew enough about lean leaders. But I thought I'd take a look at a couple of other sites offering up traits and behaviors of lean leaders in order to hear some different perspectives.

TBM Consulting Group explained nine behaviors and actions of lean leadership in their whitepaper, 9 Ways Leaders' Actions Can Sustain Lean Progress.
  1. Communicate the vision
  2. Always update standard work 
  3. Go on gemba walks 
  4. Build a continuous improvement culture
  5. Foster a respectful, team-drive organization
  6. Continue to motivate employees
  7. Maintain regular training
  8. Reinforce performance and progress with metrics and visual-management tools
  9. Post continuous-improvement scorecards
And, finally, Process Excellence Network shared six traits of lean leaders. They...
  1. Embrace that lean is a journey and requires long-term thinking, patience, and a sustainability mindset.
  2. Relentlessly pursue perfection, which is the essence of Kaizen thinking.
  3. Have a fanatical focus on customers, as they are the beginning and end of everything in lean.
  4. Champion simplicity, making "find and eliminate waste" their mantra.
  5. Live gemba, spending time where it happens, at various employee and customer touchpoints
  6. Are authentic, upstanding, and respectful, as lean leaders are coaches who lead by example
As I read the traits from these three sources, I realized that they've included all the things we typically preach when it comes to a customer experience/culture transformation. One of my favorite aspects is the notion of gemba (which all three sources have in common), going to see where the action happens. If you don't see for yourself, if you don't understand it, if you don't gather facts at the point where "it" happens, then you can't transform it.

Now, how do we develop leaders with these traits? Or instill these traits into our leaders? If they came with these traits, wouldn't your job as a customer experience professional be much easier?

There are three kinds of leaders: those who tell you what to do, those who allow you to do what you want, and Lean leaders who come down to the work and help you figure it out. -John Shook

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Don't Water Your Weeds

Today I'm pleased to share a guest post by Ben Motteram, aka CXpert. His post includes an interview with Olivia McMillan of REA Group.

CX Journey delved into the concept of lean management a few weeks ago. At its core, lean management is about maximising customer value while minimising waste. It originated as a manufacturing process in Toyota after the Second World War and has since been adapted beyond manufacturing to software development, logistics and distribution, retail, healthcare, construction, and as we’re about to see, product development.

REA Group was born in a garage in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne in 1995 and operates Australia’s leading residential and commercial property websites, realestate.com.au and realcommercial.com.au. By any measure, it’s a  remarkably successful business. Today it operates in over 10 countries and is listed on the Australian stock exchange with a market cap of almost A$8bn.

Nigel Dalton, a veteran evangelist of lean, agile, and systems thinking, is the Chief Information Officer at REA Group. For over 14 years, he has been a keen advocate for applying the principles of lean not just to IT but to all areas of the company and, particularly, to product development.

I recently caught up with Olivia McMillan, who manages a team of 35 agents handling 16,000 interactions per month in what REA Group calls its Customer Experience Centre, to ask her how the principles of lean thinking are exemplified within the business.

Ben Motteram: So Olivia, I keep hearing the terms "agile," "lean," and "systems thinking." I know all three are crucial to REA Group’s Customer Experience Centre’s success. How do you differentiate between the three?

Olivia McMillan
: Our Customer Experience Centre has the privilege of working within a technology company that celebrates innovation and speed to market. In my mind, a customer experience centre can have all three of these frameworks actively working together synergistically, and, when done right, the outcome should be an engaged team and happy customers.

1. Agile is a working framework that focuses on frequent sharing of information within a team. This frequent knowledge sharing enables the team to adapt quickly when things change and seeds accountability and teamwork. 

An example of Agile practices at work in our Customer Experience Centre is our daily stand-up. Every morning, we gather together and share insights from the day before as well as key updates for the day to come. These conversations help us to identify and to react to current trends in customer needs and enable our team to self-organise resourcing for the day ahead (rather than using a dedicated workforce manager). This process of self-organisation empowers our people and ultimately enables us to provide a better service to our customers.

2. Lean is the framework we use to achieve high velocity speed to market – an approach that often refers to releasing a Minimum Viable Product rather than sinking exhaustive resources and time into perfecting something before your customers see it. Deploying lean methodologies dictates that if you’re going to fail, you fail fast instead of slow.

We all know how cumbersome and expensive scaled contact centre software can be. Deploying these systems in full before we know if they are going to work for our specific needs isn’t a luxury we have. To that end, we are fortunate at REA Group to work with technologists who are passionate about fast improvement.

A great example of lean in our world is a project undertaken by our team as part of our last company Hack Day (we hold Hack Days quarterly). Our project, fully developed and completed within two days, provided an internal app to our sales force that brought visibility to our current phone wait and email turn-around times and offered direct chat to our team such that when they are on the road they can contact us in the fastest method possible. It’s not an all-singing, all-dancing product but it has provided a level of visibility to our entire sales force that they have never had before, and it’s enabled us to get feedback quickly from our sales team as to what they need to see from us to improve our relationships with them. We’ve continued to develop this app since Hack Day.

3. Systems thinking is basically working to improve a core issue rather than working on the symptoms of it and is something that I believe contact centres are uniquely positioned to do. Our team has an obligation to provide the feedback that our customers give us to our product teams to inform product fixes, service fixes, anything to make the customer experience better. We send product and market insights that our customers entrust us with across all departments within REA Group and have people from other internal areas actively sitting beside us as well hearing feedback directly from customers to inform their roadmaps.

BM: It sounds like you’d need a very engaged workforce to make this work successfully.

OM: Absolutely. Actually all of these processes are about team engagement. I believe that if we can create a culture of empowerment for our people, of trust and respect, then this will ultimately convert to a positive customer experience. To do this, it’s not enough, however, to just deploy these processes – you need first to ensure everyone is aligned to a purpose, with agreed and bought-into values and behaviours.

By doing all of this, we don’t just make the Customer Experience Centre the centre of the business, we make the customer experience the centre of the business.

BM: One of the points I picked up from Annette’s original article was the idea about defining value from the standpoint of the end customer. How does REA Group obtain insight about their customers and what they value?

OM: I couldn’t agree with Annette more. Understanding customer pain points is at the heart of all of the frameworks we have spoken about. If you’re on the wrong track about what your customer is actually experiencing, then you’ve got little hope of solving their problems. To this end, REA Group also employs the principles within the Design Thinking framework. But this is probably an entirely other conversation!

BM: So if another contact centre manager was reading this today and thinking about adopting the same practices as REA Group, where would you suggest they start?

OM: Well, I can only say where I started – by talking to a lot of people to understand the current landscape and then doing a hell of a lot of reading… and then some more talking. Honestly, though, the people in your contact centre are going to be the best place to start – they are the ones who will ultimately make a transition to this way of working or not, so their buy-in from the start is imperative.

After that, if I could recommend one book, I’d say that Freedom from Command and Control would be a great start. It explores Systems Thinking approaches in contact centres and looks at getting to the heart of customer issues to solve them once and for all rather than address symptoms. Also, if you can, grab a copy of Designing for Growth – it’s great for practical applications within a team of some of the principles we’ve discussed. I could also suggest picking up Toyota Under Fire – a great case study on how Toyota overcame an extreme management crisis within a contact centre.

BM: Thanks for taking the time to take us through this today, Olivia. It’s certainly de-mystified a lot of these concepts for me and provided insight into what sounds like a really interesting workplace.

OM: My pleasure! Thanks for the opportunity!

Ben Motteram is the Principal at CXpert, a Customer Experience consulting company that helps their clients grow by placing the customer at the centre of everything they do. With over 20 years of experience in customer service, Ben has been recognised many times for the thought leadership articles that are regularly published on his blog. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome insights on everything to do with customer experience, customer service, and employee engagement.

Olivia McMillan is the Senior Manager – Customer Experience at REA Group, a multinational digital advertising company specialising in property. Fluent with the agile delivery process and passionate about customer centric innovation, Olivia manages a team of 30 agents in REA’s Customer Experience Centre.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Power of Questions

Image courtesy of henrybloomfield
Question everything!

Last week I wrote about catalytic questioning, a concept derived by Hal Gregersen, a wise man who focuses on innovation, disruption, and questioning the norm in order to wreak havoc on the status quo.

I know. Some people say that "disrupt" is an over-used, cliche business term. I disagree. At any point in time, we are either disrupting or being disrupted. Which describes your company? And which would you rather yours be?

How do we disrupt? According to the video below from Gregersen's talk at the SAP Executive Summit, there are two main things that all disruptors do:
  1. They think differently.
  2. They do things differently.
Not a real epiphany, right? But there are ties back to his concept of catalytic questioning, of course. How do you get to the point where you think and do things differently? Gregersen explains in the video, but at a high level...
  • Ask a lot of questions, i.e., provocative questions, questions that cause people to be uncomfortable
  • Question everything
  • Figure out which questions we don't know we don't know and start asking them; if we don't, someone else will start asking them - and then we become the disrupted
  • If we don't change our questions, we will not come up with a new solution
  • We're not trying to destroy everything; we just want to know what we're dead wrong about
  • Ask and identify: what's working? what's not? why? what's surprising?

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. -Albert Einstein

I love that he asks about a question-centric culture and leaders. This is an important thing to consider and to develop. The post I wrote about a culture of curiosity echoes his sentiment. Encourage employees to ask questions, to question everything. You cannot evolve or advance as a business on the same thinking, the same processes, the same culture, the same everything that you're doing today. And yet, this is where a lot of companies get stuck.

The same is true for the employee experience and for the customer experience. If you're looking to make a transformation - a real, meaningful transformation - you've got to first understand the status quo or current state and then question why it has to be that way. You know your employees and your customers are doing that every day. Listen to them. And then ask yourself the hard questions. Ask yourself the right questions.

Stay hungry. Stay foolish. -Stewart Brand

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Ask Better Questions to Unlock Creative Solutions

Image courtesy of terryhadalittlelamb
What on Earth is catalytic questioning?

My only exposure to the word "catalytic" was as a kid, when my dad (who used to work at Ford Motor Co.) would talk cars at the dinner table. Have you ever heard of a catalytic converter? It is typically part of a car's exhaust system; it's an emissions control device that turns toxic gases into less-toxic pollutants.

What are you talking about, Annette? How does that relate to customer experience? Or anything else you ever write about?

I'll get there. I promise!

I recently learned about Hal Gregersen and a concept he developed called catalytic questioning. In a nutshell, it's a five-step system he created to get people to think differently. It's an alternative to brainstorming.

Of course, "catalytic" is really something that is a catalyst. Ergo, catalytic questioning is looking for those catalyst questions, those questions that are the basis of disrupting - or that help you to disrupt - the status quo.

According to an article Gregersen published in Harvard Business Review in 2013, the five steps of catalytic questioning are:
  1. Gather your team around a white board, flip chart, or some other tool to capture inputs
  2. Identify a problem that your team is passionate about and wants to solve but one for which they don't yet have the answer
  3. Question everything; engage in question talk, reflect on questions posed, and ask better questions; ask/compile 50-75 questions
  4. Decide which questions are most catalytic, or most likely to lead to disrupting the status quo
  5. Find answers; talk to people who don't think like you
Leverage the answers to find better solutions, and use the process over and over again to get deeper insights.

Check out this video for an explanation, in Hal Gregersen's own words, of this concept.

Gregersen has said that the goal is to search for the right question, the one that might be surprising, the one that makes us uncomfortable, the one that might cause us to get some better data - to ultimately disrupt and do things differently. Which questions will drive you to collect primary data, to hopefully solve the problem if you went out and collected data?

Additionally, the goal is to see the problem differently just by asking questions. This alone rarely gives us the answer but often points us in a different direction, causing us to disrupt not only the category but also our own thinking.

As you think about your customer experience strategy and improvement efforts or your culture transformation, what problems are you encountering? How are you solving them? Are your current problem-solving methods working? Are you looking for a different/better approach to identifying solutions? Could you leverage catalytic questions to get unstuck from an issue or challenge that you can't seem to resolve?

The most common source of management mistakes is not the failure to find the right answers. It is the failure to ask the right questions. Nothing is more dangerous in business than the right answer to the wrong question. -Peter Drucker

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

CX Journey™ Musings: Customer Experience is the Next...

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We've all heard it. What gives?

We've all seen the reports and the studies and the statistics that "customer experience is the next... battlefield, competitive battleground, competitive advantage, competitive frontier, marketing, ___ [fill in the blank]."

I recently saw a report stating that customer experience will be the competitive advantage by 2020; another said that it would be the primary point of differentiation by 2017; and yet another stated that customer experience is the next marketing race; and so on. Again, fill in the "next ___ [blank]."

Ironically, I came across a report from two years ago that said that in two years (like, now) it would be the competitive advantage.

Enough already.

Customer experience isn't the next anything. It's the here and now! It's the current battlefield, etc. It's the battlefield of yesterday. Why do these analysts keep coming up with those great headlines, and yet they know in their heart of hearts that companies need to be focusing on the experience today?

The purpose of a business is to create (and to nurture) a customer. Every day. Not two years from now, not four years from now. Today.

Using headlines like "customer experience will be the only competitive advantage in 2020" kicks the can down the road for those companies that are already ignoring the fact (or not getting it) that improving the customer experience is critical today.

Seriously, what gives?

Customers want personalized and simplified experiences. They want companies to "know me" and to reduce the effort to achieve some task or to do some job. If you can accomplish those two things, you've won the competitive battle!

Customers have expectations. And their expectations may differ from the two I noted in the previous paragraph. Companies need to listen and understand. All they have to do is ask. Or listen. And customers will tell them about the experience they want.

Here's the problem with a customer experience and culture transformation: it's a lot of work. A lot of hard work. It's a journey. You've got to move mountains. And silos.

Can you name the last great customer experience you had, outside of "the usuals." I cannot. My last great experience was with a "usual," i.e., Amazon. Otherwise, I'm drawing a blank.

I long for the day when I have to think long and hard about a time when I had a crappy experience. Sadly, I'm not losing sleep over that day; I don't think it will happen in two years, four years, or  during my lifetime, for that matter. I hope I'm proven wrong.

Your customers are responsible for your company’s reason for existing. -Marilyn Suttle