Customer Experience: what you need to get to make a success of your CX initiatives

What Forrester has to say on CX in 2012

I have been reading  Forrester’s 2012 Customer Experience predictions.  Forrester is making three predictions: C-level execs will officially name customer experience as a top strategic priority; companies will focus on delivering unified customer experiences; and consultants of every shape and size will develop educational programs.  Does that sound great?  Well it could be great for CX professionals and for the army of consultants, service designers and training providers.

What I say about what Forrester says

I predict that the bulk of the money and effort spent on Customer Experience will be ‘wasted’.  What do I mean by ‘wasted’?  I mean that it will not generate the kind of customer advocacy and loyalty that the Tops are looking for.  Why is that?  Because many companies will fail to create the kind of value that customers are looking for.  Why is that?  Because the people in these organisations will go about Customer Experience in a way which has failure already built in.  Before I explain the trap and point towards the door that lets you escape from the trap I need to share a couple of concepts with you.

Distinguishing between context and content

Context shapes content (phenomena including thoughts, feelings, behaviours) and yet it is invisible to us most of the time.  We only tend to see the hidden context when things break down dramatically – think of the financial crisis (before, after).   One of the best visual illustrations of context and how it ‘shapes’ content is this advert aired by the Guardian newspaper. Did you watch this 30 second ad?  No, then please do watch it as it is central to the rest of this post.  I remember that this ad made a huge impact on me when I was growing up.  Why?  Because when I saw the skinhead I jumped to an unkind interpretation – most people did because at the time there was a certain kind of context around skinheads.  The beauty of the ad was that it destroyed that context and through deploying a radically different context the content of the ad (what the skinhead does) showed up, occurred, in a very different manner.

“Who you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you are saying”  Emerson

A product company doing Customer Experience is still a product company.  A short term financials focussed company doing Customer Experience is still a short-term financial focussed company.  An internally riven company doing Customer Experience is still internally riven.  A company that does not genuinely care for nor connect with customers doing Customer Experience is still a company that does not genuinely care for nor connect with customers.  A value extractor doing Customer Experience is still a value extractor.

“The context is decisive” Werner Erhard

What does Werner Erhard mean when he says that “The context is decisive”?  One way (and it is only one way) of thinking about context is to think of it as ‘playing field’ rather like a soccer pitch (complete with all that goes with it including the goals, line markings etc), a rugby pitch, an ice hockey rink…..   By saying “The context is decisive” Werner is pointing us towards the fact that a soccer pitch calls ‘a game of soccer’ into being.  A rugby pitch calls ‘a game of rugby’ into being.  A chessboard calls a ‘game of chess into being’.  Yet he is saying more than that and to convey that I need to dive into a real life example so please bear with me.

Imagine centre-court at Wimbledon during the annual June championships.  The semi-finals are complete, there are only two players left in the tournament and it is the afternoon of the final – to decide who become champion.  On the day of the final there is a particular context (‘playing field’ ) that is in play – it both calls some stuff into being automatically AND at the same time this context rules out a whole bunch of stuff.  For example, given the context which gives rise to the final we can say:

  • The context calls the finalists to prepare thoroughly to be worth players on centre court and co-create a great match;
  • The spectators (sitting in the stands) have high expectations regarding the match they expect to see – they expect a thrilling battle between two masters of the game of Tennis, they expect twists and turn, they expect to be thoroughly engagement in an enthralling drama;
  • Amongst the spectators are members of royalty, heads of states, captains of commerce, celebrities of many kinds and past champions – the context has called them to be present another context (an ordinary tennis match) would not bring these people to be present and watch the match;
  • The umpire, the linesman and the ball boys and girls are carefully selected to ensure only the best end up on the court – anything less is simply not appropriate, it lacks Integrity as regards the context that is giving rise to the play;
  • The context rules out all kind of stuff like replacing one or both of the two remaining contestants. It excludes the possibility that there will not be a reserve umpire, reserve linesmen, reserve ball boys and ball girls.  It also excludes the possibility that all the equipment (needed for the match to take part in a way that works) will not be checked and probably double checked. It also rules out the possibility that the sports media elite will not turn up to record and make commentary on the final.  And so forth.

I hope that you now have a good enough grasp of context and content and in particular the relationship between context and content.  If you have not then allow me to make one last effort to convey what I wish to convey. Imagine that two men go to battle – they are on opposite sides and both are equally capable.  Yet one man is absolutely convinced that he is going into battle to safeguard the future of his wife, children, community – their lives, their future is at stake.  The other man is going to battle because he has been conscripted against his well and he is totally convinced that the other side is ‘good’ and his side is ‘bad’.  Do you get that these two men will behave differently as the contexts which give them being and shape their thoughts, feelings and actions are so radically different.   If you life was at stake on betting on the right man which man would you bet on?

Let’s back to my assertion that the bulk of CX efforts will fail because they will fall into a trap.  I also stated that I’d share the way out of the trap with you.

Making a success of your Customer Experience efforts: context is everything!

The trap is simple and even though I am going to share it with you most of the people who matter (in companies) will ignore what I have to say.  Which is kind of great for those of you who are in a place to get what I have to share and then act on it.  What is the trap?   The following from a recent post on Zappos points in the direction of the trap:

“One definite challenge is that we are still seen as a shoe retailer when in fact we sell much more than that! Our product catalog spans from clothing to footwear to house wares to beauty to accessories and even sporting goods! Perceptions are not easy to change overnight unless you’re willing to be bold. The one constant is that we are a service company that happens to sell __________ (fill in the blank). Our biggest efforts revolve around building likeability around our brand so that consumers turn to a brand that they trust, find reliable, and have an emotional connection with. That’s where service comes in!

Do you see the trap? The trap is to come from the context of ‘business as usual’ and do Customer Experience – that is to say that Customer Experience occurs as another technique for winning the game of ‘business as usual’.  If we use the analogy of a game of chess then Customer Experience is simply either a chess piece or it is a move or combination of moves in the game of chess.   If that is abstract then think of it this way.  Within the context of a desert pine trees do not grow no matter how much effort you make to grow pine trees. And even if they do grow they will be a feeble version of the real thing!

What is the way out of the trap?  Put in place the context that calls for Customer Experience, welcomes it and actively helps it to flower in abundance and yield the fruits.  Then whatever you do as regards Customer Experience will occur and take hold through effortless effort.  Look carefully and you will see that the context underpinning Zappos is “Delivering Happiness” and “The one constant is that we are a service company that happens to sell __________ (fill in the blank). Our biggest efforts revolve around building likeability around our brand so that consumers turn to a brand that they trust, find reliable, and have an emotional connection with. That’s where service comes in!”  How did Howard Schultz turn around Starbucks?  By changing the context from “breakneck growth no matter what it takes” to “the customer experience one cup at a time”.  Look at Amazon and the context is “the earth’s most customer-centric company”.  And if you turn towards Apple (and Steve Jobs) the context was a combination of “making a dent in the universe”, “humanizing technology” and the “customer experience”.

Summing it all up

If you want to make a success of your Customer Experience efforts then start with the context not the content.  If you have round hole (in a wooden board) then no matter which shapes you try the one that will fit with the least effort and with the best fit is a round block. You can try fitting the other shapes (squares, rectangles, triangles, star…)- it is likely to occur as hard work, the result will not look great and when the board is shaken hard enough the other shapes will fall out.  Ever wondered why organisational change does not last?  Now you have your answer.

What do you think?  Have I missed something?  Do you have a different experience (notice I did not say point of view)?

Are you confusing marketing focus with customer focus?

Here is what the latest Forrester reports says on loyalty schemes

I just read a piece by marketing week that discusses the key findings of the latest Forrester report on customer loyalty schemes.  Here are the key points that speak to me:

  • “The problem is that many brands fail to set long-term objectives for their schemes and are too focused on immediate sales and customer acquisition.  Instead they need to look beyond tactical activity and study what is driving customer value.”
  • There is little differentiation, poor communication and promotional support, while many programmes are not integrated with the sales cycle or in sync with branding;
  • There are also problems with measuring results and targeting the same consumers too often;
  • The drive for loyalty should fuel a brand’s entire marketing strategy; and
  • Loyalty must be earned and is usually the result of a series of compelling brand experiences which the consumer enjoys over time.

This got me thinking why so many marketing heavy organisations fail to embody customer focussed behaviour.  Is it possible that over the last ten years these organisations, or their marketing functions, have learned little?  Or is it that these organisations and their marketers confuse a marketing focus with a customer focus?

Here is brief reminder of the characteristics of a marketing focussed organisation v a customer-focussed one.

Characteristics of a marketing focussed organisation? 

I had the good fortune to work within a marketing focussed organisation (International Distillers & Vintners) some years ago and since then I have done some consulting to such organisations.  Here are the key characteristics that I have distinguished:

  • There tends to be strong belief that the organisation can prevail through bigger marketing budgets and smarter marketing despite any shortcomings in the product, distribution channels and customer relationships;
  • tendency to assume that they are in tune with customer needs and priorities yet when you dig under the surface what you find is that the ‘research’ is deeply flawed and in effect leads the ‘witness’ to provide the answers the marketers want  – even if this is at a subconscious level;
  • tendency to collapse marketing campaign success with success in cultivating customer relationships, customer value and customer loyalty.  In doing this they ignore the impact on the 80+% of customers that did not respond to the campaign because they did not find it relevant.
  • tendency to be blind to the totality of the customers experience with the organisation e.g. across business divisions, product lines, interaction channels and during the after-sales part of the customer journey;
  • the marketing function has little interest and/or power to shape and influence the customer experience across all the interaction channels and touchpoints. And no-one else is doing that either.

Characteristics of a customer focussed organisation

There are a lot less customer-focussed organisations yet there are enough of them to distinguish some of their defining characteristics.  Here are the ones that are key for me:

  • There is clarity on which types of customers the organisation is best placed to serve well and effort is made to select only those customers to ensure fit and minimise disappointment on the customer side and ‘waste’ in the organisation in terms of returns, disputes, complaints, bad press etc;
  • The business model is centred on retaining customers, cultivating customer loyalty and getting a bigger share of the customer spend;
  • The leaders personally identify and embody the customer-focussed philosophy and this is obvious to the people the work within the organisation and to the customers;
  • The senior management devote considerable organisational resources (including their time) to uncovering customer needs, segmenting customers by their needs and then coming up with and delivering propositions that create superior value for these customer segments on an ongoing basis;
  • A way of speaking and doing things that puts the customer and cultivating customer relationships at the heart of the business;
  • Hiring managers who have an affinity for people and can inspire the best of their employees by providing the employees an environment in which they feel appreciated, supported and rewarded for doing things that make the right impressions on customers;
  • An organisational design that recognises the need to structure around customer segments as much as product families and functional silos; and
  • Technology platform that enables the employees to anticipate and respond quickly and correctly to customer needs.

Making the transition from marketing focussed to customer focussed

When you look at the characteristics how do you feel about making the transition from marketing focussed to customer focussed.    Do you wonder if you can pull it off?   Does it occur as being hard, messy, painful and risky?  It is.  For existing organisations it requires transformation as in the caterpillar into the butterfly.  And that is why it is easier to pretend you are customer focussed whilst actually being marketing focussed!  Which in turn leaves the field open to leaders that ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

What do you think?