For the past two weeks I've been on the other side of the planet, spending a few days each in four very different cities: Sydney, Singapore, Beijing, and Shanghai. While Sydney was much like I remembered it--an exotic version of San Francisco but with better weather--the Singapore skyline had changed drastically, and now appears to be a science fiction version of the seaport I remembered. (If you think I'm kidding, just do a search on "Marina Bay Sands Hotel.")
In contrast to Sydney and Singapore, I hadn't been to either Beijing or Shanghai before. I was blown away by how vibrant those cities are and how much prosperity is on display: If the Chinese economy is truly slowing down, you wouldn't know it from all the luxury cars on the road.
Despite all the diversity I saw on my trip, for me there was one constant across all four cities: the high level of interest in customer experience.
- In Sydney I gave talks about customer experience to three different groups of 20 to 40 people each. Even though the attendees came from very diverse companies: insurers, quick-serve restaurants, technology vendors, and giant professional services firms. All three groups asked questions that showed this wasn't their first CX rodeo.
I also gave a speech to the digital team at a major bank, and as a bonus I got to see the company's chief experience officer give a talk. Frankly, there are a lot of U.S. and European banks that could learn from that large, enthusiastic, clued-in group.
- My time in Singapore started out with a customer experience ecosystem mapping workshop for about 35 people. This was also a diverse group, with varying levels of customer experience expertise even among attendees from the same company. They all picked up on the concepts, though, and generated an impressive amount of insight.
But perhaps the highlight of that leg of the trip came when I met with the head of customer experience and his team for a different large bank. They showed up looking for feedback on their CX transformation plan--a map of the six disciplines of customer experience against the four phases of CX maturity. My first piece of feedback was, "Wow! This is great!"
- Beijing was almost surreal. Two events there stood out. The first was a press briefing I gave about the release of the Chinese translation of our book Outside In. Now, as much as I love customer experience, it's not typically big news in either the U.S. or Europe. But we had about 10 journalists show up, and most of them had read their advance copies of the book,which was clear from the detailed questions they asked.
The second event that stood out was a lecture I gave (followed by a panel discussion) at Peking University, repeatedly described to me as "the Harvard of China." We had about 200 attendees from the Beijing International MBA program show up, listen attentively, and then hit my fellow panelists and me with some of the sharpest questions I've gotten from a group that didn't consist exclusively of customer experience professionals. So even though I work in Cambridge, MA, and might catch flack for this, I'm starting to wonder if maybe Harvard is the Peking University of the U.S.
- In Shanghai I delivered the opening keynote of Forrester's Forum for Marketing and Strategy Professionals, China. The theme of the event was "Drive Digital Customer Experiences In A Slowing Chinese Economy," and the house was packed with people from both Chinese companies and multinationals who were interested in CX. This was not an event about "what is this thing called customer experience?", it was an event about "look at the smart things we've been doing to improve customer experience for the last few years." To that point, the level of customer experience insights from some of the other speakers was impressive: I especially liked the talks by Lincoln Barrett, of Greater China Intercontinental Hotels Group; and Alexei Orlov, CMO of Volkswagen Group China.
If the level of sophistication around customer experience in the Asia Pacific region surprises you, don't feel bad; I was surprised, too--pleasantly so.
Yet there is a sobering point here. If you work for one of the many companies looking to compete in APAC, don't assume you have an edge in customer experience. Instead, double down on your own customer experience improvement efforts. Otherwise, APAC firms might come to take market share from you in your home region.
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About the Author: Harley Manning is a vice president and research director at Forrester Research serving Customer Experience professionals. He blogs at http://blogs.forrester.com/harley_manning and tweets at @hmanning