At Forrester’s CX NYC 2019 conference, the message was clear: customer experience has a hit a wall. The failure to understand what customers really want and deliver value has led to irrelevant experiences and disengaged customers. Across a total of 16 industries in the research firm’s latest U.S. Customer Experience Index, 81 percent of the brands have a stagnated customer experience.
The good news is with the right strategy, data insights, and a healthy dose of experimentation, companies can break through the wall to drive greater customer engagement and loyalty. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the conference on how to do exactly that.
1. Think POST
While cutting-edge technology is a key driver of great customer experiences, it isn’t the only component that matters when making a buying decision. “Too many firms don’t put the customer in the center of their CX technology buying decisions—or they’re not taking a holistic view of how the technology fits within the rest of the organization,” said Forrester Senior Analyst Faith Adams at a breakout session.
The result is a waste of resources and unsuccessful customer outcomes. Adams suggested the acronym POST (People, Objective, Strategy, Technology) as a smarter and more effective way to integrate technology into a company’s CX initiatives.
Kathy Schwartz, director of customer experience at pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, shared additional tips for implementing a successful CX strategy based on her own experiences. Being transparent in the RFP process about the sources of data that vendors would be asked to work with and asking them to demonstrate their capabilities quickly pares down the list, Schwartz said.
Also, defining the success metrics of the CX program early on is important, but “don’t overcommit to those metrics,” she advised. As the CX program matures, companies should remember that KPIs and priorities could change, so it’s also important to do regular assessments.
2. Engage values-based consumers strategically
In an increasingly polarized environment, more and more consumers are selecting brands that reflect their values. Globally, 64 percent of consumers choose, switch, avoid, or boycott a brand based on its standing on a societal issue, according to the Edelman Earned Brand 2018 report, which is up 13 percentage points from 2017.
Brands, though, should be wary of adopting and broadcasting values simply to attract customers, warned Harley Manning, VP and research director at Forrester. “What’s hugely important is authenticity,” he said. Customers, Manning noted, are very quick to spot opportunistic attempts to win business.
Brands need a strategy to bring social, political, or moral values into their business models, added Manning, who helped create a values-based experience framework for exactly that purpose. The framework outlines nine potential approaches brands can take to integrating values into the customer experience. There is no right or wrong option, Manning said. It’s just a matter of “figuring out do our values match our customers’ values and how intensely do we want to depict those values?”
3. Unlock empathy by humanizing data
Research shows that employees provide better and more effective service when they feel empathy for a customer. The challenge is triggering empathy when employees are quickly numbed by the volume of customer complaints and requests that they receive daily. A possible solution is video testimonials.
“Creating empathy is the key to inspiring action in CX,” said Raj Sivasubramanian, customer experience insights manager at Airbnb, in a presentation. Sivasubramanian shared a pilot he recently launched in which a small group of Airbnb users were invited to submit short videos with feedback about the rental company’s service.
Video elicits emotions that compel the viewer to act faster in a way that text doesn’t, Sivasubramanian claimed. To support his point, Sivasubramanian shared several video testimonials that ranged from a man on a hospital bed thanking Airbnb for promptly issuing him a refund when he was unable to use his reservation, to various disgruntled customers. “Our customers provide more context and deeper insight via video,” Sivasubramanian said. In one case, when a customer angrily complained about the company’s confusing cancellation policies, the video prompted the necessary teams to re-examine the text and simplify it.
Of course, video testimonials present their own challenges, such as being easily overwhelmed by the volume of content. Yet humanizing customer data can help produce better and more effective support. As companies look to pull more insights from their data, they should consider whether there are ways to visualize and tell a story better or add emotion that was stripped from another channel. Or as Sivasubramanian put it, “don’t lose sight of the human element in your data.”
4. Employee experience matters
In Forrester’s employee experience track, analysts dove into the importance of creating genuine and meaningful interactions inside of an organization.
Getting an employee experience right is tough. Forrester analysts Angelina Gennis, Sam Stern, and Adrian Chapman explained that it’s complicated to create a healthy employee environment because so many organizations shape their workers’ experience around customers’ rising expectations. Instead, they advocated that organizations design experiences that fit their employees’ expectations first. “We think what truly matters to the employees is the ability to connect to them and [for them to] stay productive on the work that matters most to them,” said Chapman.
This means fostering an environment for “purpose workers,” employees who are encouraged to incorporate their own values and meaning into the work they do. According to Forrester’s 2018 Workforce study, 96 percent of workers at high EX firm are willing to stay for the next 12 months, while fewer than half are willing to stay at a low EX firm. Additionally, 85 percent at a high-ranking firm would recommend their company’s product, while only 16 percent at a low-ranking firm would do so.
While organizations have been using customer personas for some time to better understand their customers, the analysts stressed that organizations need to paint a better picture of their employees too. Gennis outlined three steps to create an employee persona, a snapshot that represents a large segment of employees as a single individual.
- Set a clear goal: Personas need to let an employee tell a story. Let it show how an employee can have (or what may prevent) a ‘perfect’ day at work. Then have the persona focus on a specific objective of what the end product should be and how it can be successful.
- Plan research to inform insights: Analyzing a single employee persona does not provide a big enough picture to solve a problem. Use qualitative research to cast a wider net on an issue and use this technique to connect the dots between employees by articulating their shared experiences.
- Strive for inspiring and actionable: Use the story told and research collected to discover mindsets and personality traits that can be attributed to different demographics in an organization. By better understanding groups of employees’ desires at different stages of your career, an organization can introduce actionable insight.
For several years, firms have been able to elevate the customer experience by taking advantage of quick wins and simple fixes. Such opportunities are increasingly rare as more companies compete on the customer experience. As analysts and industry experts at the conference suggest, it’s time for companies to climb higher and leverage data, technology, and human creativity in more strategic and innovative ways.