7 keys to customer experience in 2010

The author is vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, with a focus on customer experience.

Despite the economic difficulties in 2009, we've seen a significant uptick in real customer experience efforts. What do I mean by real? Efforts which address systemic issues like poorly designed interactions, broken processes, outdated business rules, insufficient customer insight and cultures that are far from customer-centric. 

2010 will likely be an even more active year for customer experience. While many companies will make substantial progress, others will falter. Here is some advice for keeping your customer experience efforts on track:

1. Drop the executive commitment facade. It's very easy for executives to say "customer experience is important." But it's much more difficult for them to dedicate the time and energy required to make it a real priority. So in 2010, executives should either get actively involved in customer experience transformation or drop it from their agendas.

Start here: Develop a customer experience dashboard and manage the results with the same energy that you manage financial results.

2. Acknowledge that you don't know your customers. When market research teams require long lead times and expensive projects to answer questions about customers, too many organizations go without this insight. But the path to customer experience success requires significantly deeper customer insight. So in 2010, companies need to develop voice of the customer programs that provide ongoing and continuous access to customer insights.

Start here: Create a voice-of-the-customer program with a cross-functional team that focuses on four "LIRM" components: listening to customers, interpreting the feedback, reacting to the insights and monitoring results from actions over time.

3. Keep from getting too distracted by social media. Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites may seem sexy, but they aren't the only channels for customer feedback. Other channels like comments on surveys and calls into the call center can often provide even richer insight. So in 2010, companies need to learn from social media feedback, but not overreact to it.

Start here: Treat social media as one of many listening posts in a comprehensive voice-of-the-customer program that examines both structured and unstructured feedback.

4. Stop squeezing the life out of customer service. My research shows that consumers care more about good customer service than they do low prices. It also turns out that many customer service interactions are critical "moments of truth" that drive customer loyalty. But companies often treat customer service as an unwanted stepchild, focusing almost exclusively on aggressive cost-cutting. So in 2010, companies need to start viewing customer service as a strategic asset.

Start here: Measure customer service organizations based on how effectively they help customers instead of efficiency metrics like average handle times.

5. Restore the purpose in your brand. True brands are more than just color palettes, logos and marketing slogans, they're the fabric that aligns all employees with customers in the pursuit of a common cause. They represent a firm's raison d'être. Unfortunately, many companies have lost this sense of purpose in their brands. So in 2010, companies need to redefine their brand and embed it in the hearts and minds of all employees.

Start here: Translate your brand into promises you will make (and keep) with customers across every key touch point.

6. Don't assume employees will get on board. Employees are often the most critical element of any customer experience effort. But firms can't just hope that everyone will participate in these change initiatives. So in 2010, companies need to actively focus on engaging employees at every level across the organization in their customer experience efforts.

Start here: Communicate (a lot) about "why" customer experience is important and allow employees to participate in defining "how" to make improvements.

7. Translate customer experience into business terms. My research uncovered a strong correlation between customer experience and loyalty. An average $10 billion company can generate $284 million of additional revenues from customer experience improvements. But most companies don't fully understand the link between customer experience and business results. So in 2010, companies need to identify how customer experience impacts their financial results.

Start here: Engage the CFO to develop a model which shows the impact that customer experience has on customer loyalty.

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