Considering the Customer Experience

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  November 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

Despite the significant investment in customer experience management made by telecoms, banking, retail and IT, customer experiences with these organizations remain largely poor. That’s the word from Beyond Philosophy, which recently released its 2011 Global Customer Experience Management Survey.

The fact that HP is tops across all sectors in terms of its investment in customer experience over the past year would seem to be a clear indication of that point, as the company apparently has been rudderless for some time. Other top spenders in this regard are banking firm HSBC, retailer GAP, and American Express (News - Alert).

“With the exception of American Express, which frequently earns accolades for its customer experience, the companies we see allocating the greatest amount of resources are widely recognized for providing disappointing customer experiences,” says Steven Walden, senior head of research and consulting at Beyond Philosophy, who based his survey on 53 in-depth interviews with customer experience executives and industry experts and research of 8,000 customer experience executives from 2,106 so-called customer experience-active companies across 239 countries.

Even among the four top-tier vertical spenders, which comprise 63 percent of the customer experience market, Beyond Philosophy indicated that customer experience management efforts often are plagued by managers who lack experience in the practice, and an absence of true commitment to customer experience initiatives at the corporate level.

The companies that are getting right, meanwhile, leverage CRM to collect data, analyze it to understand customers and their motivations, and use that information to create highly personalized experiences for customers, according to Beyond Philosophy. The firm notes that Apple (News - Alert), Amazon and Zappos are most admired by customer experience experts. Other top-ranking companies on this front include, in this order: Starbucks, Disney, retailer Tesco, aviation company Virgin Atlantic, Vodafone (News - Alert), Nordstrom and bank First Direct.

“Apple has married all the elements of its experience and connected with its customers in a deeply emotional, irrational way,” says Walden.  “Amazon put a stake in the ground when it announced it would become the world’s most customer-centric company, and Zappos claims to be a customer service organization that happens to sell shoes.” (Zappos last year was purchased by Amazon.)

Walden also notes that Westernization abroad that is creating middle class societies in places like India, as well as social media that now gives customers a voice, are raising customer experience expectations.

However, while many individuals seem to feel very comfortable making their lives public via social networking sites like Facebook (News - Alert), customer expectations regarding their privacy remain extremely high. Attorney Michele Shuster of MacMurray, Cook Petersen & Shuster LLP in New Albany, Ohio, made this point during a panel called The Hottest Trends for Successful Engagement, during ITEXPO West this September in Austin, Texas.

She went on to say that privacy is the No. 1 hot issue right now in the area of customer engagement. That means organizations need to take care to be informed about rules and requirements on this front. She says privacy advocates have gone as far as to classify a California zip code as private information. But, on the whole, she adds, privacy rules related to social media are the same existing privacy requirements organizations already follow.

Mobile is clearly another prominent trend in terms of customer engagement, adds Shuster. But companies need to make sure they have a permissible reason to reach customers and potential customers via their cell phones and other devices. Because of that, and the fact that rules are getting more restrictive on this front over time, Shuster suggests that every time an organization touches base with its consumers that it gets their permission to contact them using every potential channel it uses now and may use in the future.

And while it’s important to get customers’ permission to reach out to them via some of these new channels, allowing customers to communicate using the channels of their choice can result in a better customer experience and a better response for the organization, notes Steve Brubaker, chief of staff at InfoCision (News - Alert) Management Corp.

Although more communications channels are opening up between businesses and their customers, Mark Miller, senior director of market development of the contact center practice for the global services and emerging industries division of J.D. Power and Associates, says it’s interesting to note that some people actually prefer using an IVR. He says that’s because it gives them the sense of having more control of the situation. (For example, a live agent can’t put them on hold.) And some people really like that control, he adds, especially those of us in the U.S.

When it comes to the business end of IVRs, however, Millers adds that one of the biggest culprits of a bad customer contact experience is a bad IVR. However, he continues, that doesn’t necessarily mean a live agent is always the best option.

Every time a person picks up the phone to your call center, says Miller, your organization has the chance of either “creating a brand assassin” or a brand supporter.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi