Friday, June 11, 2021

The Dwindling Well of Forgiveness for Your Post-COVID Customer Experience

Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash.com

Last March and April, as businesses struggled to implement "work from home" policies and contain service disruptions, something remarkable happened: Customer satisfaction scores rose. Clients and Voice of the Customer platforms reported that VoC scores improved quite broadly across categories and businesses.

Why would customers report more satisfaction as service quality declined? Forgiveness. As your customers fought to adapt to the new pandemic reality and saw their employers grapple with COVID-induced difficulties, they were more inclined to forgive the sorts of experiences that would have previously generated a complaint. By summer and fall, as life settled into the "new normal," NPS, CSAT, and effort scores tended to return to normal (and, in some cases, declined as brands tried to meet customers' new expectations.)

This spring, as the United States recovered from COVID, mask and business restrictions lifted, and people returned to normal--US restaurants have operated within 5% of their 2019 volumes on recent weekends--it seemed a grateful population was ready to return with a new well of forgiveness for businesses striving to adapt to post-pandemic difficulties. But I've noticed that the well of forgiveness is rapidly dwindling, and that means organizations must consider what is necessary to either get their customer experience (CX) right or to replenish their customers' well of forgiveness.

As I research and advise clients on CX best practices, I observe that brands fail to understand the full ROI of CX. As CX improves and customer loyalty is strengthened, brands will measure direct financial benefits such as improved sales, reduced churn, and increased lifetime value. Brands also often seek to measure softer benefits, such as enhanced engagement and greater WOM. But one benefit of CX is often overlooked, and that's forgiveness. Strong, consistent customer experiences earn more forgiveness. More forgiving customers are inclined to overlook isolated problems and are less likely to seek redress or share frustrations with others.

If your brand is struggling with adapting to the rapidly shifting post-pandemic world, don't ignore the problems but meet them head-on. I offer five suggestions you might consider to earn more forgiveness and loyalty on my Gartner blog. Please click here to continue reading.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Gartner Expands Its Definition of Customer Experience Management (CXM)

The word "Change"
Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash
Every now and then, there comes a time to recognize that the world has changed. My peers and I at Gartner spent several months discussing, debating, and building consensus for a change to our definition of customer experience management (CXM). Given the increase in investment in and the growing maturity of CXM programs, we felt the time had come to advance and expand our definition.

Our existing definition was, "The practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions in order to lift satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy."

Our new definition of CXM isn't quite so succinct but does more to promote the scope, goals, and scale of enterprise-wide CXM efforts:
"CXM is the discipline of understanding customers and deploying strategic plans that enable cross-functional efforts and customer-centric culture to improve satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy."
Our existing definition of CXM, which was over a decade old, didn't capture how the practice of CXM has evolved. We have observed many changes in how our clients approach and accomplish CXM, and these include:

  • Customer understanding: You can't design and deploy a great customer experience (CX) until you know, listen to, and understand your customers. Much of what makes CXM successful in great companies isn't about the projects they execute or the customer-facing tech they implement--it's about how they gather, analyze, and disseminate customer understanding.
      
  • Repeatable and ongoing discipline: Gartner's former definition called CXM a "practice," which is a habit or the application of an idea. That word didn't convey how CXM has become a constant, vital commitment firms make to improve their customer experience. CXM isn't a project, mindset, tool, or process. It's a discipline--a living, evolving, repeatable and ongoing set of capabilities that demands continuous investment, requires a system of governance, and delivers measurable outcomes.
      
  • Enterprise-wide strategy and collaboration: Our old definition did not reflect the scope that CXM requires to be successful. While one individual or team may have positive customer-centric practices that lead to CX improvement, a successful CXM program must inform, establish and scale these efforts across the entire organization.
      
  • Customer-Centric Culture: Finally, while the former definition put the focus on a CX outcome, our new definition recognizes that CXM leaders must enable change within their organization. You cannot achieve the desired goal of constantly improving CX throughout your customers' end-to-end journey unless you affect how the organization works. A strong CXM leader doesn't merely oversee individual projects that positively impact customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy; they must influence everyone within the organization to change how they work in a way that results in improved customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.
Our new CXM definition aligns with Gartner's CX maturity framework. By design, it is intended to reflect the nine elements of CX maturity (voice of the customer, customer research, personas and journeys, strategy, technology, roles and governance, customer-centric culture, purpose, and metrics). If you're a Gartner client, you can learn more about the revised CXM definition, how it can help bring consistency to the understanding of CXM in your organizations, and how to mature your CXM programs by reading "Use Gartner’s New Definition of Customer Experience Management to Align to CX Scope and Goals."

Monday, June 15, 2020

The COVID-19 Dilemma: Remaining Customer-Centric When Customers Expect Incompatible Pandemic Rules

"The Customer is always right." As a customer experience (CX) professional, I've heard that maxim quite a lot. The well-worn adage has never been entirely correct. The customer can be wrong, and knowing when and how to identify and manage that situation requires brands to recognize the distinction between being customer-centric and customer-subservient. Understanding that difference is vital as you consider the right policies to lure customers back to your business while ensuring the safety of customers and employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When I say the customer isn't always right, I'm not simply talking about the occasional unreasonable or abusive customer but about the fact "It's not the customer's job to know what they want" (as Steve Jobs is credited with saying). If we acted as if every customer whim is equal, we risk becoming customer-subservient, blindly chasing every consumer impulse. Being customer-centric is a little different--it means making decisions that are in the best interest of your customer.

In normal times, the difference between customer-centric and customer-subservient can seem relatively minor or meaningless, but in times of stress, change, and challenge, the two can be quite different.

Drugstores, Cigarettes and the Difference Between Customer-Subservience and Customer-Centricity

To explore the subservient/centric difference, ask yourself it is customer-subservient or customer-centric for a drugstore chain to sell cigarettes. A drugstore's customer personas include a person who wants to purchase cigarettes regularly, and when they do, they often add other items to their basket. That there is a market to be served is unquestionable, but should a drugstore committed to the health and well-being of its customers sell "cancer sticks"?

For decades, there was no question. I worked my way through high school in a drugstore run by pharmacists, and I never gave a thought to the number of customers to whom I sold products containing a prominent health warning. But then attitudes began to shift, forcing drugstore executives to reconsider their values, brand, and customer-centricity.

Six years ago, the trend toward tobacco-free pharmacies got a boost when CVS became the first national drugstore chain to drop sales of cigarettes. Some of its competitors haven't yet followed suit as they struggle to balance profit versus health or, put another way, weighing customer-subservience versus customer-centricity. A customer-subservient approach suggests a drugstore brand must do what the customer wants provided there's profit to be earned, while a customer-centric mindset considers that "It's not the customer's job to know what they want."

These are sensitive and important decisions, particularly for corporations with a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders. And, of course, people's strong emotions over smoking only make these decisions even more difficult. A drugstore may view the decision to carry cigarettes through the lens of profit versus customer health, but customers often line up on starkly different lines, with liberty and personal choice on one side versus the greater good of the community on the other.

COVID-19, Masks, and Social Distancing

Does any of that feel a bit familiar in the COVID-19 era? It does to brands with physical locations struggling to set the right policies as they reopen. On the one side are people who expect brands to have and enforce safe policies during a global health crisis, and on the other are people who oppose wearing masks and social distancing. Whatever your brand decides will be viewed in starkly partisan ways--either as an affront to freedom and individual rights or a deadly capitulation that risks the health and lives of customers and employees.