Friday, December 22, 2017

'Twas four nights before Christmas, a True Story of the Retail Apocalypse and Customer Experience

An actual photo of a shopping mall in Chicago last 
night, four days before Christmas
I was inspired to write a poem by a visit to a mall that I made last night. Far from finding it crowded with holiday shoppers, the place was sad and empty. You can enjoy the poem below, but please visit my Gartner blog for more context and observations about how the discipline of customer experience can help retails make bold choices for future success. 

Without further ado, and with apologies to both Clement Clarke Moore and Charles Dickens...

'Twas four nights before Christmas, and all through the mall,
Not a creature was stirring, the crowds were so small!
The decorations were hung 'round the galleria with care,
In hopes that some shoppers soon would be there.

But unlike the ghosts of Christmases past,
The shops were all empty, the clerks looked downcast.
No bustle! No shoppers! No last-second buyer!
No families or children! The scene was quite dire.

So I strolled from the food court (I don't need to get fatter),
And went to investigate to see what was the matter.
In the first store, I asked for the size that is mine,
"We don't carry that here, you must shop online!"

In the next place, I struggled to roam through the store,
To maximize density, they'd crammed in more. More!
So crowded and cramped, they'd packed all the aisles,
That trying to get through was more like a trial.

The next store was empty, no clerk could be found,
The place was in chaos, with clothes in a mound.
Employees were chatting, their duties neglected,
Under a sign that proclaimed "Satisfaction's our objective!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
I could not help but recall, dead retailers gone by.
Borders, Circuit City, Blockbuster, and KB,
American Apparel, Wet Seal, The Limited, RIP.

In that moment, so dispirited and glum,
I was visited by the spirit of Christmas Yet to Come,
"This mall will be shuttered," he uttered grim-faced,
"These brands will go under, their memory erased."

I cried, "Why show this if all hope has passed?''
In response, he whispered, "The die is not cast.
If retailers honor customers deep in their soul,
Put them first, do them right, and above all, make them whole!"

"Leaders must live in the future, not just this quarter,
Investing in customers can save brick and mortar,
People crave experiences, they want to feel cherished,
Brands that treat them like wallets will all soon have perished."

"Customer experience can save them," he declared as he vanished,
"Without satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy, their brands will be banished!"
And I heard him exclaim, ere he disappeared from sight,
"Next season will be happy if you just get CX right!"

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Top Zero Customer Experience Trends for 2018

I love the holidays, but I hate "trend season." You know, how every blogger, agency, and media site has to publish its forecast for the hot trends in marketing and business. I saw a headline today that promised the megatrends that would change your business in 2018. I've got news for you: If there is a "megatrend" that will impact your company within 12 months and you are not already aware and acting, it is already too late for you.

Of course, I get particularly frustrated with the breathless headlines promising sexy trends in customer experience (CX), my area of focus at Gartner. These sorts of articles typically fall into three different categories: The obvious (Frictionless experiences become more vital!), the optimistic (VR will change everything in 2018!), or the misguided (Snapchat is essential to your brand's CX!)

This year, I'd like you to ignore these articles. Why? One reason is that most of these essays are full of hot air, intended not to educate but to ignite a sense of FOMO and sell the writer's services. More importantly, chances are your company is not getting the basics of CX correct, and the focus on hot trends and tech only obscures your best opportunities to improve your brand's relationships with its customers. By all means, monitor how emerging technology (such as IoT, VR/AR, voice-activated devices, chatbots, and AI) is evolving, but do not lose sight that technology must serve your customers and their desired experiences, not vice versa.

To see the real hot trends (really just the good, basic building blocks of CX success), please continue reading on my Gartner blog. And if you're a client, you'll find links to relevant research notes that can help your 2018 planning.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

What is Customer Experience?

Photo by ANDRIK ↟ LANGFIELD ↟ PETRIDES on Unsplash
In the two years I've been at Gartner, I've had hundreds of calls and meetings with clients about customer experience (CX), and I am regularly struck with how misunderstood it remains. CX is a hot topic in business today, which is evident not just from the many articles and blog posts you see but because 61% of marketing leaders now report their companies have a CXO (Chief Experience Officer) or an equivalent role (although most do not report into the CMO).

I have shared Gartner's definition of CX in the past, but I think the issue is that so many people get lost in the tools, processes, and execution. I think a metaphor might help here: You can run for all sorts of different reasons, and how you plan and evaluate your running will depend on your purpose. If you are a sprinter you will plan, evaluate and execute your running effort differently than if you are a marathon runner than if you are merely running to improve your health or lose weight. In other words, everything--your gear, goals, metrics, and plan--is determined not by the running but your reason for doing so.

In the same manner, companies already do many (perhaps all) of the things often associated with CX. Your organization already has people dedicated to improving acquisition and awareness, to increasing sales, to responding to customer needs and to developing products, so why does it also need people dedicated to the discipline of CX? You cannot answer that question unless you first understand what customer experience really is and what it does. In other words, everything--your gear, goals, metrics, and plan--are determined not by the activities but your reason for doing so.

So, let's review that definition again, but this time, focus not on the process but on the why. Customer experience management is “the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations and, thus, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.” Every part of that definition is important, but the most critical part is the reason why--to lift customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.

Like the running, what defines CX is not the processes--since you can use personas, journey maps, voice of the customer data, and customer insight to achieve all sort of different business outcomes--but in what you wish to accomplish and how you intend to measure. If you are not investing in, focusing on, goaling, and measuring your effort against customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy, then you are not really doing CX.

To understand why you must focus on the customer before the experience and how being customer-first/company also drives long-term business results, please continue reading this blog post on

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

No, Every Employee Isn't a Marketer, Salesperson or Service Rep Edit article Published on August 22, 2017

I hate it when I see people say things like "Every employee is a sales person," "a marketer," or a "customer service rep." The intent may be to emphasize how every employee must be committed to customers and company goals, but organizations specialize into departments, teams, and roles for a good reason.

We do not need every employee doing every other employees' jobs. Instead, we need leaders who foster a smart organizational structure, set the right goals, and encourage strong customer focus. And we need engaged, empowered employees who bring deep expertise to their interactions with customers.

The problem with encouraging every employee to act like a marketer, salesperson or service rep is that it can force employees out of comfort zones and create a misalignment of metrics, rewards, and goals, all of which diminishes efficiency, increases risks and reduces business outcomes.

For example, what happens when every employee is a "sales person?" You get service reps who do not let people cancel their cable subscription because they are rewarded for something other than responding rapidly and comprehensively to customer needs. Or bank tellers who receive bonuses for opening accounts customers do not need, diminishing customer trust and brand reputation.

What happens when every employee becomes a "marketer"? Employees may take it upon themselves to represent the brand without authority, training or oversight, resulting in incorrect and disjointed messages. This raises risks, as employees cannot be expected to understand FTC rules around disclosure of material relationships, the legal subtleties between lawful and unlawful product claims, or the regulatory restrictions of marketing in some industries.

And what happens when every employee is a "customer service rep"? Employees, with the best of intentions, can take it upon themselves to answer customer questions in social media, resulting in incorrect or conflicting answers and creating confusion as to the appropriate channels in which customers can expect efficient and accurate support.

No, every employee is not a marketer, salesperson and service rep. Brands are strongest when each employee is held to the expectations of their unique role, delivering the specific outcomes expected. Of course, that does not mean that employees cannot be trained and even encouraged within carefully prescribed limits to assist and support sales, marketing or customer care, but that must be done prudently to ensure every employee is committed first and foremost to the deliverables of their role.

Marketers market, helping prospects become better informed about brands, products, and services that deliver necessary solutions and producing awareness, consideration, qualified leads and sometimes sales for the brand. Salespeople sell, assisting customers in higher-consideration verticals to make the right purchase decisions for their unique needs and delivering profitable customers that are prepped for long-term brand success. And customer service reps offer support, helping customers to use the product or service they purchased, resulting in customers who are satisfied and loyal. If marketers, salespeople and service reps do their jobs well, the result is a powerful, relationship-building experience for customers and profitable growth for brands.

In football, if all the players on the field believe they are the quarterback, then every play will be chaos and the team will lose. Help your employees to understand their role, reward them for the proper outcomes, foster high employee engagement and collaboration, and encourage a customer-first mentality, and your organization will move downfield efficiently and score more points.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Different Brands Have Different Reasons To Improve Customer Experience

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash
You likely hear a lot about customer experience these days. Business media is full of articles about CX, and the data we collect at Gartner demonstrates that CX metrics are among marketers' most important. In addition, business leaders tell us they are investing more in customer experience.

But why? Why is CX essential for your brand? What will improving CX do for your various stakeholders--not just customers, but employees, leaders, and investors, as well?

Can you answer those questions with something other than platitudes about the importance of happy customers? Because if you cannot define, in a very real way, why CX matters to your brand, then you cannot make others inside your organization care, secure collaboration, obtain funding, or encourage any meaningful change.

Many Brands Have Clear CX Opportunities

Different brands have different potential benefits and expected outcomes in CX. There no single set of CX benefits or metrics that will fit every company equally. Understanding your brand's unique situation, challenges, and opportunities is a good place to start when defining a CX vision and requesting necessary commitments from leaders and peers.

For some brands, improving their CX offers relatively clear and obvious advantages. For brands in contentious marketplaces with intense competition, fairly easy switching, innovative challenger brands, frequent repurchase actions, and a diverse set of customer selection criteria, the need for CX initiatives and investments can be easy to discern. Brands in these sorts of marketplaces--that is to say most brands--need to focus on CX because:
  • Competitive differentiation improves demand: Brands are created through experiences--what the brand does, not just what it says. Through disciplined CX processes, you can understand what your customers value and work to meet those expectations better than your competitors.
  • Strong experiences foster loyalty: Brands find it less costly to keep than to acquire customers, and they are more effective at cross-selling to current customers than gaining new prospects. Providing experiences that customers value builds relationships, diminishes churn, improves share of wallet, and generates higher margins.
  • Powerful customer relationships generate robust word of mouth (WOM): Brands create the greatest breadth and depth of WOM by meeting and exceeding customer needs and producing elevated levels of satisfaction. In our ad-blocking and ad-skipping world where consumers are less trusting of brand ads and content, credible person-to-person brand advocacy between those in established relationships delivers greater awareness, consideration, inbound traffic, conversions, and sales.

Airlines and the Question of CX Relevance

But what if your brand is in a different sort of marketplace? One with high barriers to competitive entry, greater customer switching costs, less competition, perceived parity in offerings, sparse repurchase, or consumers obsessed with price. In situations like these, the standard and obvious benefits of CX are, well, less standard and not so obvious. Utilities with little competition, life insurance companies with infrequent repurchases, telecoms with significant perceived barriers to switching, and other brands may question the benefit of increasing (or risks in diminishing) customer loyalty and advocacy.

United's customer incidents and PR crises provide an excellent lens to consider the CX challenges faced by air carriers. In the past decade, United Airlines has suffered two CX disasters so infamous that they each have their own Wikipedia entry: "United Breaks Guitars" in 2008 and this year's widely circulated video of a bloody passenger being dragged from a flight. But while each generated an enormous amount of publicity, there is no evidence either situation severely affected the airline's business in any significant or lasting way.

Some people claim United's stock decreased in the days after April's incident went viral, and they're correct--but stocks move on a daily basis for all sorts of complicated reasons, and within a couple of weeks, United's stock was trading no better or worse than its competitors. There is no indication this incident hurt the airline's stock price, and even if it did alter the price for a few days, executives don't worry about or base decisions on daily fluctuations of stock value. The same was true in 2008 when pundits claimed the viral video would damage United's business, but in reality, the company's stock outperformed the competition following that PR incident.

Nor is there evidence of a significant change in flyer preference or purchase behavior. I wrote back in April that United's well-publicized incident would not adversely impact demand for United's flights, and it appears I was correct. For the three months ending in June, including the month of United's passenger debacle, the company "boosted ticket sales even as fares climbed higher," resulting in a lift in both revenue and profits. Customers did not abandon United after seeing the video of the doctor dragged from the plane, just as they did not quit the airline after seeing the funny music video about a broken guitar.

I am not suggesting these incidents didn't cost the airline. As I wrote in April, this event elevated expenses for United, such as the value of the financial settlement offered to the wronged passenger and the lost productivity dealing with the sizable PR crisis. But in the end, United did not suffer lasting business or economic damage from the incident, despite the fact thousands of people swore in YouTube comments, tweets, and posts they would never again book a flight with the airline.

Does this mean air carriers don't need to worry about CX? Is there no upside to improving customers' experiences or downside to repeated violation of customer expectations? No, but the CX equation is different for brands in verticals with unique situations.  

Friday, July 7, 2017

Your Brand’s Unique Future In Customer Experience

Source: Iker Urteaga,
read a lot of articles every day about the future of customer experience (CX) and how cutting-edge technology is about to change the world for every marketer. A lot of folks are eager to tell you what your brand should—no, must—do to prepare for the future.

The future of CX is artificial intelligence. Or it’s chatbots. Or augmented reality. Or voice-operated devices. Or wearables. Or virtual personal assistants. Or the Internet of Things. Or blockchain. Or personalization. Or visual search. Or VR.

In fact, the future of CX for your brand may be all of these things. Or not. No blogger or tech journalist can answer that question for you, because the answer lies not in the tech but in your brand’s ability to ascertain the unique needs of your unique customers.

Brands overly focused on the potential of hot, new technologies rather than on the needs of their customers fall into a trap I call “Lego marketing,” where CX solutions seem to be preconfigured blocks that can simply be snapped into place to create success. Snap—we launched a Facebook page because consumers will engage with our marketing content for free. Snap—we’ve launched a corporate blog because consumers crave branded content. Snap—we have a Google+ page because our agency said it was the thing that will topple Facebook. Snap—come check out our new Periscope channel because live video is the new black, and our brand is not about to be left behind!

Snap, snap, snap. All the pieces click into place and the result is—a marketing program that looks pretty much like everyone else’s. Sure, the colors of your bricks are different from your competitors’, but the strategies and tactics are virtually indistinguishable. Unfortunately, so are the results. Marketing budgets have risen to 12% of revenue according to Gartner's 2016-2017 CMO Spend Survey, and despite this, top CPG brands are losing market share and value, Americans find brands and companies less truthful, and ad blocking is on the rise (and will soon come native to Chrome and Safari).

Meanwhile, companies that lead with unique and differentiated CX are eating the world. Apple, Starbucks, USAA, and the other brands you love didn’t achieve that special relationship with you by chasing new technology and snapping it into place like everyone else. To learn more about differentiated brands are developed with differentiated CX and how the road to success doesn't start with technology but ends with it, please read my complete blog post on

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Learn From the Rise and Fall of Uber's Customer Experience

Source: Pexels
For a private company, we sure know a lot about Uber. We know its meteoric rise to become the most valuable "unicorn" in the world. We know its well-publicized issues with corporate culture. We know Uber has a tremendous void in leadership at the moment, with no CEO, COO, CFO, or CMO. And we know the company lost $2.8 billion last year and added another $708 million of losses in the first quarter of this year.

It is no secret that Uber is a troubled company. Of course, the story of this company is far from complete. It still is sitting on piles of cash, has a lot of talent, and retains many customers. But gone are the days when the word "Uber" conjured up overwhelmingly positive sentiment about the service and every other startup positioned itself as "the Uber of..." a different vertical.

Even without knowing the end to this tale, the explosive growth and subsequent trials of Uber provide a way for us to recognize the power and complexity of customer experience (CX). At a time when many leaders think CX means better marketing content, offering more emotive customer care, or diminishing friction within processes, Uber demonstrates that CX is about all that and much more.

Gartner defines customer experience management as “the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations and, thus, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy." That's our side of the equation as business and marketing leaders--how do we manage our organizations to craft strong, closer, resilient, mutually beneficial relationships with customers.

Gartner further defines customer experience as "the customer’s perceptions and related feelings caused by the one-off and cumulative effect of interactions with a supplier’s employees, systems, channels or products." That is the customer's side of the equation--i.e., the important side. It is what our prospects and customers think, feel, and say about the brand as a result of their every interaction.

With these definitions in mind, we can see how Uber rose from a scrappy, small startup to a mammoth company that swamped an established traditional industry in a matter of a few years. And we can also see how the company's well-known PR issues are now rocking the company, causing people to delete the app, and putting Uber's enormous valuation at risk.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Is Your Customer Experience Program Built to Fail?

Source: Ej Agumbay,
My peers and I on the Gartner for Marketing Leaders team are planning a new primary research study to learn how marketers are approaching, measuring and executing their customer experience (CX) management programs. One of the challenges we have had to address is how to distinguish those professionals who lead or are involved with CX as a disciplined and strategic practice versus those who merely execute tactics to improve customer experiences. The difference is one that is lost on many business leaders, and it is the reason so many CX programs grapple to deliver demonstrable results.

Put simply, if we ask business executives, "are you involved with efforts to improve customer experience?," who wouldn't answer in the affirmative? Everyone from the call center representative to the product manager to the content marketing leader to the CMO would claim they are enriching customer experiences. But how many of those would be involved in or leading a methodical, strategic practice to understand, define and improve their brands' CX? Customer experience management is not defined by intentions or even a few choice actions but by the commitment to an analytical, deliberate, organized CX approach.

A metaphor may help to explain what I mean. If I volunteer to speak in front of a classroom for an organization like Junior Achievement (a wonderful experience I recommend for every professional, by the way), does that make me a teacher? No, the fact I give an hour a week to help students, while being a positive contribution, is very different from being a teacher. Teaching is a full-time job and a discipline that includes processes like developing curricula, assigning and documenting grades, meeting with parents, and creating a safe and disciplined learning environment. Contributing in the classroom is not the same as being a teacher, and in fact, if you volunteer for JA, one thing you'll learn is how your role in the classroom contrasts with the teacher's.

Likewise, wanting to improve the customer experience and even acting to improve it are not the same as executing a systematic, organized CX program. Changing an app to be more usable or authoring content to answer customer questions is no more proof of organized customer experience management than is speaking to students a determining factor of teaching. CX is not defined by intentions and actions but by processes, scope, focus, data, goals, and metrics. Many CX efforts and programs are not built to succeed because they neglect to recognize that difference.

Is your CX program built to succeed or to fail? That is not a simple question with a simple answer, but I will provide a list of attributes that are commonly associated with CX programs that tend to struggle.  To see this list and read my entire blog post, please visit my Gartner blog. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Get the Most From the Actual Voice of the Customer

Source: Jason Rosewell,
Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs collect direct, indirect and inferred data about your customers so you can better understand your product, services, and experiences from the customers' perspective. This is what makes VoC data so different (and so valuable) from most, if not all, of the other data your organization collects--this data isn't about your campaigns, your sites, your apps, and your transactions but about the customer's feelings, sentiment, and perceptions.

Analyzed appropriately, VoC data illuminates what customers care about, how they make decisions, how they feel about your products and services, their level of satisfaction and loyalty, what drives dissatisfaction with your brand, and other attributes that describe your brand's relationship with its customers. This information can be distributed widely around the organization to help drive tactical decisions, can inform your personas and journey maps to support strategic initiatives, and can help your firm identify promoters for advocacy programs and detractors for recovery and retention efforts.

But one of the most powerful (and simple) uses of VoC data is simply to let the actual voice of the customer be heard throughout the organization. I'm not talking about aggregate, quantitative data that provides logical support for decisions but instead the individual and qualitative feedback shared by your customers--their actual words and sentiment.

The real voice of the customer may come to your company in a variety of ways, including comments contained in open-ended survey questions, tweets and posts in social media, complaint emails and letters sent to your business and the call recordings or text transcripts of customer care interactions. Collecting and sharing customer verbatims can enhance your customer experience and customer-centricity efforts.  Charts and tables of NPS and sentiment data have their place, but they cannot capture the attention, compassion, and emotions of your leaders and employees in the same way as the gratitude, anger, frustration and desire contained within your customers' feedback.

One of my clients spent a year trying to secure approval from leadership for the budget to correct a particular customer experience issue. None of her data, diagrams, and spreadsheets created enough attention or care to drive action--until she played a two-minute clip of a customer service call. That call, brimming with the customer's rage and frustration and employee's inability to resolve the issue, made the difference. "That two minutes felt like two hours as our leaders heard the failings of our process," she told me, "but that two-minute call did more to gain the approval I needed than a hundred pages of data."

To learn more about the value of the genuine voice of the customer, the business language issues that prevent our companies from being more customer centric and examples of ways to disseminate customer verbatims to employees and leaders, please read the complete post on my Gartner blog. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

United Airlines and the Dollars and Cents of Customer Experience

We have all seen the video of the bleeding man being dragged from his United Airlines flight. We've seen all the social media rage. We've endured debates over whether it was the fault of employees, poor corporate policies, an unruly passenger or bad judgment on the part of a police officer put in a no-win situation. And we've read the articles critiquing United's communications about the situation.

But at the end of the day, will this damage United's business as some claim? The answer is no and yes and is a customer experience lesson for business leaders.

No, It Will Not Harm Demand for United's Flights

For all the breadth and depth of emotion, this situation is unlikely to cause people to change their airline purchase behaviors. We know this because this is hardly the first time an airline has faced this sort of social media backlash. Heck, United Airlines is the prototype for precisely this circumstance!

"United Breaks Guitars" was one of the first stories any of us heard about the power of social media and how it was changing brands. In Spring 2008, Dave Carroll got off his United Airlines flight and found his Taylor guitar damaged. He spent nine months trying to get the airline to make it right, and in frustration, he wrote a catchy tune and produced a funny YouTube video recounting his story. It went viral, and United belatedly offered Carroll compensation.

To professionals in the nascent field of social media, Dave Carroll was not just a skilled and creative guy whose unique talents and situation permitted a special way to elevate his gripe. He became, instead, a powerful everyman, effortlessly wielding free social media tools to battle a corporate behemoth. Goliath had been felled by a YouTube David.
A thousand blog posts and articles waxed poetic about the damage suffered by the brand, but did United pay the price? If so, it is hard to see. If you evaluate United's stock following this PR crisis, you find that in the six months following the release of Carroll's video, the company's stock outperformed competitors' by more than 100%.

Over the years, I have spoken to dozens of audiences and stood in front of thousands of people and asked a simple question:

As a result of seeing the "United Breaks Guitar" video (and not because of your own personal experiences), have you ever opted for a more expensive or less convenient itinerary to avoid flying United?
Not one person has yet fessed up to altering their purchase behaviors as a result of seeing the video. You're not surprised, are you? After all, you saw the video, and you did not change your airline purchasing habits, either. In the end, we all buy airfare the same way, choosing whichever carrier offers the route from Point A to Point B that is cheapest, flies at the right time, is easiest, and provides the right loyalty miles. If you hate and avoid United, it is because of your own experiences and not because of a musician's YouTube video.

Does this mean United's PR crisis this week is meaningless? No, because while (virtually) no one will change their flying habits...

Yes, It Will Raise United's Costs

Even if not one person changes their airfare purchase behaviors, this event will still be costly to United. Those who work in crisis or reputation management know that it takes very little for a large corporation to ring up a seven-figure tab responding to, managing and combatting a serious PR crisis.

This week, at United Airlines:
  • Senior leaders earning hundreds or even thousands of dollars per hour have shifted attention from whatever revenue- or business-generating tasks they intended to work on to address this PR issue, approve statements, meet the press and collaborate with employees.
  • PR professionals and agencies are racking up hundreds of hours (and hundreds of thousands of dollars of billable hours) to assist the brand.
  • Lawyers are adding more hours and more thousands of dollars to consider legal risks, options, and offers.
  • Employees at all levels are losing productivity reading communications from leaders, being instructed what to do if challenged, watching the videos, reading articles, and discussing the incident. (They're also responding to friends in social media, raising the risk of expanding and multiplying the scope of the PR issue and the associated costs.)
  • Social media teams are dealing with angry customers, doing their best to handle a situation but having little authority to do much more than explain and apologize. It's possible United has had to add to staff temporarily, calling on social media vendors to help their teams manage a rise in tweets, posts, and comments.
  • And finally, marketing leaders are very likely altering their plans. Campaigns that are running may be pulled temporarily. Planned ads may be being reassessed and edited. It's possible United's marketers are canceling ad buys in the short term and raising budgets in the long-term to change the conversation about the airline.

All of this means that thousands of employees at United and its agencies are running up a bill that can easily top seven figures. In fact, if every one of United's 86,000 employees just lost an average of just a half hour of productivity, that likely cost the company more than $2,000,000. And for what?

To read the conclusion of my post and why customer experience management could have helped the brand avoid this issue, please visit my post on the Gartner blog.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Yet Another Wake-Up Call: Marketing, Growth, and Customer Experience

Source: Unsplash, Daria Nepriakhina
My peer, Jake Sorofman, recently wrote a smart blog post about the latest wake-up call for CMOs. It seems chief marketing officers have needed a lot of these arousing calls in recent decades--digital was said to be a wake-up call, and so was the recession, sustainability, and social media. If you're weary of the constant wake-up calls, I wish to offer a solution: Put your focus where it belongs--on the customer--and you will never again have to fear a rude awakening.

The latest career-threatening forewarning was the announcement by Coke that it would no longer have a global CMO (hot on the heels of Unilever and Vodaphone axing their global CMO roles). In place of the CMO, the leader of Coca-Cola's marketing department will report alongside customer and commercial leadership strategy into a new position--the chief growth officer.

MarketingWeek notes Coke is not an outlier--brands such as "Colgate-Palmolive, Coty, Mondelēz or Tyson Foods have vocally installed chief growth officers to 'accelerate growth efforts' or to 'bring focus and growth to our platforms.'" Add to this that CMO tenure is again downtrending for the first time in a decade and CMO tenure is the shortest of any in the C-suite, and you have to wonder how anyone in marketing gets any sleep with all these wake-up calls demanding attention.

The question I have to ask is if this is really an issue of labels and titles. Does changing the letter between the "C" and the "O" from "M" to "G" address the problems brands are facing? Is it news to marketers that they were held responsible for growth? As Jake ends his blog post, "Call it whatever you’d like. To me, it’s just a CMO by another name."

Aside from the focus on titles and labels, there is a reason to worry about this fixation on growth: Because it is not a lever the company has to pull. No one can push the "growth" button. Growth is a dependent variable. A brand doesn't create growth--it creates changes that can lead to growth. As such, this obsession with "growth" in the C-suite could, I fear, lead brands further down the path of obsessing about short-term outcomes rather than long-term brand health.

Moreover, growth is not the job of one part of an organization. Naming a chief growth officer makes about as much sense as calling someone the chief profit officer. Both growth and profitability are not the accountability of one person or one part of the organization but is the outcome of collaborative efforts across the enterprise; in fact, I'd suggest companies already have a chief growth officer--the CEO. If the CEO isn't responsible for producing growth of the top and bottom lines, exactly what is he or she doing?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Customer Experience, Innovation and the Slow Death of Famed Brands

Source: JMV on Flickr;
This week, Sears reported that it has "substantial doubt" about its ability to stay in business unless it can borrow more and tap cash from more of its assets. The retailer has been a bricks-and-mortar cautionary tale for so many years, you can be excused if you thought this was old news. In fact, the brand's woes have been so substantial for so long, it can be easy to forget what a powerhouse Sears once was--it helped to create the suburban shopping mall boom in the 1950s, and 60 years later, the retailer is at risk of driving a stake into the heart of those same malls.

Now is perhaps a good time to look back and consider how Sears' struggles are similar to those of other famed brands that failed, such as Borders, Kodak and Circuit City. We can also look at those competitive brands that have, if not flourished, at least survived, such as Barnes & Noble, Fujifilm, and Best Buy.

Simply put, many brands have been and continue to be too confident in their existing brand strength and business models. This confidence causes them to focus on short-term measures rather than leading indicators of success; it encourages them to believe their past history of significant customer loyalty means they do not need to rapidly evolve their customer experience for new customer expectations; and it obscures the necessity to embrace risk and innovate for tomorrow's customer needs. This is why 50% of the Fortune 500 from 1999 has disappeared from the list and why some forecast that 40% of today's Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist in 10 years.

The discipline of customer experience (CX), when done properly, solves these problems. It forces leaders to commit to leading indicators of success, such as customer satisfaction, loyalty and brand advocacy, and not just quarterly financial results. CX also demands that brands continually relearn customers' evolving needs and resolve problems to deliver on those needs across the entire customer journey. And lastly, customer experience is an effective driver of innovation, helping to identify and prioritize those technologies that will satisfy expectations tomorrow. Looking at three companies that failed and three competitors that remain in business illustrates the power of CX.

To read more on how customer experience helped Barnes & Noble, Fujifilm and Best Buy while undermining Borders, Kodak and Circuit City, please continue reading this post on my free Gartner blog.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Being Customer First At The Upcoming Gartner Digital Marketing Conference

What does it mean to be “customer first,” and how can companies adopt a more customer-first mindset? That is the focus of one of the tracks at the upcoming Gartner Digital Marketing Conference, May 10 to 12, in San Diego.

Many companies talk about being “customer first,” but how many achieve this goal? In organizations aligned by product or region with aggressive quarterly financial and business goals, the challenges to being customer first are profound but not insurmountable. My peers on the Gartner for Marketing Leaders team have a series of informative presentations to help marketers tackle these challenges.

One way to start is to listen--really listen--to the customer. Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs are vital sources of data and insight about customer wants, needs, experiences, sentiment, and journeys. My presentation on how to launch, run and measure a VoC initiative will help marketers organize programs to align to specific use cases and capture the sorts of metrics that demonstrate the performance, value and safety benefits that VoC programs deliver.

Another way to encourage a customer-first mindset is for marketers to create, distribute and support customer personas. Personas can help leaders across the organization to better understand the needs and preferences of their most valuable customers, resulting in better customer-centered decisions. My peers Jane-Anne Mennella and Jake Sorofman will discuss how marketers can create personas and use them to execute front- and back-stage customer experience (CX) strategies.

To learn about our other sessions at the upcoming event, please continue reading on the Gartner blog. We'll be covering issues of mobile customer experience, atomic content strategy, executing internal company journeys inside complex organizations and ways to match data and metrics to every step of the customer journey.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's Day: A Day For Love, Brands and Customer Experience

Source: Laura Ockel,
Today is a day to ponder the nature of love, which makes it the perfect day for marketers to consider customer experience. After all, the Buy/Own/Advocate customer journey model contains a stage for Love. Love is what turns a stale customer journey that fails to create a strong relationship into a successful one built on satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.

Although there are differences between your relationships with brands and those with loved ones, there are also similarities. People feel strongly about the brands they love in a way that transcends the commercial nature of the relationship. If most of the brands in your life were to disappear tomorrow, you might not even notice, but for a select set of brands in your life, their loss would hurt.

You might be heartbroken if a favorite coffee shop closed. You may lament a favorite retailer changing hands. And the loss of a social network, such as Vine or Club Penguin, can cause people to feel a sense of denial and anger--the first two stages in humans' process for dealing with loss. Heck, some people will even ink their favorite brands onto their body in the same place others would display a heart tattoo surrounding the name of a spouse or child.

What might brands learn about customer experience from the fact people can love brands in much the same way they love other people? I find this a worthwhile thought exercise because it can encourage marketers to reassess their attitudes about their customers, products, and measurement.

Here are three questions to spark thought and dialog:

Can you measure your love for your spouse or significant other on a spreadsheet?

Every couple goes through rough patches every now and then, and when this happened to you, how did you know without an objective metric or dashboard? Was it purely about the number of hugs or kisses per day? Was the warning sign that the number of times you uttered "I love you" dropped by 16.8%? Somehow, you are able to assess your relationship and respond to potential problems, even though you lack the sort of data, analytics, and dashboards you use to measure your brand relationships.

I'm hardly suggesting customer experience should not or cannot be measured--in fact, the truth is quite the opposite--but what mistakes might you make in your personal relationships if you only tried to measure and evaluate them using an Excel spreadsheet? And what may be lost in our customer relationships if we rigidly stick to quantitative, attributable, and lagging indicators of transaction and dollar volume?
“The measure of love is to love without measure.”― Francis de Sales
For two more questions that explore the differences or similarities between your love of special people in your life and the brands you buy (or manage), please continue reading on my Gartner blog. And best wishes for a warm Valentine's Day! 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Long and Dangerous Customer Experience Road For Revolutionary Hardware and Devices

Source: Me and Prisma
Being an early adopter has its drawbacks, but it provides one an interesting lens through which to view the customer experience challenges of truly revolutionary products. Consumer's rapid and eager embrace of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have lured marketers and other business leaders into expecting swift adoption curves for each new wave of technology. But it is important to remember that the accelerated acceptance and use of those software solutions could only have been enabled by a massive base of implemented hardware--and that hardware took a much longer and more tortured route to mass adoption.

Does My Experience of Purchase and Abandonment Match Yours?

I was pondering the customer experience of hardware recently while recalling all of the purchases I have made and abandoned in recent years. I am sure I am not alone in these experiences.

Three years ago I bought a smartwatch. I wore it for a couple months, got annoyed, and gave it away. It was clunky, slow, difficult to manage, had poor usability, and the battery life was disappointing, but the real killer was that it didn't add anything my smartphone wasn't already providing more easily and effectively.

Two years ago I bought a fitness wearable. It broke once, I fixed it, it broke again, and I abandoned it. Besides being poorly constructed, it had limited functionality, and the data it collected seemed wildly unreliable, but the real killer was that I got nearly as much value from using the free mobile app to track my exercise as from having the fitness band do it.

Last year I got an Oculus Rift. I played with it, got bored, and now I touch once every week or two--not completely abandoned, but almost. The head-tracking rocked and the 3D was great, but the real killer was that the games available for my old-fashioned monitor were leaps and bounds more engaging than the relatively crude options available through the Oculus Store.

And three months ago, I purchased an Amazon Alexa Dot. It does a few things very well--the device is perfect for playing music on demand and as a party novelty--but I am using it less and less because it doesn't do many things well. The real killer was that I expected it to be fully functioning and intuitive out of the box, but instead, users must add "skills," the installable apps for Amazon Alexa devices. Apps are great on my phone, where I can see and interact with the icons, but the app model doesn't work nearly as well when I have to memorize verbal commands. To make matters worse, the Amazon skills directory is flooded with confusing and poor-quality options. Now, my Alexa device gets more use erroneously responding to dialog on TV shows than accurately responding to my wife's or my commands.

Exception to the Rule: My One Successful New Device

The one exception to my expensive purchase-and-abandon habit has been my Amazon Fire TV Stick. The inexpensive device was easy to setup, the voice commands work well, it is intuitive to use, and I find this is the one new device that is getting regular and ongoing usage. Amazon Studio's "Man in the High Castle" is the current binge-watching fascination in our household, and the Fire TV Stick has become my go-to method for interacting with Netflix and Spotify.

To learn more about my Fire TV Stick experience, what it says about customer experience and the reasons why first-mover advantage goes to the brand that first gets customer experience right, please read my entire blog posts on my Gartner blog. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Ten Maxims of Customer Experience

Ten simple truths about customer experience (with links to relevant blog posts and subscription research reports from me and my peers on the Gartner for Marketing Leaders team):

Whether or not you plan for it, your brand provides a customer experience to your customers.
Customers collect experiences throughout their journeys with your brand, regardless of your effort, investment or intent to deliver cohesive and satisfying experiences.

People base decisions based on what they experience and hear about your brand.
Every experience you provide to customers can encourage or discourage satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.

Your brand is what people feel and say it is, not what your brand believes or says it is.
Your brand is owned by the customer, not you. It is created and fashioned in the mind of your customers and prospects. You are what they think you are or what they hear from others.

What your brand does is more important than what it says.
Your brand will be ultimately be evaluated by its customers on what it does for them, not what it says in its ads, emails or on its website.

Brands that cannot retain customers cannot win.
Acquiring customers is costly and challenging; retaining and growing loyal customers is the key to business success and profitability.

For the remaining five maxims, please click through to my Gartner blog. I'd welcome your feedback on this list and any I might have missed. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

What Brands Do You Love? A Quick Customer Experience Exercise

What brands do you love? Stop. Make a list. Write them down or type them out, then continue reading.




Did you do it? I'm serious. Here's a free and immediate online notepad you can use if you need one.





My guess is that you had no difficulties identifying some brands you love. You did not object to the exercise. You understood it.

Yet when I speak with marketers about their brands' customer journeys and discuss the power of experiences that drive customers to love their brands, some stop me. A few laugh. A handful tells me that "love" isn't the right word. And I was once asked, "Are you serious?"

To those who get hung up on the word "love," I submit that they can change the label to "a strong and enduring sense of brand affinity," if they care to, but that does not change the concept. They love brands as consumers. So, why is it difficult for some marketer to see love as a potential state of their relationship with their own customers?

One argument I sometimes hear is that the brands those marketers love as consumers "have it easy"--they are in different verticals where love is easier to achieve--but is this true? Starbucks sells a black hot beverage that its customers can purchase at dozens of competitors within blocks of each of its locations. USAA is in financial services, an industry that struggles to earn trust. Quick-service restaurants (like Chick-fil-A and Panera Bread) and retailers (such as PetSmart and Bed Bath and Beyond) with strong consumer ratings are in the same industries (not to mention the same malls) as competitors with much lower ratings.

So, why is that we can respond so readily when asked about brands we love in our personal lives but struggle to understand the concept in relation to the brands we manage on our jobs?

To read why I believe marketers who love brand struggle to see it in their own brands' relationships with customers, please continue reading my blog on the Gartner site. I'd also appreciate your thoughts on the reasons for this disconnect.