Thursday, December 12, 2019

Three Things To Know About 2020 Customer Experience Trends

Year-end articles and blog posts about hot trends are popular. People enjoy reading speculative predictions, and writers are happy to collect the clicks earned by lofty and alarming statements about the pace and breadth of change. Since both writers and readers love them, the annual slew of CX predictions are arriving, and you can find plenty of posts and articles about the Customer Experience trends you “must be aware of” and “must get ready for” in 2020. But must you? Really?

I’ll share some observations on CX trends in this blog post, but at the same time, I also want to caution you from taking too much from the flood of similar articles you will see this month. Most organizations do not struggle with CX because they don’t see or execute the buzziest new trends; they struggle because the foundational basics of CX are often neglected. To a CX leader grappling with limited resources and influence, it may seem appealing to chase some talkable new tech rather than encourage customer-centric changes across the enterprise, but focusing on CX blocking and tackling will almost always have a much greater impact.

As you read this year’s crop of articles about the CX trends you absolutely must act upon or risk immediate consequences, keep in mind these three cautions:

1. There is often much less to those “hot” trends than meets the eye

One of the ways to create attention for a dubious trend is to focus on the innovative business model for a well-publicized startup with a rapidly growing private valuation. The eye-catching valuation gives the appearance of success, but we should know by now that private valuations and impressive IPO prices are not an accurate harbinger of future performance. From Theranos to WeWork to Uber to Magic Leap, it should be evident that impressive growth and inordinate financing rounds are no guarantee of sustainable, profitable success.

Take Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) strategies, which were all the buzz earlier this year. I’m not suggesting DTC isn’t right for your brand or won’t be important in the future, but are you aware those well-known envy-inducing DTC brands aren’t actually profitable as of yet? Casper hopes it will become profitable on an EBITDA basis in 2019. Dollar Shave Club wasn’t profitable when Unilever purchased the company, and subscriber growth has slowed since the acquisition. The Honest Company made headlines in 2017 for a down-round that stripped the company of its “unicorn” status, and the CFO recently shared The Honest Company generates half of its total revenue from stores and not DTC. Lastly, SmileDirectClub was one of the five worst IPOs of 2019, with its shares losing over 60% from its September IPO price.

I am not casting aspersions on these brands or the DTC strategy, which may continue to grow more common and profitable in the coming years, but given the deafening level of hype about the DTC trend, you’d be forgiven for thinking these companies were printing money and not struggling to get into the black. By all means, research the value of DTC strategies, but don’t buy into this or any other hot trend simply because some unprofitable, VC-funded companies have gained market share by selling products or services at a loss. If that were a repeatable and scalable recipe for success, we’d all be billionaires.

Real CX Trend: Back to Basics: Corporate websites have been with us for 25 years, mobile apps for 15 years, and social media for more than a decade. Yet, many brands still struggle to offer good, customer-centric experiences on these channels. Focus your efforts on learning the drivers of satisfaction and dissatisfaction you have on today’s widely adopted-platforms and channels rather than racing to launch a technology, platform, or strategy that may (or may not) be the next big thing in 2025. No brand will fail in 2020 because it lacks a Virtual Reality application or Alexa Skill, but many brands are already failing because they cannot deliver the experience customers want and expect in the real world, on desktops, and on mobile phones.

To continue reading the blog post, please click through to my blog on Gartner's website. There, you'll get information on two more CX cautions ("The first focus of CX is on what customers want, need and expect; not on trends, tech or competitors" and "CX trends are not as 'hot' as you probably think") and two CX tips or trends ("The tech that matters most is the tech that helps improve your customer understanding" and "Hold your existing vendors responsible for keeping you up to date on new tech trends.")

Monday, October 21, 2019

Is the Customer the Subject or the Object of Your Customer Experience Efforts?

I often see customer experience (CX) programs that connect point A directly to point B, equating the actions the brand does to the value it derives from those actions. A straightforward example of this is when a martech vendor claims, "We improve the brand's CX by enhancing offers and 'next best actions,' resulting in more clickthroughs and conversions." Or, you might hear an executive say, "We improved our CX by implementing self-service, which reduced call volume and headcount, thus saving us money."

Those are both excellent business outcomes, but is either a CX outcome? In neither of those examples do we know the impact on the customer. Are customers happier? Do they perceive more value? Have we changed their attitude toward the brand or themselves? Are they more likely to be loyal or tell others? We don't know because, in both of those examples, we skipped the customer. If you are doing CX, you cannot go from point A--what we do--to point B--what we get--without going through point C--the customer.

When we skip the customer and tie our "CX" projects only to the value the brand receives, we convert our customers into objects rather than the subjects of our efforts. In your life, objects fit into one of three broad categories: They are tools for you to exploit, barriers for you to overcome, or they are nothing. In those examples, we made the customer a tool (a wallet for us to pluck) and a barrier (an annoyance for us to eliminate). In neither case did we treat customers as people: Human beings with wants, needs, and expectations. Nor did we, in either example, measure (or even care about) the impact on the customer.

To make the customer the subject of what you do and not merely an object that is acted upon to get what your brand wants, go from point A to C to B. That means connecting what you do to how it changes customer perception, and then recognizing how those changes in perception drive behavioral shifts that deliver long-term brand value. That may sound complicated, but it's not. We just have to listen to customer perception and tie that to the loyalty behaviors that drive brand value, such as retention, sales growth, purchase frequency, the cost to serve or retain, and brand advocacy and WOM.

If you start with what you want (more sales or lower costs), develop a plan to enhance your brand's immediate financial outcomes, and measure only brand impact and not how or if customer perception has changed, you may deliver short-term ROI but cannot know if you've provided a better customer experience. More to the point, you cannot know if you've traded improved financial results today for powerful, lasting relationships that drive growth, margin, and profit tomorrow.

To change the customer from an object to the subject of your CX program, start with what customers want and need, develop a plan to lift customer satisfaction, and measure how you improve the customer and their relationship with your brand. Here's how (along with links to relevant research reports for Garter subscribers):

Monday, October 7, 2019

My Hotel Light Switch and the Three Easy Questions to Ask About Customer-Centric Innovation

I checked into a hotel late last night after a long evening of travel. When it came time to go to bed, I was unable to locate the switch for the lamp over my desk. I spent five minutes testing every switch, feeling the underside of the ledge over the desk, and searching behind curtains for hidden switchplates, all in vain. Finally, I made an awkward call to the front desk to ask how to turn off the lights.

The response from the front desk sounded unsurprised and well-practiced. Look for a white button on the desk she told me. The magic button that controls the desk lamp is this:

Maybe I should’ve realized this was a light switch. Perhaps not. What I do know is that I am far from alone. The front-desk clerk shared she gets several calls a night from frustrated guests asking the same question. “There are no instructions,” she added, demonstrating a firmer grasp of usability concepts than this hotel chain’s innovation team. (How many guests, I wonder, go to bed with the lights on because they’re too embarrassed to ask.)

This left me pondering why so many brands get innovation so wildly wrong. Just 3% of users who enable Alexa or Google voice apps are active users a mere two weeks later, and 75% of downloaded mobile apps are opened only once. When your brand makes investments into innovative customer experiences, is that the kind of adoption and success you seek?

The problem with too many innovation efforts is that brands focus on the tech, not the customer. By failing to be customer-centric in their thinking, brands end up with “solutions” that do nothing important for customers, leading to depressed usage and disappointing KPIs. It may be fine to pilot new tech simply to gain knowledge, but wouldn’t it be better to achieve that same knowledge while simultaneously creating something customers want?

Customer-centric innovation requires answers to three fundamental questions before committing to development. To learn the questions and explore why this hotel's innovative button fails the customer-centric test, please read the entire blog post on

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Measuring Loyalty: Attitude versus Behavior

Photo by Cory Bouthillette on Unsplash
Customer experience (CX) leaders are called upon to lift customer loyalty, which, of course, means they have to measure loyalty. There are two broad ways to measure customer loyalty: Attitudinal measures and behavioral measures. Too often, CX leaders lean on one or the other, but delivering reliable CX results requires both.

Attitudinal measures are used to understand how customers feel about your brand. You collect attitudinal data via Voice of the Customer (VoC) surveys that ask about the customer’s satisfaction, likelihood to repurchase, or willingness to recommend.

Behavioral measures are used to measure if customers are acting on their feelings of loyalty. You measure behavioral loyalty using transactional and sales data. Do my customers continue to purchase? What is their purchase frequency or average order amount? At what rate to I retain or churn existing customers?

Many organizations believe that behavioral measures are most important. After all, what good are customers who feel loyal if they don’t act on that feeling? In the end, you take behavioral measures of loyalty to the bank--it is nice to get a high Net Promoter Score, but it's customers' behaviors that provide the dollars that drive business results.

But while behavioral measures are vital, there is considerable risk in relying on these transactional measures in the absence of attitudinal data. Repeat purchases may look like loyalty, but they can be driven by factors that are not related to customers' feelings of brand loyalty. People may repeatedly buy out of habit, because of limited competitive options, for convenience, or because your brand offers the lowest price. A brand focused only on behavioral loyalty metrics may gain false confidence that all is well because customers are repurchasing, only to learn how little loyalty the brand earns when it tries to raise prices or a better, more-convenient or lower-price competitor enters the market. Behavioral measures tell you what customers are spending, not what they feel toward the brand.

The taxi industry offers a recent and compelling example of the risks of relying only on behavioral measures of loyalty. For decades, taxi companies owned the on-demand transportation market. Protected by regulation, they were the only option for travelers and urban residents in need of a quick ride. No one liked taxis, but they used them, so the industry’s behavioral loyalty looked great—until Uber and Lyft entered the marketplace. Customers who felt no loyalty to taxis rapidly shifted to the new entrants. Had taxi companies collected attitudinal measures of loyalty and addressed the reasons for customer dissatisfaction, the industry might have enjoyed stronger customer relationships and mounted a more effective defense against the upstart network transportation companies.

Another problem with leaning on behavioral measures is that this data is a lagging indicator. Using purchase data to measure loyalty, you can only measure a lost customer after they’ve left. As a result, behavioral loyalty data can let you know if your retention rate is declining, but it isn’t predictive of what you can expect in the future, which customers may be next, and why they are abandoning your brand.

Behavioral data may be closest to the dollars and cents of business, but attitudinal loyalty data (quantitative survey data appended with qualitative research) is even more powerful for understanding customer perception, feelings of loyalty and emotional bonds, and what adverse factors can be addressed today to reduce customer churn in the future. Smart brands use their VoC survey results to identify which customers are most at risk and target them for unique retention and recovery efforts, helping to improve loyalty and reduce turnover.

When measuring loyalty, smart CX leaders don’t lean on one kind of measure over another. By collecting and analyzing both behavioral and attitudinal loyalty, you are best prepared to identify likely causes of customer churn while also measuring the financial costs and benefits of delivering better customer experience.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Omnichannel Customer Experience Is More About Your Organization Than About Your Technology

Photo by Thomas Q on Unsplash

There is a lot of focus today on omnichannel marketing and engagement, but brands would be well advised to focus first on omnichannel service. Getting omnichannel service right is not just a tech problem; far from it. In too many of today's customer interactions, organizational silos are evident, channel adoption and maturity is variable, brands' self-interest is apparent, and employee training and empowerment is weak. All of this contributes to a fractured customer experience that undermines trust, loyalty, satisfaction, and advocacy.

This was brought to mind as a result of a rough experience I had with a telecommunications provider. In the end, I am happy with the services and where we landed, but getting there--whew, what a frustrating and unpleasant ride.

I moved to a new home, and I used the telecom provider's website to purchase a set of services, including a set-top box, a channel and movie package, and internet services. The installation process was tortured, and it didn't need to be:
  • Day One: The installer comes to my new condo. She can't find a way to wire a set-top box adjacent to my TV, tells me I needed a rewiring specialist, and promises to arrange the appointment.
  • Day Two: The technician who is about to arrive calls and asks if I've been rewired. I tell her that is what she's supposed to do. She cannot--she's only an installer. Someone entered the wrong data, so I need to reschedule, yet again.
  • Day Three: I need to wait two days for a rewiring specialist, but in the interim, I reach out to the company on Twitter and ask if there is a streaming option that would avoid the time and hassles of rewiring. There is, but Twitter support cannot help. I need to call.
  • Still Day Three: I call the company and learn there's an easy streaming option using my provider's app on Roku. So, I cancel the rewiring appointment and replace it with yet another installer visit.
  • Day Four: While we've changed the appointment schedule, nothing has changed with the services I ordered, and I wonder if I have the right package. So, I reach out to Twitter support and ask. They cannot help and tell me I have to call.
  • Still Day Four: I call and speak to a person who confirms the package I ordered will not work with streaming. After a lengthy discussion, I settle on the right streaming package. I assume I'm done, but nope, the person to whom I'm speaking cannot make the changes. I need to talk to a sales rep, and so I'm transferred.
  • Still Day Four: Another long and torturous discussion ensues, and it seems to me the salesperson with whom I'm speaking did not review the lengthy and detailed notes captured by the first rep. After almost 55 minutes on the phone, I finally have the original order canceled and the new streaming services set.
  • Day Five: I'm frustrated and angry, but this is the turning point. The installer arrives, and installation goes fast. Roku and the provider's app work like a charm. Everything is right with the world.

All's well that ends well, or is it? To explore the adverse impact of this experience and why this company needs to focus not just on tech but on org structure, job descriptions, employee empowerment, and product complexity, please finish reading this post on my Gartner blog.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Life-or-Death Customer Experience

Photo by Leio McLaren (@leiomclaren) on Unsplash
The other day, I was talking to a peer about customer experience (CX), and she said, "It's not as if we're curing cancer here." We're not, but there are countless ways, both overt and imperceptible, that your brand's customer centricity and employees' commitment to customers can become matters of life or death. The decisions employees make, large and small, that impact the welfare of your customers are not theirs alone but are shaped by the priorities, goals, processes, and expectations set by your leaders.

What do your employees do when no one is looking? What decisions are made that can impact the safety of one or more customers? And how will customers be affected by and perceive those decisions? These are questions that will affect your brand's customer experience, its customer relationships, and the customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy your brand deserves.

Issues of CX, risk, customer welfare, brand perception, and corporate culture are complex, as exemplified by the recent news reports about the Boeing 737, its cockpit alert systems, and two fatal air disasters. Boeing has acknowledged that some within the company knew in 2017 that its display system failed to meet the company's own angle of attack (AOA) alert requirements. Boeing engineers decided not to take any action, even though the missing alert could have notified pilots that a sensor was malfunctioning. It is, in fact, this same sensor that investigators are exploring as one possible contributor of two fatal crashes that resulted in 346 deaths. Boeing's statement notes that a Safety Review Board was convened to consider whether the absence of the AOA Disagree alert presented a safety issue, and the board "confirmed Boeing’s prior conclusion that it did not."

Investigations are underway, and time will tell to what extent the AOA sensors, the missing alert, and the aircraft's anti-stall software did or did not contribute to these fatal accidents, but people reading the news won't wait for official inquiries to end before asking themselves what Boeing engineers put first--the company or the customer? Many will conclude that fixing a broken alert seems the obvious customer-centric decision for a brand responsible for the wellbeing of ourselves, family and peers while traveling six miles above the ground at 500 miles per hour. In fact, a recent survey found that 53% of Americans said they would not want to fly on a Boeing 737 Max, even after the FAA clears the plane for service. None of this is lost on Boeing's leaders, and last week the company CEO apologized to the families and acknowledged, "We clearly fell short.”

This all acts as a potent reminder that what matters is not what your brand intends but what is perceived. It also reinforces that leadership and culture influence day-to-day CX and customer centricity in ways that affect the safety of your customers and the reputation of your brand.

There are many examples where corporations' bias toward revenue, profitability, and cost avoidance conflict with protecting the health and safety of customers. We now know that tobacco companies not only conspired to cover up the risks of smoking but intentionally made cigarettes more addictive. Oil companies knew of their products' tie to global warming for decades, even as they funded groups that cast doubt on climate science. And in the 1970s, Ford once infamously decided to avoid safety improvements to the Pinto after calculating the $11-per-car cost was more expensive than dealing with the claims from 180 burn deaths and 180 serious burn injuries.

To continue reading the blog post, including an example of a bold Salesforce action that brings reputation management, corporate values, and customer experience together, please visit my Gartner blog. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

How Do Your Customer Experience Scores Compare to Competitors? Who Cares?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
Virtually every customer experience (CX) leader struggles with one common issue: How do I acquire the attention and commitment I need from bosses and peers? How do I get them to care so that the CX program can secure the necessary budgets, collaboration, and resources?

Some CX leaders turn to benchmarks--the relative scores received by the company versus its competitors--to gain consideration within their organizations. These leaders hope to earn attention by demonstrating their brand lags in key CX measures such as net promoter score (NPS), customer satisfaction (CSAT), customer effort score (CES), and other operational metrics (such as average hold time, abandon rate, etc.) Telling those inside the company that a hated competitor is beating your brand’s NPS may seem an excellent way to engage your peers’ competitive spirit, but there are problems and dangers with relying on third-party benchmarks to drive attention. These problems include:
  • Consistency and quality of data: A company’s NPS or CSAT score scraped off the internet is an unreliable measure. Too much depends on who the company asks (the sample), what questions precede the NPS questions (the survey design), any preceding interactions that trigger the survey (the methodology), and other factors. The only reliable and consistent way to compare one company’s score against another is to ensure uniformity of sample, survey, and methodology, and this is best done within a single study. This is why brands interested in benchmarks rely on services that collect brand perception and customer satisfaction data using consistent, objective processes, such as those managed by JD Powers or the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
  • Pertinence: Every category, every brand, and every audience will have unique factors that impact customer satisfaction. We wouldn’t expect the CES scores for a value brand to compare to a luxury brand, or for a brand focused on selling in retail store aisles to correspond to one that controls the entire end-to-end experience with direct-to-consumer e-commerce. By selecting benchmarks that may lack relevance to your brand’s unique situation, you could be setting the bar too high or too low. Many CX leaders with whom I speak wish to benchmark themselves against the best companies in the world, such as USAA or Amazon, but few companies share the same customer base, mission, leadership, history, offerings, and strategies as these companies. Your brand needs to be the best in its unique situation—just as USAA and Amazon have done in theirs.
  • Goals: The goal of CX is not to achieve a better score than someone else; it is to improve customer relationships in ways that drive financial success. If all a brand delivers with its CX efforts is to beat competitors’ scores, has it really achieved anything vital to business outcomes? Even if your company earns better ratings than competitors, who’s to say there isn’t more financial benefit to be created by driving to even greater levers of satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy? Brands that achieve game-changing CX don’t only attain higher scores than others but use their NPS, CSAT and CES data to recognize what drives customer dissatisfaction, uncover problems, reveal unmet needs, and learn what earns the most durable trust, retention, repeat purchases, and WOM. Benchmarking yourself against competitors does not uncover those critical drivers of business success.
  • Focus: And, one of the primary problems with benchmarks in CX is that they encourage a focus not on the customer—which is, after all, the whole intent of CX—but on the competition. The strongest CX efforts are those aimed at knowing and delivering on customer wants, needs, and motivations, not ones that focus on the actions or scores of competitors.
In our experience, benchmarks do not drive more attention, commitment, and support within organizations. What does is using your data to demonstrate the relationship between customer perception scores (such as NPS) and customer behaviors that drive business results. Using your data, from your customers, buying your products, can help you prove that your promoters (when compared to detractors) buy more frequently, spend more, churn less, have a lower cost to service, refer more business, and offer better online ratings that drive more sales. If you can demonstrate that your most-satisfied customers provide more top- and bottom-line financial results than do your least-satisfied customers, you’ll crush the barriers that prevent you from attaining the attention and support your CX initiatives require.

Senior executives have a hard time knowing how much (or whether) to invest in improving customer experience when the only goal is to beat some other brand’s score. Sure, it feels good to beat the competition at something, but you cannot take NPS to the bank. The most successful CX leaders are the ones that focus not on competitive benchmarks but on ways to validate why CX matters to business outcomes. Current Gartner clients can learn more in our research report, “Tailor Customer Experience Data and Metrics to Improve Customer Centricity, Drive Action and Validate Business Outcomes.”

Monday, May 13, 2019

Moments of Fallacy: Your Customers Don't Leave But Are Invited To Do So

We get the language of customer retention and attrition all wrong. We say things like "customers abandon us," "they leave," or "they attrite." But in framing our brand's retention issues in this manner, we swap the subject and object of our sentences. We make the customer the subject and our brand the object, as if they've done something to us, but the reality is precisely the opposite. We are the subject--our organizations are the ones accountable for the customer experience (CX), for ensuring customer satisfaction, and for earning customers' loyalty and dollars. Our brand is not victimized by ungrateful customers who leave us but has a duty to create an experience that invites customers to remain.

This isn't just about language but about the way we think and act. Our mental models influence the language we use, and the language then reinforces those same mental models.

Your brand may not intentionally "fire" the customer, but make no mistake: If you neglect customer needs and expectations, ignore their feedback, consistently prioritize profit over customer satisfaction, and expect loyalty in return for mediocre and undifferentiated experiences, you may as well engrave an invitation for your customers to quit your brand. To influence customer-centric change in your organization, start with the right vocabulary and mentality. Stop blaming your customers for leaving, and embrace your obligation to offer experiences that invite customers to stay.

Another example of the way our language betrays us is the term "moment of truth," which has been popular in CX for years. The idea that your brand has some limited number of consistent and eternal "moments of truth" that are essential to every customer in every situation falls apart pretty quickly when you poke at it gently.

Any moment can be a moment of truth if your brand disappoints or harms a customer. Moreover, satisfied and loyal customers don't abruptly seek competitive solutions simply because your brand dropped the ball in one, big, predictable moment of truth; instead, you lose customers when your brand suffers a sustained loss of trust, loyalty, and satisfaction due to a series of effortful, disappointing or frustrating experiences. In the battle for customer retention, every touchpoint is a moment of truth, and the decision on which moments matter most is not yours but each customers'.

To read two examples that illustrate how brands invite customers to leave, explore brands' "last-touch attribution" issue with attrition, and begin to improve the customer-centric language and mindset at your organization, please continue reading this post on my Gartner blog. 

Friday, March 29, 2019

One Powerful Tip to Improve Every Business Strategy

Photo by patricia serna on Unsplash
I generally hate blog posts and articles that suggest there is a single trick, hack or tip that can change your world. (I swear if I see one more headline promising the one habit that can turn me into Jeff Bezos or Warren Buffet, my head will explode.) But, there is one powerful tip that, I have found, can help you avoid costly mistakes and turn a weak business or marketing strategy into a powerful one: Define your goals and metrics first, then develop the plan to deliver on those.

That's it. That's the entire tip. Not exactly rocket science, huh?

The problem is that, far too often, we do the opposite. We commit to a strategy we like or a technology that intrigues us, and after our plan is set, we then figure out how to measure the outcomes. The problem with this approach is that we develop metrics to fit the strategy rather than developing a strategy to match what we want to accomplish and what our business needs. By figuring how we'll measure what we have already committed to doing, we end up with vanity metrics rather than important business KPIs.

The 2008 to 2015 social media strategies of virtually every brand illustrates this problem. Every company in the world jumped into social media for reasons that ranged from weak ("our competitors are doing it!") to incomplete ("our customers are adopting it!") So, after an organization committed to a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn strategy, all that was left was to determine how to measure it. Thus, we ended up with meaningless metrics such as likes, retweets, fans, and comments. And, having committed to measures that have little to no link to our business goals, brands then spent a lot of money to achieve results that didn't matter. How many brands learned the hard way that Twitter sweepstakes, Farmville giveaways, vapid content, and fan contests were useful only for lifting useless metrics while doing nothing to improve brand health or results?

We can see the same thing happening today with voice devices. Brands continue to jump onto the Alexa and Google Home bandwagon because voice devices are rapidly becoming common in US homes ("our customers are adopting it!") And, as a result, brands are rapidly jumping into developing voice applications such as Alexa Skills, the number of which doubled in 2018 ("our competitors are doing it!")

The problem is that too many brands commit to developing voice apps without really understanding how consumers use them or establishing what the brand wants to accomplish and how it will measure success. The outcome is that a lot of voice applications with little evidence they get used. Amazon doesn't release data on monthly active users of skills (hmm, I wonder why?), but what we do know is that 60% of Alexa skills have zero ratings and only 5% have more than ten. We also understand why people use their voice devices, and every one of the top reasons is core functionality provided by the device makers (time, alarms, online search, directions), entertainment (music, fun questions) or media (news and weather).

To continue reading about the three benefits derived when we set our goals and measures at the beginning and not the end, please visit my Gartner blog. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

Three Words That May Spell Trouble For Your Customer Experience Efforts

The Scream, 1893 by Edvard Munch

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the language of customer experience. I have hundreds of conversations with clients every year, and my job is to efficiently get to the heart of a CX problem and expeditiously offer practical guidance. My advisory sessions start with clients describing their CX goals or challenges, and I've come to realize there are a handful of words that catch my attention and suggest an area of possible concern worthy of further exploration. Those words are digital, personalization, and buyer.

Before we explore why those words might signify a potential problem with your CX efforts, let me first point you to last month's two-part blog series examining the language of customer experience. Part 1 was about thinking like a customer and part 2 about framing your marketing and business strategies from the customer's perspective. Today's blog post is again focused on language and seems like an appropriate conclusion for the series.

"Digital," "personalization" and "buyer" are powerful and common words used within marketing departments, and the potential CX dangers of each may not be readily apparent. Here is why these words are deserving of attention and further consideration:


Your brand must constantly strive to get its digital channels, interactions, and experiences right, but a single-minded preoccupation on a "digital journey" can lead your CX program astray. Customers may be embracing digital channels, devices, and habits, but none of us are wholly digital. We are all analog creatures living in an increasingly digital world. As a result, it is rare for customers to complete an end-to-end journey--from need to purchase to loyalty to advocacy--entirely in digital channels. Understanding the ways customers want to navigate back and forth between physical and online interactions permits you to best define your brand's opportunities in both domains.

It's easy to find examples of how merging the best of the real world and digital helps brands. For example, Best Buy, a brand many thought would be "showroomed" out of existence a few years ago, has thrived thanks to a strategy that combines the best of e-commerce and physical retail for customers. Retailers have seen tremendous growth in "click-and-collect" behaviors where customers buy online and pick up at a store; Adobe found that click-and-collect orders grew 46% year over year during a recent one-month period. Meanwhile, another study found that opening and closing a physical store can have a measurable impact on online traffic and image.

All brands--even exclusively digital ones--benefit by recognizing the role of digital and real-world behaviors in improving the customer experience. And if you're in a digital role siloed from physical operations (or vice versa), your success still depends on your ability to recognize how customers want their online and offline experiences merged. (Gartner clients can learn more with the report, "Create Actionable, Insight-Driven Journey Maps.")


Like "digital," the word "personalization" represents a positive approach to customer experience--people want and appreciate personalized experiences. The reason this word can raise CX concerns is in how personalization is used by marketers. The critical question is whether your personalization strategies are intended to improve the brand or the customer. The two are not at all mutually exclusive, but a CX strategy is not a CX strategy if it is measured only in increased revenue and not in changes to customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.

To do personalization right for CX, it is essential to be "outside-in," which means understanding and meeting customer expectations and measuring the impact to the customer. One place to start is to develop, study and understand your different personas, which helps you to define the varied sorts of content, experiences, and features desired by different groups of customers.

A good personalization strategy can lift inbound traffic, clicks, conversions and sales while also delivering more satisfied, loyal customers, but you must be careful not to presume more purchases equate to a stronger sense of loyalty and advocacy. Bridging the gap between behavioral and attitudinal measures of loyalty is vital. (Gartner clients interested in more information on the topic of attitudinal and behavioral loyalty can access our recent report, "Move Customers to Deeper Levels of Loyalty That Strengthen Brand Health.")

To learn of the dangers of the word "buyer," please visit my Gartner blog for the complete blog post.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Want to Create Greater Customer Centricity? Start with Customer Language. (Part 2)

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
In part one of this blog post, we explored how the language of marketing and business pervades our work lives and discourages the customer centricity our organizations seek. For example, at work, we use language like "content" and "engagement," but at home, have you ever said "I saw some good content on Netflix last night" or "I had some terrific Facebook engagement today"? By subtly changing our language from what customers want and need to what brands do, we alter the way we think and the decisions we make.

This isn't merely a matter of style. Language matters. Studies demonstrate that the words we use do more than just describe a problem; they shape our perception of reality, influence the solutions we consider, and rewire our brain for different cognitive abilities. Corporate talk leads to corporate think and corporate actions.

So, how do you start to transition your language from brand to customer, and what benefits might that bring? Try adopting a structured format for stating your business and marketing strategies from the customer's perspective using customer terminology.

As an exercise, let's say you're a marketer at a financial service provider tasked with promoting a new 529 college savings plan, and your approach will be to use an educational content strategy. Your plan might be summarized as this: "To offer educational content that engages new parents, teaching them about the high cost of their children's future college education and promoting the benefits of initiating savings early in their child's life, with the goal of producing more inbound traffic to our new 529 page and more leads for our financial advisors."

Now, try to phrase that with customer language from the customer perspective. You may find it difficult, and that's the whole idea. If you cannot frame your business or marketing concept in a way that makes sense from the customer perspective, that is a concerning omen. To help, here is a format you might follow to put yourselves in the shoes of the customer:
  • I,
  • A customer with these needs, wants, and motivations,
  • In this specific situation,
  • Who has this relationship with the brand,
  • Will interact with the brand for this reason,
  • Resulting in this benefit.
This approach forces you to think like a customer in some key ways, and it also suggests the level of customer understanding you'll need. Without the right data and insight, you may be able to write a nice piece of fiction, but you must base your strategy on something more than what you imagine or hope. Step by step, this format cuts through the fog created by business and marketing lingo and forces a true customer-centric perspective.

To see how this approach changes our hypothetical 529 plan and consider the impact this customer-centric approach will have on our metrics and success, please continue reading on my Gartner blog. 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Want to Create Greater Customer Centricity? Start with Customer Language. (Part 1)

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash
"We want to become a more customer-centric organization." As a customer experience researcher and advisor, I hear that phrase every single week. I suspect you may, too.

Achieving this is, of course, important for brand health and financial success. Customer-centric organizations are eating the world. Amazon, which seeks to “become Earth's most customer-centric company,” is close to capturing half of all US e-commerce dollars. Southwest Airlines, which is dedicated to "the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride and company spirit,” has seen its revenue passenger miles grow 67% in seven years and now possesses a market share virtually equal to the US airline leader, American.

But saying you want to improve customer centricity is easy; achieving it is not. The struggle for many business leaders is that many of the tools to transform company culture are out of their reach. It's easy to recognize, for example, that our primary business KPIs (like revenue, margin, and stock price) are largely disconnected from customer-centric aims (such as customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy), but how many of us get to set our company's top goals and measures?

So how can one individual help to transform their corner of the organization to be more customer-centric? One place to start--and a particularly powerful strategy for marketers--is to begin to use the language of people and not business. Our corporate and marketing vernacular too often obscures the customer and what he or she wants and expects. It alters our perspective, encouraging us to consider the value we wish to extract from customers, not what our customers desire and need from us. The language of marketing and commerce damages rather than cultivates customer centricity.

For example, does your organization have an "engagement strategy" to build "stronger customer bonds?" Are you striving to execute a "content strategy" to make your brand "top of mind?" Do you seek to make "more meaningful connections?" Are you working to foster "more authentic customer relationships?" Chances are, you are so steeped in the lingo of marketing and business you merely nodded in response to each of these questions, but those are merely brand-centric statements obfuscated beneath a thin veneer of customer jargon. Those statements all make perfect sense--from the selfish perspective of your brand.

Now, instead of thinking like a marketing or corporate leader, think like a customer. You have around 500 brands in your life, between your kitchen, bathroom, closets, devices, car, TV, and desk. With how many of those 500 do you want to "engage" today? How many of the 500 do you actively and regularly seek out and make time to read, watch, listen, and consider their "content?" Of those 500, how many do you wish to so preoccupy your thoughts and attention that they push your family, job, friends, hobbies, and health out of the way to become "top of mind?" Honestly, how many of those hundreds of brands will you invest the time and care to "bond" with--to make a "meaningful connection" and have an "authentic relationship?"

To flip the perspective, consider these same questions from the customer viewpoint, and explore how our goals for customer centricity are harmed when we misuse customer language, please continue reading on my Gartner blog.