Customer Experience Trends to Expect in 2019

December 27th, 2018 by

Over 20 years ago, Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersma wrote a book called The Discipline of Market Leaders. They described three potential strategies that a firm might follow to achieve competitive differentiation, and argued that that choice must be an intentional one:

  1. Operational excellence: This strategy necessitates a high degree of automation to achieve maximum cost efficiency, allowing the firm to compete on price.
  2. Customer intimacy: This strategy is one that requires a firm to personalize and customize the experience such that the customer perceives an extraordinary level of service.
  3. Product leadership: This strategy mandates excellent research and development enabling the firm to rapidly bring to market new solutions and features that are cutting edge.

Customer experience trends: Planning customer experience strategies for 2019

In 2019, those of us running customer experience (CX) programs will re-learn some old truths, as our 2018 CX reality has been a tough one.

The headline of Forrester Research’s annual CX index was “Customer Experience Quality Languished In 2018.” The report paints a picture of overall stagnation: the number of brands in the index that jumped or fell were about equal—the overall tide did not rise.

If we do this right, we will take the headwinds facing CX in 2018 and create the new trends for advancement of our craft in 2019. Let’s start by re-learning some truths.

Trend #1 – Let’s be honest: Customer experience is not a buzzword, it’s a strategy

Transformation and customer experience have become conference talk clichés. Not a single company doesn’t claim a customer-centric orientation. CX is a deliberate strategy, not a sudden epiphany, as Treacy and Wiersma told us over 20 years ago.

Commitment to CX as a strategy for competitive differentiation is evidenced by:

  1. CX is a CEO mandate.
  2. The firm does not pull back from the strategy during hard times.
  3. There is deliberate investment—an executive owner in the C-Suite, a dedicated team and budget dollars allocated.

In 2019, trend #1 is honesty: if the CX program doesn’t have the above attributes, it’s not how your firm truly plans to differentiate—which means you’re back to either cost leadership or product leadership.

Trend #2 – Use data, but trust employees

When we over-index on customer experience metrics, we risk ignoring the other side of the experience coin: your employees, and their experience. Many of us run employee engagement surveys and have collection points for employee feedback. Do you actually ask your employees how to fix the pain points in your customer journey?

As CX teams, we are religiously data driven, using correlation analysis to assess the factors that have the most impact on customer satisfaction. We use this analysis to help our leadership focus its investment calories to get the biggest bang for a dollar spent. That’s all necessary work. Once you have those priority opportunities, create a process to ask the folks who deal with those issues day-in, and day-out, how they would fix it (the employee “suggestion box” is not the right answer.)

In 2019, trend #2 is to start trusting and start executing: have faith that your CX expert is the person sitting inside your company, taking the customer calls and working those problems. Shortcut your analytics, your lean process, and your business case – get to the answer and start piloting. (That’s your business case, right there.)

Trend #3 – Organizational structure is your CX lynchpin

Traditional companies continue to structure themselves in traditional ways. In The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, he describes the dimensions of an innovative startup environment. It’s a very product-focused message, and if CX is truly your competitive differentiator (or aspires to be) – then your CX must BE the product.

Ries’ outlines the product stages (and they should look VERY familiar to anyone running a CX program): Define – Learn – Experiment – Test – Leap.

Your organizational structure has silos. It’s orderly. As Ries’ would say, it’s “mostly calm.” Your departments publish operational metrics showing what Reis’ calls “vanity metrics” and product milestones. The silo is busy optimizing itself, but not the customer journey.

In 2019, trend #3 is predicated on trend #1: if your company’s strategy is to differentiate on the basis of customer intimacy, then treat CX as a product and organize around the success of the product. This product cannot be brought to market via silo’s– it’s one, continuous infinity loop where the customer learns from you, buys from you, engages with you, and (hopefully) buys more as you innovate that product.

2019 CX trends are perhaps better called our New Year’s resolutions – this is what will get us moving up the CX index.

How Blockchain Technology is Impacting the Customer Experience

November 1st, 2018 by

There are a few fundamentals that underpin any effective customer experience program:

  • Culture – Building and nurturing a true customer-centric culture.
  • Governance – Your mechanism to turn the CX flywheel as a team such that you and your peers are inspecting your customer feedback, then resourcing the required investments.
  • Measurement and insight – Trending your numbers and uncovering the “why” behind the data.
  • Voice of the Customer – Customer “listening posts,” from social listening to operational metrics to survey data.
  • Communication – Creating a line of sight for customers from their feedback to your actions, creating trust and incentivizing more feedback.

You’re likely doing all of this already… so what could create a breakthrough from incremental improvement to a game-changer for your customers’ journey? Perhaps, Blockchain technology.

Blockchain offers potential to remove friction from customer interactions

Let’s start with blockchain fundamentals—and I’m not talking Bitcoin—but rather the general-purpose technology that underlies applications like Bitcoin.

Blockchain is distributed, immutable and secure

Blockchain is:

  1. Distributed – Blockchain relies on the structure of a ledger, comprised of “blocks” or transactions that are verified by a distributed network. Each validated block adds to the ledger, in an organized sequence, which brings us to…
  2. Immutable – Once a block has been entered in the ledger, it is codified, time stamped and permanent and, in a public ledger, inspectable by all parties.
  3. Secure – Each block is secured by a cryptographic “hash” that ensures the security of every block added to the ledger. For example, in the case of Bitcoin, it’s a community that generates these hashes and the miner who creates the winning hash earns Bitcoins.

Interesting, but how does that benefit me and my customers?

Blockchain has the potential to remove two big costs for you—and cost is a proxy for friction in your customer journey:

  1. The Cost of Verification
  2. The Cost of Networking

The Cost of Networking means your cost to organize all the players involved with a transaction. Think of a single interaction your customer initiates with you – for example adding services. There is a buyer (the customer), the seller (your company) and other vendors (perhaps the shipping company or the firm that supplies a device). If there are lots of actors to coordinate to facilitate this, presumably it’s a high cost for you to organize, and may result in a fragmented or lengthy delivery process to your customer.

A blockchain-driven platform can gather these actors into that distributed network and have them participate across this network. If they comply with pre-defined “consensus rules,” the need for intermediaries to organize their activity is removed. The use of tokens associated with underlying monetary value can be used to incent the actors to participate and facilitate the transfer of value across the network.

The Cost of Verification is the cost you bear to authenticate your buyers, and the friction your customers encounter by having to provide “proof” of their identity — for example, providing bank statements or prior bills.

Blockchain technology has the potential to bring the cost of verification and networking close to zero

Blockchain technology has the potential to bring these costs close to zero, and for your customers, a smoother, even instantaneous verification. This is done using a “smart contract,” which pre-defines the contractual attributes required for a customer transaction, and digitally codifies those attributes.

You might build existing intermediaries or third parties into your smart contract to provide information. If they’re participating on the blockchain platform of your choice, it can be provided automatically, and dramatically reduce the time and costs to conduct the same verification manually. Because the verification process is built into the code, the data coming into your contract should come with integrity already assured.

What makes a good opportunity for you to take advantage of a blockchain platform?

The opportunity is ripe when you have (1) high transaction verification costs and (2) high networking costs along your customer journey.

Can you identify examples in your customer interactions that bear these costs? If you removed that customer friction, how much faster would the revenue be realized by your organization? How about incremental customer happiness?

Blockchain technology offers a breakthrough opportunity for companies—particularly those operating with legacy systems and where powerful intermediaries are in place who hold critical information required to transact with your customers.

We should all be investigating this game-changing technology now and determining the IT roadmap for blockchain technology adoption to drive a customer experience benefit. The early movers will gain a massive CX jump, and a competitive differentiator with a smoother customer journey.

Your Network and the Imperative of an Excellent Customer Experience

August 6th, 2018 by

Networking for businesses that serve consumers used to be so simple. When all the network needed to do was provide customers and employees with basic voice and data connections, choosing a communications service provider (CSP) had little if anything to do with its effect on the customer experience. Criteria for selecting a CSP tended to look like this:

  • Price
  • Product/network reliability
  • Company reputation

Now that everyone is wired and the consumer experience depends far more on CSP‑delivered services, that criteria looks like this:

  • Customer-centric decisions and solutions
  • Alignment with the end consumer experience target
  • Innovation and easy integration

Houseware retailer assisting a customer

That change in CSP selection criteria was front-and-center in a recent customer meeting we attended with a very large houseware retailer. Our solution was ideal for getting them to a highly resilient, “always on” state, and at a much better price point than they were getting from their current CSP.

When asking the CFO how he would measure the success of the solution they eventually selected, he said something surprising:

“My customers’ experience.”

The surprise is that this came from the CFO. He is responsible for the financial well‑being of a major retail operation, yet was far more concerned about the outcome of his customer’s journey than our service price.

He explained further: “We can always capture the sale, but if we can’t check inventory to ensure we have the item in stock, or we can’t check the reservation system to ensure we have someone available to deliver it, the customer leaves the store happy, expecting to get their refrigerator right away. Then we disappoint them later with a notification that they won’t have their refrigerator for a few weeks. We’ve probably lost them to a competitor – and caused a problem for ourselves.”

Thanks to social media, the disappointed customer’s voice is now amplified. Their positive – or negative – experience will influence other prospects, helping or hurting overall brand and reputation.

So, the CFO knew clearly and instinctively that our solution had to be “customer‑centric” first and foremost.

That houseware retailer isn’t unique in this regard. Thanks to digital engagement, we’re all now operating in the Age of the Customer.

Is your own CSP delivering on the promise of customer experience?

Using Analytics to Drive Ongoing Improvement to the Customer Experience

June 11th, 2018 by

Why does it seem like there is a survey for everything? Surveys asking things like tell us about your experience on our website (often as soon as we land on the site), to how was your vacation stay? Once we actually had a hotel employee chase us down the hall because we didn’t answer all the questions on her survey.

Tempting as it might be, may we suggest you think twice about deleting the next survey that comes your way. Why? Because you, the customer (or potential customer) are the top priority for just about every company you do business with. Those companies want to know what you have to say. They actually need to know: if you don’t share your thoughts – good, bad or indifferent – they won’t know what they can improve to serve you better.

Here at Windstream Enterprise, this kind of feedback is essential to our business.  Our own transformation process literally began because we knew we had to connect and elevate this experience for our customers. Improving our CX is now a primary focus for EVERY employee here at Windstream Enterprise. And the most essential ingredient in this transformation process was listening to what our customers had to say.

Making VOC – Voice of the Customer – central to CX 

Listening is really just the start of things; acting on what you hear comes next. WE did that by establishing a VoC – Voice of the Customer – program designed to proactively monitor the customer experience. By looking at both what we see as “inside out” metrics (our own internal operational metrics), alongside “outside in” metrics (customer feedback), we’re able to:

  • Prioritize what we work on first – the more feedback we get on a topic, the more important it is to our customers
  • Validate that we are working on improvements that address what customers actually need; versus acting on what we “think” is needed
  • Integrate our customers’ ideas into the new solutions

In fact, understanding how a customer views their interaction and relationship is important to both Windstream Enterprise and the customer themselves. If we aren’t on the same page, the customer won’t be happy and we aren’t able to meet (or exceed) their needs. That’s what a VoC program is really all about.

Taking Action: What WE learned in our 2017 CX Survey

Inclusive listening is tremendously important, but creates no value for anyone unless it leads to action.

Our own 2017 fall relationship survey told us WE improved in the areas of network performance and billing issues, though customers shared concerns with installation experience, digital online tools, and support processes. Suffice to say, here’s what our cross-functional teams are working on to turn customer concerns into customer advantages:

Installation: To improve the installation experience, we’re streamlining the process by aligning resources to match order workflow, and assigning project managers/coordinators earlier for a more seamless experience from sales through installation. We’re also implementing automation to improve order accuracy, faster provisioning and more accurate invoicing.

Digital tools: Recognizing customers like the flexibility and convenience of managing their business online, we’re reviewing every tool to reduce complexity and create a better customer experience. In addition, we will launch several new online resources that you can preview here.

SupportSmall scrum-like teams are working on solutions that improve the coordination of simple move/add/change requests and status communications that provide more meaningful updates and show a sense of urgency.

We also established an on-going CX Action Board, a team of VP-level leaders, who act as our board of directors. They meet monthly to inspect our results, pinpoint specific issues we need to address, and develop solutions that lead to quick sprints that we resolve within weeks.

Your turn to elevate the experience

Business, IT and digital transformation are all about leveraging new techniques and technologies to build strong and lasting customer relationships. And that is of course the intention of our own CX programs, and the reason we put listening to our customers at the center of our efforts.

We take the results to heart – even when the feedback is difficult to hear. We read every comment, and set initiatives in motion to address stated concerns.  How you decide to elevate your customer experience as part of your own transformation process is completely up to you. The options are endless. But the basic process of listening to the needs of your audience, deriving insights/analytics from what you hear, and acting on the input is pretty consistent. Of course, building a strong and differentiated network infrastructure is essential to delivering that experience in a consistent and engaging manner.  Though at the very start, our simple survey is where we began.

What are you doing to elevate your CX? We’d love to hear. And remember; your customers are counting on you.

Engineering Humility in the Age of the Customer

June 5th, 2018 by

A public commitment to customer experience is the hot new industry buzz, even in B2B. The Chief Customer Officer title has become a key function in the C-Suite. It’s all driven by what’s often called the “Age of the Customer,” meaning the customer’s power and knowledge has been amplified, and the customer is the biggest determinant of brand perception, corporate reputation and product evangelism – versus the corporation itself.

A great customer experience program therefore starts with humility: genuinely listening to customers and acting on the feedback they offer you. Just as the customer displaced the marketing department as the prime driver of company reputation and product advocacy, customers are also challenging and disrupting traditional engineering functions.

Engineers become customer advocates

How can that be, when engineers have invested in technical degrees, architected complex technology and built elegant automations – all of which leads to solutions customers can’t usually solve themselves? The disruption that occurs is not that the customer is displacing the position of engineers as technical experts, but rather, one that has changed the engineers’ stance from instructors to guides. Looking through our own lens, our network architecture team is always working to innovate for the relentless market demand for bandwidth (big pipes), and combine them with efficiency gains (low cost) to design networks. We would tell customers where the network was going, and customers ideally follow.

Following the Customer’s lead to mutual success

Today things are different.  Now, the network follows the customer. At Windstream Enterprise, our position has evolved to first understand where the customer is going with their business, what challenges they are trying to address, and then design a solution accordingly. We’ve dropped our assumption that we know what the customers wants. Now the mantra is solving for customer success.

While “Customer Success” used to be the domain of the Customer Relationship Managers and Customer Experience teams, we’ve committed our network and engineering organization to the same goals – ensuring that our solutions meet the customer’s strategic goals, and the KPI’s that they us to define them.

Conversation and careful listening is now the prime input for our architecture and network designs, a radical change in thinking, and a mandatory one in the Age of the Customer.

Optimizing Customer Experience: Here are the Steps we are Taking

February 13th, 2018 by

The Customer Is the New Marketing Department

Optimizing Customer Experience

Today’s customer is in the driver’s seat. With the expansion of social media and access to a wealth of online information, B2B customers are able to discover a company’s reputation, its ability to execute, and the strength of its offerings before ever speaking with a sales professional. Research shows that, on average, B2B buyers are 75% complete with their assessments by the time they engage a prospective solution provider.

That means we are now living in the “Age of the Customer,” and the most successful companies practice genuine humility and deep customer listening. At Windstream, we’re also taking steps to help our customers drive a better customer experience for themselves.

Partnering with customers to advance the experience

We’ve done this with a two-fold approach. First, we implemented a sophisticated customer-listening platform that spans each transaction across the customer lifecycle, from initial contact through support. We then pair the customer feedback we receive with our operational data to create a holistic view of customer health, combining inside-out data with outside-in data.

At a micro level, trend analysis of this data illuminates any emerging issues, enabling us to adjust course swiftly – such as authorizing front-line employees to approve certain credit types immediately.

At a macro level, we employ Pareto analysis to uncover systemic issues. The Windstream Customer Experience team partners with the Sales and Operations functional units on larger projects to address macro-level opportunities, such as implementing a standard minimum communications cadence for higher quality, more consistent communication with our customers during specific phases of engagement.

Steps toward optimizing customer experience

All of this means that behind the scenes, customers can expect their engagement with Windstream to be driven by the following elements that help them participate in driving a more satisfying experience.

Disciplined Listening: The voice of the customer serves as our “true north.” In order to listen, we have implemented a consistent way to gather feedback, and a means to place the customer’s voice front-and-center. We chose a cloud-based software platform that presents survey invitations at key customer touchpoints along the engagement lifecycle. The data can be accessed by anyone at the company, and examined at the individual level, the director level, and by department. We publish this data in our monthly business review as a board-level Key Performance Indicator (KPI), alongside traditional success metrics that measure financial performance.

Analytics: A dedicated team takes in all of the data points and runs analytics (regression, Pareto, etc.) to extract actionable insights. This avoids having the volume of data and the number of opportunities become overwhelming, and keeps us focused on items with the greatest positive impact.

Programmatic Response: A dedicated team manages the macro-level and micro-level initiatives, and also partners with functional areas of our business to augment their resources to create and implement improvements.

Executive Governance: A customer-centric culture starts at the top, and must be championed in the C-Suite. Our executive team runs a governance process that ensures every department adheres to customer-centric metrics, inspects its performance against measures, and allocates resources to address opportunities for improvement.

Our pledge to our customers is that the quality of engagement will be measured not simply through customer retention or sales metrics, but by the degree to which those we serve enthusiastically embrace our services and our brand.

As it is all built on information supplied to us by our customers throughout the lifecycle, those who engage with us serve as a powerful marketing channel. We look forward to learning from you, and to partnering with you for the best possible customer experience.

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