8 Customer Experience Trends For 2011

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It’s the time of year when prognosticators drag out their crystal balls and divine about next year. Well, I’m not too different. But instead of a crystal ball, I’ll tap into the 8 customer experience megatrends that I outlined earlier this year. They remain the key trends that I think we’ll see in 2011.

Here are the 8 megatrends along with my thoughts about how they’ll play out in 2011:

1. Customer Insight Propagation. Most decisions in companies are made without any real customer insight. Companies will increasingly recognize that they need to integrate a deeper understanding of their customers throughout their company. That’s why Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs represent one of the most popular customer experience efforts. A new cadre of vendors are making it easier to collect, analyze, and share customer information broadly across just about any organization.

2011: I’ve written a lot about VoC programs this year. Companies are beginning to figure out how to better use the insights and an emerging set of vendors have deployed customer insight and action (CIA) Platforms that can help considerably. But there’s still a long way to go. In the research report The State Of Voice Of The Customer Programs, we found that only 1% of large companies are “Transformers,” which is the highest level of maturity. In 2011,  I expect to see many companies move up on the VoC maturity scale as this continues to be an increasing area of focus next year. Don’t be surprised to see CRM players like Oracle and SAP acquire some of the CIA vendors.

2. Unstructured Data Appreciation. Deep feelings that customers have about a company often get truncated into a 5-point, 7-point, or even 11-point multiple choice scales; making it difficult to understand “why” things are happening. New text analytics applications can quickly process thousands of pieces of unstructured data and discern what’s making customers happy or what’s making them upset; pushing a dramatic rise in companies analyzing rich unstructured data like comments on surveys, call center verbatims, or social media discussions.

2011: As I said in a blog post earlier this year, it’s time for text analytics. I’m working with many companies on strategies for getting deeper customer insights and just about all of them involve a component of text analytics. In 2011, I expect there to be twice as many text analytics pilots as in 2010 and a lot of companies touting success stories at conferences. I expect IBM to make a big push in this area next year with SPSS and I would not be surprised to see Big Blue acquire either Clarabridge or Attensity.

3. Customer Service Rejuvenation As companies do touchpoint analyses and customer journey maps, they often find that customer service is a key “moment of truth” for customers. Unfortunately, the cost-cutting in this area over the last several years has created many poor experiences. Companies are recognizing that poor customer service is creating a very negative perception of their brand and will increasingly make investments to improve these experiences.

2011: During customer service week in October, I discussed how companies sometimes seem to care more about saving $1.50 in transaction costs than they care about $60 worth of business. But, I am seeing some changes. I’ve actually been working with a number of contact centers that are transforming the service they deliver. In 2011, I expect to see more contact centers drop average handle time (AHT) as a core metric and revamp quality measures based on customer feedback.

4. Loyalty Intensification. Over the last several years, many executives have realized that shareholder value is not an objective; it’s actually the outcome of building stronger customer loyalty. As companies starts using measures like Net Promoter Scores (NPS) to track loyalty, more firms will elevate these metrics to their executive dashboard; pushing companies to think and act more strategically about loyalty.

2011: Many companies are developing loyalty metrics and infusing them into their management dashboards. We found that 45% of companies tie compensation to some customer feedback metrics, but don’t push too hard, too early with compensation.  We also found that only 25% of respondents think their senior executives are willing to trade-off short-term financial results for longer-term loyalty. In 2011, it will become much more common for companies to balance loyalty metrics with financial ones. And many companies will evolve beyond fixing problems that cause dissatisfaction and start designing experiences that inspire advocates.

5. Interaction iPod-ization. QWERTY keyboards help make PCs so universal. But a keyboard-based QWERTY device is not the ideal interface for the next generation of digital devices. Fortunately, Apple’s iPod (and iPhones, iPads) are doing the same thing that QWERTY did over 100 years ago, teaching myriads of people how to interact with a touch-screen. As a result, a new wave of touch-pad based applications will emerge.

2011: Add Nooks, Android, and Windows Phone to the list of devices that will be teaching people how to touch, drag, shake, pinch, and tap to get what they need. In 2011, Mainstream PCs with a keyboard and mouse will seem even more like relics’ as people increasingly transition to iPad (and iPad-like) devices.  I also expect to see more voice interfaces emerge.

6. Social Media Assimilation. Social media is a hot topic. But Social Media is not really a new thing for companies; it represents just another interaction channel with customers. Companies will increasingly fold Social Media activities into the core activities of the company; especially within customer service.

2011: I created a term called “Social Schizophrenia” which describes companies that provide levels of service in social media that differ significantly from service levels in other channels. That still describes a lot of companies. In 2011, focus on social media will continue to grow but I expect much more mature approaches as the tools and processes are evolving.

7. Digital/Physical Integration. Consumers increasingly go online with their cell phones while they are doing activities like walking through a mall or eating at a restaurant. At the same time, iPhones have introduced consumers to the notion of task-specific application downloads. In this environment, companies can no longer think about online as a separate and distinct channel. They will start designing more experiences that blend together online and offline interactions.

2011: Mobile applications will increasingly take advantage of location-awareness to provide services and capabilities that are specific to the store, restaurant, hotel, ball park, intersection, or wherever you are. In 2011, we’ll also see more adoption of recognition-based services like Shop Savvy that can scan barcodes and Google Goggles that recognizes landmarks, text — pretty much anything you can take a picture of with your phone. Given the capabilities, I think we’ll see a bunch of integrated digital/physical offerings in the second half of the year.

8. Cultural Renovation. Companies are increasingly recognizing that “unengaged employees can’t create engaged customers” which is one of my “6 Laws Of Customer Experience.” That’s why many firms are starting to focus on the culture of their firms; trying to align employees with the vision, mission, and brand of the company. Cultural change takes several years to take hold; so significant changes won’t show up in companies immediately. But when change happens, it will very difficult for competitors to replicate.

2011: It’s great to see many executives ask for help building a customer-centric culture. I often compare customer experience to quality, which is captured in my manifesto: Great Customer Experience Is Free. I also like usurping this quote from the quality movement: “Great customer experience is the result of a carefully constructed cultural environment. It has to be the fabric of the organization, not part of the fabric.” We gauge customer-centric culture with Temkin Group’s Four Customer Experience Core Competencies. Our assessment of 144 large firms showed that only 3% are customer-centric. In 2011, I expect many companies to put in place the foundations for improving their customer-centricity while a few will revert back to their old ways; this stuff is not easy.

The bottom line: Hopefully you’re ready for 2011!

RightNow Revamps The Software Buying Experience

About 6 months ago, I gave the thumbs-up to RightNow Technologies’ new mission: “To rid the world of bad experiences.” Having spent considerable time with RightNow’s management team, I could see that the new mission was more than just a slogan, it’s a commitment to an operating model that’s driving all of the firm’s key decisions.

The company recently announced the next element of that new mission, a new client agreement for its SaaS (software-as-a-service) offering called a “Cloud Services Agreement.” Here’s how the company describes some of the key attributes of the new agreement:

  1. No Shelfware – clients should be able to buy only what they need and still get long-term pricing certainty 
  2. Minimum 5-Year Pricing Certainty –  clients should get long-term fixed and transparent pricing without long-term lock-ins
  3. No Long-Term Contract Lock Ins – clients should be able to walk away from contracts if vendors aren’t delivering value
  4. No-Haggle Flex Up / Down – clients should be able to easily adjust seats, capacity or even product modules up – or down – to meet their changing business requirements
  5. “Roll-Over” Usage – clients should be able to adjust for seasonality without having to purchase capacity for peak usage that then sits idle most of the year
  6. Cash Service Credits – clients should receive a cash reimbursement if a vendor fails to meet its service commitments

My take: I really like the Cloud Service Agreement; it reverses many of the customer-unfriendly practices in the enterprise software market. Not only does this look like a good strategy for RightNow, but it also provides lessons for other companies and other industries. Here’s what people can learn from this strategy:

  • Be consistent with your mission; this strategy supports a key pillar that RightNow calls “easy to buy”
  • Recognize that everything impacts customer experience; purchase agreements establish the framework for an ongoing relationship (or a constant battle)
  • Create a tighter linkage between your revenue stream and customer value; tension will grow when there’s a mismatch in value
  • Provide flexibility for customers so they can easily respond to variability and unknowns in their business
  • Adjust your business model to take advantage of new capabilities; RightNow is leveraging native SaaS capabilities to depart from typical enterprise software licensing models
  • Pick strategies that large competitors can’t easily match; it will be difficult for vendors like SAP and Oracle to replicate this strategy
  • Recognize that everything is connected; making an isolated change in just one part of your business may have little long-term impact

The bottom line: Software-as-a-service will enable more customer-centric enterprise software!

Gen Y Brands Gain, Financial Brands Lose

Interbrand just published its annual ranking of the 100 best global brands. Here are the top 10 brands on the list:

  1. Coca Cola
  2. IBM
  3. Microsoft
  4. GE
  5. Nokia
  6. Totota
  7. Intel
  8. McDonald’s
  9. Disney
  10. Google

Here’s some of the other interesting details from the rankings:

  • Google is the only new entry to the top 10; it was 20th last year. Which company dropped out? Mercedes-Benz was 10th last year and is 11th this year.
  • The listing also provides the change in value of the brands since last year. Here are the biggest changes in brand value:
    • Top gainers: Google (+43%), Apple (+24%), Amazon (+19%), ZARA (+15%), SAP (+13%), and Nintendo (+13%)
    • Top losers: Merrill Lynch (-21%), Gap (-20%), Morgan Stanley (-16%), Citi (-15%), Ford (-12%), and UBS (-11%).
    • The top gainers are what I call “Gen Y brands,” they came to age during the early adulthood of 20 year-olds, while the losers are dominated by large financial institutions.
  • There were 7 new brands on the top 100 list this year: H&M (#22), Blackberry (#73), Ferrari (#93), Giorgio Armani (#94), Marriott (#96), FedEx (#99), and Visa (#100).
  • The highest ranked company on last year’s list that did not make this year’s top 100 was Kodak (#82 in 2007).
  • For fun, I went back and looked at the top 10 brands from 2001. Here they are:
    1. Coca Cola
    2. Microsoft
    3. IBM
    4. GE
    5. Nokia
    6. Intel
    7. Disney
    8. Ford
    9. McDonald’s
    10. AT&T

The bottom line: Just about everyone recognizes this: 

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