Customer Experience: A Do-or-Die Battle for Every Brand

Forrester CEO George Colony opened the recent 2017 CXNYC Forum in New York City by issuing a startling challenge to a room packed with marketers and CX pros from around the country. “All the companies you work for are slowly going out of business,” Colony warned. “There is an existential challenge to all of us in this room.”

The challenge isn’t competition from brands like Amazon or Uber, Colony said. The most disruptive force facing brands today is the empowered consumer, whose behavior is changing rapidly and who is more willing than ever to adopt new technology. Alexa, the voice-controlled personal assistant powering Amazon’s Echo speaker, has seen “the fastest uptake of any new technology we’ve ever recorded at Forrester,” Colony pointed out.

Forrester’s message was clear: companies in every industry — including retail, travel, telecom, automotive, financial services and more — now have to compete by offering their customers world-class experiences. It’s a do-or-die battle, but here’s the good news: There is not a limited supply of good customer experiences in the world. Any brand with the right combination of willpower, ingenuity and company culture can build experiences as good or better than Amazon’s.

But where do brands start? Signal compiled key insights from analysts and other speakers at the CXNYC Forum to help marketers understand the five things that every brand has to do to build breakaway customer experiences:

1. Be realistic about your company’s CX competencies.

Marketers should take an honest look at themselves and how their CX stacks up. After tracking and scoring CX at hundreds of top brands in the U.S. (and around the world), “we are not seeing real leaders that are breaking away from the pack, that are year-over-year increasing their scores,” Forrester analyst Roxana Strohmenger said. The vast majority of companies tracked by Forrester have a long way to go. They are merely tinkering around the margins, stagnating, backsliding or are just plain laggards when it comes to keeping up with customer expectations.

2. Get buy-in from the C-Suite.

To create engaging, relevant experiences and scale them requires support from the CEO, who holds the purse strings. Forrester data shows that customers who have better experiences are more likely to stay with a brand, buy more from the brand and recommend it to friends, resulting in reduced churn, more revenue per customer and more new customers.

Yet, 57% of executives show no urgency around improving CX. If your CEO doesn’t get it, then you haven’t found the right hook, said analyst Maxie Schmidt. Marketers need to build a business case for CX by tying outcomes to business drivers, corporate-lifecycle issues or the CEO’s pet projects — whatever keeps the C-suite up at night.

3. Master CX Fundamentals

Elevating a brand’s CX strategies and tools requires disciplined analysis and execution. Brands must know their customers on a 1:1 basis and understand the emotional triggers that motivate them. They should target customers who respond best to great CX, have a high lifetime value and whose brand loyalty will help drive revenue and growth.

But “we don’t see companies mastering CX management,” analyst Rick Parrish said, and very few are actually doing anything innovative. Forrester found that more than four-fifths of companies have yet to master the six key competencies that are critical to sustained, organization-wide success: research, prioritization, design, enablement, measurement and culture.

4. Identify customers and treat them as individuals.

Eighty-nine percent of digital marketers plan to personalize the customer experience due to its impact on CX, said analyst Brendan Witcher. But the next evolution of personalization will rely on individualization rather than segmentation approaches that are common today. Forrester advised marketers to connect their customer data and identities across all channels and devices to get visibility into the full customer journey, and improve measurement, targeting and attribution.
Witcher urged marketers to invest in technology that will 1) identify customers and treat them as individuals using rich customer profiles; 2) assess customer data in real time and dynamically calculate intent; 3) deliver personalized content equally across every screen and channel and 4) enable far richer and more relevant engagements.

5. Focus on every customer touchpoint.

John Padgett, Chief Experience and Innovation Officer at Carnival Corporation, urged marketers to focus on personalizing and removing friction from the end-to-end customer experience.

On Nov. 13, Carnival will introduce its Ocean Medallion program — digital necklaces and bracelets that will allow customers to seamlessly do everything from vacation planning to opening stateroom doors to ordering food and drinks. The idea was to eliminate paperwork and waiting in long lines that annoy travelers: thinking about its cruise ships as if they were giant, floating smartphones, Carnival designed a $1 billion operating system that will wrap around every dimension of its ships and encompass every physical, human and digital touchpoint, Padgett said, adding “You have to have a perfectly clear vision.”

No one said the CX revolution was going to be easy. But this year’s CXNYC Forum certainly drove home the point that every bad experience hurts the customer relationship and costs companies money. If your brand isn’t focused right now on seeing and interacting with your customers as individuals, the consequences could be dire.

Originally published June 30, 2017

Carol Jouzaitis

Carol Jouzaitis was previously VP, Analyst Relations at Signal.

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