When it comes to market differentiators, many businesses say a great customer experience is second only to quality products. But even when they've made great customer experience a top priority, most say they're still doing a lousy job delivering it.
That's one takeaway from a recent Verizon-sponsored Harvard Business Review survey of 494 managers and executives at B2B and B2C organizations worldwide with 500 or more employees. The top three barriers are familiar ones: organizational silos; cultural resistance; and technology that's too old, too rigid or both. Hence the study's focus on how those have been overcome by the 22% of respondents who say they're delivering great customer experience.
One way is by amassing a lot of customer data and then analyzing the heck out of it. "Best-in-class organizations tend to use more sophisticated metrics," the report says. "For instance, 80% measure customer retention/repeat purchase rates, while only 61% of the other respondents do; and 71% measure likelihood to recommend, compared with 61% of under¬achievers."
Customer experience leaders also are upgrading their interactive voice response (IVR) systems and other customer-facing technologies, often in ways that eliminate annoyances. For example, IVR traditionally was a way to minimize the number of live agents and the overhead costs that come with a big contact-center staff. But running the IVR gauntlet also irritated customers when it delayed getting what they wanted. Ripple effects ranged from lost sales to turnover costs of live agents stressed out by frazzled customers.
"In the past, our IVR strategy was focused on how to prevent a call from getting to an agent," said the vice president of a health insurance provider in the study. That company now uses mobile and the web to eliminate the need for many calls, a strategy that's successful when it doesn't simply replace one frustrating gauntlet with another.
For example, in surveys commissioned by Nuance Communications, 67% of consumers say they prefer self-service options. The catch is that surveys also show that on-the-cheap offerings such as FAQs typically deliver a lousy customer experience, to the point that customers often wind up talking with live agents anyway. So to meet the self-service preference and do it in ways that don't increase frustration and overhead costs, some businesses are buying speech-recognition platforms that enable human-like virtual agents. These agents can support interactions across multiple channels -- web, mobile apps and IVR -- which helps maximize their ROI and effectiveness.
Of course, even the best self-service technology can't handle every query. The Harvard study found that analytics plays a role here, too, by helping prepare live agents for each caller's needs and frame of mind. The aforementioned health insurer, for example, is testing speech analytics "to provide real-time insight into customer emotions and the challenges an agent might be facing. All of this information is being brought together in a new agent desktop."
That scenario sets up another benefit, one that the Harvard study doesn't mention: When callers aren't stressed out by poorly designed IVRs, they're more receptive to live agents' upselling. That's another example of the business case for improving customer experience.
Pulling off these kinds of transformations requires leadership that understands what's possible in terms of both technology and customer experience. Therein lies another challenge: The Harvard study found that although the chief marketing officer typically leads digital strategy, the CIO is the executive most likely to be responsible for choosing the technologies that enable it.
"How these two leaders and their teams work together is a key determinant of success for digital [customer experience]," the study says. "While many organizations are on the hunt for a chief digital officer to lead this charge (executive recruiting firm Korn Ferry named the chief digital officer [CDO] the third most in-demand executive position of 2015), the fact is, people with the combined skills and aptitudes required are few and far between -- only 7% of respondents had a CDO leading their digital strategy."
Yet another executive-level barrier to better customer experience is getting leadership to grasp how bad their customers have it. That's why some analysts and consultants recommend bringing in a few customers to provide executives and other employees with a firsthand perspective.
"Involving customers in this way brings the customer's voice directly into sessions, making pain points and personal experience an active part of the discussion, and helps overcome internal inertia and biases that can limit the exploration," Forrester Research says in a recent report. "As Joe Piette, vice president of customer experience at Andrew Reise Consulting, learned at one ideation session, 'Certain details didn't sink in until [senior-level leaders] heard it directly from customers.' "
— Tim Kridel, Freelance Contributor, special to The New IP
Click on the infographic below from Verizon Enterprise Solutions
for more insight from the Harvard study: