It’s an age-old marketing question: do you focus on all our customers or only target those who are most likely to drive results? According to Dr. Peter Fader, marketing professor at Wharton, and Tiffani Bova, global customer growth and innovation evangelist for Salesforce, the answer is simple: customer centricity.
The idea behind customer centricity is to recognize that not all customers are created equal. Building on the differences in the customer base can be much more effective than simply using a blanket approach for all customers. By focusing on top customers and surrounding them with product recommendations and extra services, they can have an excellent experience and keep coming back for more. That’s not to say that middle and lower-tier customers should be forgotten—effort should still be put into finding the right messages and products to appeal to them, but the focus should be on targeting the right products and messages to each customer group individually.
In order to truly utilize customer centricity, a company should have a good idea of its brand and why it appeals to customers. Using the vast amount of data now available, teams can see what the customers bring to the brand and what the brand brings to the customers. By understanding what drives a customer to use your product or service, you can better appeal to their needs and know how to reach out to them in the future. Much of that comes from building a strong brand that customers feel they can trust. When customers feel they can connect with a brand, they are more inclined to repeat their business, especially when that strong brand messaging is combined with product recommendations they can trust and use.
Companies that best practice customer centricity make it an integral part of their brand and make a focus on the customer a hallmark of their work and culture. Customer experience is just one part of customer centricity, and companies that can build their brands, reach out to the right customers, and leverage metrics will be able to create a loyal customer base and drive great success.
Artificial intelligence seems to be popping up everywhere, and it has the potential to change nearly everything we know about data and the customer experience. However, it also brings up new issues regarding ethics and privacy.
One of the keys to keeping AI ethical is for it to be transparent, says Rob High, vice president and chief technology officer of IBM Watson. When customers interact with a chatbot, for example, they need to know they are communicating with a machine and not an actual human. AI, like most other technology tools, is most effective when it is used to extend the natural capabilities of humans instead of replacing them. That means that AI and humans are best when they work together and can trust each other.
Chatbots are one of the most commonly used forms of AI. Although they can be used successfully in many ways, there is still a lot of room for growth. As they currently stand, chatbots mostly perform basic actions like turning on lights, providing directions, and answering simple questions that a person asks directly. However, in the future, chatbots should and will be able to go deeper to find the root of the problem. For example, a person asking a chatbot what her bank balance is might be asking the question because she wants to invest money or make a big purchase—a futuristic chatbot could find the real reason she is asking and turn it into a more developed conversation. In order to do that, chatbots will need to ask more questions and drill deeper, and humans need to feel comfortable providing their information to machines.
As chatbots perform various tasks and become a more integral part of our lives, the key to maintaining ethics is for chatbots to provide proof of why they are doing what they are doing. By showcasing proof or its method of calculations, humans can be confident that AI had reasoning behind its response instead of just making something up. The chances of AI truly going “rogue” are small, but they still need to be considered, and in order to maintain transparency and trust, the machine’s processes should be revealed. An example of this comes from IBM Watson, which is used to help doctors diagnose patients and decide the best treatment options. Doctors can’t possibly keep up with all of the data and new studies being created every day, but Watson can scan through millions of records for new data and treatment suggestions. By showing where the information and recommendations are coming from, Watson expands what human doctors can do and provides them with resources to make the best decisions for their patients. Watson isn’t making decisions for the doctors, but instead is presenting options with the proof to back it up.
The future of technology is rooted in artificial intelligence. In order to stay ethical, transparency, proof, and trustworthiness need to be at the root of everything AI does for companies and customers. By staying honest and remembering the goals of AI, the technology can play a huge role in how we live and work.
A commercial that starts with a bank robbery and ends by showcasing digital technology and customer experience might not be conventional, but that was never the goal of Adobe and its CMO, Ann Lewnes. Instead, the company created an attention-grabbing ad that reached out to customers and kept their attention. Adobe is an experience-based company that known for its digital creativity as a way to engage with customers and create a community and shows how pushing the bounds of creativity can lead to great success.
Ann pushes creativity by giving her employees long-term goals to works towards. The goal may seem aspirational or far-fetched, but it inspires people, encourages risk-taking, and pushes them to think bigger. One of Ann’s team’s most recent big ideas was a contest to celebrate the 25th anniversary of video editing program Premiere Pro, one of Adobe’s biggest products. The company partnered with the band Imagine Dragons and released the raw footage of the band’s newest music video with the challenge to use Premiere Pro to re-edit the video however customers felt was inspiring. The creative idea yielded more than 9,000 entries and was a huge hit on social media that created a community of younger users. More than just being an attention-grabbing creative idea, the contest showcased the product and followed business strategy.
Creativity doesn’t come with free reign to do whatever you want, however. Adobe is also focused on inspection and making sure teams can quantifiably show their results. With tools made available to marketers these days, it’s possible to back up a creative idea with numbers. Even the most creative idea can be a flop if it isn’t backed up with data. Another key to creativity is being aware of trends and what other companies are doing. With a strong team to manage the business, each person can keep an eye on what competitors are doing and use that to fuel their own creativity. To be truly successful, marketers need to be able to use both sides of their brain and be analytical and creative.
As companies tap into creativity and learn to push the limits, they can build on their customer experience to create memorable, meaningful events and interactions for their customers. When considering customer experience as the sum of the interactions a person has with a brand, being creative provides more opportunities to stand out and push that sum higher in customers’ minds.
What has turned into a successful career as an author and keynote speaker started with a birthday party magic performance as a young boy. When Shep Hyken was just 12 years old, he gave his first presentation of sorts by performing tricks in front of an audience of other kids. Years later, he would begin a full-time speaking career that tapped into much of what he did as a young magician.
Shep’s professional speaking career has lasted more than 30 years and provides many opportunities for teaching others who want to follow his career path. However, he warns that although professional speaking may seem like a “sexy” career, it actually isn’t that glamorous most of the time. The real job isn’t simply giving the speech, it’s getting the speech. The real work comes from finding speaking gigs and preparing remarks to make every speech and presentation the best it has ever been.
Professional speaking can be a lucrative and interesting path, but it is also extremely competitive. In order to stand out from the crowd, Shep provides the following tips:
Once a speech has been booked, preparation is key. Shep starts getting ready for a presentation six weeks or a month before the big day by deciding what to speak on and how it will flow. He then asks the client the three most important points for the audience to remember and makes sure he addresses them in the speech. From there, it’s preparing his speech, putting the bullet points on a single index card, and practicing and reviewing until he doesn’t even really need to use the card. He makes arrangements so that he is at the venue on time both physically and mentally so he can give his best effort to every speech.
The world of professional speaking can be exciting and open doors to new opportunities, but it often requires energy, preparation, and determination to be successful. However, by following in Shep’s footsteps, you can also build a strong speaking career.
Last year Marriott bought Starwood Hotels. The $13 billion merger created the world's largest hotel company with more than 1.1 million rooms and about 5,700 hotels in more than110 countries. The merger combines Marriott brands, including Ritz Carlton, Courtyard and Residence Inn, with W Hotels, Westin, Sheraton and other Starwood brands. Now with the merger comes a fresh approach to engaging all those customers, and part of that is the two once separate customer loyalty programs.
Last year Marriott bought Starwood Hotels. The $13 billion merger created the world's largest hotel company with more than 1.1 million rooms and about 5,700 hotels in more than 110 countries. The merger combines Marriott brands, including Ritz Carlton, Courtyard and Residence Inn, with W Hotels, Westin, Sheraton and other Starwood brands. Now with the merger comes a fresh approach to engaging all those customers, and part of that is the two once separate customer loyalty programs.
If there’s anyone who knows the benefits of customer loyalty its Karin Timpone, CMO of Marriott International.
Timpone, who I interviewed on the modern customer podcast this week, reports that since the Starwood acquisition her role has been consistent. She travels around the world to the many Marriott properties and works with a global team on brand strategy, content strategy, product launches and so much more.
Timpone was formerly an executive at ABC Disney Digital Media, Yahoo! and Universal Studios. She joined Marriott four years ago and has since led major growth for Marriott.
As mentioned before, Marriott and Starwood now have now linked loyalty programs. If you are a Marriott customer you can use your points with Starwood Hotels and vice versa. Timpone says these customers “stay more, pay more and cost less.” These customers, as you can imagine, are much lower cost per acquisition.
But if loyalty is so profitable, why don’t more businesses pursue it? This is one advantage the hotel industry has over sharing economy hospitality companies such as Home Away or Airbnb who do not offer loyalty programs.
Marriott doesn’t only focus on loyalty. They focus on guerilla marketing as well and jump on real-time marketing opportunities via social media.
One recent example was the Pokemon Go craze. Marriott’s social media team put their efforts on high octane putting Pokémon monsters in pools knowing that guests photographed them and that would possibly go viral. They also surprised guests in rooms with Pokémons on their beds when they checked in. They got wind of onePokémon Go super user and they decided to sponsor him sending him to Japan, Australia and Europe to catch more Pokémon abroad.
Social media is a powerful way for marketing teams to engage with customers in real-time. But this requires marketing to have eyes and ears constantly on the ground of their locations. And customers are enjoying travel now more than ever. And they’re sharing their experiences across Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and more. But it’s not just one generation that are enjoying travel and talking about it online. There’s a major shift happening in society where more people focus on experiences over owning things, on access over ownership, and it’s not just the younger generations. This is good news for the hotel industry. Great companies like Marriott are participating in social and cultural phenomenon that end up being great marketing for the company.
Whether it’s customer loyalty programs, social media or jumping on a cultural and social phenomenon Marriott is at the top of its game.
Today many consumers are deeply confused about artificial intelligence and the impact it makes. According to a recent Pega survey of 6,000 customers in six countries, consumers appear hesitant to fully embrace artificially intelligent devices and services. Only one in three (36 percent) are comfortable with businesses using artificial intelligence to engage with them – even if this typically results in a better customer experience. Almost three quarters (72 percent) express some sort of fear about artificial intelligence, with one quarter (24 percent) of respondents even worried about robots taking over the world. So clearly there is a lot of fear and uncertainty around what artificial intelligence can do. However, in contrast 71% of survey respondents said they would want to experience artificial intelligence if it actually made their lives better. We need to do a better job of educating the world about artificial intelligence.
You might not realize how prevalent artificial intelligence actually is in your life – already. Your gmail uses artificial intelligence to sort your inbox and Facebook uses artificial intelligence so you can tag your friends and family’s faces in your photos. These are simply two small examples of the ways artificial intelligence is already part of consumers' lives, and the future brings many amazing possibilities for the use of artificial intelligence to improve customer experiences. In this podcast with the CTO of Pegasystems Don Schuerman we learn about all the pragmatic uses of artificial intelligence and the very real impact its making. We talk about how artificial intelligence is being used today, and how it can and will be used tomorrow.
In a world driven by technology and as more companies cut their customer service efforts as a way to save money, customers can often feel like they are surrounded by information with nowhere to turn. The Better Business Bureau is out to advocate for customers and fight customer fraud in the modern world. According to Steve McFarland, president and CEO of the BBB in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, the group aims to create an ethical and trustworthy marketplace that brings credibility to businesses and provides resources for customers so they can make wise purchasing decisions.
Businesses can become accredited with the BBB as a way to show their credibility and that they provide trustworthy service to customers. Consumers can then see reviews of companies, file complaints against bad business practices, and access free resources to see business reports and trends to make wise choices. Many companies are turning to what Steve calls “ghost”-tumer service instead of customer service. They have taken phone numbers off their websites and instead only have a vague email address customers can contact with issues or questions, but those issues might not always get resolved. If that is the case, then it is increasingly difficult for customers to get issues resolved and know who they can trust.
One of the areas where the BBB is seeing the most change is with cybersecurity and data. There are 12 cyber crimes in the U.S. ever second, and 80 people become victims every minute. With growing technology and new ways for hackers to steal information and reach out to consumers with scams, the threat is increasing every day. The growing threats for businesses of all sizes and for customers means that protecting data is more important than ever. The BBB wants customers to have the tools they need to stay protected, which means doing basic things like changing passwords and being careful about what they post and read on social media. Different types of scams are arising that reach out to new groups of people, even those who think they are vigilant. Checking on something that appears to not sit quite right can help consumers be aware of red flags and avoid having their data stolen.
The BBB is just one way for customers to get the extra information and protection they need and for companies to gain credibility with their customer experience. In an age where consumers can be left behind and not know who to trust, having an organization that can verify trustworthy businesses with great customer experience can help the entire marketplace.
In today’s technology-driven world, one of the foundations of a strong customer experience is data. But with so much data floating around, it can be difficult for companies to know what information to use to best expand their strategies and reach the right customers. According to Rishi Dave, chief marketing officer at Dun & Bradstreet, when data and analytics work together, they can be leveraged to create a strong competitive advantage and build an exceptional customer experience.
Rishi says that companies struggling with data need to first understand the current state of their data and to see if it matches the company’s strategy. Are the analytics in sync with the overall goals of the company? In many cases, the answer is no, often due to not having the right data or using data that is old and outdated. If that is the case, companies need to reevaluate their overall goals and see how data analytics can play a role in their strategy. CMOs also need to learn to leverage master data and bring in additional third-party data. Companies should be collecting their own data from customers through surveys, web traffic, and call center logs, and then supplementing that data with information from other sources to get a complete view of their customers. Those data insights can then drive an improved customer experience.
Data analytics will play a huge role in the future of the customer experience. Having a strong understanding of data puts companies in a better position to use new technologies like artificial intelligence and chatbots to create a personalized experience for each customer. For example, Walmart recently announced that it will be investing heavily in putting sensors in items it stocks in its stores, which will allow the company to know when a product runs our or expires and automatically send the customer more. Being able to transform customer data and collect more data with sensors provides customers a more personalized experience. As technology grows and we can gather new data through sensors and connected devices, the ability to better understand the customer will only increase.
Data opens new doors for understanding customers and creating an incredible customer experience, and the analytics available today provide companies the opportunity to create sophisticated models to drive their decisions. Brands that can best take advantage of data analytics will set themselves apart and have a large competitive advantage.
There has never been a better time to be a CIO. That’s according to Vic Bhagat, CIO of Verizon Enterprise Solutions, who has decades of experience in the technology space. Where it used to be that CIOs were fighting for a spot at the table and struggling to get their voices heard, CIOs are now front and center. Nearly every innovative thing companies want to do today, from social, mobile, big data, machine learning, and more, goes through the CIO. However, with that increased visibility comes a bigger responsibility to play a strong role in the customer experience.
There are often other technology leaders and opinions within an organization, but part of what sets a CIO apart is his or her role as a business leader who must have their finger on the pulse of the business. The CIO has to have a firm grasp on how the business operates so they can know how to best leverage new technology to deliver a world-class experience to customers. In order to know how to best use technology to help customers, the CIO must have a good understanding of customer and work to build a relationship of trust where customers can be honest about the solutions they are looking for and what would make their lives and shopping experiences better.
Vic views one of his main roles as supporting and advocating for customers, both internally and externally. Internal customers, or employees, who have great technology experiences can pass that on to external customers. Consider how a call center employee who is frustrated with a slow computer or outdated system affects the mood and experience of a customer calling in with a question. Conversely, an employee who has the tech tools to do their job can focus on providing a great experience to customers. The CIO can have a good understanding of what customers want to be able to provide them the solutions to best perform their jobs and be happy.
At Verizon, Vic and his team focus on helping companies focus on their core capabilities instead of their chore capabilities. If there is an area that is a chore for a customer that would be considered a core at Verizon, the company can take it off the customer’s plate and allow them to focus on their core abilities and goals for growth.
The idea of customer experience isn’t new. However, with the tools available today, we can create a better and more innovative experience than ever before. The CIO can play a role in making sure the right technology to meet customers’ needs is implemented within the organization.
The CIO’s role, especially when it comes to customer experience, is incredibly important. With a strong understanding of customers and the effects of technology, a CIO can create innovative solutions and a great environment for customers.
Customer experience is constantly evolving as new products and technology are introduced, but nothing has changed it more than social media. Instead of brands just talking at customers, social media puts the power back in the hands of the customers and gave them a voice to share their experiences. Social customer experience opens huge opportunities for companies to build relationships with their customers, but it also changes the strategy of how brands communicate.
According to author and podcaster Dan Gingiss, customer experience is how people feel about every interaction they have with a company. However, it used to be more siloed, where offline experiences stayed offline, but thanks to social media and smartphones, everything can be brought online. A customer who has a bad experience at a store or restaurant can quickly take a picture or video of the incident and share it on social media, which can create a firestorm of negative publicity for the company. Conversely, positive offline experiences can also be shared and lead to great growth for a brand. To truly take advantage of social media, brands need to focus on the positive elements. There may always be mistakes and negative experiences, but focusing on the positive encourages customers to do the same.
In order to harness the power of social media for customer experience, brands need to create a culture of putting themselves in the customer’s shoes by walking through their store, website, or service with the eyes of a customer. Observing every little thing that happens from a customer’s point of view can be eye-opening for employees about the challenges and roadblocks in the path and what it means to be a customer of your company. Having a company-wide mindset that matches the customer’s helps every employee extend their reach. The key to a good customer experience is fluidity—no matter if the interaction happens online or in store, everything should be smooth for the customer and work together to create a cohesive experience for them.
Social media also opens the door for brands to be more authentic and transparent. Modern customers can see right through automated responses and canned replies; the best way to reach out to people is to take the time to connect with them to truly build a relationship. Instead of simply focusing on sales and getting through the customers as quickly as possible, the most effective companies take time to nurture each relationship and stick with the customer until they are satisfied. This can be done by simple things like addressing customers by name, mimicking their tone, and using a personal touch.
Customer experience has changed greatly with the growth of social media, and it plays an important role in reaching out to customers and starting a conversation with them. As we move towards the future, customer experience will become the last true differentiator between brands, meaning it is more important than ever to provide customers with a high-quality, seamless experience.
Today I bring you a special podcast interview with singer, actress and entrepreneur Christina Milian and her business partner Josh Bocanegra who together have built a company called Persona Bots. Persona Bots is a tech company that builds chatbots for celebrities. They've built chatbots for reality TV star Jwoww, literary film character Christian Grey, model Karrueche Tran, musician Kehlani and more. “Celebrities are the trendsetters. People want a way to speak to their fans in a way that’s real. They want their voice to be heard in a way that’s authentic,” said Milian.
Celebrities today are brands. Thanks to social media, celebrities have the ability to engage with fans directly. Though most don’t. Why? It’s not possible. With millions of Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook fans, celebrities generally engage in one way conversations on social media.
Brands have a similar conundrum. They can’t respond to the millions of social media comments they get from customers. And they’re using chatbots as a way to provide tailored and personalized interactions. Chatbots have the potential to scale and provide personalized interactions in a way that hasn’t been possible in the past.
Milian has over two million people messaging her on her bot. She says this was the fastest growth out of any social media she’s ever done. According to Milian the goal for the chatbot, built through Facebook messenger, is to keep the fans there engaging with her on Facebook messenger. She believes people don’t want to be bothered with ads. And messenger provides a direct and uninterrupted channel with the consumer, sans ads.
Celebrities And Tech
More and more we are seeing the collision of tech and celebrities. Even Ashton Kutcher has invested in 60 companies including Airbnb, Flipboard, and Change.org. The next few years will only bring more celebrities into the world of tech. It makes sense for celebrities and tech to get together considering tech brings a large platform to celebrities for them to create and share media, and celebrities bring other celebrities and fans to these platforms as well.
When I ping Christina Milian’s chatbot on Facebook messenger, she responds “oh hey…” Her chatbot is fond of using the kiss emoji and that makes sense considering Christina’s brand. In fact in our podcast interview she mentioned much of what chatbot users ask her is if she’s single, and will she marry them. In fact her business partner mentions one unique interaction that occurred on Milian's chatvot. A girlfriend of a male chatbot user found his phone, and thought Milian was really engaging with her boyfriend through messenger, according to Bocanegra. Bocanegra says the user's girlfriend became very jealous; a testament to the power of chatbots. Some people don’t even realize it’s a machine at all.
For now the questions are predetermined and organized by category .For example “Q&A: Get to know me on a personal level.” One of the questions the user can ask Milian is “were your parents strict growing up?” She responds “Nope. Both of my parents were really cool. They were protective though. My parents were actually young when they had me.”
As Milian builds Persona Bots and her own chatbot the variety of ways you can interact with the chatbot will grow.
Today you can view Milian's latest music, request a signed autograph, learn more about Christina’s personal life (mentioned earlier), shop for fan gear, her clothing line, or her line of wines called Viva Diva Wines. The chatbot is not perfect, however it’s one of the first I’ve seen that grants fans the ability to interact with Christina on chat, the same way one would interact with a brand.
We’ll only see these technologies grow.
Blake Morgan is a customer experience futurist, author and keynote speaker. For more from Blake sign up for her weekly customer experience newsletter here.
One of the brightest and most recognizable accessory brands around is Vera Bradley. Its bold patterns and functional designs make it a desirable brand for purses, wallets, and more. But beyond the bright colors is a successful brand that had stood the test of time and showcases the importance of building a brand that lasts.
No matter the industry, there is a ton of competition for customers’ attention and sales. It can be easy for companies to focus on staying ahead of the competition instead of building their own brand. However, if companies get too caught up in seeing what other organizations are doing, they run the risk of losing focus on their own brand and not building a strong customer experience. Although Vera Bradley operates in the competitive accessory space, it has managed to find its niche and focus on what it is good at—creating an experience and showcasing a special item. Vera Bradley isn’t a discount brand and typically represents a special product customers are willing to spend more money on. Because of that, co-founder Barbara Baekgaard and her team can focus on creating a great customer experience because they are confident in their brand position and aren’t distracted by comparing themselves to other stores. The lesson here can be applied to any brand: find what you are good at and use that to build a personalized and strong experience for customers. Don’t just play catchup to the competition—create something that represents your brand and what you stand for, and customers will respond to that.
A strong brand tends to create a great customer experience, and much of that brand starts with corporate culture. With niche brands, customers want something they can count on—the experience is more than a one-time transaction, but a shopping experience that they expect to be enjoyable and lasting. Vera Bradley hires nice people as sales associates and tells them to be themselves. The result is a reputation for strong customer service because customers know they will always have a friendly and personable experience in the store. The same principle applies to customers who are shopping for more than just handbags—today’s modern shoppers tend to want an experience instead of simply a transaction. The best experiences tend to come from strong brands that have an identity that permeates through their employees and makes every step of the buying process enjoyable. Employees should be aware of the company’s brand and know the role they play in sharing the experience with everyone who comes into the store or visits the website.
A strong brand can be a powerful tool in creating a high-quality customer experience. Although there are many things that can shake a brand, having a strong foundation that is embedded in every aspect of the organization can make a huge difference and be felt by customers at every turn.
For more from Blake Morgan sign up for her weekly newsletter here.
Imagine being able to instantly get recommendations for top restaurants, hotels, and attractions, no matter where you are in the world without having to talk to a human. It’s a great resource for travelers made possible by the TripAdvisor chatbot.
Chatbots are popping up everywhere. TripAdvisor as a company tries to stay on top of new technology, but it didn’t want to create a chatbot just for the sake of making one. After considering the strategy involved, the team, led by Jeff Chow, vice president of product, decided to dip its toes into the chatbot water with a way to deliver great recommendations where and when people need them. Creating the chatbot was a learning experience with principles that can be applied to a variety of verticals. The overall goal for the chatbot was to take TripAdvisor’s leading qualities and turn then into the ultimate travel assistant on the go—perfect for planning a trip, traveling, or sharing information with friends and family. With its software, TripAdvisor wanted to use machine learning to scale the data from its many interfaces so that it could be used in different customer interactions.
The team views the chatbot as guided discovery—the questions start big and then narrow down until the task is completed and the best recommendation can be given. In order to provide the best recommendation, the bot must understand what the traveller is really looking for—after all, a restaurant recommendation in Miami will be different based on if someone is traveling for work or pleasure. Chatbots have potential to be a powerful, personalized tool. Because they can remember things users say, it can get personal and hopefully soon learn soft signals and natural conversation. That way, even if a user doesn’t explicitly ask something, a chatbot could potentially know what to recommend based on their patterns or behavior. However, getting smarter over time is a unique challenge in travel, as people’s travel preferences can change greatly depending on the purpose of their travel, which means the bot needs to be adaptable to different travel needs.
TripAdvisor also learned that building a chatbot isn’t a one and done process—there is always room for continued growth and improvement. The company’s next focus is to increase engagement with its partner businesses to provide better recommendations to customers.
Jeff’s best advice from the TripAdvisor experience is for other companies to be strategic with their chatbots and technology. Don't create a chatbot just for the sake of doing it, but instead think of what it can do to move your business forward. When done correctly, chatbots can create great opportunities for an organization.
All companies face challenges with industry disruption. No matter if you’re in healthcare, education, retail or anything else, there are sure to be changes in the industry over the coming years. However, prepared companies can use that disruption to their advantage to continue to hone their customer experience. AT&T is a good case study of staying ahead of the trends while still working to provide an excellent customer experience. The company has led the charge to the new TMT industry that represents the world we now live in—telecommunications, media, and technology—and uses industry growth and change to create an improved customer experience.
Customer experience is more than just a singular event—it can include the time the customer spends researching product options, browsing in store or online, and the actual purchase, not to mention what happens after the sale or service. At AT&T, customer experience is known as a journey that starts when a customer joins the company for a single product like phone or internet service. With that initial relationship established, the company can work towards its goal of creating long-standing trusted relationships that cover multiple devices. According to AT&T Mobility CEO Glenn Lurie, the company allows customers to define the customer experience and relies on feedback from them to create the best experience possible.
Great customer experience starts from the top and won’t happen if executives can’t find ways to connect new technology and offerings to what their customers are experiencing. At AT&T, every employee is in charge of staying in front of industry disruption. By staying on top of trends, the company is able to talk to customers about nearly every aspect of their lives, from their phone and internet service to entertainment and a connected home and car. Putting in the time and money beforehand allows AT&T to be very involved in its customers’ lives, just like being aware of new travel trends or computer programs can help companies in other industries know how to best serve their customers.
Aside from being aware of trends, customer experience can be shaped by listening to feedback and seeing how your organization is viewed by customers and outside groups. AT&T does this by keeping a close eye on how it is viewed from third parties like JD Powers and the current state of its net promoter score, but other companies could use social media metrics, Yelp reviews, or call center logs to measure feedback.
Strong leadership plays a vital role in customer experience, especially as technology and trends change across the board. Although the methods may vary, the goal of customer experience should always be the same: to surprise and delight and create a real bond with customers. Companies truly invested in the customer journey are sure to see success as their industries continue to evolve.
As the consumer world changes, businesses must adapt their strategies and marketing to best meet the needs of customers. 3 Day Blinds started nearly 40 years ago as a way to provide window coverings faster than the market norm. As the industry changed, the company slowly moved away from retail stores and now sells all of its product through at-home appointments that allow customers to see samples in their homes to get a better idea of the product. The move from retail locations to at-home consultations was a large shift for the company, but one that allowed for more personal experiences with customers and a way to better connect with them throughout the entire buying process. Now the company is one of the few remaining direct-to-consumer manufacturers in the U.S., meaning it has the power to control every aspect of the customer experience from initial contact to manufacturing and delivery.
3 Day Blinds has also adapted its marketing strategy to reflect customer trends. Although the big push these days is towards mobile, the company realized 70% of its appointments come through call center phone calls. Instead of spending time and money to develop mobile just because it is trendy, the company stuck with its roots and found ways to integrate marketing automation into its more traditional phone operations. With new technology, 3 Day Blinds can track what keywords drove customers to make a phone call. For example, if a customer types a search into Google and gets the results for 3 Day Blinds, the website can create a unique phone number that lets the company know what keyword resulted in the call. Call center agents are also given a list of keywords related to the customers’ search that they can use to organically steer the conversation for best results. The company was surprised to see the diversity in keyword searches and what they lead to, which further showcases the need for personalization and to understand what each customer is looking for.
For Dan Williams, chief revenue officer at 3 Day Blinds, marketing automation is all about breaking down the business to see what can be optimized to have the biggest impact. Using data gathered from at-home consultations and phone conversations provides the company with automated data about things like how often to contact customers, the optimal length of a call, information to gather or not to gather on the phone, and much more. Combining automation and call intelligence allows all employees to better understand the customer and make the most of the phone call. This not only impacts sales but also leads to increased customer satisfaction when a person can get the answers he needs quickly.
The 3 Day Blinds experience is unlike most other consumer experiences and allows the company to be creative with its marketing and data collection. By truly understanding the customer and implementing technology and automation when appropriate, customers can have a unique and personalized experience that meets their needs.
How do you keep your brand on message during a changing digital landscape with a company that is more than 100 years old? That’s the question faced by Toni Clayton-Hine, CMO of the Xerox Corporation, every day. One of Toni’s main tasks is managing an evolving brand narrative to a new wave of customers as her company returns to its roots.
As the world gets more digital, Xerox is going back to its core products and finding ways to transform its traditional copy machines into systems that manage the entire document experience, both digitally and physically. These days, it’s about more than just making copies, it’s about optimizing the movement of information and what and how information gets printed. Although the company is going back to its roots with a modern twist, the core brand of Xerox is still the same: to innovate how the world communicates, connects, and works.
To spread the brand message, Toni relies on a team effort at Xerox. Everyone from the product designer to the tech support representative plays a role in how each customer interacts with the product, and everyone has a role to play in the customer experience. Everything the company does is about putting the customer first. Toni’s marketing team works hard to be present where the audience is present. That means connecting with them in new ways, such as social media, and making sure the information is available any place a customer wants to consume it. In today’s sometimes complicated digital landscape, Toni uses the approach of engaging with customers wherever is most comfortable to them to get the information out clearly and quickly.
There’s also the issue of managing the message to see how well it resonates with customers. Xerox has a large focus of getting its employees out in the field to talk to people who are actually using the products, whether they are re-sellers or end customers. Combined with customer councils, feedback sessions, and surveys, it provides the company with strong feedback to make sure its messaging and methods are effective with customers and that the company isn’t over-promising but not delivering, which could be detrimental to the brand. Staying in near-constant contact with customers also allows the brand to make changes quickly as the digital landscape continues to evolve.
Even though times are changing, the overall customer experience is still the same, especially when it comes to Xerox products. The customer experience still includes every touchpoint from early research to buying the product and actually using it. Even though the methods may change, the focus is still on engaging with the customer before, during, and after a sale. There are ways to innovate the process and the products, which Xerox does through its Park division, but the idea of sticking to the core brand and constantly engaging customers stays the same.
The customer landscape is no doubt changing, especially due to technology and increased information. However, by sticking to core principles and looking for ways to reach customers where they already are, brands can join Xerox in having great brand messaging success.
Evolving technology means nearly everything about the customer experience is changing—including the role of the CMO. That’s according to Maggie Chan Jones, CMO of global software company SAP. Maggie draws on her years of industry experience to navigate the changing customer landscape. Where the buying journey used to be linear, the best marketers must now adapt to changing consumer behaviors. Marketers used to rely on the traditional marketing funnel, which moved each customer along a track until they made a purchase. However, today’s customers go in and out of different stages of the buying process, which makes understanding the customer more important than ever before. Instead of walking customers through the now-non-existent linear buying process, brands should work on engagement and building trust with the customer so that they feel comfortable making the purchase whenever they are ready.
As the customer market becomes more complex, brands are struggling to simplify and survive. Complexity can be a drain on customers and on business resources and takes more than 10% of profits from many companies. To avoid complexity, work to simplify your processes and help customers find what they need quickly. The more options a customer has, the more time and money it takes for the company to provide them with what they want, when most times it is just a simple answer to a question. Maggie recommends using innovations and technology to solve customer problems, but to never lose sight of each person you are trying to reach. Even with the newest and best technology, your goal is still the same: to create a quality, personalized experience for each customer. No matter what happens, marketing is still about connecting with people. Before adding in technology, take a step back and consider where you want your company and customer to go. With the processes and goals in place, you can then add in the right technology to reach the end point without becoming too complex. Consider the people and the journey they will have with your brand—everything should focus on the customer and breaking down complexities to make things as simple as possible.
Whereas CMOs used to focus largely on big-picture marketing campaigns, they will soon, if they haven’t already, take on more responsibility than ever to drive bottom-line growth. In many cases, this means having a strong understanding of changing technology and even taking over responsibilities that were traditionally held by the CIO. Machine learning, which Maggie believes is still in the early stages, has the power to lead to big analytics. To better understand the customer, CMOs must be able to decipher big data to find the right analytics to drive growth and connectivity for their company. Big data can provide amazing customer insights, but only when it is used correctly and understood. The use of digitization and big data helps brands stay relevant and in tune with their customers so that they can implement changes and programs while they are still relevant.
Today’s customer landscape is fast-paced and ever-changing. To lead their teams to success, CMOs need to have a strong grasp of both large-scale analytics and small-scale customer engagement.
Much of the technology that’s being developed now will help us coordinate things, from employees to customers, in a much smoother way. Devin Fidler, research director at Institute For The Future, compares it to being an orchestra conductor—as we better use technology, we can more easily bring in other parts of the customer experience to create a smoother melody within our organizations.
One of the greatest benefits of new technology is that it provides us the ability to find the resources we need much more quickly. Just like Uber can connect us with a ride or Airbnb connects millions of customers with millions of open rooms, we can also find ways to use this new technology to change our business strategy. Rethinkery Labs, for example, runs software like Upwork and Freelancer that sifts through thousands of freelancer profiles to find the exact right match for a given project, then reaches out to that person to ask if they want to be involved. Instead of people looking for work, the work is now looking for people.
To be the most effective, Devin recommends re-thinking what you want your customer experience to look like. Because things are changing so rapidly, the experience will likely look very different to even how it did just five years ago. These new tools allow us to fundamentally change nearly everything about our customer experience and are a great opportunity to creatively look at how customers will view and interact with your company from every level. Disney Parks has done this by completely re-vamping the customer experience. Soon before a visit, guests receive interactive wristbands in the mail that can then be used at the park to get in lines, make purchases, and perform other common actions.Customers have a better, more streamlined experience in the parks because Disney was able to re-think its experience approach and take advantage of new wearable technology.
Machine learning, or artificial intelligence, is sure to play a huge role in a forward-thinking customer experience, especially as it comes to serving customers in real time. Software like Amazon Echo allows customers to communicate with a device that coordinates all of their data on the back end to better respond to their needs; similar technology is being developed for a wide variety of other companies to help customers get things where and when they need them.
As technology grows, so should the sharing economy, including services like Uber and Airbnb, as well as the freelancer economy. These unique and new ways of working present new issues that can be resolved with advanced technology and new applications. These new models also take advantage of digital management to find workers that are a perfect match for a specific situation and can move people easily to where they have the most value.
Automation and new technology play a huge role in how companies run their businesses and interact with customers. As new technology arises, brands should look for ways to add them to their customer experience to create a fuller experience for employees and customers
Not everyone loves dealing with banks or credit card companies. Citi Global Cards and its chief customer and digital experience officer, Alice Milligan, are changing that with a customer-centric culture and plans to make the entire credit card process simpler and easier for all customers.
With so much disruption in the banking world, the focus is definitely on digital and mobile. Citi Global Cards customer experience team members spend a lot of time with customers to make them central throughout the entire strategy. The team focuses on three main areas: how to make it simpler for customers to interact with the company, how to make customers’ lives easier, and how to take away anxiety or pain from customers. Based on detailed research, they realized the three most important things to modern customers:
From those key areas, the company discovered how important time is to customers—everyone is busy and doesn’t want to spend a lot of time banking, but they still want the security and convenience. Understanding the customer has been a driving force for improving customer experience—when they realized a main concern of customers was to stop any charges on their card after it was lost or stolen, the company introduced Citi Quick Lock that allows users to quickly lock their card from a mobile app while they look for it. Citi has also been working to empower customers by giving them the tools they need right at their fingertips; at the start of 2016, the company had one-third of its functions available on its mobile app, but by the end of the year it was up to 75% of functions with the rest rolling out soon.
Citi Global Cards continues to strive to enhance the customer experience by finding new ways to meet customer needs and solve their problems. This includes anything from gamification and rewards programs to developing the messaging and phone systems so that customers can contact the company however they wish and get a quick result no matter which method they use. Alice and her team also keep a strong pulse on the industry by talking to thoughtleaders, going to trade shows, reading, and putting the latest technology and thinking into action in ways that will help their customers.
The customer experience is more than just putting things in the hands of customers. It’s listening to them and incorporating their convenience and wishes in every step of the process. That’s why customer experience is part of everyone’s job and responsibility across the company, regardless of what department they are in.
Credit cards and banking might not be areas where customers love to spend their time, but improving the customer experience can lead to great results of satisfied customers.
Collaboration and feedback are two hallmarks of great customer experience, and both are on display at Salesforce. The company’s IdeaExchange is a place for thousands of customers and end users gather to share their feedback and suggestions about the popular software, and it has been wildly successful as it celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
As IdeaExchange has grown over the years, it has become a very strategic part of how Salesforce runs product management, according to Mike Rosenbaum, EVP of CRM. There are more than 66,000 ideas on the exchange and millions of votes from people expressing their support of certain suggestions. Spirited users even start campaigns to build enthusiasm for their ideas. The suggestions cover everything from design to efficiency and are taken into consideration by the Salesforce team. Mike estimates that one-third of a product management team’s thinking is influence by IdeaExchange. One of the most unique features of the exchange is that it isn’t simply a one-sided suggestion box—it allows customers and employees the chance to start a dialogue and work through issues together. Employees are encouraged to check the site daily for updates and to respond to suggestions. Each suggestion has an associated feed, which allows users to collaborate. Often times, the results from IdeaExchange come more from the collaboration and brainstorming than they do from the initial idea.
Aside from helping the company hone its product, IdeaExchange also greatly helps the customer experience. It gives customers a chance to voice their opinions and really feel like they are being listened to. Salesforce prides itself on having the strongest community of professionals in enterprise software, and it empowers customers to help the company come up with advances and solutions to programs. Salesforce has spent years developing a community of trailblazers—the people who are known in their individual organizations as Salesforce experts. These trailblazers are a huge asset to the company with their advanced knowledge and feedback. As they interact with product management teams, they can feel better about investing so much of their career into the software.
IdeaExchange has led to a number of major upgrades for the program. One that was seemingly simple was the suggestion to offer more than three columns in the dashboard display, which quickly became one of the most discussed suggestions. When the upgrade to unlimited columns was announced, Salesforce customers cheered knowing they impacted the change. That change would never have happened without IdeaExchange.
IdeaExchange benefits both customers and the company by connecting them and building a strong, two-way relationship where customers feel valued. By engaging customers and leaders, Salesforce hopes to be an example to other companies looking to increase customer engagement.
Customer experience and the contact center landscape are already in the process of changing dramatically, and change will continue to happen for years to come, according to Ian Jacobs, a senior analyst at Forrester. One of the biggest impacts on contact centers has been the growth of self-service technology. Instead of calling a company with every question, customers now have a variety of resources available to assist them, including chatbots, mobile apps, customer forums, social media, and more. According to Ian, there are two main takeaways from the growth of this technology:
In response to many of these developments, a growing number of companies are turning towards a concierge approach to customer service. Instead of the traditional tiered approach where simple questions were answered quickly and the more difficult questions were passed on to the experts, many contact centers are following the example of hotel concierges by giving agents the power to follow any question through from start to finish. The concierge approach allows questions to be answered more thoroughly and quickly with better human interaction and is a better fit for more complicated, high-touch customer questions, like what most contact centers are receiving these days. Empowering agents also elevates them in the company and makes them more likely to provide a better customer experience when they are more invested in the company and its customers.
The face of customer service and shopping is definitely changing. As technology continues to grow, companies will be forced to innovate with new ideas to provide a better customer experience. For companies considering adopting new customer service technologies, Ian’s best advice is to start small by testing one area of the technology before expanding it to more applications.
Self-service technology has changed the face of customer experience and can be a great resource for many basic customer questions. By embracing technology and continuing to improve all aspects of the customer experience, companies can see continued growth and success.
It used to take customers a lot of effort to shop around—they had to drive from store to store to compare prices and spend time looking up reviews in books, magazines, and websites. These days, the power has returned to the customers—they can comparison shop, find reviews, and even purchase a competitor’s product from their smart phone while still standing in your store. If your company is operating under the old assumptions that customers don’t have any power, you are set up to fail, according to Harley Manning, vice president and research director at Forrester. To be successful these days, companies must go through a CX transformation by stepping back and looking at how they operate and then finding ways to engage and empower customers. With CX transformation, companies shift their focus to looking outwards and make customers the center of their business.
New technology and social networks provide more ways to create a personalized experience for customers. However, to really have customers at the center of your business, you need to know exactly what they want. Companies can no longer simply start a program or roll out robotic personalization in an attempt to appease customers. Instead of thinking of something to personalize because it will create a great experience, companies should focus on creating a great experience and using personalization as one way to reach that goal. Taking the time to truly understand the customer and to know exactly what they want can help align their needs with the goals of your company.
A major factor in making the transformation successful is getting executives on board. To be effective, executives must be fully engaged and aware of what is happening in their organization. Harley tells the story of a CEO who went undercover to his various stores. At one location, he noticed lots of people were walking out of the store without buying anything and had to walk past an employee smoking outside as they left the store. That employee turned out to be the store manager, who was leaving a bad image in the customers’ minds. By being present and aware, the CEO was able to take ownership of the situation and address the issue from the root cause by improving the hiring and training processes.
However, many executives tend to dismiss customer experience thinking that it doesn’t directly affect their bottom line. In order to get on board with CX transformation and improving customer experience, executives need to see the direct relationship between increased customer experience and a customer’s likelihood to stay with the company, purchase more products, and recommend it to a friend. By putting money and statistics behind customer experience, executives are more likely to see how creating a strong customer experience can have a monetary reward for a company.
Customer experience really comes down to putting the customer first and making their needs the center of the company. By getting everyone on board and staying aware of what is happening both inside and outside the company, you can start to enjoy the fruits of CX transformation and a strong customer experience.
The customer experience is far greater than just what a customer sees when they come into a store or visit a website. According to Peter Horst, former CMO of the Hershey Company, is a person can see it, touch it, hear it, or smell it, then it’s part of the customer experience. From marketing to strategy and everything in between, the customer experience is the totality of the efforts of nearly every branch of an organization. With a clearly defined customer experience ideal, all areas of the company can work to deliver on the goal.
One of the first steps in creating a strong customer experience is to clearly define and understand the target customer. The levers and methods of customer experience vary greatly across companies and industries, especially when comparing B2B and B2C operations, but a clear understanding of the customer is always central to success. It can be tempting for companies to want to reach everyone with their product, but customer experience starts with a targeted core group of customers before expanding to other groups. With a cohesive target audience in mind, companies can then get a clear picture of their customers’ lives, including discovering what they are purchasing and consuming, why they are purchasing certain items, what they want those products to do, and more. The numbers behind sales and customers are important and can come from a variety of sources, but to truly understand a customer, you also need to connect with them emotionally and unite the quantitative data with qualitative understanding.
Putting that customer understanding into practice can be a little tricky, especially at Hershey where direct interaction with customers is limited. Hershey sells the majority of its products to retail stores, who then sell it to customers, which means Hershey often can’t see who is ultimately buying the product and how they are using it. However, as more data becomes available, the company is able to connect the dots to see how various forms of media consumption and marketing drive end results.
No matter if you are selling directly to customers or going through other retailers, the ultimate goal is still the same: to have a high-quality customer experience as the end goal of every aspect of the business. This is often done as various departments work together for the overall goal of the company. At Hershey, a command center that connected the PR team with customer service representatives allowed the company to monitor what people were saying about Hershey is real time and then connect that with customer service insights for a complete view of what is coming in from various sources.
Customer experience should be the North Star for a company and the guiding force that connects everything about a brand. With a targeted effort and customer understanding, brands in all industries can make that happen.
As technology grows and customers gain power to play a bigger role in their shopping and purchasing experiences, businesses must also join in the digital transformation.
According to Vala Afshar, chief digital evangelist at Salesforce, companies need to invest in a CRM (customer relationship management) platform to have a full, 360-degree view of their customers. Without understanding the evolving customer experience, companies won’t be able to stay connected to customers and compete. In today’s technology-driven world, especially as more companies adopt CRMs, the competitive landscape is defined by customer experience. Anything a company can do to improve that experience, including tapping into new technology resources, can make a huge difference to customers and profits.
Vala narrowed it down to three keys brands can use in their digital transformations. The first is personalization—customers want a great experience that meets their needs and answers their questions. Similar to how technology like Spotify knows what music a customer likes, the future of business applications will involve other smart programs that can better understand the customers and create an accurate and personal experience based on their history and preferences. The second digital transformation key is immediacy. The growth of mobile has put everything at our fingertips and made customers demand everything quickly and accurately. Companies must take advantage of CRM technology to be able to monitor customer experience in nearly real time and to be accessible and helpful to customers at any moment on any channel. The third key is intelligence. According to Vala, artificial intelligence is the definitive technology for the 21st century, and we’re just at the beginning of realizing what it can do. Without accurate AI, brands can’t achieve mass personalization at scale.
Digital transformations transition to the brick-and-mortar experience, as well. The lines between a company’s digital and on-site presence are blurring—what really matters to customers is that there is consistency in their experience. A customer should be able to have a very similar experience no matter if they are shopping in person or in store. To ensure that happens, companies should take advantage of digital opportunities within the store and the ability of many programs to unite a customer’s interactions in store and online.
Each customer has a digital path they take on their journey to making a purchase or interacting with a company. Understanding that path is key to creating the ideal customer experience and competing on value and experience. By taking advantage of new CRM software and other digital resources, companies can transform the customer experience and take it to the next, forward-thinking level.
What began as an entertainment experience has turned into an innovative way for people to have fun and make memories together. Dave and Buster’s was formed when friends Dave, who ran an arcade, and Buster, who ran a restaurant on the same street, noticed customers going back and forth between their establishments on any given evening. They took a risk to open the first combined food, drink, and arcade establishment and have had great success. Part of the reason for Dave and Buster’s strong growth and reputation is its focus on customer experience. According to president and COO Dolf Berle, Dave and Buster’s is focused on providing an entertaining environment where people can have fun with friends, family, and colleagues and take a break from the stress of everyday life.
To be successful, Dave and Buster’s is constantly innovating, and it uses metrics to stay on top of customer experience. Using a program called InMoment, Dave and Buster’s tracks a comprehensive array of metrics on everything from a customer’s experience at the bar to their likelihood to return to the arcade. The ultimate goal of the metrics is to gauge customer satisfaction and a customer’s intent to recommend Dave and Buster’s to friends. To get quality results, Dave and Buster’s adds incentives to its survey invitations, usually in the form of a free appetizer or a reduced game card on a person’s next visit. It gets more than 50 surveys per store each week and then combines those metrics to get an overall look at the company.
Dave and Buster’s looks at trends in the metrics as a way to measure and improve the customer experience. Dolf himself looks at the metrics on a weekly basis to see if guest satisfaction is building over time and if there is any variability between different areas of the establishment that can help him know where to focus the company’s strategic efforts.
Dave and Buster’s has found that customers who have a better experience have more interactions with the staff, which fuels its corporate culture of fun. From its early days, Dave and Buster’s has focused on making employees an integral part of the customer experience—if the staff is involved and treated better, they are more likely to create a better experience for guests. To put that into action, employees go through a lot of training to help them feel like an important part of the corporate family. Employees also use the metrics provided by InMoment to see where they can improve and how they can better the guest experience.
As Dave and Buster’s continues to lead the way for innovative entertainment, its focus will always stay on making sure customers have great experiences. With the help of a strong, metrics-driven measurement system, the company will always know exactly where it stands.