the future of customer experience

We recently launched an e-book on slideshare covering The Future of Customer Experience. The e-book is a compilation of interviews we conducted with 19 experts on #custexp.

Here is the one of the most popular future of customer experience interviews from my colleague, Jamie Anderson (@collsdad), the Global Vice President of CRM Marketing here at SAP.

The e-book summarizes the answer to this question:

What is the most extreme future you can envision for the future of customer experience?

Here is the full interview:

How do you define a customer-focused company these days?

That’s a great question. I guess there will be many definitions of what makes a company truly ‘customer-focused’.

I think any organisation that creates innovative products (or services) with a ‘customer first’ mentality can truly claim to be ’customer-focused’. By customer first I really mean thinking from the customer perspective back in to the organisation, only then can they truly understand the customer perspective and that’s crucial to becoming customer-focused. In addition to this I think how socially active a company is coupled with their desire to truly ‘engage’ their customers (as opposed to broadcasting to them) via these channels is also a useful measure. Customer-focused companies can discover fantastic insights about how their products, services, and brand are perceived by their audience. If the company possesses the internal alignment and cultural desire to turn these insights into action then the potential to differentiate from the pack is much, much greater.

Sometimes I think this lesson represents a modern-day perspective from a poem I learned at school by the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns, the poem is called ‘To a Louse’, it’s a funny poem detailing the poet’s mock indignation at seeing a ‘beastie’ crawling all over the bonnet of a well to do lady. “O would some power the giftie give us to see ourselves as others see us”. Well, now – almost 300 years later – brands hold that power in their hands every day, the gift to see themselves as others see them, through the voice of their customers. The smart ones are doing this today.

How do you balance the need for a better customer experience with the return on that investment?

Hmmm. It depends really on what the basis for the ‘better customer experience’ is? There’s usually always some kind of compelling event for organisations when they begin to consider an investment. In commodity play markets like Utilities for example its pretty simple and it goes back to one of my very first projects when I worked for a large utility provider. Their CIO at the time actually answered this question on the development floor one day when he said, “People are asking WHY are you making such a big investment in Customer Service, and I say it’s simple – we can’t make our electricity go faster than anybody else’s, and we can’t make our gas burn brighter BUT everyday if we deliver the best and most responsive customer experience on the phones, on the internet, and in the Field then no one can match what we have!”

I think sometimes the notion of ROI (return on investment) can be a challenge when companies invest in building processes that don’t necessarily drive measurable sales and marketing outcomes however Forrester’s customer experience index has consistently found that companies who rank highest show the strongest stock performance e.g. The 2012 report found that over a five-year period during which the S&P 500 was flat, a stock portfolio of customer experience leaders grew 22%. During this time, Forrester found that those companies who performed poorest in the Customer Experience Index also performed poorest in terms of stock performance.

Perhaps we should be thinking of this as ROE (return on engagement, or return on experience).

How can we re-imagine the ways of organizing companies to deliver better customer experiences?

I think they already are. The term ‘channel-less’ has been one that has creept into everyday circulation in Industries like Retail, for example. Similarly the notion of Omnicommerce has gathered momentum as customer buying journeys seamlessly span multiple interactions channels in a single commerce transaction. The thing is that this demand for change is largely ‘customer-driven’ and the challenge of this is that most businesses have arranged themselves in an ‘inside-out’ fashion of loosely coupled interaction channels making this goal very difficult.

Do you believe that customers want to be part of the development process, especially for consumer products?

I am not sure of the wider implications on that one. Smart companies, like LEGO, are already engaging their customers on social communities and in some cases co-innovating new products with their customers too. This is where the power of social communities come into their own. At the heart of it though there needs to be value for the customer in getting involved, and a commitment to truly collaborate on behalf of the company and for customers to see an outcome for their input – without that it’s a very tough ask.

What is the most extreme future that you could envision for the customer experience?

C2B – Consumer to Business or ‘The Customer Network’ – that is the future. The idea is that Customers/Consumers control everything, based on their knowledge of the value of their own data. Businesses must find a way to connect with their customers through this service and with relevance to ensure that they become the ‘signal through the noise’.

Will companies stop selling products and services and start selling experiences?

This is a great (and topical) question as very recently I had the opportunity to spend some time in the company of  Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh. Zappos re-invests the money it makes NOT into Marketing but straight back into the Customer Experience. From Tony’s perspective the top 3 priorities for his business are as follows:

  1. Culture
  2. Customer Service / Customer Experience
  3. Clothing (the product)

To Tony, ‘brand’ is really just an extension of the company culture. If you get that bit right then everything else follows.

We now have 3-D printers and distributed manufacturing. Do you see a greater need for personalization?

I can agree that customers are looking for greater personalisation – how that manifests itself I am not sure. It comes back to the issue of ‘Signal to Noise ratio’ – as consumers we are consistently bombarded by news, adverts for products and services and offers such to the extent that we filter most things out that don’t have an immediate relevance to us. However when the right offer hits us at the right time (and right place) we are very receptive. The more this happens the more our expectations rise and with an ever increasing awareness of ‘what can be done’ it only seems reasonable that the desire for personalisation and customisation of actual products and services will increase too.

How important is customer experience for B2B companies?

100% It’s like customer experience by osmosis (moving from B2C to B2B). You have to remember that we are ALL consumers and just like the clamour for BYOD (bring your own device) being a by-product of the consumerization of IT, so the ever increasing customer expectations we experience as consumers naturally bleed over into the experiences we expect in a B2B context. The major topics here certainly focus on creating the type of intuitive user interfaces that are synonymous with consumer applications.

What technologies do you see as enabling better customer experience?

I see real-time analytics as being a major driving force to deliver the level of personalisation and relevance that typifies great customer experiences. True omni-channel presence is also essential as customers use more and more channels to interact with a single brand. The consistency of this experience is a major factor in how they perceive the brand as a whole – one element of weakness in the omni-channel strategy and the entire brand suffers as a result.

What are your thoughts on the opportunity to use your purchase history to improve customer experience versus privacy concerns?

I think it ultimately hinges on the individuals desire to share that information, and the benefit or value that they perceive they get from sharing.

Take SAP customer STM as an example – to the user there is terrific value in the app as it not only connects them to their specific travel schedules but provides smart recommendations and offers for them based on the information they have willingly shared. I always say that one of the simplest measures of brand loyalty / brand affinity today is  ’do customers use your app?’ – with the proliferation of applications available to customers today the measure of your value can be determined by whether a customer is prepared to ‘grant you real estate’ on their digital device. Think about it – how many apps have you downloaded and test-driven only to find within the first 15 minutes of download that they are bullshit, and then subsequently deleted almost as quickly as they were downloaded and installed.

Let me share another example in Caesars Entertainment. Caesars Entertainment is the World’s largest gaming company due in no small part to its commitment to data-driven marketing and customer service. When I listened to Tariq Shaukat, CMO of Caesars entertainment deliver a talk recently on customer loyalty he explained the importance of transparency and respect for the customer in terms of how the data gathered is used to market to them, he said, “…there are certain things our customers simply ‘expect’ us to know when we communicate with them.”. In the case of brands like Caesars that ‘trusted’ relationship gives them a value–based permission to use information to consistently enhance and personalise their customer’s experiences.

JamieAndersonJamie is the Global Vice President of Customer LOB Solutions area with a specific focus on CRM, eCommerce, and multi-channel solutions delivery. Jamie is somewhat of a CRM veteran, with over 15 years’ experience in the customer-facing solutions space. Jamie is an active blogger and tweets under the handle @collsdad.

About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is the Vice President of Global Marketing for SAP where he leads content strategy and serves as the managing editor of the company’s award-winning Business Innovation thought leadership blog site. He is also the author of B2B Marketing Insider, a contributor to Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to B2B Marketing Insider by Email

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