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Why Your Company's Customer Experience May Be Falling Behind

(Posted on Jul 24, 2013 at 07:53PM )
Regular readers of the Help Scout blog know that we love research and statistics.

I recently came across new consumer data from Forrester, a global research and advisory firm specializing in the customer experience, which features a number of shocking claims.

While many companies think that they are leading the charge with service quality and creating an innovative customer experience, the numbers tell quite a different story … in the eyes of customers, most companies are falling flat.

Today we are going to scrutinize what most companies are doing incorrectly and highlight how to fix these problems.

Avoid reading at your own risk, since we’ll be putting the spotlight on why less than 10 percent of companies are receiving a passing grade from customers!

1. Too Much Imitation, Not Enough Innovation When it comes to delivering an outstanding customer experience, far too many companies are content with simply “keeping up with the Joneses.”

In the most recent Forrester survey of 100 customer experience professionals, 58 percent of respondents said that their firms drive customer experience innovation by closely watching what their direct competitors are doing, and a full 72 percent look to outright copy companies in other industries.

The embarrassing amount of copying that is going on has been recently pointed out by research analyst Kerry Bodine, and it’s the reason why “good enough” is the disappointingly low bar to which many companies now strive:

Citibank wanted to copy the Apple store so badly that it actually hired the same architects responsible for the Apple store concept to design its bank of the future. Imitation may be the highest form of flattery—but it's not innovation.” There is a lot more risk in copying your competitors than you may think. First of all, they might not know exactly what they are doing; even if they do, it doesn’t mean that what works for them will work for you.

Even worse, many companies are not seeking to imitate the industry leaders, or those businesses most known for their customer experience. According to the Forrester analysis published in the Harvard Business Review:

…13% of companies said that they'll settle for nothing less than having the best customer experience across every industry—in other words, these companies want to be the next Apple, Disney, or Zappos.”
 That leaves a whopping 87 percent of companies who will settle for less than the best when it comes to their customer experience!

We’ve previously shown you the data on how 80 percent of companies believe they are delivering superior service to their competitors. In light of these admissions, it’s easy to see why in reality they are falling flat. Consider this startling statistic from the Forrester survey:

In 2013, only 8% of the companies surveyed received a top grade from their customers for their customer experience.

The problem: Many companies think that they are leading the charge in customer experience innovation, but in reality they are okay with being just “okay.”

This sort of thinking is dangerous. You’ll never be able to convince customers to switch to your company by simply matching the passable service quality of your competitors.

The image below offers a supporting example (because here at Help Scout, we’re nothing if not honest!) of this fact. Many of our prospective customers who are currently with a competitor stay not because they are blown away by what they are paying for, but because their current experience is “good enough.”

If “good enough” is what landed the customer in the first place, do you think it’ll be enough to win them over to your business? Of course not! Remember that “okay” is not okay when it comes to delivering an experience that aims to keep customers for life.

Since the majority of companies are failing to deliver when it comes to customer expectations, following their lead will likely result in a vicious cycle of the blind leading the blind. Being at the head of the pack means turning your back to them.

2. Using Technology as a Crutch A great customer experience is still reliant on memorable employee-to-customer interactions. In other words, it’s still about the people. (Breaking news: The sun is hot!)

Why, then, do so many companies rely on technology as the crutch for delivering their service?

Keep in mind that technology alone isn’t the culprit here; the issue is using technology without considering the needs of your customers (“technology for technology’s sake”), which can end in disaster.

A multinational auto insurance company provides an excellent example here. The company invested heavily in a new mobile app that would connect customers to a call center agent in an emergency.

The idea looked good on paper, but it failed to account for the fact that drivers wouldn’t preemptively download the app in anticipation of getting into a car crash … and they had more pressing things on their minds than browsing an app store once an accident occurred.

The result: Another so-called innovation that failed to produce business results.

The lesson here is that new ways to improve the customer experience must be founded in differentiation and their ability to generate long-term value for the business.

Simply being innovative or on-trend won’t result in real improvements in doing business with your company.

Remember why this app fell flat, and be sure that the improvements you make are geared toward resolving the issues that actually plague your customers.

How to Fix These Problems Bodine has outlined a few smart, applicable strategies for putting some of the worries discussed above to bed.

Below are her top three tips for avoiding a stagnant, misguided customer experience.

Tip #1 Rethink Opportunities Before Moving Academic research has shown that when it comes to brainstorming, the best ideas and most creative solutions result from looking at the problem from multiple angles. As Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”

Bodine sees the lack of multi-angled investigation as one of the fundamental errors that most business owners make when they seek to improve the customer experience. She highlights this point in her HBR piece:

Companies need to start their innovation initiatives with an outside-in approach that frames their business challenges within the context of customers' unmet needs.” Essentially, Bodine is saying that companies should reframe and closely evaluate what customers actually want before diving headfirst into the latest favored strategy in the world of CRM. This advice seems obvious, but as evidenced in the insurance example above, companies are prone to creating apps and new tools without closely evaluating whether or not they will truly be useful to customers or whether they solve a real pain point.

Bodine continues with an example from Philips Healthcare, who gathered customer feedback by using an innovative real-life form of user testing:

To identify new opportunities, for example, Philips Healthcare mapped out a typical day in the life of a radiologist, a key purchase influencer, regardless of whether those activities involved Philips. This approach enabled the team to identify a key pain point in radiologists' daily work—an inability to compare one patient's scan with those of others—that Philips already had the data for and capability to solve but hadn't considered productizing.”
 Tip #2 Infuse the Experience with the Brand Many of the most memorable customer experience innovations are strongly tied to the brand that first championed them. In many instances, the idea wasn’t so much unique as it was different. Bodine points to some big brands that were able to pull this off:

Ikea Systems' cartoon furniture assembly instructions, Mini Cooper's retro-inspired dashboard, and the cheerful chirp of a Zappos’ customer service rep—the qualities of these customer experiences create strong associations with their brands.”

Cartoon Style for IKEA Assembly Instructions And when it comes to innovation, the more an experience feels like a specific brand, the harder it is for competitors to copy it. It doesn’t take a huge budget to pull this off, either. As the examples above clearly showcase, it’s the little things that count; starting with items like a personal thank-you note can go a long way in creating an experience that customers will remember.

When your customer experience is intrinsically tied to your brand, you will naturally avoid the first problem discussed above—innovations, features and experience improvements that don’t suit your customers’ actual needs.

In another fascinating case study, Bodine highlights how a new restaurant concept from Bertucci’s addressed this highly important aspect:

That's why design and innovation consultancy Continuum created mood boards when developing a new restaurant concept for Bertucci's called 2ovens. A collage of carefully chosen photos depicted the desired 2ovens vibe; helped align internal Bertucci's stakeholders; guided the design of touchpoints as diverse as the dining space, menu, and website; and even shaped the company's hiring policies.”
 A 2ovens-style focus on innovation efforts that fit your brand’s personality and way of doing business will also help you create experience-specific elements that your competitors can’t easily mimic.

Tip #3 Create an Experience Around the Business Model Lastly, Bodine encourages companies to innovate in areas that best support their business model of choice. Just as choosing the right channel for customer service is critical (whether you adhere to traditional or newer online service methods), innovations for the customer experience should be based on the business you are running and your business model’s inherent strengths.

As an example, Bodine focuses on how ZipCar was able to spur on innovation where other traditional companies couldn’t compete:

Zipcar's car-sharing business model drove a need for keycard (and then mobile phone) vehicle entry—new types of interactions that traditional rental companies never envisioned.” Where can your company improve the customer experience and overall satisfaction while playing off of the advantages of your industry and how you do business?