9 big ideas from the Forrester CX Conference

Some key themes provide a perspective on the state of the customer experience industry.

one lit hanging bulb among many unlit ones
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Last week was the annual Forrester NYC CX Conference, where Customer Experience professionals come to share their latest victories and challenges while the analysts from Forrester provide a perspective on the state of the industry. In case you weren't able to break away for 2-3 days of in-depth CX insights, here are some of the key themes that were reverberating in the ballrooms of the New York Hilton last week, presented David Letterman-style:

9. Get "Closer to the Heart”

Greg Marion, VP Experience Strategy at USAA helped kick off the summit imploring the audience that those in the CX world need to Rush.  Not that we need to hurry, but rather that we need to follow the lyrics of the Rush song "Closer to the Heart:"

“Men who hold high places

Must be the ones who start

To mold a new reality

Closer to the heart”

 In other words, a brand's "new reality" of CX innovation needs to be led from the top of an organization and must focus on connecting to the emotional needs of customers.

He also highlighted additional points of wisdom from the song, citing the lyrics, "Blacksmiths, artists…philosophers and plowmen each must know their part/ To sow a new mentality closer to the heart."  Indeed CX is a highly collaborative discipline and a key success criteria is the effective integration of the work  business, design, customer research and technical disciplines not to mention legal, finance and many others.

 So, it sounds like we have a new official anthem for the CX community.

8. Stop hiding from your customers

PV Kannan, CEO at 24/7 spoke about the amazingly common strategy many companies use of making it as difficult as possible to find out how to contact a company by phone in an attempt to deflect corporate call center costs. He effectively argued that the net impact of this strategy is customer frustration and that there are easy workarounds, so it’s not very successful.

For example, he demonstrated that there are 5-10 million searches a month just on Google for Amazon's 800 number, and that when you enter any of the more than 700 variants of the question, "What's the 800 number for Amazon?" Google's first entry doesn't just link you to a page with the info, it just gives you the number in big text. So who are we kidding trying to hide?  Let's not send our customers from our web sites and mobile apps to Google when they want to contact us. This is just not sound business thinking, call center costs aside.

7. Customers don’t view you as an organization chart

Alice Milligan, the Chief Client Experience Officer at Citi spoke about when she began working with Citibank to improve the experience for credit card customers. Her first step was to conduct extensive research with over fifty thousand customers that concluded that to give a great experience, the Citi journey had to be seamless across all areas of the brand, not just cards. She therefore had to fight the fight to transform a brand experience that was historical segmented by P&L.

She is now moving Citi to a more customer-centric model focused less on organizational units like checking or mortgage, but instead on customer tasks like, "I want to save, I want to borrow, I want to be protected, and I want to pay."

Milligan also shared some insights from proprietary Citi research that revealed at that Millennials prefer to consume banking and financial information in "bite sized pieces" while on the go, which is driving further re-thinking of their customer experience to align with these newly uncovered needs and expectations.

6. The customer experience IS the brand

Keith Pearce, SVP Corporate Marketing, at Genesys effectively summed up what many at the conference of CX die-hards believe with his quote that today, "The customer experience is the brand."

With the transparency created by the internet, customers decide whether to do business with you based less and less on what you say about yourself and more based on what your customers are saying about you and more specifically their experiences with you. Furthermore, due to the fact that digital reduces switching costs and makes it easy to find alternatives, customer decisions about whether to continue to be your customer are increasingly made based on the quality of experience.

Pearce shared stats from Accenture showing that 51% of customers have switched brands in the last year due to poor customer services and that 81% of customers, according to a Capgemini study, say they are willing to pay more for a better customer experience.

5. "Customer Service" is what happens when customer experience breaks

Sometimes some of the greatest insights come from the discussions you have with fellow attendees during the breaks at a conference. I had a fascinating conversation during The Forrester Conference with Shane Bray, the CXO from Willis Towers Watson, who illuminated the challenges some companies have distinguishing customer service from customer experience--the former of course being how we respond to requests from our customers for help, and the latter being how we create such a fantastic experience that ideally they need as little help as possible, creating happier customers and also usually driving down costs.

4. Data is the new sexy stuff

Forrester Analyst Brendan Witcher coined a phrase which echoed through the many AI-focused presentations throughout the 3 days of the conference, "Data is the new sexy stuff," because it is the core that enables us to personalize experiences. Increasingly, getting personal is the key to great CX.

3. Driving change is "not for the weak"

This is another great quote from Alice Milligan from Citi who spoke about the fact that in many large organizations, banks especially, there isn't a natural enthusiasm for change, "Because people tend to focus on control. And change takes away or can what people feel they control."

To counter this, she looks for people on her CX team who are extremely passionate about customer experience and also have "strong backbone."  As she described them, "They are collaborative but they have 'collaboration with teeth' and are willing to stand up for what they believe in because [in an environment like Citi] you can get beaten down very easily.”

It's critical, she said because, "Customer expectations of banks are the same expectations they have of any player. Amazon, Google and Uber set the pace and expectations in ways that we need to respond to."

2. CX is good business

Forrester Principal Analyst  Michelle Yaiser shared numbers from Forrester research studies on the impact of CX on: customer retention, enrichment (buying more)  and advocacy. The bottom line, when customers have good experiences, all of these numbers go way up. There's a lot of great data in Forrester's 2018 Customer Experience Index Report on this that you can use to help build business justifications for CX investment.

One example, Forrester's research shows that customers who report their experience was "excellent" are two times as likely to prefer that brand over all other compared to those who scored the experience good, ok or worse. And 61% of customers say they are "unlikely" to return to a website that does not provide a "satisfactory," experience (does yours?)

In that same vein, data from the Journal of Marketing shared during the conference showed that while $100 invested in the S&P 500 in 2000 would be worth $157 today, that same hundred dollars, if invested in the companies that lead in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, would be worth $760. Something to tell your CEO, as well as your stockbroker.

1. CX remodeling, not redecorating

Saved for #1 is the meme which became the most repeated presentation concept in the halls and coffee conversations of the event. Forrester Principal Analyst Maxie Schmidt shared an analogy of CX to home improvement.  She described her real-life scenario of how she had tried and tried to redecorate her home but failed to make a significant impact on the overall livability of the house until she committed to a more rigorous remodel which enabled her to improve the living experience substantially.

The metaphor being that many companies need a substantial "remodel" to their customer experience but are trying to make due with a few CX throw rugs and wall hangings, which in most cases is not an effective strategy. Practically every Chief Experience Officer or customer experience professional that I talked to during the conference (and there were many) alluded to this metaphor and vigorously agreed that it reflects the challenge they run up against daily.

No doubt this is in part due to corporate resistance to change which CX professionals can partly address with Milligan's "Collaboration with Teeth," strategy. And no doubt it’s also due to a lingering but false leadership belief at many companies that CX that it is "mushy" from an ROI perspective, which can be countered with data from Forrester and others presented at the conference and available from Forrester.  

Overall, based on my own perspective as CEO of FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency, working with large brands on their digital transformation every day, the conference provided a solid perspective on key challenges faced by large brands today and some very astute and practical strategies to enable CX professionals to take back home to improve their success.

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