Four Customer Experience Themes from CXPA’s Insight Exchange 2015

I just returned from the annual Customer Experience Professionals Association Insight Exchange meeting. CXPA is a nonprofit association that supports the growing number of professionals tasked with designing better customer experiences.  The event attracted close to 300 individuals, including a respectable number of executive level customer experience leaders ranging from newly appointed to veterans. During the two days of networking, four themes emerged for me:

1) The CX gulf grows wider, faster.  Culture change, technology infrastructure and operating models don’t change overnight. Firms like John Deere, Fidelity, United Healthcare (Optum) and Johnson Controls that have been putting in the work to lay solid foundations are moving well past trying to connect CX metrics to financials and are actually applying these insights into how their companies operate and go to market. John Deere has driven customer experience into manufacturing quality standards by being able to define “promoter” level quality and tying promoters to financial results. One financial services firm has built governance around customer journeys and is building personalization into key interactions. By doing this, the firm proactively anticipates and prepares customers for the next steps, ensuring the customer doesn’t get side-tracked along the journey.  As newbies are still running uphill at a slow clip, these firms (and others) are running downhill at a fast rate, widening the gap between themselves and other firms.

2) Customer listening takes a leap to next generation.  Just 4-5 years ago a centralized voice of the customer (VoC) program was the centerpiece of customer experience efforts and  largely focused on surveys and closed loop processes. This is now table stakes.

I heard four distinctive trends in listening programs: 1) Real-time root cause analysis – rather than wait until survey results come back, Gold’s Gym is using InMotion (which embeds IBM’s Watson) to engage customers in a natural language dialog about the experience to understand what went right or wrong on the spot; 2) Blended customer councils – rather than waiting for quarterly or annual customer gatherings, B2B food giant, Sysco has 300 food service managers opted into Communispa – an online customer advisory panel to provide on-going input into process, policy, service, product and organizational decisions the company makes; 3) Predictive analytics – rather than just being reactive with traditional closed loop processes, John Deere, Johnson Controls and Optum all do proactive account planning knowing that customer sentiments are leading indicators of future loyalty and spend. All of these companies also plan on building more sophisticated behavioral analysis tools to pair with attitudinal surveys and direct customer feedback. 4) Feedback as relationship building – rather than simply sending surveys out, Johnson Controls has an extensive communication plan that helps sales staff talk to customers about annual relationship surveys as well as pre-survey and post-survey communications to customers about why the company collects information and then relays the action plan as a result of the survey analysis.

3) Active executives turn attention to middle management buy-in. Where CX efforts are moving rapidly, the active involvement of CEOs and other executives is impressive.  The CEO of one financial services company allows the CX leader to send a recording of a typical call to 200 execs regularly at 6am, followed by an 8am call to discuss the action plan to resolve the issue. Arizona Diamondbacks’ president spends a significant percentage of his day with fans, including a couple hours at night answering emails directly or calling fans. Execs at Johnson Controls have been equipped with a mobile survey tool and training to answer four questions and record insights from client visits that they are expected to do on a regular basis.

While executives are getting more active at these sophisticated firms, attention is turning to middle mangers. John Deere and Fidelity’s long running change agent programs evolved to focus on helping middle managers understand their roles in enabling staff to deliver great experiences, a big sticking point.

4) Customer experience connects to a higher purpose.  As firms get more serious about customer, employee and partner engagement, they are realizing that a company’s financial goals fall flat relative to a higher purpose. A John Deere customer experience leader taps into feeding, clothing and housing future generations. Arizona Diamondbacks president, who focuses on employee engagement first and foremost, emphasizes that giving back to the community is a continuation of serving the fans outside of the ballpark.

A parting piece of wisdom. For those who don’t yet have active buy-in from executives around customer experience, John Deere’s customer experience leader had fantastic advice. She said, “Put your shoulder into financial impact analysis.”  She spent 1.5- 2 years doing this work (similar to the time others have taken), which is now paying off for her and the customer experience transformation at the company.

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