Customer Experience Problems: More Diagnoses Than Prescriptions

Customer experience is leading off the year as an idea that we need to pay more attention to. In the last week, two important publications have surfaced that highlight this importance.

SAP gurus Reza Soudagar, Vinay Iyer and Volker Hildebrand (all senior officers at SAP) collaborated on a new book, The Customer Experience Edge: Technology and Techniques for Delivering an Enduring, Profitable and Positive Experience to Your Customers. And RightNow just released its 2011 Customer Experience Impact Report: Getting to the Heart of the Consumer and Brand Relationship. For the record, I like short titles like To Kill a Mockingbird.

Each work is well-researched and written (full disclosure: I was interviewed for, and quoted in, the book, as were many leading thinkers in CRM), but to me there is more emphasis on diagnosis than on prescription in both. That’s not a bad thing, just an observation. One of the tough things about writing a book is that it is obsolete as soon as it is printed. The world goes on, but the book doesn’t. That goes for reports as well. So they don’t often include the absolute latest new wrinkles.

The Roots of Attrition

The RightNow research was conducted by Harris Interactive and is long on data but less so on insight. For instance, we’re told that 89 percent of consumers began doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience. That’s probably you and me included, and who wouldn’t? But I believe in redemption too, and there are only so many vendors in any market, so a pure approach of one strike and you’re out seems unrealistic to me. What alternatives are there?

Certainly repeated disconnects between vendor and customer will lead to attrition, and you have to be in the game to play, as they say. So repeatedly missing the mark that customers set can be particularly debilitating to any business devoted to profits. It doesn’t help to learn that customers still seem to be out on the Internet alone, which is implied in this report. The vast majority (79 percent) “… who shared their complaints about poor customer experience online had their complaints ignored.” This clearly indicates a “Cool Hand Luke” situation in which there is failure to communicate or even pay attention. Not good, but good diagnosis, for sure.

Shopping for Prescriptions

For some answers, look to the book. The guys from SAP did a nice job of capturing the wisdom of the analyst/influencer crowd. They understand that to change the situation requires more than good intentions; it requires technology, which both vendors are happy to provide.

While the book provides a state-of-the-art description of the way things are between vendors and customers, its solutions all seem to be in a holding pattern waiting for landing instructions.

For example, Chapter 14, “Action Items for Achieving the Customer Experience Edge,” is a gold mine of advice for all kinds of companies interested in making their relationships better. As the jacket flap says, “… you can no longer compete on price and quality alone.”

The second action item, “Earn Customer Trust With Four Customer Experience Essentials,” is a case in point. The four items include, “Reliability (‘Live Up to the Promise’),” “Convenience (‘Offer Choice, Consistency and Timeliness’),” “Responsiveness (‘Listen and Respond Quickly’)” and “Relevance (‘Ensure That Offerings and Interactions Are Personalized and Meaningful’).” This is fine, but this is also where the book could use more focus on prescription.

There is certainly much prescription in these pages, but it is of the “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” “Then don’t do that” variety.

Solving the Puzzle

The book offers reasonable advice, such as Chapter Ten on “Ten On-Ramps to the Customer Experience Freeway.” The advice is backed by customer stories, but it is questionable how replicable it is. I didn’t see enough of a focus on innovative ways to use social media, analytics, mobility and gaming. While they were all there (except for gaming), it seemed their presence was more anecdotal than prescriptive.

That might sound more critical than intended. It’s a good book, especially for someone or a whole company dipping a toe in the water and trying to figure out how to make money through improved customer experience.

I have to keep reminding myself that I am an early bird, and the rest of the world might not be on my page. That said, if I was trying to figure out the customer experience, I would take a hard look at RightNow’s research as well as this book from SAP. But don’t delay, and don’t think this is enough. There is a good deal of advice to be had, and the CE train has left the station. Time to catch it.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant's research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and website. He is the author of Hello, Ladies! Dispatches from the Social CRM Frontier and can be reached at [email protected].

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