June 30, 2011 / by Becca Ramble

For two days last week the Forrester Customer Experience Forum brought together industry leaders from across the country with a common goal – learn more and share ideas about how the customer experience movement is changing the way all of us are doing business.

Customer Experience as a discipline is growing in importance and visibility. As a job, the Customer Experience professional is now taking a seat at the C-level with titles such as Chief Customer Officer, Chief Customer Advocate, Chief Experience Officer and more demonstrating that from the executive level down, more organizations are seeing the intrinsic value of inviting their customers to the table, literally and figuratively to help drive the innovation, development and day to day operations that will win and keep their business now and for the long run.

Ever-increasing competition, a more informed and social customer base, and an increase in consumer sophistication has put pressure on companies to differentiate in order to attract and retain customers. Many of the world’s most successful brands have undertaken significant organizational changes to shift from a workspace defined by silos, rigid communication barriers and an “us”/”them” mindset to a customer-centric culture where you seek to understand and welcome “the voice of the customer” to the table and where you are defined by the level, quality and breadth of service provided to customers and the experience they have doing business with you.

Speakers at the conference representing some of the biggest brands in the world like American Express, Oracle, Nikon, and more credited the success of their organizations to the clearly defined and well-communicated strategy put in place to help support their customer centric culture.  Their strategy, defines the mission, the operational plans to bring the mission and business objectives to reality, and the creation of metrics against which your performance and success will be measured.  For many companies seeking to create a customer-centric culture, their strategy becomes the road map for change – in organizational structure, in training, in technology and in culture.

Megan Burns, a Principal Analyst at Forrester, pointed out that companies most successful in seeing strong customer experience rankings “make delivering great customer experiences a core competency”. Organizationally, these make operational changes to help create cross-functional, centralized teams with visibility into the “customer journey”. The silos that we see at so many companies are barriers to a real customer-centric infrastructure because they stifle the communication that can help each customer touch-point be enriched and help provide the customer that much better of an experience. These companies put effort into creating voice of the customer programs to formalize listening to customers from a variety of data sources to create consistent input from the customers into all areas of the business. These companies also invest in their employees, the real people who deliver against the mission every day by empowering them through training, certifications, and rewards to deliver the exceptional customer experience, whatever the business.

Customer Experience really is transcendent and the cross-functional teams being created to help develop and manage customer experience programs testify that it takes an entire company to really deliver a customer experience that is “delightful” or “amazing” (words many executives used).  There is no one team that owns it rather it is a purposeful development from an investment in time and resources.  Interesting to me is that the Chief Customer Experience Officer position is one that typically comes from a variety of executive experiences within a company. And not just Customer Service which underscores that a real customer experience strategy is one that is mindful that a customer’s experience with you is one made up of multiple touch points which mean multiple opportunities for success.

Putting your customers first does not mean putting yourself second.  Rather it means aligning your business decisions with those that will help ensure your customers are happy (delighted was the term I heard a lot of executives use) because these folks will continue to do business with you. Your strategy should guide the way you interact with customers. Every speaker stressed that empathy is at the forefront of every successful business transaction. People want to do business with someone who values them and listens to them. With the explosion of communication technologies, there are now more ways to listen to your customers than ever before – through structured channels such as customer care centers, surveys, etc., to social media and the business intelligence that can be gained by analyzing what folks are saying when they think you aren’t listening. With so much information available, businesses can now create a “voice of the customer” that should have a place in your internal meetings where you make the business decisions that drive your day to day. If you have the customer experience in mind, each and every day, you will make decisions that resonate with that mindset and strategy.

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