What To Do When Consumers’ Expectations Outpace Their Experiences

Despite the speedy adoption of technology to enable better user experiences, consumers’ expectations of brands are outpacing marketers’ efforts, according to marketers at this week’s annual Forrester Customer Experience Forum in New York City.

What To Do When Consumers’ Expectations Outpace Their Experiences

by Mercedes M. Cardona

Posted on 06-03-2018

It might be more accurate for “CX” to stand for “consumer expectation” than “customer experience,” according to marketers at last week’s annual Forrester Customer Experience Forum in New York City.

Despite the speedy adoption of technology to enable better user experiences, consumers’ expectations of brands are outpacing marketers’ efforts, they said.

“The competitive marketplace is very heated,” said Alice Milligan, Citi’s chief digital experience officer–North America US consumer bank. “Everybody recognizes that we need to be faster, and we need to provide the right experiences and services.”

Marketers have to work harder to create relevant customer-centric experiences because consumers now set the bar based on their best experience ever, experts agreed.

“The customer has access to so many more things. The benchmark is raised,” said Tara Brannigan, head of marketing for Book by Cadillac, the automaker’s car-sharing unit.

Forrester’s latest CX Index study, released at the conference, found that brands with customer experiences rated poor or worse by consumers dropped slightly, but so did those rated as good experiences. The majority were merely rated OK, which suggests rising expectations, said Harley Manning, Forrester VP, research director.

The problem is, too many brands are writing checks they can’t cash, said Forrester principal analyst Joanna Quitanilha. She quoted Forrester research that found only 36% of companies said they had a well-defined customer experience vision. Some haven’t defined their brand well enough, and some haven’t thought about how the brand is expressed in the customer journey, she explained. Additionally, a significant 57% said aligning brand and customer experience was a top priority.

“What we’re seeing is we have brand promises … and the actual reality that customers are living and experiencing is different,” she said.

Prioritize Retention

Consumers aren’t just expecting more, they are increasingly voting with their wallets, noted Forrester principal analyst Michelle Yaiser. “Upping your game to OK is not enough,” she said.

Companies must focus on customer retention as a top priority of consumer experience design, Yaiser said. “Think of your customer base as the foundation of your house. … Fixing the foundation should be the first renovation project you undertake.”

Yaiser cited Forrester research showing that 78% of those who feel positive about a brand will stay with it, 81% will spend more on it, and 90% will recommend it to others. A graph plotting the relationship between brands’ standing in the CX index and their revenue per customer was “a pretty sexy curve” going sharply upward, she noted.

A company mission and vision that puts customers at the center “is clearly the price of admission,” Manning said. The best companies on Forrester’s CX Index—a group that included USAA, JetBlue, Vanguard, Kaiser Permanente, and Lexus, among others—have customers at the core, he said. Not coincidentally, some are relatively new or rebranded companies that have been company-centric since birth, he said.

However, many speakers noted that having that focus doesn’t always translate easily into CX. “If I were to say there’s a theme to this conference in the last two days, it is: It’s not about the design, it’s about the execution,” said Julio Hernandez, national leader, customer advisory at KPMG.

Indeed, disciplined execution across the entire enterprise can be a struggle. “You have to constantly get better,” Manning said.

Several challenges are slowing CX transformation, speakers said. Most notably is confusion about exactly what experience design entails and how to adopt it in an organization that is often aligned by function, not by the customer journey.

According to Greg Marion, VP of enterprise strategy at USAA, many marketers mix up an experience strategy with a business strategy. An experience strategy, he explained, sets the vision for the customer experience, defining the behaviors and feelings the marketers want customers to have when interacting with the brand. Meanwhile, business strategy sets the parameters for the experience strategy.

“People are descending on the topic of customer experience … but when you really listen to what they’re saying, they’re just talking about a new campaign,” said Maxie Schmidt, principal analyst at Forrester.

Many companies have CX tools and systems such as journey mapping, metrics, and voice of the customer programs, but they’re not always connected to the experience strategy. The end result is an organization whose work is out of sync with the business case and has created new silos, Schmidt said.

“We also need to stop decorating and start renovating,” she said.

Internal Considerations

So how does this all happen? Marketers need to bring all customer experiences together into a seamless whole, added Citi’s Milligan. “Customers don’t view you as an organization chart,” she said.

The owner of the CX transformation doesn’t need total buy-in to get past resistance from other business units, Schmidt said. She noted a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania that found it only requires getting 25% of stakeholders on board with a change to make it happen.

At the same time, CX advocates “have to show the CFO and the boardroom the long-term gains of a customer experience,” said Keith Pearce, SVP corporate marketing at Genesys. Companies like Uber and Airbnb didn’t just build a business—they remade the experience of hailing a cab or booking a hotel, he said.

“This is now a winner-take-all-business for us,” he said. “Companies that were disrupters a few years ago and became verbs did it with customer experience.”

CX executives also need to demonstrate the value of CX to the bottom line, Pearce said. Companies are spending $5 for each $1 of customer experience planning.

“We believe there needs to be a shift in investment,” he said. “This is a conversation we need to be having in our boardrooms.”

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