Customer Experience--An Emerging Frontier in Customer Service Excellence.

Author:Batra, Madan M.
 
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INTRODUCTION

Customer experience (CX) refers to a customer's perceived overall quality of all the interactions and relationships the customer has with a company and its products and services (Borowski, 2016). The interactions include both pre-sale and post-sale interactions and can be either direct--for example, when a customer completes a sales transaction through a sales representative--or indirect, such as when a customer reads a social media blog about another person's interaction with the company. A case in point, popularized by the social media and TV media, is the recent negative customer experience of a Vietnamese-American passenger at United Airlines who had paid for his airline ticket and was already seated in his allotted seat, but was physically dragged out of the airplane as the airplane was overbooked, causing significant injuries to the passenger.

CX has become a hot topic in the corporate board room today. Since the mid-2000s, the term has been appearing with increasing frequency in a variety of corporate discussions on business strategy, marketing strategy, customer service, and general business management. The earlier corporate focus on customers, as traced by Lemon and Verhoef (2016), has been in the forms of customer satisfaction and loyalty (1970s), service quality (1980s), relationship marketing (1990s), and customer relationship management (2000s). However, as customers' expectations from and interactions with businesses have been evolving at a rapid pace in today's dynamic era of consumer empowerment and digital disruption, a variety of modern CX programs have been created, and more programs are in the making. New strategies and technologies provide a tremendous opportunity for practitioners to capitalize on this emerging frontier of CX.

This paper explains the nature of the CX industry, its emerging challenges, trends and opportunities, managerial issues regarding CX, and a variety of CX emerging tools and analytics. The discussion is useful for CX practitioners focused on customer service excellence, as well as academicians interested in carving out research agenda about the important customer experience topic that is triggered by the intricacies of consumer empowerment and technological disruption.

CX INDUSTRY: NATURE, CHALLENGES, AND TRENDS

Nature of the CX Industry

The CX industry has three major players: (1) CX management and marketing practitioners (CX leadership, middle management, retailers, and front-line employees), (2) third-party digital-solution providers--for example, SaaS providers, and (3) industry analysts, experts, bloggers, commenters, and researchers.

In the report titled "The Global State of Customer Experience 2016" developed by the CX Network (www.cxnetwork.com) in association with Forrester and CRMXchange, over 700 survey-respondents, from all three categories as stated above, provide insights into the trends, challenges, and investment priorities that may be shaping CX in the near future. CX industry leaders admired by the survey-respondents include Amazon, Emirates, First Direct, Metro Bank, KLM, Virgin, Starbucks Coffee, Apple, Facebook, Google, Nordstrom, Zalando, Australian Government, Vodafone, Bloomberg, The Ritz-Carlton, Zappos.com, Hilton, Chick-fil-A, CAT, USAA, British Airways, Hot Topic, John Lewis, eBay, Disney, BMW, Naked Wines, GE, and Samsung.

In the aforesaid survey, the top CX investment priorities for the near future, as stated by the CX respondents, are customer loyalty and retention, customer relationship management (CRM), online customer experience, customer insights, customer centricity (creating a positive consumer experience at all customer touch points), customer experience data and analytics, customer contact-center solutions, Voice of the Customer (popularized digital customer feedback programs), digital marketing, customer acquisition, omni-channel integration, cloud services, and employee engagement. Table 1 provides these areas of CX investment in a systematic fashion.

CX Challenges

The 2016 Forrester survey identifies two types of CX challenges: investment-related and overall. The top CX investment-related challenges include the difficulty in calculating and demonstrating ROI from CX products and solutions; finding budget for CX products, processes and solutions; broad level buy-in of CX focus throughout an organization; complicated internal sign-off process for CX products, processes and solutions; getting regional sign-off for CX products and solutions in a large organization; too much "noise" in the vendor market about CX products and solutions, but not enough bespoke products within budget; and, too much vendor choice.

The top overall challenges for CX practitioners, as identified by the survey, include creating a customer-first culture throughout an organization, identifying CX-area priorities that are mutually-competing, ensuring consistency across communication and distribution channels within and across an organization, shifting the organizational mind-set from product-focus to customer-focus, engaging employees in the customer-focus, digitally transforming the business, linking CX initiatives to ROI, gaining senior management buy-in, understanding the customer expectations and experience in-depth, keeping up with the rapid changes in the mobile- and social-platform technology, and upgrading customer-focused legacy systems.

Suggestions to overcome some of the above CX challenges include

* Increased awareness, at the corporate level, of the importance of CX

* Identification of strategy and tactics for organizational culture change to customer focus

* Better communication about CX across different units of the organization

* Better case studies demonstrating ROI of CX

* Best practices and better knowledge and understanding of the CX digital products and solutions that are available to support organizational CX needs

* Increased budget for CX programs, customer experience management development, and employee training about the implementation of CX programs

* Executive leadership working together to agree on key CX initiatives, determining how to fund them, establishing shared goals, defining success measures, and establishing governance processes

CX Industry Trends

The trending CX areas, as identified by the CX practitioners in the Forrester survey, are customer loyalty and retention, online CX, CX data and analytics, customer relationship management, employee engagement, omni-channel, self-service/automation, churn reduction, digital marketing, and social media engagement. Further trends, as predicted by the CX digital solution providers, include mobile platforms, emotional intelligence, and trust in customer experience. An additional trend predicted by analysts and bloggers is evolving cloud services.

Suggestions to prepare for the above industry trends include

* Seek advice from the experienced non-competitive peers

* Draw-up a short list of usable CX products and services based upon recommendations from digital solution providers

* Continually redefine the CX business model

* Communicate and internally market the CX transformation plan and roadmap

* Develop both digital and offline CX strategies

* Shortlist a few CX solution providers

* Research CRM alternatives, and invest heavily in online and self-service capabilities

* Build business cases to demonstrate tangible CX returns

* Engage...

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