Customer Experience Art vs ScienceThere is a long-standing debate as to how much of customer experience management is science and how much is art. 

As you decide where you weigh in on the question, here are two customer experiences for your consideration. While one experience is a customer satisfaction triumph and a pleasure to share, the other tells a cautionary tale. They both illustrate the critically important role technology can play, blending science and art to create positive impressions and continuing customer loyalty.

Customer Experience Management is Personal

As followers of my CMSWire article series know, I often write about how technology properly applied can change how we do business for the better. Customer experience management lives in the oceans of data being generated every day in ever increasing amounts. This Big Data offers competitive opportunities, giving companies new ways to listen, learn and respond to their customers’ needs. The technology I work with plays an important role in allowing companies to extract and apply value from Big Data. The results are especially powerful when connected with the customer experience.

The goal is to forge relevant interactions that are both efficient for the business to deliver and at the same time personalized for the customer. And sometimes it gets VERY personal, because after all, we are all consumers. Here is a look at two of my recent customer experiences. You may conclude, as I did, that it’s not a question of art vs. science in creating extraordinary experiences, but rather how well you combine the two.

Customer Experience 1: Web to Store to #Delight

Saturday morning and I’m searching the web for of all things a replacement for a door threshold. Our kitchen walk-in cupboard threshold had splintered over the years and we decided we would replace it ourselves. This seemed a simple task, though in the spirit of full disclosure we are not a DIY family by any means.

My web search for thresholds immediately reveals well-recognized possibilities from two of the leaders in home improvement. I begin to explore both and come to the realization that I am not only viewing this customer experience from my homeowner persona but also from my “day job” persona. I am indeed part of the trend for more business happening online and product research increasingly moving to online as the first destination. I notice that both online sites are doing a good job of organizing and presenting the product information and images, and also providing relevant do-it-yourself video options.

Then, I realize I’m late for errands we have scheduled, so I abandon my laptop, head for the car, and continue my research on my iPhone in route (I am passenger not driver).

Whether on my laptop or on my iPhone, the respective web experiences are quite good. Clearly these companies use customer experience management technologies to create a rich and consistent digital presence across channels. Both have what appear to be responsive designs and good in-context channel features. Both web customer experiences immediately identify where My Store would be -- one got it right on the money but both are easy to adjust. Both offer some form of free shipping too, probably a nod to the online-only top competitor, whose advantage is most often fast shipping and low(er) pricing.

Both companies seem to have what we need at a comparable price, but we are not really certain we have found the right item, and we wonder what we would need to do to “install it.” Since we are out doing errands anyway, we decide to stop by the local Home Depot store.

The store has the item its website displayed and at the promised price. In person, it doesn’t look quite like the shape of the splintered one we had brought with us for comparison. Enter customer experience rock star Charlie, who leads the lumber department at the store.

Charlie not only assures us that we have the right item, but he also offers to trim and notch the piece based on the old one so it will be simple to replace. But it turns out the notches need a saw they don’t have at the store, so Charlie TAKES THE PIECE HOME TO HIS WORKSHOP, cuts it and brings it back the next day, leaving me a message confirming that it is ready to pick up. I go on the Home Depot FB to tell them about my best customer experience EVER and hear right back from them thanking ME.

I don't know if this is an isolated incident, but I do know Home Depot is doing something right these days. They have shown the strength of their brand and their channel management in the last three months, with overall sales up 13.9% and same-store sales up 7 percent. There was no extra charge for my Home Depot customer experience, though we certainly would have paid. The result for Home Depot is that they not only won this small transaction but now also have a customer for life. #DELIGHT

Customer Experience 2: Store to Mobile to #Fail

Customer experience management isn't just for traditional retailers. Banking is increasingly coming to terms with the importance of coordinating channels to attract and retain their retail customer business. Multi-channel is certainly necessary, but is no longer sufficient for success. Now omni-channel has hit the financial services world as a major factor in customer experience management.

Cisco® refers to this new reality as the “Era of Omni-channel Banking,” explaining that it moves beyond the current approach, in which banks encourage customers to use the least expensive channel, to delivering a consistent and seamless customer experience across channels. The intent is to bring the industry closer to the promise of true contextual banking in which financial services become seamlessly embedded into the lives of individual and business customers.

Creating a positive end-to-end customer experience is at the heart of this approach and banks are moving toward secure integrated architectures to enable their channel-ready infrastructure. This future sounds great, but we still have a lot to learn in the here and now about holistic customer experience management. Case in point is my own customer experience that occurred on the very same day that Home Depot had so delighted me.

I am shopping for pet food at a store we often frequent, and am at the check-out with a large order when my credit card transaction is denied by the system. I immediately receive a message on my mobile phone to call my bank security with a return number to call.

Okay … this sounds very omni-channel and actually quite responsive and responsible. I’m a bit annoyed that my transaction was rejected, but somewhat mollified by the notion that my bank is being circumspect. This bank has a fabulous website in my opinion and a pretty good IVR system as well, and I viewed them as advanced in their approach to customer experience. So I return the call and provide the usual account and security information to the IVR system. A human voice then comes on the line, clearly reading from a script, asking me for the same information I had just entered PLUS additional security information. I provide it.

I am told my account is flagged and I’ll be transferred to a security specialist to ensure it is properly unblocked, and thanks for my patience. I am not particularly known for my patience, but had come this far and would see it through since we had two very hungry golden retrievers waiting at home.

I am put on hold for a couple of minutes and then another human voice clearly following a script asks me AGAIN for the SAME INFORMATION I had just provided. I ask why since (1) they had called me originally and told me to call them; (2) they had then transferred me; and (3) I had already given them the information twice so surely they already knew it. I am told if I do not want to provide the information my account would remain blocked. Seriously? So, I complete the discussion, providing once again all and more of the information they asked for, and my account is unblocked.

Perhaps the worst of all in this experience was that the bank representative could not (or would not) provide a clear reason why they had determined to block my card at that moment, and they also left me with the warning that it might happen again. I quickly run my card and successfully complete the transaction before another random event, perhaps sun showers or gamma rays on the moon might trigger a similar block. #FAIL

Perfecting the Science, Enabling the Art of Customer Experience

I spend a great deal of my professional time helping companies gain benefit from enterprise information management, the discipline of discovering, managing, extracting value from and building applications on top of unstructured enterprise information. EIM can bring together core technologies and applications within defined practices like Customer Experience Management.

I have come to understand that to translate information-based capabilities into value for the enterprise requires the right technology tool set and approach that changes how the organization accomplishes work. When this is combined with behavioral science and artfully applied to the customer experience, it offers a simple, powerful route to improved customer satisfaction.

McKinsey writes about “Using behavioral science to improve the customer experience” noting that companies who care deeply about the quality of customer interactions invest heavily in responsive websites and in simplified call centers that enable customer choice. Yet many companies ignore what makes people tick. Banks, for example, often disturb the customer experience through poor menus on ATMs or ill-advised and ever changing interactive-voice-response (IVR) systems. Other companies place too much emphasis on average handling times at call centers and not enough on the quality of the interaction. It doesn't have to be that way.

Academics, such as Professor Richard Chase at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, have used research on how people form opinions about their experiences to design actual services. Chase and his team set forth principles to consider when designing any customer interaction; including:

  • Get bad experiences over early, so customers focus more on positive subsequent elements of the interaction.
  • Break-up pleasure, but combine pain for your customers, so that pleasant parts of the interaction form a stronger part of their recollections.
  • Finish strong, as the final elements of the interaction will stick in the customers’ memory.

I venture to say that each of these scientific principles was violated in my recent bank credit card interaction, and exceeded in my DIY experience.

Customer experience then is certainly part science, part art, part technology and part human. And effective customer experience management is a competitive weapon, especially in industries where product differentiation is difficult, if not impossible. For example, my door threshold and my credit card products are fairly comparable across their respective vendors; the differentiation happens through the customer experience that is provided.

The moral of my two tales is to ensure customer experience management capability is organized and implemented to be customer-centric and applied in the moment to optimize the “personal” customer experience. In fact, recent Aberdeen Group research on “Next Generation Customer Experience Management” shows that Best-in Class companies:

  • Invest in CEM-related technology tools and solutions
  • Create a unified view of customer data across the organization, and
  • Personalize product and service offerings based on customer data

A new set of priorities and technologies are necessary to orchestrate what is required for more effective customer experience management, and we need to include all touch points, including the experience a customer has with company representatives. This is true for my consumer experiences and true in turn for the customers I serve, who are typically large firms that operate in multinational environments with multiple languages, and want to reach their customers through a multitude of channels.

To succeed, these companies will use a holistic technology and business approach that includes customer experience, information and communication management, as well as an information flow or case management paradigm that ensures the customer is the organizing principal. They will leverage technology to blend the best of art and science with the customer in mind.

At the same time, encouraging employees to be motivated, customer-oriented representatives of the company, and giving them the power to #delight customers wouldn't hurt either!

Editor's Note: To read more of Deb's thoughts on Customer Experience, see her Oz the Great and Powerful: How ACM Transforms the Customer Experience