Last December experts from around the globe predicted that 2011 would be all about Customer Experience, and boy was it. As a result we've seen huge shifts in every major area of B2C. Here's a look back at our related trials and tribulations, as well as some key advice for overcoming challenges in 2012. 

The New Customer 

We've always been a vocal bunch; compelled since the beginning to discuss our thoughts on brands, customer service, and general business. But in the past few years this tendency of expression has been enormously augmented by social media and mobile devices. In 2011 especially, we saw the combination of these two platforms act as legs for opinions, carrying them beyond our living rooms to the ears of strangers and, ultimately, influencing their judgment. 

In other words, the new customer is not only vocal, but inadvertently more social than ever before, and that means they're wielding a tremendous amount of power. We now know that understanding this shift and responding appropriately is absolutely crucial to successful CXM. 

"...the focus should be on the customer, not on your product or content," wrote Martijn van Berkum in "CEM: The Customer is King, Not Content, and he's Switching Channels". "The customer should be the center point of attention, and organizations, processes and technology need to radically adapt to realize this."

Michael Brito, vice president over at Edelman Digital, offers a good starting point. His article, "An Overview of the Social Customer", breaks down the different types of temperaments and suggests how one should manage them. In summation: 

  • The Venting Customer: The attention seeker. He/She is never too threatening, and usually there's no need for reply. In many cases, these customers make statements such as, “I love my Dell laptop, but it’s way too heavy,” or “I just got Comcast installed. The high definition is amazing, but the cable box doesn't match my furniture." 
  • The Passive Customer: This customer is definitely in need of customer support but isn’t actively seeking a response. Usually, these customers aren’t overly vocal or complaining like other customers. They’ll likely tell their networks in hopes that someone they know can help them directly.
  • The Used-to-Be Customer: This customer is angry and needs assistance immediately. These customers have most likely expressed their discontent several times online and either haven’t been responded to or haven’t had their problem resolved. They’re consistently telling others about their negative experiences.
  • The Collaborative Customer: This customer is happy with the product, service or company. Often these people seek out venues for suggesting new products or enhancements to an existing product.
  • The Customer Advocate: These customers talk about a brand, product or service without incentives, even if the brand isn’t paying attention. They talk about the brand because of how it makes them feel or of its value to their lives. 
  • The Future Customer: This customer, also known as the prospect, is one of the reasons CRM systems came into existence. They can either be new customers or customers who are considering an upgrade to a new product or service.

Content, Commerce & Community

Often times, acting wisely when it comes to engagement seems as simple as putting yourself in the customer's shoes. And while that may be true, this year we also learned that it takes a bit of finesse to squeeze into them. If you're finding this part of the shift to be particularly difficult, or don't know where to start, worry not. Experts like Kevin Carlson of Optaros have determined moments with exceptional opportunity for success:

Three major components of today's customer experience management efforts are the three "C's": Content, Community and Commerce. It goes without saying that all three are important for success in today's world of online commerce, but all too many implementations are ineffective because they ignore an unspoken, and perhaps the most important "C", the Convergence of each of these key areas.

Where each of the primary C's overlap, there is great opportunity for synergies to be created that drive customer behavior, increase conversions and build brand confidence. 

In his article "Customer Experience: Where Content, Commerce & Community Collide", Carlson defines these convergent areas like so:

  • Content & Community: This involves integrating the process by which your organization creates content with the process of interacting with your community. This way, customers feel involved and up to date. Those responsible for community management are like the company's eyes and ears, and should be an integral part of this area.
  • Content & Commerce: We're all familiar with the necessity of great catalog information, but the social customer has taken this section a bit further with personal reviews. All too often companies put a firewall between inbound site content and marketing that leads to missed opportunities to leverage great things that are being said about a company or product, as well as the opportunity to encourage them. 
  • Community & Commerce: Here's where platforms such as Facebook and Twitter shine-- and the list is growing. Carlson recommends making sure you have a team of commerce savvy and social network aware individuals exploring these new areas of engagement on a constant basis. 
  • Content, Community & Commerce: Ah, the holy grail. To pinpoint this intersection, one must have close collaboration between marketing, technology, content management and community management staff. If you've got great internal collaboration between these divisions, taking market needs as well as consumer desires to the next level becomes a much more attainable goal. 

"This may seem obvious to many, but all too often the obvious is overlooked while focusing on the 'bright and shiny' aspect of only one of the three Cs," says Carlson in closing. "Whatever direction your company takes, understand the choices and, with apologies to Indiana Jones, make sure to choose wisely."

The Challenges with Culture Change 

While the rise of Customer Experience has certainly been exciting, the newness of it all provided 2011 with its fill of challenges as well. If it wasn't a total underestimation of difficulty, it was trouble accepting that the customer now absolutely comes first, or getting the context right, or knowing which metric to measure. 

In "Customer Experience Challenges: Why Maintaining an Outside-in Approach is Tougher than it Seems", Hank Barnes of Adobe tackles some of these common obstacles: 

  • Technology is second to the customer: While technology is an invaluable tool for building a customer-centric organization, companies should be cautious not to get caught in the vicious cycle of continuously adding more features to their solution stacks without asking themselves, “Why do we (or our customers) need this?”
  • Keep interfaces simple: We've associated compelling user experiences with flashy productions for a long time now, but these days too many bells and whistles make consumers dizzy. 2011 proved that simple but compelling interfaces see way more success (see Twitter), so it’s important to keep in mind that experiences don’t need to be showy-- just obvious. 
  • Get the context right: Thanks to the rise of myriad mobile devices, context has moved up a few notches. This year Gartner released a study that claims context-aware technologies will affect US$ 96 billion of annual consumer spending worldwide by 2015. The study also says that context-aware technology will primarily shift consumer spending from one competitor to another. In Barnes's words, "...every customer interaction has the potential to be detoured with moment of truth marketing: Get the context right and you’ve either retained or gained a new customer; get it wrong, and you’ve probably lost a sale." 

The Journey is the Destination

No matter which way you slice it, we've got our work cut out for us in the years to come. But it's that very work, and more specifically the way we go about doing it, that's going to help us reach CXM nirvana. So take the advice above and once you've gotten the hang of their different moods, start framing your operations in a customer-first manner. Gauge and implement the right levels of technology (not too complicated!) and from there it should be a swan dive into context awareness, which will surely help with that whole convergence bit.