The good news: Businesses understand that taking care of the customer experience is just one of the requirements of doing business today and surviving to see tomorrow. 

The bad news: Businesses continue to treat customer experience as a standalone concern, rather than as a holistic approach. 

When you think customer experience, do you think "obesity epidemic"? Didn't think so. But Forrester analyst Rick Parrish made the argument last week at the Forrester Customer Experience Forum in New York City that just as the obesity epidemic is a product of its ecosystem, so too is customer experience a result of every interaction a person has with a brand.

Stalled Customer Experience 

With so many companies adopting customer experience strategies and in some cases setting up dedicated customer experience teams, why are their efforts falling short? The conference title gives it away -- "Why Good Is Not Good Enough." 

Assuming that your company is offering a solid product, the way to differentiate from competitors is through any interactions the customer has with your brand. But as several presenters noted, when it comes to customer experience, your competition is no longer the company offering similar services and products, its the best experience that customer has had with a company. The majority of companies rated in Forrester's latest Customer Experience Index provide OK to good service -- 42 percent and 37 percent respectively -- so it is up to companies to aim for excellence.

From Forrester Report: The Customer Experience Ecosystem Redefined

What's the monkey wrench? Turns out what's holding companies back are ... the companies. Their culture, their procedures, their organizational silos, their principles, their focus. 

What to Do?

The companies that distinguish themselves align the entire business behind the customer. This requires fundamental changes throughout the organization and beyond. The broader customer experience involves: 

the web of relations among all aspects of a company — including its customers, employees, partners, and operating environment — that determine the quality of the customer experience." from The Customer Experience Ecosystem Redefined by Rick Parrish with John Dalton and Corey Stearns

While managing a change of that scope can be daunting, companies have a not so secret resource in place that can serve them well: their employees.

  • Mercedes-Benz put every employee behind the wheel of its cars for a few days so they could get to know the product. It cost the company $4M. Before the launch of one of its cars, the company created a discretionary fund for employees to access in order to help solve customer issues.  
  • Verizon recognized that its systems and processes were getting in the way of employees helping customers. As part of its new focus, it trained 15,000 employees across organizational departments, initiated 1550 projects and in that process identified 15 items where the company fell short in customer expectations.
  • Delta Airlines made a fundamental change to its vision, culture and operating environment all driven by customer's answers to the question "would you prefer a delayed flight or a cancelled flight?" When it made the decision to become the no cancelled flight airline, Delta instituted customer experience training for every employee who interacts with customers. After the completion of training, these employees were given autonomy to make decisions for customers as they happened. 

While $4 million investments and discretionary funds might be out of reach for many companies the fundamental lessons still apply: education and trust. When built on the foundation of training and education, the trust factor is key -- how many times have you heard "I'm sorry, but I am not able to do that" when interacting with a customer service representative? Allow your employees the autonomy to make in the moment decisions, free them from the tyranny of the script, lift the restrictions between departmental interaction and information sharing, and enable them (enable, not empower) to act using their own judgement. 

Training and trust won't shift your entire ecosystem, but it's a solid place to start. As Mercedes-Benz President and CEO Stephen Cannon said, "your customer experience follows your employee experience."