Do you have a degree in customer management?

With this question, Harley Manning kicked off his keynote address and set the tone for the Forrester Customer Experience Forum.

While customer experience is being identified as a key for success in many industries, there are no degrees or classes available in this business requirement. How then do you learn what it takes to deliver a customer experience that will differentiate your product or service from your competitors?

Looking from the Outside In

Manning believes he has some insight into this question, gained from 14 years of research into the customer experience by Forrester Research, and he thinks it has a lot to do with perception. Using Copernicus as an example, Manning discussed the potential that a change in perception can unlock. By proving that the Sun, and not the Earth, was the center of the universe, Copernicus revolutionized astronomical thought.

Though a change in perception in customer experience may not have the same revolutionary effects that Copernicus's theory did, it does have the potential to revolutionize your approach to not only your customer, but to how you do business. Which brings us to the title of the forum: "Outside In: The Power Of Putting Customers At The Center Of Your Business."

Rethinking the customer journey from the customer's perspective, clearly mapping out every step of that journey and every interaction that customer has, identifying key points where customer service helps, maintains or fails that customer can help businesses pinpoint key opportunities (i.e. points of failure) to reinvent your approach to customers.

Three Key Needs

Manning breaks down the tenets of customer experience into three key factors: meet needs, make it easy, make it enjoyable. These may sound simple, but achieving this level of simplicity is anything but.

Fill out the forms your customer fills out. Sit in the waiting room they sit in. Drive into the parking lot. Manning urges executives to experience this level of the experience, citing examples of companies that used this approach to great success. He also suggests involving front line employees in these assessments. It is often these people, who interact with customers on a daily basis, who have a clearer idea of what is and isn't working in their roles on the front line. If there was ever a time to hone your listening skills, now would be the time.

The days when the customer's wants and needs could be ignored ended when the first online chatroom started. The level of choice, access to information and availability of online forums to air one's opinion have put to rest any previous misguided notions that the customer does not matter. As Harley Manning reiterated, "You need your customers more than they need you."