person mapping  out a route with camera and book in  frame
PHOTO: Glenn Carstens-Peters

Every business by now understands (or should learn asap) that voice of the customer (VoC) and customer experience programs in general are critically important. According to Forrester VP and research director Harley Manning, “Customers who have a better experience with a company say they’re less likely to stop doing business with the company and more likely to recommend it. Both factors should drive increased growth in customers and increased growth of customer revenue.”

That cause-and-effect seems obvious. But the processes have to be in place in order to build great customer experiences. Voice of the customer and CX programs capture the real user feedback and insights businesses need to create such experiences for their customers and keep them coming back for more.

VoC Programs Gain Momentum

VoC and CX programs are nothing new. I’ve written in past articles about how to turn VoC feedback into action, how leaders in CX separate themselves from the field and what a holistic customer experience practice looks like. However, even though companies have an understanding of CX and VoC, and they realize how important these programs are, many experience a significant amount of challenges building and running these programs.

That said, we've already seen a lot of positive momentum in 2020 with brands creating better experiences for their end users. Forrester’s latest CX Index was a great indication of the progress being made. The Forrester CX Index, now in its sixth year, measures how successfully a company delivers customer experiences that create and sustain loyalty.

You don’t need to delve too deep into the actual research to see the change year-over-year. In fact, you only need to look as far as the headlines from 2019 and 2020.

In 2019, the headline read: The US Customer Experience Index, 2019: Some Small Gains, Widespread Stagnation, No Real Leaders. 2020 painted a much different picture, with the headline: Forrester’s US 2020 Customer Experience Index Reveals CX Quality Improved Dramatically Over The Past Year.

Factors contributing to the increase in scores this year include CX professionals engaging in:

  • Prioritizing high-impact projects.
  • Securing executive buy-in.
  • Evangelizing CX projects across the organization.
  • Designing experiences that emotionally resonate with customers.

The first three bullets, particularly the first two, illustrate an increasing maturity within organizations. And, to the last bullet, designing experiences that emotionally resonate is now even more important than ever given COVID-19 and the moment we are living in.

Related Article: Empathy Fuels Today's VoC Programs

Familiarity Breeds Loyalty?

But what does it mean to design experiences that emotionally resonate with customers? For one, the experiences have to be familiar. Customers will return to brands they know well (and, of course, like). This has been especially true and important during the pandemic and ensuing lockdown policies.

It’s a point that McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski spoke about recently, saying, “I think there's probably [the case of] customers starting to venture out a little bit more, this desire to really go to familiar brands. You saw it in the at-home occasion, center of the store, familiar brands in grocery really benefited as people were staying home. I think that same dynamic is going to be at play as people start to come out looking for familiar [restaurant] brands.”

An experience that emotionally resonates is not enough in and of itself, however. Businesses need to provide truly great experiences, especially given all the new customer journeys that are now being used to ensure safety for employees and customers alike.

Even before COVID-19, brands were already thinking about the importance of new customer journeys. In fact, in one pre-COVID-19 survey, 87% of retailers agreed that new customer journeys — such as curbside pickup — were critical to their businesses. Yet, only 8% had mastered these journeys.

The same can be said for mobile ordering and BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store) experiences. These had been steadily increasing in implementation and usage in recent years, but COVID-19 has really accelerated their evolution.

The trick will be to get these new customer journeys right. And do so early on. If a curbside order has both an easy and clear digital experience (i.e., messaging is clear, all info is available, etc.), and if the orders are delivered on time and in a contactless manner, then customers will keep coming back to that business. But if the experiences aren’t seamless, then customers will find other means or brands that do meet their needs. McKinsey recently published this infographic about how COVID-19 is changing consumer behavior both now, and in the future. One of McKinsey’s findings is that, “Behavior changes are not linear and their stickiness will depend on satisfaction of the new experiences.”

Related Article: The Secret to Actionable VoC and Customer Journey Mapping Programs

Keep the Customer Experience Momentum Going

Customer experiences are clearly trending up in both the pace of evolution and the importance being placed on them at the business level. Brands should keep their foot on the gas throughout the rest of 2020 and in the coming years. With the cost of switching to a competitor essentially zero, customers won’t hesitate to move on if a brand loses sight of their needs.