Anjali Lai, senior analyst at Forrester, on stage with a big green screen behind her presenting on Tuesday, June 7, 2022 at the Forrester CX North America conference in Nashville, Tenn.
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Providing Customer Experience In Times of Crisis — Again

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Forrester kicked off its CX North America conference this week with a keynote message that reports many challenges for CX leaders.

NASHVILLE — Customer experience leaders should think about the people in their organizations and their brand purpose. And, ultimately, answer this question: what is the relationship between the two?

Anjali Lai, senior analyst at Forrester, shared those thoughts in her opening keynote from the Forrester CX North America conference Tuesday morning from the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.

It may sound daunting to connect purpose and people. Or you may have the answer, Lai said.

Bottom line? Its crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and the ones with which CX leaders currently contend — war, economic uncertainty, inflation, supply chain woes, political division — that can be a “catalyst for change” in transforming how companies service customers, Lai said.

Lai shared a comment from Milton Friedman:

“Only a crisis, actual or perceived, produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.”

For CX Leaders, the Struggle Is Real

The change opportunity may be there, but CX leaders are still struggling to turn that opportunity into positive outcomes, as evidenced by Forrester’s CX Index 2022, released this week. Forrester opened up the week on stage Tuesday morning with this sobering news, in fact.

Sharyn Leaver, chief research officer at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester, shared with the audience in her conference-opening keynote that she was hoping to open things up with an inspirational message of how brands have come out of the pandemic “way better than we went into this.”

“Unfortunately,” she said, “I can’t do that.”

Oh my. Doom and gloom theme for the company’s first in-person CX North America event since 2019?

Numbers tell the story. While brands saw gains in customer experience quality in 2021, it dropped in 2022, as indicated by the Forrester CX Index reported by CMSWire today.

What holds CX leaders back from improving CX at their brands? Mike Proulx, vice president, research director, at Forrester, discussed brands having trouble fixing the fundamentals like a municipality would with potholes. Why aren’t brands responding to fundamental customer needs like:

  • A sub shop chain not having a free cookie when a loyal customer earned it
  • Not sending the right leggings ordered online
  • A restaurant doing away with lima beans despite customers being fans and yearning for a comeback

Why?

Proulx cited numbers from CX leaders and brands that may explain why:

  • 1 in 5 don’t understand customer friction points
  • 35% say they are limited by a lack of resources
  • And nearly half don’t feel it’s important to fix these fundamental issues

Proulx found these disappointing. He suggested deep dives into customer journeys to determine your company’s “pothole” and discover points of delight you want to amplify. Assemble an agile team to solve those friction points.

And take your existing voice of the customer (VoC) strategies from listening and responding mode to co-creating responses with your customers. Take a constituent marketing approach to reaffirm brand values.

But be ready — the culture war isn’t ending any time soon.

“The culture war is dividing your consumers,” Proulx said. “And it’s only going to get worse with mid-term elections just five months away.” 

Related Article: If Bad Customer Experience Were a Hit Country Song...

Learning Opportunities

Coming out of the Pandemic in CX Like...

What do all of these forces mean to CX professionals?

Nichole Devolites, director of customer operations at SecureAuth Corporation, called it an interesting phenomenon that many companies scrambled to get as many new customers as they could for the first three quarters (at least) of 2020. They staffed up sales instead of focusing on keeping customers from churning. It’s a natural instinct to stockpile money, especially when the brief crash of the stock market happened a few months in, Devolites told CMSWire.

“Thus, customer spend in a time when everyone was cutting way back, decreased significantly and at first, it made sense: no one could travel, there weren’t trade shows, etc.,” she added. “But after a year of webinars and video calls, people had had enough of always being ‘on,’ seeking new forms of stimulation to keep them engaged in what felt like longer work days. This equates to a higher cost per customer."

It wasn’t until Q4 2021 and Q1 of this year that companies across many industries started staffing up on the CX and customer support side of the house when churn was happening at an alarming rate, she added.

This churn is mostly related to competitive pressure where:

  • Enterprise vendors can afford a higher cost-per-customer, willing to give away additional products for free or near-free, or...
  • There’s a competitive advantage with a newer vendor that makes the customer experience easier/more efficient at an attractive price.

“The reality is, we are all burnt out as employees yet demand the best foot forward as customers,” Devolites said. “That push and pull, along with corporate fund depletion, people quitting their jobs at a high rate for better pay, culture and benefits as well as the volatility of the stock market, all factor into the need to do more with less and customers are feeling it.”

Related Article: How CIOs Define Innovative Customer Experience

Consumer Brands Appropriately Struggling

Devolites said she was not surprised to see some consumer brands (such as transportation and hospitality) struggling in Forrester reporting due to the long-tail COVID “effects” of employees being laid off or furloughed at the beginning, then not wanting to come back, mainly due to a lack of increase in wages and less time at home.

“This means,” she said, "those that are still working at these brands are pulling double or even triple the duty to keep things 'up and running.' In cases like this, you go into ‘survival mode,’ which means the no-frills, basic experience that customers no longer accept."

Financial brands, meanwhile, had no choice: they are managing people’s money, and with this kind of market volatility. And, coupled with panic-inducing headlines in the media, they have a lot of upset/fearful customers that require superb customer support to help their customers work through the best options for their money, she added.

Three Ways to Support Increasing Customer Satisfaction

Devolites is thinking of minor adjustments to support incrementally increasing customer satisfaction without breaking the bank in three fundamental ways:

  • Enable creativity: We’re over the long webinars, the long documentation and the long videos. Create short bites that are easy to consume and set up drip campaigns to support getting that information out there. Get creative. These days, everyone wants to be entertained, even if it’s a how-to video. 
  • Go through your customer journey and fine-tune it: Think it’s perfect? Think again. There are always internal misalignments and bad handoffs. Go through it, refine it and retrain your staff. Put out CSATs during those journeys, use that feedback and improve, even if it’s minor.
  • Segment your customer base so that it’s manageable: These days, digital touch customers can account for up to 60% of your customer base. Use what you have at your disposal (email blasts, a community, etc.) and ensure you are on a great cadence for communication. The other 40% are paying more and will expect more. Assign an executive sponsor to top-tier customers, have an at-risk program so that cross-department teams can work together to solve issues and have invite-only groups that customers can join.

“Small shifts can always be made and can potentially have an impact, but what customers are expecting/demanding is the same things demanded of them, thereby exacerbating the cycle,” Devolites added. "How will you make my life easier? Will you respond as fast as possible? What will you provide me to keep me happy or else I’m leaving? What are you going to do to wow me, never mind the cost?"

One of the worst things about all of this," Devolites explained, "is we have developed ourselves into a rewards-based culture: the more we spend, the more we expect. It’s not realistic in today’s market when virtually everyone is scrambling to staff up resources.”