bees at work
Customers don't care about the latest trend in marketing speak. They want to know what it is you do and how it helps them. PHOTO: Eric Ward

What’s on your 2018 wish list? Maybe you’re hoping to be more disruptive, improve your win rates, or better manage expectations about your digitally fueled company’s unmatched market-leading capabilities.

I just want to give customers what they want, and when it’s all said and done, I suspect you do, too.

But that’s a challenge these days.

Customers Have High Expectations

In an introductory piece to its annual predictions reports (registration required), Forrester Research warns that customers’ expectations are outpacing companies’ abilities to evolve or invent experiences. In 2018, “30 percent of companies will see further declines in (customer experience) CX performance, and those declines will translate into a net loss of a point of growth," the report warns.

Customers “demand what they demand,” Forrester concludes. “And when companies fail to deliver experience by experience or live up to their brand promise, customers will take flight.”

So what do we do now?

Maybe we should start by refocusing the conversation on actions instead of words. We need to do more and talk less. Most importantly, we need to talk explicitly about the outcomes we want to achieve instead of hiding our confusion in technical jargon and Newspeak.

Say What You Mean

Our words have become murky and unclear, rife with argot. How often have you asked yourself, “What exactly does this company do?” or “How can this help my customers?”

We’re stuck in a muck of buzzwords, happily using adjectives as nouns and nouns as verbs in conversations that tend to confuse more than enlighten.

And all of this threatens to derail the very things we boast about providing: better experiences for customers, employees and everyone else who regularly interacts with our brand.

Think about it: We profess to be customer-focused, even customer-obsessed. We want to create easy, convenient, exceptional experiences and make the best use of every relevant new and existing technology.

But few of these efforts are living up to expectations.

Still Baffled by Digital Transformation

According to data from Altimeter, a San Francisco-based research advisory arm of Prophet, many senior leaders continue to flaunt their commitment to buzzword-worthy concepts like disruption and innovation while doing little to bring about change.

For its third “State of Digital Transformation Report” (registration required), Altimeter surveyed 528 digital transformation executives and digital strategists to understand their current challenges and opportunities

What the study found, according to lead author and Altimeter analyst Brian Solis, is that many companies are still struggling with the technological and human demands of digital transformation. They tend to embrace the concept in fits and starts, making reactive, siloed attempts at change because they lack a clearly defined vision of where they want to go.

What’s more, “politics, egos, and fear” continue to block “the collaboration and solidarity needed within companies to make the changes digital consumers want,” the report concludes.

Moving Beyond Buzzwords

Our patter is louder than our actions.

So here’s my suggestion: As we dig into this new year, let’s resolve to stop using language that obfuscates our goals. Let’s move beyond buzzwords in 2018 — and clear the way for enhanced brand experience.

Here’s a simple two-point action plan to keep in mind whenever you write anything about your company, whether it’s on your website or on a product release.

  1. What does your company do? Explain it clearly and succinctly, in a way someone outside your industry and unfamiliar with your industry jargon can understand. Rather than suggesting that you deliver digital transformation by synergizing best-of-breed, go-to-market solutions for increased high-touch customer engagement and omnichannel experience, just say you make call center software.
  2. Why does your company do what it does? Explain how your company helps its customers operate more efficiently, cost-effectively or conveniently. Focus on the real results it delivers for people. Rather than talking about transformative digital customer experience that surprises and delights, just say you help customers have easy, convenient mobile and desktop shopping experiences.

By eliminating what Tom Goodwin, now head of innovation at Zenith USA, once described as “a fluffy cloud of confusion,” we more accurately describe exactly what we want to accomplish.

Give Your Customers Something Better

Last year, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos made some excellent points around imprecise language in his letter to Amazon shareholders. “Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better.”

But providing that something better requires more than a specialized idiomatic vocabulary.

If someone comes to you with a business plan they claim is disruptive you should ask them to explain it to you in simpler language. And the simpler language is, “Why are customers going to adopt this? Why are they going to like it? Why is it better than the traditional way?” Bezos said.

Why, indeed? That’s a critical question that often goes unanswered, whether you’re walking through the expo hall at a tech conference or simply having a conversation with someone about a new platform or technology.

You’ll typically hear more claims and boasts than simple answers to what is arguably the most important question: Why will this product make life better for my customers, my employees or my company?

Start With Outcomes

To improve our business operations and provide more value for all of our stakeholders, we have to start with outcomes in mind. We need to not only know what we want to accomplish, but also remain focused on it.

We have to be willing to talk simply about using technologies in new and better ways to improve convenience, efficiency or accessibility — to the extent that those things support our desired outcomes.

Most of all, we have to better frame our questions. Instead of spouting buzzwords, we should demonstrate empathy, listen intently and think about customer pain points. Combined with a sincere commitment to serve our customers, that will clear the way to better brand experiences.