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Why Good Is Not Good Enough: What I Learned at Forrester CX Forum

Last week, I ventured to Anaheim, CA, for Forrester Research’s Why Good Is Not Good Enough conference. I wanted to find out how, in a world of same-day e-commerce, self-driving cars and ubiquitous Wi-Fi, the stewards of the world’s top brands were managing to keep their customers happy.
CXW_Brochure_COVER_finalAcross the two days, mic’ed-up presenters and tweeting colleagues agreed that customer experience (CX) couldn’t be left to chance. Like any business asset, it must be monitored, measured and optimized in accordance with shifting market demands. And now that we’re a few years into the optimizing, we sense that “good” just won’t cut it anymore.
But despite the agreement, two distinct camps emerged; one asserting that as customer demands grow, brands must keep pace by exerting maximum control over experiences, even extending their influence beyond traditional boundaries and into external ecosystems. The other held that doing too much planning and seeking too much control was impractical and unwise. Organizations should instead pursue a more enlightened path of responsiveness, flexibility and empowerment.
So who’s right? Here are my six takeaways from the conference…
#1. Mastering CX is not easy. Forrester VP John Dalton opened with a story of Walt Disney, pioneer of experiences for the pint-sized customer. Despite years of planning and a drive to control every detail, Disneyland’s opening was a near-disaster. On that sweltering day in 1955, throngs of parents and children endured hours-long wait times for rides. Newly paved asphalt melted under the July sun, devouring ladies’ heels. A plumber’s strike deprived the park of drinking water and a gas leak required much of it to be closed. Negative press followed. But Disney stayed true to his vision and eventually things turned around. With this tale, Mr. Dalton seemed to suggest: if Walt Disney had trouble with this customer experience thing, maybe the rest of us should lighten up a bit. As in most situations, progress is better than perfection.

“If Walt Disney had trouble with this customer experience thing, maybe the rest of us should lighten up a bit.” (tweet this)


#2. Firms are getting better at CX delivery. Forrester’s Megan Burns took the stage to talk about CX maturity. She reported that the concept of customer experience, which Forrester has tracked since 2007 with its annual Customer Experience Index, has now reached its gangly adolescence years. While great experiences are still rare (hence the title of the conference) truly awful ones are on the decline. Until recently, few organizations knew that measuring their CX maturity was something they should, or even could, do. Now with eight years of data as evidence, she offered three “universal drivers” for CX maturity and loyalty:

  • Make customers feel valued.
  • Resolve customer issues and problems quickly.
  • Talk to customers in plain language.

#3. We’re all competing with the best. Katy Keim of Lithium Social Web spoke about the social media revolution and its impact on customer experience. Noting that “CX = delivery – expectation,” Ms. Keim neatly distilled the challenge to its essence. As customer expectations have become more and more “extreme,” firms find it harder to stay ahead of their customers’ needs. And when it comes to expectations, companies no longer compete only with others in their industries. Instead they go head-to-head with the Netflixes, Ubers and Amazons of the world. These brands have redefined what customers should want, and in doing so, have recalibrated the CX benchmark for every category. Increasingly, firms that fail to live up to these extreme expectations will been seen as “unresponsive.”
#4. Control yourself — and your ecosystem. Forrester’s Rick Parrish told us that it was not enough to map and manage the customer journey. Rather, the world has grown sufficiently complex and customers sufficiently demanding to require that firms control their ecosystems. Mr. Parrish described how Delta Air Line’s bold goal to become the “no-cancellation airline” stemmed from observation of a top flyer pain point: the canceled flight. Following through on this vision therefore required the company to remove the factors that led to cancellations—factors were outside the airline’s control. To get there, Delta created new retooling technologies, bought a fuel refinery and developed data systems for predicting hub delays, among other initiatives. The result has been a precipitous drop in flight cancellations, far outpacing competitors and sending Delta to the top of Forrester’s CX Index.
#5. Responsiveness trumps planning. While Mr. Parrish spoke of control, a counter theme took shape. Yammer co-founder Adam Pisoni argued that control was, in fact, an illusion left over from a bygone era: 150 years of industry locked in a relentless quest for efficiency and predictability. Once laudable goals have faded into quaint reminders of a time when institutions called the shots and customers did not. For Pisoni, the desire for such control actually prevents organizations from keeping up with customers. Instead, the answer is to become more “responsive.” Trading in the instruments of “planning, control and secrecy” and adopting a new mindset based in “experimentation, empowerment and transparency” would better serve managers and their customers. In doing so, a firm achieves levels of flexibility and responsiveness that prepares it for anything that might come its way.
#6. Want loyalty? Get emotional. Ryan C. Green, marketing exec at Southwest Airlines, described how the company approached its recent brand reboot using a deeply customer-centric approach. Many ideas were considered and tested, including overhauling the identity and switching to more business-like all-white planes. But after much conceptual exploration, the airline decided to retain its core elements, including its distinctive multi-colored liveries and heart icon. Analysis showed that eliminating these elements would rob the brand of its personality and would ultimately have a negative impact on brand loyalty. Mr. Green emphasized the role emotion plays in conveying differentiation saying, “they gave us permission to change, so long as we stayed true to our valuable brand equities and differentiators — the colors and our Heart.”
So what to do? To be sure, firms must continue to measure CX capability and optimize its output. But increasingly they will need to bring more emotion and distinctiveness to the experiences they offer, using the power of design to break through “the good” en route to customer experience greatness.

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David Stallsmith

David has expertise in applying user insight and design thinking methods to solve complex customer experience, marketing, and employee engagement challenges. He’s an accomplished strategist with extensive experience across a range of industries, notably branded manufacturing, technology, financial services, retail, and healthcare.

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