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Look Up! Perspectives on Customer Experience

By Jill Roussy, Partner, Spark Ideas Inc. and Shaun Little, Consultant

Stop, take a moment, and look up from today’s reports, plans, forecasts and results. Think of five marketers you know and respect.  It doesn’t matter what company, sector, or specialization; just consider what they might be doing right now to help drive their organizations forward.  Now, imagine you have two questions to ask them.

First you ask, “How do you ensure your brand is relevant to your customers?”

Then you follow with, “Who do you think provides a great customer experience?”

How much overlap would you expect in the two answers?   Do the two questions draw on the same core insights? 

CMA’s Integrated Marketing & Customer Experience Council asked exactly these questions to a diverse group of Canadian marketers and other customer-focused leaders.  Below is what we found out.

Our Q & A was illuminating, and not necessarily through the actual answers.  What was striking was how a small change in viewpoint can have a powerful impact on the ways marketing leaders think about customers. In short, when marketers think about customers, it can make a world of difference to start by thinking of those that are not their own.

In response to detailed questions on the management of brand relevance, the answers were not surprising.  We found that generally, marketing leaders run a disciplined ship.  They paint a comprehensive picture of the research, tracking and service monitoring that they conduct in their organizations.  This ensures that, first, their brand propositions start from a valid set of customer-friendly attributes, and then that their ongoing program planning and management delivers successfully against these criteria.

Marketers are also able to provide immediate and detailed feedback on what obstacles they face in keeping their brands relevant.  This rogues’ gallery is filled with familiar faces:  inconsistent data, resource shortages, channel confusion, budget constraints, buy-in issues, knowledge and training challenges.

So, no revelations there.

The inflection point, however, comes at the moment our marketers look up, look out and look away from their own house.  What happens is that they take a deep breath and at an almost instinctive level, begin to think big.

Before we look at this, let’s take a moment to go back to the idea of customer experience.

Management vs. Customer perspective

We know that the difference in perspective between an organization’s management view looking outward and the customer’s view looking inward is a continuing challenge.

At the 2010 CMA Direct Marketing Conference, Spark Ideas and CVM Marketing described this stark difference.  While a vast majority of organizations feel they deliver a great experience, only a small minority of customers actually think they’ve had one:


Given advances in customer-focused marketing practice since Bain & Company did this original research in 2005, and given a more intense focus generally on the management of customer experience as a marketing discipline, would we expect the situation to have improved?

Unfortunately, as Forrester Research reported at its Customer Experience Forum in June 2011, only a third of the 153 major North American brands tracked in the Forrester Customer Experience Index 2011 delivered even a “good” experience to consumers, and only seven per cent reached an “excellent” level.


Source:  Forrester Research Inc./North American Technographics* Customer Experience Online Survey, Q4 2009, Q4 2010, (U.S.)
Base:  153 large North American brands scored in Forrester’s Customer Experience Index, 2011, and 133 large North American brands scored in Forrester’s Customer Experience Index, 2010; % may not total 100 because of rounding

There are clearly many causes and drivers behind this disparity between the perspective of the organization and that of their customers, and we’re not about to resolve all of these here.  Let’s not make it about organizational negligence or limited vision – suffice it to say simply that the two groups see things differently, and they evaluate the customer experience on different terms.  What are these terms?  Returning to the 2010 CMA conference presentation, Spark and CVM used a simple definition:  Customer experience is:

“The sum total of ALL interactions a customer has ever had with your brand:  tangible, visual, emotional, read, blogged, consumed experienced.”

Improving Customer Experience Management (2nd level Head)

With this definition in mind, as well as the challenge outlined by the Bain and Forrester surveys, there are a number of steps an organization can take to improve how it manages its customer experience strategy.

As McKinsey noted in their July, 2011 report entitled, We’re All Marketers Now, the initiatives that leaders need to think about include a shift away from the discrete marketing silo and a dispersion of customer-focused responsibilities throughout the organization to include many different functions and areas: “…companies of all stripes must not only recognize that everyone is responsible for marketing but also impose accountability by establishing a new set of relationships between the function and the rest of the organization… the marketing organization itself needs to become the customer-engagement engine, responsible for establishing priorities and stimulating dialogue throughout the enterprise…”.

In aggregate, the many interactions that make up the customer journey can present a daunting obstacle, even for experienced marketing teams.  Effective and innovative tools can help them meet this challenge and take on the enterprise-wide responsibility for engaging diverse areas from IT to Finance to Human Resources.

Many marketers are starting to make more use of visual tools and “journey maps” to begin the discussion.  By using open and approachable maps and images to represent the stages of customer interaction at various levels, it can become easier for groups across the organization to see how they, in collaboration with the marketing team, are jointly responsible for the customer’s experience. The elegance of these visual tools comes in the fact that they are iterative, and there is no need to have every single piece of data and operational process at hand in order to start.

As a starting point, let’s look to Bruce Temkin, a Forrester contributor and commentator through his blog, Customer Experience Matters.  Bruce offers that one of his most-read posts on customer journey maps was simply an example of how to approach the thinking.  His example, from toymaker LEGO, doesn’t cover business details at all.  To begin thinking like a customer, the LEGO example simply describes the many different elements that make up the experience of taking a plane flight.

Returning to the CMA Q & A, the results tell us that this process of thinking through a customer journey isn’t difficult at all.  On being asked to give examples of excellence in delivering relevant customer experience, marketing leaders responded clearly and simply, citing familiar examples like Apple in order to convey their impressions of intuitive, easy, innovative, integrated, fluid interactions with leading brands.

All mention of research, tracking, customer satisfaction detail fell away.  They were thinking like customers, unimpeded by the weight of their own particular brand management responsibilities. Even more powerful were the examples that marketing leaders provided of their own personal experiences – moments of delight, surprise and reward in being a customer of organizations like Ford, or Porter.

Intuitively, it’s there. All it takes is to stop looking down for a moment at the depth and complexity of your own organization.  There will be time enough for that in the development and delivery.  At the start, think like a customer.  After all, you are one.