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Building an adaptive customer experience ecosystem

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15th Jan 2013
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“Companies can harness the data exhaust of product usage and turn it into powerfully useful information to help customers succeed at their goals.”

So says Forrester analyst Paul Hagen in his recent blog post, explaining that firms need to rethink how they operate to capitalize on these opportunities. They must reassess marketing and support roles, as well as the separations between front and back office – both of which have very powerful impacts on customer experience, he says.

Hagen draws on two articles to explore how customer experience leaders can reinvent their firm’s operations. In his Accelerate! article, John Kotter argues that companies must build a parallel second operating system for the organization that more nimbly adapts to rapid change and disruption.

A second Harvard Business Review article, Adaptability: The New Competitive Advantage, provides three imperatives for thinking about this new operating system, which Hagen has adapted into a customer experience context:

Use key customer journeys to align stakeholders across the customer experience ecosystem. The quality of every customer experience depends on a complex interdependent ecosystem of employees, partners, processes, policies, and technology. Firms like USAA, Apple, salesforce.com, and Starwood Hotels are firms that do a good job of orchestrating across the ecosystem.

USAA has identified approximately 100 key experiences associated with customer journeys like buying a car or preparing to deploy abroad, all of which have owners and cross-functional teams held accountable for underlying processes. For one of those key experiences (the “car-buying” circle), the company manages auto dealership relationships on behalf of customers, understanding that customer hesitation haggling with dealers for pricing slows its ability to provide loans and sell insurance.

Read and act on customer signals. Your customer insights team and voice of the customer (VoC) program are vanguards of this effort. I’m not talking just satisfaction surveys — customer understanding doesn’t come just from spreadsheets and data crunching. Instead, I’m talking about a robust program that takes a holistic approach to understanding customer sentiments and needs through qualitative research that identifies unspoken or latent needs (e.g., unsolicited feedback, observational field research) as well as quantitative research (e.g., surveys, online behavioral analysis, sentiment analysis, transactional analysis).

Experiment frequently by co-creating products and services. An effective way to ensure that experiences meet customers' needs is to bring customers and frontline employees into the design process through co-creation. When they are face-to-face with a design team, customers can provide valuable input, including firsthand accounts of what they want, seeds of ideas to build upon, and feedback for real-time prototyping.

“Many firms seek to differentiate on customer experience. The ones that will succeed will adapt the way they go to market. Some firms unable to shift culturally may wind up purchasing smaller start-up companies with a more flexible operational and technology stack that will cannibalize the less nimble entity,” he concludes.

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