What Would You Tell Steve Jobs About Customer Experience?

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When I joined the financial services team at Forrester in 2000, my boss made me write a report about how the financial services was going to change. He wanted some far-reaching, “seminal” report on the industry. I predicted — and I guess to some extent, prescribed — that the industry should “atomize”, that is, deconglomerate into smaller, highly-focused, organizations.

In other words, the exact opposite of what Citigroup was doing in 2000.

I received a call from a client at Citi, who said “Interesting report. If I get you a meeting with [then-CEO] Sandy Weill, will you stand behind these predictions and prescriptions as it pertains to us?”

I should have said yes, but I think I said no. Probably didn’t matter, it’s unlikely I would really have gotten that chance.

But one thing I’ve carried around with me since that interaction was the following acid test, as it pertains to comments, predictions, and prescriptions I make: Would I say that to Sandy Weill? In other words, would I go in front of a Fortune 500 CEO with what I’m saying?

I was reminded of this this morning when I saw the following tweet about “customer experience” (I’m pretty sure it was uttered by a speaker at a customer experience conference):

Self-sustaining customer-centric experience and processes is the ultimate stage in the CXP journey.

So…would you say that to Sandy Weill? Or, to be more current, to Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, or Jeff Bezos?

Ballmer would throw you out on your delusional ass. Jobs would probably be a lot more polite about it. Bezos might even engage you on the topic for a while. But I’m willing to bet that all three of them — not to mention Sandy Weill — would think the same thing I did when I saw that statement: WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT MEAN?

This is actually a common reaction I have to a lot of the discussion in the customer experience world. It’s a lot of meaningless platitudes about how oh-so-important the customer experience is (which, oddly enough I believe), but nothing concrete about what customer experience management really is. And just as importantly, what it isn’t.

I recently saw a blog post that defined customer experience as “the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods or services.”

Well, that certainly helps us narrow it down, doesn’t it?

This is the problem with the whole customer experience management thing: There’s no there there.

Oh, there’s no shortage of consumer-based research that purports to show how critical the “customer experience” is to customer loyalty. But, from a management experience, if this so-called experience is the “sum of all experiences” how does a firm get its arms around managing and improving that “experience.”

Even worse, how does a firm expect one individual — a so-called Chief Customer Experience Officer — to do anything about it?

At best, in many firms, what passes for “customer experience management” is nothing but web site design. Want proof? Here’s a tweet from an Asst VP of Customer Experience at a very well respected financial institution (like that doesn’t give it away):  “All this focus on web sites feels outdated. We need to talk about distributing experiences across channels.”

In other words, all this talk about cross-channel customer experience management is just that — talk.

The common thread in the “sum of all experiences” is that there are underlying business processes supporting and delivering that experience. I didn’t say there’s always a well-defined, smoothly-running business process.

The key to making customer experience management something real isn’t “distributing experiences across channels” — it’s reviving the lost art and science of reengineering.

Twenty years ago, reengineering, or business process redesign, was the buzzword du jour. Everybody was doing it (no exaggeration). It devolved into a codeword for layoffs, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Many firms learned how to analyze process flows, redesign those flows, and improve the efficiency of business processes.

But those efforts didn’t always improve the effectiveness of the processes. What was missing was the customer perspective.

We need reengineering today. Not only because we need to bring the customer perspective to bear, but because twenty years ago, few(er) customer interactions happened online, and even fewer in the mobile channel. It’s bad enough we don’t have cross-channel processes, what passes as online processes are more often rooted in site design than process design.

The necessary ingredient to making customer experience management something real isn’t more web site designers, it’s more people with a Six Sigma background.

The thinking behind making customer experience management something real isn’t “self-sustaining customer-centric experiences and stages in the CXP journey.” It’s improving business processes.

And THAT I would take to Sandy Weil or Steve Jobs.

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