What Would You Tell Steve Jobs About Customer Experience?

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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8 thoughts on “What Would You Tell Steve Jobs About Customer Experience?

  1. Great post. I agree. Theories and pie-in-the-sky platitudes are pretty meaningless until they hit the real world with concrete and discrete front-line action steps.

    And btw, as much as I’ve been a user of Apple products since 1984, I don’t think Steve Jobs would be any nicer than Steve Ballmer in throwing you out on your butt if what you delivered were meaningless platitudes. As example, Jobs/Apple seem pretty Orwellian when they hunt down leaks.

  2. CX is dramatically undervalued today.

    I can talk to some dramatic turnarounds I’ve seen/experienced by simply fixing a broken journey or customer experience, which have been extremely profitable for the banks and service organizations that were the focus of the improvement.

    However, despite the success of such initiatives, the fact that most organizations don’t have someone ultimately responsible for the customer experience, the fact is that such organizational learning basically gets lost because it’s not a key metric.

    The fact is mobilizing changing across the organization to improve CX is really hard work, thus it needs to start with the CEO.

    Great post Ron!.


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  4. I agree that improving business processes can help customer experience, but I believe that BPM can only go so far.

    What I believe is just as (maybe more) important is a culture that fosters a great CX. Improved business processes will not make up for a culture that doesn’t put the customer first. Processes are only as good as the people who manage and perform them.

    There’s definitely a fog around the concept and practice of customer experience management. Something that broad makes it hard to wrap your head around and even harder to try and “manage.”

    A marriage of continually improved business processes with a “customer-centric” (had to throw that in, for laughs) culture would go a long way in creating remarkable customer experiences. I beat this drum a lot, but Zappos is a perfect example of that marriage working to create loyal customers and financial success.

  5. Tim: Thanks for commenting. Appreciate you taking the time and effort to do it.

    I agree 100% that BPM can only go so far. But just as BPM has its limits, culture w/o efficient processes isn’t really any better.

    So, I’m with you that “a marriage of continually improved business processes with a “customer-centric” culture would go a long way.”

    But, I do think that “putting customers first” is a meaningless platitude. What firms wrestle with — to oversimplify it — is efficiency versus effectiveness. For certain processes/interactions/transactions, designing a process that takes the least time/cost may be the best thing for the firm, but not the customer (example: Call time). Sometimes it’s right for both the firm and customers. You won’t be in business long if you ignore profitability for the sake of “putting customers first.”

    By design or by accident, Zappos has determined which processes (you might call them experiences) they’re willing to execute less than “efficiently optimal” (where “efficiently optimal” means lowest cost). The result — for them — has been higher effectiveness (i.e., loyalty).

    Other firms can’t get to where Zappos is simply by focusing on “self-sustaining customer-centric experiences in their CXP journey.”

    And I’d be willing to bet that you agree w/ me on that.

  6. Yes, I agree, however “putting customers first” is not meant to be a rule/process, it’s an attitude…a starting point for building a culture.

    As you said, there has to be a balance in everything; you can never focus on just one thing and expect to have long-term success.

    Thanks for replying.

  7. There is another dimension here … age. Old people like Ron (and me) evaluate service in terms of “call time” and length of time to get to resolution using phone and email. Fast forward to a new generation who avoid all that by shifting to a new company that has none of those impediments.

    Of course that new company will eventually be burdened by call centre and customer service issues but in the meantime they will pick up share, while us old guys debate process.

  8. CH: Who you callin’ old? 🙂 You make a good point about how different people evaluate service, but I tend to think of “customer experience” has more than just service. It’s so amorphous, however, that I just can’t agree w/ those CEM proponents who make it out be something “scientific.”

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