Compromising Experience

We spend billions of dollars on customer and product strategy, branding, creative, marketing and sales each year. Certainly, our approaches are well researched. Certainly, they have been heavily contemplated by a lot of smart people.

So, why do we consistently produce experiences which short-change the customer?

Perhaps one reason is that our corporate operational infrastructures often prevent design from becoming reality. Departmental silos, competing priorities, technology constraints, breakdowns in communication and process, operational inefficiencies are all enemies of creating positive customer experiences.

- Technology may require integration, fixes and/or work-arounds
- Data issues may drive segmentation or modeling adjustments
- Cost constraints may limit execution within channels

There are a myriad of legitimate factors that drive compromise. However, each change can also also work to undermine customer experience by limiting, changing or disconnecting customer access or altering touch dynamics and dialog. Compromise can also work to cumulatively undermine business cases, which can result in wasted investment. Left unchecked and unchallenged, compromises and "quick fixes" can also become institutional legacies that can create problems on a broader scale. Consider these real-life scenarios:

Sorry, sir, I can't find that offer in my system.
One of my clients, a top media and entertainment company, encountered problems tracking call-center offer response. Under scrutiny, it became clear that the company had no policy mandating the load of new offer information into the call center's offer management system.

Evidently, loading data into the system had become a cumbersome task, which bottle-necked at one individual inside the company. As a "temporary work around,” marketers started issuing flyers to the call center instead. These provided instructions for manual offer assembly and/or coding.

Imagine the flyers, piling up and falling off message boards and desktops. Imagine the customer, waiting for a representative to locate a flyer. Not only did this undermine order tracking, customers who called in to respond to offers were often met with seemingly clueless customer care representatives. Not good.

The entire mess originated with a broken process for loading and managing offer data. This resulted in a silo-based, “band-aid” solution for one campaign, which soon became a common, lazy practice. Left unchecked, this created much broader problems for the customer and the organization.

Sorry ma'am, we can't match our own offers

Last month, I bought a new laptop. I poured through a retailer's glossy (and expensive) direct mail catalog. This successfully drove me to the retailer’s web site, where, like a majority of computer purchasers, I did some research and competitive shopping. Later, secure with my choice, I walked in to the same retailer’s pleasantly remodeled store to see, touch and purchase my computer. However, in the store, my cross-channel experience fell apart.

The computer's unit pricing on the web matched the local store’s pricing. However, the purchase incentives (worth $300) did not. With reluctance, the salesman explained, "Our retail stores are not allowed to match offers from our web site”. I responded with disbelief. He responded with embarrassment, acknowledging that I wasn't the first customer to be frustrated by the policy and irritated with the brand.
When experiences are allowed to break down at fundamental levels, all the vision, strategy, creative, branding, technology, messaging and tap-dancing in the world won't help your brand. It is the cumulative customer experience which makes the indellible impression on the customer; that people share with family and friends; that drives brand success -- or failure.

Certainly, we dwell in a complex and real world. Our own corporate infrastructures can serve as unwitting opponents. Many of us are not empowered to fix some of the problems that most impact customers - and we fight many uphill battles. While can't solve every operational problem over night, we can employ more rigor to minimize the impacts of compromise on the customer.

Drive disciplined, accountable, comprehensive strategic planning

• Position all stakeholders as accountable customer experience agents
• Drive more efficient collaboration across departments & channels
• Plan around significant limitations in advance

Encourage and reward customer-centric dialog and process
• Use visuals and maps to document flow, touch & timing
• Identify & prioritize operational barriers
• Engage leadership to crush customer satisfaction barriers

Walk a mile (or two) in the customer's shoes
• Build awareness customer profiles, priorities & needs
• Incorporate all channels at an appropriate level
• Conduct experience walk-throughs at key phases to identify issues

Carefully evaluate the impact of change
• Don't be bullied into compromise
• Make sure impacts are fully considered
• Don't allow quick fixes to become surrogates for real solutions to customer problems

Measure and track the impact of change on the customer experience
• Document changes & impacts thoroughly
• Identify individuals who drive or mandate compromise
• Incorporate changes into business cases & maps for executive review

Following these suggestions will help drive additional accountability and motivate each contributor to think and behave in a customer centric manner. Collectively, this can help prevent a culture of compromise from consistently short-changing the customer -- and the brand.


Anonymous said...

This is all good stuff and I agree. At my company, however, the executives I work with just don't get it! We can have all the plans in the world, but if IT blocks us from getting out the experience in a timely manner, then what good is it? We're often held hostage and have to compromise experience just to get any campaigns out!!! And I don't work at a rinky-dink organization, either! It's amazing we get anything done, frankly. - YS

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I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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