2008 Top 25 Companies for Customer Experience

Forrester just released their Customer Experience Index for 2008. The study surveyed 4,500 people and asked them to rank 114 companies across 12 industries.

At a high level, the results were relatively sad: Only 11% of companies garnered a rating of "excellent", and 38% percent of firms were rated as “poor” or “very poor.”

This is pretty interesting in a day and age where Harris Research and Forrester say that between 82% and 85% of executives agree that customer experience is critical to competitive advantage and may well be the next competitive battleground over the next three years.

This lackluster performance also suggests an opportunity -- especially if I am correct in repeating a Harvard Business Review claim that a 5% decrease in customer attrition can increase profits by 25%. (Note: I saw that figure and wrote it down and am looking for the specific citation)

What's missing? Well, more than one person or post can cover, but consider this:

If you ask any large company to give you a site map of their website, most could provide one with ease. However, if you asked them to show you a cross-channel experience map that illustrates the "brand journey" for a key customer segment, they'd probably look at you with confusion.

Why does that matter? Well, it could mean a few things. No map may indicate there is no unified or accurate understanding of the actual customer experience that is being delivered. No map may mean there is no truly integrated plan to proactively manage customer experiences across channels. No map may also indicate an inability to unite the vision of leadership with all other "agents of experience" (staff, agencies, third parties, partners, etc.) to drive coordinated execution.

Just consider the incredible channel proliferation we've faced over the past two decades alone. It's enough to make one's head swim. The way we go to market, the way customers shop and the way we all communicate has shifted entirely. As we have attempted to adapt to this raging amount of change, the truth is this: our customer experiences simply evolved over time. Most were never strategically conceived for the environment we live in today...

For the most part, most of today's customer experiences can be likened to a structure that was built one room at a time: The floor plan is a confusing and in places, nonsensical. The many ad-hoc renovations have made the foundation uneven and unstable. Visitors (customers) do their best to navigate the rooms...and sometimes we knock holes in walls to make it easier... but the truth is there are a lot of pitfalls along the way. However, unlike the mansion with only a few doors to the outside -- in real life, our customers can leave easily, whenever they want.

What can we do about this?
Well, Forrester has some good recommendations, and I tend to agree with these. In addition to things like employing "Voice of the Customer" programs, leveraging data mining and BI tools and making customer experience a top priority, I'll add my thought that companies need to start with more fully understanding the true customer experience that is being delivered today.

To do this, I'm a proponent of employing interaction design principles to visually map out the customer experiences we deliver. . "Customer experience maps" are visual diagrams that illustrate the customer journey across channels, including the key linkages, programs, services and critical engagement intersections, where customers decide they'll leave you or love you. By engaging in proactive customer experience mapping companies can better understand the true customer experience, identify the pitfalls that damage relationships and fix what's broken. As they do this, they can begin to more proactively manage the experience, correct operational barriers that damage loyalty and better position themselves as listeners and customer advocates.

Getting back to Forrester's Report, Here are the top 25 performers:

1. Barnes & Noble
2. USAA (credit cards)
3. Borders
4. Amazon.com
5. Hampton Inn/Suites
6. BJ’s Wholesale Club
7. Sam’s Club
8. A credit union (bank)
9. Kohl’s
10. Marriott Hotels & Resorts
11. JCPenney
12. Target
13. Old Navy
14. Holiday Inn Express
15. eBay
16. Southwest Airlines
17. Macy’s
18. Apple
19. Costco Wholesale
20. Toys “R” Us
21. USAA (insurance)
22. CVS
23. Holiday Inn
24. Lowe’s
25. Staples

It's worth mentioning that a lot of the companies at the bottom are within industries that are facing financial hardship (e.g. Financial Services industries, Airlines), although not exclusively. It's easy to see how today's market factors can weigh in to customer experience viewing this report...

However, the good news is that even in a down economy, 58% of customers say they'll pay MORE for a better experience (Forrester also). It's time to get tactical on improving customer experience!

Giving a hat tip to Evelyn So Evelyn So for the link to Forrester's free complimentary research report. Enjoy!

Exp File: Shoe Carnival. Watch for Carnies!

I took a trip to Shoe Carnival in a rare shopping day recently. It turned out to be quite an experience... only in not such a positive way.

It was a quiet Tuesday around noon when I walked into the store. Business was slow, and was the only customer. I walked in to face a large center aisle with smaller shoe aisles branching off to the left and right. Men's shoes were on the left, women's shoes on the right. Children's shoes and clearance items at the back.

It was a pretty standard shoe store, at first glance.

The only other life in the store were two middle age sales guys. As I approached a center display, sales guy #1 quickly approached to ask if I needed help. I thanked him and said that I was just looking. He followed me for a second and reluctantly walked off. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed sales guy #2 eying me from a distance.

As I strolled around the store, the sales guys then began a maneuver I can best describe as "swimming the tank": Taking opposite positions within the store, they began gliding quickly and smoothly around the store and across the aisles. It was like a synchronized dance. They didn't have shoe boxes or inventory in their hands... or any obvious task in mind. It was weird.

As they conducted this coordinated sweep of the store, each one awkwardly passed me several times. When I made eye contact, both returned a rather forced and eager grin. They they were just walking around...watching...staring at ME - the only customer in the store. I began to feel like a single gal at a used car lot -- or a struggling tuna in the center of a shark tank... The whole thing made me feel uneasy.

After a few minutes of this truly bizarre behavior, I it occurred to me that perhaps they thought I was a shoplifter. This thought amused me, and I continued to wander the store - now more fixated on the antics of the sales guys than any of the shoes I saw. However, just when I thought the sales approach could not get much worse, I heard the rattle of an intercom and a very loud announcement that went something like this:

"LADIES!!!! For the next FIIIIIVE minutes only, we're running a special promotion JUST for you! Take FIIIIIVE DOLLARS off your next purchase of ANY pair of LADIES SHOES marked $24.99 or higher - but ONLY when you PURCHASE within the next FIVE MINUTES!"

To my shock, the announcer turned out to be sales guy #1, who passed me at the back of the store as I faced the entrance. He was holding a wireless microphone and he continued with the pitch:

"YES! For LADIES SHOES ONLY, you'll get FIVE DOLLARS OFF each pair marked $24.99 or higher. Ladies Shoes can be found ON THE LEFT SIDE of the store. Remember, to get this incredible deal, REMEMBER it only applies to purchases made within THE NEXT FIIIIIVE MINUTES."

...He then vanished around a corner, but he wasn't done yet. Continuing in a manner I can best describe as a rapid-fire narrative similar to the financial term disclaimers tacked on to the end of car-commercials....

"Please keep in mind that this offer does NOT apply to clearance items and cannot be used with any other special offer."

Now... I like bargains. However, I'm not one for pressure tactics when I'm shopping, and I'm certainly not desperate to save $5 on a pair of shoes. This is especially true when there's a caveat that I MUST find a pair I like, try them on and rush to the register within "FIIIIVE minutes".

In short, I was so turned off, I decided to leave the store. A new customer arrived just before I left. As I passed her, I mentally wished her well.

In retrospect, I realize the reason I don't like Carnivals is not because I don't enjoy thrill rides, games, deals and action. I love the smells of carnivals, and the people and excitement. I like the colors, riding roller coasters, goofing around in fun houses, eating funnel cakes and watching joyful children ride cheezy kiddie rides with cotton candy.

My problem with carnivals is this: I don't like carnival workers. I don't like "Carnies." Now, I mean no offense to any Carnie that may read this post. I am sure there are plenty of very nice, reputable, upstanding and clean Carnies out there, and this doesn't apply to you. Unfortunately, I can only speak only from my own experience, which frankly, may be biased and perhaps tainted by too much television.

For me, the word "Carnie" ushers in the acrid smell of cigarette smoke.... the vision of men with ruddy complexions, missing teeth, mullets, greasy jeans, t-shirts and empty beer bottles...and chubby women with frizzy hair and snug fitting t-shirts. These are people who have had a hard, nomadic life - one that may include a shady background or past incarceration.

The Carnies I have encountered have been mostly creepy. In my minds-eye, I picture a grim, beer bellied Carnie hustling people on to a rickety ride maintained (or controlled) primarily with a greasy wrench ... I also picture slick Carnies luring suckers with a cheap, straw-filled Sponge Bobs: YOURS to WIN!! Just $5 for three throws....Feel the cheapness...the hustle...

It's a bit dramatic, yes. But here's my point:

As an experience architect, it would seem to me that Shoe Carnival, in creating an innovative brick-and-mortar experience would choose to capitalize on some of the more positive aspects of the Carnival environment, rather than the more questionable or negative ones.

Rather than the Carnie-like hard-sell and intimidating sales maneuvers... how about capitalizing on things like the senses: With color, yummy smells, popcorn and music? How about offering easily won games (read: no pressure) that offer the thrill of a bargain? How about driving customer delight with low-pressure service, lighthearted fun and smiles. Maybe balloons for the kids? Based on this incidence, I'd say the Shoe Carnival experience may warrant further examination.

I can't yet say whether my experience matches that offered at all Shoe Carnival's stores, or if mine was an isolated incident. I did some checking and the company has experienced growth and was even ranked by Forbes in November as a solid retail investment. So it can't all be bad.

However, perhaps this type of feedback is something the leadership team at Shoe Carnival should consider as they refine and cultivate a unique in-store experience -- especially as they close a number of stores this year. Location isn't the only key to success... good experience is.

If you've visited Shoe Carnival and have some thoughts, feel free to comment or send it my way.

Intel's Social Media Guidelines - Two Thumbs Up

Giving a friendly hat tip to my twitter pal, @asfaq for pointing out to me tonight that Intel has a publicly available Social Media policy.

This is quite a contrast to other companies, like Johnson and Johnson, who doesn't yet have a publicly available policy, or set of social media guidelines or policies for their business. However, to be fair, it's harder for any company in pharmaceuticals to publish anything publicly - or to engage in social media due to heavy government regulation and HIPAA.

But I digress. Intel's guidelines are a breath of fresh air!

At a time when so many people are free to point out what companies are doing WRONG in social media, Intel's approach is a great example of doing things right. The policy is really well written and goes beyond what might be considered a "POLICY" document. It's a useful guide on how to engage appropriately in social media to drive success. It's proactive, consultative, helpful and educates people about their responsibility when engaging in social media. They've even got a special email address set up for individuals who have questions.

You can check it out for yourself here.

"Bob" could be any of us.

Chris Brogan highlights the story of a guy we'll call Bob... a guy trying to do the right thing for a company that can't get on board with social media interaction.

Bob is obviously a guy who cares about being customer-centric. He cares about his products. He cares about being forward thinking... The thing is, Bob could be any of us.

Bob's story illustrates why it's essential for companies to be totally on board before diving in to Social Media experimentation. Once you are out there, you're OUT there... and it's very hard to go back to status quo.

My advice to Bob - Wipe the Dust off your feet and go do what you are doing for the competition!

This is a pretty compelling story... Check it out. Thanks, Chris.

Rapid Response Tumblr Case Study

Recently I posted some comments on a blog posting on a great post from Critical Mass on Creating a Rapid Response Culture. Today, while catching up with email, I found a comment sent to me from Sandeep at VizEdu, telling me they used my feedback, along with insight from Critical Path's David Armano and Frank Eliason at Comcast to create a small interactive Tumblr case study on rapid response. I thought this was a pretty interesting way What a great way to grab quotes and assemble a visually driven case study. Check it out here or see below:

Gift Lists and Shopping

Happy Cyber Monday, folks! In the tradition of holiday cheer, I was recently interviewed for this CNN article on the power of gift registries and wish lists. Sadly, I wasn't quoted accurately in the bold portion of this quote:

"Registries provide a retailer with robust data on customer preferences, fuel their marketing ability and extend their reach to a new audience via gift buyers," says Leigh Duncan-Durst, founder of LivePath, a customer experience consultancy. "Plus, it saves money by reducing the chances that gifts will be returned."

Actually, I believe what I said is that, even if an item purchased through a list or registry is returned, the registries help ensure that consumer dollars stay with a given retailer through exchanges or credits - rather than cash-back refunds. :-)

I believe I also said a lot about the future of gift registries and wish lists, referencing social media. :-) Nevertheless, the ettiquite part of this article offers some great considerations.

Cheers, and happy shopping!





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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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