Hi Augie, tell us about yourself, your background?
I’m currently a Gartner VP and analyst conducting research and offering guidance to clients on CX practices. Before this, I was the Director of Customer Experience Action on the Voice of the Customer team at American Express. I started my CX journey focusing on digital strategy at the advent of the public web in the mid-90s, but even then, what interested me was not how online advertising or email marketing would improve acquisition, but the ways digital and social technology would alter the ways brands needed to serve, support, meet, listen to, and deliver value to customers.
Online commerce was booming in 2020, and so did consumer reviews. – How can brands better utilize this data to improve their customers’ experience?
All brands can get value from online reviews, but the relative importance of online reviews as a source of customer understanding varies by category. For brands that don’t have direct customer relationships and sell through distributed sales channels, online reviews can be a primary source of customer feedback. But, like any customer listening channel, online reviews have their strengths and weaknesses as a source of customer knowledge. Customers tend to complain more than praise, and many use online reviews to vent frustration after not after a single brand misstep but following a series of disappointments. Also, online reviews are more focused on the product than individual steps or touchpoints in the journey. As a result, organizations with direct customer relationships rely more on transactional and relationship surveys to gain a nuanced and specific understanding of customer feedback. Companies like these use online reviews to manage reputation, monitor for rapid changes that signify new challenges or opportunities and close the loop to resolve issues with individual customers.
What is one element that must always be considered when working on a CXM (customer experience management) strategy?
I’m frequently surprised that many CX programs have a weak foundation in Voice of the Customer and customer research. A foundational element of a good CX program is that we know the customer and share that understanding broadly to improve customer-centric decisions and actions. Many CX programs get launched with a bias toward quick wins and rapid action, so they often focus on what those inside the organization believe must be corrected rather than by listening to what improves or weakens the relationship with the brand’s most important customers.
Do you think personalization and customer-centricity are going to become increasingly more relevant in the coming year? How so?
This is a tricky question because a good CX is more oriented to the individual’s unique needs, wants and expectations. As a result, personalization can be a valuable tool in the CX toolkit. That said, many personalization programs are implemented and measured by how they increase clicks or sales and not how they improve the CX or customer perception or satisfaction. As a result, many personalization programs aren’t very customer-centric—they are effective at doing something to the customer (generating more purchases) than for the customer (meeting needs and fostering stronger loyalty.) In my experience, personalization can be customer-centric but often is not, and customer-centricity requires much more than simply personalizing the content and product mix presented to customers using your app or website.
What are some of the ways companies can strive to eliminate the CX Gap?
We conducted some research in 2019 that found that more successful CX organizations had some common attributes. First, they are effective at listening to customers and conducting customer research. Second, they develop and encourage others to use personas to understand customers better. And third, they demonstrate that improving customer satisfaction isn’t just “nice” to do but is demonstrably associated with better financial results. Too often, CX programs lose their customer-centricity as they seek to demonstrate more direct financial contributions, such as decreased costs or improved sales. But there are many ways to diminish costs or lift revenue that hurt rather than strengthen customer relationships. By showing that your most satisfied, trusting, and engaged customers improve retention, increase frequency, lift sales, lower cost to serve, improve referrals, and enhance lifetime value, you put the focus where it belongs in CX—on the customer and not just short-term financial returns.
What’s the most insightful book you read in 2020?
During the pandemic, I escaped to fiction rather than focus on business books. (The most remarkable fiction I read last year was the “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” trilogy, an expansive 1300-page science-fiction series translated from Chinese.) There was one exception, and that was “The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company” by Bob Iger. I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Iger, former CEO and current executive chairman of The Walt Disney Company. As a Disney fan, reading the book was fascinating. Unlike when you read about Walt Disney’s time founding and leading the company, Iger’s book doesn’t give as much a glimpse into the company’s famed guest obsession as it does what it’s like to steer a $300B company through big crises and even bigger changes in the world. During Iger’s tenure, Disney became a very different company thanks to the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox. Iger’s book is a fascinating peek of how hands-on a CEO can be when fostering vital relationships and the ways a leader can alter a company’s culture, business models, and risk appetite.
Augie’s predictions for the future of CX
What are your predictions for trends in customer experience in the coming year?
Different categories and regions will experience different challenges this year and next relating to COVID, so I’m not sure there are simple trends that cross every company. In 2020, many companies learned the value of listening to customers more closely so that leaders and employees can be more agile in responding to changes in customers’ needs and wants. I expect that will continue in 2021. And, while it’s difficult to make predictions in the face of such uncertainty, I think some consumer activities will race back to 2019 norms more quickly than others. Gartner’s consumer research suggests, for example, that people are eager to recapture travel and dining out, but they were less enthusiastic about visiting gyms, bars, and nightclubs. Of course, people’s attitudes can change rapidly, so it will remain vital to monitor not just the global and regional health situation but how your customer attitudes and behaviors evolve.
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
I can’t say that I have one favorite CX metric. I sometimes find that the tendency to simplify and narrow CX measurement and evaluation can cause brands to miss essential customer frustrations or expectations. As is probably evident from this interview, I’m a fan of constant listening and evaluation of customers’ feedback, so my favorite metrics or measures are customer-sourced—NPS, CSAT, customer effort score, likelihood to repurchase, and the like. But, it’s not just the score that’s important—it’s why customers answer what they did that gets me excited. As a CX leader, I’m more interested in what customers perceive and why they do what they do and less in what gets them to click.