Hi Howard, tell us about yourself and your background.
The boring stuff: I have 35+ years of experience in research and consulting, with a focus on customer experience for the last 25 years or so. This includes both client- and vendor-side experience, having worked with both B2C and B2B firms across a broad spectrum of industries.
The interesting stuff: I live on a small horse farm in New Jersey, breed collies, and have quadruplet 32-year olds. Yes, quadruplets.
What is the biggest misunderstanding about customer experience, in your opinion?
There are a few . . .
- Confusion in distinguishing between transactional experiences and the customer relationship.
- The one-size-fits-all mentality that latches onto some standardized approach, regardless of whether it is appropriate for a given company and its objectives and challenges.
- The failure to articulate business objectives and think of CX narrowly as a “program” with scores as the key output and measure of success, rather than focusing on business objectives.
What are some of the newer CX companies/solutions you’re keeping your eyes on right now?
At the risk of sounding self-serving, our evolving approaches at Forsta, with our concentration on “The Science of CX,” alongside a continuous focus on the economics of CX and linking CX to business results and customer behaviors, as well as our unique tools for linking employee experience with the customer experience, data visualization and storytelling, and our use of qualitative tools to complement quantitative methodologies. I also am keenly interested in ways to measure and understand emotions, which are the driving force behind human decision making.
Howard’s tips for improved customer loyalty
What can companies do to improve customer loyalty and retention?
The simplest answer is to live up to their brand promise and regularly exceed customer expectations. To do so, they need to unravel the complexities of human decision making and understand what inspires customers to be loyal and continue to be a customer, not to mention give the firm a larger share of their category spend, buy more/more expensive products from the firm and recommend them to others. Then of course, they have to act on that understanding to make the changes that further strengthen customer relationships and motivate customers to engage in “loyalty behaviors,” the behaviors that create value for the firm.
What do you think is most relevant and why: CSAT (customer satisfaction score), NPS (net promoter score), or CES (customer effort score)?
Relevant or best/most useful? If relevant = most popular, then NPS is the clear winner. The co-opting of NPS from a relationship metric into a transactional metric (so we now have rNPS and tNPS) has been largely misguided and created substantial confusion, with many firms mis-reporting transaction-based NPS results as corporate scores that are supposedly representative of the overall customer relationship. That said, NPS is the dominant CX metric.
“Relevance,” however, depends on context and objectives. Depending on these variables, CSat, NPS and CES each have their role, as do other measures. This should be approached empirically, not dogmatically. That is, don’t simply postulate that “X” or “Y” is the most relevant or best metric. Instead, test to determine which metric performs the best, i.e., which best explains or predicts the outcome under investigation.
How can companies better use social media in the era of customer-centricity and personalization?
Social media provides platforms with which to communicate with consumers on their own turf in a manner that is more natural than formal communications pushed out by a company. It’s an environment where a company can speak through surrogates or influencers to whom consumers may be especially receptive. This is, however, a double-edged sword, as there might be backlash if consumers feel they are being misled or manipulated, and, of course, conversations on social media can go sideways and careen out of control.
What is your opinion on AI-based chatbots to handle customer support?
Certainly an improvement over earlier technologies, and they are getting better all of the time. That said, all of us have had the “pleasure” of yelling at bots in our shared frustration at navigating these systems, often in an effort to get to a live person for what we think will be an easier solution. They are less expensive than people, but it remains highly suspect they actually deliver a superior customer experience.
What was the best movie you saw that has come out during this past year?
“The Father.” Anthony Hopkins was spectacular, and the film’s direction immersed the viewer in life in the midst of the onset of dementia.
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
My favorite CX metric is that which best explains or predicts the outcomes or behaviors the company wants to drive. As noted in #5 above, this varies depending on the situational context. My favorite CX metric is that with the strongest explanatory or predictive power.