The new world is customer-centric: How to close the CX gap in 2020 and beyond

The future of business is customer-centric. But most businesses are operating in the past

Enabled by a boom in technology, customer expectations are changing faster and growing more sophisticated than ever before. With increased options, customers will not wait around to act. 

However, many companies are increasingly out of touch with what their customers really want. To keep up, a majority of companies see customer experience as their most exciting business opportunity in the new decade, and for good reason: customers are willing to spend more and build loyalty with the brands that get it right.

Unfortunately, research shows you probably are not getting customer experience as right as you think. And many customers may be leaving without you even being aware of it.

The customer experience gap is very real. The companies that can learn to respond to changes and close the gap the quickest will succeed, today and in the future.

Human experiences drive business

Ultimately, doing what’s best for your customers will result in a more successful business. So, what’s the difference between a forgettable consumer action and a truly human, customer-centric experience?

Today, an end-to-end customer experience means not only being aware of, but also proactively looking to optimize, an increasingly complex series of interactions. Each of these touchpoints, both micro and macro, need to firmly place your customers’ experiences — not the KPIs of your brand — at the centre.

Creating an authentic customer-centric experience takes strategy, time and a laser focus on the end goal of providing a frictionless path of ease, utility and engagement.

In 2019, companies invested in customer experience more than ever before. In 2020, they will continue to expand their digital capabilities, aiming to deliver clearer, faster, and more intuitive platforms for a wider audience and growing customer base.1

We know that our customers’ expectations have changed, and will continue to change, at an unprecedented speed and in ways we cannot yet predict. Constant change is the new normal. We are challenged by the increasing complexity of the customer experience that we’re trying to build.

Building true customer-centricity in an organization, and defining the value of CX, necessitates an array of tools, data, and metrics to come together in brand new ways many organizations aren’t prepared for.

The bottom line

A major shift in organizational culture, supported by every level of senior leadership, is the key to cultivating and building future-ready teams that can make customer-centric thinking a clear priority and benefit to your business.

The bottom-line business value of creating unforgettable customer experiences is proven. Those businesses are 60% more profitable, 2% better with customer retention and 84% more likely to report revenue increases.2

Organizations that haven’t already prioritized holistic, strategic approaches to customer experience are already lagging behind.

In the new world, customers expect a unified, singular and delightful experience from their initial introduction, to purchase, right through to (hopefully) the foundation of a long-term relationship and true affinity.

With so many options out there, you have to provide customers with what they need in a meaningful and frictionless way. It also means that companies have to think about the way that they market and organize channels to customers. We have to break the silos. We have to put the customer at the center of a brand’s shared vision with an emphasis on serving the customer’s true needs.

But it isn’t all one-sided expectations. Customers are willing to spend more and build loyalty with the businesses that get it right.

86% of customers are willing to pay more for better customer experience. That’s a direct line between knowing what your customers really want and the impact on your bottom line.3

And yet, most of us don’t actually know what our customers want. A study found that 76% of industry leaders think their company provides superior customer service, but only 8% of customers agreed. That’s a 64% gap between what companies believe they’re delivering and what customers actually think they are.4

A better understanding of our customers’ true demands is an opportunity for new technology and improvements to boost speed, add convenience and improve how we engage. We need to take advantage of each and every time we’re lucky enough to have someone spend their hard-earned money with, and give their in-demand attention to, our brands.

The good news is that when we get it right, a majority of people will make it known. 72% of customers will share a positive experience with six or more people. Knowing the immense value and immediate trust built into first-person referrals, those six more shares can equate to major brand building. On the other hand, if a customer is not happy, 13% of them will share their experience with 15 or even more.5

More bad news: the real challenge here lies in the fact that, in most cases, customers don’t tell you they’re unhappy. In fact, only 1 in 26 unhappy customers actually complain. The rest, they just leave — without giving you an opportunity to fix the issue, or even making you aware of it.6

Moving towards response agility

The success of every solution and process you propose hinges on your ability to respond both meaningfully and quickly.

No matter how hard you try, you’ll never be completely prepared for each new customer trend or demand. But, you can be prepared for how your business, in both its processes and culture, will be primed to react to the unexpected.

We need to reframe what it means to be “agile.” Being agile isn’t only about speed. True response agility is maintaining command and control while:

  1. Ensuring maturity and strategy in all decisions.
  2. Balancing governance vs. empowerment.
  3. Enabling capabilities to go-to-market not only rapidly, but consistently and at scale.
  4. Accepting smart risks and planning how to learn and excel from potential failure

It takes a village: Building a customer-centric internal culture

Complexity and misaligned processes inside your business are among the number one killers of customer experience. It doesn’t matter how intuitive your app is if your supply chain fails to ship at the promised time based on your automated confirmation email. Customer-facing expectations need to be met (or, ideally, surpassed) by every back-end system that customers encounter or that influence their experience.

Yet, many companies are woefully disconnected when it comes to building frictionless customer experiences.

It’s a great talking point to say that “everyone” in your company is a stakeholder in how you treat your customers. From a ten-thousand-foot view, this is true and it’s a core value that customer-centric organizations should promote, from their most removed team members to their daily customer-facing teams on the frontline.

But when it comes to the realities of executing complex business strategies, the notions of how to manage customer experience can get murkier. Who truly “owns” the program and who contributes? How do you get all these pieces working together effectively, particularly in large, matrixed, global organizations?

Most businesses are structured to put their own needs ahead of their customers. Whether they want to believe it or not.

When it comes to fixing that, many of the associated risks with failing fast and moving forward nimbly are anathema to large, cumbersome organizations.

Proactively evolving your teams so that you’re able to do what your competition is afraid of is a key differentiator and a fertile ground for building true customer-centric innovation that will actually matter to your customers.

Focusing on value over perfection

The perfect customer experience doesn’t exist. But a valuable one does.

Ask any leader at any company if they want their customer experience to be a valuable one and the answer will be “yes.” On the surface, that’s a good thing. But, like a lot of challenges in business and in life, it’s easier said than done.

Depending on your business, it’s all too easy to let the digital user experience act as a proxy for a robust, end-to-end customer journey. On the flip side, for industries with extremely high-touch, person-to-person interactions, there’s an equally common pitfall of not aligning back-end process to front-end experiences. It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned or sophisticated your corporate customer experience programs are if your employees on the ground (or in the air) can’t help real customers benefit from them. Ultimately, it’s your brand.

Customer experience isn’t one single journey existing in a vacuum. It’s a complicated web of interactions and each of these touchpoints, while frequently owned by different groups in a business, don’t live independent of each other to your customer.

Customer expectations are evolving faster now than ever in history

More than anything, closing the customer experience gap will depend on an organizations ability to embed agility across their processes and foster a human-focused, authentic customer-centric culture across their teams.

Understanding what your customers truly want and expect from you today is the first step to improving their experiences tomorrow.

And that’s a proven path to business growth.


About the author:

Allison Humphries, VP of Strategy at Appnovation

Allison Humphries is a seasoned brand, marketing, and digital strategist with over twenty years of experience creating innovative, business-building digital brand experiences. Along with her global agency expertise, Allison has partnered with many of the world’s leading brands. As VP of Strategy at Appnovation, Allison leads a team of strategy and insight professionals, who partner with our clients to frame digital opportunities and deliver positive outcomes for both customers and the business.

1 https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/2019/09/24/50-stats-that-prove-the-value-of-customer-experience/#10db15854ef2
2 https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/2019/09/24/50-stats-that-prove-the-value-of-customer-experience/#10db15854ef2

3 Source: Salesforce, Customer Expectations Hit All-Time Highs
4 Forrester, The U.S. Customer Experience Index 2019
5 CX for Executives, https://www.slideshare.net/ekolsky/cx-for-executives
6 CX for Executives, https://www.slideshare.net/ekolsky/cx-for-executives

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