March 3, 2020

Total Performance Leadership Blog Post #6: Customer Experience-Personalization

By Rob Andrews

Everything I write about is around nine principles we’ve identified in organizations that perform at the very top of their sectors. One such principle is delivering a differentiated customer experience that causes customers to feel so good about themselves that they ignore the competition and evangelize on your behalf.

I read everything I can get my hands on regarding the customer experience, and today I read a report published by Acquia, which describes itself as the open-source digital experience company. The report is entitled Deliver the CX They Expect and begins with the headline that 90% of customers believe that most brands fail to meet their experience expectations. Based on 6,613 respondents spread evenly between Australia, Germany, France, UK, and the United States, the report also says that customers are clear about what they want: a convenient, personalized experience. Acquia says the data is crystal clear on these points.

According to the data, only 10% of customers say that brands are meeting their expectations while 82% of marketers believe they are meeting expectations around the customer experience. Obviously, most marketers are living in la-la land and doing so at their peril.

Personalize, Personalize, Personalize: Customers want convenience, first and foremost. 90% of customers surveyed say they seek a more convenient online experience and 68% say their online purchases need to be “easier”. The report suggests that personalization is the key to convenience. 80% of customers surveyed say they would be far more loyal to a brand that showed they really understood them and what they were looking for. 76% say that if a brand understood them at a personal level, they would be far more loyal to them.

60% of customers say that brands that should know them, based on the personal information they’ve provided, don’t. 60% say that brands don’t do a good job using the personal information they’ve provided to predict and cater to their needs. 66% say they feel like they’re treated like a generic customer and not an individual.

Open Technology is Key: Personalization across all channels requires technology that can readily access all the data personalization demands and flexibility support CX online, in-store and everywhere else.  

80% of customers expect technology to make their experiences more “valuable” and 82% say technology should make their interactions “better”. 53% say they are looking forward to artificial intelligence (AI) making their interactions with brands a better experience.

Customer Experience is Extremely Perishable: 72% of customers say they are loyal to certain brands, but as soon as they have a bad experience, they move on. 63% say they often abandon a brand to whom they had previously been loyal if they have a bad experience.

While customers expect technology to enhance their experience, 85% say that is no cure-all, going on to say that human touch is needed, in addition to technology to provide a positive customer experience. 75% of customers report that totally digitized or automated interactions without real human communications, preferably voice-to-voice, is too impersonal.

The Report Misses Much of the Point

The report clearly highlights technology and the data-driven aspect of delivering a highly differentiated customer experience while barely mentioning the human element. Great customer experience begins with a decision and a commitment.

I’ve interviewed and/or studied executives from some of the best customer experience providers, including Nordstrom, Wegman’s, Trader Joe’s, Costco, Saatva, Southwest Airlines, WaWa, QuikTrip, Ritz-Carlton, Rackspace, Zappo’s, Chick-fil-A, Aldi, Amazon, H-E-B, Apple, Cracker Barrell, Texas Roadhouse, Thrivent Financial, Sewell Automotive Group, FedEx, AllPoints Surveying and Jones & Carter. Of the 31 senior leaders I interviewed from the companies listed above, not one said that technology played the most important role in delivering great customer experience. Seven out of 31 said that technology plays a very important role, and all of them reported one or more technology initiatives underway to better deliver a differentiated customer experience.

Every single one of these leaders said that the human element is the most important differentiator. Every single one of these leaders reported that the customer experience is front and center in their company and that the commitment is driven from the very top of the organization. Nine said that great customer experience is an attitude, and a commitment not to lose a single customer. Seventeen spoke of understanding the lifetime value of a customer, meaning the total cost of losing the revenue dollars a lost customer spends over the period of time he/she lived in the shopping area, combined with the loss of revenues from friends, relatives, and colleagues a disgruntled customer might drive away, or a delighted customer might help bring to the company. One CMO with whom I spoke just last week, who has helped lead three of the world’s most iconic quick-service restaurant chains, reported that he is seeing a disturbing trend of companies putting time, money and other resources behind technology, while allowing the human element of the customer experience slide.

Don’ get me wrong, technology is great. I enjoy my Starbucks app and the tablets at our local Red Robin. I love my Nordstrom app and their beautiful store, but other retailers have those.  The reason I am so intensely loyal to Nordstrom is because of the human touch I experience while shopping there. The salespeople are attentive, friendly, helpful and never pushy or intrusive. One lady calls me every couple of months to let me know they’ve just received new over the calf Italian socks. The customer experienced is much more about how the customer feels about him/herself rather than how they feel about you. So far, I’ve not seen technology that makes the customer feel special. Develop new technologies but don’t ignore this important and unavoidable fact.