The Experience Points Blog: Neen James
by John Seeds
Avtex Chief Experience Officer, Kurt Schroeder sat down with VP of Marketing, John Seeds to discuss key takeaways, and share what stood out about creating exceptional customer experiences from the ground up. In this episode, they discuss evolving customer expectations, connecting with customers emotionally, and the value of CX in the B2B space.
[John] I love the discussion about customer expectations, and how that has come to bear and what that means for businesses today.
[Kurt] I think expectations are being set elsewhere. The expectations are around whatever your customer's last best experience was, and that's what's driving their expectation with you. The trick is understanding those analogous experiences that your customers are having, and understanding how you should align yourself to that so that you're keeping pace with what the customer's expectations are. I think the problem is people rest on their success, and in fact, I think the barrier to being great is having success, because it's easy to plateau in delivering what you think is a great experience while the experiences that the customer is having are moving way beyond that.
[John] We saw that with the stats they called out: only 38% across all industries are really meeting expectations. It begs the question, is it really even attainable to try and meet these customer expectations that are continuing to evolve over time, and is that something companies should be striving for?
[Kurt] I don't think they should be put in a position where they're chasing the expectation all the time. We talk about this a lot where customer experience should be a core competency in organizations. It becomes second nature to always and continually improve what the experience is so you're the one that's setting the bar or the last best experience. This is just like any other critical process within an organization, there should be continuous improvement.
[John] What is evident here is the need for organizations to think differently about how to administer customer experiences. It has to be systemic and ingrained throughout the organization, but with leadership and a vision to make sure that you're taking the steps that get you there, rather than chasing the experience.
[Kurt] It's also important to understand that the customer will tell you when they're not satisfied, but they won't necessarily tell you what's going to delight them. That’s where human-centered design thinking concepts and practices are important because then you can actually design a new experience. Those ideas should be generated from the organization trying to understand what their brand is and how to create experiences around that brand promise that are unexpected and create those moments.
[John] There's an interesting call out here around personalization. A lot of times we think about personalization as you're attaching a name to a person and that's the personalization. I think if we take a step back and understand that people can personalize the experience for themselves and that the brand just has to foster that environment, we can rethink what personalization means.
I have an example of that with a hotel I went to in San Francisco, and it's a boutique hotel. What was interesting about this was my wife was pregnant at the time, and we got to the hotel and they had a pillow menu. It had all of these different types of pillows that you could have and there's one that was a full-body pregnancy pillow. And so, she called up... I don't think we've even opened our suitcases yet, and she's calling down for three different types of pillows, including the pregnancy pillow. They didn't know she was pregnant. They didn't know that we were coming there to spend some days together, but they fostered an experience that allowed us to then personalize it in a way that created that memorable moment that we still talk about to this day.
[Kurt] So first of all, I was surprised that they didn't call up and say, "Do you want more cowbell?"
[John] Well Kurt, remember, you always need more cowbell, so that's a rhetorical type of question.
[Kurt] Well yeah! What you saw in that exchange was a company that is a bunch of musicians who exist for musicians. What they're trying to do is to make sure that their musician customers are getting exactly what they need, and that they're getting to know a customer, at a fairly emotional level. Music is emotional. Getting to know customers at a level that's appropriate for the industry that they serve is key.
[John] I think that's a great point. Obviously, that was the tenor of that initial call. Starting that relationship that way was really impactful because it changed from functional need to emotional need. Which is something that you talk about a lot in terms of fulfilling those from a customer experience standpoint.
[Kurt] I thought it was also interesting that Shep made the comment that they create this sense that the customer's a member of their own band. I think that shows the emotional connectivity that they're trying to create. But that doesn't come easy, so there has to be a great employee experience as well. Sometimes we overlook the connection between a great employee experience and a great customer experience. My hypothesis would be that there's a great employee experience at Sweetwater as well.
[John] You have to create that emotional connection with the brand internally in order for people to want to deliver that, right? They want to be able to see themselves as an extension of the brand. I think we all have examples where we've seen that go the opposite way. Where the vision doesn't connect directly with the experience and the person that we're dealing with.
There's this piece of training that they hit on that I think is fascinating and the more I think about it in my own consumer lifestyle, I can pinpoint when the training did not fulfill the experience that I should be getting. Because I wasn't part of the training. Not me specifically, but me as the customer, and bringing that into the training that we deliver to our staff, is a critical component of this.
[Kurt] I think Shep said, they literally go through weeks of training. Most organizations will train a contact center agent for a handful of days and then get them out there because there's a cost associated with training. They want to recoup that cost as soon as they can. Here, they're spending weeks, because of the technical nature of what they sell, and that the personal preference of what they sell is different. They need to be able to explain the different nuances of the equipment, of how the equipment works, etc. They have to do that training or the customer will go elsewhere.
[John] I think you saw that in Shep's reaction when he found out the name of the brand. It's one of those things where you can't put a price on that. But what you're striving for, is that type of recognition and understanding, that a customer is doing business with a quality brand who gets them and gets what they need from them.
[John] This is actually one of my favorite games that we do because you're able to see how these stats come together and tell a story and what people's take on that story is. One of the things that stood out for me is this delivery gap and it's looking at the first stat and the last stat in combination and how companies are recognizing that they're delivering experiences versus what customers expect and what they want to be doing. I think it's a recognition on an industry level that we're not doing as good a job as we thought we are in meeting those customer expectations, which I think is a good thing for the customer.
[Kurt] I think that industry recognition is being fueled by the proliferation of various customer feedback platforms and tools that are extremely powerful and that also are fairly easy to manage and administer. I think the amount of feedback that companies are collecting now has gone up tremendously. And I think the comment that Dan Gingiss made about how this applies to B2B and his question was, "Well, are your buyers human?" Then of course, it applies.
[John] Well, I think the B2B versus B2C thing is interesting to me because, at the end of the day, customer experience is about human to human connection. But what is your take on why there seems to be this difference in perception around customer experience between the two?
[Kurt] Well, I think there's a couple of things. I think in the B2B space and not universally true, but I think there's a preponderance of belief that says the only two things that matter is price and delivery. Everything is extremely price-driven as companies try to figure out how to cut costs in their supply chain. I think there is also a myth that says, if we provide a great experience, it doesn't make a difference. The tenets remained the same. What is the functional need the customer has and what is the emotional need? We have to meet both of those.
[John] I think there's another aspect here for me that there's a longer time to return on the investment of CX in B2B, just because of the nature of some of these sales cycles. They talk about this generational component to the manufacturer. So I think it's a double-edged sword there in terms of that time piece of when these businesses see that impact. So what would you say are ways that you've seen with B2B customers that mitigate that time impact, and you can see some returns more quickly?
[Kurt] One is recognizing that the B2B journey is much more complex. You have multiple people involved. It's not just a single individual interacting with a single individual. There's usually multiple touchpoints. So it's important for the organization to make sure that the experience at every single one of those touchpoints is rich, robust, you're removing effort as much as you can, and that you're able to serve those customers. That can help mitigate against those generational hiccups that can occur.
[John] I think that's a fascinating point. Are there any other examples of some of the ways that we've partnered with B2B organizations at Avtex, around the ability to deploy customer feedback mechanisms. Any findings that you can call out from some of the clients that we've worked with?
[Kurt] We worked with an organization that sells industrial components that go into hospitals, goes into hotels, and goes into your local Starbucks. One of the things that we found was they needed to get into the specifications. What they really wanted to do is understand what does the experience need to be for those architects and engineers in order to make sure that their product is precisely specced. It was about trying to reduce the effort that it takes the architects and engineers to spec their product. That's where, quite frankly, the tried and true mechanisms of journey mapping can play an important part of that.
[John] I think that it's just interesting because while it adds complexity in the B2B space from having these multiple stakeholders, it also adds opportunity for improvement. The things that you're talking about are reducing effort, understanding the experience of the stakeholders involved. These are the same concepts, regardless of B2B or B2C. It can be grounded in some different inputs, but the process is the same in terms of discovery.