Augie Ray, research director for customer experience at Gartner, is an authoritative and opinionated resource for marketing leaders. We went back and forth with Ray on both the definition and the state of customer experience.
Q: How does Gartner define customer experience?
A: Gartner defines customer experience as "the customer's perceptions and related feelings caused by the one-off and cumulative effect of interactions with a supplier's employees, channels, systems or products." And we further define customer experience management as "the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions in order to meet or exceed customer expectations and to increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy."
Q: What obstacles have you identified to achieving a full "360-degree" view of the customer?
A: The term itself is more aspirational than practical. I like that it encourages knowledge of and focus on the customer, but brands struggle with how much data is too much and how to interpret it into actionable knowledge. Today, marketers are awash in data but often have too little information and insight, so rather than focus on a “full 360-degree view of the customer,” we find it is best to focus on what you need to know—getting the right 270- or 180-degree view might be more important than investing in a 360-degree view, whatever that might mean.
For example, too few brands do a great job of developing personas that are based on data and aligned to the organization’s particular needs and strategies. And the best way I know to understand what data is essential is through journey mapping, which—when done right—forces marketers to see things from the customers’ perspective. What are their needs? Expectations? Goals? Behaviors? Emotions? Preferred channels? Touchpoints? If a brand can gather the right data to understand that, they will be empowered to produce better product and service experiences that create loyal advocates.
Q: Who do you see as getting customer experience "right"?
A: Customer experience can run the risk of being all things to all people. If it is every experience at every touchpoint, then it is everything the company does—and if it is everything then it is nothing. The way to make it more focused, relevant and powerful is to return to the definition—the goal is to “to meet or exceed customer expectations and to increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy." That means that if you are not orienting your efforts and measuring improvements in satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy, then you are not focused on delivering the “right” customer experience.
Getting it right will mean different things to different brands in different verticals, but it still comes down to meeting customer expectations and measuring outcomes via satisfaction (as told by direct surveys and inferred observation), loyalty (increased likelihood to repurchase, decreased churn, etc.) and advocacy (greater share of positive voice, higher online ratings, more referrals and the like).
Q: What is your pet peeve in the area of customer experience?
A: Perhaps my biggest pet peeve is that too many companies approach customer experience like it is a program that can be plugged into the organization and improve something (or everything!) while the rest of the organization goes on doing the same thing. CX is not a checkbox to check, nor is it a program that can be launched in a dark corner of the organization while everyone else focuses on quarterly financial results.
For CX to make a difference, you have to look at the success of companies that put CX at the core of their mission, culture, strategies and rewards. Unless a CX initiative is launched with the idea that it may touch every department and every process and will require collaboration and support from every leader and employee, it will struggle to deliver the sort of satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy outcomes that are leading indicators of long-term brand health and business results.
Q: More specifically, what do you think of the customer experience on LinkedIn?
A: I’ve been vocal about LinkedIn’s poor customer experience. Too vocal, in fact—some of my friends and peers argue I’m becoming annoying.
To me, what is happening on LinkedIn is a tragedy—a classic example of what occurs when a successful brand loses sight of its purpose and the customer. From simple user experience problems like comment boxes that do not count characters to warn users when they have exceeded the limit to substantial issues such as the vapid noise that is swamping business and career news in their stream, LinkedIn is becoming a less useful and engaging place for professionals.
It has little competition, so it doesn’t feel the risk, but I’d like to remind the leaders of LinkedIn that MySpace and Monster once seemed secure, too. LinkedIn needs to put more focus on how it can drivr deeper value and engagement on the platform, and from my perspective, job one is an improved algorithm that surfaces what each user wants and needs in their news stream. (In other words, LinkedIn could take a page from Facebook’s successful playbook.) Maybe some people love seeing selfies, math puzzles, and “Wolf of Wall Street” memes, but for those of us looking to engage more professionally, both the user-controlled and proactive tools must improve.
Q: You've worked a lot in the financial services industry -- USAA, Prudential, American Express. What ways could that industry do a better job?
A: First, I think one thing that isn’t always apparent is that “financial services” is an umbrella term for a wildly diverse set of offerings and firms. The customer needs and brand opportunities for companies in higher-engagement verticals like banking, credit card and auto insurance are very different from lower-engagement verticals like life insurance or institutional investing. The best customer experience opportunities in finserv won’t come so much from industry best practices but, as is always the case, focusing on customer needs and expectations.
That said, firms in financial service, perhaps more than others, need to do a better job of balancing their focus on concurrent indicators and leading indicators of success. The quarterly rat race is fierce in the industry, but brands can be destroyed by focusing too greatly on next quarter’s financial results rather than leading indicators such as trust, loyalty and advocacy. You can see the danger in the recent PR troubles of a national bank that rewarded employees for short-term account and financial outcomes rather than for creating satisfied, trusting, loyal and vocal advocates.
The industry is in the bull's-eye of profound digital change, and while it is easy to underestimate the regulatory and risk challenges faced by non-traditional competitors, neither can the industry ignore that many stakeholders—from consumers to retailers to shareholders—are hungry for change in the industry.
Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Oct. 31, 2016, in this newsletter.