"The Customer Experience Index," newly published by Forrester Research, reveals that customer empowerment -- and not "engagement" -- might be the key to customer satisfaction.
Its "CxPi" rating measures customer sentiments on their interactions with businesses based on answers to three questions:
- How effective were they at meeting your needs?
- How easy was it to work with these firms?
- How enjoyable were the interactions?
The resulting rankings reveal an inverse relationship between companies that invest most heavily in customer relationship management technology and processes ("CRM"), and their positions on the list.
Experiences are rated highest with companies that still function in the imprecise, hit-or-miss analog world of retail shopping. 8 of the top 10 companies overall are retailers.
The report, written by Bruce Temkin, makes very reasonable recommendations -- mostly focused on paying more attention to customer needs, and doing so with more creativity -- but I think there's more digging worth doing here.
I mean, how is it that the experiences that should be the worst are rated the best? There are so many reasons why the bricks-and-mortar shopping experience should stink:
- I have to shop during store hours
- There's weather and traffic between me and the store
- Once I'm there, I'm a total stranger; there’s nothing customized for my previously evidenced tastes
- I run the risk that what I'm looking for might not even be in-stock
- There are other shoppers between me and the checkout counter
And there are just as many reasons why businesses that rank lowest -- like credit card issuers, cell phone providers, banks, and cable companies -- should rank higher, considering all that money they’ve invested in slick online interfaces, naggingly detailed IVR mechanisms to allocate and track incoming calls, and lots of glitzy, lifestyle branding.
I suspect the reason why retailers score so high is because they recognize, perhaps unwittingly, something that’s central to real-world customer behavior:
Customers don't want experiences. They want empowerment.
Empowerment has different dimensions than experience, and they're all first-person. I'd suggest three criteria:
- I was in control of my actions. The business didn't presume to tell me what I didn't request, or answer questions I didn't ask. I could act without having to submit my SS#, last four digits of my credit card, or that stupid secret code I can never remember
- I knew what was going on. I never felt that I was being manipulated, or sent along some "track" of communication in which I didn’t want to participate. I was always aware of all the options available to me, and I knew that I always had a chance to ask something again, or to ask it differently
- I felt rewarded by each of my actions. I set out to do something, and each step I took provided me with a payoff of some kind. I was even willing to risk failure or disappointment, as long as my journey was as satisfying as reaching the destination
It's interesting that Forrester's highest rankings go to businesses involving the most unscripted human interactions; companies that presuppose to manage interactions via pre-conditioned menus and online forms fare the worst.
Customer empowerment has more in common with the interface of video games -- rules, objectives, risk and reward, surprise/discovery -- than with the tightly-orchestrated designs of customer experience or branding gurus. Nobody likes being managed. I suspect a sense of empowerment drives most customer satisfaction surveys.
Businesses don't have to deliver the goods if their customers feel empowered: even if I don't get what I want, I will still rate the experience highly if I felt I got a fair shake, there was no satisfaction to be had anyway, and there was positive feedback along the way. "Don't even bother trying" is the most damning review any brand could get from its customers. We all keep informal lists in our minds, not of businesses that give us great experiences, but those that make us feel empowered.
As the world gets more networked, automated, and complex, empowerment may well emerge as the real differentiator for delivering true customer satisfaction and loyalty.
You should check out the Forrester study, and maybe use it as a prompt to consider how you empower your own customers.