Who's in Charge of the Customer Experience?

A Guest Post by Esteban Kolsky, industry influencer (pictured left)

You probably have heard of the acronyms CX, CEM, EFM, VoC and a few others related to listening to your customers. You might be familiar with the best ways to implement surveys, get feedback on experiences, and involve users in planning their own interactions with the organizations. But being familiar with them isn’t enough to generate awesome customer experiences. You need to know how they work and what you can do with them.

In the past 20-25 years we have moved from company-driven interactions to customer-driven communications. In the company-driven interactions, the company determined what happened each time a customer contacted it. In the customer-driven communications, the customers tell companies what they want, when, and why – and show how serious they are by removing their business and expressing discontent.

The shift happened mostly due to the availability of communications channels. Customers leveraged these channels to share their knowledge and power and to change the one-to-one relationship where the company had the control.

Surveys Came First

The first time that customers were able to express their feelings about the way a company operated, in sufficiently large numbers to matter, was via surveys; they are the origin of the customer experience evolution.

Organizations have used surveys for market research purposes for a long time, but not until the late 1990s did they use them to measure their customer satisfaction and to understand why customers felt a certain way about the way the business operated. What started as a way to measure a customer’s feeling of contentment quickly evolved into a barrage of questions ranging from how to improve those feelings to how customers wanted to work with the organization.

Then There Were Enterprise Feedback Management (EFM) Systems

This led to the launch in the early 2000s of EFM systems. These solutions were not only focused on the answers that customers provided in surveys, but how to connect those answers to processes and culture. EFM systems helped determine how well each interaction between the customer and the organization was carried out, how to improve them as they happened, and how to deliver more customer satisfaction to the customers.

During this time, EFM vendors doubled and tripled in size because of the mad-dash by organizations to implement EFM. From that craze, a need erupted to manage the data from these EFM surveys in a way that made sense to both the end user and the organization – and to measure the effectiveness of the changes implemented. This is where the discipline of CEM (Customer Experience Management) started.

Next Up: Customer Experience Management (CEM)

As a corporate discipline and strategy, CEM was about collecting information about the customers’ feelings (satisfaction, loyalty) and recommending improvements. It then leveraged existing business process management (BPM) initiatives that had been around since the 1980s to improve the same processes that customers interacted with – and labeled those processes “experiences.” While it might have seemed that organizations were listening to their customers and doing what they asked – in reality it was very one sided. The organizations collected information about what they felt was necessary and made changes they felt were necessary.

As a result, customers quickly realized they were not having the impact they expected and CEM soon stopped being useful to organizations.

The Birth of Customer Experience (CX)

The advent of social networking started the communications revolution which caused the pendulum to swing back in the direction of the customers. They controlled and drove the feedback loops, which guaranteed that the changes companies made were what and how they, not the organization, chose.

Based on the premise that spontaneous feedback is truer and more abundant than requested feedback (something we had noticed in the early days of EFM), and leveraging the online communities generated by the advent of social media, organizations quickly realized the gold mine they had at their disposal. Customers not only expressed their feelings about – well, just about everything the organization did – but were also making themselves available (in large numbers) to help organizations focus their efforts to build better products and better interactions, and better experiences they (the customers) wanted to use.

The Era of Customers’ Feedback Driving Customers’ Experiences

It is now that we can truly say we are entering the era of the customer being in control of what the organization says, does, and how it reacts. It is now that we are leveraging the technologies to capture feedback, analyze, and improve experiences. We are able to deliver what customers demand: better experiences based on their needs, not what the organization may think the customer wants.

Thanks to my friends at Oracle, I will explore this shift and what it means to organizations through multiple posts  – want to come along? I am looking forward to discussing how organizations are fundamentally different now, the power the customer has, and how everyone on both sides is benefiting from this.

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