Does Customer Experience Exist?

I had the great misfortune of visiting the UNIQLO clothing store in Paris a couple of weekends ago. Dragged into the store by my other half on a Saturday afternoon what greeted me was pretty much man hell. The store was stuffed to the gills with shoppers. The aisles were too narrow. Lines for the changing rooms wound around the store and queues for the tills were about 20 deep. People were having sex just to make more room. (Ok I made this bit up.) Even my wife, who could shop for Ireland, gave up after a few minutes and suggested we leave.  Rather than simply walk out it felt like we were guided to the exit by human peristaltic movement and defecated from the store. On any customer experience metric this failed big time. Yet the store was packed?

This experience also reminded me of a recent article about Richard X. Bove, a noted bank analyst, who pulled his money out of Wells Fargo Bank because of poor customer experience and went on to trash the bank via social media. The very same Richard X. Bove however in his capacity as a banking analyst said, “I am struck by the fact that the service is so bad, and yet the company is so good”. The bank retained a strong financial status in sharp contrast to the poor customer experience it was providing. Bove continued to recommend the bank as a safe investment to his clients despite the fact that Bove himself would not keep his own money in that bank as a customer.

So here we have two examples of businesses where customer experience stinks yet both businesses are thriving. We could easily come up with others. We are told by customer experience evangelists that businesses must make every customer interaction count. That customer experience lip service just doesn’t cut it anymore. The examples above appear to reject this theory.

There are a number of ways we could try and interpret this. Is customer experience just another victim of the recession as more and more consumers are becoming more and more price conscious? Does price alone explain why Uniqlo is packed to the rafters?

Is customer experience simply irrelevant in some markets for example financial services? The Richard X Bove example above can be easily explained by the focus of many banks on their investment rather than retail arms. Why would Wells Fargo invest in an improved retail banking customer experience when it will have little impact on their bottom line?

Finally and more controversially does customer experience even exist? Are we not talking about process excellence here? UNIQLO for example focus on process execution as their key differentiator;

UNIQLO has established a SPA (Specialty store retailer of Private label Apparel) business model encompassing all stages of the business–from design and production to final sale. By continuously refining this SPA model, UNIQLO successfully differentiates itself from the competition by developing unique products.

Apple and Amazon are often cited as customer experience leaders but both also excel in process execution and supply chain excellence.

Many organizations are doing perfectly well without focusing on customer experience. So does customer experience even exist? Is customer experience really just process excellence?

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Will Customer Experience be the Tipping Point for Case Management?

“A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.” 

Alvy Singer – Annie Hall

Sometimes I feel this way about case management. Has it failed to move forward? Have we got a dead shark on our hands?  We’ve navel gazed for too long over dynamic and adaptive, unstructured v structured, knowledge workers and case workers. From a marketing point of view it’s all been a bit of a disaster. So what needs to be done to drive more interest case management? Is customer experience management a potential opportunity?

A 2011 Bloomberg Business week survey revealed that “delivering a great customer experience” has become the new imperative: 80% of the companies polled rated customer experience as a top strategic objective. Like case management, customer experience management has also suffered from over analysis.

The potential for case management in a customer service context has been understood for a while. CRM vendors have realized that it’s impossible to predict every customer scenario and have integrated case management applications with their CRM applications to improve how organizations handle unpredictable customer service processes. Customer experience management represents the next step and potentially a tipping point for case management.

In my opinion no other business application has the potential to transform customer experience in the same way that case management can. In a previous post on customer experience I said that customer experience requires just 2 things; fix processes and empower employees. This is the precisely the sweet spot for case management.

The time has come for case management to move forward, to step out from the shadows and hitch a lift on the customer experience bandwagon. Then, to use another movie quote, no one will put case management in the corner.

Next Week: Gamification – “Badges? We ain’t got no badges!We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!”

Can Process Improvement Eliminate Showrooming?

Showrooming is a relatively new phenomenon where a customer uses a bricks and mortar store to test and evaluate a product before buying it cheaper online. You’ve probably done it yourself. It can’t be long before, like a shoplifter, we see people thrown out of a store for using their smartphone to compare prices. It may already have happened.

The high street is suffering the double whammy of both the recession and the rise of ecommerce. While ultimately I think legislation will be necessary to protect bricks and mortar stores from their web based competitors the high street can begin the fight back by improving its business processes.

Retailers worried about showrooming can fight back but to do this they need to be clear on how they differentiate themselves from their online competitors. Many people for example will pay a small premium to get a product immediately rather than having to wait a few days for delivery. What this means is bricks and mortar stores must focus on their supply chain business processes. In addition the high street stores can offer customer post sale support, product training and immediate warranty replacement or returns that are more difficult do online. Again this requires a focus on post-sale business process.

It would be naïve however to ignore pricing. The recession has raised the importance of price to high levels and most people showroom to do a rapid price comparison between the price in store and the price they can get the same product online. Again this is an opportunity for business process improvement. Bricks and mortar stores can do price comparison as well.

Many high street stores are wedded to out of date, expensive to produce, catalogues of products whose prices are probably uncompetitive as soon as they are printed. There is no reason why bricks and mortar stores cannot automatically monitor competitor pricing and update point of sale prices in real time or produce a mobile app, with pricing that changes in real time, instead of a product catalogue.

Retailers are correctly looking to customer experience as a life raft for the high street yet incorrectly see customer experience in terms of gimmicks such as offering customers free wifi or a coffee shop without addressing their core business processes and the reasons why customers shop online.

When a customer enters a store the business has already done the hard part by getting the customer interested enough to get off the sofa and to visit their store. Improved business processes give them a better chance of converting that visitor into a customer and getting them to put away their smartphones.