The Brutal Choices When Selecting & Deploying CX Technology

Improving Customer Experience sits at or near the top of most CEO agendas.  This is exciting news for CX professionals as we certainly can no longer complain about obscurity or lack of investment the way we use to do.  That’s the good news...

The more challenging news is that its time for us to deliver and doing so effectively and profitably is hard!  Most CX professionals as well as a growing mass of sufficiently informed executives have now accepted that customers interact with their brands in a never ending continuum that involves constant shifting in and out of channels, frequent interactions with social media and an overall level of customer empowerment and freedom of action that was simply unimaginable just a few short years ago.

The challenges that this creates for the CTO are huge, complicated, and urgent while the solutions are not easy to chart and often fraught with business risk.  Embracing CX is, as the old saying goes, “like being pregnant” and we all know that when it come to that state of being it can’t be done half way.  In order to bring a modicum of clarity to this complicated series of challenges, I have sought to specify the bare minimum set of high-level requirements, the absence of which would make achieving one’s CX goals virtually impossible.

The "CX Care” vs. “Marketing CX” Debate:

To add to the complexity, a vigorous debate, created by no small amount of siloed thinking, still persists regarding the various “flavors” of CX and with them the requirements against which one must both plan and deploy.  There remain distinct camps divided between organizational, strategy and marketing leaders who still tend to look at CX through their own specific lenses and in so doing interpret their requirements and associated solutions in a partial light.  This tendency is both flawed and dangerous.  That said, whether one is seeking to solve for customer service issues, operational challenges or marketing opportunities, the following short list of “must haves” and “nice to haves” should serve you well as you chart your course to true CX excellence.

CX Technology Must Haves:

  • Real time ingestion & integration of many disparate data sets
  • Single, quantifiable, customer segment specific views of customer paths across all channels
  • Predictive & rules-based analytics in support of continuous personalization & optimization
  • Downstream deployment of optimized content & journeys across each channel - typically this will require both a "CRM" system as well as Content Management Capabilities.

CX Technology Nice to Haves:

  • Integration with a Customer Journey Mapping application that can ingest both attitudinal and behavioral (think LARGE) data sets
  • Integration between CX Customer Data & Agile Product Development

CX Technology Integration Imperative:

When it comes to delivering CX value, latency is public enemy No.1.  In our increasingly real time world, seconds actually do count and consumer expectations, justified or not, are ones based on their desire for relevancy and with that - speed.  In short, we live in a world where everyone has become a teenager and simply “wants it now.”

Like so many areas of CX this concept is easy to understand - since we are all also consumers ourselves - yet very hard to achieve and potentially quite expensive.  The biggest obstacle to speed is latency and hence the need to eliminate (or at least significantly diminish) it.  Therein lies a massive challenge as well as a mission critical choice for the CTO and team: either integrate multiple systems or  toss out one’s legacy systems and select and deploy an entirely new platform.  There are of course many hybrid or mixed solutions that one can consider yet at the end of the day this “integrate or replace” fork in the road is perhaps the biggest technology decision one needs to make in the quest for CX excellence.

How to make the right choice?  There is no easy cookie cutter answer.  Five critical variables need to be assessed, including:

  1. Status and architecture of existing systems and their ability to at least solve for the need to deliver real time ingestion & integration of many disparate data sets.
  2. The cost of any required integrations vs. the cost of retiring legacy systems and replacing them with new platforms.  This analysis must include not only  licensing and setup costs but also ongoing maintenance and support costs.
  3. The opportunity costs created by deploying new systems should they truly enable a better economic outcome - this will require careful economic modeling and not a “It’s just faster and better” cursory evaluation.
  4. Time to market: which approach will enable the company to achieve its goals more quickly and what are the precise economic values associated with the two timing options?
  5. Organizational skill set and knowledge combined with the ability to retain expertise while adopting new systems.  Does your staff have the skills to shift to utilizing a new platform? How trainable are they?  is their a comprehensive, codified process already in place that will retain valuable knowledge and expertise?

Coming Soon:  Emerging CX technology innovators that should be on your CX roadmap shortlist.

Without Greater Rigor....Rigor Mortis

Apologies for the imagery here but the CX industry needs to wake up.  If we do not act with urgency, discipline and focus we will likely end up in the same rut that the marketing technology industry has created for itself. Which rut is that?  The one where there are more applications and solutions and service providers on the market than one could possibly count…or make sense of.  This ultra-confusing, fragmented approach to addressing very concrete and often daunting enterprise needs, typically ends up delivering partial solutions and even worse...increasingly dissatisfied customers - all in an era where customers expectations are rising every day.

One of the biggest trends we note is what we like to refer to as the  “Marketing vs. Care Dichotomy.”  The typical conversations usually include statements such as these:

  • “At XYZ company our CX efforts are focused on improving the performance of our call centers.  Marketers?  They focus on acquiring customers."
  • “CX is very important to us and that is why we focus heavily on NPS.  The CXO owns that - not marketing"
  • “If the marketers were more consistent with their messaging we wouldn’t have to spend so much time cleaning up their messes when the customers inevitably reach out to the contact center."
  • “it feels useless to invest more in media and content projects when the customer care people can’t even answer the phone on time."
  • “Social media is marketing’s responsibility."
  • “Social media is our customer care team’s responsibility."

You get it.  The list of these examples could go on and on.  As if the all too frequent lack of holistic thinking within the enterprise were not a big enough problem, the “vendorscape” also contributes to this growing challenge.  In a world where venture capital at times fuels fabulous innovations it also fuels senseless “siloization.”  Time after time we learn of companies that offer nothing more than a series of features that they like to call “products” which in order to truly be of value need to be integrated with numerous other products and services.  It seems that the primary intent of many of the founders of these companies is to get purchased by someone else who is potentially further down the road in building a holistic solution to actually serve the needs of the market.

Our point here is conceptually straightforward yet remains difficult to solve for: Customer Experience simply must be a company-wide mission and we must be disciplined and rigorous in adhering to this principle.  Of course not all departments will play equally important roles but all departments need to know that the customer is at the center of the company's reason for existing.  What some may define as Customer Care other might define as Customer Loyalty; what the contact center sees as its mission so too must the product development people and field service personnel understand as their raison d’être as well.  At the Customer Xperience Company we observe many persistent and value diminishing behaviors all the time.  Perhaps its time we started referring to them for what they are (or at least risk becoming) - Useless.  Just a few examples include:

  • Analytics platforms that uncover insights but can’t import both behavioral and attitudinal date sets: useless
  • CX software solutions that define gaps but don’t enable actionable downstream strategies and execution: useless
  • Customer retention efforts that don’t require dynamic segmentation: useless
  • Marketers who see their mission as pure customer acquisition without concerns about the value and longevity of the customers they acquire: useless
  • Sales people who are not measured and rewarded also based upon customer satisfaction: useless

Maybe we are being overly-critical here but let’s face it, despite the billions of dollars that are being invested in CX, the overall trends in customer satisfaction and churn are not getting better. Getting CX right is downright hard.  The theory is the easy part.  Making the right choices, establishing a single data platform, leveraging insights across the spectrum of customer behaviors AND attitudes, measuring beyond “just” NPS, aligning the organization and creating value based, common standards of measurement, none of these are easy. However the alternative will be declining customer value, declining profits and ultimately failure.

Thinking and acting holistically in the service of one’s customers is our obligation. Without the necessary rigor our customer realtionships will die and so will our businesses.

Walk The Walk Before Everyone Stops Listening To Your Talk

Where are your customers walking and are you following their footsteps?

Where are your customers walking and are you following their footsteps?

Apparently Customer Experience is all the rage…If the statistics are to be believed, more people are talking about and working within the various aspects of this new Customer Experience world than one might have ever thought possible.  According to “Markets & Markets” $3.7 Billion was the estimated CX Spend in 2014 and that will grow by a whopping 220% to $8.3 Billion by 2019!  And according to LinkedIn there are already 9,459,640 LinkedIn Members that have CX in their current job profile .

Perhaps these data points surprise us.  But should they?  After all, isn't the inherent importance of CX and the centrality of customer-centricity immensely clear to all of us?

The bottom line is that we may have let ourselves get distracted by the cacophony regarding "Digital Transformation,” “DMP’s,” “Social Media,” “Programmatic,” “Omnichannel," etc. etc. In order to hopefully bring some clarity to all of this noise, below I have outlined seven essential truths that have likely been true dating back to Athens and the Agora and should remain so in any future regardless of what new technology will surround (invade?) us:

Truth 1.  Customers Are It.  Customers always have been and always will be the lifeblood of any business.  Stating the obvious does not make it any less important.  If companies do not organize around their customers as the central driving force for which they exist, then I would suggest that perhaps they do not have a right to stake a claim to the future.  The best companies have aligned, from the top down, around their customers and the need to constantly seek ways to better serve them - all within a clear measurement construct that looks not only at NPS but also at Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV) as well as ROI.

Truth 2.  Be Humble. Humility and with it a sincere willingness to listen to and learn from BOTH customers and customer-facing employees remains mission critical for any company that truly seeks to better understand and thereby serve its customers.

Truth 3.  What We Do Is What Counts.  What we say only counts if it is 100% consistent with what we do…or as I like to say, “Walk the walk before everyone stops listening to your talk."

Truth 4.  Strategy Must be Measurable, Dynamic and Flexible.  The only strategies worth discussing are ones which are supported by accurate, up to date, customer based insights. As customers inevitably change in this era of accelerating innovation, so must our strategies change.  When customers needs and desires evolve so must we evolve our ability to meet those needs and desires.  What does remain constant is the necessity to measure performance, to listen to one’s customers while leveraging all of the power that modern methods and technologies provide and to then react both intelligently and quickly to what we learn as part of this never ending process.

Truth 5.  Think Holistically and Integrate.  Customers do not experience and perceive brands based upon isolated, single moments in time.  The sum total of many such moments, channels and experiences all inevitably link together to define what customers think of those few brands with which they chose to interact.  This requires us to integrate:  our data sets, our analysis, our applications, and our organizational structures - they all need to support a singular goal of maximizing customer value. CRM, CX, eCommerce, Customer-care - these are all important aspects of the same multidimensional puzzle and need to be optimized with a single view of one’s customers and absolute clarity as to how the many pieces must fit together in a complementary fashion.

Truth 6.  There Are No Silver Bullets. I am sorry to say that truly serving one’s customers and being expert at CX while perhaps conceptually straightforward, is just plain hard work. Despite many vendors assertions to the contrary, there is no single application, no one technique, no one channel or approach that will solve for all of your CX needs.

Truth 7.  Not All Customers Are Created Equal. Yes, customers are everything; however, not every customer warrants the same level of attention and investment. Distinct customers / customer segments have highly differentiated actual and potential value.  Different customers are at a vast number of varied milestones along their ever-evolving journeys.  The Pareto Rule (1896) still basically holds true and with it the need to differentiate the strategies, tactics and investments we apply to our various customer segments.

So Customer Experience is indeed on fire.  Nevertheless we are in an industry that arguably has not even reached its adolescence.  As we learn to grow up and tackle these complicated issues, focusing on these few key principles should hopefully help all of us get to the next stage with greater success and most importantly…many more delighted customers.

Customer Experience Professionals Beware: NPS Obsession May Kill Us All

In this hyper-complicated world of 24 x 7 digital marketing and connected customer experiences, the desire to find a single “silver bullet” – some magical means by which to measure and solve for all problems, has perhaps never been greater.  After all, wouldn’t it be fantastic if such a secret weapon were to actually exist? 

We need only look back to 455 BCE to Aeschylus's Agamemnon and the often cited phrase, “Live by the sword, die by the sword” to understand the perils of looking at the world through a mono-dimensional lens.  Such a grizzly outcome could become our destiny if those of us who recognize both the need for and the mighty potential of customer-centric strategy and actions continue down a path of singular NPS Obsession.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with NPS per se.  It cuts to the chase with an extremely logical and outstanding premise: “How likely is it that you would recommend [brand] to a friend or colleague?”  This is not one of those difficult to track, touchy-feely “customer satisfaction” questions.  It’s not yet another milk-toast approach to understanding customer sentiment.  It’s a great question to ask and in the absence of any other data, no customer experience leader nor marketer should do without.

The perils with focusing on NPS rest in that this single criteria of measurement is dominating most efforts to measure and subsequently improve customer experience quality and value. The very customer experiences that we should be designing, measuring, modifying and deploying with clock-like precision simply cannot and should not rely on the NPS metric alone.

Hard Dollars Vs. Soft Sentiments

We must ask ourselves – when is the last time we put some NPS in the bank?  How often do we cite NPS as an asset in your balance sheets?  Or getting down to brass tacks, can we truly quantify a direct correlation between NPS and the value of our customer base / business and are we able to understand the levers that effect the two with a clearly defined ROI Model?

Nevertheless, as we look at the growing number of survey based CX applications and service offerings bombarding the market, the overwhelming majority are focused on the usage of survey based data and indeed often solely on NPS.

If we stop to reflect on this increasingly survey dominated world (see my recent blog: Beware the Survey Tsunami…) we should recognize that there will always be a net void between what people say and what people do.  Call it human nature, call it hypocrisy, call it left vs. right brain thinking, the fact of the matter is that relying on whether or not a customer declares that he/she will or will not recommend a brand to a friend is a path fraught with (excessive) risk.  

It gets worse…when it comes to effectively scaling the insights that can be derived from customer feedback, the challenges become bigger as survey responses inevitably decline with growing consumer rejection of being surveyed every moment of every day and with that decline extensibility in a true 1:1 manner is impossible. 

Nevertheless, a dizzying array of Fortune 500 companies have recently bought into this survey driven, NPS focus (obsession?) and are using this choice to support critical KPI’s, business objectives, variable compensation and as a result, management behaviors.

Follow The Money

I would suggest that there is a better way.  Let’s be practical and simply start with the money. What one puts into the bank and what one takes out of the bank, whether your job is to drive revenues or control costs, clearly measurable and predictable financial performance remains central to our understanding of performance.

So how about measuring Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV)?  And for the increasingly stressed marketers out there let’s not forget about Marketing Return On Investment (MROI) – I am sure the CFO does not forget when budget time comes around...

Every action, experience, and message that brands create while interacting with customers has the opportunity to either increase or decrease the value of the brand’s relationship with that customer.  I readily agree that NPS is a very helpful metric, an important contributor to measuring value yet it cannot be a silver bullet and the aforementioned gaps and scalability issues are serious ones that need tackling, the sooner the better.

Three Implications For A Multi-Metric CX Approach

To start with, better measurement inevitably will lead to better outcomes.  Increased customer value (CLTV), higher MROI as well as a much more efficient design and deployment cycles for customer experience creation.   This is the “easy” part.

Despite the potential rewards, the challenges are nevertheless significant.  In order to accurately understand and act on the proposed broader selection of metrics there are substantive data, application and organizational considerations that cannot be ignored.  Here below is a simple, high level overview of some of the major issues that we need to address:

Data: If survey / attitudinal data is fraught with flaws which diminish predictability and scalability then much larger behavioral data sets need to become a central part of the supporting customer experience analytics and insight generating platform(s).  However, few, if any, companies have cracked the code on cost-effectively integrating and analyzing these rapidly-growing behavioral data sets that are derived from the omni-channel world their customers are navigating in at all hours of the day.  This remains job one and it requires a very precise understanding of how data should support customer experience goals and underlying strategy – before you embark on one of those budget killing, deadline missing, “data lake” projects.  The questions of which data, when (real time or not?) and what to analyze are critical yet your strategy needs to lead - not follow - this analysis.

Applications:  If you have solved the data set problem - congratulations – but you are not out of the woods.  Speed is now the rule and “real-time” is increasingly cited as the essential standard, the ability to assemble, integrate and analyze the right data sets is only as valuable as an organization’s ability to also leverage those insights in a timely and value creating manner.  This not only requires high degrees of automation; it can also require significant integration.

Most large companies have now adopted one of the many cloud-based campaign planning and management platforms and many of those that have yet to do so are in the active consideration phase.  Therefore, the ability to integrate one’s “Insight Creation” capabilities / platform with one’s “Campaign Planning and Management” capabilities platform becomes sacrosanct.  With very few exceptions (none?) the enterprise application stack is an ever-evolving combination of legacy application, systems and data platforms, each of which will need to work together in order to successfully support critical, customer experience enhancing uses cases including: content personalization and optimization, cross-channel messaging and trigger-based up-sell and cross-sell initiatives.

Organization:  You have solved the data set challenge, you have integrated your systems and applications so that the linkages between insight creation and and insight actionability are highly automated and effective – that’s fantastic.  Well done!  Now comes the hard part.  Organizing your “people assets” to effectively serve your “customer assets.”

Companies that have embraced NPS as the/a key KPI and who are compensating management based upon that score have already taken important strides to get their organizations to think about truly serving customers.  However, not surprisingly, when one seeks to add cost and revenue considerations into the mix and support just two more metrics such as CLTV and MROI, the organizational issues and complexity multiply dramatically.  No longer is “great service at any cost” an acceptable approach.  Quickly the need to differentiate customer experiences and levels of service based upon the current and potential value of the customer in question becomes a critical necessity and drives the need for segment / persona-based planning.  With that a need arises for the ability to produce and update segments dynamically and with that need arises yet another data question.

Conclusion:  Nobody said it would be easy.

Perhaps one of the drivers for the explosion of the NPS mindset is its relative ease of adoption.  Yet in a world where performance requires accurate, objective measurement of those variables which truly impact value combined with razor-sharp precision, reliance on NPS alone could deliver you the sharp side of a dangerous sword. 

Call To Arms - How Do We Drive Profitable Growth in The Customer-Centric Era? A Treatise for these CX Times...

The Context: These are not easy times for CX, Marketing and Sales professionals.  We are caught in an endlessly changing, increasingly digital world which is upending the ways in which we have gone about our business for a long time. Serious, fundamental transformation is required.  But what? And how? In what sequence? And even who does what?

The Challenge: Technology and the pervasive digital culture have transformed both the “How” and the “Who” of demand creation and maximizing customer lifetime value. In this new era of Customer Experience it is the customers who are (and will remain) truly empowered.

  • Customers are empowered by unlimited access to information, opinion and shared experiences
  • Media costs are going up while response rates are going down
  • Customers’ media usage has rapidly shifted to real-time and is increasingly contextual
  • Content consumption has shifted to personal devices, “Mobile First” and “Mobile Only” are now primary, challenging considerations for all Marketers
  • Ad blockers, privacy, flawed (over-stated) attribution are increasing complexity
  • Customers expect value at every micro exchange and they expect all experiences to be personalized and relevant
  • While interested in personal gratification they often also seek identification with a shared macro purpose and expect products and services to be authentic
  • They expect immediate access to information, rapid gratification and they want seamless transactions directly with brands

Customers have shifted and will continue to evolve their media and content consumption. The newly empowered consumer is forcing brands to radically rethink how marketing, customer care and other areas of the enterprise need to serve these evolving behaviors:

  • To both consume and create content that evolves dynamically across channels and in real-time
  • To find and discover information and opportunities through Google
  • To engage and share through Facebook and evolving affinity based networks
  • To update in real-time through Twitter or smaller, specialized social communities
  • To receive recommendations through Amazon
  • To hear and watch brand stories through You Tube
  • To transact immediately through PayPal and other mobile payment providers
  • To have equally informed call center personnel, customer service representatives, front line sales associates and executives who can easily measure the impact and the ROI contribution of each

Marketing, sales and customer experience professionals have a mission critical role to deliver long-term value as well as execute operationally with a focus on measurable growth performance. The implications for the enterprise are that Marketing and what in the past was referred to as “CRM” and Sales Force Automation are no longer separate activities or simply one-off current year budget categories.

  • Marketing needs to create experiences inextricably linked with sales, operations and service
  • Customer-centric organizations need to both create content for and receive content from the entire enterprise, extending from corporate communications to R&D
  • Customer-centric organizations will drive investments in technology that will be connected to enterprise systems
  • Customer-centric organizations will require access to data from across the enterprise combined with the ability to rapidly develop and deploy insights based upon that data
  • Marketing budgets will require financial modeling of ROI (both expense and capital) that must be clearly connected to sales outcomes
  • Marketing must be a humble, collaborative partner with sales, technology, service and customer experience colleagues

Marketing, sales and related customer experience activities are an expanding, very fast-growing area of enterprise investment.  These budgets will continue to grow beyond paid media and therefore influence and control is sought by an increasing number of potential players inside and outside of the enterprise…and beyond the Marketing department.

  • Agency holding companies, with disconnected offerings and limited scale across advertising, media and digital agencies
  • Management consultants, seeking customer insights and marketing implementation capability
  • Technology vendors, seeking to engage the CTO, the CIO, the CMO and the CRO to deliver innovative technology solutions while not always fully understanding customer-centric strategy
  • Traditional Marketing Service Provider’s with database solutions challenged by real-time behaviors or insights from unstructured sources
  • Research companies delivering survey and panel data without delivering actionable insights into behaviors and returns
  • Digital media and publishers, offering a new breed of solutions searching for a role within the ecosystem of clients, agencies, media and publishers

Our collective mission must be to enable the enterprise, inclusive of and beyond the CMO, to define and deliver new customer experience-centric growth strategies that respond to the dramatic transformation that organizations face as they seek to rapidly adapt to new requirements in this era of the customer.

  • Commencing with analytics and insights which redefine consumer value and consumer roles as champions, co-creators and critics as well as transactors 
  • Establish proprietary metrics, systems and performance dashboards for the entire organization with profitable customer experience engagement as a new primary objective and driver of growth
  • Defining brand experiences in terms of the audiences with whom one seeks to engage, both in terms of purpose as well as relevant content
  • Developing the content plans across the enterprise to deliver to customers, personalized to individuals or for their communities
  • Redefining the roles of paid, owned and earned media and integration with sales, service and operations
  • Connecting marketing to operations, sales, technology and service through carefully mapped and defined customer journeys

The ideal approach calls for an integrated team and platform to both define and execute the strategies. Teams need to be customized and expert at leveraging best-in-class data, tools and technologies.

  • The team will leverage a robust, KPI focused, strategic framework to develop programs designed for one or more segments or divisions of the business
  • Given our penchant for test and learn, ideally, initial projects would consist of at least one customer-centric marketing program across all media and channels for an agreed period, typically no less than 12+months, with testing of significant growth opportunities and real-time tracking
  • These types of programs must run on a connected data solutions platform with first party customer data supplemented by relevant data sources, and with technology that enables real-time content activation and personalized experiences
  • The capabilities and skills in the team will be full service across strategic planning, analytics, creative, content curation, as well as activation across all channels, development, production, publishing, and optimization
  • Program governance should be shared across departments utilizing best practices in workflow, program management, reporting and performance measurement

Success will best be achieved when the CMO, CRO, CIO and COO as well as the new “Chief Customer Experience Officers” work seamlessly to design and orchestrate these programs across all functions. To enable a continuous test and learn approach toward the development of customer-centric” growth strategies and their supporting organization(s).  This will also require a commitment to organizational design, workflow and training across-functions in order to:

  • Ensure Customer-Centricity across the enterprise in actionable, tangible ways.
  • Connect Marketing, Sales  and Customer Care with the CIO and IT organization around technology planning.
  • Connect Marketing with the COO, operations and services organizations around connected experiences that span from search, to sales, to loyalty.
  • Connect Marketing with Research around a decision-making framework.
  • Connect Customner Care with Marketing & Finance & Sales for the business case and evaluation criteria.
  • Connect Customner Careand marketing with HR for future skills and training requirement

The benefits we should all commit to deliver will enable the CXO, CMO, and the CRO to plan, prove and scale performance-based marketing across a continuous lifecycle

  • Fact-based business cases based on rigorous analysis of both acquisition and retention opportunities
  • One connected plan and program for driving change and ROI
  • Real-time tracking of performance and shared learning
  • Recommendations for internal skills, workflow and organization

The advantages of this differentiated model from the increasingly ineffective, more traditional, less connected single solution approaches are many:

  • Marketing, sales and customer experience expertise will be coupled with specific technology solutions/platforms across all aspects of the customer lifecycle
  • Knowledge of the ecosystem of Media, Technology, Data and Content, enabling the right solutions will be matched to the clients’ needs
  • Methodology will be deployed to plan and execute with discipline, rigor and speed
  • Talent will be selected for this customer-centric, performance based model and trained in its operation
  • Compensation will be inclusive of output and performance with shared accountability for business outcomes
  • Lower overheads from efficient process and staffing
  • Elimination of the waste, inefficiency and cost of managing multiple vendors
  • All underpinned by deep expertise in analytics, insights, metrics, technology and continuous optimization

Conclusion: designing and delivering the right programs that truly drive measurable and profitable growth in this new Customer-Centric era is a big challenge that requires clear alignment and scale all the way from strategy, to technology to organizational execution.  It's an urgent challenge.  As professionals we all need to commit to solving for this. 

The Pecta-Hecta-Byte Big Data Challenge (or Drowning In Your Data Lake)

Big Data can become Big Boring in a hurry.  The use (or abuse) of this overused term may have set the all time speed record in terms of velocity to meaninglessness.  Most of what we read and hear goes something like this, “There are 27 gazillion pectahectabytes of data out there, they are quadrupling every thirty-three milliseconds and if you just have the right combination of data scientists and software applications you will likely become the single smartest and wealthiest person since Bill Gates.”

So how do we parachute back down to planet earth, bring some sense and order to this mega-hypathon and truly drive value for companies & brands?  As a passionate Customer Experience executive and tireless marketer, I prefer to cut to the chase and focus the conversation on maximizing measurable, sustainable value.  Of course there is incredible potential to be derived from charting the multiple paths that will provide the right, properly weighted combination of survey-based data, transactional data and in some cases, such as in Telco, network data as well.

One Constant Nevertheless Remains: All Data, Big or Small, Starts Out as a Very Significant Cost Challenge.

Yes, every year it does indeed cost less to process data, less to store data and as the quantity of raw data continues to grow so does the potential to harvest golden nuggets from that very data which created all of this hype in the first place. Nevertheless, collecting data, ingesting data, aggregating data, discovering valuable insights from data, reporting on those insights, enabling the downstream usage of data driven insights – each of these crucial steps requires technology and labor, none of which come free.

Not only can their be significant cost involved, these actions each need to occur with machine-like regularity and precision and increasingly in real time before any value whatsoever can be extracted.  Despite what some vendors like to claim, we are not yet close to a magical point and click “Instant Win Big Data lottery” moment where everybody wins.  In fact, in absence of any publicly available ‘data on big data projects’ (sorry) it is likely that more than fifty percent of all Big Data projects undertaken to date have not met the lofty expectations with which they were conceived.  What I do know for sure is that more often than not, these types of real challenges are confronting our clients every day at The Customer Xperience Company.

So what to do?  Despite the Hype, the Promise and Potential are Indeed Immense.

Job 1.  Understand and Prioritize Your Business Problem(s), the Challenge(s) and/or the Opportunity. 

What are your organization’s top three to five business priorities?  It may turn out that leveraging data driven insights won’t help you solve for these priorities in a tangible, sustainable and cost effective manner.  Ok, if that is the case then it’s probably not worth the effort.  However, before you reach that decision there are a few important steps you need to take.

Job 2.   Define The Right Analytic Metrics Framework

To solve each of the top business priorities that you have selected, you need to go through the process of defining what data driven questions you would like to answer, how you would quantify those answers and ideally undertake this exercise at the single customer or at least individual customer segment level.  The more detailed your investigation of these potential uses cases are, the more reliable your analysis will be.  We often find that a small, cross-departmental team is best utilized for this effort so that multiple points of view and knowledge sets are brought to bear in providing the most objective situational analysis.

For illustrative purposes, here below I have provided some sample questions regarding the always mission critical “customer churn” use case.  These are just ten samples of the many questions that you might want to examine: 

  • Are you in a business where there are sufficient data points that can truly help determine, in advance, if a customer is likely to churn?
  • What revenue and profit results would be achieved if you actually diminished that churn?
  • Do you have a reliable, dynamic segmentation schema set up from which to start identifying distinct, actionable segments and then asking differentiated questions about those segments or personas?
  • Does each segment/persona have a measurable $ value assigned to it? 
  • Are you facing churn equally across each of your customer segments and what is the $ value of that churn?
  • What percentage of your customers are churning each week, month, quarter, year?
  • Have you differentiated the way in which you interact with your at risk customers and how has that changed behavior and customer lifetime value (CLTV)?
  • How, if at all, are you measuring CLTV and the impact that different offers, contact strategies and content have on it? 
  • Are you seeing a drop off in CLTV when customers engage with certain channels or purchase certain products or services, which ones and what are the $ values of those declined?
  • Are you measuring NPS by segment and is there a clear correlation between NPS and CLTV?

The types of questions I have listed above (and many, many more) all require hard-hitting analysis and insight development. They are indeed “Big Data” questions however they are substantive, actionable and, arguably, essential to drive incremental revenue and profits for your business.

Job 3.  Data Volume & Data Depth Inventory

You may not have the volume or depth of customer data required to answer these types of questions about your customers, if that is the case then you may want to hit the Big Data Pause button.  However, if you do have the data, then, in close collaboration with your IT colleagues, you will want to undertake some rapid analysis in order to determine the level of effort, steps required and technology required to enable a winning data driven strategy. That process might go like this:

Utilizing a simple grid table, in column 1. Write down your top three to five business priorities outlined in no. 1 above.  In the adjacent column, write down the data driven questions you would like to answer (see questions in no. 2 above).  Then, in a column immediately to the right of those questions you should list the categories or data types that you would need to access in order to quantify the answers you are seeking.   After that, and one more column to the right, you should seek to quantify the volumes of data currently or potentially available.  Then begin to document if you have the ability to collect, store, analyze and process that data and persist it over time.  As you think about that here are three critical qualitative “sanity check” questions you should be asking yourselves:

Data Completeness:  are you able to access a complete set of data regarding your prospects and/or customers?  Can you track their behaviors and content consumption prior to transaction even when their names are unknown to you and they exist solely as a bunch of cookies or device Id’s?  Are you able to capture behaviors on your web site, in your contact center, as well as all other applicable channels? 

Insight Creation:  Do you have the tools and skilled personnel to sift through all of the data and develop meaningful insights that can drive measurable incrementality?  Are you soliciting feedback through surveys and questionnaires and is that information properly weighted relative to the other data sets you have?

Insight Deployment:  Once created, actionable insights need to be used and that typically requires the ability to personalize and optimize content, offers, channel usage and achieve all of that quickly – even possibly in real time.  Do you possess a campaign planning and management platform and is your insight creation technology integrated with it?


Big Data is not the point.  The cost effective creation of scaled, deployable, value creating insights is the goal one needs to keep focused on.  No company can afford for this to be a random exploration effort just because we have been inundated with a level of hype bigger than the ocean of data that apparently surrounds us all.  Like most big opportunities, there remains a dire need for process, precision, order and rational thinking.

Coming Soon: We are not just left brained.  The power and awesome potential of ideas and content has become increasingly elusive and is often about things that have little to do with algorithms.


Guest Blog: Customer Experience = The New Corporate Arms Race

Contributed by John Sheldon: Global SVP, Innovation Management at MasterCard

Building the best Customer Experience is the new corporate arms race. This “stockpiling” of better and better moments, all increasingly productized for replication, is happening around the globe. Enabled by technology and access to data, digital giants, startups and even more traditional companies like MasterCard are redefining each aspect of their everyday customer interactions. And once the customer has had a taste of this new and better way, it becomes the “experience floor”, the new minimum acceptable standard against which he/she will judge all future experiences.

Innovation lies at the heart of these changes and it is accelerating at MasterCard at a faster pace than ever before. We are teaching our customers to expect better experiences with each interaction, and the best companies are becoming better and achieving that.  For us at MasterCard, this is having a profound impact on us strategically, technologically and organizationally. It’s an exciting, challenging time.

New Strategies
The pace of change and need to continually improve the Customer Experience has our organization thinking differently about our strategies in (at least) three ways:

1.    Who we consider as our competition

Ten years ago, and even more recently, if you asked inside and outside of our company who the competition was, you would get two four letter brand names and if the person stretched, they might say PayPal (with a ?). Today, competition to create better payment experiences has reached fever pitch. That list might now include hundreds of names, some highly recognized brands, others not including mobile money providers, faster ACH, digital wallet providers and even the potential that some see in the Blockchain. These new competitors each seem to start by taking one aspect of the payments and commerce experience and using that as a lever to gain share with customers who recognize there may be an improvement. We see threats to our business everywhere and that what makes this moment in time so invigorating.

2.    How we can support our core customers

Our traditional customers – banks and merchants – aren’t universally known for their speed of innovation. To be clear, we have some incredibly customer-centric, forward thinking customers, but there are others who for any number of reasons – cost, compliance risk, institutional aversion – would be well-classified as laggards. In today’s world, this can be very costly. One of the main reasons we created MasterCard Labs is to help our customers by innovating alongside them. We help them solve specific customer experience needs using the same tools and techniques that we have developed within MasterCard. We deliver this on a consulting basis through a group we call Labs-as-a-Service. 

3.    The role we need to play in the overall Customer Experience

Anyone who has stepped out of an Uber car recently can tell you there are huge changes in “the moment of payment” within the customer experience realm. In some ways, the payment is becoming invisible. Obviously this has a profound impact on our brand and our hero moment when we deliver that fast, safe, secure, trusted, completed transaction. For our brand to remain relevant, we must add value around the transaction – before, during (of course) and afterwards. Witness the acquisitions we have made in the loyalty space, including Pinpoint and Truaxis as a key proof point.

The good news for MasterCard is that we have great assets and relationships to build on here. Over two billion cards, a global footprint and unprecedented data visibility give us the ability to look at important everyday use cases and find improvements. Recent great examples include dining (Qkr pay-at-table), refilling gas (P97 partnership) and even the laundromat (Maytag Clothespin app) as areas where our understanding of the hurdles in these experiences can lead to dramatic improvements before, during and after the moment of payment. 

New Technologies
There is an ever-expanding list of enabling technologies that are driving opportunities for better experiences. For companies to keep up, they need to be evaluating technology at every stage of the Gartner Hype Cycle (link). For MasterCard that list includes not only what is happening in e-commerce and at the checkout aisle, but everything from drones to VR to iris scanning to IoT, sensors and beyond. 
It is critical that companies work to understand these new technologies and their possibilities for impacting their business. Regularly holding “war game” type discussions where teams understand the opportunities and threats around a technology is a worthwhile exercise. 

Organizational Impacts
As the person managing the innovation programs and processes for MasterCard, I exist as an embodiment of the fact that companies need to adapt their organizations to deal with improving customer experiences. In our case, creating a separate organization – MasterCard Labs – was necessary for us to be able to protect our core business from the experimentation and other consequences of innovating customer experiences. We needed a place where, in the words of Mark Zuckerberg, we could “move fast and break things.” Not every organization needs this.

Even though we have Labs, innovation isn’t our exclusive province. The rest of the company needs to participate in improving experiences. In fact, the employees of MasterCard are the richest source of our ideas within Labs. We tap their everyday experiences as both consumers and customer advocates. They know where the bodies are buried, so Labs just helps unearth them. Just having a structured program to allow your employees to share ideas (and rewarding them) is a powerful first step.

One can see the far ranging effects of systematically working to improve customer experiences. Don’t be overwhelmed. The key is to just start. Quick wins will drive momentum and organizational support.

As a consumer, I love that companies are working hard to make my life better by improving my experiences and I intend to reward those that do it best.

Beware The Survey Tsunami & The Nagging Mother Survey Reminder

You may recognize this story…

You have just taken a flight somewhere and within 24 hours you receive an email from the airline asking you how the flight experience was.  “Shockingly” you might actually decide to delete or ignore the survey email.  Maybe because you are tired of filling out surveys, maybe because you have better things to do with your time – I can think of a couple.  Then, a few days later, just like the (nagging) mother who calls her son and says, “You never call,” a fresh new email arrives and it basically slaps you around with a “We are still waiting for your response to our survey” message!

If this trend continues I am sure it’s just a matter of time before we receive a survey asking us how our survey experience was and then, inevitably, a follow up email will arrive badgering us for not having responded to the survey regarding the survey process.  These are indeed dangerous times.

We all know that the number one, utterly essential reason why all companies should be focusing an increasingly large amount of their time and resources on Customer Experience is so that they can keep as close as possible to the very reason for existing…you guessed it…to serve their customers.  After all, companies without customers or lots of unhappy customers don’t tend to have auspicious futures…

So it should go without saying that asking customers what they think of your brand, product or services is a good idea.  Right?  In fact, unless we ask customers what they think, listen carefully to their answers and maybe even monitor the social media ecosystem to know what customers are saying about us behind our backs, are we not condemned to being out of touch with them, to being too late to address their issues and generally speaking diminish the value of our relationships with those precious customers and hence diminish the value of our companies?

Unfortunately, we are now witnessing a potentially damaging response to this very challenge. I chose to call it the Survey Tsunami.  It seems that every thing we do, every flight we take, every time our heads touch a hotel pillow, every web site we visit, even every doctor we visit…they all have one thing in common…they result in our being subjected to yet another survey…

This massive wave of endless surveys is now drowning us all.  It’s not a knee deep problem, in the period of just a few years we are now over our heads in surveys.

So What To Do?

Like all marketing and customer service questions the answer starts with the age old rule of applying common sense.  There is no single cookie cutter answer to the “right” frequency of asking customers for feedback.  The answer to that challenge varies by industry, by customer segment, by “survey trigger” (why or what are you surveying in the first place) as well as factors including individual customer response rates, customer preferences as well as the underlying objectives.  Nevertheless, here are just three starter rules to consider:

1.      Always be Actionable: Don’t ask questions unless you are prepared to quickly and proactively respond to any negative feedback.

2.     Be The Customer: Or perhaps more aptly – “Survey unto others as you would be surveyed unto.”  If the frequency seems excessive to you it probably is as well to your customers.

3.     Focus On Value:  You can’t’ put NPS, Customer Satisfaction or their respective scores into the bank.  They are not hard currency.  So every time you develop and ask a question, ask yourself first: “Will asking this question increase the value of my company’s relationship with the customer?  Do we have the strategy, insights and systems in place to leverage the process?”

Oh and the next time you are thinking about pouncing on an unsuspecting “Survey Non Respondent” with yet another solicitation, think twice and just maybe try to avoid the temptation.

More to come…


Score Your Organization’s CX Maturity

An Overview of The Ten X Essential Criteria With Which to Score Your Organization’s Level of CX Maturity:

Customer Centric Organization: is Customer Centricity a CEO backed strategic priority and is it included in your company’s operating model as well as declared values that you communicate to both your customers and employees? 

Customer Experience Technology Platform & Roadmap: can you ingest and aggregate data from multiple sources in real-time? Have you defined, quantified and prioritized your CX technology roadmap and aligned its implementation with corporate goals and objectives? Is this a budgeted item on an annual basis?

Customer Analytics & Lifetime Value: This “super metric” is priority no. 1 when it comes to focusing an organization on the value of its customers and the need to constantly strive to increase that value.  Can your company dynamically measure Customer Lifetime Value and how is it systematically applying this all important metric as part of your company objectives and KPI's?  IS CLTV supporting your company's customer loyalty strategy?  Have you defined the most effective mix of NPS, CLTV & MROI for your organization's goals?

Customer Advocacy Profiling: have you defined your customer segments and personas and in so doing what is the percentage of your company’s customers who identify themselves as advocates as compared to the percentage of customers who identify themselves as detractors? 

Customer Accountability: do your employees know who is responsible and accountable for each aspect of the customer experience and are they empowered to act when they recognize risks and/or opportunities for CX improvement? 

Customer Insight Analytics: Is your company able to develop insights from both customers and employees regarding the quality of your company’s actual development and delivery of customer experiences using both behavioral and attitudinal data as well as ethnographic research?

Customer Journey Mapping: is your company able to create holistic, insight-fueled maps of its customers' interactions with its brand(s) leveraging a combination of survey-based and transactional data while concurrently understanding the processes and systems that support those experiences? 

Customer Cross Channel Continuity & Relevance: are you able to ensure that consistent, relevant experiences are delivered across each channel with which your customers interact with your brand? Are content & offer optimization differentiated where warranted?

Customer Insight Actionability:  are you able to leverage your customer insights to define new and better ways to serve and interact with your customers and to what degree is that ability integrated with automated downstream deployment systems/clouds? 

Customer Experience Optimization:  is your company able to use a combination of predictive analytics and rules-based decisioning to optimize the “intersections" of content (products, services, offers, messages), channels and customers? In real-time? 

Above Example For Illustration Purposes Only

Above Example For Illustration Purposes Only

Would you like us to help you measure your company’s CX maturity score?