Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Customer Experience Counts in All Channels

Forrester recently completed its 2010 customer experience ranking. Data was collected from 4,653 US consumers in November 2009. The full report is available only to Forrester clients, but Bruce Tempkin released key summary statistics yesterday.
His summary of the findings, much of which is displayed in this chart, is interesting:

Retailers take 12 out of the top 20 spots. I’m happy for them, but I also wonder why retailers appear to think that customer experience is more important than do other types of businesses that sell things—B2B or B2C, products or services?
Healthcare, Internet and TV services dominate the bottom. Quelle surprise! We all have our stories. My most recent one is yesterday. I called a physician’s office for an appointment instead of her competitor whose office’s customer service was dissed on local ratings services. So far, so good—the appointments secretary was nice to me on the phone!
There was very little excellence. Again, not news to most of us. Excellent customer service, and it’s outcome, excellent customer experience, is a sustainable competitive advantage. Why? Because it’s hard and it requires upfront investment.
• Liberty Mutual improved the most. Interesting. I’ve actually paid attention to their “responsibility matters” TV advertising. I wondered how that fit into their ability to improve customer experience, so I decided to look around.

What I expected to find was some trade buzz that Liberty Mutual had really been working on its customer service. Maybe they have, but that’s not what I found. I found The Responsibility Project. Business Week had an article and video interview with Stephen Sullivan, senior vice-president, communications services at Liberty Mutual. Sullivan talks about the challenges the firm faced in 2008 as it tried to expand market share in the face of competitors who could outspend and customers who didn’t trust. He says:

"It's a wonderful thing to say that we do the right thing, but it's also a more difficult message to get across to consumers because so many people want to say that," says Sullivan. "What we wanted to say is 'We recognize that personal responsibility is one of your core values and if this is true, then you will like doing business with a company like us because we share that value; in fact, we celebrate it on your part.'"

That view is the core of The Responsibility Project. TV is the responsibility of Hill, Holiday. PR comes from Ketchum, which describes the project as follows:

The Responsibility Project, created by Liberty Mutual, uses entertainment content to create a forum for people to discuss personal acts of responsibility. Through short films, online content and television programming, The Responsibility Project is a catalyst for examining the decisions that confront people trying to “do the right thing.”

Take a look at the project website. The entertainment content is obvious with short films from Liberty Mutual and “responsibility partners” including NBC, Slate and BeliefNet. I was interested in the box that describes their outreach to bloggers at the summer BlogHer conference. The site is reasonably interactive with a blog and an opportunity to post stories, vote on issues and make comments.

Individually, the pieces are impressive. More impressive is the degree to which Liberty Mutual integrates the “doing the right thing” into all its messaging—from the blogger outreach this summer to the career pages on its website. In the Business Week interview Sullivan made the point that employees had to believe in the message in order to be able to deliver on the promise. That starts with hiring the right people, as they are obviously trying to do. One assumes that management at Liberty Mutual is behind the program in both word and deed. Otherwise, the results wouldn’t be showing up in customer experience rankings.

Where did this all start? Liberty Mutual, of the 133 organizations in 14 industries that Forrester surveyed, improved its customer experience rankings the most. That means it supported its words with actions in a most impressive way--another best practices example.

Social media is nice. However, marketers have to use all their channels and use them in an integrated way. If the message doesn’t resonate and the experience is not satisfactory, all social media can do is to reflect customer discontent. If social media is to reflect a strong and trusted brand, business actions are going to establish the foundation. Getting the message out is important, but the actions of employees and the everyday experiences of customers are the ultimate test of strategy.

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