Customer Experience Management - the Basics
April 30, 2010

One of the hottest topics in business today is customer experience management (CEM), which is a step beyond customer relationship management and to some extent customer service as I pointed out in a previous perspective (See: CRM Missing CEM). It is high on the list of things executives are talking about as they plot strategies coming out of the recession. Yet I have come to realize that customer experience management means different things to different people. I recently managed benchmark research on how companies perceive CEM, what they are doing to address it and what they would like to gain from it. Based on my experience, knowledge of what is possible and the research findings, here are my thoughts on what CEM really is.  

My benchmark research showed that the two main ways companies interact with their customers are over the telephone and through their customer service portals. (There are a few notable exceptions, such as retail, which has many face-to-face interactions, and retail banks, which transact a lot of business through ATMs.) In terms of phone interactions, the primary negative experiences for customers are waiting a long time in a queue, navigating through a complex interactive voice response (IVR) system, having to repeat information, talking with an agent who has a bad attitude, being passed from repeatedly from one system or agent to another and most of all, not getting the issue resolved. Conversely, good experiences include talking with a pleasant, knowledge agent and getting the issue resolved at the first contact. Beyond that, excellent experiences include having the agent recognize you, know all about you (including your past interactions regardless of the channel of communication) and personalize the response (such as making a special offer).  

Similar criteria apply to a visit to a self-service portal. Bad experiences include the Web site being down, being slow and making it hard to find what you are looking for, and getting nasty surprises such as not seeing the total value of your purchases until you check out. Good experiences include the site being easy to log onto and making it easy to find and pay for things. Excellent experiences include the Web site being personalized based on your profile and previous interactions and being presented in natural language rather than a technology-driven format.  

The key question in CEM for any company is how to make as many experiences as possible be excellent. It begins with information. To get complete, accurate information, companies need to deploy customer-focused analytics that take data from every source they have and use it to create a comprehensive, up-to-date view of the customer. Nowadays this means accessing data from various transaction systems such as customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), billing and data warehouses, plus other data from multiple text sources such as letters, forms, surveys, e-mail, instant messaging scripts, Web scripts and social media sites, as well as audio recordings (from recorded fixed lines and mobile phones), and using all this data to provide agents and other users with the customer information they need at the time of an interaction.  

Managing the customer experience well during a phone call depends on many factors, such as ensuring the right number of skilled agents are available to match call volumes, training agents in skills and techniques they need as shown by their previous history of handling calls and empowering agents with a computer system that makes it easy to do the right things for the customer. This is what I call a “smart agent desktop” that hides the complexity of systems agents normally have to deal with behind a simple user interface, provides one place to find a complete view of the customer and prompts the agent on the next best action to take based on predefined rules that are triggered by the customer’s profile and data collected during the call.  

As I learned at a recent conference, the two key things about a Web self-service portal are adequate content and ease of use. These priorities are in stark contrast to the results of my research, which showed that companies are much more concerned about response times and navigation. The experts at the conference advised companies to focus far more on design and ease of use, where possible using natural language rather than long lists such as FAQs and personalizing the content according to the customer’s profile.  

Customer analytics, a smart desktop and better self-service portals are at the heart of customer experience management. Yet I am frequently asked where CEM fits into customer service. I see customer service as more of a continuum of events starting with marketing (including e-mail, postal correspondence, the Web site and social media), sales (product, price and other such aspects), service (interaction through call-outs, calls, self-service portal, face-to-face and social media) and possibly dismissal of a customer. Customers may have different experiences during each of these events; it is the totality of the experience that will create their overall level of satisfaction. This is why it is vital that companies have a complete view of their customer information and use it to drive strategy, actions, behaviors and decisions.  

If you would like to learn more about my research into customer experience, please visit CEM  and let me know your thoughts on CEM and what your company is doing to improve the customer experience.  

Let me know your thoughts or come and collaborate with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  


Richard Snow – Global VP & Research Director  


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