Based on a global survey of more than 1,300 senior executives, Oracle's "Global Insights on Succeeding in the Customer Experience Era" report finds that 97% agree that customer experience (CX) is critical to success and 93% say their firms have made it a top-three priority over the next two years. Yet only 37% say they have CX initiatives in progress, and only 20% consider their programs to be advanced.
It not shocking that CX ranks right up there with God, motherhood and apple pie, but what is shocking, says Brian Curran, Oracle's VP, customer experience strategy, is how little progress the survey suggests many companies have made.
"Companies are saying, 'we get it,' but many don't know what to do first," says Curran, a veteran of RightNow, the cloud-based customer service suite Oracle acquired last year.
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The list of possible starting points is long, but Curran tops the list with these five important initiatives:
1. Span silos for a consistent, cross-channel experience.
Most companies build out customer interactions in a siloed way. Marketing, sales, e-commerce and support each does its own thing, but the customer doesn't feel like it's a very seamless experience.
"You have to develop of holistic view of what it's like for the customer to go through the entire lifecycle of engagement with the brand," Curran says.
If a customer starts a transaction on your website but then calls with a question, can call center agents see what's in the customer's shopping basket? Oracle's survey reveals that only 26% of companies have this capability. Can customers buy online but then pick up their merchandise in a store? Only 35% of companies support multi-channel transactions, the survey finds.
2. Get serious about mobile.
Do we really need to review the stats on smartphone and tablet sales? It should be obvious that companies should have mobile-enabled sales and service capabilities, Curran says. Yet the survey finds that only 39% of companies are tailoring their content for mobile screens and tapping into device-native capabilities such as GPS to help customers locate stores and service options.
3. Personalize interactions.
Many companies are now thinking about using big data, yet they're not using the not-so-big data that's already available to customize interactions. Only 28% of survey respondents say they're successfully capturing and maintaining a single view of customer behavior and product and service interactions after an initial customer sale to understand customer needs, patterns and preferences. So despite the widespread existence of loyalty programs and registered-user regimes, too few companies interact with knowledge of their customers.
"If you don't know the customer, you're giving standard responses to everyone, yet customers are looking for people to engage with them in a more personalized way," Curran says.
4. Get social.
Here's another area where companies are long on talk and short on execution. It's no surprise that 81% of respondents agree that social networks like Facebook and Twitter are an important part of delivering a great customer experience, yet 35% have yet to add social support to their sales and service channels.
5. Empower customers and employees.
Providing simple, self-service interactions across channels is not only an ideal for customers, it's important to do so for employees, who are invariably outnumbered by well-informed customers who have researched online and are armed with mobile devices when they arrive at the store.
"Whether they're on retail floors or in a call center, employees have to have access to the right data and the right knowledge to take care of the customer," Curran says. That may mean giving employees mobile devices, and it absolutely demands breaking down silos so employees can see what customers see across every touch point with the company.
The penalty for falling short in any one of these areas is severe. Oracle found in a separate March 2012 survey of North American consumers that 89% of consumers say they have switched brands because of poor customer experience. That's evidence of the consumer's power and the ease of changing brands supported by the Internet, mobile devices and social networks.
There's also an opportunity in better customer experience. Oracle's senior executive survey reports that 44% agree that customers are willing to pay more for superior customer experience, and in the consumer survey a whopping 86% agreed that they're doing just that.
The data suggests that if you build it, customers will beat a path to your door. These initiatives are much easier to talk about than execute, which is why so many companies fall short. Hopefully this prioritized list of places to start will help you tackle one important area at a time.