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Customer Experience Trends for Fortune 500 Executives in 2011

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Marketing and customer experience trend posts seem to be a dime a dozen right about now---but what about trend posts from real customer experience experts targeted at line executives of Fortune 500 companies? Folks who have credible, real-world experience. People who have worked (or are working) as high-ranking executives for the Fortune 500 companies they now counsel. Those prediction posts are a bit tougher to find.

As someone who’s sat in that chief marketing officer chair (I was a line executive for a number of years with organizations like Digital River, Wilson’s Leather and Deluxe Corporation), I know the challenges of trying to stay ahead by looking forward, but also trying to keep one foot on the ground by continuing to achieve financial results.

So, what would I share about the year ahead from a customer experience standpoint if I had 10 minutes with a roomful of Fortune 500 executives? I thought you’d never ask.

First, top performing organizations are learning that customer experience is a path to profitability—not a trade-off. A while ago an executive said to me, “Linda, I’m not sure how much customer experience we can afford.” He saw investments in experience as a trade-off to profitability. Heading into 2011, fewer executives profess this view---and that’s good news for them, their organizations, and their customers.

More and more leaders are defining a specific ideal customer experience, then using it as the guide for daily decision making across the organization, in good times and in bad. They’re winning the same payoff we saw in the top performers in our 2008 research. In that study we found that organizations with a well-understood definition of customer experience are TWICE as likely to beat their profit targets than those who do not. Heading into 2011,  I see more and more companies follow the customer experience path to better financial performance.

For additional insights, I polled seven other thought leaders and line executives who have proven success in driving performance for organizations via customer experience. I asked them what they’d share with a Fortune 500 executive if they had 10 minutes to talk about key trends in 2011. Here’s what they had to say:

Barry Dalton

"Customer experience and marketing will converge. A turf war is possible for ownership between chief experience offers and chief marketing officers. Also, self-service and social media for customer service will continue to grow."


Chris Reaburn

"I have to say, a key trend is that people are starting to link the service profit chain in a meaningful way, recognizing the connection between employee satisfaction and loyalty, customer satisfaction and loyalty, and profit. The best are measuring internal satisfaction as a leading indicator of external satisfaction."


Ted Coine

"Savvy companies are already using social media to engage their customers more, to include them in the actual design of products and service experience. We'll see a LOT more of that in 2011 and onward. The gulf between 20th- and 21st-century business models will grow vast as a result."


Wim Rampen

"I think customer involvement is the overarching trend that will affect customer experience in 2011 and beyond. We’ll see a huge increase of customer involvement in customer service through support communities and we'll see an increase of mass customization propositions, product co-creation efforts and ideation forums. I hope to see companies seeking to involve customers more to create value for themselves or other customers than seeking customer involvement for broadcasting marketing messages to potential targets."


Alan See

"First, you will not get a do-over, mulligan ,or practice shot. Translation: Do your P&L homework upfront and structure your best offer immediately. Don’t hold back. Consumers with cash and a willingness to spend it are in short supply right now.

"Second, focus on the consumer. Translation: Make sure you address competitive weaknesses within the four stages of the consumer purchasing process lifecycle, including: Awareness, Information Search, Evaluation, and Purchase/After-Sale Service. In addition, you may need to think smaller by breaking large marketing initiatives into several highly targeted micro campaigns based on continuous selection of the best (most profitable) of the best (ready-to-buy).

"Third, don’t wait until there is a problem to contact or follow up with customers. Translation: Monitor trigger events (contract dates, service calls, etc.) closely and nurture two-way relationship-building conversations. For example, my cell phone contract expired back in February, and I still have not been contacted. When you do follow up, make sure you have something valuable or significant to relate. By the way, a call merely to say you 'just wanted to touch base' is not value-add.

"Finally, keep asking, listening, analyzing and improving. Translation: Keep asking for and listening to your customer’s feedback. And make sure you are leveraging and engaging your entire organization as it relates to that feedback. Social media platforms are an excellent channel to help you both listen and engage in conversation."


Jeannie Walters

"I would tell them to be aware of giant killers in customer experience. There are several larger companies that have ignored what smaller, more nimble competitors are doing to create memorable experiences for their customers. This differentiator can create more loyalty, word of mouth awareness, and recommendations. I’ve watched as large companies stick their heads in the sand as start-ups, even with fewer features or higher prices, chip away at their customer base by appealing to the emotional experience people are craving. 'The way we’ve always done it' is not good enough! Watch what your competition is doing to appeal to customers, and take note."


Kent Huffman

"In 2011, your entire organization should be laser focused on customers---not on simply satisfying needs or even fostering loyalty, but creating a unique customer experience that motivates them to willingly spread the word about your products or services with evangelical enthusiasm. One very effective way to accomplish that is by truly listening to and interacting with your customers via social media. Companies like Dell, with its newly launched Social Media Listening Command Center, are already leading the way."


That’s what the experts think. What about you? What customer experience trend would you point to if you had 10 minutes with a Fortune 500 excutive for 2011?


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Linda Ireland is a partner at Aveus, a strategy and global operational change firm based in Minneapolis. Before joining Aveus, she was CEO of FORWARD I, a strategy and marketing consulting firm. She has also held executive positions at several companies, including Wilsons Leather, Digital River, Genesis Direct, PaperDirect, and Deluxe Corporation. Linda is also the author of DOMINO and blogs regularly at the Customer Experience for Profit Blog and contributes to a number of other industry websites.

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  • by Andrew McFarland Tue Dec 21, 2010 via blog

    Absolutely agree that customer service is an investment in a business, and not purely a cost. Companies that are willing to make those investments. I posted on this topic earlier this year in an article titled: Customers Willing to Pay for Exceptional Service

    Was interested by the comment of convergence of marketing and customer experience. Is the thinking here that good customers are effective marketers via word of mouth? Or that the marketing organization is better equipped to measure the financial linkage of good service to profitability? Or something else altogether?

  • by Jayden Wed Dec 22, 2010 via blog

    We have already observed this starting with the customer reviews on products which marketers use as strategy in selling their products. Now, this basic simple thing will begin to become more dynamic and complex in the coming year which will make marketing more exciting. Merry Christmas!

  • by Linda Ireland Thu Dec 23, 2010 via blog

    I know Barry Dalton will stop by to answer your question about the convergence of marketing and customer experience. My take there is that the functions of Marketing and Customer Experience in large organizations will merge. While a clearly defined target customer experience should drive ALL operating decisions to stay linked to financial performance...customer strategies in large orgs to live in Marketing.

    On your other point - I'm curious: you use the phrases 'customer experience' and 'customer service' interchangeably. Intentional? I certainly agree investments in the kind of service customers value can drive financial performance. Also look to leaders to look broader than service to all the daily decisions that impact the experience. Agree?

  • by Linda Ireland Thu Dec 23, 2010 via blog

    2011 will be dynamic indeed as these customer experience predictions unfold for marketers. My wish for all marketers is that we enroll our peers and teams in a shared vision of an ideal - or target - customer experience. That way now matter how complex things get, our chances of success stay high because we're all aimed at solving the same need for the same set of customers. Onward to 2011! Thanks for stopping by. LCI

  • by Elaine Fogel Thu Dec 23, 2010 via blog

    With the advent of Internet shopping, Web 2.0 and social media, marketers have been focusing on micro target segments and their personal needs and interests, while improving the brand experience overall. When you think about it, the market has become SO personalized that consumers and buyers have grown increasingly demanding with higher expectations of the companies and brands in which they are engaged.

    As MarketingProfs blogger and author Jeanne Bliss said in her book Chief Customer Officer, "Marketing has the tools and the know-how to drive a powerful customer crusade...Marketing should emerge as the leader in bringing together all parts of the organization to do this work."

  • by Liam Bailey Fri Dec 24, 2010 via blog

    We are going to watch out for bigger trends in the use of customer experience for profitability this coming year 2011. As a marketer for toys and gadgets, I believe that customer experience already have a big impact in making gadget saleability increase.

  • by Kelly B. Fri Dec 24, 2010 via blog

    In online business that involves people and traffic like us maintaining, we often rely on marketing and I think customer experience is really a powerful pointer that we have to take note and keep in mind. Thanks to this blog.

  • by Kelly B. Fri Dec 24, 2010 via blog

    In online business that involves people and traffic like us maintaining dating sites, we often rely on marketing and I think customer experience is really a powerful pointer that we have to take note and keep in mind. Thanks to this blog.

  • by Barry Dalton Sun Dec 26, 2010 via blog

    Sorry for the delay in stopping by. In that holiday mode, you know. So, to add a bit of color to my thoughts above, here goes.

    So, first a point of clarification. In terms of convergence, I am looking at the functional silos of marketing (and all it's sub functions, internal and external) and customer service. As the nurturing of the customer experience, the requirements of which the customer will define and influence to a greater and greater extent, is now being recognized by big corporations as a multi-touch point equation, it will need to be driven holistically. The customer doesn't look at it's experience with a brand in fragments, the brand needs to align with that view.

    It terms of who ultimately owns the financial metrics, I think those will be redefined and owned by an "experience" function that spans these silos. I'm not at the point where I think these silos will disappear. There's too much history there, if you will. If the brand can make those internal conflicts opaque to the customer, then that's a mark in the win column.

    Hope that clarifies a bit.

  • by Robert Bacal Mon Dec 27, 2010 via blog

    In a bizarre irony, if you look at almost all of the content, there is hardly ANY reference to the customer's actual experience. I guess customer experience predictions aren't about the customer, but more about how to market?

  • by Andrew McFarland Wed Jan 5, 2011 via blog

    Service is a component of experience. My belief, and the numbers bear this out, is that investing in "experience" benefits companies. Great experiences are owned by a customer-focused culture, not a department. It must start at the top and permeate throughout the entire company in order to succeed. Otherwise, silos of "customer service" are largely marginalized.

  • by Andrew McFarland Wed Jan 5, 2011 via blog

    Thanks Barry. Agree completely. The silos reinforce the idea that customer service is a function of one person/team vs. an objective of the entire organization. Anything we do to improve communications amongst silos or destroy the silos is bound to improve the customers' experience... and the company's profitability. If silos must exist, at least align them around the customer...

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