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Word-of-Mouth Has Been Weaponized. What’s Your Customer Experience Strategy?

August 31, 2018
byJeffrey Davis inMarketing Communications, Maryland
Word-of-Mouth Has Been Weaponized. What’s Your Customer Experience Strategy? • Marketing Communications

I recently sat down with customer service expert Ed Bodensiek, founder and CEO of Cravety, for this Q&A:

As the head of brand and communications for healthcare giant Select Medical, Ed Bodensiek realized a crucial link between reputation management and the actual experiences that patients, referral sources, and even employees were having with the company. Ed led a cross-functional team to more intentionally manage corporate culture and design experiences, seeing the work as a “2.0” model of how to create truly authentic brand. From there, Ed moved into the legal field, becoming the first chief experience office at any major U.S. law firm. We recently sat down with Ed to get a better feel for CX and what it can deliver for clients.

How Do You Define Customer Experience?

Customer experience is still a new field, and there are varying definitions. I’m a fan of simplicity, so the definition I use is this one: CX is the sum total of every interaction people have with your organization. Viewed this way, you quickly see why communicators should think of CX as next-generation branding. Ultimately, if communicators and our cousins in marketing are supposed to shape reputation, create buzz and demand, a CX business strategy is required. You also want to develop this as quickly as possible, before your competitors get too much of a head start.

Isn’t CX Simply Customer Service and Communications?

This is a great question. It’s also one of the first questions I hear when introducing the concept, and I understand why. In the 1.0 world of comms and branding, it’s all we knew. In that world, press releases and messaging and ad campaigns are in one bucket, and customer service are in another, or worse, lumped into some customer service department. To be clear, the idea of great customer service will always be valued, but that function really belongs to everyone.

A CX strategy is an over-arching attempt to align everything around your customer. That means aligning your people, process, product, place and your public persona. It’s about operationalizing emotion in very intentional ways. It cuts far deeper than just customer service, and requires people to kick down some doors to traditional silos. It’s “outside-in” thinking on an epic scale.

CX used to be a business strategy to set yourself apart. I think you can still do that, but that’s also 2.0 – where you only focus on how you present yourself externally.

If you’re going to create an organizational culture to very deliberately design around customer needs, you need to also focus on Employee Experience, or EX. And among the fastest-growing and smartest organizations, CX is now morphing into a 3.0 model – where CX is combining with EX. And communications and branding is right in the thick of it, together with new allies in HR, operations, and IT. It’s an incredible convergence.

Can You Share Any Examples of How a CX Program Has Worked for Companies?

There are powerful case studies across many verticals. When you think of Zappos or Chewie’s, or Trader Joe’s or Southwest or the Disney or The Ritz-Carlton, you have some obvious examples. What I think is exciting is what’s happening in the B2B space, as leaders in other verticals realize that people crave the same things there too. People have new expectations for how they are treated, beyond a transaction, and beyond just great customer service. They want their needs anticipated. They want empathy. They want organizations that are designed for humans in every way.

I look at the Select Medical Way, for example, a CX and EX strategy that helped propel a company from $2.6B in 2011 to more than $5B in five years. We attracted some of the most prestigious academic medicine brands in the nation to create joint ventures with us, a key strategy that resulted in stratospheric growth, and in a highly competitive and regulated market too. It was a combination of factors: Select Medical had sound financials, but you could find that elsewhere. What set them apart was a culture of putting employees and patients at the center of operations, and making business decisions around that.

We saw the same thing in law. At Miles & Stockbridge, we knew corporate clients could find great lawyers anywhere. Every law firm says the same thing: we’re the best, or the oldest, or deliver the greatest results. Clients could care less. Outside-in thinking for a better Client Experience meant creating a Voice of the Customer program then applying those lessons, from top to bottom. From IP lawyers to litigators, we practiced active listening, mindfulness, and deploying far more discretionary effort. We journey mapped sub-journeys, such as the New Client Journey, or the Visitor Journey, to really think through what it was like to experience us as a new client, or to visit the firm’s offices. Clients ended up telling us they felt like rock stars. It did far more for us than any ad campaign could have done, though of course we included that too. The difference was we shaped the brand around the customer experience, not the other way around.

You see similar changes throughout professional services firms, but also in unexpected places like museums and universities. I just spoke at the Chief Experience Officer Exchange in Chicago and could not believe how the field continues to grow. For example, Bank of America had its head of design present to our group, and I learned they have 150 design thinkers onboard. At their size, it will take awhile, but they are re-imagining their processes and systems and digital presence — using CX.

I used to live in Colorado, and I can tell you how successful Vail Resorts has been with this. There’s a great book too that captures some of this change, called “Would You Do That To Your Mother?” At Vail Resorts, they focus on delivering what they called Epic Experiences. When interacting with guests, employees are banned from using phrases such as “That’s our policy,” or “That’s not my job.” Instead, they are empowered to do whatever it takes to deliver an epic experience. Lift stalled for too long? Feel free to offer free passes. See a mom with two kids looking especially tired and hungry? Offer them a free lunch, or a ride on your snowmobile. They celebrate this human-centric behavior with Epic Experience pins too, a badge of honor in their culture.

Today I live in Maryland, and even my state government here has a CX strategy. They see it as a way to become more competitive with other states, as businesses will want to relocate to Maryland. And talk about greater levels of engagement with employees! They routinely celebrate great experiences delivered to citizens and think very deliberately about how all of that needs to align with its systems and data.

One change story that’s still unfolding is Comcast. Yes, Comcast. For years, they had a less-than-stellar reputation that no amount of PR or marketing or social media campaigns could truly change. Why not? Because of weaponized word-of-mouth, the old Comcast experience was known to sometimes be bad for humans. Growing the customer service “department” or launching a new communications campaign was not the solution, at least, not in that order or in that way. Instead, they invested in CX and EX training and programs, with the C-suite now taking elevated calls from its call centers once per quarter, or riding alongside specialists in trucks to customer homes. Imagine the CEO or CFO of Comcast showing up at your house! Now imagine them getting much more intentional about the times they target to show up, where they value your time more than theirs. Imagine walking into an xfinity store to return something, expected it to be difficult or to encounter an upsell you don’t really want, only to be surprised by how graceful and easy the company made it for you. In their case, they have 140,000 employees so it’s going to take time to turn things around, but they are on their way because of CX and EX. Two years into it, Comcast is one of the only companies in their space to maintain or grow its customer base, in a field that’s bleeding customers due to much disruption.  

What Are The Benefits of Implementing a CX Program?

I’ll end the interview with how I start my workshops: by reminding people of the power of emotion. It’s the single most powerful force shaping what people decide to buy, what they will promote, and even where they’ll decide to work. From Yelp to Facebook to LinkedIn to GlassDoor and beyond, it’s the total brand experience people have seen and felt you’re your organizations that matters most.

The benefits are overwhelming. Designed and installed correctly, a CX program, coupled with EX, gives you a competitive differentiator. Because it’s cross-functional in nature, it demands culture change – so you benefit from a more engaged workforce, and of course, far, far, better reviews.

You only get one reputation. It’s why I am now talking about HX, or Human Experience. I think this is the 3.0 model, where we no longer think about creating a customer experience around our brand. That’s fundamentally bad strategy in the new Experience Economy. Instead we create our brand around the customer experience.

There’s a war on for talent and for customers, and designing for the Human Experience is the way to win it.


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