Customer Experience Innovation Explained

June 7, 2017

Submissions are open for The Future Now Awards, which recognizes companies of all sizes and industries who are leading the innovation of employee engagement and customer moments with Salesforce. Meet our second of three featured judges, Michael Krigsman. An internationally recognized industry analyst and ZDNet columnist, Michael is also the host of CXOTalk, a weekly video interview series.

What are customer experience innovation leaders doing differently from everyone else?

Customer experience is hard to define but we all know it when we... well, experience it. The best experiences make us walk away delighted, our problems solved and the interactions efficient and friendly. Accomplishing this simple goal is deceptively hard because it involves not just technology and processes, but a clear vision of the experience we want customers to have during their interactions with our company and brand. Customer experience innovation leaders make the customer a focal point or a reference against which everything else is designed and measured.

For example, how do we create a great customer experience? Start with defining the problems your customers face. If it's customer service, then evaluate your customer demographics and determine which channels they prefer. Millennials may want a chat interface while older customers might still prefer the phone. Either way, make sure those channels work well. Staffing, training, and technology are certainly part of the equation. But feedback back across departments and silos is also important; make sure that persistent issues presented to the customer service department get back to product designers so they can learn from that customer experience.

The innovation leaders take a holistic approach that always uses customer experience as the reference point when making decisions.

What does customer experience innovation mean to you?

Customer experience innovation means constant improvement, always seeking improvement and evaluating what we're doing today to make improvements. By definition, Innovation means doing things differently than in the past. However, innovation does not mean ignoring efficiency or working without a plan. The best innovations find elegant solutions that improve customer experience, based on set trajectories and goals while maintaining or even improving efficiency. Throwing money at an innovation problem is not enough -- innovation is only sustainable when it solves problems and is also affordable.

How do you know if something is truly innovative?

Innovative solutions solve a problem economically while also delighting customers. We all know that efficiency and cost-savings are usually mutually exclusive with creating deep and long-lasting customer delight, but that's why innovation is so hard! Find a company that brings together efficiency and customer delight, and for sure you are looking at genuine innovation.

The fastest emerging trend in cloud technology right now is what?

Cloud is a broad umbrella term for the infrastructure that makes our technology world possible: mobility, web services, Facebook, and Google all require the cloud as foundation and infrastructure. But things become interesting when you layer on data to the cloud. Artificial intelligence and machine learning have the power to change our world dramatically in areas as diverse as diagnosing cancer, designing personalized course curriculums, and autonomous cars. For this reason, aggregating huge volumes of data for machine learning, which is really advanced pattern matching, is the most exciting trend in cloud data. It's also the place where enormous investment and equally large hype is being expended!

What is the biggest challenge that aspiring customer experience innovators face today?

The challenge of customer experience is designing programs that really delight customers while constraining costs to acceptable levels. This means using technology to the max to drive efficiency but also thinking about internal processes. How can we organize our work and information flows to create the greatest advantage in the service of customer experience innovation? For startups, which have a greenfield environment of process and technology, it's far easier than in large companies. Startups can design and build from first principles, while established organizations must carefully plan how to change processes while maintaining operations.

It's all hard but remember that your competitors face the same challenges. Start small, but start today!

In what area of a business –Marketing, IT, Sales, Service– should customer experience investment be directed first?

Ultimately, you need to address all these areas, so you need to determine priorities. Consider which areas will make the greatest impact to your customers but also evaluate which areas will be the easiest to transform. The low-hanging fruit will be those areas that enable you to create the greatest impact in the fastest and easiest manner. Figure out how to gain quick wins that will demonstrate to colleagues and management that your transformation program is likely to succeed. At the same time, identify change agents who will support your efforts and help guide you to those areas in which quick wins are most likely. That's how to think about starting any program of innovation, including customer experience.

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