Expert Talk: What Can Silicon Valley Teach Companies About Consumer Experience?

Silicon Valley isn’t just a dot on a map. It’s a brand – a global symbol of enduring innovation. Therefore it is safe to say that most of the top companies in the Valley have adopted innovative best practices in all aspects of the business, right from product development, talent management to customer service and engagement.

One of the main traits of these trailblazers is their customer centricity. And Customer Experience (CX) is a major part of it. A lot of organizations Silicon Valley Innovation Center has had a pleasure to work with are increasingly interested in how to develop and deploy a top notch customer experience strategy. So, what is CX? Briefly, it is the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions for the purpose of meeting or exceeding customer expectations, thereby, increasing customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy. In fact, a study by White House Office of Consumer Affairs found that 80% of U.S. consumers would pay more for a product or service to ensure a superior customer experience. On the other hand, according to the recent report by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, while 87% of business leaders agree that customer experience is vital for success, only 34% of companies have the tools and skills to deliver great experience to their customers.

In our endeavor to bring some Silicon Valley best practices to you, we asked Gavan Gibson, formerly Virtual Channels Digital Experience Strategy Lead at Wells Fargo, as to what makes an exceptional customer experience and where should one start. 

Gavan, let’s start with defining an end-to-end customer journey.


Q: How is it different from a set of customer touch points, and why should organizations focus on the former?

A: An end to end customer journey refers to a customer experience that typically spans multiple channels, has variable duration and happens before, during, after a customer interacts with your product or service. As an experienced strategist in the financial space I’d refer to examples from home lending, as a mortgage or home equity loan have longer customer life cycles with multiple offline and digital touch points.

In my experience, when organizations speak about customer experience they typically mean touch points—quantifiable, singular customer interactions with a small number of lines of business. This siloed, business centric understanding of the customer journey stands in stark contrast to the customers perception that the product or service end to end experience is a singular event, regardless of channels or duration. This represents a classic case of competing priorities and a customer experience that while being proficient on a channel by channel basis degrades into a fragmented and inconsistent end to end customer journey. If organizations want to create experiences that deliver and drive customer satisfaction, value, retention and revenue growth they need to start thinking of customer engagement in terms of quantified, end to end and full life cycle experiences.

Q: Can you give an example of how the same journey would be perceived differently by a customer / buyer and by an organization and its divisions?

A: Let’s take a transactional, or service customer journey such as mortgage application in the financial space. This can include multiple device types, channels and touchpoints that can be offline and / or digital. Think in person, on the phone and digital touch points and platforms.

For the customer this is a singular experience driven by an over arching product or service goal and the expectation is that this will be seamless, effortless and fast.

Organizationally this typically includes a number of touchpoints and disparate lines of businesses such in branch, call center and digital channels.

We can see here that we have competing mental models, experiences and the potential for unmet expectations, fragmentation and overall negative customer experiences.

Mature customer centric companies display customer obsession in the following ways: a customer commitment from the top down. It is reflected in the organizational structure, culture and their commitment to customer success. Furthermore, they have successfully incorporated cross functional collaboration and co-creation across the lines of business.

Q:What are key elements of a great CX in today’s context of multi touch point, multichannel, always-on, hyper-competitive consumer markets?

A: Key elements are a holistic omni-channel customer experiences. For example, end-to-end e-commerce or financial transactional and service experiences offered by customer obsessed organizations such as Zappos or USAA Bank.

Customers ability to engage with your business based on their preferences: offline and or digital channels, devices and touchpoints.

Know your customer: robust data-driven approach to authentication and contextual customer experiences regardless of the channel or touch point interaction.

Q: What are some specifics of a digital CX in comparison with in-person, over-the-phone interactions?

A: As the lines between offline, and digital touchpoints and devices are increasingly becoming blurred for the customer, I think it’s more accurate to view customer experiences as omni-channel ones. With the caveat that more and more touch points are becoming digitized. Think online applications or purchases, online chat, co-browsing, or customer collaboration with service support staff who uses digital technologies and channels.

Q: Based on your experience and foresight, would it be accurate to say that social media is playing an increasingly important role in CX?

A: Social media has emerged as a powerful channel for customers and brands to engage with each other. Increasingly, as evidenced in the news and public discourse it has emerged as effective means to comment on a company’s failings. Businesses should take heed how vital it is to have effective customer centric communication, policies and procedures in place.

Q: At the level of the organizational structure and core skills, who should be put in charge of launching a new customer experience strategy and its execution? Is it always a new hire who joins the digital unit, or is it more about retraining current workforce?

A: Since customer experience is an enterprise activity, and disruptive by nature, it requires a seasoned C-Level executive experienced in business and design strategy, as well as change management to lead it.

Q: What is the first step a company / CX expert should take in the process of creating an outstanding CX? Where and how to start?

A: The most important step would be prioritizing customer experience within your organization and across its operational silos.

Additional steps include creating, socializing and integrating personas and task models on an enterprise level. The deeper understanding of your customers mental models, tasks, needs and behaviors will help your organization empathize and adapt a customer centric mindset more effectively.

Using service design to capture current customer product and service journeys in order to understand gaps and opportunities within the individual touch points, devices and the overall collective journey.

And last but not least implement cross functional collaboration and co-creation across the lines of business. As an experience strategist I’ve been engaged with this core principle of customer experience for a number of years and have seen dramatic results both on a product strategy and deployment level.

Q: Gathering data is essential for building a successful customer experience. Can you give examples of some key metrics companies should capture and analyze to improve their customer loyalty?

A: In order to understand and improve customer loyalty a company must be able to capture and understand at an enterprise level the key metrics that relate to customer satisfaction, engagement and buying decisions.

Q: How are lean innovation methodologies like design thinking, user storytelling, rapid prototyping help create an exceptional customer journey?

A: Methodologies such as design thinking and user story telling help drive customer empathy and a deeper understanding of the customer experience across channels, touchpoints and devices. Design thinking based collaborative prototyping as a cross functional and lines of business exercise, is extremely effective in quickly concepting new customer facing products, features and services that improve on the existing customer journey and that can be quickly tested, refined and deployed.

Q: How critical is it to build the CX approach into the entire organization, on all operational levels?

A: It’s foundational. Integrating a customer centric approach at the DNA level of an organization is essential for its success. This goes back to customer obsession, that integrates customer experience as the organizing principle around which the business is structured.

Q: For what industries is a special attention to CX absolutely key?

A: Based on the latest research from Forrester: “organizations with customers who have many equally convenient and strongly differentiated choices — like online retailers and investment firms — see major revenue upside from superior CX.”

Q: Being a CX expert yourself, in the role of a customer you might be more tuned into seeing experience gaps than a non-expert. Does this knowledge make you more or less patient with imperfect CX other organizations demonstrate?

A: Good question, although having design empathy is core to what I do as an experience strategist – I’ll be honest these days I don’t have a lot patience for companies that offer sub par touch point, channel or device experiences. To me it shows an organization that values its own business more than they do their customers and not a company I would get into a long term relationship with.

Q: And to be even more specific, what Silicon Valley organizations impress you with their customer experience, both professionally and personally?

A: Silicon Valley organizations that continue to impress me with their customer experience are Airbnb, Intuit, Netflix and Lyft. They are companies that are using technology effectively to continuously drive customer value and engagement.


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