“What if this company were like a movie?” Stephens recalls thinking. “The plot is this: the world’s most unpopular people sought after by the world’s most popular people. The audience is going to love this movie because they’re endearing to us, because we see a bit of ourselves in these people. There’s a lifestyle. Well, there’s a lifestyle to the geek, but not necessarily one you want to adopt. But it’s the lifestyle of the person you want when you have a problem.” He was right. By 2008, Geek Squad employed almost 20,000 “special agents” worldwide.
The Tupperware Brands Corporation, with an independent direct sales force of 2.4 million people in more than 100 countries and US$2.1 billion in annual revenues, is yet another company that created a value proposition around a customer experience — the Tupperware party, which combined a social gathering in a host’s home with sales of housewares and personal-care products. But how do you stand out when 2 million other people are giving the same party as you? Sales representative Robert Suchin recently figured out a way. He kicked the experience up a notch by dressing and selling as “Aunt Barbara,” a saucy caricature of a Long Island, N.Y., housewife circa 1970, and he has become one of the company’s top-selling U.S. reps in the process. (You can see him in action at www.youtube.com/user/AuntBarbara.)
Managing the Experience
Of course, there are many companies in which it wouldn’t be appropriate to give employees the kind of experiential free rein that produces an Aunt Barbara. This suggests that there is a need for customer experience oversight and management. Enter the chief customer officer (CCO), described by Jeanne Bliss, managing partner of the consultancy CustomerBliss, as an unenviable senior executive who typically has a broad mandate — responsibility for every aspect of customer relationships, including experiences — and little formal authority.
Having served as a senior customer experience executive at Lands’ End, Microsoft, and Allstate, Bliss clearly knows this territory. Her book Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action, is a testament to that fact, even if it veers off into redundancy a little too often.
Bliss is far too objective to recommend that all companies appoint CCOs. Instead, she advocates an audit designed to reveal how well equipped a company is to deliver customer experiences. A CCO may not be needed, she says, “if you can drive a company connection at the beginning of the work, have a consistent process to manage throughout the work, and build in metrics to consistently judge the work.”
Structuring and managing the work is another story. Lior Arussy’s self-published book, Customer Experience Strategy, is the most ambitious and successful attempt at a comprehensive text on the practice of customer experience management (CEM) to date. Based on his firm’s CEM certification course, the book is organized around a six-stage, closed-loop process that includes customer experience definition, development, organization, delivery, measurement, and, finally, redefinition.
The book is also refreshingly practical. Arussy has seen enough stillborn customer experience initiatives to point out the flawed assumptions and operational pitfalls that must be avoided. For instance, he advises companies to hire people who are passionate about designing and delivering customer experiences: “Don’t fool yourself into believing that you can incentivize creativity, caring, and leadership. Such qualities can’t be instilled in people if they’re not there already.... You can’t throw a plasma TV at employees and get caring in return.”
The worthiness of Arussy’s book notwithstanding, there are two reasons that no single book has yet filled that space on the bookshelf reserved for a must-read guide to CEM practice. First, CEM is an organizational capability that requires different structures, processes, and cultures in different companies. For example, the customer experiences at Apple Inc. and Dell Inc. were historically derived from opposite sources: Apple’s was product-based, Dell’s service-based. As a result, they had to be designed and delivered in a completely different ways. Second, CEM is a business capability that has only recently emerged and that has yet to develop into a coherent discipline. But with more and more companies searching for differentiation and competitive advantage in crowded, price-sensitive markets, it seems a good bet that the space won’t remain unoccupied much longer.