Building brands and revenues: Changing attitudes on customer experience

Today, advances in customer experience management offer organizations powerful options for placing customers at the center of their business and transforming the impact of customer interactions says Abobe's John Knightly.
Written by John Knightly, Adobe, Contributor on
Commentary - As digital consumers and citizens, our expectations have changed dramatically over the last decade. We are accustomed to instant access to information, intuitive experiences—who really reads a product manual any more?—and seamless service across web, mobile and phone, or physical touch points.

One of my own recent experiences highlights the customer service challenges people still face every day. Late one recent evening, I went online to buy some new clothes for work, visiting the website of one of my favorite retailers. After browsing dozens of options and filling my shopping cart, it was time to check out. Although I use a popular web browser and the retailer is well known for customer service, I could not process my order because of some incompatibilties between their system and my browser. I tried calling the retailer’s 800 number, only to find the lines were closed for the night. Frustrated, I abandoned the experience and had to return the next day with a different browser and retrace my steps to complete my order.

Although the experience did not convince me to sever my relationship with the retailer, these types of experience can clearly impact a retailer’s bottom line as customers go elsewhere for services. At the same time, frustrated customers can share bad experiences with their friends—something that Ed Thompson of the research firm Gartner says is a common occurrence: 89 percent of customers who have a bad experience tell their friends.

New standards for customer service and experience
Businesses and government organizations are grappling with these demanding expectations, recognizing that the bar for customer experience is now being set by innovative social networking, entertainment, and ecommerce sites, as well as a handful of innovators in traditional industries (see examples below). They recognize customers expect organizations to connect with them on a personal level through highly engaging interactions enabled anytime, anywhere on their preferred digital devices. They also recognize they need to predict customers’ needs in advance and exceed their expectations for convenient, authentic sales and service experiences at different touch points.

Successfully serving customers in the digital era involves more than just building self-service websites or trying to efficiently manage customer information inside an organization. Today, advances in customer experience management offer organizations powerful options for placing customers at the center of their business and transforming the impact of customer interactions —all while reducing operating expenses. The transformation can be as simple as enabling customers to place product orders on multiple devices or as innovative as new digital information services that update continuously based on an end user’s interest, location, device, and other factors.

Acquire, serve, inspire
Enterprises are awakening to the notion that a customer’s view of their organization is shaped through experiences over time, as customers research a company’s offerings, access services online, call service centers, and receive proactive, personalized touches from the company. Companies that design customer experience from their customers’ viewpoint not only create loyal customers, but also advocates for a company’s products and services – a valuable achievement in a world of social networking, where online customer endorsements (and rants) rapidly impact brand perception.

The discipline of customer experience management requires a balancing act. On one hand, enterprises want to take advantage of the web as hub of customer interaction. The web is visual and instantly accessible from most corners of the globe. Also, the economies of web self-service are unparalleled. On the other hand, there are times when customers need to talk to an employee. This means that successful customer experience management requires a holistic strategy that addresses self-service scenarios and scenarios where front-line employees have to manage customer interactions coming from any channel.

Unfortunately, organizations still struggle to manage this balance and deliver consistently excellent user experiences across touch points. Despite access to more integrated systems, customer service representatives often cannot obtain accurate information or a holistic view of the customer relationship. Companies often add mobile channels in haste to support one or two popular devices, but leave customers using other devices stranded. Disjointed organizational and technological infrastructures continue to hinder the ability to effectively respond to customer needs.

Today, user experience design combined with technology advances that unify rich internet applications (RIAs) and processes across devices enable enterprises to use the web to improve self-service and assisted service interactions. Organizations have to go beyond just managing customer data and design experiences from the customer perspective, integrating rich and collaborative applications on the front-end with backend enterprise data and processes.

Just as important as designing experience with the customer in mind is continually optimizing customer outcomes based on real-time knowledge. By gathering data about customer behavior, such as where in a process a customer is “stuck,” organizations can apply rules to improve the experience, for example, instantly escalating a web self-service experience to online collaboration with a customer service agent. From the customer’s point of view the interaction becomes a success – contributing to long-term loyalty – instead a failure that they tweet to an audience of thousands.

Transforming online customer experience in financial services
Organizations that deliver personalized and intuitive experiences are rewarded not just with higher market share, but also with a competitive advantage. For example, with its interactive online Virtual Wallet, PNC Financial Services Group is helping establish itself as a leader in delivering innovative personal financial management services.

PNC’s Virtual Wallet targets existing customers, as well as a new generation of Gen Y banking customers, with interactive online tools to track and easily manage all their banking activities, including online bill pay, savings tools, dynamic calendars, and other items. Through expressive icons and interactive calendars, customers can engage with banking services in new ways, using highly visual cues to visualize events like “Danger Days” when scheduled payments are likely to drive account balances too low, and to see what other payments are scheduled, when deposits should post, and find out other important details. Customers can access services at their convenience, from their computers or their mobile phones.

PNC’s Virtual Wallet was created using Adobe solutions to deliver an immersive experience within a secure, transaction-oriented banking session. The application’s ease of use and broad appeal has garnered significant customer acceptance and contributed to lower attrition rates and higher account balances. With its compelling features, the service has helped PNC add up to as many as 250 new accounts every day, with more than 80 percent adoption rates from customers in the targeted Gen Y 17 to 34 year old demographic.

While PNC Virtual Wallet focuses on direct, consumer-facing services, Investment Café wanted to better manage customer service and communications for institutional customers, namely hedge funds, private equity sponsors, and other members of the alternative asset community. As an independent company offering a suite of web-based financial reporting and fund raising products, Investment Café solutions have become the tools of choice for many of the world’s largest asset firms, including The Carlyle Group, Cowen and Company, Ripplewood, UBS and others. Using Adobe LiveCycle ES solutions and the Adobe Flash Platform, Investment Café has streamlined fund administration down to the tiniest detail and greatly expanded the variety and quality of reports available to fund managers.

For fund managers, the dynamic system simplifies fund administration and accelerates delivering reports and quarterly statements to clients. “The returns to clients using our tools have been impressive,” explains Mark Levey, president and majority partner in Investment Cafe. “In some cases, financial services providers are saving upwards of a million dollars annually by automating statement creation and delivery. Eliminated are the costs to print, collate, and courier thousands of investor documents every quarter.”

For investors, the streamlined, online access to account documents provides them with critical information on-demand. Within seconds, they can securely log in and view account activity in detail, generating monthly statements or investment reports as needed. This is important not only during tax season but also at any time investors want to reevaluate and rebalance their portfolios.

Overall, the intuitive online services have enabled Investment Cafe to manage high volumes of document generation with improved accuracy, including accelerating the delivery of capital call letters by as much as 90 percent.

Assisted service in healthcare and government
The ability to combine front-end experiences with streamlined business processes has helped health pioneer Janus Health provide physicians with access to advanced remote services that support delivery of quality, full-service medical attention to patients at home. With Adobe LiveCycle Enterprise Suite, Janus Health built a mobile patient management system that enables physicians to provide exceptional customer service to home-care patients while realizing significant point-of-service efficiencies.

For example, admitting a patient to the hospital has traditionally been a time-consuming process for home healthcare providers. Using the system, house call physicians can now complete the first steps of the process when consulting with patients in-home and then send protected, accurate intake materials directly to hospital admission coordinators. For physicians, the automated processes can eliminate lengthy back-and-forth phone calls with hospital staff, enabling them to work faster during each patient visit. For patients, the rapid completion and execution of hospital intake requests helps ensure they can get required care without delay.

In addition, as new healthcare processes are required—due to changing government regulations or requirements from providers—Janus Health can quickly modify and deliver up-to-date services online, helping ensure that physicians in the field are always prepared with the online services they need.

In another example, The London Borough of Southwark has greatly boosted citizen access to services by reshaping how staff and citizens can initiate and complete service requests. Busy Southwark staff help provide the Borough’s more than 250,000 citizens with access to over 230 government services. In a single year, the Borough can process more than two million requests for services, for anything from library cards and parking permits to more complicated requests for housing and employment assistance. Working with Adobe partner Vangent, the borough used Adobe LiveCycle and the Adobe Flash Platform to build a suite of rich internet applications (RIAs) that front-end its CRM and legacy applications, enabling its call center representatives to more rapidly and accurately serve citizens.

When looking at the challenges of and opportunities for automating service delivery, Dominic Cain, head of client services in Southwark, summed it up nicely. “It’s not just about posting forms online and promoting citizen self service,” he says. “It’s also about looking at ways to work smarter and more efficiently to address the high volume of requests we receive. In some cases, it makes perfect sense to put materials online. But for more complex services, it’s much better to adopt intuitive, integrated tools.”

For Southwark and its citizens, the more engaging online services used by both staff and citizens are delivering clear value. For some services, the average time to complete benefits processing has dropped from 36 days to 1 day. In addition, customer service representative training for complex benefits processing has dropped from two years to as quick as two days due to greatly simplified, streamlined handling of applications for client services.

The power of the web for visual ecommerce experience
At Verizon Wireless, analyzing customer behavior and preferences was instrumental in the company’s success at creating a breakthrough online media store. The Verizon Media Store, is a vivid and colorful destination that is entertaining to visit and provides customers a one-stop shop for handset must-haves such as ringtones, ringback tones, as well as full downloads of MP3 music tracks and albums. Created using the Adobe Flash Platform and Adobe LiveCycle ES solutions, the ecommerce site provides a rich online environment where purchases and transactions happen seamlessly, through a unified shopping experience—resulting in more satisfied customer interactions and increased revenue.

For example, customers can download a tool, which employs a drag-and-drop interface so users can personalize the standard ringback tone for incoming calls. “We needed both back-end and user interface foundations for our web properties that would enable us to deliver rapid, frequent releases and bring new services and products to market quickly,” says Ben Holsigner, associate director of Internet marketing at Verizon Wireless.

Outstanding service inspires loyalty
In today’s global market, customers have a world of options at their fingertips, and on the web, competitors are a click away. Successful organizations understand that “business as usual” or even simply meeting customer expectations is not enough. Indeed benchmarking customer experience requires enterprises to understand how trendsetters in other industries are affecting their own customers’ expectations.

Increasingly, industry leaders are combining experience design with state-of-the-art technology solutions for customer experience management to transform routine interactions into memorable, personalized exchanges across devices and touch points. As the above examples highlight, these investments are providing significant ROI as businesses and government organizations increase revenues, build customer loyalty, and achieve cost efficiencies.

John Knightly is Adobe’s Vice President of Enterprise Marketing. For more information and continued conversation with Adobe on this topic visit Adobe’s Experience Delivers Blog or follow @AdobeCEM on Twitter.

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