Thursday, January 18, 2007

IBM Paper Makes Emotion the Focus of Customer Experience Management

Somehow a paper published in 2005 by IBM’s financial services CRM group, “Creating a 20/20 customer experience: From customers to advocates,” recently found its way to my desk. (Click here here for a copy.)

The paper has plenty of the usual buzz words (customer advocacy, moments of truth, brand promise) but what stands out is a relatively unfamiliar (to me at least) claim that “emotive attributes…present the greatest opportunity for differentiation in the marketplace.” The fundamental argument is that most banks do a good job with operational execution, so emotional connection is the next battleground.

This struck me as an interesting proposition, even though I’m not sure I agree. So let’s look a little closer.

The paper starts out by defining the feelings a customer can have about a bank, ranging from antagonist to advocate. It doesn’t explicitly mention Net Promoter Scores but the notion is lurking in the background. (I commented briefly on Net Promoter Scores here here, and they’ve also come up in Ron Shevlin’s Marketing ROI blog and Adelino de Almeida’s Profitable Marketing). The paper then argues that most effective way to create advocacy is through emotional attributes, and poses the challenge of building these into everyday bank experiences. (I’m stripping out the jargon. The actual quote is “How do banks formalize and operationalize the advocacy-building, higher-order emotive attributes, such as dignity or empathy, as promised by their brands?”)

From there, the paper goes on to discuss five “dimensions” of “customer experience expectations”, including industry baseline expectations, brand-specific expectations, importance to the customer, customer effort required, and emotional impact. All this leads to the proposition that the only really important interactions are those that “leave a lasting impact and change a particular customer’s attitude toward the company.” These are the “moments of truth” and should be the focus of a bank’s efforts.

The paper immediately pulls back from this position with a “note of caution”. “Even the most unimportant or emotionally irrelevant interaction can be soured into a disaster if there is unexpected rude treatment or a fundamental breakdown in delivery...basic delivery against brand-specific and baseline exceptions [sic; I think they meant expectations] is absolutely critical…many banks would be vastly improved by making progress on just baseline and brand-specific delivery.”

But its heart still belongs to those emotive moments of truth. It even defines “customer experience” as “the impact that certain interactions make that create a lasting feeling or attitude toward a bank.” (Italics in the original.) I’d venture that most customer experience management gurus would include all interactions in their definition. I know that I do.

The paper then works through the implications of its position. These are essentially that banks need to understand which experiences will have lasting impacts and should transform their operations to deliver them consistently. Readers get a handy framework with six dimensions (emotive attributes, rational attributes, customer segments, interactions, channels & touchpoints, products & services) and seven competencies (customer interaction design, integrated channels, event-driven communications, human performance, segment-influence operations, virtual interaction delivery, and innovation). If you’re not quite up to implementing this for yourself, IBM would be happy to help.

It’s hard to know what to make of this. Yes, emotion is an important element of the customer experience. But this isn’t news today and wasn’t news in 2005. Perhaps customer relationship management has largely focused on “rational” operational functions, but, as the paper itself concedes, you have to get those right before anything else matters, and plenty of organizations still don’t. That being the case, calling attention to emotion-intensive “moments of truth” is like a campaign to get drunk drivers to use their seatbelts: it might sometimes help but doesn’t address the main problem. It’s not so much wrong as it is distracting.

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