Forrester’s Global Customer Experience Trends, 2017

Customer experience is middling at best, and that’s troubling for brands.

Forrester’s 2017 Global Customer Experience Trends report found the vast majority of firms in digital and traditional retail, banking and insurance around the world only earned the research firm’s Customer Experience Index (CX Index) score in the “OK” range. Customers are feeling indifferent. Even in the United States, where brands had the highest average scores, only 18 percent of brands ranked good or excellent. Meanwhile, Canada is mixing its maple syrup with mediocrity, hitting 58 percent in the “OK” category, and 30 percent falling toward the bottom bracket of the “good” category. In the United Kingdom, “good” scores were scarce.

So what do companies need to do to provide a more stellar customer experience? Forrester’s study offers some clues.

Go beyond digital—think omnichannel

Despite the woes of traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, digital competitors are not far ahead when it comes to CX. Forrester found that on average, digital retail managed to deliver slightly better customer experiences than traditional retail. In fact, traditional retail improved much faster than digital, with robust 40 percent of traditional retailers’ CX Index scores rising from 2015 to 2016, while only 18 percent of digital retailers improved.

Globally, it’s a tight race between digital and traditional retail, as the spread between the highest-and lowest-performing brands in both digital and traditional retail narrowed by four points from 2015 to 2016.

The lesson here is that companies can’t think of digital transformation in isolation. As the big improvements in traditional retail suggest, physical stores still has a place in the customer journey. Companies need to engage with customers to find out how brick-and-mortar stores can help enhance the overall customer experience. They must also take an omnichannel approach, as customers pass judgment based on every touchpoint.

This means digital companies must think about their offline experience if they want to stay relevant, especially as traditional retailers are poised to catch up. As consumers continue to expect strong omnichannel experiences, those who can integrate both physical and digital retail to provide a strong experience will have an advantage.

Tie CX efforts to revenue

Improving CX means brands must tie their initiatives to the bottom line, otherwise they have no way of understanding how well their programs are doing.

“When you measure things wrong, you get wrong results,” Rick Parrish, Forrester analyst and the report’s author, tells MediaPost. Measuring CX initiatives against revenue ensures that you’re communicating results in a language business executives understand.

Parrish explains, “A good customer experience drives loyalty for companies that also perform better. There are measurable revenue benefits.”

Drive continuous improvements

Innovation is ultimately the key to creating differentiated experiences, concludes Forrester, and even as global CX competition gets tighter, excellent CX will remain rare even as more brands inch up to the “good” category.

Companies need to commit to improving customer experience—and that attitude needs to be adopted throughout the organization. Parrish adds, “It takes a full effort, researching customers and deciding which areas to improve.”

Customer experience has been getting a great deal of lip service as the key differentiator for brands, but the Forrester study makes it clear that there is a lot of work to be done. Even those brands that have risen above average can’t get complacent as those pegged as mediocre realize what’s at stake and up their game. Winners of the CX race will be those who persist in building a stronger relationship with their customers across all channels.

“Improving your customer experience isn’t something that’s ever finished,” concludes Parrish. “It has to be the way your business runs.”