Expert Interview Series: Mike Wittenstein on the Challenges of Customer Experience Management

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Mike Wittenstein leads Storyminers, a pioneering customer experience design firm based in Atlanta. We recently caught up with them to discuss some of the challenges companies face in customer experience management today. Here’s what he had to say:

How did you become so passionate about the customer experience?

I owe my passion to two mentors. Lou Carbone, from Experiment Engineering, taught me how to create leads in an experience that naturally resonates with customers. Steve Haeckel of IBM taught me how to design adaptability into a business design. Combining your ideas is what I love to do now. Your ideas are powerful – and they work!

What are the unique challenges behind measuring and improving the customer experience for B2B companies?

Eliminating personal prejudice is still #1.

Suppose you are now a customer experience decision maker and have grown up in engineering. Just because you’re an engineer doesn’t mean that every customer problem can be solved with engineering thinking. (Customers don’t behave so rationally. Same goes for operations, marketing, finance, and so on). Improving the customer experience requires knowing more about how the customer sees the business than how the business might see it.

Number 2 is about finding what customers value most – and then tailoring the business to deliver it. The common sense about B2B experiences is that buyers are intensely focused on the bottom line. The reality is that B2B buyers consider the creation of total value for their companies, not just the invoice price. The perfect storm in B2B customer experience design and deliver more measurable and noticeable value to customers while maintaining the same price. At first glance, it seems impossible. It’s not – it’s just difficult because delivering more value often means changing the way things work. There is a natural resistance to this notion. After all, “change is not good for business”.However, when a business changes to create more value for customers, everyone wins.

What are the most common mistakes you see as B2B companies making when it comes to managing the customer experience?

By far the biggest one is simply not managing or sustaining the experience on purpose. Many companies install some software, tweak some procedures, add a few pages to their sites, and then go back to business as usual. By themselves, these checkbox items won’t make a big difference. B2B customers can tell when a company treats them in a ‘set it and forget it’ way – and they don’t like it.

What are the best tools for B2B customers in assessing customer experience?

For companies just starting out, the most valuable information comes from “buying” the company across all channels (web presence, google, social, office/factory visit, phone, fax (yes, even fax ;-), phone calls sales, presentations, trade shows, etc. Customer undercover work shows exactly what’s happening to customers at the moment Provides irrefutable evidence of right and wrong It’s often easy to fix the easiest problems right away meet.

To do bigger with multiple departments (maybe winning) than touching the same customers (but not communicating with each other), journey maps are useful. Journey maps show where and when a customer is and what is happening to them. The more advanced ones include your emotional state as well as some business logic.

For complex companies with long-term customer engagement (think supplier-to-manufacturing agreements, such as 10-year engine supply agreements for aircraft manufacturers), combining operational and customer satisfaction metrics works well. Programs like the Net Promoter Score bring executive focus to what customers need from associations they aren’t getting. Customer Advisory Councils can achieve the same, especially when the dialogue is authentic.

How vital is quality data and research to improving the customer experience?

The larger your organization, the more important accuracy and quality are. At a given size, no one person can see everything or understand all interactions. These focuses on plentiful, high-quality data – the kind you get from surveys, touchpoint reflecting, and now from IoT (Internet of Things) feeds and sentiment analysis.

I believe one thing is better than having lots of data and brilliant ideas. It’s the desire and mechanisms to do something positive with what you learn on behalf of customers. Companies need to improve the application of what they’ve learned for the benefit of customers. The best data and answers in the world cannot help if leadership does not support the need for change.

Which B2B companies do you think did exceptional work before the customer experience? What can we learn from them?

Amazon Web Services teaches us that shortening and simplifying a customer’s path to what they need creates value for both the customer and the business at the same time.

A GE Healthcare product design demonstration that involves the entire patient experience wins in the marketplace.

Dozens of professional services practice advisors are managed by caring experts (technologists, lawyers, designers and any other type of expert) who put their clients first every day. Do your attention to detail, personal presence, proactive approach and fair disposition establish a reason to go anywhere else? baseline.

When these desires strive to anticipate as customers need, avoiding problems, spending time with a team to help them grow, sending unsolicited tips, or delivering valuable presentations, the relationship evolves from a satisfied customer to a raving fan.

What advice do you continually repeat to companies about creating better customer experiences?

“No matter how hard you try or how much you spend, your brand can’t be better than your customers’ experience (actually).” In other words, if your efforts don’t result in something your customers and customers notice and remember, they won’t share.

Walt Disney taught me (through his writings) that enjoying an experience so much that you want to have it again—and including it with others is the ultimate measure of success in the customer experience game.

What trends or innovations in customer experience are you most interested in right now? Why?

As Storyminers is a customer experience design studio, particularly interested in “Smart Experiences” that use information from multiple sources to tweak and improve the experience that customers get in real time. We often apply the principle of “Ahead” when designing B2B and B2C customer experiences when we need to know a customer’s intent sooner. Knowing what customers want sooner means the company can serve them better – at a lower cost.


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