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Issue 13 | September 2015

A few friends think I'm in the CIA. As they describe it: always heading somewhere, late flights home, can never say much (project details are under NDA). "No, of course not!" I respond with a wink. (Oh, to live in the mysterious world they imagine; but I'll admit to some humor in keeping this image going.)

It's always fascinating to have (and I'm so grateful for) opportunities to work with organizations that are, by most measures, fundamentally different. In recent months,

this has included addressing a service conference at Google headquarters, working on an initiative within the Veterans Administration (VA), delivering training in Eastern Europe for a global leadership team at Dell, and others.

The differentness of these projects, though, reinforces an unmistakable common development: new service innovations and ever-evolving customer expectations have formed a virtuous cycle that compels service innovation in every organization. We're all in the same boat: continuously improve service. Or don't and pay a heavy price.

I hope you enjoy this issue.

Warm Regards,

Brad Cleveland

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(Note: The statistics in this issue, with links to sources, can be found here.)

Watermark Consulting hit something of a research jackpot with a simple correlation between stock price and customer service rankings. In the seven years leading up to 2015, they found that the S&P 500 index grew 51.5%. Customer experience leaders in that same timeframe enjoyed an average appreciation of 77.7%, while laggards saw their average share price actually go down (-2.5%).

It seems that eye-popping numbers are coming from every direction. Gallup found a 240% boost in business outcomes when both customers and employees are engaged. And according to Gartner, 89% of heads of marketing predict that customer experience will be the primary basis for competitive differentiation by 2017.

A key driver behind these numbers is how customer expectations and behavior are changing. Research by New Voice Media found that 69% of customers would recommend a company to others after a positive experience, and that 50% would use the business more frequently. The same study found that 58% will never use the company again following a bad experience, and that 34% will take revenge by posting a negative review or sharing the poor experience through social channels. Ouch.

Customer experience is a double-edged sword—reap significant benefits by providing a good experience or suffer a hit to your brand following a bad one.

The good news is that the secret to delivering great service is not ... well, a secret. According to ICMI, 82% of consumers say the number one factor in a great customer service experience is having their issues resolved quickly. Corroborating this research, CEB illustrates that customer effort beats customer satisfaction and even net promoter score as a predictor of loyalty. (Similar to NPS methodology, customer effort score is based on a single survey question: how easy did the organization make it to resolve the issue?)

Yes, you may be thinking, but making it easy on customers is easier said than done. True. Easy to customers involves the totality of strategy and operations on the organization's end. To name a few of the essentials: Shape a customer access strategy; open up contact channels and ensure they work well together; forecast and staff accurately; use data from customer interactions to improve products, services and customer communication (and to prevent unnecessary contacts before they happen—see To Do's section, below).

But none of this is in the category of mystical arts. In fact, from everything I've observed—be it high tech or government, large or small organization, Slovakia or Silicon Valley—customer experience ultimately revolves around a simple, steadfast commitment to make effective service an organizationwide priority and to follow the journey together.

Recent Issues

By 2017, more than half of consumer product and service R&D investments will be redirected to customer experience innovations.
(Source: Gartner)

74% of customers use three or more channels for customer service-related issues.
(Source: ICMI)

By the end of 2020, there will be 25 billion connected things (network or Internet-enabled devices)—three for every person on the planet.
(Source: Gartner)

Only 24% of contact centers enjoy full collaboration with their enterprise on process design.
(Source: Dimension Data)

Customers tell, on average, 21 friends about a bad service experience.
(Source: American Express)

As a practical doorway into customer experience, take inventory of how your service operation tracks and acts on the drivers of customer interactions. More specifically, are you:

  1. Tracking the reasons for contacts in as much detail as practical (usually through a hierarchical coding system)?
  2. Tracking drivers across all contact channels (traditional, social, mobile, self-service)?
  3. Graphing the frequency of drivers to identify relative trends, priorities and effectiveness of improvement efforts?
  4. Acting on what you're learning, e.g., working with colleagues across the organization to address issues at the source?
  5. Communicating back to the organization the progress you're making in preventing or encouraging various types of contacts?

Here's a simple example: airlines began enhancing their mobile apps with a useful feature, which tracks inbound flights associated with outbound service. Reason: customers often request, by phone or at the counter, the status of inbound planes so that they can estimate schedule status. ("Where's the plane coming from? When will it arrive?") This improvement was a direct response to analyzing call drivers.

Recently-released resources:

  • See the new statistics page at, with sections on customer expectations, contact centers, and social/mobile/tech.
  • Here's a short (four-minute) video Brad and the ICMI team developed that shows how service has evolved over the past three decades.

Upcoming public speaking events:*

*Brad delivers many private keynotes, workshops, and executive briefings to organizations and associations. For more information, contact

Brad has devoted his career to maximizing the value of customer-facing services. As a speaker, consultant, entrepreneur, executive, and president/CEO, he has seen change from many perspectives and has a deep understanding of the critical importance of customer service delivery to an organization's success. He has worked across 45 states and in 60 countries, and has been privileged to assist in the evolution of service delivery for clients such as American Express, Apple, Coca-Cola, USAA, and others, as well as for governments across the globe. Brad serves as a senior advisor to the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), and is an in-demand speaker and consultant.

To inquire about consulting or speaking, connect through any of the channels below.

© 2015 Brad Cleveland   All Rights Reserved