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America’s most hated brands are literally losing trillions of dollars every year. Notorious for poor service and complicated procedures, these companies lose up to $1.6 trillion annually as customers seek other brands to do business with. Stats like that reiterate why, more than ever, companies need to prioritize customer experience.

Companies that want to fix their customer experience (CX) strategy should give Jeanne Bliss a call. The author of Chief Customer Officer 2.0 and co-founder of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, Bliss has helped companies like Microsoft, Allstate and Land’s End fix customer experience pitfalls. Today, she’s one of the most sought after thought leaders in customer experience.

Join Bliss at the 2016 Customer Intelligence Summit in Chicago, where she’ll reveal the five choices brands must make to earn customer love. As a pioneer of the chief customer officer role, she has much to share about how it’s evolved over the decades—and how some of the most hated brands can win over the public’s trust. She recently sat down with us to talk about America’s most disliked brands and how the role of the chief customer officer has changed in the last decade.

Certain industries like big pharma, banking and telecom are widely hated by consumers. What are these industries getting wrong?

A lot of them are legacy industries that often operate based on old school assumptions. Sometimes people working in these industries assume they can’t change things because of government regulations. Their actions are often formed by what they’ve always done.

If you look closely, many companies in ‘hated’ verticals are breaking out. They are redefining their space and not letting regulations stop them from designing a better customer experience.

One example is Umpqua Bank in the Pacific Northwest—one of the few financial service companies that grew during the last major economic downturn. The company did so by reframing its role in society. The company doesn’t see itself as just a bank, instead it’s a part of the community. By being a member of the community, and taking care of the families within, the company recognizes that its customers deserve better products and services.

What are the first steps to winning back customer trust?

Don’t underestimate the power of language. In America’s most hated industries, companies tend to use acronyms and legalese. Getting rid of ‘acronym soup’—the excessive use of language that doesn’t make sense to the general public—will help companies win customer trust.

Technology can also help. Alaska Airlines, for example, has done innovative things like sign-in technology for frequent flier lounges. These projects are great because they personalize and create a better environment for both employees and customers. Companies that blend high tech with what I call ‘high touch’ will win.

"Start with the experience that customers desire."

To turn things around, companies in these industries need to do something that hasn’t come naturally to them in the past: develop an understanding of their customers’ lives. Start with the experience that customers desire, and then work backwards to figure out how your company can meet those expectations.

If you were the CCO of America’s most hated company, what steps would you take in the first 90 days to win back customer love?

First, open conversations with customers is critical. Get the full context from the customer’s perspective and identify where the company is failing. There needs to be an effort with the C-suite to get a clearer picture of the customer journey. From the C-suite’s perspective, why is the company losing customers?

Then, talk to employees. What’s happening on the inside shows up on the outside, so how you treat employees impacts customer experience. How you measure employee performance will influence how your people treat customers.

The corporate culture also needs to be evaluated. Create a customer map and measure the current customer growth. Being an acquisition engine isn’t enough. If you bring in 100,000 customers in a quarter but lose 95,000 of them in the next quarter, your company needs to focus more on retention. As a chief customer officer (CCO), you need to make the leadership team see where they’re losing out on customer growth and why.

Asking questions about the customer and employee experience is important. Consider a ‘kill a stupid rule’ campaign; ask employees what’s preventing them from providing value to customers, and then revisit those rules. Also, consider a ‘be a customer’ campaign, where leadership performs the tasks we’re asking customers to do. This will help identify the changes needed to enhance the experience for your company’s biggest assets: your customers.

How has the role of chief customer officer evolved over the past few years? 

More than ever, the CEO and the CFO—the people in charge of business financials—are paying attention to organic growth of the customer base. Leadership teams recognize that keeping profitable customers doesn’t happen by accident. The rise of the chief customer officer is partly due to companies needing a deliberate approach to customer retention.

Social media is also a factor. Today, companies can run, but they cannot hide. Studies show that 20 percent of the buying decision is based on what the brand says, but 80 percent is based on word of mouth. Customers aren’t just talking with colleagues, family and friends—they’re also reading reviews and recommendations from strangers online.

"Today, companies can run, but they cannot hide."

Business leaders know they need to work on coordinating and removing organizational silos. A CCO can help break down barriers in order to improve customer experience.

What are the signs that a company is ready to hire a CCO?

A united leadership team is required—the CCO isn’t a role or a title that the CEO simply ordains. The C-suite needs to align on what the company stands for and will deliver to customers.

There needs to be a desire to challenge the status quo and see that the market is changing. Companies must see that to stay competitive, they need to create a new level of competency in the organization—one that the CCO can help champion.

Companies need a realistic viewpoint of what they’re delivering today. At my consultancy, CustomerBliss, one of the things we coach business leaders to do to create a shared understanding of what’s impacting customer growth. Often, when I talk to CCOs, they mention that their performance is measured by NPS or survey scores. These numbers are limiting though, because CCOs are meant to instill new competencies and help leaders lead. The CCO is not a service provider to the leadership team; rather, s/he is a partner who needs to change how decisions about the customer lifecycle are made.

Learn the CX secrets of prosperous brands

Our thanks to Bliss for sharing her CX tips with us. To learn more about the latest strategies in CX, we invite you to network and learn with 400-plus customer intelligence pros at our Summit in Chicago.

Customer-centric brands like Alliant Energy and Art Gallery of New South Wales will share how they build the ultimate end-to-end customer journey. Register to save your spot today.

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Kelvin Claveria

Kelvin Claveria was the former Content Marketing Manager and was responsible for Vision Critical's blog and social media marketing program. Before joining Vision Critical's global marketing team, Kelvin worked at Dunn PR, a Vancouver-based public relations firm. His experience includes working with lifestyle, real estate, and non-profit clients to develop social media marketing and PR strategies. Kelvin has a Bachelor of Business Administration from SFU's Beedie School of Business.
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