Alan Webber, Program Vice President, Customer Experience, IDC

It once took years to build long-term customer relationships, but consumer loyalty looks very different in the digital age. For Alan Webber, Program Vice President, Customer Experience for IDC, navigating the customer experience (CX) is critical to lasting engagement.

A market strategist and specialist in customer experience, Webber joined ITWC President Fawn Annan in a recent installment of CMO Talks, a podcast series presented by ITWC and IDC to address pressing marketing challenges. Their discussion centered on how organizations can best navigate the customer experience.

Webber touched on five key CX areas — advertising and marketing, sales, customer service and support, trust and loyalty, and customer intelligence and analytics. He placed particular stress on finance and accounting.

“If you get a bill that’s not correct … your interactions with finance and accounting from the day you get that bill to when you actually get a result constitute a customer experience,” he said. “That’s something we don’t really think about.”

Culture counts

Webber sees a strong cultural element to drivers that are pushing change.

“Look at the GDPR and recent regulations in California,” he said. “There’s a cultural impact to that, and how we look at privacy. Then look at what that means generationally. For a Gen ‘X’ like me, it has a very different [meaning] than for a Millennial or a Gen ‘Z.’”

Geography is also a big factor.

“Look at the drivers here compared to China or Japan or even the Middle East,” said Webber. “Although some of the factors are the same, the way they manifest themselves is different.”

“Here, privacy is an issue, but it’s less of an issue in places where people automatically are private — where they don’t share a lot of information and have very different cultural norms. People in China don’t expect privacy like we do here.”

Talking to end-user companies

Annan established the clear dividing line between passing fads and enduring trends that can be measured and used as the basis for business predictions. Webber said IDC analysts spend a great deal of time talking with technology vendors to find out what they’re doing and what they’ve heard.

“We talk to customers and end-user companies,” he explained, “and by pulling all these perspectives together, we identify a large number of factors that point to things moving in a certain direction — things that indicate a trend.’”

Webber doesn’t see price or product as key CX differentiators.

“Experience is the pivotal piece,” he said. “Every time we have a good one, we tend to measure the next experience against it. And so the bar just keeps going up.”

Annan and Webber agreed on the importance of smart personalization.

“You can personalize based on the level of the relationship,” said Webber. “Is this something I should know about a customer? Do I have a reason to know it?”

Annan and Webber also agreed that how a customer is treated by a vendor is directly related to the amount of personal information the customer has shared. However, Webber stressed that there should be a minimum level of how an individual should be treated.

AI is the way forward

To the question of what technologies are having the largest impact on CX right now, Webber was clear.

“Definitely AI. All the major vendors, whether it’s SAP or Oracle or Adobe or Microsoft, are moving towards artificial intelligence tools and their use around customer experience.”

On the topic of mobile, Webber said it’s important to make customers’ experience as “frictionless as possible,” but not completely frictionless.

“Frictionless is only great up to a point,” he said. “For example, you wouldn’t want somebody in Las Vegas to get on their mobile phone and have a frictionless experience borrowing a hundred thousand dollars against their mortgage.”

How does a company come to understand what’s going on with customers? How can it provide the best possible customer experience? For Webber, it all hinges on empathy and trust. “Building out the technologies that foster an empathetic, trustful relationship with customers is going to give you the longest and biggest return.”

Listen to the entire CMO Talks conversation

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