We all hear and read stories of terrible customer experiences; like me, you probably have had your own share of bad experiences. And social media has made it possible for these bad experiences to be shared instantly with millions of people. But in our journey through life, we also experience service that exceeds our expectations. And as we read reviews online, we’re more likely to see a mixture of both good and bad experiences. For example, I recently posted a glowing review for a B&B in Bethel, ME, even though a few things about my stay would have typically caused me to deduct points. My five-star review was extremely positive because the proprietor had blown away my expectations on service, delivering an experience way beyond any I’ve had in a five-star hotel.

But excelling at the personal touch in a small-town B&B is far easier than doing it at scale in a multibillion-dollar business. Yet there are companies that consistently deliver great customer experiences. (My colleagues even wrote a book on them). They aren’t perfect all the time, but, on average, they are better than their competitors. At Forrester, we identify these companies through our annual Customer Experience Index (CXi) research. Toward the top of the 2013 index, we find companies like Marshalls, Courtyard by Marriott, USAA, TD Bank, Southwest Airlines, Vanguard, Home Depot, Kohl’s, Fidelity Investments, and FedEx.

This year for the first time, we’ve been conducting CIO research into those companies that do well in the Forrester Customer Experience Index (CXi). In particular, we wanted to find out what, if anything, CIOs and IT leaders at these companies were doing to help their organizations achieve customer experience superiority. By identifying the most common tactics found in IT groups across many leading firms, we’ve been able to build a set of recommendations for other CIOs to follow to help their organizations succeed at excelling in customer experience.

One of the most surprising findings from our research is just how frequently IT is tightly woven into the design of the customer experience in many of these leading organizations. I say surprising because IT professionals are not normally considered experts at designing great customer experiences. But these firms have structured their IT teams to work hand-in-glove with customer experience professionals in their organizations to design highly effective and high-performing technology to support great customer experiences.

Part 2 of this post is here.

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