Last week, I stayed in two different hotels in the greater Atlanta area. One was a Ritz-Carlton, and the other a Marriott.* Hearing those two brand names, you might be tempted to assume that the guest experience at the Ritz was far better than the one at the Marriott. But it wasn’t — at least not for me.
Don’t get me wrong, the Ritz was beautiful. But one aspect of the experience there drove me nuts. Every time that I stepped off the elevator into the lobby I was swarmed by no fewer than three extremely friendly, extremely eager employees. They bombarded me with questions about whether I wanted coffee (which I don’t drink), a donut, help with my luggage, or anything else my heart desired. Now in theory, I love that the staff was so attentive. But they missed a pretty important need of mine — the need for personal space. When I travel for work, I want to be greeted by friendly people. And I want to know that I can easily find an employee if and when I need help. But otherwise, I prefer to be left to my own devices. That’s exactly what I got at the Marriott.
This example serves as a great reminder that no experience is inherently good or bad. CX quality is a function of how well each brand aligns its CX vision with the needs, wants, and preferences of the particular set of customers that it chooses to serve (AKA its customer strategy).
We can’t forget this when interpreting the results of any CX benchmark, including Forrester’s CX Index™. Every year, at least one brand that does well elicits a head scratch from clients. “Really?” they ask. For example, in the first wave of our 2015 US CX Index, people were surprised to learn that both QVC and HSN outscored Zappos.com in the digital-only retailer category. In the hotel category, they were surprised that Marriott’s Residence Inn brand beat out luxury brands like Intercontinental, Omni, and Westin.
But there’s a perfectly simple explanation. Just because you would prefer that CX over the others doesn’t mean that everyone else would. Assuming otherwise is exactly what created the CX crisis that some companies find themselves in today. It’s time to replace the HiPPO design methodology (highest-paid-person’s opinion) with a set of disciplined, objective habits for understanding what customers prefer and designing experiences that they’ll like. If execs happen to like the experience, too, great. If not, tough. Their opinion isn’t the one that matters.
So as you look at the results of Forrester’s CX Index benchmarks, don’t just ask what the best brands do: Ask why they do it and why it works for their customer base. Rather than just imitate, make it your goal to learn to think the way they think. You’ll have a much better shot at replicating their results if you do.
*Thanks to a reader for reminding me that the Ritz-Carlton brand is actually part of the Marriott family. Both brands do a good job delivering the right experience to their target customers. In this context, I was just a better fit for one brand than the other.