Forrester CX conference recap: Digital-first falls flat, virtual employees cultivate culture

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This year’s Forrester CX conference served as a backdrop for a deeper look at Forrester’s CX Index for 2022, which revealed that CX quality dropped for nearly 20% of brands, the highest proportion of brands to fall in one year since the survey began. Many companies are struggling to sustain growth and momentum without a clear customer and employee roadmap.

With executives searching for answers, the event focused on providing insight and tactics to help customer experience leaders understand more about what customers and employees want and how to deliver quality interactions in this unique, uncertain climate. Here are a few highlights:

Customer expectations raise the stakes for digital CX

One of the effects of the pandemic has been the consumer shift toward digital channels. From online deliveries to online banking, brands rushed to provide digital options that were adopted even by technology-averse consumers. But a just-in-time experience is one thing—consumers have higher expectations when it comes to services used over the long-term.

In a breakout session, Forrester Senior Analyst Anjali Lai and Principal Analyst Sara Watson noted that while there is much discussion about which digital behaviors will last, it’s equally important to improve the quality of these services.

“When you look deep into the data…the reality is consumers have struggled to integrate digital into their physical world,” said Lai. “Over one-fifth of consumers tried online groceries but 41% said they won’t continue with it because of frustrations with the experience. It’s the quality that will impact preference and behaviors moving forward.”

Watson agreed. Digital experiences have been “fluid in the sense that they’ve been volatile,” she said. Consumers are “looking for digital fluidity to be graceful and smooth.” Lai and Watson gave these tips for transforming ad hoc services into optimal, sustainable services:

  1. Understand the customer – Brands should use their robust customer data to build an understanding of not only what kinds of things customers expect, but also why they do what they do.
  2. Use a map – Revisit journey mapping efforts and sync them with consumer context and behavior.
  3. Dissolve unnecessary silos – Integrate digital infrastructure across the business to enable a fluid experience.

Virtual employees go the distance to cultivate culture

In her session, Forrester Principal Analyst Katy Tynan busted the myth that on-site employees create a better culture than virtual employees. She explained that every large company was already operating with a “virtual” culture before the pandemic, even if all employees were physically in the office.

When organizations grow to more than 150, it’s nearly impossible for everyone to have direct relationships and cultivate an in-person culture with everyone else. So while leaders play a critical role in setting the tone of the organization and modeling value-driven behavior for all employees, front-line managers have the biggest influence on culture because they connect with smaller teams to create their great employee experiences. And, Tynan said, most organizations are not paying enough attention to them as a lever.

“Values are what we say we do. Culture is what we actually do. What’s the distance between the two,” she asked the audience. She cited Forrester research ranking the importance of three types of employee distance and their impact on positive employee engagement and culture:

Physical distance – This literal measure of distance is a common reference point in culture conversations, but research shows it has the least impact on key resources for organizational success. Collaborative technology, tools, and business activities designed for remote employees have evolved to break physical distance barriers to success.

Operational distance – How hard is it to get decisions made, get access to resources, get to people who have knowledge, etc. Think of it as the numbers of layers and levels in an organization. The more operational distance, the more organizational siloes. This leads to conflicting cultures and disparate interpretations of an organization’s values.

Relational distance – The concept measures how in sync employees are with one another in their beliefs. Is there a common vision? Do employees care about the same things? The further the distance, the more disjointed an organization’s culture.

Rather than try to entice employees with in-office perks or incentives to build a strong culture, Tynan gave examples of companies like IBM, Patagonia, and Buffer, which all try to decrease operational and relational distance among employees, especially new ones.

IBM uses authentic leadership and abides by a work-from-home pledge. Patagonia goes to great lengths to reinforce to employees its mission and vision, so employees know “why we’re here.”

And at productivity software firm Buffer, each new hire is paired with peers who serve as a role buddy and a culture buddy to help them navigate how to do their job and get oriented with how the job gets done. “The longer it takes to figure out culture as a new hire, the less it feels like you belong,” Tynan said. “And belonging is an important metric for [culture and] performance.”

Send-off in style

The event, held in Nashville, also served as a celebration of Forrester’s Principal Analyst and CX guru Harley Manning, who announced his retirement. We wish Harley a wonderful next chapter and thank him for all he’s done to advance CX strategy in the business world.