Just a few years ago, Gartner Research conducted a marketing spending survey where 89% of the responding companies said that by 2016, they expected to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience. In the same survey, less than half rated their company’s customer experience as exceptional at the time (2014), but two-thirds said they expected it to be exceptional within two years – which brings us to today…. Forrester Research recently published the results of its 2016 U.S. Customer Experience Index, and if the U.S. is any indication, the two-thirds of companies that expected their customer experience to be exceptional by 2016 haven’t had as quick of a trip up the slope as they planned. With more than 122,000 U.S. consumers surveyed about the customer experiences of more than 300 well-known brands, 1% of the 319 brands evaluated garnered an Excellent rating - a zero percent increase from 2015. Just 17% of the brands’ customer experiences ranked in the next-best category (Good), with the majority (59%) sitting at OK. Twenty percent (20%) ranked Poor, with the remaining 3% falling in the Very Poor category. There is positive momentum brewing, however. More than 50 brands evaluated for the index saw improvements in their customer experience ratings, as did five industries as a whole which include wireless service providers, traditional retailers, hotels, internet service providers and federal government agencies. Separating the Best from the RestThe chasm that separates the best from the rest, however, is wide. According to the index, the best-of-the-best brands deliver 20 positive customer experiences for every negative one, compared to an 8:1 positive to negative ratio for average brands. Zappos, long-known for its focus on the customer experience, triples even the best-of-the-best with 64:1 ratio. With more and more companies pursuing the customer experience peak, what can drive, improve and hasten the journey? Altimeter Group digital analyst and author Brian Solis recently told fellow influencer Michael Krigsman on CXOTalk: Don’t wait for change. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and challenge the status-quo if the change you’re seeking helps everyone succeed. “If you’re waiting to be told what to do, you’re on the wrong side of innovation,” said Solis. A great customer experience is all a matter of perspective. Organizations cannot deliver what customers want by assuming the organization knows. They must look at and empathize with how the customer experiences their brand or org from the customers' eyes and evolve from there. It may mean taking a few steps back or starting over. Building on top of incorrect, broken or siloed basics won’t work, and this applies to even the largest, most established brands. Gaining support is a journey in itself. Change agents must become lawyers (gathering data and evidence), politicians (working across the aisles and divisions) and cheerleaders (promoting the positive even when others aren’t on your team) - all before seeking executive sponsorship. Non-supporters can actually help. In listening to those who aren’t buying the change you’re seeking and trying to sell, you can utilize the insights to ease concerns and pushbacks. Organizations must work from the inside out. Solis notes that employee experience and culture design are the next big things and key to the greatest customer experiences. Transformation involves iteration, innovation and disruption. To get to the top and stay there, organizations must do the same things better, do new things that unlock new value, and embrace new things that make the old things obsolete. Excellent customer experiences don’t happen overnight; most don’t happen in just two years. But they do happen, and far more than 1% will start reaching the top. Change is required, however - in perspective, processes, culture, collaboration, empathy, employee experiences and innovation. It takes the entire organization working together for the customer, the brand and fellow employees. And that’s why is (still) so lonely at the top. -------------- Learn More About Customer Expectations Whether you’re in customer service, marketing, sales, IT - or especially if you’re the CEO, CFO or CDO - you’ll be fascinated by the results revealed by Microsoft’s new 2016 Global State of Customer Service Report which polled 5,000 consumers across Brazil, Germany, Japan, the UK and the US on their customer service preferences and expectations.The variations based on both geography and age will either confirm or totally change the way you think about, invest in, improve and incorporate customer service as a foundation of your brand or organization.View Microsoft's on-demand webinar discussing this year's fascinating results. With the on-demand webinar, you'll receive a copy of the full 23-page report.