We’ve just published a Customer Engagement Report based on a survey of more than 800 companies and agencies.

The research, sponsored by cScape, covers a lot of ground (it’s a huge topic and you can see some highlights below) but a key section I want to flag up is around the challenges faced by companies who want to give the best possible customer experience.

Company respondents – barriers to magnificent customer experience

Company respondents said that the five “greatest barriers” to delivering the best possible customer experience were:

1) Lack of resources / time (regarded as a “great barrier” by 66% of company respondents)
2) Disconnected systems & technologies (50%)
3) Lack of skills and training (38%)
4) Lack of finances (37%)
5) Lack of regular processes and / or suitable methodology (36%)

Agency and supplier respondents had a similar outlook when they were asked what the barriers were for “the majority of their clients“, but it was clear that agencies – looking from the outside – more commonly perceive lack of boardroom buy-in and organisational culture to be serious issues (see below).

Agency respondents – barriers to magnificent customer experience

The agency responses are worthy of close attention as they perhaps do a better job of reflecting the universal status quo.

The agencies, thinking about their average clients, are speaking from a broader perspective than the company respondents who are arguably working for organisations with above-average customer-centricity.

1) Lack of resources / time (regarded as a “great barrier” by 64% of agency respondents)
2) Lack of skills & training (56%)
3) Lack of boardroom buy-in (49%)
4) Organisational culture (44%)

5) Lack of regular processes and / or suitable methodology (44%)

The conclusion to draw is that large numbers of organisations still have leadership issues which are preventing them from engaging with customers and delivering an integrated customer experience across channels.

And without boardroom understanding about the need to put the customer experience at the centre of decision-making processes, it is a difficult task for internal customer experience champions (where they even exist) to secure the right level of budget, training, technology investment and cross-channel co-operation.

Of course, it is easy to talk about ways of improving customer experience but less easy to put them into practice at a time when organisations are likely to be working across multiple channels and under pressure to introduce new technologies and features which make it even more difficult to “join up the dots“.

But just as the internet creates new problems, there is also an increased opportunity to connect emotionally with customers, whether through a more personalised experience, blogs, podcasts, RSS, etc.

As cScape Customer Engagement Director Richard Sedley says in the introduction to the report, getting all this right is more a journey than a destination for organisations:

“Customer engagemet isn’t a nirvana that can be reached; it is a process of developing and nurturing relationships.”

Another key finding of the research is that many organisations are striving or aspiring to introduce ‘Web 2.0’ features such as corporate blogs and user-generated content whilst at the same time failing to deliver on some basic areas which could improve customer relationships (for example mapping customer touch points and working in cross-functional teams).

Appetite for “Web 2.0 technologies”:

– 42% are planning to apply user-generated content (UGC) to their websites in the next 12 months; 23% are using it already.
– 35% are planning to use corporate blogs in the next 12 months; 17% are using them already.
– 33% are planning to use podcasting in the next 12 months; 18% using it already.
– 35% planning to use videocasting in the next 12 month; 17% using it already.

Gap between aspirations and reality:

– Almost two thirds of company respondents (64%) believe that joined-up online and offline experiences are essential for engaging with their audience, but 60% of companies are either not very advanced at mapping customer experiences and identifying touch-points (36%), or admit they have to start looking at this because they are not doing it all (24%).

– Half of respondents (51%) believe that personalised experiences are essential for audience engagement, with a further 44% believing they are useful. But despite the perceived importance of personalisation, 37% of company respondents are not providing it at all.

The good news is that more companies are really taking customer engagement and customer experience seriously, evidenced by the fantastic response we had to this survey. A big thank you to cScape, the research sponsor, and to those who took part in the research.

The full Customer Engagement Report is available to E-consultancy subscribers or on a pay-per-view basis.

We’ve provided a breakdown of results by (revenue) size of organisations which can help readers benchmark themselves against similar-sized companies.