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  • Writer's pictureDerek Bildfell

The First 4 Steps to Improve Your Customer Experience

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the reasons to be motivated by Customer Experience (CX) in previous articles. While improved market value is the most significant long-term impact for most organizations, there are also compelling operational impacts that result from a well-run Customer Experience Management (CEM) program. Simply put, improving CX will lead to stronger revenue growth and lower operational costs. There is also the inescapable requirement to respond strategically to the long term macro-economic shift toward the experience economy which makes improving CX more compelling every day.

This article discusses the structure of a successful and effective CEM program. The 4 key steps are outlined at the end of the article.

In order to act strategically and effectively, it’s important that a CEM program is supported by a Long-Term Plan (LTP). This is more than a strategic statement. The LTP identifies the mechanisms that will be put in place to ensure that the company, across the whole enterprise, is moving forward over the next few years. The LTP is guided by a cross functional team at the most senior levels. We will call this team the Customer Experience Council (CEC). At the other end of the spectrum, there are two highly operational elements that need to be embedded in your customer centric culture.

1. You need to have an intentional customer journey.

2. You need to plan for continuous improvement over multiple years.

What is the best way to approach this challenge?

The Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) has defined six functions as a multidisciplinary fabric required to improve your customer experience in a compelling fashion. These functions, or processes, are not viewed as a sequential process, but as more of a collection of guiding baselines which all mature with your company’s successes.

As a CEO, you need to believe that improved CX will accelerate your strategy. Conversely, you need to be aware of the limitations that your strategy may have on pursuing an outstanding CX. If you are in a commodity business, your strategy will certainly be to provide a differentiated experience for your buyers and brokers, but you are strategically constrained to ensure that your commodity is always price competitive, which will govern the level and speed of your investments in CX. By comparison, many businesses have an inherent strategy of leveraging customer insights to develop offerings that impact the customer positively, and to capture the value for this impact. In this case, aggressive investments in CEM will directly accelerate the company strategy.

An experienced CX professional can review your current strategic plan and offer some suggestions of areas where a good CEM program would have a positive impact on your company’s LTP. Just adding a few words or expectations in the plan will get the ball rolling with an aligned set of CX goals. You will also find it is easier to communicate your strategic plan if you can put it in terms of the impact on your target customer or on the employees. You can imagine the impact that Dean Connor, CEO of Sun Life, has had since they announced that all employees would be compensated on the improvement in the customer experience. Note that Sun Life has been pursuing improved customer experience for years prior to this announcement. We would not recommend to any company that they tie compensation to CX until a customer centric culture has been established, but after several years of ground work, messaging of this nature can be an effective way to ensure greater buy-in across the company.

Simply making statements and hoping for the best is just irresponsible. There needs to be a Customer Experience Council (CEC) put in place to establish governance. The CEC is a subcommittee of the most senior management team. On a prescribed basis, preferably quarterly, the team reviews the goals, measures, and expectations at a corporate level. They also facilitate communications’ consistency, resource allocation, and accountability across the company. CX success is ultimately measured over multiples years, so you want a team that is not limited to the annual P&L perspective of the company. The CEC ultimately acts as a governing body which ensures the highest level of integrity and long-term commitment which in turn connects back to your LTP.

So, who exactly does the CEC govern? Effectively everyone, but let’s focus on the six disciplines as identified by the CXPA. The CEC takes direct ownership of the CX Strategy. This implies that there will be a person who is the corporate champion. This person has the role of coordinating the agenda for CEC meetings, and acts as the keeper of the strategy. They can come from any area of the business, typically with a strong operational capability. There is not a hard and fast rule, but we often see this person coming from marketing, customer success, business analysts or strategy. The CX Champion will define a corporate wide implementation plan with several critical standards and metrics. This could possibly include a Center of Competence team or process, and plans for each of the six key disciplines.

This all sounds comprehensive, but it doesn’t have to be that difficult. The two keys to succeeding in CX are commitment and time. Making a firm commitment with a small amount of resource and an expectation of continuous improvement will start you down the right path. We suggest that you put a stake in the ground across all 6 disciplines at the outset, then improve simultaneously over time as you become more versed in the disciplines and understand the areas of greatest strategic impact. You also don’t have to do this alone. There are over 5000 professionals in the CXPA that will be happy to help and even outsource in some cases. Consulting services and outsourcing are particularly common in Journey Mapping and managing the Voice of the Customer programs.

We use the 6 disciplines from the CXPA as a common well-defined structure. Every implementation is unique, hence the term Discipline vs Methodology. Below is a very brief description of each of these disciplines from the CXPA web site.

1. Customer Experience Strategy: Development of a strategy that articulates a clear vision of the experience that a company seeks to create in support of the company’s brand values, including its direct linkage to CX activities, resources and investments.

2. Metrics, Measurement and ROI: Creation and reporting of the measures of CX success including their use in business cases to illustrate the ROI and business value of customer experience.

3. Customer Centric Culture: Creating and nurturing a culture, through behaviors, practices and standards that encourage all employees to focus on delivering outstanding customer experiences.

4. Experience Design, Improvement and Innovation: Implementing practices and approaches to continuously improve, design and differentiate customer experiences.

5. VOC, Customer Insight and Understanding: Building collective insight into customer needs, wants, perceptions, and preferences through the capture and analysis of the voice of the customer.

6. Organizational Adoption and Accountability: Driving change and developing cross-company experience accountability from the C-suite to the front line.

Starting 20 years ago would have been ideal, as Apple and Four Seasons Hotels did. But the next best time is today. We recommend a few very manageable first steps. In all cases, you will find engaging an advisor will save you time and money while ensuring a stronger foundation for your programs!

1. Review your strategy from a CX perspective. We recommend an experienced CX consultant facilitate this review, as they can bring multiple perspectives from multiple engagements to the project.

2. Select the customer experience champion. Often this person self-selects, as they display early on in the process the passion and interest of a champion. They will need to build the baselines of the CEC.

3. Select an initial project that will build momentum at the front line. Typically, this will be the establishment of a closed loop VOC program. This can be accomplished by taking the resources committed to measuring CSAT and having them pilot a highly accountable closed loop system that delivers the information required of the CSAT program immediately.

4. Another project approach that will drive momentum is to execute a journey mapping initiative on a problematic customer journey. When implementing a closed loop process mentioned above, you will establish a high-level journey map. A proper journey mapping session will identify low hanging fruit that will energize the organization across functions to improve the customer experience.

This may all appear somewhat daunting. Fear not! As we’ve discussed, there are many solution providers and consultants eager to help. Our organization, Acceleration Strategy Inc. is very active in this space, both as a consulting company and as an operational manager of VOC programs. We are also leaders in the CXPA community, and would be happy to spend a few minutes helping you get started.

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