I've yet to meet anybody in any size organization that does not believe the “customer experience” must be at the center of every decision in order to retain and grow revenue and improve profits. One needn't look far to find dedicated teams, diagrams, flow charts, systems, and corporate narrative to demonstrate this belief. While the intent and spirit is real, the outcome varies dramatically by organization. Why? Why do some organizations “get it” and others struggle to find their groove when it comes to delivering on the belief?
At one end of the spectrum, we find organizations that are big on customer experience rhetoric but provide no real evidence of real commitment to it–even where there is a dedicated team. And the team is typically working with an inadequate budget, poorly defined goals and fluffy success measurements. Worse, the team watched the already inadequate budget disappear following that first round of cuts for the year, unable to defend the investment because there are no defensible success measurements in place. For some of you this will sound painfully familiar. If so, read on. If not, read on anyway and see what you think.
At the other end of the spectrum is an organization where customer experience is not an “initiative” relegated to a specific set of employees operating on a shoe-string budget. Instead, customer experience is what the company does, and it’s everybody’s business. Every decision has a clear customer experience outcome at its center. The approach is highly intuitive and yet it’s the exception not the norm.
"If customer experience has lost its way in your organization, the way to get it back on track is to decentralize it"
What takes place in organizations between these two extremes? A little of this and a little of that; However, there is likely a disconnection between the desire to deliver an excellent customer experience versus the reality, for two reasons.
Customer experience is mistakenly viewed as an "additional" strategy and process that is layered on top of existing company, product and marketing strategies. This increased complexity is difficult for organizations to understand and absorb, creating confusion about past practices and beliefs. “Are we just now putting the customer at the center?” I’ve heard employees rightfully ask. In reality, every company started with a unique focus on the customer experience. But as companies grow, the focus can be supplanted by too much “internal” speak about what is good for the company versus what is good for the customer.
The difference between an organization that truly delivers a great customer experience and one that doesn’t is clarity of purpose and strategy. Customer experience is not a strategy or an initiative it is THE strategy reflected in EVERY initiative. Every employee is accountable for understanding the data that drives the customer experience, and every meeting and discussion has the customer experience at its core.
A great customer experience largely exists within the product itself, whatever that may be. If it does not, the product will ultimately fail–either to be the market leader or to exist. Therefore, should customer experience initiatives not be part of the fundamental process of constantly discovering what is and is not delighting customers? Those insights help to strengthen product value, and also help marketing to grow brand awareness and loyalty. In the product strategy context, customer experience has clear meaning and value that can be quantified and measured. By pulling it out of that context, however, it becomes murky and probably too far removed from either product strategy or marketing strategy to be effective. My recommendation, then, is to embed customer experience initiatives and resources right into the product development process.
The product team should also be in complete command of any customer relationship management tools alongside marketing and sales. This facilitates the capture of insights and data to understand the customer experience more deeply to drive greater value and loyalty. The data can also serve to predict what the customer wants next in pursuit of the best experience.
Embedding customer experience in the product development process is just the beginning, though.
Additionally, every role, job description and initiative should understand its own special relationship to the desired customer experience that the organization wants to deliver. Because every decision and action within an organization shapes that experience in some way; an accountant may not have direct interaction with a customer; however, that accountant can help make customer-centered decisions by analyzing the impact of a financial decision on the customer experience.
Of course, this is easier said than done and it requires some real commitment and work to establish how each role in the organization can impact the customer experience vision. The work starts with customer experience mapping.
Organizations that do not have a deep understanding of the customer experience they actually deliver versus the customer experience they want to deliver will never quite get there. A customer experience map detailing every interaction with the customer from discovering the offer to buying it to returning or refunding reveals opportunities to create real competitive advantage and points of delight. While no organization is aiming for product return or refund, not understanding the importance of making this delightful for the customer is a giant mistake. If a customer is going to leave us, we might as well make it a great experience so we can stand a chance of ever regaining that customer.
Once the desired experience is mapped, every commitment to improvement must be accompanied by a set of clear execution steps, an owner, a budget and a measurable outcome. Again, this is hard work, but required in order for customer experience to be more than just a good intention.
If you are the lead for Customer Experience in your organization, you should ask yourself if this is realistic, or if every day feels like an uphill battle. Is your agenda and team properly understood within the organization and are there clear metrics for success that can be tied back to financial success? If not, try to imagine your agenda embedded in the company’s strategy and marketing and most importantly, the boost to the actual customer experience if everybody cared for it the way that you and your team do.
There are many terrific quotations about the significance of delivering a great customer experience, by many great business leaders of our time–Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, and so on. But the one that resonates with me the most is this:
“A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all.” – Michael LeBoeuf.
“Customer experience” is most effective when it is so deeply ingrained in the organization’s culture, strategy and processes, that it doesn’t exist. It’s just what the organization does best.