10 ways to smarten up your customer experience

CMO asks the experts for some practical tips for better customer experience management and optimisation

Sure, marketers have heard of customer experience (CX) and how important it is to differentiate a brand. But few know how to effectively implement it, or even where to start.

Does CX begin with the customer? Or the product? Is it just customer service, or does it need to feature throughout the customer journey, beyond purchase? Or perhaps it even begins before all this?

It is well known brands concentrate on CX are more profitable, and enjoy more customer loyalty. But even with the statistics, switching a product-focused company to a customer-focused one takes a lot of work and stakeholder agreement. Head of CX at Spark Foundry, Olia Krivtchoun, said CX as a discipline is dominating industry conversations, reports, agency strategies, conferences and tech company roadmaps.

“The discipline of CX covers a lot of ground as it is the sum of all interactions a customer has with a brand – be it advertising, an in-store or call centre experience, the experience of visiting a site pre and post purchase, shipping or returning products, and so on,” she told CMO. “Hence, there is no one way or rather one-size-fits-all approach to make CX better. Different businesses are able, ready and willing to smarten up different aspects of CX.”

CMO asked a few experts to weigh in on CX, what it is, where it’s going in the future, and some practical tips to make it work for brands.

1. Discover first

Customer-obsessed organisation are more likely to see greater returns and market share, ThoughtWorks machine learning principal, Mat Kelcey, continued.

“There are many principles of customer experience that apply, regardless of technology. Starting with an understanding of the customer, their needs and problems, is often the trigger for innovation,” he said.

“However, product success is rarely defined at the start, but rather it emerges throughout the product design and development, through continual research, hypothesis testing and ongoing learning about customer needs.

“It begins with discovery, talking to customers, observing their experiences and understanding their digital behaviour.”

2. Embrace the emotion

Founder and customer experience rockstar at Rockstar CX, James Dodkins, said the success or failure of a businesses comes down to one simple thing: The relationships it has with customers.

“Good relationships tend to produce good business results, bad relationships tend to create bad business results," he said.

The building block underpinning these sorts of positive relationships are emotions. The sum of every emotion we have ever felt in connection to a company (or person for that matter) is the thing that informs what relationship we have with them.

“The things that creates emotions are experiences. Experiences create emotions that build relationships and determine business performance. If you want good business results, deliver good customer experiences," Dodkins said.

3. Define your strategy

Having a comprehensive and clear CX strategy is another important element. For Dodkins, this requires organisations to understand the types of relationships they need to have with with customers, then translating that into day-to-day activities that will build them.

“This is what sets customer-centric companies apart from the rest. Have a company-wide agreement of how to think about customer, how to design for customers, how to treat customers and the overall direction of what you will be doing to make customers’ lives easier, simpler and more successful,” he advises. “This will make CX decisions so much easier for you and your company.” 

4. Invest in technology 

Technology is emerging as a big game changer for customer experience elevation. Articial intelligence (AI) is increasingly coming into play as a way of facilitating customer insights and collating vast streams of real-time data, leading to more customer-led decision making. Mixed reality technologies, meanwhile, such as augmented reality, virtual reality and smart speakers, are offering new and more seamless experiences.

But again, the strategy and relationship must inform the technology decision-making, not the other way around.

“CX should always drive the technology and never be driven by it,” Dodkins comments. “Technology is just a tool to help us deliver the right experience. Once you know your customers, know the relationships you need to build, understand the successful customer outcomes and the things that need to be delivered in an experience in order to deliver on those things, then, and only then, can technology come into it.

“Build the experience around the customer, not technology.”

5. Adopt service design

Wunderman Thompson director of transformation and innovation, Mark Neely, said what’s shifted in the market in last three years is the difference between user experience (UX) and CX and moving to a service design approach to CX.

“A service design approach is looking at the totality of CX as customers start to research, test and evaluate, purchase, use, and post purchase, to provide a great CX against that whole journey,” he told CMO. “This is the biggest change we’ve seen. It’s going back and taking that bigger lens approach to how we deliver products and services.

“We are now seeing businesses taking a service design lens at the outset, and not even thinking about what the product or service is until they know what the ‘job to be done’ is. People are leaning into CX by understanding the customer’s job to be done: For example, people don’t want drill bits, they want a hung picture, that’s the job to be done."

Once you understand that, you can design a product or service so that it provides a better experience and outcome, Neely says.

“It’s higher order thinking even before the designed product or service. It makes it clearer, more relevant and more personalised CX, rather than designing a solution and then finding a market fit," he said. "You are almost risk-proofing it.”

6. Think practically

Krivtchoun said it’s also important to think about the customer experience as an ongoing engagement. And that requires some practical thinking.

“Practical ways to improve CX include top-down and bottom-up and approaches. Top-down strategies will provide more focus and include tactics such as mapping of a brand’s complete service design, user journey optimisation recommendations, or a personalisation roadmap for media and site experiences based on prior customer behaviour," she explained. 

“Bottom-up, or tactical approaches, include initiatives such as optimising site speed and navigation so that a user experiences less friction on a brand site, while browsing products. A quick win can also be as simple as A/B testing of calls to action or imagery in media or on owned environments, which can illuminate an option providing the clearest information to the user. This is particularly useful for any client with an online acquisition goal such as sales and enquiries.”

7. Close the gap

Founder of CX Lavender, Will Lavender, said when it comes to smartening your CX, the best place for ambitious organisations to start is by closing the experience gap.

“What brands state in their mission and say in their advertising is often very different to what their customers experience in the reality of normal everyday experience. We call this the ‘experience gap’,” he said. 

“The most successful organisations tomorrow will be those that take their customers and services seriously by closing the gap between what they promise and what their customers actually experience. You deliver this outcome through deep and diversified experience and by harnessing the power within the data, creation and technology.

“Customer experience isn’t something you can turn on like a switch. To make significant change requires an overhaul of the macro and micro experiences - with all their component parts - or the introduction of a whole new area of service, for example, such as a complete online service centre experience."  

To achieve better CX, brands must first define the aspects of their customer experience they wish to develop. "Only then can they work on achieving differentiation and advantage, to ensure that wherever their customer comes into contact with their brand - through display, social, retail, message, Web page, kiosk application, IVR system, or mobile app - the experience is always useful, frictionless and intelligent,” Lavender said.

8. Know your customers

The first step is to know your customers, Dodkins agrees. “Now when I say ‘know', I don’t just mean know their name, and where they live and how old they are, I mean really know them - know ‘who' they are, over ‘what' they are,” he said.

"Know their values, their behaviours, their personality, lifestyle, goals and influences. You need to be able to describe your customers the way you would describe your best friends.” 

Once you have understood the customer at a deep level, Dodkins' second step is to understand ’Successful customer outcomes’. For instance, what is the outcome that would make the interaction/experience/relationship successful for the customer?

“Then, once you have understood the successful customer outcome, we need to understand customers’ real needs. We need to understand what our customers need even when they don’t know it for themselves,” he said. 

“It’s important to work to get the top team on-board with the importance of CX and the best way to do that is to tie your CX efforts to the bottom line. If you can tangibly show that X project created Y positive result you will get more and more buy-in.”

For Dodkins, there are six elements to really good CX:

  • Make the experience Easy - Reduce the number of customer steps in an experience 
  • Make the experience Fast - Reduce the number of company steps in an experience 
  • Make the experience Convenient - Deliver the experience through the physical and digital channels needed by the customer
  • Make the experience Trackable - Give transparency of process and progress to the customer 
  • Make the experience Personalised - Make the experience unique 
  • Make the experience Predictive - Anticipate needs and problems then capitalise on or remedy them
9. Build a bigger picture

Strategic consulting director at MaritzCX, Gillian Mackay, said it’s much harder for a business to see the world as their customers do, due to organisational complexity.

“In our digital world, there are multiple touchpoints [or transaction points] where customers interact with a business. However, when it comes to improving its CX, many companies continue to look at these touchpoints individually. And this means missing out on the bigger picture," he said. 

If a company only looks at improving CX at an individual touchpoint, it can lead to an inaccurate and siloed view of operations. This can mean the difference between a company resting on its laurels and losing market share versus making positive change and gaining market share.

"A journey-based CX program takes CX out of the touchpoint siloes and looks at the entire spectrum of the customer experience – essentially seeing things through the eyes of a customer,” Mackay said. 

She recommended four ‘C’s of CX:

  • Culture: Organisations must be committed to putting the customer at the heart of what they do each and every time.
  • C-Suite: The c-suite and board of an organisation must buy-in and prioritise developing a culture that puts the customer front and centre. A journey-based CX program can’t be a bolt on or work in isolation.
  • Clarity: Employees need to be able to see how they directly influence customer outcomes. Clear lines of sight to the customer have to be established with employees empowered and incentivised to deliver and improve on CX objectives.
  • Communication: The organisation must have in place (or a desire to establish) communication channels to their customers to enable them to collect insights from their customers, employees and partners to determine the real customer experience.

“If you aren’t aligning customer experience with journey it can take months to identify an issue. However, if you design the program around the journey then you’re able to measure all of the individual touchpoints that make up that journey," Mackay said.

“To properly listen to customers and employees, Voice of Customer (VoC) and Voice of Employee (VoE) programs are essential. However, it's important to include as many feedback channels as possible to get a true picture. In addition to surveys, this means connecting non- structured data like social media, call centre interactions, customer review sites and more. Make it as easy as possible for customers to talk to you."

10. Get the metrics clear

Ipsos Customer Experience managing director, Richard Korn, said while there are many ways of tapping voice of customer insights, most organisations don’t get a real return from them, which is a real missed opportunity.

“You need to know what metrics to be measuring upfront, and then manage getting the info needed without overburdening customers,” he advised. “Be sure to democratise data within the business, so front line teams getting real time visibility of data daily.

“It is vital for CX that all stakeholders are aligned behind it and people understand reasons for this focus."

Another tip from Korn is to focus on quick wins, in order to get more buy-in from stakeholders, then get the basics right.

“Whatever CX initiatives you are making it has to align with brand promise. If you have an offering that deviates from your brand promise, customers will get confused," he said.

“Also, there’s no magic CX metric. NPS [Net Promoter Score] gets a lot of air time for good reason; it’s easy to communicate to the board, and can be benchmarked against. But whether you are looking a NPS or customer satisfaction or customer effort, the most important thing is to be doing something with that data.

“You can have all the metrics in the world but if you are not learning from what your most unhappy customers are telling you, and making positive change, it is not going to have any benefit to you as a business.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.      


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