4 Steps to Operationalize the Customer Experience

Many firms think of customer experience (CX) as a flashy marketing campaign, a friendly voice in a contact center, or a snappy new mobile application. They look to imitate the sleek design of the Apple store, the re-assuring presence of a Nordstrom personal shopper or the intuitive design of Uber’s ride-on-demand service.

While these might represent features of an overall experience, they gloss over the underlying operational magic required to deliver these experiences. Apple’s store is nothing more than a nice façade without ERP visibility on its website that lets customers find a store where stock is available or the mobile technology that empowers employees to quickly service customers and eliminate checkout lines.

While the thought of operations may elicit yawns from those leaders drawn to the more creative side of customer experience design, overlooking them and failing to make appropriate technology and process improvement investments risks putting the proverbial lipstick on a pig.  Leaders intent on improving or even transforming the customer experience need to think systemically across the complex ecosystem that is responsible for delivering the customer experience.

Here are four steps leaders should follow to help operationalize the customer experience:

  1. Engage the ecosystem with an inspiring strategic vision.  Adapting the customer experience starts with a vision of what it should actually be. Kohl’s provides a radically different experience than Nordstrom’s. Yet, Kohl’s regularly scores at the top of Forrester Research’s Customer Experience Index. Firms need to articulate clearly the experience they seek to deliver that meets customer expectations and that aligns with the firm’s brand and company strategy. Firms that deliver great experiences do more than simply articulate a vision – they inspire people with that vision. These visions transcend the products or services themselves and strive to achieve a higher purpose that focuses on the outcomes customers seek to achieve. For example, Pampers “helps mothers care for their babies’ healthy, happy development.” This helps Pampers steer clear of a promotions price-wars with Huggies and invest more in personally meaningful issues for moms.Firms that strive for a higher purpose are also able to create a touchstone to engage employees and partners, which are increasingly important as companies compete based on ecosystems that span outside of the traditional walls of a firm.
  2. Align to customer processes. Companies that build a rich understanding of the customer operating model (the customer’s contexts, scenarios, processes, devices and measurements of success) recognize the powerful impact of uncovering misalignment within the internal operating model that result in lost opportunities, unhappy customers and unnecessary inefficiencies and cost. The customer’s operating model often differs dramatically from a company’s internal operating model. When the giant food distributor, Sysco, researched the experience it delivered to identify pain points, it discovered that “delivery” was the cause of significant aggravation. This came as a surprise, since the company prided itself as being a great logistics company and had a superior track record for on-time delivery. But, it was other policies, such as payment requirements, that created anxiety and frustration. While customer journey mapping as a tool to understand the customer perspective is rising in popularity, companies rarely take it the next step and connect the interactions to the internal people, processes, technology and data that operationally deliver the interactions. A tool called Customer Experience Blueprints or Service Blueprints help firms create ownership and accountability, as well as break down organizational silos, to better align internal operations to customer needs.  An evolution from traditional “value stream mapping”, a by-product of CX Blueprints that firms regularly realize is cost savings. By doing what customers want, companies can eliminate unnecessary steps that take staff time and missteps that result in customer inquiries to contact centers.
  3. Enable employees and partners. Too often firms look to digital tools as a way to shuttle customers to self-service and eliminate staff. Wrong perspective. Instead, think of self-service as a way to handle the mundane transactional activity that customers don’t want to call about anyway, and empower employees with tools that help anticipate the more challenging and meaningful needs customers have. Empowering employees is just the beginning. In many industries – automotive, insurance, manufacturing — firms have realized that third-party distributors have primary contact with end customers and control the customer experience. Examples are beginning to proliferate of companies working to enable these partners to deliver better experiences.  Audi, for example, conducted a large consumer research study to identify key “moments of truth”, and shared this data with its dealerships to create customer experience improvement plans – something the individual dealerships couldn’t do alone.
  4. Use big data to foster customer outcomes and success. The real power of big data is that companies for the first time have the ability to not only understand intimately how customers use their products and services, but also help them succeed using those products. Unfortunately, most firms today see big data as a powerful tool to do the same thing they’ve done for decades: develop marketing product pitches targeted at customers. That’s a shame! Smart firms will build data visualization and gamification capabilities to turn their big data into services that engage customers around their own success. Several firms illustrate this different paradigm.  For years, Salesforce.com, which has a President of Customer Success on its executive management team, leverages behavioral data to suggest how users can make better use of its CRM platform. The more success they have using the platform, the more dependent on the platform they become and the more services they use. AirBnB uses data to coach apartment owners on aspects of hospitality, from how to book their space more frequently and to delivering good experiences as a host.

Ultimately, customer experience is a lens through which companies can view and run their business, it’s a continuous improvement process, and it’s a way of delivering more value to customers and driving up revenue while eliminating activities that undermine value and drive up costs. It requires firms to engage in systems thinking with a customer lens rather than seeing improvement as a one-off activity in a particular department. Firms that will win – indeed survive – in this age of rapidly evolving capabilities will use customer experience insights as signals to adapt their operations to changing needs. It’s time to move beyond tweaks to transformation and build a customer-driven modern operating model.

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