By Danyel Lagow and Diane Magers

Diane Magers, CCXP is CEO of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA). Known as an innovative and creative strategist, Diane has over 25 years of proven ability to identify opportunities for customer interactions. Danyel LaGow, CCXP is Strong-Bridge’s Practice Director for Customer Excellence. She is a passionate and committed CX practitioner and leader, with experience guiding enterprise-wide teams in an array of industries.

Implementing a Customer Experience strategy across an organization doesn’t have to be overwhelming if it’s done right. Building and launching Customer Experience is, all at once, excitement and realization— excitement because the opportunities seem endless and the realization that there is a great deal of effort that needs to happen to move the needle towards a better experience. Building organizational focus on the customer is much more than just creating surveys and fixing the low hanging fruit. It requires a shift in thinking, strong executive leadership, cross-functional buy-in, and a serious commitment to change. While this might sound daunting, it is manageable (and powerful) when all-important principles are outlined.

And the truth is, developing Customer Experience is as much about the steps along the path as it is the outcome. With the hard work comes the opportunity to bring teams and people together, to identify unseen customer behaviors and needs, and to shape the future state of relationships and engagement with customers. It is exciting work, and the journey’s milestones are as important and impactful as the result.

Regardless of where you are in the journey, or how big or small your organization may be, Customer Experience has a definite framework that can help create alignment in your organization about the meaning of Customer Experience and how it can become part of “the way we work.” More than that, a functional Customer Experience strategy is one that can be accomplished in manageable, bite-size pieces.

1. HAVE A PURPOSE AND A PLAN TO GET THERE.

First, define and embrace why you are creating a focus on Customer Experience. The work of Customer Experience is meant to put the customer first — to anticipate their needs, to better relate to their lives, and to pave the way for a customer to experience your brand in a way that will delight them and keep them coming back for more. Success will demand leadership from the senior-most people in the organization. Committed executive sponsorship will help rally people, drive the message and importance of the effort, and free resources and budget. It also helps to keep people focused on the goal when the support is consistent and sure.

Next, have a plan. There are many moving parts in driving organizational change around Customer Experience. Making it work is about preparation and having a working, defined strategy to get to the goals. While it’s tempting to assess, identify some opportunities, and knock out a few obvious outcomes— true change happens when there is a committed, long-term, and on-going plan for change. Most importantly, a plan must address how you are going to change minds and behaviors within the organization, not just outside of it.

An effective strategic plan will start with assessing the current state of the business and Customer Experience. This is done through conducting stakeholder interviews, and by doing a thorough analysis of existing customer insights, data points, and methods for measuring the Customer Experience. This analysis phase is often followed by the development of a customer journey map that captures the end-to-end experience from the customer’s perspective.

Customer journey mapping workshops should include a cross-functional group of employees and leverage design thinking methodologies to help innovate to a better future state experience. From there, the plan should shift to the creation of a roadmap— that plots prioritized next steps over an incremental period of time (the next three months, six months, one year, three years).

Finally, leverage your Customer Experience knowledge and a roadmap to help see where your accountability should be, how you will get there, and how to bring it all into focus. Tie it back into a CX Maturity Model (see below) to help executives understand the key milestones, and what they can expect over a given amount of time. Be deliberate, and be specific. This is information your executive team will use to support the initiative and keep the momentum going over the long haul.

2. KNOW AND DEMONSTRATE THE BUSINESS CASE.

Even though there is a burgeoning appreciation in favor of Customer Experience, it can sometimes be confused with “fluffy stuff” when it’s being pushed through an organization for approval and sponsorship. This is why it is so imperative to know the business case. So, bring organizational benefits into the conversation.

Examine the business questions people have about customers— those that impact the bottom line. Why did a customer leave; choose you, stay, or refer? What are their pain points? What do you want the customer to do differently, or better yet, what do the customers want you to do differently?

These answers can come from anywhere inside an organization, which, as a side effect, serves to bring people together by crossing departmental borders to get answers. As Customer Experience professionals, we must have the talent, skill set, and competencies to build a solid business case rather than just reporting metrics.

3. CONVERT DATA TO INSIGHTS AND ACTION.

Most companies have an abundance of data spanning the organization which is vital to Customer Experience efforts — capturing numerous touchpoints across the customer journey. Data is the best supporting mechanism for rationalizing decisions in Customer Experience. By walking through the customer journey, it will become clear where data exists, and where it can be requested and examined.

But, be sure not to miss the often-forgotten but rich areas for information— things like financial data, unstructured feedback, sales, and the call center. Likewise, exploring the customer journey will poke holes in the places data is lacking. As you proceed with a plan, you can look for ways to embed new data sources as needed.

To get the most out of the data you unearth requires a certain kind of acumen. It’s driven not just by number crunching, but also by creativity. Teach the people who will be handling and analyzing your data about Insight Techniques and Design Thinking— these methodologies use logic in conjunction with imagination and intuition to find opportunities that help create desired outcomes.

EXAMPLE— EXPOSING OPPORTUNITIES THROUGH DATA. For a medical device company, we brought together cross-functional teams who knew where data and information was, but usually only for their business unit. Getting them together was eye-opening. For instance, marketing had really great info that would have helped the operational team see some opportunities, and the R&D team to develop products. As a result, they started having collaborative working sessions to share data and were able to use the information to improve the experience and derive real results.

4. ENGAGE EVERYONE.

With Customer Experience comes change. In fact, no good Customer Experience can survive without it. And that means getting people on board, making organizational changes, and pushing through the hard work that goes with operationalizing customer-focused initiatives over the long term.

Making change possible requires cross-functional cooperation. So by nature, there is some “silo busting” that will be going on. But there is room to take this even a step further and bring employees into the work at the beginning. Draw cross-functional teams into workshops, design and journey mapping, and planning. Having teams of people from across the organization that have contact with the customer can be very eye-opening and informative for those involved. It also helps people feel part of the process, rather than bolted on “as needed.” This, in turn, results in more engaged, involved, and bought-in employees.

With a Customer Experience strategy and roadmap in place, introducing a CX Champion Team can be a fruitful, employee-driven way to keep people engaged. Elect an individual to lead cross-functional internal teams, set meetings at a regular cadence (say, monthly) to discuss what is happening in the organization and where they are in their CX Maturity. Customer Champions can share what is happening with current Customer Experience initiatives, and discuss how the team can be a part of bringing those initiatives forward. This role is very helpful in bringing some clarity to what everyone can be doing — nobody is left to figure it out on their own, and nobody goes rogue.

EXAMPLE— BUILDING A CUSTOMER ROOM. We once created a “Customer Room” for a client and their employees. This can be a powerful, high impact, low budget tool to keep the organization focused on the Customer.  We took a typical conference room and converted it to a meeting space that was all about Customer Experience. We enlarged the customer journey map, printed it, and put it on one wall. Another wall was dedicated to current information— things like customer metrics and insights. Another wall had large-scale personas, to demonstrate the different types of customers. In the middle were divider walls in the shape of an “X.” Here, projects teams could post their customer-focused initiatives to share what was going on— things such as customer billing updates. This room became a collaborative space where everyone from leadership down could immerse themselves in the customer. Different departments held their team meetings there often, to remember to bring the customer voice into their day-to-day work and decisions. It’s an inspiring space.

But don’t stop at the employees. This is a Customer Experience effort, so bring the customer along. Select customers to form an advisory board, use focus groups, or assemble a customer council you can turn to at various points in your journey. This is important because while your journey maps or solutions might be complete, and internal teams may think it’s good, you really don’t know unless the customer weighs in.

5. TRUST IT CAN BE DONE.

Of course, not every organization is ready for a complete overhaul. The good news is that Customer Experience practices allow you to chip away at the issues, by starting small first— getting a beat on where you are, where the big gaps are, and what you need to focus on for your next phase. Start by taking an assessment and do some employee-driven journey mapping. Find out where you are. It can take as little as six weeks to get this part done, and companies almost always walk away with something actionable.

There is no doubt, creating Customer Experience excellence takes a village. Yet, the upside is unquestionable— both in revenue and the engagement of employees. Companies that focus on building Customer Experience today are those that will succeed tomorrow.

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