Companies around the world are making customer experience (CX) the top priority according to Harvard Business Review Analytical Services (HBRAS). But to do so takes more than lip service. To deliver an experience that customers value, you have to 1) know them, 2) organize around their unique expectations throughout their journey, and 3) serve them personally and in real-time. But companies aren’t there yet, not even close. In fact, HBRAS found that only 16% of CX-driven companies have a single (360-degree) view of customers. Even so, they lack the organizational structure to make use of those insights. It’s one thing to say you’re “customer-centered,” it’s entirely different when your company is literally organized around the customer.
As customer expectations and behaviors evolve along with times, trends, tastes, and technologies, CX becomes intrinsic to business success. When you consider how the customer experiences your company, what are the key touch points they face in doing business with you? They usually reside in marketing, commerce, and customer service. Most often, those functions, along with corresponding customer data, operate independently. As a result, the customer’s experience is disconnected by design. That’s never a good thing.
Research shows that 60% of customers feel like they’re not communicating with one company and 66% say that they have to repeat or re-explain information to different representatives. Separate research found that 85% of customers expect consistent interactions across departments.
It’s indicators like this that point to customers who could be one step away from leaving your brand. In fact, 71% reported switching brands in the last year.
In an era of economic uncertainty, investing in the customer’s experience—referring to it in the possessive form reminds us that the experience they have with our company is theirs—becomes a critical business growth engine. The better customers are served, in each touch point, and across their journey, the more likely they are to stay loyal. As an example, it was found that 94% of customers said that positive customer service experiences make them more likely to re-purchase.
Customer Companies Make the Customer’s Experience a Blueprint for Transformation
I get it, especially nowadays, margins, profits, shareholder value, uncertainty, influence the investments you make and also, don’t make. But when you prioritize these areas of influence as your North Star, you are not a customer company by design. You create a company centered on itself.
Customer companies realize that internal value creation is a derivative of external value creation. The better you treat your customers, the more likely you are to retain them, the more likely they are to return, and of course, the more likely they are to spread the word. Commerce is about community and community is about relationships. In fact, community used to be defined as social dealings between people. That’s the core of a customer company.
Companies that connect the dots across every customer touch point, through operations, technology, data, people, and processes, will define the new blueprint for what it means to be a “customer company.” This transformation starts with someone taking ownership and accountability of the entire customer journey, orchestrating and elevating the experience, and uniting the organization (and real-time data) around a future vision and motivating state of what customer-centricity looks and feels like.
My friend Simon Mulcahy once said, “Your success will be shaped by customers if you listen to them.” In the same vein, your failure will be shaped by customers if you don’t listen to them.
Say this to yourself three times, “I am not my customer. I am not my customer. I am not my customer.”
With every strategic decision you make about the technology that powers service, commerce, and marketing, every decision about how you market, sell, and serve, remember, you are not your customer. How they experience your business counts for everything and they must be involved in your decision rationale.
Becoming a customer company starts with, wait for it, the customer. You have to become the person you’re trying to engage and inspire. You must represent them.
Following is a blueprint for laying a customer-centered foundation that unifies the organization around customers, their data, and the delivery of personalized, meaningful experience.
The 9 Elements to Become a Customer Company
1: Establish an “Office of the Customer” with representatives from key business groups
CMOs must partner with business leaders representing the touchpoints that define the customer’s experience, including commerce, sales, and service. More so, this team must also include leaders, including CIOs, CxOs, CFOs, and COOs, to support and facilitate rapid transformation. This group will serve as a cross-functional steering committee to bridge silos, establish governance, collaborate, and accelerate decision-making and experimentation.
More so, a sub-committee should be formed to serve as a center of excellence to centralize the voice of the customer and coordinate best practices for integrated experience design and customer relationship management.
2: Experience the customer’s experience
All executives can benefit from customer empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of their customers. This means that business leaders, i.e. decision-makers, must experience the customer’s experience in each touch point. We want executives to feel the friction and frustration of doing business with their own company. We want executives to spend time with customers to hear from them what they love and don’t love. The process should formally analyze and document the experience in every step and identify areas for improvement, gaps, and opportunities. Additionally, this is a chance to compare and contrasts the brand and service promises you make and what customers actually experience.
3: Organize around real-time customer 360 data and insights
Place real-time insights at the center of the business and the customer’s experience. The only way to deliver a unified customer experience is for marketers to have a real-time 360 view and understanding of each customer. Integrate data from every step of the customer experience and create a unified customer profile record, that is automated, intelligent, and real time.
4: Cultivate a 360 customer-unified data culture
With real-time customer data and insights at the center of CX and operational transformation, leaders need to create a data culture that helps every employee get closer to your customers.
Train and educate your employees on digital-first customer and data proficiency. Facilitate access to trusted real-time data sources across the customer’s journey, making it easy for customer-facing employees to find relevant information. Collaborate with the center of excellence to cultivate data expertise and promote the voice of the customer. Define customer feedback loops and connect them to touchpoint leaders to deliver real-time, personalized, interconnected customer experiences.
5: Connect CX functions to a 360-Degree CRM platform
To deliver personalized, real-time, and integrated experiences requires a connected, real-time platform that connects the touch points that shape the customer’s experience.
Leading organizations are already uniting teams around a common CRM platform. In fact, 63% of elite marketers report that they already use the same CRM system as sales and service departments. And, 83% of service organizations say that they use the same CRM system as their marketing and sales colleagues.
AI is also helping companies to personalize engagement with the right context to make messaging, next best action, and recommendations more accurate and relevant. For example, 64% of high performing organization automatically suppress marketing when a service case is open.
6: Design the experience you want customers to have, share, and recall
In the same way marketing savvy companies operate with a brand style guide, the same should be true for CX. Start by defining your signature experience and ensure that it aligns with the brand and service promise. Everything should be connected and complementary. This vision becomes your motivator for a future state, serving as the sheet music for cross-functional teams, supported by technologies, processes, and policies.
Identify the touchpoints, processes, skills/training, and systems gaps your organization needs to deliver against an upgraded vision. Think of this as an aspirational customer journey map, not just improving the journey as it exists. Treat it like a template for future state experiences you want customers to have.
7: Connect the dots across the customer journey
Every company needs to build out a truly integrated omnichannel, mobile, and edge journey. A whopping 70% of organizations fail to completely connect user experiences and 55% say it’s difficult to integrate those user experiences.
Organizations report that 72% of customer interactions are now digital, according to a recent MuleSoft study. And marketers state that “creating a cohesive customer journey across channels and devices” is both a top priority and challenge.
But for those CX leaders who do connect the dots for customers, the results are compelling. In its research, Mulesoft learned that of the organizations integrating customer experiences, 54% see a lift in customer engagement, 50% increase innovation (50%), and 48% improve ROI..
8: Reimagine the roles of marketing and service in the 360 customer journey
The relationship between marketing and service are bookends in CX. They require reimagination and innovation to deliver a personalized, real-time end-to-end journey for customers.
Engage customers before the time of need. Employ AI to reimagine the idea of reactive service. Introduce proactive and even predictive and preventative engagement opportunities that help customers before they require help or to personalize their experiences during their lifecycle.
Make automated engagement conversational. Use automation and user experience design to make IVR, chatbot, and self-service decision-trees and processes intuitive, efficient, conversational, and enjoyable. Better yet, consider conversational AI and digital humans to bring automated touchpoints to life as if they were powered by Alexa or Siri or better yet, Jarvis from Iron Man!
Empower reps to personalize engagement. Free-up agents to be more creative, beyond traditional scripts.
- Employ AI to provide real-time personalization, call coaching, and next best action and experience. Offer live, video-based engagement for product overviews, shopping services, support, clientelling, or workshops.
- Introduce co-browsing technology or group/social shopping capabilities to facilitate multiple experiences at the same time.
- Reskill agents to augment chatbots and conversational AI to help customers in the discovery and search phase make decisions on purchases when technology reaches its limits.
Transform field services into a service and loyalty asset: Field services represent one of the most promising and immediate opportunities for innovation and growth, with the traditional four hour appointment window unacceptable for today’s consumers And, it’s setting the stage for an appointment economy. Appointment-setting helps businesses be more thoughtful about field service, plan more effectively, use resources more efficiently, and aim to deliver a higher quality of in-person service. Doing so values the customer’s time and presence to deliver outcomes that benefit everyone.
Post-Commerce Service. Post-purchase customer engagement represents under-utilized touchpoints for relationship- and loyalty-building. By following-up after each transaction, businesses create opportunities to further connect (gather relevant data), personalize engagement, and enhance customer retention. Beyond general surveys, post-commerce service can offer guidance and communities for product experiences, prompt opportunities for collaboration, and offer preemptive support.
Redesign the mobile customer journey. Mobile-first journeys should be designed for their unique form factors, operating systems, and platforms. For example, web pages that are adapted to mobile screens aren’t innate to mobile gestures. Think more like the user interfaces of TikTok, Snapchat, and Bumble.
In another example, QR code adoption skyrocketed by 750%, but rather than reimagine mobile first experiences that came to life on mobile screen, links often opened static web pages. What if they unlocked augmented reality or 3D objects, immersive experiences, games, or media? Even though you may already have a branded app customers are seeking to go through the entire journey via native user experiences and user interfaces, not those adapted from the traditional web. Apps too, should take design cues from the best apps in the game, particularly those outside of your industry.
9: Upgrade metrics to measure 360 customer experiences and business transformation and growth.
In addition to capturing important engagement metrics in each touch point, businesses must also measure the customer’s experience across their journey. This means silos have to collaborate. For example, 81% of marketing teams are learning to share goals and metrics with sales. Eighty percent of marketers are also doing so with service and commerce. And, roughly half (48%) of marketing organizations today track important experience metrics such as customer lifetime value (CLV/LTV).
In service and support, customer effort emerged as a crucial metric to measure the time and steps customers take to get resolution. A lower customer effort score can lead to increased customer satisfaction. This methodology could also be applied to the journey itself. Consider developing a customer experience performance indicator (CXPI) that measures connectedness, personal engagement, and delight, i.e. do customers feel like their journey is integrated, personalized, and delightful?
You can’t just say you’re customer-centric or that you’re now, automagically, a customer company. It takes more than words and clever marketing. Customers not only see through it, they feel it.
Your investments in the customer’s experience are reflective of your commitment to becoming truly customer-focused, centered, obsessed, however you may describe it.
In times of disruption, and honestly, in any time, really, focusing on customer acquisition isn’t enough to grow, and certainly not what it takes to thrive as a customer company.
Your customers need to know you know them. Investing in customer retention is the key to profitable growth. And it’s harder than ever to engage and retain customers. The only way to achieve sustainable growth is through relevance, and that means you must know your customers, you must become your customers.
In this digital- and mobile-first and real-time, uncertain world, every company must rethink the customer’s experience as the blueprint for transformation and innovation. Let go of pre-2020 mindsets, processes, and investments that don’t track toward customer relevance or future trends. Let go of sunken cost bias. Instead, dive in, at whatever pace and capacity you can, to explore how to reimagine and lead the next era of the customer’s experience.