Is “Agile” the Key to Customer Experience Success?

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Agile entails frequent interventions and collaboration between business and IT groups and requires company-wide acceptance of a test-and-learn approach. Agile’ as a methodology with its processes and practice has been around since 2001. It has been hugely influential and instrumental in software and technology development. What we are now witnessing is the spread of the thinking behind this approach and its practices into other industry sectors and functions. Agile is no longer a geeky concept of IT department or a procedure of the product development team.

I’m not from a software or technology background. So, I came to ‘agile’ late in its adoption. I first became aware of the term when helping a client shape the role that technology plays in their customer experience: if the refined, technology-enabled experience was really to be rooted in customer needs and expectations across their end to end journey. Our team was equally made up of technology and IT members as it was customer and insight, hence the question of an agile approach, arose.

A Freeform Dynamics survey, commissioned by CA Technologies, comprising senior business and IT executives found that the top performing 25% who they named the “Masters” have adopted the key principles of agility. The survey highlighted that 91% of these Masters are implementing agile practices widely and deeply across their organization, not just in the IT and technology space.

What’s perhaps most interesting is that these companies are demonstrating superior business results in the order of 70% higher profit growth and 50% higher revenue growth.

Is CX Agile?

Let’s now focus on Customer Experience – much more in my space! Many of us have been saying that there are fundamental problems with CX. Experiences are not improving for customers despite a burgeoning CX industry, many more people are becoming ‘expert’ and more money is being spent on ‘solutions’. Some believe that Customer Experience will become CRM Mark 2 – i.e. Being the next big thing, being the target for technology vendors promising the holy grail yet business being disappointed with the results. Look at Bob Thompson’s great piece published on February 7th and the commentary and discussions that followed – 93% of Customer Experience Initiatives are Failing…

According to a recently published White Paper by West Monroe Partners, 71% of CX leaders expect greater agility to translate into improved customer experiences. Their belief is that:

“at the heart of business agility is the customer experience. And it is the customer experience that will drive organisations forward and guide them to adapt (or fail).“

In theory, an agile approach should be perfect for CX. My fear is that taken literally, it could make matters worse. Many companies have been busy trying to ‘close the loop’, taking feedback from customers about what’s not working and fixing problems. There hasn’t been a focus on innovation and improvements that will really drive the customer experience forward.

Agile Customer Experience means more than quick fixes. Doing the quick and easy things to silence those customers who choose to give their feedback or complain, may not have a great impact on or value for the customer, in the long run. If, however, an agile approach to CX is employed to develop and introduce small changes that combined have cumulative big impact for customers, then it could be what is needed.

Moving at the speed of customer expectations

An agile business mindset or strategy would help businesses move towards greater customer centricity if done well; i.e. If it focuses on customer intelligence rather than quick wins, at its heart. Perhaps there is an argument for such an approach instead of a huge, all-encompassing customer transformation programme.

Agile would mean that Customer Experience change or improvements are easier to implement, benefits can be seen more quickly and the process is more inclusive. It would also bring a broader range of people from around the business on the journey through day to day agile team-based working.

Customer Experience for me has always been about the connection between customer, the company represented by employees and execution. I think taking a lesson from the agile ‘manifesto’ could help many businesses overcome their current roadblocks to successful CX. Roadblocks include a lack of tangible benefits, having clear and broad ownership, inability to operationalise data, departmental detachment, in order to deliver results for customers, at pace.

Essentially five attributes of Agile Customer Experience should be:

  • Continuous customer listening, artful analysis and speedy insight sharing
  • Momentum through small, frequent improvements vs. larger infrequent ones
  • Only initiatives that deliver perceived value for customer
  • Collaborative cross-department teamwork and accountability
  • Curiosity – a process of persistent questioning, building and learning

An example of Agile Customer Experience

Paypal had 85 bottlenecks in their development process and were finding that “it was really hard to get work done” in improving and delivering the best experience for customers. This was not only frustrating for customers as the experience was very fragmented but for employees too.

PayPal brought together their product and tech teams and aligned their goals around the customer in a work stream known as Customer Driven Innovation. These teams now jointly own the customer experience (which includes product, price and all elements of the customer proposition) and jointly care about the quality of the delivered customer experience.

What’s more, PayPal projects are not seen as one-offs — when the project or improvement is delivered, the box is ticked and the team moves on to the next initiative. When PayPal have launched an improvement that has impacted the customer experience, they begin thinking about the next iteration to keep surpassing customer expectations. In the 18 months prior to these changes they launched 3 new products; in the 18 months after, they rolled out 58 new products or features that benefited customers.

Creating Agile Customer Experience

How can companies go about creating Agile Customer Experience?

  1. Agile customer listening

Oftentimes, VoC is owned by one part of the business and focuses on getting feedback and measurement; customer or market research is in another. There needs to be one holistic, interpreted and actioned view of the customer. All sources should be brought together to serve decision making, prioritisation and plans.

  1. Agile governance & decision-making

A cross functional customer board convenes frequently (at least weekly) in a data-driven, immersive, fast-paced, decision-making environment, as the filter for all things customer. Not a reporting meeting but a sharing and decision-making forum with people empowered to make changes and committed to cascade down to their teams and their sphere of influence.

  1. Agile Prioritisation

Armed with an on-going steam of data and information about what matters most to customers, companies can make important trade-offs and prioritisation decisions. This way the number of ‘quick wins’ or fixes are kept to a minimum, unless they truly add value to the experience for the customer and meet or exceed their expectations.

  1. Agile planning and measurement

A flexible roadmap – an overall but adaptable number of initiatives that will make a difference to the customer experience but within a plan that can respond to changes as they happen. There are short-term targets and clear customer benefits to each of the initiatives.

Successful agility relies upon continuous improvement. The plan or roadmap needs to balance quick impact initiatives and those which can genuinely be classified as innovative.

  1. Agile execution

Execution of initiatives or CX improvements need to be simple, fast, focused and iterative. There should be a mind-set of testing and piloting e.g. ideas may not be 80% right from the start but with in a series of ‘repeatable sprints’, they will meet customer expectations and needs.

We have a responsibility to constantly question what could be better to continually improve. As Albert Einstein said: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” This is the spirit of Agile Customer Experience.

Do you have a vision for Agile Customer Experience?

Are you tangibly delivering value to the customer in your CX efforts? If not, maybe agile should be a priority?

If CX is about meeting and exceeding customer expectations at every touch point over time and agile is about better, speedier execution, then CX and agile could be a business marriage made in customer heaven.

Agile Customer Experience is about being agile as much as doing agile. Agile, along with a connected and customer centric organisation and a rigorous and deliberate focus on customer value, will lead to Smiling Companies, Happy Customers.


Note: “Agile Customer Experience” in this article does not represent “Agile CX”, a trademark of David Fish.

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