Thirty years ago, when I unpacked my first computer, a Commodore 64, rigged it to my 13-inch tube TV, and wrote my first program, the process of creating a digital experience hooked me. That I could design and assemble mere bits and bytes, package them up into an asset, refine it, and eventually share it for the benefit of others – for entertainment or problem solving – just enthralled me.
With time and market efficiency sorting who gets paid to do what, I altered my path away from programming and toward design and consulting, leaving the coding and compiling jobs to those more talented than me in that trade. That wonderful feeling of accomplishment, however, never left me and still drives me today. Whether it’s creating visual concepts, designing software, or producing media, creating a re-usable asset with experiential worth (striving to be a CX transformer), for me, is a universal and time-tested motivator.
Experiential assets, originally made from scratch, must evolve to the liking of their benefactors. They invariably play a role in nearly every commercial experience. For example, a vehicle manufacturer produces a physical product, but the agency who markets it as well as the dealer who sells and services it – all add crucial elements into the customer’s journey of shopping for, buying, and owning that vehicle – all contributing to (or subtracting from) accumulated impressions of overall worth and value.
Organizations are either born with this mentality, where it’s baked into the fabric at every level and function of the organization, or they must transform. Startups who don’t adopt this mentality burn through money and soon dissolve. Legacy firms are faced with odds not unlike that of a recovering addict. Most hit bottom, before they realize the extent of their problem, and by then it’s often too late. Few are afforded the chance to recover and most who try will regress. In fact, a recent Forrester study indicated as many as 77% of those who embark on CX transformation will fall short.
With all this buzz, don’t we already get great CX?
The short answer is, not really. According to a global survey of 7000 consumers, 89% “think brands need to work harder to create a seamless experience for customers.” There’s lots of talking about seamless and personalized experiences, and less walking the walk. And consumers continue to report a deficit of it, as evidenced in an Infosys survey indicating that 73% have never experienced online personalization. Here’s the reason: Many of us, and the firms we work for, aren’t practicing what we preach.
Regardless of what you do, you’re in the business of creating customer experiences. Whether in sales, marketing, service, or operations; whether you set vision, do design work, code, implement, consult, or the like, your ultimate mission is creating something that someone else appreciates and finds value in – because it makes their life better. It improves their experience. If you can’t tie what you do and why you do it back to that, your mission is misdirected.
The only reason customers buy, use, or recommend products or services is because they experience value. So, if you simply blabber about CX but don’t improve it, you’re subtracting value, like in figure 1:
Figure 1: All Talk Equals Value-Subtracted from CX
Everyone plays a role in experience management. For example:
If you’re a banker, during any interaction, clients are judging each aspect of your services. When they point out friction, dissatisfaction, annoyances, frustrations – they aren’t being pests – they’re handing you gold.
If you manage a telco’s call center, though one step removed from direct feedback, front-line agents will hand you that gold. Will you ignore it, or will you investigate, catalog it, document it, and act on it?
If you design software used by that banker or agent, you’re instrumental to how the total experience comes off when moments of customer truth occur. Software augments customer facing CX delivery, either enhancing it or contributing to its malfunctions.
Software and AI technologies have already changed our lives, and continue to transform how we experience life. From when we wake to the minute we doze off, the way we interact with the world, for business and pleasure, is vastly different now from the day I cracked open that Commodore box.
Data is abundant and the right intelligence in software is available. Yet how both are captured and deployed is what spells the difference between memorable moments versus forgettable incidents. Dated advice, cloaked as sage recommendations, abounds on what data to tap and which AI technologies to trust.
Beware of the CRM “Catchers in the Rye” who have a vested interest in selling old software disguised as AI and one-to-one personalization, spruced up with fancy new names like Customer Data Platforms, but stuck in a forgone era. Peel these back and see if they rest on an old batch and blast architectures with no real proven use cases for predictive analytics, built essentially for pushing emails to segments. You’re sure to hit a wall with these, since they were never built to handle real-time, analytics based one-to-one contextual engagements. If you’re interested, I cover this topic in more depth in this article.
Or worse still, beware the do-it-yourself CRM & AI pushers, selling piles of new programming gadgets with exotic names such as Python, Storm, Spark, and Kafka, but missing the warning label that says, “Much assembly required.”
CX Transformation Process
The transformation process, contrary to overhyped tales of sudden disruption, is mostly evolutionary. It involves creative minds with an unwavering and relentless obsession to improve experiences – as measured by customers. But today you must do everything you can to go through this process fast.
Iteration (figuring out how to improve) means executing various steps in succession – speedily and repeatedly to learn fast. It also takes a flexible methodology and tools supporting rapid revisions. Each time Thomas Edison’s filament didn’t work, he wasn’t failing, he was learning. When asked about racking up so many failures, Edison replied, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
Be unyielding in finding gaps, filling needs, overcoming shortcoming, and plugging them with an improved asset. Find the simple stuff, that exacerbates customers, but is easily addressed. Do ten thousand little things right – and fast.
To succeed, you’ll need to be well-equipped with the right CX transformation methodology and technology. Speed to market and economies of scale matter now more than ever. It takes steadfast customer centric vision, modern tooling, and an agile methodology. Let’s explore the four key steps shown in figure 2.
Figure 2: Depicting the CX transformational process steps
CX Transformation Step #1: Conceive Innovation
As you come up with a concept, consider the objectives…. making things better, faster, cheaper. Ideally, you’ll eventually address all these, but practically you’ll need focus. Will the proposed innovation fix something that is terribly broken? Better yet, will it preemptively address a shortcoming. Often, fixing inadequacies is simple, yet the consequences of not fixing them are huge.
To find opportunities for CX innovations, use analytic heatmaps fed by behavior data on websites and mobile devices to zero in on where customers struggle or bail out. Mine reviews, comments, call logs to find repeating themes.
Here’s an example I heard from a person I sat next to on a flight. He had booked a trip to Dubai, but the travel service never proactively alerted him that travel to UAE requires a passport that doesn’t expire in less than six months. On his departure day, he couldn’t check in, and subsequently was on the phone for hours, working the problem and seeking amends for this horrible experience. The root cause was recorded in logs. The fix (innovation if you will) was rudimentary and excruciatingly easy.
“If customer books trip to country X, and passport expiration date is Y, alert customer about passport rule.”
In this case, the customer placed a gold nugget into the lap of the brand, begging them to fix it for future customers. Will they? Only if they’ve institutionalized collecting hiccups like this, and weaving them into the innovation and improvement process.
Think of innovations in sets. Will the CX innovation set be press-worthy; will the total experience be unique and better? Take the innovation set and break it down into manageable chunks. To improve service usability, for example, consider whether the specific design is elegant, visually appealing, modern, stylistic, easily navigated, intuitive, and so forth. Remember, even when just creating a form, such as an insurance policy application, all the above matters in CX.
Spend three times as much effort on design versus construction. If service improvement is your aim, pick (as your innovation set) a critical customer journey that cuts across various functions and channels, and obsess with its design. While iterating on the design, always apply a range of customer sniff tests tied to customer personas. How would customer X use this? How would customer Y perceive this?
Just as incentive drives employee behavior, it drives customer behavior. Customers are motivated by the value they both perceive and achieve from using your products and services, regardless of the organizational excuses they encounter along the way.
CX Transformation Step #2: Judge Harshly
Critique innovations, not just with self-criticism, but with the varied feedback of others. Compare to market alternatives and what big competitors are doing and what customers complain about. Once again, view the current state of the experience through customer eyes. Clients not only measure success, they also give clues about required innovations. If an asset works they use it, open it, share it, like it, and buy it.
Watch exactly how customers use the innovation. Designers call this usability testing, and too often, it’s shortcut out of the development process in the name of speed. Watch how customers interact, how they shop, how they decide, whom they consult with, and why they buy. Look for where they struggle, the questions they ask, why they need help, and ask what went wrong. Then go back to the drawing board to create a new experience, craft a new email, create a form, redesign a web page, or work on ideas to improve how agents engage with customers.
Use a basic four quadrant Risk / Reward matrix, as shown in figure 3, to prioritize a backlog of CX improvement opportunities.
Figure 3: Risk (Effort) / Reward (Value) matrix used to prioritize innovation ideas
Don’t make your goal mimicking competitors, but instead to gauge your inferiorities to them, study their winning ways, and chart your course – but dare to be different – then test and learn. Compare your asset to others available in market. This guides, both in terms of whether you’re behind, but also what hasn’t been done – thus presenting opportunities to do something new, something unique.
Pattern yourself on proven winners, not just in your industry, but also in very different ones. Why? Because that’s where unique ideas come from – not from copying your competitors, but from proxies that when applied to a different problem become a new idea.
For instance, to transform the branch experience for its customers, Capital One recently introduced café style locations, drawing on a combination of Starbucks and Apple store concepts.
CX Transformation Step #3: Apply a Value Test
Determine whether your innovations improve experience. To do this, perform behavior tests and not just surveys. People don’t always do what they say they’ll do. Test your innovation by getting real customers to use it in production pilots, and then measure whether, for instance, the task was accomplished faster.
Getting there may not be easy, cheap, or fast, but if your product isn’t passing these tests, you haven’t improved your customer’s experience. Each innovation should pass at least one of these tests, and collectively overtime, it must pass all three.
At this stage, the test is if your customers are buying or using your asset. If they see value, they’ll do these things, so measure for it, and use this as your ultimate yardstick.
CX Transformation Step #4: Analyze Objectively
Once you release your concept into the memorialized world of production, objectively (and recurrently) evaluate its worth. What works today may not work tomorrow. In addition to pure customer feedback, consider getting an objective third party to scrutinize it, since creators as well as customers have blind spots and biased views.
For all its advances, and there are many, CX today – when analyzed objectively – is still mostly choppy, dysfunctional, too slow, and places too much burden on the customer. Admittedly, some industries (such as banking and telecommunications) have made more progress than others, yet largely, especially for massive enterprises, CX is frankly still very siloed.
Firms spend millions of dollars on data collection, design thinking, journey mapping, voice of customer, CRM systems, employee training, and so on. Yet when these efforts are not coordinated around a systematic process, data, technology, and culture – hyper coordinated and committed to improving CX –most of that investment will be for naught.
It’s human nature to either ignore feedback or want to defend your baby’s looks, and if you’re busy defending versus fixing simple things, CX won’t improve much. It’s also human nature to pass the buck – meaning no one will take responsibility, because even though at our core we’re pack animals, it’s ironically not in our nature to communicate issues across organizational pillars.
CX transformation doesn’t come easy and it doesn’t come cheap, and rarely comes fast. But for those who listen to and watch customers, fix ten thousand small things fast, live by the adage innovate or die, and cross-functionally collaborate on behalf of better customer experience, the rewards will be plenty.