7 steps to a successful customer experience program — and the ones everyone misses

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Designing a successful customer experience program is a process, not a checklist. Customer experience is a verb — a constant action of iteration and delivery, not a static document or database.

Oftentimes, companies “stand up” CX programs, then walk away, only revisiting the program’s measurement rubric in times of trouble. But iteration is one of the most fundamental principles of customer experience, and companies should institute a seasonal process to frequently test new initiatives that drive corporate decisions.

So, while these seven steps may seem like a checklist, they’re far more intricately linked. Follow these steps and iterate on them to not just create, but continuously improve, your own customer experience program:

Program Design

Too many companies waste time, money, and customer goodwill because they live with bad program design they’ve inherited and are too afraid to change (or don’t know how to change). In reality, the first step to create a successful customer experience program is taking time to understand the big picture.

At least once a year, run through this exercise:
Align around the customer as a central figure by using a combination of experience data you’ve analyzed, journey mapping, and participant observation.
Identify a set of priorities and align executives, managers, practitioners, and other key stakeholders across your organization on shared goals.
Agree on shared key metrics into which all stakeholders have visibility.

This prep time is what separates the leaders from the followers in CX.

Project Design

Project design involves taking the general principles of your program and applying them to specific actions. If you set a goal to lose weight, you can’t just hope the pounds will melt off. You have to come up with a plan to accomplish that goal.

Similarly, each project — whether it’s a study, a set of interviews, or something else — should help you achieve the overarching goals of your program and contribute to a robust picture of your customer. And you’ll need to continue to revise your project design as you go — just as you would your program design.

Add each research project to your qualitative customer journey map and use listening posts to collect feedback without disrupting the customer. A salesperson, for example, might ask to record feedback during a customer interaction rather than bothering them with an email later.

Sample Design

The big question here is: Am I reaching out to the right people? Before you execute each project of your program, carefully select your sampling frame. Too often, customer experience professionals will simply ask for a list of customers, then send out a mass email with questions to which they should already know the answers.

Make sure you look at your sample in context. What kind of study are you fielding? What are you measuring? Are you engaging the right group of people at the right time? When is the most natural and least intrusive place to collect feedback? CX does not have to be a 45-minute questionnaire sent out once a year but should engage customers at natural touch points along the way.

Study Design

When designing your surveys, don’t just lift questions from other templates. These so-called “Frankensteins” are not just lazy design, but the resulting monstrosity is likely to be confusing and lack an intuitive feel or natural voice. Keep them conversational, active, brief, easy, clear, and answerable. (Here is a practical guide).

Remember that customers experience your company’s product or service in different ways. Make sure you ask customers questions that are relevant to their specific experience. If your survey surfaces a problem, you have to be ready to respond. Good design includes a plan to deal with the unexpected.

Analytical Plan

Analytical planning should ideally happen both before and after survey design. Before you even begin designing, ask yourself questions like: What do I want to measure, and why do I want to measure it? What scale am I using? How will I use this data? Then, write a questionnaire that answers those questions. After it’s written, review and make sure your questions help you answer those in your analytical plan.

And remember, If you’re not going to do anything with the results of a question, don’t ask it. The questions you ask will have a direct impact on the way your customers view this interaction with your company.

Fielding Studies

Too often, CX professionals skip all the previous steps and jump straight to this one. But you won’t, because now you know better! Before you start fielding, however, consider pre-testing (or cognitively testing) a smaller group of people to fix anything unexpected that may throw off your results. Market researchers are especially apt to skip the pre-test, but it saves time, money, and improves your data quality.

Once you begin fielding, monitor the responses like a hawk. How are they distributed? Are people opening your email or leaving the survey early? Are they leaving because of a mistake in design? You should be focused on the incoming results every day while your survey is in the field. Don’t compound a research problem by noticing a flaw too late. Agile CX is just iterating in real time.

CX Action

Congratulations! You’ve designed, planned, and fielded with care — and you’re rewarded with insightful data. But you’re not done yet. Your customer experience program is only successful if it’s a system of action. Most importantly, your data should inspire that action.

As your company moves forward with new initiatives, listen carefully to other employees, especially frontline employees. They spend a lot of time discussing value with your customers and can be a great resource to test real-time CX actions and gauge their impact.

And if you’ve taken the time to complete each of these steps and continue to iterate, those actions are likely to be successful.

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