Customer Experience Maturity: Part II

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The CX maturation process needs to start with a clear articulation of business objectives. Regardless of how narrow or broad the scope of those first CX projects, they should be driven by specific objectives, be they defined in terms of functional processes (say, satisfaction with a call center interaction or the ease of conducting a transaction on the website) or business results/ customer behaviors (perhaps maximizing retention or cross-selling). Without an endpoint or objectives informing design and execution, a CX project is more like a random meandering in the woods than a focused effort to improve the customer experience. The “I need to run a survey” or “get a score” is a sure-fire indication of the nascent stage and a complete lack of maturity in the process.

KPIs and Measurement

Unless the objectives are directly observable, CX activities rely on KPIs as indicators of the objectives and are dependent upon reliable, accurate measurement. KPIs can be a bit of a minefield as politics can get in the way of making the best decisions for the specific project or company overall. Early-stage nascent and basic programs typically default to “Satisfaction” or other common metrics, most notably Net Promoter Score®, because of their simplicity and popularity. While some firms never move from these KPIs, others develop alternative KPIs over time that are more closely tied to their specific objectives.

Regardless of KPIs selected, newly minted CX projects often are, quite frankly, sloppy in their measurement. That is, they often pull together hastily assembled questionnaires, scales, samples, and reporting that simply do not stand up to examination. These may seem like details way in the weeds, but if one accepts the premise that “you can only manage what you measure,” then the corollary that “mismeasurement will lead to mismanagement” is equally compelling.

Proving the Business Case

A critical step in moving up the sophistication curve is validation of the selected KPIs: Are the KPIs explaining or predicting the desired objectives and business outcomes? This is almost never present in the early stages but is critical in establishing the credibility of the chosen metrics. More sophisticated strategic and transformational programs often test multiple KPIs to determine which best explains the underlying business objectives.

Despite the protestations of some of the developers or owners of some metrics, all the leading KPIs are highly correlated. As such, none are likely to point in the wrong direction; but more mature programs make the effort to discriminate between the various metrics to identify that which is the most reliable, meaningful, and powerful in explaining or predicting objectives for their specific firm, industry, and business model. This validation is crucial to proving the economic or business value of CX.

For CX activities to capture the support and funding required, practitioners need to prove the business case. Do improvements in CX result in gains in customer retention, cross- or upselling, new customer acquisition, or share of wallet and/or cost savings? And how substantial are those gains? Simply put, for the C-Suite to get behind and fund CX initiatives, they need to be convinced that these are investments with a positive return. Often ignored in the early phases of CX, building the business case with actual customer data is integral to more developed programs.

Program Upgrades

As companies mature in their CX programs, they inevitably need to professionalize their efforts. Randomly available project managers are replaced by CX pros with the required expertise, typically with both inside and third-party talent. While less mature efforts almost always are managed in-house, more mature programs usually depend upon a mix of in-house and outside talent from one of the various providers of CX services. At the same time, the upgrading of expertise is paralleled by an upgrading in the tools and platforms used for collecting, integrating, analyzing, reporting, and acting on learnings. These tools and platforms have become increasingly sophisticated in recent years and are vital to supporting CX programs beyond the most rudimentary.

Analysis also is crucial. Less sophisticated projects usually are characterized by purely descriptive output with little or no analysis. As programs become more mature, so does the analysis. Key driver analyses, “what-if” forecasters, text analytics, and predictive tools become more common. More sophisticated programs also integrate data from multiple sources to extend their analyses beyond just the CX data to address broader questions and generate more strategic insights.

Taking Action

Measurement by itself is inert; the true development of a CX program is reflected in the actions taken by the organization. Lacking a coherent process driven by clear objectives, early-stage projects often generate no actions. Not only does this render the effort of dubious value, but it also makes leadership suspect of such efforts. The hallmark of more advanced programs is the focus on outcomes, on action. At a customer-specific level, this involves “closing the loop”: capturing real-time data on customer interactions and having staff directly respond to customers who indicate they are disappointed by an experience to remediate the problem and mitigate the risk of customer defection. At a broader, more strategic level, actions need to aim at improving the broader CX, not just resolving individual problems.

To a large extent, employees – especially those on the front lines – are an organization’s CX “delivery system.” This means that staff must be actively involved as the arms and legs of meaningful CX programs. Staff involvement necessitates training employees on the company’s CX promise and how to deliver on that promise. Employees cannot be expected to just know what is expected and how to behave toward customers; they need to be trained. While organizations that are more mature in their CX vision pride themselves on hiring for good customer-facing skills, they also back this up with skills training, usually both in terms of processes and soft skills. Training is not a once-and-done effort, moreover, but a systematic investment over time. Meaningful staff involvement also requires employee recognition programs to reinforce and showcase behaviors.

Marching On

While seemingly parenthetical to CX, a hallmark of CX maturity is the extent of internal communications regarding CX. An enterprise-wide commitment to CX needs to be matched by an enterprise-wide communications plan. Communication needs to be frequent across multiple channels covering everything from goals and performance against goals to recognition of outstanding efforts and customer comments to information about the company’s CX efforts and strategy and so on. It is impossible to overcommunicate on CX issues.

More mature programs also set realistic but challenging goals that reflect opportunities and constraints across the company and motivate employees. Ideally, these goals are part of the overall corporate scorecard and are cascaded down throughout the organization as part of the criteria upon which everyone’s performance is evaluated. Building a consistent set of such goals across the organization is vital to getting everyone rowing in the same direction. Successes should be celebrated.

As CX programs evolve, they typically become multi-channel and diversify away from sole reliance on surveys of customers. This entails a variety of approaches to listening to and collecting customer input, from social media and customer reviews to qualitative exploration such as ethnographies, diaries, and focus groups to analyzing call center and chat recordings and transcripts.

Making Change Happen

Less-developed projects usually do not have the engagement of leadership. As programs mature, executive sponsorship becomes more common, as does broader-based executive involvement. Strategic and transformational efforts necessitate the active participation of executive leadership. Leadership needs to be seen as leading the charge on CX, lending the full force and authority of their office to the program, not to mention providing the required funding. If leadership is purely a spectator, nothing much is going to happen.

Evolution along the CX maturity curve inevitably takes time and happens unevenly. No organization advances on every dimension in lockstep. As detailed above, there are numerous steps along the path to CX maturity. It is easy to get frustrated that change does not happen more quickly, that leadership is not committed, support and resources are not sufficient. It is important to keep focused on the next advance, making incremental gains that build upon each other.

And remember that it is a journey, not a destination.

Howard Lax, Ph.D.

Supporting better informed decision making with technology, research and strategy. With a focus on CX/VoC/NPS, Employee Engagement and emotion analytics, Howard's domain is the application of marketing information and SaaS platforms to solve business problems and activating CX programs to drive business objectives.

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