A lot of talk these days is focused on Customer Experience strategy. Stroll around any forum, talk to any research analyst, or chat with any consultant and the conversation typically steers towards questions about if your company has a strategy, what are its objectives, how are you executing on it, and so on. There are a lot of ideas floating around about what a strategy is and what it looks like. Some I have seen I would call vision statements and others a list of “things to fix,” but a good strategy has these five key elements.
1. Sets a Clear Vision
Too often, strategies make pie-in-the-sky statements about delighting customers at every touchpoint or exceeding customers expectations. They might say they aim to be the best in their industry at customer experience or perhaps that they’ll combine the best practices from multiple industries. The question left by such lofty statements is “how?” How will we do that and how do we know if we have delivered on it. A good customer experience strategy sets a clear, specific vision for what life will be like as a customer once the strategy is set in motion. It tells the story so that executives, employees, and partners all understand where the strategy is meant to take the company. There are a number of ways and a number of tools to do this, but if your strategy doesn’t set a clear vision – work on it. Like Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up somewhere else!”
2. Builds Capability, Doesn’t Just Solve Problems
Of course you want to solve your customer experience problems, but that shouldn’t be the focus of a strategy. Building real capability into your company not only gives you the tools to solve your current problems, it also gives you what you need to address future issues and even reach new heights with the experience you deliver to customers. A company that struggles with providing call center customer service in a timely and effective way could address the problem with more staff. Or they could do traditional QA techniques and listen to samples of calls to extrapolate what is happening and how call center agents are performing. Or it could build the capability to capture call center interactions in a way that provides transactional data for analytical purposes. They could also build their analytical capabilities to not only understand and address their current challenges and their root cause, but also handle any future challenges while continuing to understand their customer interactions and improve the overall customer experience.
3. Supports the Overall Brand Promise
Customer experience strategies are not one size fits all. What makes one company stand out likely won’t work for the next company. A good customer experience strategy is an extension of the corporate strategy and expands on and delivers your brand promise. I happen to be a big fan of Costco. That experience happens to be a pretty good one for me, but it’s not one I want to have when I am buying jewelry for my wife as an anniversary present. For the latter, I prefer to go and talk one-on-one with a knowledgeable person in a much more personal setting to find the one right thing for that occasion. What if my favorite jeweler decided to sell everything in bulk, stack the shelves, and maximize their floorspace and their staff in order to drive the price per unit down? I’d walk out and go find someone else who would give me the time and the assistance I needed — and I’d pay more for it knowing I was getting the right thing and I was taken care of.
4. Provides Value to the Company
A strong strategy delivers what’s good for the customer AND what’s good for the company. The relationship between your company and its customers should be a mutually beneficial one. Too often, people think of delighting customers at every opportunity, going above and beyond to wow customers, and doing whatever it takes to earn and keep their business that they lose sight of why they are in business to begin with — to make a profit. Waiving fees, providing credits, and regularly going to extreme measures while incurring high costs are actually the easy way out of a customer experience challenge. Finding a way to improve the depth, breadth, and duration of the customer relationship in a profitable way is what customer experience management is all about. One company I am familiar with recently improved their cross-selling and up-selling capabilities among their retail employees. Most would consider this a customer experience killer — making employees push more stuff to customers in the store for any number of reasons. But, done properly, the new tools delighted employees by giving them more of a consultative role in customer interactions. They knew what to recommend to what kinds of customers and those customers were delighted by having more of their needs and wants met by a trusted provider. More profitable interactions, happy employees, delighted customers – win, win, win.
5. Establishes a Clear Path
OK great – you have your vision, and it speaks to capabilities, your brand, and the delivery of value. How do you get there? A strategy needs to go one step further and establish a roadmap. What do you do first and how does that support what initiatives come next? How does it all link together to lead you where you want to go? When we work with clients to help create a customer strategy, we end up with a roadmap of initiatives that are sequenced to build the foundation and deliver real business results. While that roadmap may change over time as the business environment evolves, it provides a clear path that gives confidence to executives and employees alike that the vision is attainable. With proper leadership and solid execution, the strategy’s roadmap is the last piece required to start the journey towards the future state.