Measuring Customer Experience One Step at a Time


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There are those who say you cannot measure customer experience. What they are saying is “hire me to improve customer experience but don’t ask me how it will impact your business with any hard numbers.” Do we accept that when we attempt to define markets and our ability to penetrate them? Don’t we require some kind of a predictor of upside and downside? Why not with customer experience? After all, isn’t the experience really the consumption of the product and/or service you are offering? Isn’t it all one big, happy strategy? If so, we need some powerful metrics.

Now, I know some of you are going to jump on this and point to places like this, or like this which focus on attitudinal measures or internal company process output improvements. These either don’t provide you with a way to measure the value of customer interaction improvements or have nothing to do with the customer. And if your touchpoint metrics involve your current solution; then you’re still operating in the product-centric world; the one where if you made it it’s either wonderful, or can be made to sound wonderful. Pretty pictures and moments of truth leave you with nothing but room for misinterpretation(s); and we don’t want that. We want cold, hard facts, right?

A marketer simply can’t create a great customer experience all by themselves; because all they can do is talk about it

One last thing about customer experience in general; it’s not just a marketing thing; it’s related to the operations of your business and the human resources you apply to those operations well. As Lance Bettencourt points out in his leading edge book, Service Innovation: How to Go from Customer Needs to Breakthrough Services, you must go beyond the 4 P’s of marketing and add 3 more:

  • People – employees and customers
  • Physical Evidence – facility, equipment, employee appearance, other tangibles
  • Process – operating procedures and flow of activities

I see so many customer experience positions out their looking for 20 years of marketing experience (or 2 years of experience 10 times). This is about the customer’s experience in acquiring and using your service; and I say service for a reason. There is a service component wrapped around every product, or embedded within it. Marketing has little to do with delivering it but everything to do with messaging, pricing, etc. A marketer simply can’t create a great customer experience all by themselves; because all they can do is talk about it. It requires an entire system of interdependent efforts; which is why it’s never easy, and so many continue to get it all wrong.

In the perfect world, we want to know in advance the likelihood of our success in delivering a product or service to the market. Given the abysmal success rates of new product launches, one would think there would be a mad rush to find a solution to this problem. While there is always a mad rush to the next hype cycle (see Social CRM, Social this, Social that, Future of Work and Collaborative Economy for examples), we seem to be repeating the mistakes of the past. I guess it’s time to rethink things a little bit when failing becomes sexy and sought after; with concepts like fail fast!

Whether we’re adding the wrong features to an existing product, putting smiles on our face at the wrong touchpoint, or failing fast, we’re failing in customer experience as much as we’re failing as a business. There is no separating the two. Customers have jobs to get done, and they take a consistent path defined by the things they must accomplish each step of the way to get the job done successfully. Companies must align their efforts with those of this customer journey; whether it is understanding the problem awareness and purchase cycles so they can sell better, or the consumption (post sale) of the product or service; which determines whether you will continue to be selected, generate referrals or grow the relationship.

So, a good measurement system should have the following characteristics in order to be considered successful at the customer experience measurement game:

  • It must be consistent – the metrics should be consistent over time, and across the competitive landscape. They should facilitate repeatable results across customer groups that have vastly different needs.
  • It must be forward-looking – the metrics should tell you, with no ambiguity, when value has shifted, and/or an important touchpoint has degraded; and why!
  • It should translate into dollars and cents – changes in metric values should translate into a trustworthy predicator of changes in revenue, market share and/or profitability
  • It must be aligned to the customer first – while we are concerned with dollars and cents, this is a by-product of perceived value by customers. Each metric should align with a specific customer need related to getting one or more of their jobs done. More importantly, you must measure them all (needs), even if they are perceived to be fully satisfied; because one day that will change and you need to know when it happens!
  • It must facilitate the product/service development/improvement process – if our goal is to eliminate guesswork and destroy our competition through a better service consumption experience, we need to have better tools than they do; and they are all using Net Promoter Score, VOC and other feel good approaches that never deliver sustained results with forward-looking predictability. Yes, the comment box is down below; use it – but please bring cold, hard facts.

Developing customer experiences is going to always involve services; always! Differentiating yourself from the competition requires that you understand unmet needs and can align them to attractive market segments. Based on current or foreseeable capabilities of the company, specific segments will be more, or less attractive. While you may be able to create value for a group of customers, you may not be able to create enough value for yourself if the market is too small, or the price you can get is too low. You’ll also need to align competitive offerings with these metrics highlighting unmet needs and determine what experiences and features to match, or to ignore. Having solid forward-looking customer-focused metrics makes this job much easier.

The same systems you use to design service experiences should also facilitate your monitoring and improvement efforts. Since a system that designs new break-through services doesn’t yet have a customer, it must be forward looking; which is the problem with other types of measurement exercises like customer journey/experience mapping (they are solution-centric). A forward looking measurement system will tell you when an adjustment is necessary just as it will tell you when a new service is necessary.

Mapping a customer’s experience while taking a train to work is not the correct tool if you are actually trying to improve their experience in getting to work in the morning. All you’re doing is taking your service, and trying to find cracks you can fill. The best experience may not be taking the train at all; and that is what you are competing with. We are at the intersection of innovation, strategy and execution when we talk about customer experience; so we need a complete process for managing and measuring. We don’t need solutions that focus on finite areas within this system as that will simply sub-optimize the entire experience.

Creating experiences that make you feel good is why so many artists are broke. Sorry to be so blunt Mom (she’s an artist). Wouldn’t you rather feel good about seeing your customers feel good? In order to take this customer-centric approach, you need to know two things:

  1. What your customers’ will need – without knowing this, you can’t possibly know what to provide them (see What is a Customer Need for more details)
  2. How you will provide ityou need to eliminate the guesswork so you can identify and bring the right people together, with the right resources, and employing the right process

We all know that getting this right is not as easily done as said. Many large brands still struggle to understand either one of those requirements. The job of the customer-centric service experience designer not only needs to understand the customer need with specificity second to none, but must also have the ability to coordinate all of the necessary parts of the organization to deliver it flawlessly. This is where executive leadership on this matter is kind of important ;).

If you’re led by a product-centered executive, you will never provide the best customer experience

As I have mentioned, we’ve got to understand the needs of our customers, and there’s really only one approach to doing it well – it starts with jobs-to-be-done theory. Customer experience design is about helping a customer get one or more jobs done, and doing so better than any other platform. While helping them get more related jobs done on that platform enhances the brand experience, let’s just focus on helping them get one job done better than any other solution. How do we do that?

  1. Understand the job they are trying to get done – this concept is very simple; people need to accomplish things in their lives and it’s your job to help them. For example, a person needs to get from point A to point B in a certain context; which might translate to “Get to work in the morning during rush hour.”
  2. Map the steps that describe a customer getting the entire job done; not just part of it. This is similar to the way you would view end-to-end business processes internally (but it’s not!). Every job has steps that fall into 8 general categories: Define, Locate, Prepare, Confirm, Execute, Monitor, Modify and Conclude (see The Customer-Centered Innovation Map for more details)
  3. Understand their desired outcomes which they use to measure how well they get the job done. As you gather them, rework them to fit a homogenous structure so scoring is consistent and effective. Examples for the morning commuter might be “Minimize the time it takes to get from home to work” and “Increase the likelihood that I arrive to work safely” and “Minimize the cost of getting to work in the morning.” These are the customer needs, which align themselves to specific steps in the job (see Giving Customers a Fair Hearing for more details. 
  4. Understand the job of providing the service – what do you need to accomplish to best fulfill the unmet needs in the customer’s job?
  5. Map the job of providing the service and align the steps to those of the customer job. The jobs should align at the boundary between customer and provider, but the provider will also have behind the scenes steps that the customer will never see.
  6. Uncover the desired outcomes (needs) used to measure how well the job of providing the service gets done. This includes steps that the customer does not see; which contribute to the experience they receive.
  7. Score the desired outcomes of the customer, the provider and make sure you capture data that will assist you in determining which solution a respondent uses or has used in the past (this will help you score competitors).
  8. Rinse and repeat over time to see how you and your competitors are doing, and more importantly, exactly where you need to make changes.

Measurement is a critical component of designing and managing customer experiences; but it’s not the only component. It’s one step in a larger job of innovating around service design and delivery and additional steps are well beyond the scope of a single blog post.

Taking the time to generate the metrics around the job (or jobs) customers are trying to get done gives you a dynamic (you can keep score over time) platform for anticipating growth opportunities and it does so without looking backwards at existing solutions. It’s solution agnostic; which gives you the ability to see new opportunities to innovate without clinging to what you’ve built. It provides critical inputs consistently to all parties; marketing, service designers and service providers – where your competitors are prone to the misinterpretation of smiley faces and moments of truth across these same groups.

The only way to measure experience is by using outcome-based logic and systems thinking. It’s not an art, it’s a science with a little bit of creative thinking sprinkled on top.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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