Navigating Your Company’s Customer Experience Environment

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We seem to be in the midst of a veritable “Cambrian Explosion” of interest in Customer Experience (CX). In the past few months alone, CMSWire contributors have explained why organizations need to unify CX and customer success initiatives and highlighted key CX metrics to examine. It’s not hard to understand this interest. SaaS has become the default delivery method for enterprise applications but as the market has matured, growth has slowed and reducing customer churn has become ever more important. Enter customer experience and its close cousin, customer success. As research from McKinsey & Company demonstrates, SaaS providers with the highest revenues “achieved their strong showing by investing more in customer-success initiatives aimed at churn reduction.”

That’s all great but it doesn’t give practitioners or businesses much of an idea of how to actually execute on their goals. Although all CX programs are aimed at ensuring that customers get the most from their software investments (and are therefore inclined to renew their subscriptions), they are not monolithic. Customer experience programs vary considerably from company to company and require different approaches depending on their structure. At the risk of oversimplification, we can divide customer experience programs into those with an “executive mandate” and those that need to be “bootstrapped.”

Advantages of Executive-Mandated CX Programs

As their name implies, executive-mandated customer experience initiatives enjoy the patronage of one or more decision-makers with budgetary authority. In short, they have resources. As a result, there is likely to be a customer experience team in place with a clear mandate to own customer relationships, invest in training, etc. with the ultimate goal of reducing churn, improving a customer’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) and developing champions that can help make the case internally for larger deployments. The team has a defined budget to help it reach its goals and, perhaps more importantly, regular facetime with at least one executive stakeholder.

Executive sponsorship also means having an internal salesperson who can help sheppard cross-functional initiatives. One of the most important requirements for the success of a CX initiative is being able to instill a CX mindset within your entire organization. The executive sponsor is key to facilitating the right conversations internally. CX is a team sport and a clear mandate will invariably make it easier to get buy-in from adjacent departments, like sales, marketing and support. This cooperation in turns makes it far easier to develop and deploy new processes aimed at increasing customer satisfaction. In fact, in many cases, the customer experience team may not even need to get directly involved, as your sponsoring executive works with the rest of the executive team to drive initiatives.

Disadvantages of Executive-Mandated CX Programs

Peachy as they sound, executive-mandated customer experience programs present their own pitfalls for practitioners. With clear goals comes clear accountability and most executives will not hesitate to reduce their investment or make changes to the team if results are not forthcoming. The resources of any business, no matter how large, are not infinite and any funds or personnel dispersed to customer experience initiatives will need to be continually justified with reference to ROI. After all, if your department is not producing results or making good use of assigned resources, perhaps another team can.

Advantages of Bootstrapped CX Programs

Standing in the shadow of their executive-mandated brethren are bootstrapped CX initiatives. These unloved programs are typically the brainchild of an enterprising manager in sales or support who thinks they’ve found the solution to their retention woes. While they lay no claim to a clear mandate or a defined budget, that’s not always to their disadvantage. Because bootstrapped customer experience programs are typically new initiatives, they’re not wedded to existing processes, which may be outdated or ineffective.

In addition, by starting from nothing, bootstrapped customer experience programs can in a sense do nothing wrong, short of a truly egregious misstep that alienates customers. New processes can be initiated and nobody is held accountable for producing results that were never expected in the first place. In short, bootstrapped CX programs can offer their participants tremendous gain with little to no downside risk. Indeed, they can even provide their participants with significant career advancements if successful.

Disadvantages of Bootstrapped CX Programs

It’s not difficult to imagine the challenges you will face when trying to bootstrap a CX program. A lack of resources means you will need to start small and it will be difficult, if not impossible, to get other departments to support an effort they reasonably view as a vanity project. Finding allies can be like navigating a maze, running into dead-ends and having to turn around to find another path. This limitation in resources will be matched by a limitation in time, as you will need to accomplish your assigned duties before planning and implementing any customer experience initiatives.

The goal of every bootstrapped customer experience program is to become an executive-mandated one. While it’s not part of their formal responsibilities, those participating in such programs will be well served by deciding what they want to measure – for example, customer renewal rates – and maintaining good records that clearly demonstrate how these metrics have improved will prove invaluable. From there one can select an executive patron and make the case that a clear mandate and defined resources will result in even bigger gains.

Common Challenges and Opportunities

CX is a vague process and, although an increasing number of executives and organizations are investing in the field, the relationship between CX and revenues will always be less clear than that of departments like sales and product development. As a result, whether you are involved in an executive-mandated CX program or bootstrapped one, your work is likely to be nearly as much about internal education and demonstrating ROI as it is about directly working with customers. That’s not to say that you can ever afford to ignore the customer, helping customers reach their goals is the be-all and end-all of CX programs. The difference between the two types really just comes down to speed and scale; the resources given to executive-mandated programs enable them to generate more impact at a higher velocity than their bootstrapped brethren.

Ken Dong
Human interaction and relationship is my #1 passion. In everything I do from customer experience to training team members to building processes I'm looking for ways to strengthen relationships. Well versed in customer service, journey maps, QBRs, NPS, surveys, VoC, customer success, and client relations.

1 COMMENT

  1. Excellent article. To layer on the issue most companies haven’t got a clue regarding their true customer journey through the CX experience so it makes the job of improving it even harder.

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