Prioritize These Five Things to Drive Exceptional Customer Experiences

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I originally wrote today’s post for CX Network. It appeared on their site on March 8, 2023.

In a world where products and services are becoming more and more commoditized, customer experience is the only true and sustainable differentiator. That means that customer experience leaders have a lot of pressure on them to “get it right” from a variety of angles.

Sadly, given the opportunity to do things right, many brands (well, their executives) tend to focus on the shiny objects on the lists of “trends and predictions that everyone must know and implement.” But those shiny objects are often too advanced for the brands that haven’t even yet gotten the foundational or fundamental elements squared away. If the foundation isn’t in place or if you’ve got foundation issues, secondary problems can occur. So, get the foundation right first!

As a customer experience leader, your priorities must align with creating exceptional customer experiences that drive loyalty, advocacy, and business growth. To do that, you’ve got to focus on the following five areas.

1. Executive commitment and alignment

Probably one of the hottest topics that customer experience professionals discuss is ROI, which is directly related to getting executive commitment and alignment for the work that lies ahead. This is often the most-challenging thing that CX leaders must do, but they’ve got to remember that – to get this commitment – they must appeal to their executives’ heads and hearts. Some suggestions to do that include:

  • Build and communicate the business case: Customer experience leaders must make a compelling case for why focusing on customers and the customer experience is important for the business. This can include demonstrating the financial benefits of investing in customer experience, such as increased customer retention and revenue growth.
  • Gather and socialize customer feedback and insights: Sharing feedback and insights with executives will help them understand the customer’s perspective and walk in the customer’s shoes. These insights can be gathered through surveys, the breadcrumbs of data that customers leave behind as they interact and transact with the brand, voice of the customer through the employee, journey mapping, personas, and other forms of customer research.
  • Identify and share quick wins: Customer experience leaders should identify quick wins that demonstrate the value of focusing on the customer experience. This can help build momentum and support for further investments in customer experience.
  • Engage stakeholders who “get it:” Customer experience leaders should engage stakeholders from across the organization – including employees, partners, and customers – who already understand the value of putting customers at the center of all they do – to help build support for customer experience initiatives.
  • Align with business goals: Customer experience leaders must ensure that customer experience initiatives align with business goals and outcomes. This will demonstrate the strategic value of customer experience and make it more likely to receive executive support.

There are many other ways to gain that commitment, but those will get you started.

2. Customer-centric culture

Creating a customer-centric culture is essential to delivering exceptional customer experiences consistently over time. Culture encompasses the shared values, beliefs, and behaviors that guide how employees interact with each other and with customers. The culture is deliberately designed and driven from the top, by your CEO. The work that CX leaders do going forward is in support of the culture the CEO has set.

  • Partner with the employee experience leader: To maintain the desired culture, you’ve got to work together with the EX leader – oftentimes the head of talent and culture or a similar title.
  • Define a customer experience vision: This vision should be communicated throughout the organization to ensure that everyone understands the importance of delivering exceptional experiences and what those experiences should look like.
  • Align values and behaviors: Working with the EX leader, customer experience leaders must ensure that the company’s values are aligned with the desired customer experience, customer outcomes, and business outcomes. This includes defining behaviors that support (and don’t support) the customer experience vision and ensuring that employees understand and embody those supporting behaviors.
  • Socialize and operationalize the core values: Ensure that hiring, firing, promotions, decisions, interactions, processes, and policies are all done/made through the lens of the core values.
  • Establish your governance structure and operating model: Activate the governance committees that drive cross-functional engagement in designing and delivering a great employee experience and customer experience. And ensure the operating model has been defined and communicated.

By focusing on culture, customer experience leaders can create a work environment that supports exceptional customer experiences and reinforces the importance of delivering outstanding service to customers. A strong, healthy culture is the precursor to a great employee experience. And employee experience drives customer experience.

3. Employee experience

On that note – the employee experience drives the customer experience – CX leaders, working in conjunction with EX leaders, must ensure that:

  • Employees have the tools and resources to do their jobs and do them well – and that they facilitate serving customers the way they deserve to be served.
  • Policies aren’t outdated and processes aren’t broken, inhibiting or prohibiting them from doing a great job and serving customers according to the CX vision.
  • Employees are empowered to take care of customers in the moment, without having to escalate every case or scenario where the customer’s need falls outside of some rule, guideline, or script. Invest in employee training and development to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge to provide exceptional customer service.
  • Every leader in the organization cares about the employees. That includes open and transparent communication, feedback and coaching, helping employees learn and grow, ensuring that know how the work they do contributes and matters, listening and acting on their feedback, and more.

All of the same design elements that we use to deliver a great customer experience are also used to design a great employee experience.

4. Customer understanding

Customer experience leaders must make understanding their customers’ needs, preferences, and behaviors a priority in order to create personalized experiences that resonate with customers. There are three ways to achieve that customer understanding.

  • Listen. Don’t just ask customers about the experience, listen, as well. There are a lot of different channels and ways for customers to tell you about their needs and desired outcomes and how well you are performing against their expectations. Combining that feedback with the breadcrumbs of data that customers leave behind as they interact and transact with your brand gives you a robust understanding of their expectations, what’s going well and what isn’t, and more.
  • Characterize. Research your customers. Talk to them. Identify the jobs they are trying to do and problems they are trying to solve. Create three to five key personas that represent the various types of prospects and customers that (might) buy from you or that use your products or services.
  • Empathize. Walk in your customers’ shoes to get a clear understanding of the steps they take to do whatever job it is they are trying to do with your organization.  Map their journeys to understand the current state of the experience. Create a service blueprint to understand what’s happening behind the scenes to create and facilitate the experience. And ideate and reimagine the future state experience.

These are all learning exercises. You’ll walk away from them with a lot of knowledge about your customers, but it doesn’t end there. You use that learning to drive continuous improvement.

In addition, customer experience leaders should establish the metrics that will be used to not only measure the customer experience but also link it to business outcomes. This includes identifying success metrics to track the success of your customer experience initiatives.

5. Tools and technology

Data is at the heart of designing and delivering a great customer experience. But it’s just data until you do something with it. And that requires tools. Some of the essential tools that CX leaders must have and use include:

  • Data analytics tools: These tools will help CX leaders identify patterns and trends in customer behavior and make data-driven decisions to improve the overall customer experience.
  • Feedback management tools: These tools help CX leaders listen, understand customer needs and expectations, and respond to customer feedback in a timely and effective manner.
  • Relationship management (CRM) systems: These systems help CX leaders build stronger relationships with customers and provide a seamless and personalized customer experience.
  • Journey mapping tools: These tools are used to visualize and analyze the end-to-end customer journey and identify pain points and opportunities for improvement. They should be used in conjunction with – or tangential to – journey orchestration tools to deliver a proactive and personalized experience for customers.
  • Collaboration and communication tools: These tools help CX leaders align the organization around the customer and drive a culture of customer-centricity.

In addition, tools and technology that use AI and afford automation of tasks for both employees and customers must be in the toolbox. A lot of these fall into the category of those shiny objects that I mentioned earlier, but if you’ve got all of the other elements in place, these will surely be incorporated into the work that you do.

Wrap-Up

As you read through it, how many of the foundational elements in this article do you have in place? Are you working with your EX leader to ensure that employees are taken care of so that your customers will be taken care of, too? You probably realize now why it’s hard to put trends on a pedestal. Focus on your house first. Get the foundation right, and then the hot trends that others are talking about will be so much easier to implement.

The first step to success is knowing your priorities. ~ Aspesh

Image courtesy of Brett Jordan on Unsplash.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Annette Franz
Annette Franz is founder and Chief Experience Officer of CX Journey Inc. She is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker. She has 25+ years of experience in helping companies understand their employees and customers in order to identify what makes for a great experience and what drives retention, satisfaction, and engagement. She's sharing this knowledge and experience in her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).

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