When Eating the Elephant, Don’t Boil the Ocean


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I’ve interviewed about twenty CX pros this year, as we work our way up to 100 interviews exploring the current state of CX as a discipline. What I’m finding is that the massive nature of the end-to-end customer experience makes for some daunting challenges.

CX is the totality of all interactions between customers and your brand. This includes your sales team, your website, your product experience, your customer support, your third-party partners, Google, advertising, etc. Trying to move that big a needle is overwhelming. I’ve spoken with many who have led big initiatives – simplifying experiences, reducing unnecessary touchpoints, training reps to provide a better experience – without budging the company’s overall customer scores. What’s to be done?

CX is unwieldy

Literally everyone in your company impacts the customer experience in some way, even if they don’t always realize it. (Sometimes, especially when they don’t realize it.) If you focus on the entire end-to-end experience at once, you’re not going to make progress. As the age-old proverb attributed to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu says, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And that’s where you need to focus.

When we interviewed successful CX leaders for our book, there was one phrase we heard again and again: they didn’t want to “boil the ocean.” Rather than trying to fix the entire experience, they selected one journey, mapped that journey to understand what customers valued, drove action against that journey, then used that to show impact. Here’s what some of them said:

Often, we hear of companies trying to boil the ocean when it comes to selecting what to map, but focusing in on specific problems can help clarify your research and can have broad-ranging results. – Lisa, VP of Marketing, B2B2C firm

Choose the journey carefully to start. It is too easy to try to boil the ocean. –  Journey Mapping practitioner, responding to our journey mapping success survey

You have to be focused. You can’t try to boil the ocean. You have to pick a product or an area to start with, that’s perceived as something that needs to be improved, and build support for your project to change that. – Mark Smith, former VP of CX at Element Fleet Solutions

Select a focus

We’ve written about this a few times in this blog in different ways, including here, here, and here. Start with our Five Questions framework to select the right area and help ensure you’re attacking a problem that matters to the organization; for a more in-depth take, see the first third of our recent book, How Hard Is It to Be Your Customer?

But even just the first of the Five Questions – What is the business problem or opportunity? – can be overwhelming. When someone calls Heart of the Customer to discuss CX, rarely can they answer that question on the first call, and often not even after doing some homework. There are simply so many problems and opportunities that it’s tough to know where to start. It’s like the kid in the candy store – how do you spend your nickel for the best outcome?

So let’s go deeper into this topic, beyond “what” and into “how”: How do you find the right business problem or opportunity?

The buck starts here

I really like to start with Finance, but from my interviews with CX pros, it’s clear this isn’t happening. Recently I asked someone how their favorite Finance person would measure their customer experience. His response? “That assumes I have a favorite Finance person. I can’t name a single person from Finance.”

Only one person in the twenty interviews I’ve conducted this year mentioned spending any time with Finance. So CX is measuring the customer experience using survey scores, while Finance has their own measurement – and the two aren’t aligned.

How can you expect to tear down silos in your organization while you’re creating your own?

So let’s start simply. Take a Finance person to lunch.

They can’t be too hard to find – simply leave a few details off your next expense report, and somebody will call you. Then ask that person who you should talk to.

Meeting of the minds

Ask how they measure the health of your customer relationships. Odds are, it’s some sort of business KPI – customers lost vs. gained, order size, repeat orders, product returns – I guarantee you that they can immediately tell you what’s important.

Let’s assume the KPI is customers lost (also known as “churn”). That’s a great start, but still pretty broad. Next, ask your new friend where most of this churn happens – is it a particular customer type, (e.g., large vs. small), at a particular stage in the relationship, or some other attribute, such as those who only order a single product line?

At this point, it’s probably time to meet with somebody with access to your operational data who can identify more information about the customers who reflect these profiles. Schedule a second lunch, and pepper that person with questions. What can we learn about large vs. small accounts, new customers, or those who only order a single product line? Bring this information back to your survey platform to see what you can find about these specific customers, and how they’re responding to your surveys.

Run the numbers

Here’s where you get to return the favor to your new Finance friend. Once you know where your customer churn is and what those customers say in your surveys, brainstorm with your new friend where the breakdown might be occurring.

You may need to spend more time having lunch with your data friends, or possibly make new friends in IT, Marketing, or Sales to learn more, so be sure to order the salad, because you’re spending a ton of time at lunch. But you’re also going to develop a critical understanding of where the problems are.

Once you’ve narrowed that down, identify measurement candidates to track ROI. What is the churn rate at the 90- to 180-day mark, and what is a typical one-year customer worth to you, in revenue or (preferably) profit?

Now you have your ROI measurement. If you’re currently losing 18% of customers at the 90- to 180-day mark, and the average profit in the first year of a non-attrited customer is $1,200, if you can reduce attrition by 25%, your ROI calculation is:

[Total # of new customers per year] * 4.5% (1/4 of 18%) * $1,200 = the ROI of improvement.

At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of your business problem, journey, and customer. More importantly, you have the measurement needed to make a compelling business case for your program.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jim Tincher
Jim sees the world in a special way: through the eyes of customers. This lifelong passion for CX, and a thirst for knowledge, led him to found his customer experience consulting firm, Heart of the Customer (HoC). HoC sets the bar for best practices and are emulated throughout the industry. He is the author of Do B2B Better and co-author of How Hard Is It to Be Your Customer?, and he also writes Heart of the Customer’s popular CX blog.


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