According to a recent report by the customer experience consulting firm Walker, customer experience is set to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. While more and more companies understand the importance of customer experience, many don’t know how to make improvements. That’s where we come in.
What is a customer experience strategy?
A customer experience strategy is your company’s approach to creating the best possible customer experience in your unique case.
Customer experience is the sum total of a customer’s perception of your business. It’s the result of every interaction they have, from seeing your latest TV ad to contacting your customer support team to stepping into one of your stores.
While customer experience will vary from customer to customer, depending on the extent of their interaction, who they speak to and what their general expectations are from businesses in your sector, there’s a lot you can do to make it consistently high in quality. That’s where customer experience strategy comes in.
Customer experience vs. customer service
It’s easy to confuse customer experience and customer service. After all, they both revolve around treating customers well when they interact with your brand. But whereas customer service is focused on a specific set of scenarios, and often owned by a single department within your business, customer experience is holistic and crosses all silos and departmental borders – it’s everyone’s job.
Customer service can be seen as a key part of the overall customer experience. Through dedicated job roles such as customer service assistant or contact center agent, customer service is an investment your business makes in keeping customers happy and maintaining high levels of customer satisfaction.
Customer experience deals with all of that, plus the additional customer touchpoints that may not previously have been considered for optimization – things like the UI in your credit card payment flow, or the training you give your delivery drivers. Customer experience also includes all the things customers perceive without you necessarily being aware of it – your TV ads, social media posts, branded vehicles on the highway, and the feedback of friends and family who have used your products.
Why is customer experience so important?
Customer experience is increasingly recognized as a powerful means of differentiating your business from its competitors. Unlike variables such as price or product range, which win you customers only as long as you can keep ahead of your competition, customer experience creates strong, resilient relationships with customers that stand the test of time.
Research indicates that not only do customers make purchase decisions on the basis of customer experience, they’re also willing to pay more for a good experience, and even forgive mistakes from companies they’ve become loyal to.
XM Institute figures from 2020 showed that:
- About three-quarters of consumers who give a company a “very good” CX rating are likely to forgive a company for a bad experience, but only 15% of those who gave a company a “very poor” CX rating say the same.
- Nearly 90% of consumers who give a company a “very good” CX rating are likely to trust a company to take care of their needs. In comparison, 16% of consumers who gave a company a “very poor” CX rating say the same
- 94% of consumers who give a company a “very good” CX rating are likely to purchase more products or services from that company in the future. In comparison, only one in five of those who gave a company a “very poor” CX rating say the same
How to build a customer experience strategy
With something as holistic and high-level as customer experience, how do you begin to get a handle on a strategy?
We’ve set out a three-phase approach to customer experience strategy that helps you plan and prepare, break down your approach into actionable tasks, and set the scene for ongoing improvement.
1. Preparing for customer experience design
Customer experience research is the first thing you should focus on when designing your customer experience strategy. After all, how can you create a customer experience if you don’t know who your customers are?
Developing a persona is the first step in the research process. A persona is a fictional character developed through research. It represents the common traits of a group of customers, either the ones you currently have or those you’d like to acquire.
By developing 1-5 personas of your customer base, you can better understand the psyche of your customers and build experiences for your most valuable segments. If you start with building empathy and understanding the profile of your key customer segments, you have a way to connect with them so that everyone has a shared understanding of their demographic profile, behaviors, and pain points.
Each persona should include an image of the imaginary customer, demographic profile, attributes and motivations, needs, pain points, and actual customer quotes. To create the personas you should conduct customer interviews and analyze and theme your data to draw meaningful insights that relate to various customer types.
An empathy map is a tool used to better understand the needs of customers. It allows teams to provide a complete picture of the customer and what actions they might take as a result of their beliefs, emotions, and behaviors. Empathy mapping uses 4 quadrants labeled as ‘think’, ‘feel’, ‘say’, ‘do’ to help make sense of different aspects of the customer’s experience and preferences.
Stakeholder mapping and management
Stakeholder management is the process of understanding the attitudes of stakeholders before making a change in how you do things. Its goal is to develop alignment and collaboration between the various groups. Stakeholder planning helps to identify stakeholders’ needs and interests, mechanisms to influence stakeholders, potential risks, key people to keep informed about changes, and stakeholders who might have an adverse effect on the change you’re planning.
Where does stakeholder management come into customer experience strategy? The customer experience is created by the entire company, which means you’ll need buy-in and support from many different stakeholders to do it successfully.
One tool that can help you organize this process is stakeholder mapping. Include all departments that interact with the customer. The list might include marketing, sales, support, product management and billing. Think about cross-departmental leaders to include too. Once you have your stakeholders identified, map them into these 4 quadrants to determine the best engagement strategy:
- Supporters (high support, low influence) Involve supporters with the project team to leverage their enthusiasm
- Champions (high support, high influence) Keep champions close as project partners who can help to influence other stakeholders
- Gatekeepers: major risks (low support, high influence) Investigate concerns from this group and leverage champions to improve their support
- Bystanders (low support, low influence) Keep this group well informed via mass communications
2. Mapping the customer experience
Once you fully understand your customer and stakeholders, you’re ready to start mapping out the customer journey. This is when you step into the customer’s shoes as they’re interacting with your product or service.
Before you set up a customer experience strategy project, you need to align your stakeholders on the primary intent, so you can clearly define the set boundaries to explore. Part of this involves spending time understanding and defining your customer challenge.
A focusing challenge will help you to clearly define your future state vision or challenge and communicate the intent across the business. Use this formula: (Who) can (do what) so that (why: the outcome).
This enables you to focus your team’s thinking to drive the right action, and removes any assumptions within a project statement so that you can agree on a clear direction.
Customer journey mapping
A customer journey map is a design tool that provides a view of the end-to-end experience of your customers. It visually illustrates customers’ actions, needs and decisions throughout every stage of their relationship with your organization.
The customer journey map outlines all the opportunities, pain points, and interactions which you can use to guide your CX improvements.
To create a customer journey map, pick a persona and map out the key steps across the journey using our guide to customer journey mapping, or the 5 A’s method below. Once you fully map the customer experience, identify pain points and use the 5 Why’s model below to determine the root cause.
5 A’s customer journey mapping framework
The 5 A’s customer journey framework covers all the major interactions throughout the end-to-end customer lifecycle. It’s used to organize the key stages a customer goes through, from becoming aware of your organization right through to exiting or extending the relationship.
This alternate approach to customer journey mapping helps organize the themes for analysis through both the eyes of the customer (above the line) and your organization (below the line) – exploring key touchpoints, systems, processes, pain points and opportunities.
The 5 A’s are:
- Attract – How are customers attracted to and informed of the service or product?
- Accept – How does the customer enter into dealings with your organization?
- Adopt – How does the customer interact throughout the entire experience?
- Amplify – How do you leave the customer feeling at the end of the interaction?
- Advance – How do you follow up with customers and extend the current relationship?
3. Building the future state experience
The future state experience is crucial because it allows you to envision what you want your customers to think and feel when they’re experiencing your product.
The 5 Whys is a simple, yet powerful problem-solving tool that works to engage teams in understanding the root cause of simple issues.
Once you have identified your root cause, you need to prove or disprove it using data. When you investigate you might find that the situation isn’t what you thought. Start by writing down a specific problem statement or pain point your team is trying to solve, ask the question of ‘why’ the problem occurs, and write down the answer below the problem, referring to your CX data dashboard and analysis tools. Then keep using the why question to the previous answer, until you get to the ultimate cause of the problem.
Brainstorming new strategies
Brainstorming is a structured technique used to apply a different way of thinking to generate and explore new ideas. Brainstorming is typically done as a collaborative effort, by bringing together the right people with the right knowledge to help solve your problem. To get the most out of the session and the people involved, brainstorming works best when you first apply divergent thinking without limitations, then converge on appropriate ideas to explore in more detail. This means considering all angles, before narrowing on designing a solution that best meets the needs of your customers.
The four main brainstorm techniques are:
- Classic – Generate as many ideas as possible and score all
- What if? – Ask “what if” three times. For example, for a problem of high customer turnover ask “what if we halved the price?”
- Wrong way – Deliberately try to generate bad ideas. For example, if you were trying to improve customer engagement and retention, ask “what could we do to drive our customers away?”
- Risky options – Concentrate on the issues that matter most in order to generate better ideas. People are often discouraged from suggesting seemingly wild or risky ideas which might lead to the best solution because they fear failure or group criticism.
Customer experience design development
The customer experience design process is a method to further develop initiatives after you’ve run customer journey mapping and opportunities brainstorming sessions. This agile process ensures unproven ideas are stopped and retired, and new, viable ideas are further developed into a business case to incite action.
The methodology is: we believe (describe the new experience), will solve (customer’s needs and organizations issue/opportunity), enabled by (full solution), resulting in (new attitude/behavior/result).
Run each opportunity through the design tool to further develop each opportunity and then rank each opportunity in terms of its customer and business value.
Applying measurement to your new CX strategy
Now you understand what touchpoints and interactions you want to measure and improve, creating a system to do this is the next step. This is where most companies turn to customer experience software. Customer experience software is the system of record and action for experience data. Customer experience platforms are tools for companies to measure, report, analyze and take action on the human feedback from customers.