What is customer experience (CX)?
Customer experience is the sum total of someone’s perception of your organisation. You set the overall context of a customer’s experience: your product or service, messaging, and interactions at the sale and post-sale stage. But the perception of how those touchpoints are experienced is the customer’s – and with the rise in social media sharing, it’s become mission-critical for brands to invest in new technology and ways of working in order to control their own narrative.
Customer experience management
If CX is your customers’ perception of your organisation, customer experience management (CXM) is your strategy for controlling those perceptions. It’s gone out of fashion as a term, as practitioners have shifted to thinking about CX as something you don’t just ‘control’, but track on a constant basis and make a central part of everything you do. It remains in use mainly because of Forrester’s use of the term in their Wave ranking of SaaS CX providers.
For those keeping track of acronym shifts in the CX world, the favoured strategies for most organisations have moved from CEM, to EFM (Enterprise Feedback Management), to VOC (Voice of the Customer).
Customer experience management is a very old-school term – most brands have moved on to more sophisticated Voice of the Customer programmes.
The importance of customer experience
Most organisations recognise the core case of good CX: delivering consistently on your brand promise, and providing customers an optimised experience, brings financial rewards. But that represents a shift from previous years, where brands chased after higher NPS without connecting it to financial performance.
We see our customers as invited guests to a party. And we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.
– Jeff Bezos, Amazon
As organisations evolve their CX mindset, they’ve recognised that CX is a means to an end. High CX metrics mean little without an associated uplift in financial performance.
5 benefits of improving CX:
- Drive revenue and customer lifetime value
- Increase brand value
- Boost customer loyalty and advocacy
- Keep close to customers and changing behaviours
- Reduce costs and invest in the right things
How CX leaders outperform CX laggards:
- #1 – By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator – Walker
- 86% – of those who received a great customer experience were likely to repurchase from the same company; compared to just 13% of those who received a poor CX – Temkin Group
- 6x – Between 2010-2015, CX leaders grew 6x faster than CX laggards – Forrester
Key elements of your customer experience strategy
Delivering great customer experience drives improved business performance. And understanding customers’ expectations of your brand – and what is crucial to their satisfaction – will help you set priorities and de-risk your investments. Here are some of the core foundations of any good CX strategy:
1. Customer journey mapping
The first step in understanding the current experience is often customer journey mapping: understanding the experiences your customers are having at each touchpoint. Often businesses deliver well on components of that journey, but without a customer-centric view they may fail at distinct points. Viewing the journey – not just the touchpoints – helps to frame the experience from the customer’s perspective.
- What is customer journey mapping?
- How to understand customer journey touchpoints
- How to run a journey mapping workshop
- 10 must-haves for a customer journey mapping tool
- 10 Ways to Use Customer Journey Maps
2. Cross-functional collaboration
Consistent delivery across the journey can be a challenge, often increased by a business’ siloed operations. Until every part of the business understands its impact on customers’ experience, progress will be limited. For example, billing and credit operations might see themselves as removed from frontline delivery – but to a customer, difficult billing experiences can override positive store or digital experiences.
Cross-functional experience governance helps a business to break down those silos and improve the customer journey experience in meaningful ways. Committing to a customer-centric view helps to realign existing processes and allows the business to deliver improved experiences. An effective and productive customer experience strategy is built on that multi-disciplined engagement; making certain that employees understand that each person in some way touches customer experience.
3. Always-on listening
In order to design a CX strategy that is fully customer-centric, businesses need to understand where they currently are in delivery on the customer journey and to identify effective means of improvement. CX programmes can deliver that real-time insight into what customers are experiencing and how those experiences impact their engagement with the brand.
In order to deliver consistently on the elements of the brand experience that customers most value, it is extremely productive to listen continuously. Soliciting – and reporting – real-time customer feedback across the range of touchpoints and experiences helps to identify and prioritise things to improve. Because customers will tell their stories, both positive and negative – whether you are listening or not.
Communication of actions taken to improve the experience is essential: customers want to know that you are not just listening, but acting. And the positive word-of-mouth that results from direct customer engagement and problem resolution is a huge contributor to how the business is seen by both current and potential customers.
Customer loyalty is earned by consistently delivering on your brand promise, as experienced by your customers. Doing well on what your customers most value is the key to CX success. And acknowledging and resolving experience failures builds trust in the brand.
Measuring customer experience
- track progress on actions taken
- identify improvement areas
- calculate the ROI of CX
- prioritise your actions and invest in the right things
It’s crucial to combine any X-data metrics like NPS with O-data metrics like average spend and customer retention. Because your NPS could be sky-rocketing, but that may be because unsatisfied customers have deserted you.
Types of CX metrics
- Net Promoter Score (NPS)
There has been debate on the value of NPS, but at a basic level it gives you a snapshot of overall customer advocacy. However, within your organisation you need to set expectations around its use and limitations. It doesn’t work as well at a transactional level, and there are issues with cultural differences and a lack of alignment between scores and interpretation. (For example, if someone gives you a ‘6’ rating, are they really a detractor?)
Free download: Net Promoter Score survey template and questions
- Customer Effort Score (CES)
The Customer Effort Score can help you understand the basic functionality of your digital offering and its relevance to your customers’ needs. This metric focuses on the ease with which a customer can complete any given task.
- Customer Satisfaction (CSAT)
CSAT helps you understand how satisfied your customers are with your company’s products and/or services. When you collect this data at various touchpoints, you can start to identify key drivers of positive or negative experiences at different points in the customer journey.
Free download: Customer satisfaction survey template
How to improve customer experience
Focus on delivering what your customers value most
It’s essential to understand your customers’ view of your brand and the moments that matter most to them. A consistent, day-to-day delivery on your brand promise is crucial to retaining customers and growing your base.
Understanding which elements matter most to your customers helps you to prioritise action and investment. In any list of experience elements, there will be those that fall to the bottom. The key is to be sure that the lowest-performing elements are also the least important ones to your customers. That alignment – typically derived from key drivers – helps to keep the business focused and KPIs relevant.
Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.
– Bill Gates
Listen carefully to what your customers tell you – and then act on that feedback
One very productive approach is to use closed loop processes to respond directly to customer concerns. In B2B CX, it’s even possible to follow up with customers who give low satisfaction scores or are NPS detractors. Given that you’ll usually get fewer responses than in B2C, and have a closer relationship with each customer, this kind of approach can be highly productive.
In B2C, you’ll often have a much higher response rate to any surveys you send out. So while you should absolutely fix anything customers raise as an issue, following up with low-scoring individuals is often unproductive, especially if your managers haven’t been trained and coached for those discussions.
Show you’ve taken action
CX programmes are ongoing discussions between a brand and its customers. As such, it’s crucial to demonstrate you are taking action on the feedback, even for those respondents who have not specifically asked for contact. Including a simple message alongside customer-led initiatives – e.g. ‘You spoke. We listened’ – demonstrates that providing feedback is not just a tick-box exercise within the business. Customers are far more willing to provide experience feedback if they believe the business takes it seriously and acts on it.
Do what you do so well that customers will want to see it again and bring their friends.
– Walt Disney
Digital customer experience
Businesses can improve their integration of digital and at the same time optimise the brand experience by understanding key digital components. Here’s a few ways to approach digital CX optimisation.
It’s the less sexy side of digital CX, but understanding page loads and purchase process barriers are crucial to digital conversion. The approach is diagnostic in focus and will often use metrics like Customer Effort Scores (CES). That is, how difficult it is for your customers to use your digital channel effectively and whether they are able to complete their tasks there.
Understanding the role your digital channel plays in the overall customer experience (from consideration to purchase) is more difficult – but absolutely crucial. Businesses often look at basket abandonment as a failed conversion. But understanding that a customer is not wholly abandoning, but may actually be mid-purchase can be strategically essential. Particularly in consumer products, customers may go online to review potential purchases – but then go into a store to test or experience the specific product. That customer might purchase in store – but their digital experience would have had a significant impact on their purchase behaviour.
Understanding the role each channel plays is crucial to maximising the overall brand experience. That’s because your customer doesn’t typically think in channels: they just want to solve problems and find options. Multiple channel contact may be essential in conversion. Appreciating the different role each channel plays reorients your business to be more customer-centric.