As a member of the Marketing Executive Roundtable group, I led the May 2019 session on the topic of Customer Experience (CX). The group consisted of senior level marketing professionals who represented a wide array of industries including: legal, market research, SaaS for healthcare, retail, telecommunications, aviation, commercial general contracting, electronics manufacturing, and professional consulting services for IT and marketing strategy.
As someone who has always held a deeply rooted belief in the value of customer centricity, I do feel that data driven marketing, layers of technology, and transactional mindsets have distracted us from the focus and prioritization of placing customers first. Preparing for this session I was invigorated by the research and CX movements I read about, and hopeful by the positivity of the marketing professionals in this group discussion. This article shares a snapshot of what I learned about the state of CX within this sample set of marketers, plus insights for what I believe are the foundational elements to be an experience-led business.
The Game Changing Mental Shift to Customer-Centric POint of View
At the start of the discussion I asked everyone to write down how they define CX. Here are some of the responses:
It has to do with life cycle management from intro to customer – getting them the right info at right time to get them to the next level.
CX is engaging customers in a way that delights them and promotes customer loyalty.
You take care of employees, and they take care of customers. It’s all about making customers want to come back based on how we make them feel.
CX includes the feelings and results clients receive, and how quickly we adapt to their needs.
There is no right or wrong response, and as you can see each of the statements provide a different angle to how the participants view CX in relation to their own perspective and company goals. I did however offer a twist, or rather an opportunity to re-frame CX, and I did this by sharing Forrester’s definition which is: “CX is how customers perceive their interactions with your company.”
Being presented with this definition was a game changer for me because while I thought that I was approaching CX from a customer centric point of view, the words I was using suggested otherwise – they were more centered on the brand. It was interesting to observe that each of the participants who shared their CX definition were also using words such as “we” and “them” which indicate a brand point of view.
I believe the shift to a customer-centric POV – adjusting how you think and communicate – is the first step towards truly delivering on the brand promise and providing exceptional customer experiences. The journey towards becoming an experience-driven business requires an investment in the customer experience across people, processes, and technology. The customer should be at the center of every team and business unit including direct correlation to what matters most to executives (e.g. their performance metrics and intrinsic motivations).
Holistic Versus Patch-Work Approach
Next we shifted the conversation of how to approach CX within various business models. I asked the group if they thought of CX as digital first, how they incorporated it into their social strategy and contact centers, how did it show up in retail stores? Here’s what they said:
We are primarily a retail business and our goal is to have a holistic customer experience. My responsibility is in digital channels where I focus on capturing new and returning customers. Some of our people approach it pretty exclusively from an in-person vantage point – starting when the customer enters the store and ends when they leave. Our mission involves being a partner to neighbors, customers & the community and we take this seriously throughout whole customer life cycle. We try to make it seamless between digital and in-person experiences.
Our model is digital and entirely B2B. We use social media with sponsored ads on LinkedIn and organic content on Twitter. We have tried some retargeting through Facebook, but it hasn’t been very successful. These channels are used to introduce new products and to create awareness about lower costs or increased efficiencies. Ultimately we want our customers to engage with a person as part of the experience and our social channels are just one part of the process to get them to the point of contact.
For our retail stores we take care of employees and teach them how to care for customers. Metrics should involve ratings from customers regarding their in-store experience. Whatever touch point you’re focusing on at any given point, you should adopt a holistic posture in terms of the type of experience the customer has across all touch points with the organization.
It was interesting that the word ‘holistic’ was used by multiple people throughout the conversation, however there was an underlying current which indicated that silos within organizations were the biggest obstacle in creating and executing a cohesive CX strategy. Salesforce conducted a survey of over 6,000 consumers and found that 75% of them expect consistent experiences across multiple channels (web, mobile, in-person, social), with 73% likely to switch brands if they don’t get it. Customer loyalty — and attrition — is determined by every experience. It would seem logical then that companies would invest in dedicated CX resources, however according to Temkin Group assessment, CX Management remains immature with only 9% of organizations indicating that they have clear CX governance in place with the organization starting to redesign cross functional processes.
Recognizing that in the marketing ecosystem there seems to be a strong focus on customer acquisition, I called on Rod Putney to draw on his experiences in customer lifecycle marketing at AT&T. He asked a thought provoking question – “Are your customers treated better before or after becoming a customer?” This certainly gave the room of marketers pause, with reflections back to the problem of siloed organizations.
Rod went on to share some questions that he used to inspire the teams at AT&T to align on Customer Experience:
- How do you define your best customers?
- For regular communication to customers, are you using your acquisition messaging and vehicles, or are you changing up the messaging to be personalized and relevant to the products or services of your customer?
- How are you incorporating data from surveys, purchase/POS data, service usage, etc. to inform and adjust marketing activities and messaging? Is this information shared across groups so that teams are dipping into the same “truth”?
He explained that alignment between internal teams is critical in ensuring a consistent customer experience. One simple example is how the AT&T team discovered that they were using a variety of shipping related terms – express, expedited, 2-day – and through a journey mapping exercise they were able to align on one term and use it across channels to alleviate confusion and set customer expectations.
Journey mapping is a foundational practice that creates a visual representation of all of the touch points and interactions a customer has with your brand. Done right, it can transform the customer experience and even have a positive impact on company culture.
The Connection Between Culture & Customer experience
One of the member’s definition of CX was “You take care of employees, and they take care of customers. It’s all about making customers want to come back based on how we make them feel.” There is a definite connection between a company’s culture and customer experience. Companies such as Zappos, Southwest Airlines and USAA all have celebrated cultures and these brands tend to also be associated with providing great customer experiences. On the other hand Comcast and Uber have suffered from the negative impact their culture has had on how their customers perceive their interactions with these brands.
Another meeting participant shared how his HR department actively encouraged interviewees to leave feedback about their interview experience on Glassdoor. The company then made changes to their interview process based on these reviews, like including more time between loop interviews, and scheduling a lunch period so that the person being interviewed could re-charge and prepare for the afternoon. The correlation was the belief that the experience with the brand was seamless and that by listening to the needs of prospective employees they could attract and retain great talent who would likely provide great service.
In our discussion only one participant shared that she was in the process of creating a internal CX team, starting with one full time person with hopes of scaling to two people within the year. She indicated that due to the traditional model of her organization these CX roles would be positioned as marketing roles and slowly transitioned to client management roles, stating that this was a safer approach for internal adoption.
Although evidence and research supports the ROI of fully integrated CX strategies, it can be a slow process to get senior leaders on board. One approach for fostering CX conversations and adoption in your organization is to create a Customer Center of Excellence and a Customer Advisory Board. These two groups create a hub from which you can learn and begin building your CX strategy from the inside out.
Building the Business Case for CX Transformation
Making the shift to becoming an experience-led business sounds like a no-brainer, but unfortunately many CX advocates struggle to get executive buy-in because they do not build a strong business case for CX transformation. The Forrester report The ROI of CX Transformation (subscription or purchase required) shows CX transformation leaders how to build an ROI model that can power a business case, including where to look for benefits, how to quantify them, and how to estimate CX transformation costs. It also provides this one-sentence business case that follows a time-tested formula for winning support:
We intend to transform our customer experience to increase customer-generated revenue while reducing customer-related expense, which will bring $X of incremental benefit, at a cost of $Y, for an ROI of Z%.
The report also demonstrates the quantifiable benefits of CX transformation, such as survey analysis that showed that from 2011 to 2015, a group of CX leaders’ revenue outgrew the revenue from a group of their CX laggard competitors by more than 5 to 1.
For more excellent CX content, research and training I recommend checking out the Customer Experience section of Forrester’s website.
Customer experience should be a seamless and thoughtful way of interacting with a brand. From the feedback I received while leading the Marketing Executive Roundtable discussion, to my own work as an entrepreneur and marketing leader, I believe that with intention and commitment this can be achieved. It’s time to stop the lip service and make a true commitment to placing customers at the center of how and why you operate.