How to build a customer experience strategy
Organizations are getting intentional about ensuring that decisions are customer-centered. Some are even installing items in their offices to signify their customer’s presence. For example, an empty chair in a boardroom can remind executives and leaders of the customer’s seat at the table. While this is a grand symbolic gesture, an actionable customer experience strategy that delivers on the practical business objectives and aspirational customer experience vision should follow.
What is customer experience?
Customer experience, shortened to CX, is how a person feels about their experience with your organization. While they might not be a traditional customer—who purchases a consumer product—they might interact with your brand, products, or services in some form. Every touchpoint makes up your customer experience.
What is a good customer experience? The person who determines the success of a company’s customer experience is always the customer. While businesses can have an opinion on the experience they offer, the customer who experiences it determines its success whether they openly share their perspective or not.
While it sounds simple, the logistics of gauging your customer experience is not straightforward. It’s one of the more challenging aspects of running an organization. It can be especially tricky for enterprises that lack direct access to their customers, users, or frontline employees.
In reality, many organizations have no way of experiencing what it’s like to be their customer digitally, in person, or through the various combinations that reflect the real customer journey.
Worst still, some organizations truly believe they already provide an excellent customer experience and fail to verify it.
Now that we’ve established what customer experience is, let’s talk about why you need a strategy for it.
Related reading: What’s the difference between user experience and customer experience?
What is customer experience strategy?
According to Forrester, a customer experience strategy is a plan that guides the activities and resource allocation required to deliver intended experiences that meet or exceed customer expectations and align with the organization's goals.
It’s an actionable plan that allows your organization to deliver a competitive customer experience. The keyword is “actionable.”
The pitfall of many customer experience strategies is that they’re too high-level to be owned and acted on by business leaders. Your first and most significant goal in executing a customer experience strategy should be to put the customer at the center of decision-making.
If your strategy doesn’t accomplish this, you’re not likely to see meaningful results.
One effective way of accomplishing this is by giving everyone in your organization access to your customer, users, or target audience.
The most important thing you can do to improve your customer experience is expose individuals to the thoughts and actions of customers and users regularly.
In fact, customer exposure hours are the most significant predictor of success. That’s the number of hours individuals in your organization spend observing users or customers engaging with your website, products, apps, services, or in-store experience.
Research shows that teams who spend a minimum of two hours every six weeks observing the behaviors, perspectives, and feelings of customers see better results on their customer experience initiatives than those that don’t.
By putting the customer at the center of your decision-making and incorporating their feedback into everyday processes, your organization will align. However, this isn’t something that can be accomplished in one effort. It’s a muscle that has to be trained. As the organization gets more robust, it will get easier over time. Perfecting your process and making talking to customers a habit is where your customer experience strategy comes into play.
Related reading: Why B2B companies need a competitive customer experience
Why does customer experience strategy matter?
While the customer experience has always been necessary to organizations, it’s become a strategic differentiator in recent years. Customer experience can no longer be relegated to a support team or department. Instead, it’s a company-wide priority.
Here are recent customer experience stats:
65% of U.S. customers find a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than great advertising (PWC’s Future of CX Report, 2019).
75% of customers expect brands to know their purchase history, while 57% expect brands to know their service history and to be able to call upon that knowledge to contextualize and personalize interactions (Deloitte Digital Report, 2019).
A sophisticated, integrated approach to customer experience is the unifying thread for the companies that outpace their sectors (Adobe’s 2021 Digital Trends Report).
Ensuring that your entire organization is aligned on a good customer experience requires a strategy. Here’s how to start one.
Four steps for building a successful customer experience strategy
Now that you understand the importance of improving customer experience let’s create a strategy.
1. Get a clear picture of your customer and their needs
Meet your customers where they are before defining your organization’s priorities and how your customer experience strategy will fit in.
If you haven't already outlined your ideal customer profiles or user personas, this is where you should start. You can’t understand your audience until you’ve defined who they are.
Once defined, you can start understanding your personas, their problems, and how you fit in. For example, most organizations have multiple personas for whom they’re catering experiences. Understanding these audiences is key to measuring your customer experience.
Customer journey mapping
With a clear picture of who your customers are, you can start to measure how well you’re meeting their needs and expectations. This should help you determine the goals of your customer experience strategy and the broader customer-centric business objectives. For example, you can find out how customers engage with your website or app, what frustrations they experience when completing a task, and what resources they are looking for?
For example, Slava Kovalska, Sr. Product Designer of Growth at SafetyCulture, shares the importance of testing your customer experience. When her team was tasked with improving the onboarding experience, she discovered that it felt disjointed to customers. Her team also identified a gap. Customers wanted more self-service support options when just starting. Armed with this new information, Kovalska and her team built a centralized help center and streamlined their digital onboarding experience.
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Related reading: a step-by-step guide to empathy mapping
2. Create a robust and well-prioritized strategic roadmap
Now that you’ve defined your customers and users, mapped their journeys, and identified gaps in their experience, it’s time to lay down your strategic CX vision. Start by brainstorming where you want to go first, without restricting yourself with resource limitations. In a perfect world, what would your customer experience look like?
Start by outlining the people, processes, and technologies necessary to deliver your ideal experience. Next, lay out the initiatives your business will need to undertake to achieve these goals, and then choose a prioritization framework that works for you. Maybe it’s getting some quick wins under your belt or starting with the changes that will have the most significant impact.
3. Define each leader's responsibilities within the strategy
Now that you’ve got a strategic and well-prioritized approach laid out, it’s time to assign who will own what and how you will rally the rest of the organization.
While you don’t have to have a Chief Experience Officer or c-level owner of the customer experience to launch a successful strategy, leadership engagement will be key to a successful implementation and ongoing prioritization. In addition, getting others bought into the plan will keep your organization aligned on the importance of the customer.
Use these customer experience champions to inspire the entire organization around your strategy and keep teams oriented on the goals. Over time, it’s normal for teams to fall back into predictable workflows. It will be up to you and your champions to focus everyone back on the customer.
4. Set measurable business outcomes
Now that you’ve got your plan and your champions, it’s time to set measurable goals. Forrester recommends that the metrics used should cascade from the overarching organizational goals to ensure alignment and commitment. Consistency is critical when optimizing your customer experience. Avoid establishing goals that are too ambitious your first time around. Instead, start slow and steady to steer the ship in the right direction.
The key to a good customer experience strategy is consistency
There are no hard and fast rules for developing a customer experience strategy. Do what works best for your organization. The key is to align everyone with your customer's needs and do it consistently. Sure, a well thought out strategy is excellent, but it’s not license to get stuck in analysis paralysis. The most important part is to get started and to plan to get better over time. After all, your customers will appreciate the attention.
This Harvard Business Review report explores the role of empathy in delivering a better customer experience, why companies over-index on data rather than human connections, and recommendations on how business leaders bring customer empathy into decisions and impact the customer experience.