Today’s brands are increasingly customer-centric, meaning the customer experience is everything. It’s becoming more difficult to create a standout customer experience, as digital tools and data analytics make it possible to laser-target specific customers with the right messaging, at the right time, in the right medium.
In other words, creating an exceptional customer experience requires a carefully thought-out and executed strategy; it’s not simply a matter of treating your customers well, although that’s certainly a big part of it. But if you’re just getting started developing a customer experience strategy, you might be wondering where to begin, or more importantly, which steps are the most crucial in developing an effective CX strategy.
To help you ensure that you’re covering all the right bases, we reached out to a panel of customer experience pros and business leaders and asked them to answer this question:
“What’s the single most important first step in developing a customer experience strategy?”
Meet Our Panel of CX Pros and Business Leaders:
Find out what our experts say are the most essential steps in developing a customer experience strategy by reading their responses below.
John Liston is the Manager of Strategy and Operations at All Set, a home services start-up.
“The single most important step in defining a customer experience strategy is…”
Understanding up-front how real customers ACTUALLY use your product. One of the easiest mistakes to make when defining your customer experience is to assume that you understand how an average customer uses your product.
Instead you should be assuming that focus group participants and your power users are using your product differently from the average consumers that tend to make up the majority of your customer base. Gaining insights from these customers can be more difficult but by examining the data you have on their behavior and reaching out to some of them, you can shape a much more accurate understanding of your product’s true customer journey. Once this journey is defined, your customer experience team can tailor the customer experience strategy to directly address the pain points the majority of your customers actually experience.
Jessica Thiele is the Marketing Lead for VL OMNI, an integration platform trusted by over 200 businesses for real-time accurate customer order data, shipment details, and prices.
“Start from the data first…”
If you’re approaching your customer experience strategy from the customer, downward, you’ve already have your strategy inverted by placing value on the end-point (the customer) rather than putting it on the value the customer has to your business. By approaching the problem of the customer and engendering the right experience across all your channels, you need to start by assigning value to the customer and their data from your business’ perspective first. Your second most important step is then to look at where each segment of your customer data lives, and where each parcel of your customer data should ideally be integrated to. Improving or mastering automated data flow will not only improve your visibility on your customer base, but it will also enable access to complex insights through integrating this data across all relevant applications.
These two (simplified) steps are integral for creating the most complete image of your customer, which can then flow directly into a constantly improving customer experience – with emphasis on ‘constantly’, as the customer experience is never static but is rather constantly evolving. Setting your business up to win from the bottom, up – in other words, from what’s important to your business and its processes, first – is key to long-term growth and success.
Ross Smith is the Chief Architect for PITSS America. As an architect, Ross ensures that projects are appropriately scoped, planned, and documented.
“Customer development is the starting point that will give you the best results, hands down…”
Take a page from lean startup culture and really get to know why, in context, your customers buy your solutions. Form follows function and it’s too easy to assume you already know what makes you a hit with your buyers. Question that assumption; build a value assessment from research and facts, and your next design brainstorms will focus on improving it. When you understand what your customer is looking for, you’ll be right on the money developing a customer experience that reflect their needs and answers their problems.Surveys are one tool to understanding your customers, but a lot of companies get closer through ethnographic studies. Observe users in context through in-depth interviews and onsite experience measurements. Customer development usually takes a long-term, committed effort to stop seeing buyers as demographics and instead seem them as people with problems and opportunities.
Kenneth Burke is the marketing director for Text Request, owner of Kenneth Burke Media, and loves being the first to recommend a good book.
“The single most important first step is to…”
Learn your customers.
You need to know who your ideal customers actually are (or for whom you’re the ideal solution), and you need to know what their buying journey look likes.
What are your target customers on the lookout for? What questions do they type into Google? When they get to a website, what are they looking for? What steps do they go through during the buying process?
Once you truly understand who your customers are and what they want (or need), then you can start crafting a customer experience that will help you convert your targets and stand out from the competition.
Sue Duris is the Director of Marketing and Customer Experience at M4 Communications, a Palo Alto, CA-based customer experience consulting firm that works with global SaaS startups and telecommunications companies to analyze and design customer experience frameworks through focusing on voice of the customer, journey mapping, and retention, loyalty and advocacy program development.
“The single most important best practice in developing a customer experience strategy is…”
Buy-in by the CEO. It is the CEO who must champion the effort. They must drive the customer experience vision and ensure that leadership down to the front lines is rowing in the same direction – understanding customer experience, what each employee’s role and responsibilities are in that vision, and the impact each has in developing and executing a sound CX strategy.
There are companies who decide they want customer experience so what happens is that they typically task Marketing with developing the strategy and executing on it. The problem is that CX gets siloed because CX happens across the organization, not in one group. The result is that customers get mixed messages and that hurts their overall experience.Thus, CX stalls and customer and company suffer.
Alan Zucker has over 25-years of experience working in Fortune 100 companies leading projects and large organizations. In 2016, he founded Project Management Essentials to provide training and advisory services.
“This may seem obvious, but the first step in developing a customer experience strategy is…”
Understanding your customer(s). Many of us think we know what our customers want. But, we don’t go through the effort of asking them or soliciting their input.
There are many methods that can be employed to understand our customers’ wants and needs. There are traditional methods such as gathering metrics and data about your customers, conducting focus groups, or if you are in a B2B environment meeting with your customers. New practices include customer journey mapping, value stream mapping, and empathy maps.
All of these techniques have their pros and cons. But the important thing is that you understand what is valuable to your customer without assuming that you know.
Recently, I supported a client in financial services that was updating its B2B system interfaces. The client had assumed that they knew what was important to their customers. But, after a few customer site visits, they learned that they had missed the mark. Fortunately, this revelation came during the exploratory phase and refocusing the project was easy.
Renee Clare-Kovacs is the Content Strategy Manager at Sellr. She has turned a passion for writing into a career in content and strategy. In the decade since she began writing professionally, algorithms have shaped how she writes. She is currently working towards her Master’s degree in Digital Content Strategy at the University of Kansas and is a strong supporter of the Oxford comma.
“The first step to creating a successful customer experience strategy is to…”
Consider your audience.
This dictates everything. Millennials will be able to navigate easily through a site, interactive kiosks, or other engagement-based content server. Older customers are not digital natives. Their customer journey will need to include more direction through the process to ensure users get to where they need to be in order to avoid frustration and, ultimately, negative brand association.
Language is also part of the audience consideration. Brands should have a defined brand voice for the customer experience they are creating and multiple voices if they are targeting a variety of demographics. The fact that the experience strategy is B2B does not mean that the content of the CX should be stuffy and business-like. Conversely, if you are brand who’s brand voice is more youthful but the experience you’re designing needs to appeal to an older demographic, you’ll need to find a way to walk the line between authenticity and irrelevance to draw the customer in to the world of your brand without turning them off by using graphics and language that are dismissed at low-brow, lofty, or simply disconnected to the industry (which may be your hallmark so how do you convey that?).
Content strategy needs to be considered alongside user experience if the end goal is to have a successful customer experience. Establishing the audience first will set the course for every iteration of the campaign. Millennials can reasonably be expected to connect with “hip” language and fewer touch points to reach the key performance indicator (KPI), non-native digital users may need more screens and steps to reach KPIs, and the content you use throughout the experience has to engage whatever audience you are speaking to regardless of touch points and KPIs.
Know your audience. It’s the heart of a successful experience.
Mike Fisher is a managing partner of a digital agency based in Atlanta called FishJoy. They specialize in working with small businesses to build websites, mobile apps, and other innovative digital experiences.
“The single most important first step in developing a customer experience strategy is…”
To understand the goals, objectives, persona, habits, and nuances of the ideal customer. This is something we usually do in our discovery phase of working with a client when we do a deep dive into what exactly we’re trying to accomplish and for whom. This strategy is the most important step because once you understand who you’re building a product for, you can then decide what type of product is best, how to design it, what has worked in the past, and how you can creatively add your unique touch to the solution in mind.
Max Schleicher is a digital marketer working in Chicago for ReviewTrackers.
“The single most important thing is to…”
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes.
But how do you do that? Customer experience surveys reveal what your customers are willing to tell you. But that’s not the only data you should be looking for. Social listening and online reviews can give you data about what your customers would say to their peers about your experience. One of our clients, a popular Chicago-based deep dish pizza joint, was able to identify a problem in their CX by tracking their online reviews. Customers were complaining that the sausage pizza didn’t have enough sausage, which was especially annoying because deep dish pizzas take almost an hour to make. By monitoring what customers were writing about its restaurant, the business saw what it was like to sit in a booth in at its restaurant – and make changes to keep its customers happy.
Tyler Riddell is the Director of Marketing for eSUB Construction Software, a Microsoft partner. They have published thought leadership in IECI, Startups-List, ConstructionExec, and the INTEX Commercial Construction Expo, and more.
“The first step in a customer experience strategy is…”
Our company, eSub, provides cloud-based solutions for project management in the construction field. We take our customer service experience very seriously and work hard to create the right system for our clients. I think the first step to revamping a customer service transformation is to try to see the experience through the customers eyes. Then decide where your current system fails and where it exceeds industry standards. You can then put together a road map of the desired expectations and how to proceed getting to that point.
Rob is a freelance small business communications consultant based in Winnipeg who hates business-speak and wants to see it eradicated from all business communications on- and offline.
“Before you even begin crafting a customer experience strategy…”
You have to know who this strategy is aimed at. If you are trying to capture the teen market and you focus your strategy to appeal to middle aged or older adults, you’re going to be missing your target completely. Therefore, the first step is to find your target audience and create a few fictional personas who best represent some average people in this group.
Once you know who you’re talking to, you can begin formulating your customer experience strategy around those personas.
Reagan Toal is the Marketing Manager at Belmont, N.C.-based Federal Brace, a design and manufacturing company within the hardware and hard-surfaces support industries. She is a Tar Heel born and bred. Reagan’s command of multiple languages assist in both her passion for travel and in her chosen marketing occupation.
“The first step we always take when developing a customer experience strategy is…”
Determining what is important to the customer. What does your consumer base want to learn? What do they need your business to provide them in any given interaction? Is it pricing, instructions, trends, tips, or something else? Essentially: what is your clientele’s interest in your company?
This is the first step to creating content that is not only informative and engaging, but will keep customers coming back. We’ve built ourselves up as a resource within the kitchen and bath industry for information and ideas in supports and braces. Our aim, in every interaction, is to fulfill this basic need and keep our level of content uniformly great. Every interaction, whether an industry resource or a phone call, is professional and knowledgeable.
Kevin Sides is the CMO at ShipMonk.
“The customer experience is only as strong as your brand…”
It’s the feeling your customers get when they encounter your brand. You can have the nicest designed logo in the world, but if you don’t evoke an emotion in your customers, then your brand is falling short.
Your brand is the way your employees dress, answer the phone and treat each other and customers. Your brand is what turns your product into a company to believe (and invest) in.
With that said, the single most important step in develop a customer experience is to identify the brand values that you are trying to get across to your customers.
A third-generation entrepreneur, John Kinskey founded AccessDirect in his basement 20 years ago and now has a national client base in a competitive industry. Since 1997, AccessDirect has been providing affordable Virtual PBX phone systems from our offices in Kansas City to businesses of all sizes across the country.
“Don’t forget the basics…”
Customer experience starts with a caller being able to interact with well-trained, personable front-line customer service representatives. Call it experience, call it service, call it whatever you want, but if you have poorly trained staff reading from canned responses your customers will pick up on that right away.
Bryan Clayton is the CEO of GreenPal, which is best described as Uber for Lawn Care.
“When developing your customer experience strategy…”
The single most important first step is to dog food your product.
Allow me to explain…
The term ‘dog fooding your product’ refers to actually using your product in the same context and scenarios as your customer would.
This sounds like a pretty minimal basic thing however most marketing teams and product managers are not actual customers of the product or service that they are selling.
For example: if you are trying to improve the customer experience of your restaurant, you need to eat at the restaurant regularly incognito.
Until you actually experience firsthand what your customer experiences, you’ll be making guesses as a assumptions on how to develop your customer experience strategy.
Dog fooding your product is an essential first step.
Gene Caballero is the Co-Founder of GreenPal, which has been described as Uber for lawn care.
“Feedback is the most important part of developing a customer experience strategy…”
Whether it’s usability tests or a simple questionnaire, getting this data from your customers will help guide you to what your customers want – not want you think they want.
Yohan Varella is the Head of Marketing of SlickPie, a tech startup company that provides software used by small businesses in 130 countries worldwide.
“The key for any business strategy is to understand your customers’ wants and needs…”
Every experience is not based just in providing one asset; it needs to have a holistic approach to exceed expectations. Thankfully, this is an easier task to accomplish these days thanks to technology, most specifically, thanks to the power of data. This enables your business to see an x-ray of the customers’ entire lifecycle, which means it’s only up to you to deliver an outstanding experience or not. It’s not a matter of not being able to get information anymore; it’s about choosing to do something about it. We live in a data-driven world, and the business world is no different. ‘In God we trust. All others must bring data.’
Augustin Kennady is the Media Relations Director for ShipMonk. He graduated from Columbia and has been working in eCommerce ever since, trying to help as many companies and people as he can.
“If you’re going to develop a customer experience strategy…”
You first have to think of how the customer’s condition when they arrive. If you are selling lemonade, for instance, you would figure that your customers will arrive thirsty, and you must tailor your experience towards resolving that initial condition. Own a fashion shop? Your customers will need to go from drab to stylish through your experience channel. On our end, we work in logistics and fulfillment with eCommerce customers, so our customers (eCommerce business owners) arrive completely stressed. As such, we have tailored everything about our ShipMonk experience towards helping the customers stress less. Before you think of a plan and try to fix problems that may or may not even exist, imagine the state of your customers before they have what you’re offering. It’s hard to go wrong with a customer-centric approach like this.
Grant van der Harst
Grant van der Harst is the Managing Director of Anglo Liners , a road marking services company.
“The most important initial step for creating a customer experience strategy is…”
To identify your core customers. This process will differ from business to business, as some are B2C, some B2B and some a combination of both; this will naturally mean that different customers have different needs. If your company is going to be able to provide a great customer experience for all your consumers, it will need to get to grips with the various situations and wants your customers have.
A great method of implementing an effective customer experience strategy is to create some imaginary personas of your various core customers. For example, if you are a fashion brand, create your target market; they could be a woman named Sarah, aged between 35-50 and finds it easy to follow interactive web pages. On the other hand, if you are a B2B company and your key customer is a 55-year-old named Bob, he may need simpler and more straight-forward webpages.
Angela Megasko is CEO and President of Market Viewpoint, LLC a market research firm specializing in mystery shopping. As the “Jane Bond” of the mystery shopping world, Angela helps clients see their business through their customers eyes.
“The very first step in developing a customer experience strategy is to answer the question…”
Who is your customer?
To effectively sell your product or your service, you must intimately know and understand the person who will use your product or service.
Yes, the person.
Embrace the cultural and generational differences, and similarities, of the individuals who will purchase from you. Developing your CX strategy focused on a person, not a ‘market’ will create customer experiences to make each person feel valued and understood.
Thomas Wooldridge is business consultant who focuses on Social Media and Web Development.
“The first important thing in developing a superior customer experience strategy is…”
Hiring the right people.
Regardless of their roles, the employee is the first person your customer will interact with. The worker will need to
understand the company’s vision and take pride in providing the services to the customers. Second important thing is that management empowers the employee to take ownership of the issue and do all they can. They should be the customer’s advocate and ensure them they are on their side to resolve any issues. For example, I like how Zappo’s and Ritz Carlton empowers their customer facing employees to solve problems on their own. They are encouraged to give away free bonuses or upgrades without managements approval. The WORST thing workers can do is say ,”It’s not my problem,” and transfer them to someone else.
Bruce Claver is an experienced operations trainer with a passion for improving business operations and processes by training both management and non-management teams in how to provide the highest standards of performance in customer service and experience.
“The most important first step in developing a customer experience strategy is…”
To define what you want your customers to experience and develop a company culture that is laser focused around that culture to meet the needs of the client at every interaction. Everything else, including standard operating procedures, customer support, accounts payable, R&D, etc., will then be created around this philosophy. So when a new process or procedure is developed, the first question the company asks itself is, How will this impact our clients.
The philosophy must, without exception, start with the CEO carrying this flag and work its way down the chain of command. For an example of what happens when the CEO does not carry the flag, one need to look no further
than the recent United Airlines disaster. Their tag line is Fly the Friendly Skies. Their website states:
“We are committed to providing a level of service to our customers that makes us a leader in the airline industry. We understand that to do this we need to have a product we are proud of and employees who like coming to work every day. Our goal is to make every flight a positive experience for our customers.”
Theses are only words on paper, and as we all know, actions speak louder than words. Bottom line: If the CEO is not carrying the flag around every day, leading by example, it will be a crucial mistake to expect his employees to do the same.
Tom Beckman is an Executive Coach and CEO of 28 Power Communications. A cornerstone of 28 Power Communications is the company’s executive message development and media coaching program which helps create lasting and impactful messages for companies around the globe. Tom spent 15 years with multi-national corporations leading global communications teams, including 11 years with several GE businesses.
“The single most important first step in customer experience strategy is…”
The customer experience is a collective experience…there is no single owner, so it’s important to clearly identify the important stakeholders within the company. As you build a consistent experience with your brand…you need all stakeholders aligned.
Robert Fisher is the VP Creative Director for Delphic Digital. With an eagle eye for detail and 20 years worth of industry knowledge, Robert creates brand experiences that peoplenotice. His balance of creativity, innovation, and efficiency has made him a top player for many major companies, including Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Gucci, Prada, Subaru, Verizon, Bank of America, and Bristol-Myers Squibb.
“In developing a customer experience strategy…”
The single most important step is understanding your audience (ask yourself, who are they and what are their needs?). Defining an audience will help you understand how to properly align customer needs and desires with your business goals. Bypassing this step is a critical mistake that’s bound to lead to missed goals and avoidable project mistakes. Take the time to understand your audience through research and user testing. From there, set a vision for what you’re trying to create and develop a roadmap that outlines the steps to achieve it.
Dr. Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker on innovative service and customer loyalty. He’s also authored several best-selling books, with his newest book being Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service that Sparkles.
“The most important first step in developing a customer experience strategy is…”
To learn what drives the loyalty of your target market and craft the experience strategy around that. Loyalty drivers are not the same as what customers tell you is “most important.” It is the feature or features that highly correlate with customer behavior demonstrating they are loyal (not just satisfied). For example, if you were starting an airline and asked prospective customers what was the most important feature of airline service, they would tell you safety.
If you looked at the reasons airline customers selected one airline over another, safety would not be in the top ten features! Safety is necessary but it is a table stake; a given and not a differentiator. And, satisfaction tells you zero.
Focus on loyalty—what makes customers buy more, trust more, forgive more, advocate more, etc. Retention is not the gauge; elevated positive behavior is. Satisfaction is not a good evaluation of any service experience. Seventy five percent of customers who leave an organization to go with a competitor say they were satisfied or completely satisfied with the one they abandoned.
Consider the question: “How was your honeymoon?” The answer: “I was completely satisfied” would not give you confidence it was an great experience!
Once you know the loyalty drivers, consider the SWOT of the organization (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) to identify features that can be a competitive differentiator. It needs to be something that sets the organization apart; that nurtures employee pride, and fits leadership’s vision for the future.
Jack, 25, is Founder & CEO of Gnatta, a market leading customer technology platform and FM Outsource, a digital customer service outsourcing solution. He founded his first business whilst at university in 2012 and led the team remotely until graduating in 2014 when became the fulltime CEO. Jack is a regular public speaker on customer service/experience, AI, and automation.
“Developing a customer experience strategy is easier than people think…”
But requires a fundamental change in the way you view your customers. This is the first step, the key to the jigsaw, and can be easily summed up:
“Instead of seeing customer service as an overhead, see it as a cost of sale.”
So long as you view your customer service team (you know, those people that actually talk to your customer) as a necessary evil and place it first in line for any budget cuts, you’ll never develop a truly engaging customer experience strategy. We’ve all heard the stats about it being 7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than re-convert an existing one, and the horror stories of businesses who take their customers for granted, yet still business leaders continue to treat customer facing teams with disdain en masse.
Making this change is not easy. It requires a cross-department effort and acknowledgement that the days of recovering budget through slashing customer service costs are over. However, once you’ve decided as a business to view the customer journey both pre- and post-sale as an integral part of your conversion journey you’ll reap rich rewards. If you don’t, then you risk being left behind by new customer orientated brands who will hoover up the market.
Anne Bruce is the VP of Digital Transformation for Meritus Media. has studied the effects of disruptive technologies on business and society and is has a proven track record leading customer experience initiatives for Fortune 500 clients in multiple industries including retail, healthcare, finance, energy, hi-tech manufacturing, technology, communications, aerospace and automotive.
“The most important rule in a CX transformation strategy, program and journey maps is do it from…”
The customer’s viewpoint!
That may sound simplistic, but many companies create their strategy and programs based on internal stakeholder viewpoints of what customers need and want. This assumptive approach, based on what we think is needed and wanted and the steps we think customers go through to achieve some task with our organization, leaves out the customer perspective. Customers are best equipped to tell us their needs and wants and their journeys.
We also need to make sure we capture what the customer is thinking and feeling, and he is the only one that can tell us that. What he’s thinking and feeling are important to identifying make or break points on the journey. The customer journey map is a catalyst for your CX transformation strategy- and identifying these points is critical to aligning your organization around the aspirations that will leap frog you ahead of your competition.
With the customer at the center of your strategy. Then the whole organization – from your Board to your customer facing teams, as well as the innovation of your products, services, business and operating model, will align to deliver on customer needs and wants. Organizational changes, retraining and tooling will align to the business outcomes and engage your customers.