Designing the Customer Experience, From the Inside Out

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
Customer experience leaders have learned to look at the customer experience from the "inside out" and the "outside in" simultaneously.

Few companies have yet to embark upon programs to radically improve their customers' experiences. However, the vast majority of these programs result in failure, with the customer experience remaining fragmented, inconsistent, and frustrating. The Nunwood Customer Experience 100 rankings illustrates why.

Most companies now realize that when designing effective customer processes they have to look at the organization from the customer's perspective and design the process from the outside in. However, the companies that excel in delivering experiences that promote recommendation and drive loyalty are those that have realized that the customer experience, the employee experience, and their organizational culture are inextricably linked. They have learned to look "inside out" and "outside in" simultaneously. Their approach is systemic and iterative. As Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh puts it: "If you are going to put the customer first, you have to put the employee even more first."

No magic bullet cures

Companies that deliver a sub-optimal customer experience look for magic bullets-a nearly effortless, low-cost fix that will transform the experience. The managers of these companies approach the concept of the customer experience naively, failing to recognize that their organization is "hardwired" to continue to deliver the current experience based on its history, values, beliefs, and rules. It is analogous to building a tower on sand. No wonder their efforts result in failure.

USAA, Amazon, Southwest Airlines, Apple, and Zappos top the recent Nunwood Customer Experience 100 rankings for the quality of their customer experiences. It is no coincidence that the CEOs of each of these companies have publicly stated that in order to put the customer first they started by putting the employee and organizational culture first.

Using the extensive findings of our study, we analyzed the practices of these companies and codified the best practice approach into the following steps:

Look inside out with a knowledge audit

The knowledge audit addresses key questions: What do we know about our culture and how it impacts customers, and what do we know about our customer that informs our understanding of the experience we should be delivering?

The experiences customers have with organizations are the result of complex corporate behaviors, the deeply engrained beliefs, values, measures, management processes, and written and unwritten rules that shape the employees environment and through it the experience of the customer.

Excellent organizations approach culture systematically: First, identify internal inconsistencies to delivering an outstanding experience, misaligned processes, siloed organizational structures, and conflicting KPIs and incentives. Second, identify the unwritten rules that actually drive organizational behavior.

Unwritten rules are unique to each organization, but because they operate below the surface, they are rarely discussed or confronte,d and can have a dramatic impact on the customer. These unspoken "rules," such as "always keep your boss happy, be seen to excel, always meet your KPIs, hit your targets at any cost", all tend to drive behaviors that are often anti-customer.

Identifying the cultural and employee experience attributes that impact the customer experience is rare yet it is vital to become a top performer.

Before commissioning expensive research, answer the question: What do we already know about the customer? Most organizations know considerably more about their customers than they think they do. The problem is that the knowledge is usually fragmented across departments, people, market research reports, and procedural manuals. Creating a single repository of all things related to the customer experience is a vital step.

Look outside in by understanding the customer

When designing customer processes most organizations start from the perspective of, how can we engineer this process so we can sell more? Often the internal view of the customer journey is based on some form of AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Decision, Action) scenario. Consequently, the process tends to be designed, logically but incorrectly, from an inside-out perspective.

Companies that excel at customer experience ask a different question: How do we design a process that enable customers to buy more?

These companies start by removing obstacles to repurchase, getting the basics right, and ensuring that they're easy to deal with. Amazon's one-click ordering, USAA's smartphone application for photographing and submitting checks, and Apple's Genius Bar illustrate how these excellent companies use customer-focused innovation to smooth their customers' path.

For these companies outside-in thinking is a core competency. Jeff Bezos, of Amazon, sums it up: "There are two ways to extend a business. Take inventory of what you are good at and extend out from your skills. Or determine what your customers need and work backwards, even if it means learning new skills. Kindle is an example of working backward."

Needs and expectations

Few companies genuinely understand what their customers expect of them and are, therefore, unable to tailor the experience accordingly. The customer who goes to a hardware store for materials to fix a burst pipe might be the same individual, not the same customer, as the one who returns two weeks later to buy garden furniture. The needs and expectations created by the customer's circumstances are very different.

The excellent companies not only understand this but also go one step further by making their employees walk in their customer's shoes-literally, in the case of USAA. New employees are encouraged to put themselves in the customer's position to really feel what it is like to be a soldier in Afghanistan trying to wire money home to sick relative. Only by understanding the customer in this deep and meaningful way can you demonstrate empathy. All of the emotional intelligence training in the world is no substitute for really experiencing your customers' pain.

USAA, Amazon, Southwest Airlines all have programs in which employees spend time in the trenches dealing with the intractable problems their customers experience. It is this approach to sensitizing their people to what it is really like to be a customer that stands them apart.

The customer journey

Companies are investing heavily in understanding how customers transition through their processes. This is an important first step. Unfortunately, however, companies often miss the equally vital second step, which is how do we bring our customer promise to life in the experiences we create?

For a master class in how to do this consistently and powerfully look no further than Subway or Krispy Kreme, where the experience is as much about theater as it is about subs or donuts.

As Scott Livengood, former CEO of Krispy Kreme, put it: "We view the production experience of the Krispy Kreme store as the defining element of the brand."

In most companies the brand and experience delivery report through different silos. Why? Increasingly they are one and the same. Tony Hsieh of Zappos describes it thus: "The Apple iPod stands for a courageous, inventive, rebellious approach to life that makes every iPod user proud and gives a badge of identity," the consumer is "pulling that brand into their own world and entering the world of that brand," and they do that through their product and service interactions, their experiences.

The experience

For companies in the Nunwood Customer Experience 100 customer service isn't a department, it is the whole company, in which every individual knows how they contribute to the customer experience. People, brand, and experience are integrated to provide a consistent output: satisfied customers enjoying experiences that are significantly better than those provided by competitors.

What these companies have discovered is that to create something unique and compelling in the marketplace you need to create something unique and compelling in the workplace. You need to think inside out and outside in.

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About the Author: David Conway
is Chief Strategy Officer of Nunwood