The Path to Customer Maturity Starts With 4 Phases

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Customer Strategy
Customer Experience
The path to customer maturity often seems more like a long and winding road with many stops and starts, detours, and bypasses. The laundry list of things that can go wrong in designing, implementing, and managing the processes and strategies that comprise the successful execution of the customer experience is endless.

The path to customer maturity often seems more like a long and winding road with many stops and starts, detours, and bypasses.

The laundry list of things that can go wrong in designing, implementing, and managing the processes and strategies that comprise the successful execution of the customer experience is endless.

Despite the enormous complexities in managing all aspects of the customer experience, companies' intentions are in the right place. A recent Forrester study reveals that companies' ambitions are actually grand: Forty-seven percent of executives aim to use customer experience as a competitive differentiator in their industry. But their efforts are weak: Only 53 percent measure customer experience quality on a consistent basis, leaving almost half with no way to tell if they're succeeding or failing. Fewer than a third track everything the firm is doing to improve experience quality, putting two-thirds at risk of wasting money by duplicating efforts -- while creating inconsistency. And only 15 percent consistently follow a design process. That means that 85 percent of firms have no systematic approach to determine what a differentiated customer experience even looks like.

From this research, Forrester concluded that customer experience leaders achieve customer maturity when they follow a four-phase path: Repair, Elevate, Optimize, and Differentiate. Last week at Forrester's Forum for Customer Experience Professionals in New York City, Principle Analyst Megan Burns discussed the requirements necessary to advance each phase.

1. Repair: Before they set out to create experiences that delight customers, firms should first fix the experiences that pain customers. By doing that, customer experience leaders begin to change the way their businesses operate. In these initial steps, they must identify problematic customer experiences, prioritize the fixes, coordinate implementation, and measure results.

Barclaycard's US division, for example, set out to repair its customer experience when the firm started analyzing every customer complaint, which it defined as "any customer expression of dissatisfaction regardless of channel, business line, or contact center." Barclaycard US then began holding a monthly meeting called the "Customer Accountability Forum" where the firm's top brass prioritize the customer agenda. Then executives use their monthly forum to work through any roadblocks that may impede existing projects. Barclaycard US now knows that its complaint monitoring system has -- to date --produced a 50 percent drop in complaint volume and a 28 percent decrease in customer attrition.

2. Elevate: In this phase, Burns says to share customer insights routinely, measure thoughtfully, and use the metrics to reward. Most importantly, take best practices and made them standard.

For example, Edward Jones talks to its financial advisors who've earned the highest scores--a process called a "bright spot analysis." They took that and codified it into the ideal Edward Jones experience. Edward Jones then invites the employees with the highest scores to its annual conference. This process has helped to elevate Edward Jones' customer experience score.

3. Optimize: Phases 1 and 2 reduce or eliminate bad experiences and make it far less likely that companies will introduce new problems. Those efforts alone can take the customer experience from poor to OK and help keep it there. But to take customer experience from OK to good, companies need to develop sophisticated customer experience toolkits. That's why, in phase 3, customer experience leaders should: model the relationship between customer experience and business results, build strong experience design practices, and sharpen employees' customer-experience-related skills.

4. Differentiate: Burns said that organizations that succeed at differentiating their customer experience do so because they're unwilling to think differently. This requires companies to deploy advanced research techniques to systematically mine for new types of insights, a process that helps people step back and see problems in an even broader context. It also requires the development of a business architecture that's based on customer journeys instead of internal processes.

According to Burns, Suntrust, State Farm, and USAA have the ability to think differently, which keeps them out in front of competitors. For example, USAA has identified approximately 100 key experiences associated with customer journeys like buying a car or preparing to deploy abroad, all of which have hold owners and cross-functional teams accountable for underlying processes. This approach helps the firm to see opportunities with a more customer-centric focus.

As USAA, Edward Jones, and Barclaycard reveal, the path to customer maturity is a journey worth taking. Success is realized from constant communication and a continuous and focused view of the customer and employee experience from the outside in and through an analytical lens.

In preparing for the journey, Burn's advice is to explain the path. "You're going to need a lot of people to come with you on the journey. You've got to help them understand that we have to crawl before we run," she said.

Next, locate yourself on the map. "It's important to secure current position. Get used to the altitude and environment," she said.

Last, secure your position. "Give the organization tools like checklists and routines before you layer in the next piece of puzzle," Burns said. "They're looking to you to figure out how to get over these rough patches and climb the steepest part of the terrain."

What phase are you in on the path to customer maturity? We invite you to share both your achievements and struggles.

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