Because companies now offer nearly limitless product options in this world of highly educated consumers, delivering consistently superior customer experiences is the only differentiator left for creating loyal and engaged customers. Overall, thought leaders agree that providing optimal customer experiences requires the right tools and processes to continuously measure and refine engagement. However, the key element that seems to be missing lies in how to actually design the customer experience.
In recent years, companies have been delivering superior customer experiences. But consumer expectations for such improved experiences have also escalated, making brand failures even more disappointing than when expectations were lower, says Allegra Burnette, principal analyst at Forrester Research. As technology continues to change rapidly, she adds, it becomes even harder for companies to design great experiences that resonate with consumers. That's where simplification comes into the picture.
"Companies are pulling back from the default of trying to be all things to all people, and are focusing on developing a clear vision and designing great experiences for key customers instead, with the pared down approach of a mobile first mentality," Burnette says. "Which means they're focusing on building those experiences through cycles of research, ideation, testing, and iteration."
Despite this trend, however, brands still struggle to formulate and execute effective customer experience (CX) design, for many spend excessive amounts of energy identifying problems, and not nearly enough time deploying the right solutions, says Bruce Temkin, CCXP, customer experience transformist and managing partner at Temkin Group. They often assume that the first thing they come up with is the correct approach, leaving customers with half-solved issues even though, in many cases, the company is mere tweaks away from great options for its customers. Brands lose sight of what's best for the customer, often becoming consumed by the end result and disregarding the steps necessary to help them achieve their ultimate goals.
What steps should companies take on their journey to optimal CX design? Follow our outline to determine what elements are essential for creating the ideal experience for any given company:
1. Establish company goals
Companies must establish customer experience goals as part of their initial requirements definition stage, says Temkin. Brands should define goals and measurable metrics for all three elements of the customer experience: success, effort, and emotion. They must be very clear on what they're trying to help customers accomplish, how easy interactions should be for customers, and what feelings they're trying to elicit from customers throughout the experience. It's essential that such strategic thinking become part of the core process, as the accompanying metrics will force organizations to seek deeper customer empathy throughout the process. Each company's underlying goals will differ according to their desired outcome, but this core will lay the groundwork for an effective mindset in all future CX endeavors.
2. Explore customer sentiment
Customer data offers valuable insight into how CX design strategies resonate with the company's target audience. Therefore, as organizations assess their own goals, they must also consider customer sentiment if they wish to guide their strategies in the correct direction. What companies believe their customer base wants and what these consumers truly want are often two very different things. R "Ray" Wang, principal analyst and founder of Constellation Research, Inc., suggests that organizations define detailed customer personas by using design thinking to identify potential and existing opportunities. Design thinking, at its core, empowers actual designers to collaborate during the early stages of strategy development to create concepts that better meet consumers' needs and desires. Capturing more context will enable brands to then deliver richer relevant insights to drive more precise decisions.
Temkin also explains that companies tend to fixate on failures, mistakes, and negative customer feedback when analyzing sentiment. While this approach offers vast insight into improvement ideas, many don't spend enough time looking at the good aspects that build brand advocacy in the first place. By replicating what's working well with CX teams, however, companies can boost employee morale and energize them to focus even more on these positive efforts.
3. Clarify experiential inconsistencies
Wang notes that the prime customer experience gaps typically stem from inconsistencies across channels, failure to uphold brand promises, and the forced fit process approach to the customer journey. However, "choose your own adventure" experiences outrank forced fit funnels, meaning customers will go where they need to go. Therefore, as organizations attempt to navigate this omnichannel world, they must examine CX at every touchpoint to assess whether or not each interaction supports the brand's overall promise and goals. Authenticity, continuity, trust, and transparency are table stakes, Wang adds, but are hard to deliver. But, by remaining aware of these issues or discrepancies, brands can proactively curtail any future problems that may eventually arise.
4. Expand employee engagement
Burnette emphasizes that the desire to advance CX design must come from within the company. Whether it's from the top down, the bottom up, or somewhere in the middle, CX design requires its own champion if brands wish to meet customers' needs efficiently and establish the three E's of great CX: ease, emotion, and effectiveness. Wang also notes that customer experience requires both the digital and human touch, meaning staff and all touchpoints must work as one to deliver the brand promise.
To strengthen employee engagement and guarantee all players are onboard, Temkin says that brands need to master five competencies-the Five I's of Employee Engagement: Inform, Inspire, Instruct, Involve, and Incent. Treating employees as an asset will transform laggard companies into leaders, as such organizations empower staff at every level to support CX and bring loyalty to life.
5. Determine appropriate metrics
Each company has its own goals. Therefore metrics must reflect the information necessary to sustain and achieve these goals. "When you start with the desired outcomes that keep brand promises, insights aren't too hard to measure," Wang says.
Temkin explains that, while structured data is good for spotting where there might be an issue, these data sources aren't very good at helping to identify what the problem is or how to fix it. Thus, brands must look to text analytics to examine customer comments and call center interactions if they wish to gain granular understanding of the situation that causing the issue. Burnette adds that social listening tools, interviews, and focus groups can supplement harder metrics, enabling brands to blend qualitative and quantitative research to gain a more comprehensive picture of the customer experience.
Wang argues that NPS isn't the paramount metric. Instead, brands should look to conversion rate optimization, because if conversion rates don't rise, nothing in CX matters. Secondary metrics, on the other hand, should monitor what drives activity to assess the effectiveness of the brand's CX design.
6. Evaluate available technologies
Though technology solutions help organizations carry out many of their CX design goals, Wang argues that technologies should be secondary to the business goals. "If you want to conduct an audit, just study how often a piece of software is used, and the number of users," he says. "The activity will tell you what to get rid of and what to keep or improve on."
Temkin agrees, saying that technology is never the full answer. Brands need to decide what they want to accomplish instead, and the see if there are technologies that will help achieve these goals. Even after deciding on a technology, a company's success typically comes from how the technology was implemented and the business processes that were deployed around it, he adds. While the tools used certainly impact operations, companies mustn't allow technology to define their efforts. Brand success must find its center within the CX design strategy itself.
7. Evolve alongside consumers
No matter the final design, brands must be open to change. Consumer behavior will continue to evolve, as will expectations, requiring companies to alter their CX design. As with all aspects of life, change remains constant, so organizations will need to gather and analyze customer data regularly to stay up-to-date with what's going on in their industry. Temkin emphasizes that good CX design means companies are creating experiences for their target customers that are delivering the very success, effort, and emotions for which they were aiming. No matter how brands alter their approach along the way, leaders must keep the brand promise and value proposition at the core of their overall strategy.
"Remember, customer experience is the mechanism for delivering your value proposition," Temkin says. "If you aren't clear on your target customers or your value proposition, then good CX can only mask the problem for a bit, but it won't overcome the issue for long."
Companies cannot hide behind an effective, yet superficial, design for the long-term. Wang emphasizes that brands are no longer competing for products or services. Instead, as markets shift to an on-demand, post-sale, attention economy, companies must compete based of CX to sustain their brand promise. Deep down, great CX design must be an enterprisewide initiative that flows all the way to the heart of the organization. Great CX design isn't just strategy-it's mindset. Companies must always have customer experience in mind, for all subsequent actions must support the loyalty and engagement upon which their survival depends.