THE ULTIMATE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE PRIMER
A comprehensive starting point for new Customer Experience professionals.
There are more and more business leaders being called upon to guide Customer Experience (CX) initiatives. It’s no longer an optional function of the organization, but has risen over the past decade to become one of the most critical and strategic aspects of the company. If you are new to the wonderful world of CX, welcome! You will find Customer Experience professionals to be among the most generous, kind, intelligent, and passionate people in the corporate universe. Even so, the path you are on can be overwhelming. It’s taken the CX Accelerator team years to achieve any level of proficiency, and it will be many more before we achieve any form of mastery. The good news is we are giving you a massive head start! This resource exists to teach what Customer Experience is and how to do it well. We will start by defining Customer Experience, followed by a step-by-step guide on how to perform the foundational disciplines. Once the basics are covered, we will provide you with a curated list of the very best resources the Customer Experience community has to offer!
WHAT IS CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE?
Customer Experience (CX) is quite simply “How customers perceive their interactions with your company” (Forrester). While related, CX is quite different from Customer Service in that service is just one of many aspects a Customer Experience professional must coordinate. CX brings the entire organization together under the banner of customer success. It’s scientific in the sense that CX is made up of repeatable steps and behaviors, however it’s artistic in the sense that you are dealing with human emotions as the measure for success. Because of this dynamic, it requires a special type of person to be a CX leader. You must be capable of telling compelling stories through a combination of both the empirical and the theoretical, as well as overcoming significant obstacles of all types. The customer perception will generally be based on a series of different “touch points” or moments in which a customer interfaces with your organization. It’s the job of the CX leader to identify and analyze each of these touch points, thereby isolating key CX improvement opportunities. There are a whole variety of tools and techniques that CX professionals use to accomplish this objective. We will explore the three foundational disciplines beginning with VOC (voice of the customer), followed by experience engineering, and closing with the employee experience.
The way a brand collects and responds to feedback from their customers says more about their CX maturity than anything else. Establishing a voice of the customer (VOC) program is absolutely critical, and will act as the cornerstone for everything CX. VOC is the process in which the organization monitors, collects, analyzes, and reports on all feedback associated with your brand. It may be the voice of the customer, but it’s the heartbeat of the Customer Experience.
Most VOC programs are anchored with an NPS (Net Promoter Score) survey. If you are new to NPS, begin with this fantastic series by Jennifer Rowe at Zendesk. Historically, organizations have implemented some form of an “NPS” (Net Promoter Score) program and checked the VOC box. The reality is fewer and fewer customers are taking the time to fill out traditional surveys. Fortunately, this is only the tip of the iceberg when you consider all the feedback an organization receives on a daily basis. The trick is tapping into this unstructured feedback across the organization. By creating organic “listening paths” as Jeanne Bliss would say, you can effectively centralize the customer’s voice from a whole variety of channels. While it may take time to break the “survey mentality” so many are plagued by, doing so will greatly increase the quality and the value of the data received. In a nutshell, you are creating a centralized location for any member of your organization to take feedback from a customer and quickly document it. Imagine how much you’d learn if you could actually view and learn from all the comments coming to your sales staff, support team, implementation group, finance team and every other group in your organization! Learn more about how to build listening paths on Jeanne’s blog here.
Pro Tip - One “hack” that I’ve used to get employees excited about and using the listening path channel is to purchase USB webkeys. This is simply a button with your CX program logo on it that connects to the employees docking station. Whenever they get meaningful feedback from a customer, they slam the button and go straight to the simple form. The adoption rate resulting from this inexpensive gamification technique has been amazing. Talk about a CX easy button! Learn how to implement your own button system here.
KEY METRICS FOR CUSTOMER SUCCESS -
BUILDING YOUR CX DASHBOARD
A huge part of your VOC program is creating a vehicle by which to communicate customer information to a widespread audience. If you are about to embark on an effort to improve the Customer Experience, it’s critical to establish a baseline of customer related data as soon as possible. How else will you be able to validate the positive or negative results of your actions? Before your organization will truly invest in your initiatives, you must be able to prove the ROI with a dashboard of CX and revenue related metrics. NPS and listening paths are a great start, but you will need additional data points and perspectives to drive change. Below are the most essential metrics for effectively measuring Customer Experience. You may need additional metrics depending on your audience and industry.
CES - The Customer Effort Score was introduced by the CEB (now Gartner) in 2013. According to extensive research by a variety of firms, CES has a powerful correlation to customer loyalty. The “effort” question would be asked on your surveys and is simply “how quickly and easily were you able to resolve your issue.” It’s more transactional when compared with NPS, and is great for measuring the experience on a touch point by touch point basis.
Additional Reading - “Stop Trying To Delight Your Customers” on HBR
NPS - People love to bad-mouth Net Promoter Score. Yes it’s a bit dated (2003)...and no it’s not perfect...but regardless NPS absolutely has a place on your CX dashboard. NPS has been helping companies understand customer perceptions long before Customer Experience was even a mainstream function. Introduced by Fred Reichheld, Net Promoter Score is calculated on a 10 point scale by asking “How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?” The goal is to turn “detractors” into “promoters” under the assumption that promoters will help you to generate more business and spend more with your brand over time.
Additional Reading - “What Is Net Promoter?” on netpromoter.com
Customer Growth Engine - Your customer base is the organization's most valuable asset and should be managed as such. Introduced by Jeanne Bliss, the power of this metric is it’s ability to create a “mic drop” moment with your leadership team. On a quarter by quarter basis, measure how much you were able to increase your customer base by volume and value, followed by how many customers were lost by value and volume. Customers lost subtracted from customers gained is your Customer Growth Engine score for that quarter. These straight-forward terms allow you to see how many customers are entering the journey, versus how many are choosing to leave. If your customer base is in decline, the obvious question is why? This one heavy-hitting number should accelerate a robust dialog and a sense of urgency among stakeholders. There is quite a bit more to this metric then the simplified version presented here, so be sure to pick up Jeanne’s book below.
Additional Reading - “Chief Customer Officer 2.0” By Jeanne Bliss on Amazon
Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) - While it focuses on a specific interaction or event, CSAT is a helpful companion to NPS and CES. There are several CSAT related questions that can be asked on a survey, but the core question is “how would you rate your experience with (fill in the blank). There are typically five answer choices ranging from very satisfied down to very dissatisfied. This could be a support interaction, a purchasing experience, a demo, or just about anything else. It’s calculated by establishing a percentage of those answering either “satisfied” or “very satisfied.” Checkmarket has a helpful chart showing comparing CSAT, CES, and NPS HERE.
Additional Reading - “CSAT: The Happy Customer KPI” on Emolytics
Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) - Customer Lifetime Value is a measure of all the money a customer spends with your brand over the entire relationship. There are many ways to calculate this, (most of which are extremely complicated) but it doesn't have to be. A simple version can be achieved by taking the annual profit per customer, multiplied by the average number of years a customer remains, subtracted by the cost of customer acquisition. CLV can be a powerful companion to NPS if you can show how much greater the lifetime value is for a “promoter” versus a “detractor.” This provides a direct association between NPS and revenue growth. CLV Calculator has an Excel template for download to as well as some examples. For a more robust option, Optimove has a formula and tool used to calculate CLV below.
Total Motivation (ToMo) - You may be scratching your head on this one a bit, as ToMo is not a direct customer metric. It’s an employee engagement metric. Even so, total motivation or a similar employee engagement metric is just as critical to your CX dashboard as Net Promoter Score. The reason for this (as we will explore more in discipline three) is that the Customer Experience is directly related to the employee experience. The organizations who regularly top the charts in CX are the very same ones who win “best culture” and “best places to work.” If you really want to predict and measure customer success it begins with your employees. Naturally, it can be very difficult to measure something as abstract as culture or employee engagement. The good news is that Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi have found a way! It’s called “Total Motivation (ToMo) and is born out of the intrinsic motivators discussed in Daniel Pink’s book Drive and depicted in the adjacent infographic. This score will tell you to what degree your employees are motivated to perform consistently well. By increasing the positive motivators, you are improving the quality and consistency of work, and in turn the overall Customer Experience.
Additional Reading - The article “How Company Culture Shapes Employee Motivation” on HBR has everything needed to get started using ToMo, including a link to their free survey.
Renewal / Churn Rate - If your business deals in subscriptions, customer renewal rate is your life blood. This is the percentage of customers who, given the option, decide to remain as a customer versus discontinuing service. The inverse to renewal rate is called the “Churn Rate” and is often used within SaaS businesses. This is simply the percentage of customers who stop subscribing to a service. As is made abundantly clear in this great collection of statics from Insight Squared, increasing your renewal rate is essential for long-term revenue growth. Considering how hard it is to acquire new business, a Saas company with a high churn rate likely won’t be in business for very long.
TELLING THE CUSTOMER'S STORY -
With all the great data you're receiving from your VOC program, you are ready to use a powerful storytelling vehicle that brings this information to life. Enter the “Customer Journey Map.” This is a summarized and "storified" depiction of key interactions (or touch points) that a customer experiences with your business. Designed through the lens of the customer, it will explore the emotional state, priority objectives, established expectations and most importantly, pain points for each key interaction. The reason it’s a key arrow in the quiver of the CX professional is the simplicity of a narrative format. The CX professional is required to take complex, abstract data and make it meaningful to anyone in the organization. Journey maps are fantastic for this. Your litmus test for success is as follows - within a couple minutes of looking at your map, anyone in the company should understand what the key moments in the customer’s journey are and how they specifically play a role.
The first step in creating a customer journey map is identifying “personas” or groups of customers who share similar touch points with your organization. You will need to create multiple maps for all the major customer personas. I’ve seen executives push back on this and try to consolidate everything into one massive map. This becomes nothing more than another internal process document (and a poor one at that). Next, identify the key touch points in which a customer interfaces with your brand. This will be everything from when the customer became aware of your offerings, to the continual relationship or support stage. What you do from here is really up to you. Journey maps come in thousands of different formats and contain all sorts of different relevant data. The ultimate goal is to capture the story of the customer and their experience in a compelling, easy to follow visual. This article by Paul Boag on Smashing Magazine has a ton of great recommendations and creative ideas for effective journey mapping. You will also want to follow the world's foremost expert on journey mapping, Annette Franz. Her blog is CX-Journey and there is a ton of great advice both on mapping and voice of the customer in general.
While journey mapping is the most popular, there are other story-based vehicles that can be used to educate stakeholders. One such tool is a “CX room.” This is a space dedicated to providing an immersive experience for your guests and employees to understand the customer journey. It can incorporate all of your senses and be highly creative in order to consolidate a whole customer lifecycle into 10 minutes. Read more about CX rooms and the brands that use them on this blog from Forrester.
In conclusion, a successful VOC program will give you real-time insight into what your customers are actually experiencing. This feedback will allow you to identify both your “moments of truth” (most critical touch points in the customer's journey) and your key improvement opportunities. Your CX dashboard will allow you to depict the relationship between customer experience and revenue, as well as creating a sense of urgency for CX improvements. Now that your data engine is in place, let's talk about how to use it.
To keep with the “CX Accelerator” theme, this is where the rubber meets the road! The first discipline was all about helping your organization to gain transparency into the customer journey using a “Voice of the Customer” program. Our second discipline is all about taking this great new information and actually doing something about it. Before getting your hands dirty with internal process change, you will want to ensure you have the required organizational support to be successful. There are three essential types of buy-in you will need to earn:
Executive Level / CEO - Without a customer-centric CEO who is an active advocate for CX change, you will be fighting a major uphill battle. The CEO and executive team are required to create a sense of urgency and drive accountability over the long-haul. By directly associating Customer Experience to revenue gain, you will attract and keep executives attention as the business evolves. Be sure to read Jeanne Bliss’s article entitled “Yes Good CX is Tied to Revenue Gains” as well as “3 Strategies to Sell the CEO on CXM” from a variety of top practitioners written by Bob Thompson.
Line Managers - The mid-level management tier is where behavior and process changes actually happen. If the executives talk a good CX game, but fail to gain commitment from the line managers, failure is inevitable. These managers survive the sea of shifting agendas by focusing very intentionally on the things they are accountable to. With competing priorities coming at them from all sides, line managers will choose the ones that lead them to numeric success, (whichever metric that is). A CX professional will want to ensure two things. The first is that one of those metrics middle managers are held accountable to is a customer related metric. This could be CES, CSAT, NPS or any other from the list above in the VOC discipline. Secondarily, paint a clear picture of how improving the customer experience will ultimately give them a greater chance of success in relation to whatever metric is closest to their heart.
The Front Line - Leadership buy-in is critical, however you must intentionally engage the front line staff as well in order for changes to take root. As Ken Booker would say, this is called “building the ground swell." It's very easy while inside the daily grind to lose sight of the customer's journey. We have to remind them. Through creative and frequent communications, allow every member of the organization to feel both the customer's victories and their pain. Resist the temptation to utilize only corporate-wide communication with this group, as it will get lost in the noise. You must make CX relevant to each individual, generally through 1:1 conversations, educating them on the critical role they play inside of the larger Customer Experience.
No CX leader can change the experience by themselves. In order to be successful, you must establish a “CX Change Coalition”. This is a cross-functional group of employee stakeholders who represent every major customer touch point. As John Kotter recommends in “leading change” you will want to ensure the members have enough authority to actually drive change within their functional areas. These champions, who are strategically embedded across the organization, will be your framework for accountability and consistency of execution.
It’s important to begin with a realistic outlook concerning the rate of change. When it comes to moving the CX needle, it’s a marathon…..not a sprint. Improving the Customer Experience is a major culture shift for most organizations. Considering culture is “the way we do things,” you will be asking people to work differently in order to positively impact your customer’s lives. Any modification in human behavior takes time and a significant amount of repetition for it to finally sink in. Equip yourself and your “CX Coalition” with the long-term perspective required to be successful.
EXPERIENCE ENGINEERING -
IDENTIFYING TOP PRIORITIES
Considering the Customer Experience is made up of every single process within a business, there’s an endless number of things to be improved. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged at this stage. The key is to identify the right priorities for maximum impact. A mistake many business make is to assume they know what their customers want and what would improve the experience for them. Luckily for us, we've established a Voice of the Customer program that takes the guess work out of this equation. By focusing on your "moments of truth" on the journey maps, this isolates a touch point of great importance. Now look at the associated pain points for top improvement priorities. Considering there are multiple journey maps for various customer personas, you may be juggling a large number of significant pain points. There are three principles that may help to narrow the focus:
Maximum Impact / Minimum Effort - A bit of "agile" thinking can go a long way. One framework would be take your list of improvements and assign positive point values to each in accordance to their impact potential. Now assign negative point values based on how much perceived effort is required to solve the problem. The top of your list should be those improvements with maximum impact and minimum effort. This is a great exercise to do together with your CX Change Coalition.
Leadership Synergies - Do you know what keeps your CEO awake at night? If you are on the fence between various customer improvements consider which of them have the most impact on your key internal stakeholders.
Quick Win? - It's always a good idea to get a quick win and build positive momentum before tackling any big hairy monsters.
Having now isolated the most promising improvement opportunities, you will want to maximize your chance of getting them done. As you are selecting a methodology for process change, consider what people are already accustomed to in your organization. There will be less resistance if you are able to tap into a known framework for execution as you can focus on the change itself versus how the change is being done. Some examples would include Lean / Six Sigma, ITIL, Value Stream Mapping, and Agile. Once a framework is selected, it's time to mobilize the CX Change Coalition and get to work. As long as you keep the "marathon" mentality and maintain leadership buy-in, there is nothing that can stop you from marching toward positive change.
One key theme of your experience process improvements will be effort reduction. When Gartner / CEB released "The Effortless Experience" in 2011 it was like an awakening within the CX field. Their research has been overwhelmingly validated in the past 7 years and is still increasingly relevant. At the end of the day, customers value their time above essentially everything else. Much of your work will be finding methods to reduce the amount of time and energy a customer spends to achieve success with your brand. As it happens, our customers are not the only ones for whom we need to be protective of time. We need to also consider how we can equip our employees with the tools and knowledge to facilitate effortless resolutions. Speaking of our employees, that's a perfect segue to our third and final core discipline, the employee experience.
It’s become abundantly clear over the last several years that the backbone of any CX initiative is rooted in the employee experience. It’s not enough for a CX leader to focus on the needs and perceptions of customers alone. We must also become an advocate for those representing the brand every day. Imagine your organization is a car you are responsible for taking care of. Focusing on the Customer Experience exclusively would be like keeping your vehicle perfectly washed and polished on the outside, but in reality the vehicle is falling apart on the inside due to a lack of critical maintenance. The car would look very nice as you passed it on the side of the highway after breaking down. A CX leader is not just a champion for their customers. This person is a force within the organization, helping to create a customer-centric culture and motivate employees to excel for those whom they serve.
Given the overlap of objectives, one key member of your “CX Change Coalition” will likely be your HR Director. Take a look at this fantastic article on Forbes by Christine Comaford. "According to Temkin Group’s research when HR is significantly involved in CX the organization is 50% more likely to be a CX leader." She goes on to say that "HR owns the cultural programs, so it’s key that they are first looped into Employee Engagement (EE) so they can help support CX. First a strong mission, vision, values sets the tone for your tribal purpose and code of conduct."
Let's look closer at the positive "Total Motivation" factors that contribute to a highly engaged workforce from "Primed To Perform."
Play is the most powerful motivator of them all. When employees have a sense of curiosity and excitement, customers can feel this immediately. Alternatively, a customer can usually tell when they are interfacing with staff who are burned out or bored. This is much more then putting a ping-pong table in the break room. Developing a culture of play requires leadership to put forth engaging challenges and give employees the opportunity to discover new things. When done well, play and innovation go hand-in-hand. Customer-centric cultures are consistently asking their employee population how they can serve customers better and even giving them the autonomy to experiment with new ideas.
Purpose is an excellent motivator when work offers a compelling response to the question of "why?" Why should your employees not only get out of work and show up, but offer the very best they can everyday? When a CX leader successfully closes the gap between employees and the customer's experience, it creates a lasting sense of purpose. When someone shares both the customer's pain and successes, they will be highly motivated to produce quailty work. Employees who do not understand or care about the customer journey will work only hard enough to not lose their job. Also, don't forget to weave your organization's unique mission into your CX vision. There is something your company does that no one else can do. Be sure to tap into your "uniqueness" and use this as a motivator.
Potential motivates when work moves an individual toward their goals. Channeling an individual toward their ambitions requires a leader to really get to know that person. Only then can the leader challenge them and provide opportunities that will grow their career. Also, be sure leadership is not sending a mixed message in regards to what they value most in people. When organizations recognize employees who take good care customers in the form of promotions and rewards, everyone takes note. Alternatively, if an organization says it values it's customers, but does not back this up in the way decisions are made, employees will become frustrated and revert to selfish behaviors.
One great way to infuse both the play and the purpose motivator into daily work is utilizing a system such as Kudos. When an employee demonstrates customer-centric behaviors, peers or leaders can easily award them points. These are redeemed for fun things like gift cards at the end of the month. The beauty of this is in the simplicity and the collaborative nature of the program. There are also many great gamification platforms out there, but be cautious before implementing as many of them are unnecessarily competitive in nature. This can work against creating an atmosphere of helpfulness, which is essential for consistently great customer experiences. Source of image - Kudosnow.com.
Tapping into these motivators is what creates an engaged, capable, and loyal workforce. Refer to the "ToMo" metric in the "CX Dashboard section to learn how you can measure for total motivation in your company. While we may have put the employee experience as the third core discipline of CX, it's really the foundation. The other CX activities may have a short team impact, but without the base of engaged employees and a customer-centric culture there will be no lasting CX improvements. Here's an nifty infographic to summarize it all!
As we conclude, it's critical to note making changes to the Customer Experience is a culture change at it's core. Going back to the definition of CX, it's all about managing people's perception of a brand. It's the fundamental desire for a human to connect to the brand in a meaningful way. There is no short cut to creating an organization capable of delivering a positive human to human interaction across every touch point. It can only be done when all employees are part of a purpose-driven culture, hence mirroring their experience to the customer. If you take nothing else from this resource, watch this video below from Bob Chapman. Above all else, truly human leadership is the way we design outstanding experiences for our employees and our customers. Special thanks to Annette Franz for introducing me to this video.
We hope you've enjoyed and benefited from our "Ultimate CX Primer!" We will be adding to and updating this document regularly, so be sure to bookmark it and use as an ongoing resource. Speaking of resources, our final gift is a curated collection of all the best CX thought leaders, books, conferences, podcasts, and more!
Now that you've been "primed" in the preceding sections, it's time to accelerate your results by tapping into the greatest CX resources available today. The customer experience function is still relatively new, and like most disciplines it’s constantly evolving. Seeing as how CX impacts every organization in every industry, just about everybody has their two cents to add to the conversation. With tens of thousands of blogs, whitepapers, and webinars out there, and hundreds more being added every day, it can be incredibly overwhelming. New key perspectives are being added on a regular basis, so staying fresh is essential. This curated list will tell you who to follow, communities to join, and conferences to attend to keep you on the cutting edge of Customer Experience best practices.
TOP CX THOUGHT LEADERS
With all the clutter out there on Customer Experience, it can be easy to become overwhelmed or misguided. The following thought leaders are the very best of the best. By absorbing these books, blogs, and podcasts, you will be learning the most trusted names in the CX community!
TOP CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE COMMUNITIES
Often times the best way to solve big CX problems is by collaborating with others outside of your organization to get a fresh, external perspective. These are the very best communities of CX professionals both virtual and physical!
TOP CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE CONFERENCES
This 2019 list includes all of the best Customer Experience conferences in North America, arranged by date. Also this list from Howard Schulman is quite comprehensive and includes many of the top European events.