Future Customer Experience Differentiation Will Require New Operating Models

At some point after their companies find and fix the low-hanging fruit that creates problems for customers, customer experience leaders hit a wall. That wall is the outdated operational models upon which most companies were built. These models were conceived decades ago, based on the existing capabilities and constraints of the day, when the primary vehicle for value was tied up in the product/service itself. Within these operating models, firms have worked to optimize processes like marketing, sales, and distribution focused on getting to the transaction. Support has been a cost center so limited as much as possible. But this kind of operating model has critical problems. Here are a few that just scratch the surface:

  • Product lines obstruct customer needs that cross the company. Companies organized by product lines force customers to navigate different marketing messages, sales teams, billing systems, and websites and support organizations to get what they need, while internal staff waste effort and fail to create synergies that could deliver a bigger value proposition.
  • Channel strategies don’t account for information transparency. Like product lines, firms regularly treat channels as separate P&Ls. This artifact results in disjointed pricing, confusing return policies, botched hand-offs, and assorted other mishaps that undermine the customer experience. Moreover, it leaves little incentive for the fiefdoms to cooperate on behalf of the customer.
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Customer Signals For Adapting Experiences

A chemical manufacturer with a solid customer listening program noticed an uptick in complaints about pricing. Unlike many firms, which would take the comments at face value and take action accordingly, this company first stepped back and reflected on its strategy:  it sold premium chemical for advanced applications targeted at particular industries, so it surmised that the company shouldn’t see this kind of feedback. It did some root cause analysis, talking to those customers. It learned that some distributors were selling chemicals for applications in markets better served by off-the-shelf, commodity products. As a result, not only were these distributors driving detractors, which were creating a headwind for selling into their target market, but they were wasting time on low-value sales and more importantly, using valuable resources internally that made the company competitive in target markets (e.g. scientists to help innovative clients discover new applications for the chemicals). The company decided that the right course of action was to re-visit its distributor training and communications programs to better ensure sales teams understood the core value proposition and how to find the high value opportunities.

There are at least a few lessons to take away from this story.

Know your customer experience strategy. Firms often have blanket statements such as “we aim to delight our customers.” When these lack a connection to a company strategy, which should clearly articulate value propositions for specific target markets, firms can spend a lot of time and energy jumping through hoops trying to serve customers it never should have acquired in the first place. A situation that the chemical manufacturer avoided by reflecting on its strategy to direct its activities.

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