No one disputes that treating customers well is the right thing to do: Virtually all respondents in a Forrester survey of CX professionals said that executives at their companies consider customer impact to be at least somewhat important when making business decisions. But compared with hard return on investment (ROI) numbers in business cases for other initiatives, CX projects won't get needed funding if their estimated returns are limited to benefits like improved satisfaction or higher Net Promoter Score (NPS).
Step 1: Prioritize customer experience improvement opportunities. Most companies are spoiled for choice when it comes to finding parts of the experience to improve. But all that choice can be debilitating when trying to decide how to best allocate scarce resources and small budgets. Core customer experience activities like collecting insights from customers and employees and mapping customer journeys are valuable in this step to help companies identify the improvement projects that will have the greatest CX impact.
A few years ago, The Mayo Clinic wanted to design separate consultation and exam rooms to reflect the reality that most appointments consist mainly of conversations between doctors and patients, with less examination time. But there wasn't enough floor space to accommodate the number of separate rooms that it envisioned. Then, inspiration struck from the least likely of places . . . The Brady Bunch. On the show, viewers may recall that the boys and girls of the blended family shared a bathroom with two doors connecting it to adjoining bedrooms (i.e., a Jack and Jill bathroom). Mayo borrowed the concept and now has two consultation rooms that share one inner exam room.
A few years back, FedEx learned that "the leaning tower of packages" at its retail locations was making many customers uneasy. Store employees would take a customer's package and place it on the messy pile. Based on that simple visual cue, these customers worried that their package might very well get lost in their seemingly haphazard shipping process. FedEx had run into a problem that plagues many companies, and that is the subject of my latest report, co-written with Tony Costa: CX Pros Are Blind to the Line of Visibility.
Most companies don't understand all of the complex interdependencies that shape their customer experience outcomes. Forrester surveyed CX professionals last year and found that while nearly two-thirds of them use customer journey maps to understand their customer experience, only one in five maps the CX ecosystem. So most CX pros do not understand how employees, business processes, technology systems, partners, and the operating environment come together to enable their customer experience.
And to make matters worse, this lack of understanding blinds them to what elements in their experience are visible or invisible to customers as they interact with the brand. This lack of visibility can lead to problems such as companies unintentionally exposing undesirable ecosystem elements to customers, hiding elements that could add value, or corrupting the experience through counterproductive policies and processes.
Last week, many of our customer experience (CX) analysts — including me and my colleague Maxie Schmidt — were glued to their computer screens, watching a presentation by a big bank. It had introduced a tool to capture and manage ideas from its employees on how to improve the customer experience. This presentation mattered to us because only 25% of CX professionals say their companies’ CX programs actually improve customer experience. Those who fail lack insight into the root causes of poor CX. And those root causes lie in the customer experience ecosystem. So while many companies have programs in place to mine voice of the customer, customer feedback alone is insufficient to get at root causes of bad CX because it penetrates only the top layers of the ecosystem.
This is why companies need to add voice of the employee. Think of your colleagues throughout the organization as canaries in coal mines. They can warn of potential experience issues before customers notice them, alert you to processes, policies, and technology systems that prevent them from providing a good customer experience, help understand how product-related activities that are behind the scenes — like pricing — affect customers, and highlight how the workplace culture affects employees' motivations and abilities to deliver the intended experience. Voice of your employees (VoE) is:
“Any feedback from employees or partners that pertains to their ability to deliver great customer experiences.”
Companies with customer-obsessed cultures — think USAA or Southwest Airlines — differentiate themselves in their industries and earn major financial benefits as a result. But customer-obsessed cultures don't just happen: To help transform a culture, customer experience professionals must develop a training and coaching curriculum that touches all employees.
In my recent report, "The Customer Experience Curriculum," I write about how companies must identify the key constituencies in the organization, determine how they can best contribute to delivering the intended experience, and then design training and coaching that reinforce those contributions. CX professionals — in partnership with their learning and development colleagues — should:
Create training for CX professionals that provides breadth plus selective depth. To drive customer experience initiatives across the organization, all CX team members need a working knowledge of customer experience concepts plus core skills like customer journey mapping. Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) worked with an external partner to train its client experience team in customer journey mapping and customer ecosystem mapping. Team members now apply these skills to diagnose CX problems and improve common customer journeys. They even train other parts of the organization, like claims and customer service, to map customer journeys.
In my last report, "Standardize Great Customer Experience Delivery," I look at how companies create, share, and assess customer experience (CX) standards. Done well, CX standards prevent avoidable customer experience mistakes, ensure consistent experience delivery, and set a high bar for customer experience quality.
But bad CX standards are worse than no standards at all.
Unfortunately, customer experience professionals can make current problems worse — and even cause new problems — when they create the wrong CX standards. Remember the infamous Comcast customer-service call from the summer? That was, in part, caused by a bad CX standard. Comcast created a standard for its call center reps that requires them to capture a specific reason why a customer is canceling his or her service before moving forward in their scripts. Back in July, a customer recorded his agonizing attempt to cancel without providing a reason and then posted it online — where it was listened to by millions, creating a public relations nightmare.
But don’t give up on CX standards.
To craft the right standards, CX professionals should identify which parts of the experience need standards, create effective standards that strike an appropriate balance, socialize and reinforce the standards with all employees, and measure the impact of standards on customer and business metrics to confirm that they work.
Companies that were founded on customer obsession — like Southwest Airlines, Vanguard, and USAA — derive significant financial benefits as a result. That’s because a customer-obsessed culture helps customer experience professionals deliver high-quality, on-brand, consistent experiences that drive loyalty. Fortunately, even companies that weren’t founded on customer obsession can transform their cultures and see big returns on their efforts. For example:
Tom Feeney, Safelite Autoglass’s chief executive officer (CEO), launched the company’s customer experience transformation in 2008. Since then, the firm has seen NPS, employee engagement, revenue, and profit metrics improve substantially.
Cleveland Clinic embarked on its patient experience transformation in 2009. Since then, it’s seen significant improvements in patient experience ratings, employee engagement scores, and business and operations metrics like number of patients admitted and average wait time to see a doctor.
My latest report, "Case Study: How PURE Insurance Built A Customer-Obsessed Business," is a case study of a company using its customer-obsessed business model to stand out in the insurance industry. Since its start in 2006, PURE has grown more than 40% each year and has one of the highest Net Promoter Scores in any industry.
Entering the crowded competitive insurance industry was no easy task. PURE knew it would need to stand out. That’s why the founders decided to go with a member-owned business model (called a Reciprocal Exchange) that would help differentiate the insurer from other insurance companies owned by shareholders. For PURE, owners as members means alignment between business and customer goals. The company deepens and reinforces this commitment in several ways:
Targets a select group of customers. In addition to creating a member-owned business model, the founders of PURE also focused on a market niche with a distinct and attractive profile. The insurer targets responsible high-net-worth customers. For its homeowners insurance policies, for example, the homes of potential policyholders must have a reconstruction cost of at least $1 million. The company selected this segment because high-net-worth customers represented a favorable risk profile. This, coupled with the fact that the niche lacked significant competition, created an opportunity for PURE to offer highly competitive premiums and still be profitable.
My latest report, "How Hampton Hotels Built And Sustains Its Customer-Obsessed Culture," is a case study of the hotel chain. The brand has been on a nearly 10-year journey to differentiate its hotels from competitors on the basis of exceptional guest experiences. It all started back in 2004. As part of the brand's 20th-anniversary celebration, Hampton asked its hotel owners to make about 120 product upgrades ranging from curved shower curtain rods to easy-to-use alarm clocks. Within a year, competitors had copied all of the new features.
The next year, in response to the cutthroat competition in the hotel industry, Hampton embarked on a culture transformation intended to differentiate its hotels from competitors by delivering superior guest experiences. Along the way, the team at Hampton learned important lessons about how to create and sustain a customer-obsessed culture:
Leverage executive support. The Hampton brand team began by making sure it had executive support for a culture transformation. That was smart. In previous research, I found that every successful culture transformation has had active executive support. The team at Hampton took advantage of having a strong advocate for customer focus in the form of Phil Cordell, who was the global head of focused service and Hampton brand management. He backed the transformation and created a new position, senior director of brand program development and integration, and appointed Gina Valenti to lead the transformation efforts.
Companies want customer-obsessed cultures that will help them differentiate in the age of the customer. But transforming a culture can be a challenge: It requires all employees to understand who their customers are, how customers perceive their interactions with the company, and what roles employees need to play in delivering the overall experience. Enter learning maps, which are fast becoming the centerpiece of small-group interactive training sessions at many companies.
Learning maps are large-scale visualizations that use data, graphics, and illustrations to tell a story. The maps are training tools that abstract significant amounts of information into a format that facilitates conversations and understanding for diverse groups of employees.
How are learning maps used to improve customer experience?
Learning maps are typically used in small-group interactive training sessions to help employees understand the company's customer experience strategy and their role in delivering against that strategy.
What are the common scenarios where learning maps add value?
Some of the specific use cases for deploying learning maps include:
Sharing a new customer experience strategy.
Changing a specific part of the customer experience.