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Four keys to creating an agile customer experience strategy

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Here's how to rapidly and incrementally build exceptional customer experiences.

Yoshi Suzuki-Lambrecht | December 14, 2016

The need for agility

In today’s volatile business environment, a customer experience strategy is rarely a one-time, said-and-done investment. Enterprises have to leverage customer insights and quickly experiment with opportunities to delight customers, to reduce the risk of failing altogether. Continuously monitoring and improving your customer experience strategy will set you up for much more success than making large, lump-sum investments.

"To win in volatile and uncertain environments, executives need to learn how to exploit short-lived opportunities with speed and decisiveness."
–The End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business

Here are the four keys to rapidly and incrementally building exceptional customer experiences:

1. Know yourself and your customers

As we discussed in a previous blog post, great customer experience requires a clear understanding of two things: what your customers need and want, and your brand's core values and promises. Customer pain points will provide guidance on what the experience needs to solve for, and your brand values should provide guidance on how you go about solving them.

Know your customer


To deliver a winning CX, you have to develop a strong understanding of your customers and the technological and cultural trends that surround them. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who are my customers?
  • What are their biggest struggles and issues? What motivates them as individuals and/or as a segment?
  • How do they make decisions? Who influences them? What touchpoints do they rely on to gather information and make decisions?
  • How do they perceive my brand and my competitors’ brands?
  • What kinds of tasks and questions do they have at each stage in their customer and decision-making journey? Are they relying on commercial or non-commercial sources to fulfill them?
  • How do they use technology in their daily lives?
  • What are their unmet needs? What cultural problems or struggles might be unique to this generation or customer segment?

If you’re willing to create bold, innovative solutions, then tackle your customers’ biggest and deepest cultural problems. If you’re more comfortable making small improvements in experiences, focus on optimizing the purchase funnel through identifying customer drop-off points and roadblocks.

Know yourself


Some companies have an easier time identifying and aligning on “how to solve” than others. Single-product companies and/or startups have an advantage over this category, because they’re typically founded with a purpose of resolving a very specific and well-defined consumer problem (think Uber).

So, are well-established enterprises and portfolio companies without clear core values or purpose doomed? Not necessarily. They just have to take a more philosophical journey to identify and align on them. In their book Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras give advice on communicating your companies’ core values:

Who should be involved in articulating the core values depends on the size, age, and geographic dispersion of the company, but in many situations we like to suggest a "Mars Group." Imagine you've been asked to recreate the very best attributes of your organization on another planet. Who would you send? They are the people who likely have a gut-level understanding of your core values, have the highest level of credibility with their peers, and the highest level of competence...The "Mars Group" can also be used effectively to articulate core purpose.

Resolving customers' problems will delight them. And when you’re delighting them in a way that aligns with your brand’s values, they’ll see you as a unique and identifiable brand.

2. CX must be omnichannel

User experience, user touchpoints graphic

The main difference between CX and UX is that customer experience is not confined to a particular channel or touch point; it's the sum of all relevant customer interactions within a given journey.

An often missed but critical nuance of CX is that individual touchpoints don’t always have to involve your brand. One of the most common mistakes made by non-customer-centric agencies, consultancies, and client-side stakeholders is that they try to infuse the brand into every single touchpoint just because they can. When they identify all of the relevant touchpoints—like media channels, devices, and influencers—they think, “We can engage our customers in all of them!” rather than asking themselves, “Do we have empirical evidence suggesting that our customers want to be engaged in those touchpoints?” and, “Is there a unique value we can provide our customers through those touchpoints in exchange for them paying attention to us?”

The difference in the outcome is stark. By taking the first route and trudging into customers' lives, brands annoy, interrupt, and intrude the very people they’re hoping to help and delight. It's not about where you can engage—it’s about where, when, and how your customers want you to engage with them.

“So, are well-established enterprises and portfolio companies without clear core values or purpose doomed? Not necessarily.”

Omnichannel CX strategists and marketers must understand the full landscape of their customers’ behaviors and the online and offline touchpoints they leverage, and then take a step back to determine when, where, and how they can best engage their customers based on customers’ needs and desires.

3. CX and business strategy must go hand-in-hand

CX is the means to this end: driving business growth. No matter how much delight or value your CX strategy brings your customers, if the cost exceeds the return on the investment, it can’t be justified.

At the same time, implementation costs of great CX will naturally be expensive if the enterprise is not currently set up to deliver it well. You might need a new CRM platform, content studio, chief experience officer, training programs for customer service staff, redesign in-store experiences, or more.

That’s why industry, customer, and cultural research is so important. If there are enough data and insights to make a business case about the mid to long-term value of the CX strategy, then the CX strategy should also influence the business strategy and business/operating models to deliver delightful, valuable, and profitable customer experiences better, faster, and more cost effectively than competitors.

CX and business strategies must inform one another.

One circle for business, one circle for CX showing how they affect one another

4. Customer experience strategy must be iterative and cross-disciplinary

No single team or department can single-handedly resolve a customer's problem across their journey.

Customers don't know or care what department or business unit is responsible for each aspect of the experience–may it be using a website, interacting with an app, shopping in a retail store, or receiving a package by mail. Brands must acknowledge that different functional areas touch different aspects of the customer experience, and therefore must all come together to plan for, experiment, test, execute, and optimize it.

“Customer pain points will provide guidance on what the experience needs to solve for, and your brand values should provide guidance on how you go about solving them.”

To create effective, captivating, and profitable CX solutions while embracing uncertainty, brands must aggressively employ agile methodologies, sprints, cross-functional workshops, prototyping, and testing.

This will not only result in faster and higher-fidelity decision-making, but is also a lot more fun in the process.

Conclusion

Speed is the new currency. Today’s macroeconomic environment is permeated with uncertainty and consumer-choice overload. Enterprises must have access to quality customer data and insights, and also have the agility to experiment with small, focused initiatives.

To engage your customers in unique and long-lasting ways, you must have a strong understanding of who your customers are; what they need and want; and how your brand can uniquely resolve those problems by leveraging core values, assets, and business capabilities though cross-functional collaborations.

Yoshi Suzuki-Lambrecht originally published this post on LinkedIn Pulse.

Yoshi Suzuki-Lambrecht

Yoshi Suzuki-Lambrecht is a Customer Engagement & Experience Design consultant in Slalom’s Minneapolis office. Yoshi has spent the past 10 years helping clients realize superior customer/brand experiences by designing and aligning omnichannel customer journeys, business processes, operating models, and technology platforms. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.