The more things change, the more they stay the same, right? In customer experience, it’s a bit of both. What remains unchanged is the expectation of getting what you signed up for and hopefully being delighted. What has changed is what delightedness actually means.

Increasingly, customers want: 

Consistent experience across channels

Not only can we talk to customers in many channels, we can actually deliver goods and services in new and interesting ways. Unfortunately, there’s still an experience gap that exists between channels, which I believe to be driven by an uneven access to information and lack of empowerment to take action.

Sustainable excellence

While Morton’s Steakhouse did a great job of providing an excellent customer experience to a famous blogger, it’s not a sustainable experience. To be a truly excellent customer experience, it needs to be repeatable and sustainable over time and across customers, which translates to commitment of resources and a potential rejiggering of processes to carry out these experiences.

Speed

The time that a customer is willing to wait for delivery of goods and services has compressed. We’ve been spoiled by social / mobile in our expectation of the service cycle.

Consistency with expectations

People don’t necessarily want the cheapest product, but they want one that’s consistent with the expected quality / price ratio. They want the same thing that you promised them, and the same thing that you delivered to that other customer on Twitter.

Customizability

More and more, customers are asking for something that’s tailored to them, and we can deliver it because we know more about them than ever before. Customers now expect to be part of the innovation cycle; the ability to contribute in the development of a product becomes part of the experience.

This can be done through individual customization, like with NikeiD, by building crowdsourced ideas (Starbucks and Dell), as well as by collective customer action via customer communities and advisory boards.

Peer to peer access

Unlike before, when companies talked to customers as monolithic beings, customers can now talk to individual employees and other customers. Even when talking to branded communication channels, customers are looking for the other person behind the Twitter account -- they’ve come to expect humanity and authenticity as part of the experience.

The proliferation of -- official and unofficial -- spaces where a customer has access to your brand, your employees or your partner ecosystem, contributes to complexity in delivering a consistent experience. All these experiences add up to a sum total of your customer experiences, which you sometimes did not even design.

This can be unsettling to any business. Because what happens across these growing numbers of touchpoints is less and less predictable, businesses should shift the focus away from controlling the experience from the top down, to helping the entire ecosystem be better equipped to create and recreate these experiences over and over.

Case in point: when a Nationwide member’s rental RV overheated and become undrivable during a family vacation, his Nationwide agent posted a message on his Enterprise social network. By working with other agents and claims adjusters, he was able to quickly turn around the right information and even provide "emergency funds" so the member could continue on his vacation.

Before this was possible, the situation would have taken days, not hours to resolve -- leaving the member to pay for damages and ruining his vacation. To the customer, it just worked the way it was supposed to. To the company, it was an effective way to create a delightful experience that’s easily replicated without bottlenecks.

It is my belief that no external customer experience can be adequately created if you can’t rally the right resources behind providing it in a timely and consistent manner -- regardless of where the customer makes contact and with what department.

I recommend investing in an internal infrastructure and organizational system that allows for operators of these multiple touchpoints to work as autonomous units, at the appropriate speed, while playing from the same playbook. I recommend taking an in-depth look at the following elements and considering how well each customer touchpoint is able to provide a consistently delightful customer experience, operating autonomously, while being loosely governed by organizational principles, best practices and goals.

Hiring, development and enablement

Customer touchpoints can only be as excellent as the people who work there, which means that you need to hire and retain excellent people. Dan Pink talks about Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose as keys to employee motivation, and these elements must exist in any organization wishing to invest in excellent customer experience. The next step is to help these engaged employees define what the right thing is for the business and translate to their actions.

Culture

Culture is not a fluffy term; rather, it’s a business necessity for an organization wishing to invest in its customer experiences. Culture is what helps us do the right thing, acting in the interests of the company and the customer, in the absence of a manual, when we are faced with things that we couldn’t have predicted.

Connecting HQ to autonomous units

While culture is the glue that binds, information provides the building blocks to customer experience. To provide that consistent experience that the customer needs, employees need to be working from the same digital page. Successful and timely dissemination of information across the organization helps autonomous units interpret HQ’s strategy for their business. A robust rollup of information from autonomous units to HQ can help create better and timelier decisions.

To give an example, several stores in Westfield, Australia identified a problem with a gift card through customer feedback and came together on their internal social network to solve it. There was a communication issue around redemption codes, and a physical issue that placed the code too close to the magnetic strip, preventing the stripe from working. By working together, store managers created a revised communications package for retailers and consumers, and looped in the Support Office quickly to physically relocate codes.

Connecting across autonomous units

Thornton May talks about how adoption of change at different rates forces companies to fall out of sync internally. Especially with all of these autonomous units, a business without a connective infrastructure can turn into a cacophony that’s hopelessly out of sync. This infrastructure is like a connective tissue, bringing together people doing similar and adjacent jobs for deep collaboration and even unrelated jobs for fuller organizational context.

Access and visibility across the value chain

To be truly agile at customer touchpoints demands unprecedented access across the organization and beyond. Extending the line of vision across the partner ecosystem and allowing them the same vision into your organization, requires a rewiring of how we approach information sharing.

Access to data and sharing of insights

Today, we know more than ever about our customers -- from social signal, to customer record in CRM, to browsing and purchase behavior. Most of this data is trapped in organizational silos and at best used to make decisions inside of departments. Treating data holistically and sharing insights across the ecosystem can help us understand trends, predict a bit of the future and help us invest in the right things.

Enable Ambassadors

While official content originated by your business is important, and should be communicated and spread to your touch points -- the real efficiency arises from allowing your employees, customers and ecosystem to remix and spread it. Through the use of social media and communities, you will be able to effectively touch more people if you effectively equip your brand ambassadors to act on your behalf.

Providing an excellent customer experience is less about fancy campaigns and more about rewiring of the enterprise to consistently delight the customer at the touchpoints he or she chooses to have. What are you doing to delight your customers?

Editor's Note: Maria knows of what she speaks. Check out her The Employee is the New Customer