Jane Anne Mennella

SAN DIEGO — Gartner research director Jane-Anne Mennella took the stage here at the Gartner Digital Marketing Conference to spell out her formula for customer experience program success.

Marketers are struggling, Mennella said. She hears phrases like "I'm drinking from the firehose,” "I’m lost in space" and "It's a brave new world out there" when speaking with seasoned practitioners.

Is improving customer experience difficult? Yes. Is it complex? Yes. 

This is why we need a framework or operating model, said Mennella.

Customer Experience Growing Pains

Perspectives on the right way to approach CX projects abound. We spend much energy in workshops and sessions focussed on customer experience program success at our annual DX Summit conference. But today Mennella shared the foundational elements that are key to her practice, in her presentation entitled “Key Customer Experience Foundations for Marketing Leaders.”

But first, a bit of perspective.

The world of marketing has changed — we all can agree on that. But what’s especially fun is the new CX-oriented goals — such as increased advocacy, broader organizational alignment around the customer and full lifecycle journey mapping — at times conflicts with more traditional goals such as buy-cycle orientation, brand awareness and reach. 

The two worlds don’t have to conflict, but many organizations have experienced friction between those pursuing the new goals and the old regime.

Mennella recommended focussing on four areas:

  1. Creating a customer experience framework
  2. Defining goals that drive positive CX outcomes
  3. Finding and normalizing the CX data
  4. Turning the data-driven CX insights into action

Creating a Customer Experience Framework

Mennella boiled down the basic framework for Customer Experience optimization to a “Who, When, What and How” model. This is how she thinks about these sub-components:

CX Framework

Who

This is about understanding and humanizing your customers. For Mennella, defining your personas is the essential first step. Make these personas visible in the workplace she said, regularly validate them and avoid common persona mistakes

“Personas capture the needs, the motivations and the goals for your most important clients”, said Mennella. “They are not made up, they are based on data and actual research.”

When

Journey maps highlight the key interactions that your customers have with your brand throughout their entire lifecycle. And just like personas, said Mennella, they are designed by considering your customers’ needs, goals and expectations.

“You must remember that clients don’t view you in silos‚ so your journey maps must depict the seamless brand experience, just as customers will perceive it,” cautioned Mennella. 

In a session on persona-driven customer journey mapping today, Gartner research VP, Jake Sorofman warned about common mapping pitfalls, including starting the map too late in your project, maps created by siloed teams, prioritization of the visual experience over outcomes and good old fashioned rushing through the job.

What

The what of the CX improvement project is the stories, services and experiences, explained Mennella. This is what happens when customers interact with your physical and digital touch points. 

How

How is where you dig into the details of systems, processes and data. 

Systems Processes and Data

Defining Goals That Drive Positive CX Outcomes

Once your framework is in place, defining useful goals comes next. Start at the top, recommended Mennella. Understand exactly what your leadership considers success, how that aligns with the broader organizational goals and what CX metrics support this. 

Distill these business outcomes down to strategic levers and macro performance metrics, then down to operational levers and diagnostics and finally down to tactical levers and optimizations. 

If macro goals conflict with your own or your department’s performance measures, raise this to management and work towards better alignment. And if different parts of the organization use different CX metrics — for example, the executive level may use Net Promoter Score (NPS) while the onboarding team uses Customer Effort Score (CES) — you’ll have to find a way to normalize and align the metrics across the organization.

Mennella warned that even when organizations use the same metrics internally, these measurement tools can be focused on different parts of the customer journey and thus not correlate or aggregate well. 

She suggested looking at your key individual touch points and aligning your individual metrics for all of your individual journey maps to identify where you have opportunities, where you have risks and where your successes are.

A daunting task? It would seem so for many. There are tools designed to help here: Foresee, Medallia, MaritzCX, OpinionLab (now Verint), Qualtrics and others provide platforms and methodologies that aim to normalize customer experience measurement, reporting and feedback loops across the organization.

In conversation with Ori Soen, general manager of Medallia Digital, he said Medallia’s best practice was to standardize on a Voice of the Customer (VoC) metric such as NPS, CES or Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and use that across the organization. But according to Soen, most VoC platforms are flexible and can adapt to the preferred measurement regime for a given organization.

CX Goals

Finding the Customer Experience Data

Collecting the data you need is a composite of Customer Voice, Customer Data, Customer Insight and Competitive Insight, said Mennella.

Customer Voice combines direct, indirect and inferred customer feedback from a sources such as surveys, social media, clickstream data and purchase history data. It’s typically used to measure progress against goals and identity both problem areas and opportunities.

Customer Data combines first and third party data to create a detailed profile and is sourced from CRMS, behavioral data, explicit preferences, segments, personas and data brokers. It’s typically used to better personalize experiences.

Customer Insight is comprised of primary customer research and secondary aggregated data from sources like surveys, focus groups, ethnographic research and market research services. It’s typically leveraged to create more accurate personas and to refine your journey maps.

Competitor Insight is about benchmarking against the market and understanding the “best of the best.” This data is sourced from industry indices, your own benchmarking surveys, third party research services and other competitor comparison research. It is typically used to high-level rank your brand’s customer experiences against your competitors.

Turning Insight into Action

According to Gartner, 51 percent of marketers say some aspect of customer experience reports in to the CMO.

Therefore one of the primary hurdles for customer experience improvement programs that Mennella highlighted is that of influence in the organization. Regardless of where a CX program reports — to the CMO or the Chief Customer Officer or elsewhere — your team simply won’t own all the areas that you need to influence.

Your CMO might own digital, but they likely don’t own customer service or brick and mortar retail. Customer experience is a cross-functional effort.  

How do you plan for and overcome this? 

According to Mennella, this goes back to the modeling phase. To succeed you need to involve all key stakeholders in the persona and journey mapping processes. Investing in early buy-in from the broader set of team members paves the way for future influence. She encouraged the audience to engage the following areas of the company: Customer Service, Sales, Analytics, IT, Brand and HR.

Don’t underestimate the impact this investment in peer relations can have, said Mennella. Above all, she stressed the importance of engaging HR: “You want to have HR on your side — they are the ones responsible for onboarding, training policies and often leading cultural change.”

Medallia's Soen offered another tip to success. His primary predictor of success for VoC programs: hardwire them into operational processes. 

Once you’ve got the framework, the goals, the data and the influence, the best way to achieve sustaining value from a customer experience improvement program is continuous improvement. Close the loop by injecting customer feedback directly into native processes, and ultimately into the front line of customer experience in near real time.