According to recent research, 75 percent of business executives say they want their companies to become customer experience (CX) leaders. That should come as no surprise, given the mounting evidence that CX drives revenue growth in most industries. But by definition, only a handful of companies can actually be CX leaders. 

Let’s look at what it takes to be a CX leader — and what’s in the way of realizing that vision for most companies.

1. Link Strategy to Business Objectives

John P. Kotter, Harvard Business School professor and author of "Leading Change," has said, “Leaders establish the vision for the future and set the strategy for getting there.” We have our vision — become a CX leader — so let’s focus on strategy.

A CX strategy should be related to attaining one or more business objectives. If your goal is to increase annual revenue by 10 percent, your objective might be to sell more or more often to existing customers. If your goal is to increase profitability by 15 percent, your objective might be to improve operational efficiency. 

How you evaluate your customer experience strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and prioritize your CX-related efforts should relate back to your business objectives. Many of the analysts I speak with say they feel the majority of companies are struggling with this linkage.

2. Understand What Success Looks Like

You’ve chosen your business objective. How do you achieve it? Customer experience analysts and thought leaders consistently focus on three elements:

People

Every strategy needs a leader to implement it and customer experience is no different. It needs an executive sponsor to “own” customer experience across the entire organization. Some organizations have appointed a Chief Customer Officer or Chief Experience Officer. Others have extended the CMO’s role to include customer experience. Regardless of title, the executive must address customer experience across the entire customer lifecycle.

Processes 

Customer journeys very often cross departmental lines, therefore, so must the internal processes that support those journeys. If you haven’t yet identified and mapped your customer journeys, start there. Understand what the customer is trying to achieve with each journey, and look for opportunities to remove steps or reduce friction.

Technology

Customers expect a seamless experience, therefore, digital experience delivery technologies must be fully integrated. Once you’ve mapped your customer journeys, identify the digital experience delivery technologies behind each touchpoint in those journeys. Look for and resolve inconsistencies in branding, language, information and user experience.

3. Evaluate Your Resources and Organizational Structure

Now let’s look at how closely reality mirrors these recommendations.

People

In January 2015, Forrester Consulting conducted research on behalf of my company. We asked people in IT, marketing and line-of-business roles how satisfied they were with their ability to manage customer-facing communications across the entire customer lifecycle. Respondents who reported being “very satisfied” attributed that success to a single senior executive having led the effort. The study also showed that organizations with such a leader are in the minority — less than 12 percent.

To be a CX leader, your organization will likely need to change its approach to managing customer experience. If you’re the CEO, pick the senior leader you feel to be best qualified to lead this initiative. If you’re a CIO, CMO, etc., tasked with improving customer experience, make sure you have (or get) the authority you’ll need to lead change beyond your own department.

Processes

In Forrester’s Q4 2014 Global Customer Experience Peer Research Panel Online Survey, 60 percent of CX professionals reported that business owners don’t cooperate across departmental boundaries. Shocker: Silos exist!

Silos persist for two reasons:

  1. Most organizations are structured as a set of discrete departments with direct reporting lines to a single C-level executive (e.g., Chief Marketing Officer).
  2. The majority of business processes, whether operational or supporting, are self-contained within those same departments.

The problem, relative to customer experience, is that customer journeys often cross departmental lines. Aaron Shapiro, CEO of digital experience design firm Huge, was recently quoted as saying, “A lot of the experience problems users have fall between the gaps in organizational silos. You can almost map usability problems to where one organization’s authority stops.” You could be losing revenue, or even customers, to those gaps.

Technology

Digital experience technologies must deliver consistent branding, language, information and user experience, or risk eroding customer trust. Most companies are falling short here.

Research by Bain shows that nearly one-third of technology purchases are now made by executives outside of IT. This is consistent with an InfoTrends study, which found that marketing and lines of business are increasingly involved in purchases of CX technologies. Yet, according to a study commissioned by Sitecore, 78 percent of respondents listed software products that aren’t well integrated as the leading factor impeding the success of digital experience initiatives.

The takeaway: The degree of technology integration is directly correlated with the quality of customer experience.

Examine your digital experience technology portfolio. Look for integration issues, but don’t stop at whether or how systems are integrated — look at why and how well they are integrated. For example, look for opportunities to share data, digital assets, layouts, styles and workflows across your organization to improve consistency and eliminate gaps in customer experience.

Looking for a Champion

Currently, most companies are not well positioned to be CX leaders. They do not have well-defined CX strategies, or they operate in silos, in which different departments use poorly integrated technologies and disconnected business processes to communicate via the same touchpoints (e.g., website, email) with the same set of customers.

In order to be a CX leader in your industry and beyond, your company will need an executive sponsor — a CX champion — who will define and implement a strategy to align and integrate the people, processes and technologies that deliver your customer experience. Are you that champion?

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  antifluor