Not so long ago, many companies never heard of the term “customer experience.” Now, it’s as commonly discussed as, say, “competitive strategy.” As with strategy, there’s no one correct way, but there are some proven approaches to reach goals, and Forrester Research has made an effort to capture them in a new report.
Improved customer experience (CX) has very tangible benefits in this digital age, including better customer loyalty and a more efficient path to acquiring new customers. But the Forrester report, “The Path to Customer Experience Maturity,” released in conjunction with the Customer Experience Forum taking place in New York, contends that most companies won’t get there because their ambitions are “too grand” or their efforts are weak.
Grand ambitions, for instance, include trying from the start to create an experience different from any other company's, and weak efforts include failing to regularly measure CX or even just to track all of a firm’s CX efforts across customer touchpoints.
The solution, as with many other long-term business solutions, involves establishing best practices and making them a routine part of everyday activities and long-term planning.
Forrester identified 40 essential practices, and boiled them down into six disciplines for its CX maturity framework. Following these disciplines, the report said, companies can improve CX over time, demonstrate cost savings and, with the resulting larger group of happy and loyal customers, see revenue improvements.
The six disciplines are strategy, customer understanding, design, measurement, governance and culture.
Strategy aligns a specific CX plan with the company’s overall strategy and brand attributes, and is shared across an organization as a guide for decision-making. Customer understanding involves practices based on a shared sense of the company’s customers, and design molds the broad range of customer interactions at every touch point -- website, retail locations or customer service.
Measurement and governance means setting up systems to track progress consistently and completely, as well as systems to manage the evolution of CX through the assignment of responsibilities and processes. And culture requires companies to create shared values and behaviors that support its CX efforts through hiring, socialization and rewards.
Forrester said companies that successfully adopted these six disciplines tend to follow the same phased path toward their goals. In Phase 1, the companies fix what’s broken in their customer experience through continual listening, a prioritization of fixes and then a coordinated repair effort that measures results.
Phase 2 is Elevate, in which the newly-determined good practices become the new normal, such as Rosetta Stone’s monthly reports of “top customer rants and raves," or Courtyard by Marriott’s training program that gives new hires the company’s sense of what guests want. Forrester also noted that CX-successful companies reward customer-centric behavior by employees across the enterprise.
Phase 3 is Optimize, when companies develop a “sophisticated CX toolkit” that involves modeling ideal CX approaches, utilizing an outside experience design practice or building one internally and tying training programs to customer experience.
In Phase 4, Differentiate, successful companies stretch beyond a good CX to provide a differentiating one that can become a significant competitive advantage, such as determining unmet customer needs or reframing problems or opportunities to include the underlying need. Companies might also refocus their entire CX ecosystem, which might involve orienting it around steps in a customer’s journey rather than around the company’s focus on its product.
In an era when most products and services can be commoditized, brands need to continually improve their customer experiences in order to survive -- and this Forrester report provides a solid guide for getting on the path to long-term survival.