three women swimming in a pool photographed from above
PHOTO: Bruce Christianson

Designing a successful customer experience (CX) program requires constant iteration and delivery. Too often, companies “stand up” CX programs, then walk away, only revisiting the program’s measurement rubric in times of trouble.

For too many, improving customer experience means relying on a static survey instrument or omnipotent database. Instead, an organization’s CX program should be a seasonal process that frequently tests new initiatives to drive corporate decisions. 

This seasonal process should consist of seven intricately-linked steps, the first of which is program design. At its very basic, program design is the overarching, big-picture plan you make to collect data so you can improve your customers’ experiences over time. Here are three ways to improve your program design process: 

Think Big Picture — and Reevaluate Every Year 

The first step in creating a successful customer experience program is taking time to understand the big picture. Too many companies waste time, money and customer goodwill because they live with bad program design they’ve inherited and are too afraid to change. But a good CX program can be a lodestar for organizational alignment and improved customer experience. 

Look at it this way: if your back starts hurting, you may initially take some medication to manage the pain. But eventually you’ll want to understand the root cause and find a long-term solution. Now, let’s say your organization has noticed a problem with customer churn, so you add a few more questions to the monthly CX “program” currently in the field. You don’t have time to launch a new project and curate that separately. 

But before you know it, those questions on customer churn have become a salient feature of your customer experience “program.” Internal stakeholders are now reluctant to change the wording of the questions you concocted in a hurry, and they measure success based on the benchmarks established in the first month. You add module after module to find what you missed initially, but after many months of corrections and additions, your entire program is oblique, unhealthy and worse than it was before.

Instead of looking for a lasting cure, you’re taking pain medication every day. Step back and, with others in your organization, ask some big picture questions about what you want your CX program to become. Create an annual program calendar to plan around seasonal economic indicators and create room to continuously improve.  

Then, reevaluate your program every year. Look at your timeline and figure out where you have space to redesign, add projects, fix poorly designed projects, dump projects, and add operational economic data that improves your ability to predict customer behavior. 

If there are immediate organizational needs, you can address those with an ad-hoc pulse — with the caveat that you will be iterating and improving on the project once you can integrate it into a broader program. Good programs are rarely cobbled together in a hurry. 

Related Article: Customer Experience Best Practices: A Framework for Designing Outstanding CX

Get in Your Customer’s Head (and Heart)

Understanding your customer on their terms is a fundamental part of CX program design. As you plan, ask yourself questions like: “Who are my customers?” “How do they speak?” and “How can I make interactions with my customers feel like a conversation?”

The first and most important step is a customer-focused journey map that you can iteratively improve upon on an annual basis. (Put it on your new calendar!) Plan ways to gather quantitative data that helps you understand what’s going on inside your customer’s head, as well as qualitative data that aids you in discerning how they feel. 

Remember, you can’t just ask a broad, open-ended question like, “What other comments do you have to add?” That, alone, won’t continue to produce insight. A healthy CX program includes interviews, ethnographies, focus groups, pilot programs, curated panels, and other novel methods that helps you understand your customer’s heart. 

The goal should be to put all of your customer touchpoints on one page and involve the broadest group of stakeholders possible. 

Related Article: What You Should Know About Voice of the Customer Survey Questions

Align the Right People at the Right Time 

CX program health requires everyone’s involvement, so create room in your annual plan to understand internal needs. Find a regular time to meet and plan. Present new ideas and give them time to develop. Be clear about the fact that new projects will grow, have a useful lifespan, and then be removed to create room for other initiatives. 

Your program is healthy because you socialize it. Everyone, from the CEO to the customer service rep, knows when they can influence the CX program because the meeting and the agenda already exist on their calendar. Once those calendars are aligned with your seasonal calendar, your program will start to do what it should.

A healthy CX program reflects seasonal and changing demands, aims to understand the customer in a way that is unobtrusive, and answers the needs of internal stakeholders. With a focus on timely administration and a dedication to a culture of iteration, the prep work of program design is what separates the leaders from the followers in customer experience.

Editor's Note: This is the first in a seven-part series. Check back next month for the next installment