Customer experience has a lot of moving parts and recent shifts in customer behaviors have made the pace seem frantic at times. Navigating all of this requires a good plan.

All of a company’s CX efforts, from different programs to team building to execution, start with it’s CX strategy, which should be carefully crafted before implementation. Below are five key questions CMOs and CX leaders should be asking when developing the game plan for 2022.

1. Are You Aligning Strategy With the Brand Promise?

“CX strategy should not be treated as a standalone exercise, it needs to be aligned to a company’s brand promise, deliver easy experiences for customers, and provide convenience in channel choice,” said Jeffrey Fleischman, Altimetrik CMO. “For instance, BMW’s brand promises to build “the ultimate driving machine,” which is a sentiment that the company strives to reflect in their high-performance cars, right down to the sound of the engine and sleek designs. If their cars were blandly designed and drove sluggishly, this incongruence of their customer experience with their brand promise would break customer trust and their reputation, ultimately leading to a decline in sales. Another important aspect of the customer experience is making the buying process easy and fast by giving clients choice, convenience and control.”

Nothing kills a good customer experience more than making it overly complicated or difficult to purchase a product and this includes all aspects of the CX experience, not just the purchase, Fleischman added.  A company’s website must be easy to use, complete with clear product descriptions and a knowledgeable customer service or technical staff. Almost all of us can share stories of frustration in the difficulty about learning about or purchasing a product.

“If your CX falls short, consumers will explore other options with competitors that deliver better experiences,” Fleischman said. “There are many examples of successful companies that use existing technology and capabilities that are disruptive to their industries. Uber didn’t create new ride sharing technology, but instead built a superior CX which offered convenient features to customers, like the ability to order a car and track the location of drivers. Another great example is Amazon, which built a global retail juggernaut by not only creating an easier experience to shop online, but also by offering a speedy shipment process for products that can be delivered within days or sometimes within 24 hours.”

Related Article: Marketing's Growing Gap Between Strategy and Execution

2. Did You Consider the Customer Base?

“When building a CX strategy, first we need to understand the customer profoundly.  What experience is looking for, why and how they come to us, what type of interaction are they expecting?”, said Dino Villegas, associate professor of marketing at the Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University “During this research, we need to learn about our customers' emotions, conversations, habits, behavior, goals, and expectations. Interviews, netnographic observations (for example of a discussion forum or customer reviews of the brand or its competitors), and big data can be complemented with journey maps and/or empathy maps to build a complete picture of your customers and their context.”

Always remember that it is about the experience from the customer perspective and not features, Villegas added. Many organizations prioritize new features and cool technologies over the actual experience, overestimating the importance of new features and functions, while consumers tend to over-estimate the losses. So anything requiring new learning from customers (i.e., a new mobile app) carefully crafted.

Too many companies look at CX through the lens of the products and services they offer, rather than through the lens of the customer, agreed Iliya Rybchin, Elixirr partner.  “While ultimately the goal is to improve the sales and usage of these products and services, the CX strategy must first address the needs of the consumer and how they might engage with the products and services. Gathering and segmenting data are typical starting points — but data is not enough.”

Effective CX strategy dissects the psychology of consumers, their motivations, their pains and their desires, Rybchin added. “In some cases, this research may reveal that the challenge may be a combination of CX and redesign of the products or service. A CX strategy needs to be much more than just reducing friction in pushing products or services onto consumers.”

Villegas cautioned that the experience has to be tested with real users, so companies can adjust CX strategy when necessary. Other marketing experts also stressed the importance of testing and adjusting CX strategies as warranted.

Related Article: Determine Where You Can Win: 4 Steps to Master Go-to-Market 

3. Have You Started With the Business Goal in Mind?

There needs to be a clear understanding of the quantifiable business goals the strategy will achieve, said Rybchin said. “Companies often jump into CX initiatives with short-term goals and/or qualitative goals that don't fundamentally impact the business. Raising the NPS score or improving customer satisfaction rates is great but not directly linked to the metrics that matter to most CEOs and CFOs.”

If the CX strategy cannot directly answer how it will positively impact, revenues, costs, margins, etc., then it is doomed to fail, Rybchin cautioned. “The CX strategy must be tied to hard business metrics and held accountable to driving the success of the business — otherwise it's marketing fluff for the purpose of bullet points on a press release.”

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4. Have You Considered Human Behavior?

At the heart of a successful strategy is the notion of “thinking human,” said Doug Zarkin Pearle Vision CMO and vice president. “When it comes to designing end to end experiences, human behavior and leading into addressing emotional need states, fall lower on the list than forcing elements that might perhaps only drive incrementally or improve conversion. Essential, of course, is that your experience leads to profitability and comp growth, but also creates lasting stickiness with consumers has to remain a priority. A single transaction doesn’t equate to a successful experience. The battle for market share is not short term and solely focusing on squeezing profit out of a single transaction will inevitably lead to erosion and an inverse brand value equation.”

Michael Christie, senior vice president of sales and marketing for JetSpring, agreed: “More than technological advances or setting sales conversion goals, the most important element in any customer experience strategy should be, ‘Remember the human.’ When we all do most of our communication through a screen, it’s easy to forget how profoundly critical person-to-person contact is to our emotional satisfaction and happiness. No matter how sophisticated the AI, chatbots will never be able to duplicate the subtle nuances that make up human communication — even of the online variety. “

Executing on a strategy emphasizing the human behavior element, or on any other strategy, starts with identifying an insight, Zarkin said. “What is the gap or opportunity you are either hearing or seeing first-hand that is at the center of what you are looking to address? A source of truth for finding these are your associates, the single most powerful tool a brand has in their toolbox. Want to know what’s working or not working from an experience standpoint, talk to those tasked with executing it.”

Make sure you're listening to feedback from customers, Zarkin added. The people who visit your business are talking about you on social media, review sites and business listing pages, essentially handing you data that you can turn into insights for your strategy. Organizing all of this information and generating those insights is time consuming.”

“Prioritize the ‘must-do’s’ in the short term, and gradually move based on the success of the implementation to the ‘need to, should do,’ and within a five-year timeframe you can actually start to capture the ‘could-do’s and want to do’s’,” Zarkin said.

5. Are You Taking Privacy Considerations Into Account?

“The companies that "win" today — not just in terms of revenue, but also reputation — are the ones that prioritize customer experience and customer-centricity,” said Michele Szabocsik, BlueConic vice president of Marketing. They recognize the importance of delivering an experience that recognizes the privacy and preferences of the customer, regardless of where they’re interacting with the brand.

Companies are embracing and thriving in the new era of data privacy which actually helps deliver value to both the customer and the business, Szabocsik added. Decisions by Google Chrome, Apple Safari, and the other major browsers to eliminate or severely restrict the use of third-party cookies may seem like an inhibitor, but it actually gives companies the opportunity to rebuild their customer experiences to account for authentication, value exchange, consent.

Authentication: If an individual identifies themselves, it’s a signal that the consumer expects a company to understand their cross-channel behaviors, interests, and preferences and orchestrate a personalized experience designed just for them.

Consent: Before that experience can start, companies need to earn an individual’s explicit consent. Cross-channel opt-out and/or opt-in options are now mandatory, as is quick compliance with any consent changes made by consumers. Managing consent can’t be a manual or onerous process, otherwise it opens up companies to compliance risks.

Value Exchange: To earn consent to communicate, companies need to offer substantial value to their customers and prospects to ensure they remain opted in. Consumers are willing to share their data, but only if they feel they are getting value in return. The more data consumers provide, the more value-filled those experiences should become.

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