Human behavior is notoriously difficult to predict. This is just one of the many challenges customer experience leaders face.

Sophisticated modeling and massive data analysis can help, but these are typically based on past behavior. Past behavior might be helpful for predicting future successes, but what if the context or the entire environment changes from the past to the future? That’s the question customer experience leaders are often facing.

There tends to be emphasis on the time-bound outcomes that drive business, like annual revenue goals, efficiency metrics and customer feedback scores. And these timely goals must be tied to the real world, including current and immediate future challenges like continued supply chain disruptions, pandemic protocols and labor shortages.

Customer experience as a long-term strategy leads to long-term success. So while there is a place for time-bound goals and plans, a future-focused strategy can guide an organization way beyond an annual plan.

Create a Lasting Customer Experience Strategy

What can a business leader do to stay current while still planning for the long-term?

1.  Know Your Customers. Know Their Goals. Know Your Goals, Too.

Leaders of all kinds are being asked to “do better with customer experience” without much else. There is no data, there is no defined goal, and in some cases, there is no shared understanding of what customer experience is.

Wherever you start, get your foundations right:

  • Find out what you can about your customers. If you have data, use it. If you don’t, then collect whatever feedback you can from inputs like social media and product reviews.
  • Consider their real lives. Don’t get stuck in the “our customers only care about our product” fantasy. To look for clues for the future, it’s vital to understand their current reality. That means looking beyond basic demographics or job titles and knowing how they get their information, what needs their community has, and what other brands they're loyal to.
  • Keep in mind the life they’ve led recently. There have been changes. The pandemic created a different daily routine for most people. What about their stage of life? Are they dealing with school schedules or planning for retirement? Short-term change has given way to customer expectations around virtual options, digital ordering, and contactless checkout. Those updates in your may have started as short-term solutions, but the expectations are here to stay now.
  • Consider what your organization needs. Your organizational goals should direct your strategy around customer experience. Knowing that offering digital self-service options for customers is a priority should impact decisions around where to invest in the contact center, for example.
  • Build the right communication channels in your organization. No matter how good you are as a customer experience leader, you can’t get to the best results on your own. You need to build a team of leaders who care enough to react to customer feedback and improve their part of the customer’s journey. That requires a cadence of communication to celebrate the wins, share best practices and remind everyone that when customer experience is done well, everyone wins.

Related Article: 4 Steps Toward Successful Customer Journey Orchestration

2. Look for Customer Experience Trends Across All Industries

Almost without exception, most leaders tell me their industry is “unique.” But there are absolutely trends you can apply to almost every industry.

Your customers are customers elsewhere, and their expectations are set by all their experiences, not just your industry.

If you’re only considering your industry as your competition, you’re missing a big opportunity.

B2B customers are B2C customers in their daily lives. So they know that tracking delivery vehicles in real time on an app is reality. They check in to their hotels with contactless options and digital keys. They text with bots to confirm appointments without a thought.

No matter the industry, your customers expect you to keep up. Not with your competitors, but with their lives and expectations.

Look for the trends and then plan around them. Don’t ignore something because it doesn’t apply to your industry — because eventually it will.

Related Article: How to Make the Customer Journey More Data Driven

3. Consider the Customer’s Entire Ecosystem

People relocated from cities to suburbs during the pandemic months. They realized remote work allowed for this flexibility and moved their entire lives to accommodate more space and outdoor living.

What does that mean for your customer experience? It could mean a lot regarding store locations, delivery expectations and even what product selection to offer.

Learning Opportunities

Too often, I see leaders struggle with strategy because they create a universe where the customer has one goal — to use the company’s product. That’s not how people work, and the more you can truly pay attention to their overall environment, the more successful you’ll be in defining a lasting strategy.

Future-Proof Your CX Strategy

Now what? Now that you have some ideas, what can you do with these insights?

1. Identify Priorities in Customer Journey Maps

Who is the customer in one year or five? What are their needs and expectations? How can your customer journey support them and adapt accordingly?

This exercise is a great way to plan for the most important factors and to be there for the changing needs of your customers.

2. Fix the Pain Points of the Near Future

Once you identify what customers will prioritize about the customer journey in the future, look at the current journey for pain points that could get worse.

For example, knowing that more customers are now comfortable with using their mobile devices to get information while they’re shopping in-person could mean friction if stores have slow Wi-Fi connections. Consider how a customer will use their device in-store and build up the environment to support that new behavior.

3. Invite Employee Feedback for Innovation

Employees have great ideas and often see customer expectations changing in real-time. They need a place to put these observations and ideas. Visibility around these submissions also creates collaboration for future innovation and ideas.

Contact center agents, for example, hear about frustrations caused by comparisons to the competition. Customers complain about wait times, for example, and say things like “even my car mechanic has a mobile update system now — why do I have to wait on hold?” That’s a changing and important future expectation to design around, but agents often are discouraged from recording those observations.

Create supportive systems, processes and tools to embrace customer experience as a long-term strategy. Collaborate with employees and partners to surface ideas faster.

Customer Experience Leaders Have Vision, Take Action

Inertia is a powerful force. It can be easy to just let things happen the way they always have.

Successful leaders commit to a long-term strategy. Then they look ahead and consider the clues. Then, most importantly, they act.

fa-solid fa-hand-paper Learn how you can join our contributor community.