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PHOTO: dylan nolte

In any given week, I work with multiple customer experience practitioners across a variety of brands in different vertical sectors, with programs at different levels of maturity, budget and resources. This not only makes for a varied working week but it exposes me to a wonderful bird's eye view of the state of customer experience around the globe, which is a good place to spot strong emerging working practices and opportunities for improvement.

All of these brands are working towards conquering that last mile of creating valuable change and moving the service needle ahead of customer expectations.

Over the last year or so, there's been a lot of talk about being more agile with customer experience (CX). Companies with agile CX practices in place have met with some success: it makes them faster to fail and of course faster to win, both of which can be seen as positives. 

Agility is therefore often seen as a bit of a holy grail in the world of customer experience, but you are destined for failure if you do not have certain key program elements in place. 

Let’s consider how we got to this point. We started off by bringing in customer voice through market research, which took three months to analyze. By the time you knew what needed to change, the customer had moved on in their expectations. Next we moved much closer to real time, with surveys, speech and text analytics and now we've moved into behavioral and predictive analysis where we have often set ourselves up for failure by scoping huge projects with shaky dependencies and unrealistic timelines.

Let's get back to basics and remind ourselves of those key stages and core principles to see where agile makes sense.

The three key stages are designed to help you understand, in easy steps, what the key focus areas are for you. So whether you are just starting out or re-engineering a program, creating a best practice center of excellence or building an innovative program focused on service differentiation, you can identify gaps and build a program roadmap.

The Committed Practice

committed practice
The committed practice is a starting point for many practitioners. It’s where you build your program foundation for success and it will likely take the most time to detail and truly operationalize.

Some of the key strategic things you will want to get in place here are methods to flatten out CX in a siloed organization, such as making sure you align your CX strategy and agree on some common overarching customer goals. These goals may be used in KPI trending, but perhaps more importantly they can be used to align CX engagement across the business.

Once you have these common goals, you will be able to identify your key stakeholders. These are your CX change agents.

With common goals and CX change agents established, you are ready to start surfacing those customer stories. This is the program gold, getting this right is the biggest reason for success over failure. If you can create compelling customer stories of pain and you can make a business case for change then you have a successful program on your hands.

Of course, strategy alone won’t drive the program. You need to apply the right tactical elements.

Related Article: Raise the Bar on Customer Experience With Maturity Models

The Optimized Practice

optimized practice
Your committed practice is in place. You now want to create that center of excellence. This stage builds the platform for future agility, so you need to ensure that your program has effective governance, change management focus areas and is checked for re-iteration every quarter. If in the first stage the program gold is surfacing stories then the gold during the optimized practice phase is the quarterly re-iteration. This is when you assess successes and uncover next best strategic steps. I tell my customers to look at this like a CX quarterly business review, doing it will keep the urgency of the program and help you measure that forward momentum. It’s extremely important. 

On the tactical side, you will be creating customer “I wish” topics and themes and start to look at bringing in the voice of customer from the employee and possibly a full voice of employee program. Did you know you can double the success of your VoC program by correlating with a VoE program to understand successful employee behaviors and truly engage and activate the employee?

Related Article: Want to Hear the Voice of Customers? Listen to Your Employees

The Differentiated Practice

differentiated practice
The final stage is not for everyone. It is typically strongest in markets which have suffered impact by disruptors or brands that seek to gain or retain significant market share and those that are reengineering a business model. These practices are pervasive in their approach to CX: they seek to deploy the latest tools, are often led by industry thought leaders and are able to not only connect customer journeys across the omnichannel experience, but also predict and personalize journeys.

These innovators of service show agility of change at scale and test and learn continuously. One of the more surprising factors I see in common across the differentiated practice is high levels of closing the loop, even in high footfall or high throughput B2C operations. This is because along their journey to program maturity, they have been doing financial linkage with CX. These brands have already learned that by closing the loop with detractors they can significantly increase lifetime customer value — as Apple learned long ago, every hour spent making calls to dissatisfied customers can generate $1,000 in revenue, or more than $25 million annually.

The differentiated practice uncovers stories at an early stage, then look to understand successful selling and service behaviors. They coach people in these successful behaviors and when they fall short, they use prediction modeling to understand impact. This prompts their closed loop methodologies. 

Related Article: How Leaders Turn Martech Strategies Into Tactics

Agile Isn't Right For Everyone

Over the years I've seen these stages of maturity have provided consistent success. Agile CX is a wonderful concept but for some it may remain just that. It takes dedication to get to the point where many businesses will feel they are ready for agile CX — but if you have a mature program now it could be your next big leap.