escalator going up with one  person on it
PHOTO: Ronaldo Santos

Companies start small, and the ones that succeed, grow. But the customer experiences that worked for a small company may not scale with the company as it grows, so what strategies can businesses turn to?

How Do You Scale the Personal Touch?

“Startups have many advantages over established firms when it comes to customer experience,” said Paul Hagen, senior principal in the customer experience practice from West Monroe Partners. “Startups are typically started to fill an unmet need in the marketplace, or a new solution that solves the need better. The founders observe customers and solve for their needs — adapting quickly to any failure in meeting those needs is essential.”

Airbnb, Stitch Fix and Warby Parker all built customer and/or employee-centric mindsets into their DNAs at early stages, according to Hagen.

However, as firms grow, many struggle to scale the personal touch, he said. Specialized functions and silos begin to form that reduce visibility between what the left and right hand are doing with customers. Additionally, as more sophisticated technology is deployed to help those specialized functions, a business and technology architecture can form that is more rigid (less adaptable).

Hagen pointed to USAA credit union, a perennial CX leader, which realized that its own organizational and technology silos (e.g. insurance, financing) were getting in the way of efficiently delivering and scaling great experiences. For example, a customer buying a card needed insurance and financing, yet that required connecting across to contact centers as well as application processes (and supporting technologies) to get the job done. To solve this issue, USAA established a head of CX to re-orient organizational and technology design around customers instead of internal functions.

Related Article: Better Processes = Better Customer Experiences

5 Tips for Growth

Firms at a pivotal point of growth that are afraid of losing their connection with customers should consider several tactics to keep the focus on customers, according to Hagen:

  1. Design your organization around customer journeys. Clearly understand the jobs customers are trying to do — and the journeys they take to complete their jobs successfully — and create accountability, informational flows and metrics for customer success.
  2. Build customer insight capabilities. It’s easy to stay in touch with customers when the firm only has a few. When the firm grows, a capability to capture customer signals about how they’re doing, what’s working (or not) and how their needs are changing is critical to long-term health.
  3. Ensure actions are taken on the data. Ensure that whatever governing mechanism that makes decisions about how/where to spend money is listening to and making decisions based on data, not just executive gut feelings.
  4. Keep an eye on employees. USAA realized that its organizational design was killing employees who were having to MacGyver solutions to maintain customer experience, something that was ultimately neither scalable nor sustainable. Employee and customer experience are intertwined. Firms should keep a pulse on employees to ensure their experience is great and they’re engaged.
  5. Build high performance self-service. Many firms turn to digital self-service to scale, but overlook its effectiveness. Simply putting it in place is not enough. Designing it to proactively eliminate problems and quickly take care of easy transactional issues frees time for humans to deal with the hard issues customers grapple with. Use customer insights to ensure that the problems self-service should be able to solve is actually solving them — and continuously improve when it’s not.

Related Article: Customer Experience Isn't About Fixing Discomfort, It's About Preventing It

Shift Focus from Customer Acquisition to Engagement

For newly emerging and growing brands, the initial focus is usually on customer acquisition and the basic execution of their business model, said Garin Hobbs, director of deal strategy at Iterable. “However, the priority needs to quickly shift to evolving the customer experience [to an] engagement and retention strategy, which is key to ensuring the longevity of the brand. Customers are often excited to try the ‘new’ thing, but the novelty quickly wears off, especially if the brand doesn’t offer a unique product, service or value.”

Hobbs pointed to the rise and fall of direct-to-consumer brands that a company’s product alone won’t sustain growth. Some of these brands start with a lot of interest among customers, but the ones people stay with use data to understand how their products impact the individual customer (help the routine, empower the lifestyle, etc.) and then deliver highly personalized content that puts them as the backdrop for the product or service. 

“Initially, marketers can use profile and event/interaction data to make some safe assumptions on preferences, but brand-consumer relationships are becoming increasingly complex and marketers need real-time access to broad and disparate data sets to drive real-time cross-channel messaging experiences that keep pace with the customer in the moment,” Hobbs said.

Related Article: Why Are Companies Investing in Customer Retention?

Ensure Seamless Experiences

As a business grows, it not only needs to maintain competitive products or services for its industry to solve the core consumer challenges, but must also provide a seamless CX for the consumer throughout their individual journey, said Paul Miser, CEO of Chinatown Bureau. To do this, businesses must document and map out the current state of the consumer's journey, understand their state of mind, expectations and activity at each interaction point, then set out to remove or reduce moments of pain or chores and expand or spotlight the moments of joy or cherish.

“By continually reducing pain points and expanding moments of joy, businesses will create a CX strategy that grows their business through reduced costs, increased profits and new revenue opportunities all while putting the consumer at the center of the business operations,” Miser added.