A thoughtful, dynamic customer experience strategy is at the heart of every bottom-line-boosting CX effort.
Customer experience is critical to business success. It drives more than two-thirds of customer loyalty, outperforming brand and price combined, according to Gartner.
Augie Ray, vice president analyst in the Gartner Marketing practice, said, "The goal of CX is to guide organizations to create powerful CX outcomes that improve customer satisfaction, strengthen attitudinal loyalty, reduce churn, lower cost to serve, lift referral volume and improve lifetime value."
Unfortunately, too many business leaders haven't committed enough resources to CX to revel in the outcomes Ray described above. They're neglecting critical CX elements such as customer feedback surveys, which are the primary measure of CX success. Likewise, training in the high-level, customer-centric soft skills customer support teams need is often sorely lacking.
An effective customer experience strategy demonstrates the power of digital transformation in action. To get optimal results, you must unify leading-edge technology with people-centric business practices. By combining data, technology and the human capacity for empathy, problem-solving and emotion, companies can leverage CX and make substantial financial gains.
Customer Experience Defined
Customer experience encompasses every interaction a customer has with your brand across every touchpoint — even those that don't result in a purchase — and the emotions and thoughts attributed to those interactions.
- Viewing an ad
- Reading a blog post
- Receiving a text
- Making a payment
- Waiting on hold with customer service
Even the tiniest exchange between a business and customer has the power to boost or harm that individual's perception of your brand.
Shep Hyken, chief amazement officer at Shepard Presentations, wrote for Forbes, "What's happening on the inside of your organization is being felt by your customers on the outside."
Your company culture, business processes, employees, stakeholders, products or services and platforms must be cohesive and aligned for optimal CX.
Customer Experience vs. Customer Service
Customer service is one aspect of customer experience, but they're not the same. While the former relates explicitly to interactions between agents and customers, every department, individual and process owns CX.
Another way of looking at the two concepts is customer service being reactive and customer experience being proactive. Customer service usually responds to a problem or is a reaction to customer interests or concerns. On the other hand, CX is a strategic approach to improving how consumers feel when interacting with your brand.
Related Article: How to Turn CX Into an Integrated Business Process
Elements of a CX Successful Strategy
According to PwC's Future of Customer Experience report, four core ingredients create a good customer experience:
In fact, "nearly 80% of American consumers say that speed, convenience, knowledgeable help and friendly service are the most important elements of a positive customer experience."
When engineering a customer experience strategy, you must involve every team member and process. You should aim to create a frictionless experience that intuitively takes customers from awareness to loyalty while putting a smile on their faces.
Like any strategy, decision-makers need to combine numerous elements and deploy change management best practices for results to take root.
CX Vision Statement
Every successful endeavor begins with a clearly defined vision, and your customer experience strategy is no different. Leaders should craft an aspirational statement that acts as a standard to inspire and align team members.
This statement should be simple and specific so that everyone can understand and buy into it.
Below are some examples of high-impact CX vision statements:
- McDonald's: Be the best quick service restaurant experience. Being the best means providing outstanding quality, service, cleanliness and value so that we make every customer in every restaurant smile.
- IKEA: Create a better everyday life for the majority of people.
- Hagerty: Deliver exceptional experiences with every single interaction creating lifelong clients that not only stay with Hagerty but tell their friends about Hagerty.
"Do unto your employees as you want done unto your customers," wrote Hyken. This sentiment is foundational for CX. Your people are the front-line ambassadors of your brand, and how they feel at work inevitably affects how your customers feel.
The Future of Customer Experience report stated that leaders must "focus on innovation and equipping employees with technology and information they need to best serve consumers.”
The report also recommended offering incentives to employees who provide a good experience, up-leveling training and fostering a culture of empowerment.
Data and Analytics
The data your website, social media pages, customer relationship management (CRM) platform and employees hold about your customers is your most valuable resource. Data is more than numbers; it paints a picture of who people are, what they like, what they don't like and how they behave.
When refining processes, make sure decisions are data-led, as it's the only way to be truly customer-centric. Across every touchpoint of your strategy, set goals, use measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) and track data to analyze success.
With personalization taking such high priority in consumers' purchasing behavior, knowing your target audience has never been more important. How can you optimize touchpoints for CX if you don't intricately understand your market?
Every business should have one to five fictional characters representing the common traits of its customer types. These characters, also called buyer personas, allow you to gain insight into customer personalities and psyches and build empathy and understanding for your customer base. Make sure your employees know each buyer persona inside and out, like old friends.
Buyer personas should include:
- Buying habits
- Pain points
Jordan Turner, content marketing manager at Gartner, wrote, "Many organizations lack the necessary experience creating personas and building end-to-end journey maps. But with time, attention and experience, they can hone these capabilities to improve customer experience (CX)."
Customer Journey Maps
Journey mapping is as central to CX strategy as building buyer personas and involves creating a visual representation of your customers' end-to-end experiences. It outlines every interaction, opportunity and pain point so that you can identify areas of excellence and improvement.
To create a map, take one of your buyer personas and map out their steps as they move through the buying process. Knowing the five As can help:
- Attract: How do they find out about your company?
- Accept: What inspires them to engage?
- Adopt: How does the customer prefer to interact with your brand?
- Amplify: What changes about the buyer's emotional state when they interact with your company?
- Advance: How do you encourage them to make a repeat purchase, write a review or make a recommendation?
"A journey map that focuses merely on the purchase funnel, and not the entire end-to-end customer journey, is not a CX journey map," said Ray. "Those sorts of journey maps may assist with efforts to build awareness, inbound traffic and acquisition, but they cannot uncover the opportunities that influence customer satisfaction, loyalty and long-term advocacy."
When devising and refining journey maps, never forget that every potential interaction with your brand is a marketing opportunity. From the first impression of your social media page to the follow-up email you send after a purchase, every moment is a big deal when it comes to CX.
Customer Feedback Loops
Customer feedback is the heartbeat of your customer experience strategy. It clues you in to customer expectations and can signal if industry changes are afoot long before any publication or news outlet. Asking for customer feedback signals to your consumer base that you care about how they feel. But it's just as crucial that you acknowledge and respond to customer feedback in a manner that resonates with your audience.
Naturally, you can't act on every tiny detail — but as soon as patterns emerge, do something. A struggling business might be inclined to hire consultants — which has its place — but you can tap into the people with the most valuable insight (your customers) for free.
Personalization is having a heyday currently, and it's only set to become more ubiquitous in the world of commerce. As automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning make it easier for companies to remember people's names, purchase histories, preferences and issues, customer experiences are getting increasingly personalized.
But the real power of personalization lies in the human touch. Most people would much rather speak to a person who remembers their name than see it flash on a screen — even if technology has facilitated that recall.
Highly successful companies realize that digital transformation’s power isn't about replacing people with tech. It's about using tech to optimize what people are already capable of.
Consumers are more tech-savvy than ever. On the one hand, that means business leaders must work a little harder. Old-fashioned sales tactics have been replaced with more time-consuming, long-term approaches. Likewise, buyers conduct so much research before purchasing that it can be challenging to stand out among the noise.
But there are areas where consumer-savviness can save you time and effort. Self-service solutions are more popular than ever, especially among younger generations. In fact, 40% of Gen Z said they’d desert a brand that didn’t offer self-service options, according to Coveo.
Whichever stage you're at in developing your customer experience strategy, competitive insights are crucial. With technology and the economy evolving at a record pace, keeping up with what your close competitors are doing acts as a benchmark and motivator.
Technology should be an important element of your customer experience strategy, but never let it overshadow your people. Some useful tools to consider using include:
- CRM platforms
- Customer feedback management tools
- Interaction analysis
- Personalization tools
- Data analytics
- Social listening
- Sentiment analysis
- Chatbots and live chat
- Business intelligence tools
The Future of Customer Experience report shined a light on the current state of how the public perceives technology:
"Today, 59% of all consumers feel companies have lost touch with the human element of customer experience. Automated solutions should ‘learn’ from human interactions so those experiences also improve. This shift allows your employees to be more engaged when they're needed, provide better service and get necessary support from technology — as part of the seamless experience."
Last but by no means least, it's imperative that you get all stakeholders on board with your customer experience strategy. Be sure to include all department leaders and investors in decision-making, and be prepared to make as many presentations as necessary for them to understand the urgency of buying into CX.
Related Article: The Most Important Components of the Customer Experience
How To Measure CX Using Customer Feedback
Data from the Future of Customer Experience Report demonstrated the potential consequences of neglecting CX. Of US consumers, it revealed:
- 59% of those polled would walk away from a company or product they love after several bad experiences
- 17% would walk away after just one bad experience
Without measuring feedback, you're not able to know whether your CX efforts are working. As such, you might have a CX strategy in place and still lose customers because you're not measuring results.
Measuring customer feedback is essential to any CX strategy, and there are many ways to gather it. Every company should choose the methods best suited to its specific business model and organizational goals.
Long-Form Customer Surveys
Long-form surveys are a popular way of closing the customer feedback loop and obtaining actionable insights into CX. Marketers usually send out this type of survey as an email, so striking a balance between thoroughness and brevity is necessary.
Sure, you want to gather as much information as possible, but your customers' time is precious. Plus, more questions often means less time spent answering each one.
Generally speaking, between five and 10 open-ended questions is ideal. You can inspire detailed feedback with this type of survey, and you'll get the most engagement from people who are already loyal to your brand.
Customer Satisfaction Scores
Customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) are easy to acquire and demand little effort from customers. The question is always the same, with the rating scale sometimes changing:
"On a scale of one to five, how satisfied were you with our service today?"
To calculate your score, divide the number of satisfied customers (those who rated four or five) by the total number of responses. You can send CSAT surveys after touchpoints such as onboarding, a support call or a week after purchase.
Your website is your online storefront and a hub of activity for most companies. For many marketers and decision-makers, bounce rate is a concerning metric. If you struggle with this, exit pop-up surveys are an excellent way to determine why people leave.
You might discover that your pages are taking too long to load, graphics are broken or the final price for a product (including shipping and other fees) isn’t revealed until too late in the buying process.
Another way to improve how customers experience your website is to use embedded survey widgets. It's a win-win situation, in which customers can let know about issues and you benefit from getting free maintenance prompts from site visitors.
Customer interviews are instrumental when designing customer profiles and journey maps. Try to identify several long-standing customers who loosely fit each fictional persona and have meaningful conversations with them. The information you learn can help you drill down and refine those customer profiles in as much depth as possible.
Your most loyal and dedicated clients know your company better than anyone. While it can be time-consuming, it's a highly personalized and proactive approach to gathering feedback and understanding how customers experience your brand.
If you've built a sense of community around your brand, suggestion boards and forums are excellent methods of gathering feedback.
This type of solution lets your customers collaborate to come up with even more creative solutions and ideas for improving CX. What's more, discussion boards on your website can serve as self-service platforms where your customers help each other solve issues.
Top Traits for Customer Support Staff
One of Hyken's mottos is: "A brand is defined by the customer's experience, and experience is delivered by the employees." Your employees' well-being and aptitude have a major impact on CX, so it's vital that you master the hiring process.
When looking for new team members, prioritize the following traits:
- A growth mindset
- Emotional intelligence
- Exceptional communication
While it's important to hire with specific experience in mind, prioritize people with a can-do attitude and excellent interpersonal skills.
Training Your Customer Support Team
When it comes to CX, your customer support team is on the front lines. You should train every employee in your company on the following concepts, but your customer-facing team members must be experts.
- People skills: Interpersonal skills are essential for customer support reps. They should understand how to speak with positivity and stay calm and composed under pressure. To gain trust and inspire loyalty, demonstrating empathy while taking control of conversations is vital.
- Assertiveness: While being friendly, calm and compassionate are necessary, your customer support team must also be assertive. Customers can subconsciously sense uncertainty, shyness or lack of conviction, making them feel insecure. Being assertive and direct helps customers trust your team.
- Communication: People often think of communication as primarily speaking or writing. However, listening is an underlying and often undervalued skill. Only reps who listen carefully can preempt customer needs. Clarity is another important element to train customer support teams in, and it can drastically improve CX.
- Crisis management: One of the most valuable lessons you can teach your customer support team is the power of turning a negative into a positive. When it comes to customer retention, nurturing an angry or upset customer back into a happy customer is paramount. According to research from Glance, 70% of unhappy customers would be happy to shop with a brand again if they resolved issues in their favor.
- Team-building: Having a bonded, cohesive team is crucial in every department — but none more than customer support. These employees must be as happy as possible so that they put their best foot forward in every customer interaction.
Customer Experience Strategy Best Practices
According to the Future of Customer Experience report:
- 43% of consumers polled would pay more for greater convenience
- 42% would pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience
- 65% find a positive experience with a brand more influential than great advertising
With these data points in mind, consider the following best practices when designing your CX strategy:
1. Prioritize Customer Relationships
Your customers and the relationships you cultivate with them should be at the center of your CX strategy. Take American Express as an example, which shifted from a customer service mindset to a customer experience one.
According to PwC, the company’s CX efforts — enhancing processes, shifting technologies, modifying products — led to a 400% increase in customer retention.
“These changes put customer relationships at the core of the strategy, further enabling Amex to position itself as more than a credit card company, winning more elements of a customer's life, from travel to concert tickets."
2. Assist Customers in Real Time
Compared to even five years ago, consumers are spoiled for choice. As big brands compete to appeal to consumers, they drive up their expectations and raise the bar for all businesses.
Customers don’t want to put their lives on hold for your business — even if it’s just waiting for a response from a customer service representative. Identify gaps in your CX strategy, including communication, and look for viable solutions.
Some tools to help customers reach you at any time include:
- AI-powered chatbots that can respond instantly 24/7
- Live chat with agents employed in multiple different time zones
- Frequently asked question pages, forums and self-service knowledge bases
3. Build on Communication Skills
With friendliness being so high on the list of consumer priorities, training your team to be bubbly, enthusiastic and confident is a must. Remember, a strong knowledge base underpins confidence, and confidence (but not arrogance) is the foundation of coming across as helpful and knowledgeable.
The first step for your team is regular technical training on your product and brand. Next, ensure every team member understands your customer profiles and journey maps inside out.
Conduct regular role plays and simulations, showcasing the skills of your friendliest, most engaging employees. Record calls and analyze performance with all management personnel present to avoid bias and maintain consistency of standards. Then, share constructive feedback with your team — both what they’re doing well and what they can improve.
4. Establish and Maintain Consistency
Naturally, if you want to deliver a customer experience that feels consistent every time, you need to foster a consistent brand and work environment.
Take Ikea as an excellent example of a brand that delivers brand consistency across every touchpoint in every country. No matter where you go, the product lines, store layout and customer service are perfectly aligned.
McDonald’s is another example. If you see those golden arches and walk into a store, you generally know what to expect in terms of restaurant design, customer service and food options.
5. Deliver Maximum Convenience
Not only should you endeavor to respond to customers at speed, but you should also make the sales process intuitive and convenient. Delivering instant gratification and seamless service will drive up profits, no matter the industry you’re in.
Remember in the early days of online shopping, before auto-filled login details and instant payment options? Making purchases was more time-consuming and far less enjoyable. Plus, businesses struggled to make money online for the simple reason that consumers had more time to change their minds.
Now is the time to update your website, app, social media pages and any other channels where customers reach you to make their lives (and purchases) as easy as possible.
Related Article: How to Make Your Customer Experience Better: Be Convenient
Customer Experience Strategy Is Crucial to the Bottom Line
Developing a customer experience strategy is a major undertaking and requires structural and cultural change. Sending a few managers on a course won't cut it.
To drive growth using CX, you must ensure every key stakeholder is on board, every customer touchpoint is identified and measured and every employee (not just the customer-facing ones) are trained in delivering an excellent experiences.