group of people standing on the viewing platform of the Empire State Building
PHOTO: Jay Wennington

Customer experience is the key for companies to stay competitive, but simply establishing a customer experience (CX) program isn’t enough by itself. A company needs to audit its CX program to ensure it is delivering the expected performance.

The audit itself is a comprehensive evaluation of your customers’ interactions with your brand, said Qiuping Yu, assistant professor at Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. “It includes all the critical touch points during your customers’ shopping journey, from searching, choosing your brand, buying the product/service, to interactions after their purchase. Customers may have repeated purchasing incidences; it is important to track their historical purchases as well.”

Related Article: The First Step of Data Mobilization: Data Audit and Data Consolidation

The Elements of a Customer Experience Audit

Firms conducting a customer experience audit need to look at two distinct components: customer experience management capabilities (what the company does internally to design and deliver intended experiences); and customer experience performance (what customers think about how a company is performing), said Paul Hagen, a senior principal with West Monroe Partners.

“Many consultancies and CX pundits have their own proprietary models for looking at these competencies, but they generally fall into broad buckets that include strategy, customer insights, governance and operating model, design, technology and people/culture,” Hagen said. “The Customer Experience Professionals Association outlines these competencies as part of its certification program.”

Start by analyzing data known about a customer to better understand the experience flows and data relationships better (“what” is actually happening) and secondly, to then use the insights derived to drive research into “why” the experiences (positive or negative) are happening, said Duncan Steels, principal at Capgemini Invent.

Hagen added that companies with robust voice of the customer (VOC) programs keep a finger on their performance pulse with ongoing, real-time surveys conducted across the customer journey with enterprise feedback management tools. For others getting started, an audit might start with a series of research to establish a baseline. Either way, auditing CX performance involves some level of qualitative research (e.g. customer/employee interviews, observations and other ethnographic studies) and quantitative research (e.g. surveys, operational data, path analysis, other behavioral analysis) to understand overall experience or to audit some aspect of the experience, such as onboarding or support.

Visualizations like customer personas, storyboards, journey maps and service blueprints are useful tools to make that research digestible and identify top problems and opportunities, according to Hagen. Root cause analysis helps those conducting the audit to define more clearly the “problem to solve” for experience designers. Finally, the audit might include some rapid experimentation and piloting of experience improvements along with scoping and business cases to ensure that the audits result in action. 

Related Article: 3 Ways to Close Gaps in the Customer Journey

Identify Your Most Important Customers

“Central to a CX audit is a deep dive into a brand’s most important consumers — the 80 of the 80/20; their behaviors, their attitudes, their preferences, their needs,” said Gene Tiernan, managing director at teamDigital. “This includes terrestrial as well as digital experiences, as they are not distinct. This can be done through a combination of primary, secondary, and tertiary research, heuristic and ethnographic observation, as well as an historical assessment of collected business data points.”

The audit should be married up to the big-picture business goals — how to align the business ambitions with the stated and observed needs of our most important customers and prospects, Tiernan added. Once research has indicated some commonalities across the 80 percent, it is important to create the use cases and day-in-the-life scenarios that will identify where a brand matters to a consumer and vice versa.

Ensuring all of the customer touchpoints are analyzed comprehensively, and holistically is crucial to understanding the whole picture and to creating insights into areas where the experience is working well or not. We use data science techniques to uncover insights into the end to end experience touchpoints, the associated costs to deliver then and the (current or predicted) value of the customer to the company, Capgemeni’s Steels agreed. “There is no point in paying thousands of dollars to acquire customers that don’t yield any profits for the company.”

Related Article: 8 Tips for Conducting Customer Experience Audits

Customer Experience Audit Challenges

CX audits are getting better, but marketers aren’t taking advantage of continuous optimization of CX, according to Wilson Raj, global director of customer intelligence at SAS. “One challenge is that organizations are using analytic techniques and optimization that’s too simplistic. It’s not enough to run three or four A/B testing routines on your website. Use more sophisticated techniques such as advanced segmentation, multivariate testing — for dozens of treatments — and predictive targeting. All these collectively increase the rate of CX optimization.”

For example, Raj explained, a retailer can test numerous online shopping cart experiences. By comparing the uplift in the number of registration or cart abandonment during multivariate testing, the retailer can drive optimal experiences that serve customers and meet the brand’s conversion goals.

Another challenge to be aware of, according to Raj, is that marketers tend to optimize channel-based campaigns and not a continuous series of customer interactions. Instead of focusing on key performance indicators (KPIs) like traffic volumes, cost per click and conversion rates, marketers should pay more attention to broader customer-focused success indicators such as level of engagement (time on site, sentiment), content consumption and lifetime value (churn, retention, product propensities). 

Raj added: “The bottom line is you need a balanced mix of metrics for a better CX audit.”