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By now, businesses have spearheaded multiple initiatives around customer service, customer experience and customer excellence, all in an effort to prioritize customers. Yet these terms seem interchangeable for most businesses. The first is a single touchpoint with your brand, while the others impact feelings and emotion, and encompass both the entire customer relationship and how you operationally deliver them.

A good way to explain the differences is with an example of a customer journey where a new client opens a checking account online or through a chatbot assistant but finishes the process in a branch or over the phone with a representative. If the representative is friendly and helpful, he or she delivers good customer service. The frictionless process of opening an account online or having a chatbot assistant to check their account balance and recent transactions helps create a great customer experience. Positive customer experiences like this have grown from a nice-to-have to a necessity in every industry. Each task completed, and the time in which it’s done, can greatly impact the overall success of CX efforts.

Moving beyond customer experience, if customers find it easy to do business with you and experience consistent high-quality experiences every time through every touchpoint, then you are moving from customer experience to customer excellence.

Rethink Processes With an Eye Towards Customer Success

In most cases, poor customer experiences are rooted in inefficient or outdated processes and technology — or at times, both. With social distancing, remote working, and greater dependency on online channels, it's even more important to understand those customer journeys and better align your processes to delivering them. To do this, you first need to understand what success is from a customer perspective and then work backwards to understand current processes and the holistic experience of everyone who is interacting with your product, service, brand and company.

According to McKinsey & Co., more than half of customer interactions (56%) are part of a multi-channel, multi-event buying journey. This shows that the customer journey is not as straightforward as it once was and demands new ways to strengthen customer relationships. It is also worth noting that all too often organizations map what they perceive as the customer journey and optimize for it, without capturing what customers actually face in the real journeys they undertake, and thus many initiatives fail to optimize or automate the right things.

While companies understand the importance of customer experience, many don’t know where or how to make improvements. Successful companies must shift their focus from just good and bad customer service to creating memorable experiences that build loyalty, increase customer satisfaction and maximize customer lifetime value. Here are four ways you can start moving towards creating better customer experiences and move towards true customer excellence by turning customers into advocates.

Related Article: 3 Ways to Design a Successful CX Program — And Why Most Miss Them

1. Focus on Customer Outcomes

Most businesses implement processes that end up creating more frustrating, painful moments during the customer journey, potentially leading to a lost client. Typically, this occurs when process optimization is being viewed through the lens of efficiency, such as how to make your process cheaper or easier. The better approach is to optimize based on effectiveness and looking at it from how you can deliver the outcomes the customer needs in the most efficient way.

A common approach to fix the journey is to collaborate with team members and specialists who work within your process — for banking, this can include customer acquisition staff, customer service representatives, and anyone who regularly interacts with content-centric tasks — and look for areas of improvement. Work with these team members and allow them to share input and guide you to achieve your goals.

However, a word of caution. While your teams may think they know what is happening, they often fail to capture the journey through the eyes of the customer, and may not have accurate data into how your processes are actually performing. Process workflows are commonly built on how people think they should flow and fail to reflect how employees actually interact with customers, systems and applications. If you relied only on observations and conversations, you may not see that up to 58% of workers claim they deviate from processes to better meet customers’ need. Incorporating technology can help provide an unbiased mirror of how business processes are working, one that won’t be influenced by opinion or internal politics. An additional data point to bear in mind is that often those deviations are good things. Deviations occur when employees have identified better alternatives, so don’t assume that the variance is bad, it could be that the variance should become the new process.

Related Article: High-Impact Customer Experience Tactics

2. Leverage Process Mining: Think of It as Discovery at Scale

Process mining and discovery is an emerging practice that focuses on the analysis of processes using event data. According to Forrester (paywall), nearly 20% of business professionals are using process mining today, 28% are planning to expand their usage, and a net new 27% are planning to embrace and implement these technologies in 2021.

Using mining tools with your processes is playing an increasingly important role in responding to the richness and complexity of customers’ experiences, aiming to create easy, seamless engagements throughout their journeys — from onboarding and underwriting to claims and retention. Those who use standout experiences to retain and attract customers while reducing costs and complaints are seeing substantial rewards.

It enables broader data analysis than most traditional approaches. Instead of relying on small samples, or just inputs from a few specialists, you can now perform analysis on thousands or millions of transactions and understand how all people performing roles work.

By embracing tools and methodologies that allow you to do discovery and analysis at scale, you can more easily create an objective baseline as to why change is needed and how best to approach that change. Often people think about process mining as forcing you to be data driven, but that is not the case. The strength of a good process mining tool is not in the data but the actionable insights that enable you to focus your efforts on the right things, as well as understand the compound impact of any changes you consider making.

Related Article: Bringing the 'Customer' Back Into Customer Experience

3. Use Both Human and Digital Intelligence

It’s important to remember that technology should augment and assist people, not replace them. The key to delivering a great customer experience is human intelligence. By knowing where process bottleneck or deviations are occurring, you can revise steps or retrain staff to ensure optimal outcomes occur.

Similarly, if certain employees are able to complete tasks at a higher success rate than others, you want to know how they’re doing it so it can be duplicated across the team for overall improved workforce productivity. This is where task mining is gaining momentum. Task mining allows businesses to understand the way employees’ complete tasks by recording user interactions, while keeping privacy in mind. It shares similarities with process mining, but it leverages user interaction data instead of business metrics and log files to analyze processes.

Related Article: Pandemic 2.0: Rethink Your Customer Engagement

4. Take a Holistic Approach to Process Automation

Process automation is seen as playing a critical role in driving digital transformation, but often falls short. In part, because of the confusion between digitization (simply taking what you do now and automating it) and digital transformation (rethinking what you do and how you want to do it, and then applying new and different ways of doing it through the use of digital technology). The most dramatic force driving this process automation imperative has been COVID-19, which pushed more than 60% of organizations to change their strategy and goals for process automation, according to Forrester. Of course, the travails of the last year have also forced leaders to understand that before rushing into process change or automation you first need to understand how business is changing, how markets are changing and what role organizations play in that new world. This year and beyond is sure to bring into sharp focus the difference between those who simply tried to apply digital versus those who understood how the landscape had changed first and then thought through how digital strategies could better help them respond.

By taking a journey-first approach, whether customer, patient, employee or user, then you will better understand how your processes need to be reimagined. Every touchpoint in a journey is likely to trigger or inform one or more processes. By connecting process optimization to each touchpoint or step of the customer journey you can be sure that the experience you create will be the best possible — from employee or customer onboarding, through product and service delivery to invoicing to customer service, and everything in between.

Continuous improvement often fails because the effort of keeping data up to date and monitoring processes is too time consuming. Having an easy-to-use system that encourages constant analysis of your business allows for more opportunities to tweak, add new automations, and recalibrate as situations emerge. And that is the secret to providing great customer experiences — ever day, through every channel, every time.

Related Article: Where to Invest in Customer Journeys: Define, Design and Implement