instruments of measurement on a table
PHOTO: Andrea Sonda

When I think of Return on Investment (ROI), and I frequently do, I see tremendous focus on the metrics and calculations of ROI in customer experience (CX), but very little about the practice itself.

An ROI program is a fundamental keystone of a CX program. It’s where we show what we contribute to the business which otherwise leaves questions on how CX impacts the bottom line. Here are a few things you should consider in the practice of ROI programs. Once you decide on the direction of your ROI program, choose integrating metrics that matter most to you and your business leaders.

How Do I Start an ROI Program?

If you haven’t done an ROI program before in your business, or if your current one isn't working for you, I have seen some great wins result from starting with an initial 90-day ROI program. This will set you off on the right foot with the key disciplines in place and provide a clear focus for driving prime objectives. It will enable you to make any adjustments quickly, (I’m a big fan of failing fast), and create a short ramp up to the first milestones which will expose shortcomings quickly and get all the key players engaged with a bit more urgency than your typical 12-, 24- and 36-month plans. 

Once you have completed this 90-day program, you will be much more confident in the success of a longer program. And if you do it well, you will most likely see greater senior stakeholder buy-in and perhaps even increased budget or manpower to scale up the show. It will also provide a fast way to add those longer-term heavyweight objectives that require a longer lens.

Related Article: How to Show the Value of Customer Experience Efforts

An 8-Point Checklist to Get Your CX ROI Program Started

The following are my top eight disciplines which I have seen implemented to deliver, or in some cases course correct, impressive ROI programs. Even the most complex programs need to start simply with solid foundations to enable the complexity to layer on. The technology that you use to measure this may also start simply with an ability to gather insights across all channels and touchpoints, but as you scale you could find immediate business value in layering on your text analytics, your journey analytics and, if powered by AI, recommendations for “what should be,” which will be business changing.

8 point checklist

1. Business Alignment 

Let’s start by developing success objectives. What are your goals? Do you have a hypothesis of things you are looking to change or anticipate as customer pain points? Your first decision will be around what goals you want to reach for. Start by looking at the overarching business goals and then pick CX goals that feed into it if you need to get senior stakeholder buy-in.

For the goals themselves, as this is a short 90-day program, the primary elements should be to pick goals that can be easily measured, a current topic or issue that people care about or goals that you think will show an early story and that you can make easy adjustments to without too much red tape. Great early goals could be improving satisfaction scores for a certain area of your website or conversion in another. Goals such as managing customer churn or employee retention are great for longer-term programs but will be unlikely to yield tangible results for a shorter program.

Related Article: Customer Experience ROI: The Secret Formula

2. Baseline Current State 

Start with a 30- to 60-day historical baseline and use any relevant metrics and customer feedback on your goal areas. Always establish a baseline prior to starting the project and double check to make sure your baselines are accurate. I have seen great programs fail in the boardroom at the final readout when a stakeholder finds a hole in the baseline.

3. Design ROI Roadmap

Having identified your first set of key objectives, set them up in a roadmap template showing your adjustment path for each element of that objective. You can include things like A/B tests, adjustment notes and sequential measurements (see figure 1 below). Most goals have three or four elements which can be used to deliver key contributions for great marginal gains. These contribute to the overall objective, so be sure to create multiple roadmaps with a consolidated view for leadership.

design roi roadmap

Related Article: Why Customer Experience Is Everything

4. Value Stream Mapping

This is essentially mapping signals to levers for chosen objective management.

Signals are identified as those areas that gather customer intelligence and are hopefully present across all channels in your organization. They can be surveys, online chat sessions, SMS, contact center recordings or any other medium you have provided for your customers to engage (see figure 2 below). Map these signals to your goals so you are absolutely clear where your levers are to move the objective forward.

value stream mapping

5. Evaluate Objective Signals

Evaluate each touch point related to the objective continuously and record baseline and periodic progress every 30 days. Show combined current measurement for overall objective measurement.

evaluate objective signals

Related Article: Are Your Customer Experience Metrics Setting You Up for Success?

6. High Impact Strategic Change Plan

Here we map out the change management process for each chosen objective.

Almost every business that embraces change has one of these in play. They are instrumental in gathering a disparate stakeholder team aligned on goal-oriented change. Also consider the cadence of review. These are living, breathing documents that are driving impact, and as such, need to be updated almost in real-time. If you are finding that you are retrospectively updating this prior to a governance or leadership meeting, you probably need to think about the prominence of this in your program or maybe look at who is empowered to review and edit.

7. Execution

Once we have all the data rolling in and we can clearly see the pains to address it’s time to prioritize what to fix. There are a million books on the subject of successful change and execution, but each enterprise needs to execute in their own way to be truly effective for them.

It helps to evaluate risk right at the start. How could this fail? Something major happens and we all get busy firefighting another project, we lose essential team members, we have a new CEO with different vision — the list of reasons for failure could be endless but the thing that will keep this alive is because we know it works. It saves the company a huge amount of money, it enables our customers to receive better services and products and in turn, positively impacts their experience so they spend more and stay longer. Therefore, these eight disciplines are essentially an organization’s  insurance policy for when the going gets tough, we still have this on the table. I don’t know any executive brave enough to say they don’t want to drive their business forward, we just need to share the right story.

8. Measurement

We now need to calculate the impact that CX changes have on the hard-quantitative metrics for your business. Which means you must choose the elements most impacted by CX. These will be revenue, retention of both customer and employee, cross/upsell, cost to serve and of course your CX metric of choice (NPS, CSAT, etc). Measurement is evolving from a single number to an algorithm. CX is no longer up for interpretation, it’s highly measurable and  delivers value equal to marketing in terms of growth and acquisition. Virtually every week, I am asked “how do I attach compensation to CX metrics?” It’s a common request from senior execs and while I don’t recommend it across the board, there are certainly times when it can be appropriate provided that the compensation is rewarding the behaviors that drive NPS or CSAT rather than just the top number itself. 

Above, I also mentioned both customer and employee retention. I’d like to note that with catapulting value, we see the financial linking of EX to CX creating a return on experience (ROX), providing an additional way to measure ROI. For the overarching ROI in its traditional form, the sum (Customer Experience ROI = 100 x (Benefits – Investments) / Investments) still does a wonderful job of proving impact. But the new economy is now enjoying the benefits of financial linkage in real-time with customer journey analytics. The key here is to measure early and often or, if you have the technology, you can automate a continuous data ROI stream and dashboard. Naturally you can separate ROI stories to attribute to the ROI contribution of certain elements such as survey feedback technology or text analytics or indeed an entire platform. The process is the same and you already have the signals identified so measurement now becomes easier than ever before.

Related Article: How to Measure Customer Experience Beyond Net Promoter Score

The Single Most Important Step? Circulate the Story

I talk to my customers a lot about the importance of surfacing and circulating stories. This is a key point of failure for many CX leaders, as they see it as a "nice to have." Stories unlock budget and create a great internal excitement for change. Stories aren’t just for internal use, they should be out there, telling the world how hard you are working to create that perfect service and product. If you can’t see the story, you are probably not looking in the right places, so try adjusting your ROI measurement markers to find that story and move the needle.