trucks lined up inside a garage
PHOTO: Carlos Daniel

In any given organization, a multitude of internal and external factors impact the end customer’s experience. Organizations must understand which factors in this complex system are critical in order to differentiate on customer experience (CX), stay competitive, and deliver on promised value propositions. 

Just as firms have realized the critical role employees and the employee experience (EX) play in delivering great experiences to customers, many have also recognized the just as critical part partners and the partner experience (PX) fill. If your business employs third-party partners as part of your value delivery system, you must actively engage and enable them to orchestrate the desired experiences. 

Why Partner Experience Is Top of Mind Today 

partner experience
Companies across industries and business models use third-party partners to outsource functions such as sales, distribution and servicing to partners that come in the form of resellers, agents, distributors, dealerships, call centers, and field service technicians. Across the supply chain, third-party partners have an impact on CX, both on the front lines and behind the scenes. AirBnB, Uber and Lyft have famously blazed a trail with their third-party partner dependent business models. For them, their hosts and drivers are given equal, if not more, time and attention than the end-user customer and employees (AirBnB considers its hosts “customers.”)  

PX is getting an increasing amount of attention for a couple of reasons. First, partners impact the bottom line. If customers get what they need and have great interactions with these partners, they’ll do more business. If not, they’ll go to a competitor.  

Second, companies have had time to mature their CX efforts. Crawling, they’ve found and fixed the most egregious of processes that undermine experiences. Walking, they turned to the employee experience and engagement, which is critical to driving better customer experiences. And running, they’ve widened the aperture to include the broader external ecosystem that, for some companies, can deliver the bulk of the experience with customers.   

Third, digital disruption is forcing many firms to re-think the entire value delivery system, which often relies heavily on partners. Whether it’s reducing reliance on third parties by going direct to customers digitally, or deploying digital tools and data to support partners, companies are needing (or requiring) their partners to do things differently to drive value to customers.  

When outsourcing parts of the customer journey to external partners, firms often adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude. If the partner meets contract deliverables and comes in at the lowest cost, some organizations assume an autopilot mode. But this is not how the best companies work. 

Related Article: Use Voice of Employee Insights to Propel Better Customer and Employee Experiences 

5 Activities to Effectively Manage PX 

How do firms engage partners and create value for them so that, in turn, they deliver the strongest possible customer experience? Here are five fundamentals to engage and enable partners to drive great CX.

partner experience

1. Listen to Partners

Implementing a voice of the partner (VoP) program will help collect signals about partner health. Relationship and transactional surveys give firms insights about how partners perceive a firm, while behavioral data can provide an early warning that something is wrong. One Insurance Company realized it’s independent agent churn was costing the firm money (e.g. books of business, recruiting, onboarding, productivity). A VoP pulse survey was launched to capture partner sentiment towards the firm, and appended behavioral data to predict independent agent churn. More importantly, root causes for the key areas of dissatisfaction were identified and fixed.

Related Article: Is Your Voice of the Customer Program All Talk and No Action?

2. Map the Partner Journey

Understanding how partners experience the processes and operations that a firm has established can help identify quick fixes or systemic problems that might make collaboration difficult. After redesigning the onboarding journey for providers, one health insurance firm was able to mitigate massive defection, improved the experience of one of the more important drivers of CX (the network), and saved millions of dollars rebuilding the network.

3. Acquire Partners Differently

Firms have learned that recruiting and hiring employees for cultural fit and a customer-centric mindset is a powerful way to support customer experience efforts. The same is true for partner recruitment and contracting. Instead of simply basing partnership decisions cost or sales quantity, firms can set customer-focused expectations within recruiting and partnership agreement materials by, for example, ensuring the partner agreement includes customer experience expectations and goals.

Related Article: The Secret to Start-Up Success: Your Ecosystem

4. Enable and Engage Partners

Repurpose existing employee onboarding, training and communications for partners to ensure they understand the strategic intent of customer experience effort and the economic benefit of succeeding. Audi mapped the customer journey through dealerships and then worked directly with them one-by-one to develop improvement plans for key interactions that impacted the overall experience, and a telecommunications firm delivered the same training, communications and executive visits to its off-shore contact center as it did its in-house one. 

5. Reward Partners

Just as with employees, informal recognition, as well as formal rewards, (bonuses, compensation, or promotion) can incentivize partners to focus on activities that drive great customer experiences. Firms like Cisco and Salesforce build customer experience outcomes into their tiering structures, which are tied to discounting on products and promotional activities.  

To make a third-party partner model work, firms need to understand how partners are part of the ecosystem that delivers CX. Once understood, firms can put mechanisms in place to standardize, socialize, and communicate goals, process, and procedures to better orchestrate CX delivery. If your partners are armed with data, research, and tools to help them serve not just your customers, but their whole portfolio of clients, they will benefit from the increase in loyalty and its financial impact — and so will your firm.