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PHOTO: Malcolm Lightbody

“Customer experience (CX) is the new marketing battlefront.” 

That’s the opening line of a Gartner article, "Key Findings From the Gartner Customer Experience Survey." Gartner’s research found that 81% of marketers responsible for CX expect to be competing mostly on the basis of customer experience.

Yes — product, price and performance matter, but customer experience is now the basis of differentiation.

Karen Steele, CMO at LeanData, is part of the 81%. According to Steele, “Customer experience is everything. If you think about revenue as the lifeblood of fueling a company, customer experience is the outcome and it's what every single company in the world, whether you're B2C or B2B, should be focused on.”

Recently, Steele spoke to Michael Krigsman on an episode of CxOTalk titled, “Growing Revenue with Customer Experience.” During the interview, Steele shared insights on the importance of customer experience and how her organization thinks about it.

What Is Customer Experience?

According to Steele, “Customer experience is the cumulative effect of all of the touchpoints, interactions and engagements of every single person inside your company with customers and the way that the customer thinks about your brand.”

Because customers interact with all groups in an organization, customer experience is a team sport. It shouldn’t be managed or controlled by a single group. While the CMO can help set the strategy, customer experience is a company-wide initiative. For customer experience to work at LeanData, Steele stays in close contact with peers at the executive management level. “I have a lot of great members of our management team that I partner with, including our chief customer officer, our head of product, our CTO, and our head of sales,” said Steele.

While it’s good to have the management team in sync, it’s the team members on the frontlines that make great customer experience a reality. Every employee, whether they're a receptionist, an accounts payable person, a salesperson, or a marketer, touches a customer or a potential buyer.

According to Steele, “Every single touch creates an impression of who you are as a company, your brand, what you stand for, your reputation, and your credibility.” A quality assurance (QA) engineer is not someone you’d associate with being a core part of the customer experience. For Steele, however, the QA team has a direct influence on how the product operates and how quickly bugs are identified, tested and fixed. That, in turn, is a fundamental element of customer experience.

Related Article: The Customer Experience Hierarchy

Connect Your Brand Promise to Your Customer Experience

Customer experience should not be a loosely-guided principle around serving customers well. For Steele, customer experience must be rooted in an organization’s brand promise. An organization must first define its brand promise, of course.

Then the leadership team, including the CMO, must clearly communicate the brand promise and get the entire organization to stand behind it. "The brand promise is our commitment to what we deliver, what our value is," said Steele.

It begins with internal teams — specifically, their expectations on how they’ll deliver the brand promise. According to Steele, “If I'm going to make a commitment to a customer, all of my teams have to be organized around a set of expectations to deliver for that brand promise. Based on those expectations, the delivery of those expectations, and our execution, that creates an experience.”

To help employees understand the brand strategy, Steele runs mandatory three- to four-hour sessions during employee orientation. The sessions explore each employee’s unique role in carrying out the company’s brand promise to the customer. In addition, said Steele, “It’s important to document the brand strategy for employees in the form of a brand book that articulates company vision, mission, brand promise, values and the company narrative.” 

Related Article: Manage Experience Consistency ... or Chase Your Customers Away

Beware of Automation: Customer Experience Remains Human-to-Human

No one feels touched by an auto-response email or has an emotional reaction from interacting with a chatbot. According to Steele, “One of the flaws of B2B companies today is that we're so focused on automation because many of our buyers are not consumers; they're business-to-business people that have titles in different business units and corporations that move the business forward.”

In B2B transactions, there’s one thing in common among the buying committee: the budget holder, technical influencers and business influencers are all human beings. B2B brands need to make human-to-human connections to establish trust. That means more conversations and less email blasts.

“As human beings, we have to create personal connections with individuals from our brand back to them and back to their company,” said Steele.

Related Article: Balancing the Human and the Digital in Your Customer Experiences

Connecting Customer Experience to Revenue

Hearing about a company’s customer experience initiatives, a member of the leadership team might ask, “Yes, this all sounds great. But how does it improve the bottom line?”

Steele might respond that customer experience ties directly to revenue by way of retention and advocacy. “Make every customer an advocate. Start with the customer first and understand the journey and how to help companies get to the outcomes that they want to achieve,” said Steele.

An exceptional customer experience can turn your customers into a marketing channel. Happy customers will write positive reviews on G2 Crowd and Trustpilot and share their satisfaction on LinkedIn and Twitter. In addition, they’ll recommend your products and services to peers.

To reach this promised land, said Steele, organizations first need to dig deep and understand their customers:

  • What kind of issues do they have?
  • What kind of challenges are they facing?
  • What kind of teams do they sit within?
  • What kind of committees might they participate in?
  • What is their journey inside their company?

Wrapping Up

How does your organization think about customer experience and what role do the different groups play? What’s the future of customer experience? Share your thoughts about customer experience in the comments section below!