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PHOTO: Brooke Cagle

To keep up with consumers’ rising expectations, today’s retailers strive to provide a connected experience across an expanding number of digital and physical channels.

However, most retailers’ current approaches to customer experience (CX) initiatives focus on solving specific problems on single channels in a reactive mode, not improving the overall connected performance for their customers. Even as customer-facing tactics in marketing become more cross-channel and personalized, CX often lags behind modern customer expectations.

Today’s CX professionals commonly track metrics that show, for example, whether purchase systems are running, whether wait time in the call center is under 90 seconds, or whether the website is “four-nines” available.

An old-fashioned CX mindset centered around point metrics can lull retailers into a false sense of security. As long as everything is working, there’s nothing for retailers to worry about as far as the customer experience goes, and they can focus their efforts on increasing sales via marketing.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Capgemini found 75 percent of organizations believe they are effectively customer-centric. The problem? Capgemini’ s research also showed only 30 percent of consumers agree. And according to Forrester Research’s CX Index, less than 1 percent of brands are regarded as delivering excellent customer experience.

For retailers to become part of that top-performing 1 percent, they must rethink CX and shift from a reactive approach to a proactive model that focuses on the success of cross-channel customer journeys. In other words, rather than reacting to and solving point-in-time or channel-specific problems, retailers should adopt a proactive mindset that considers all channels and the customer journey through time on a cadence defined by the customer — and delivers a connected and personalized experience to the customer.

Related Article: A Simple Customer Experience Equation

Why Proactive CX?

In the Capgemini study, eight in 10 consumers reported they’d be willing to spend more for a better experience. This makes CX a huge competitive differentiator for modern businesses, meaning retailers must be proactive rather than reactive in consistently improving CX.

This isn’t just theoretical — we can see how a superior experience has led to increased market share for some of today’s most popular brands. Take JetBlue as an example. The company’s founding premise and core competitive differentiator over other low-cost carriers is providing a superior customer experience, which is enshrined in its Customer Bill of Rights. Like Amazon Prime or Zappos, JetBlue may not always charge the lowest prices, but the experience it offers keeps customers coming back. In the 20 years since its founding, JetBlue has become the world’s busiest and most profitable low-cost carrier.

What differentiates brands like JetBlue from a customer experience perspective is it goes above and beyond what others might consider standard elements of CX. Elements like customer service and checkout can make a huge difference when they are personalized and proactive. They contribute to an overall seamless experience that includes every customer-facing tactic, including marketing.

Related Article: Why Brands Must Unify Customer Experience and Customer Success

Achieving Proactive CX

Shifting toward proactive CX requires retailers to start thinking about their CX initiatives as part of the overall branded service delivered to the customer (see Janelle Barlow and Paul Stewart’s excellent book “Branded Customer Service”). To do this, customer experience professionals should link up with their marketing colleagues to discover how they may already be tracking customer behavior across channels and personalizing experiences to customers. Aligning and integrating customer experience with marketing is an excellent first step to being proactive.

Achieving marketing-CX integration requires an overarching strategy that guides every customer interaction, and that’s where customer journeys come into play. A customer journey can take place across any set of touchpoints that a customer uses to reach an endpoint, whether that’s a purchase or a customer experience issue or looking something up on a retailer’s website. Across marketing, customer experience and more, customer journeys form the overall customer experience. Making them more personalized and proactive helps ensure that fewer consumers drop off along the way.

To develop a proactive customer journey strategy that’s conducive to great CX, retailers need to start by identifying the most critical processes and decision points that take place on the way to a goal, and map them out. This can be simple. Here’s a basic one for how a consumer might make a one-off purchase from an online retailer:

Google ⇨ Website ⇨ Product page ⇨ Cart ⇨ Checkout

Once you have a number of these journeys defined, whether they end in a checkout or a return or a complaint, it’s time to start tracking metrics that relate to the actual behavior of customers moving through these journeys. Take a look at your data and see where the pain points exist — for example, where the customer’s journey abruptly ends or goes off track. Are a lot of shoppers abandoning carts or hanging up after lengthy hold times? Problems like that can be identified by journey analytics tools, and they can be good indicators of where to get started.

Related Article: Tips for Prioritizing Customer Experience Investments

From Analysis to Action

However, perhaps the most important step comes next — moving from analysis to action. This means managing customer journeys in a way that proactively boosts personalization and seamlessness, shepherding customers along a good journey and being ready for them when they appear at the next touchpoint. Journey management is about expanding beyond the measurement of current journey activity and instead setting up systems and processes that seek to understand each customer’s personal objective and operate channel systems to support them. This type of predictive personalization is what leads to a truly proactive and differentiated customer experience.

Shifting from reactive to proactive CX means embracing a holistic approach to customer journeys, which is often more complex than can be outlined in a brief article. It is, however, critical for retailers to understand that they must master this strategy if they are to successfully compete with the industry innovators.