Customer experience (CX) is the customer’s perception of their interactions with a company. It is the set of highly subjective experiences that lie in a customer’s memory or are experienced in the moment, that both influence and are influenced by logical and emotional drives that can lead to specific behaviors.
Let’s cut right to the chase. A CX solution is a remedy to a problem revolving around the experience a customer has had, has currently, or can have with a company. The clearest example is a CX Management Program.
Customer experience management solutions are designed to address a company’s lack of consistently actionable information about the experience customers have with its brand. Such a solution would enable a company to institute strategic enhancements that improve customer experiences and subsequently; increase loyalty, improve retention, drive revenue or enhance the company’s overall brand. As a customer experience solutions provider, we focus all of our attention on making sure this happens at all costs in a well-orchestrated string of strategic pilot projects.
In the example above, (customer experience management program) the challenge lies in how ambiguous it is to improve certain business processes, how to cross-market to existing or lapsed customers, or how to find new ways to innovate. In that cloud of ambiguity also lies the quandary of how to develop a customer experience culture that is willing and able to bring solutions to the front line.
If you haven’t tapped into the way customers use/don’t use your offering, feel about/avoid you, act or behave in the context of your services, or communicate/ignore your pleas for feedback, then you are missing the biggest CX solution of all—an institutional obsession and curiosity around your customer.
Now let’s go back a few steps. You might be asking, “why even ask such a question?” Because, people who need the answer, according to our research, have a difficult time determining how to source the right solutions to their business challenges. This is especially true in customer experience because there is a glut of confusing and even misleading information out there.
Below is a table to eliminate some confusion about CX solutions. It shows some of the most common business challenges and CX solutions designed to help solve each of them.
The table above draws a neat line between challenges and solutions but it’s not that crystal clear when we learn that three out of four B2B executives and business unit leaders conflate the term ‘customer experience’ with the term ‘customer service.’ This clouds the simple CX solutions map. These two terms are different in very important ways.
In fact, the single most significant finding from our analysis was how common B2B executives conflate these terms.
The way we found this was by asking executive participants to name a CX solution to a common business challenge (better understanding how older customers felt about their overall experiences versus how younger customer felt).
What we learned was that a majority were talking about basic customer service tactics—not customer experience solutions. The distinctions between service and experience can be fuzzy but it’s worth your company’s bottom line in taking the time to understand them—and how they differ. In fact you’ll have to make sure your distinctions are clear before you set out to approach specific CX solutions—otherwise you run the risk of solving the wrong problems.
We like to say that service is one small part of the overall customer experience. Your customer’s experience is far larger than the customer service you provide to them. The customer experience completely envelops the service. Not everything I experience as a customer is service—conversely, every service you receive is part of your overall experience. We like this explanation about the differences.
So when we hear B2B executives say they know all about CX—they’ve been delivering customer service for 85 years, it gives us pause. Not that we doubt they’ve been providing excellent service for that long—just that we believe that in conflating service with experience, they may feel they have been collecting, analyzing, measuring, and improving business across customer experience dimensions, when they have not.
This is where well-intentioned companies who are absolutely focused on service tend to struggle with out-of-control customer churn and cannot understand why. Sometimes the service a company provides is satisfying customers but the total experience (inside which, the service exists) is not provided at the same level as a competitor’s overall experience.
Example, when I owned a Jeep, the dealership service I received, in and of itself, was excellent but my total experience up to and after the service experience was awkward, uncomfortable and something that ultimately led me to ditching the Jeep for an Audi a few years back. Jeep, I later found out, was focused on quantitatively measuring the service experience to the exclusion of their customer’s total qualitative and subjective Jeep experience.
They failed to realize that all the things that led up to setting a service appointment and leaving after the service appointment (all things that fall outside the isolated service received while at their dealership) mattered just as much as what happened while at the dealership—the part of the experience they had much more control over. Let’s call that a $45,000 FAIL.
We get this question often and I am here to tell you it can be as difficult to answer as “who is my soulmate?” Reason: every company’s ideal customer is different and the experience you want them to have is the customer experience that makes them the most successful, happy, confident, etc.
The good news is that there are well-defined steps we can take to help you arrive at the right answer. The bad news is, it is more subjective than many B2B companies are comfortable with and it takes a group of employees a few weeks of intense collaboration to arrive at the best possible answer for your organization.
But because we hate “it depends…” types of answers as much as you do, we’re going to go out on a limb and venture a good starter guess for you.
Your ideal customer is one who shares enough of your values to develop an affinity for your offering. They are willing to select you over others despite the fact you may charge a premium over the alternative options. They like who you are, what you do, and how you do it more than your competitors. They also like who they are when they do business with you. They like the way you make them feel when you simplify their lives and solve their problem. Your offering makes them want to brag about you over alternatives because they like to believe they are only aligned with the best. Even though they may have to drive farther, pay more, wait longer, accept some compromises or work a little harder, they now have affinity for you.
The ideal customer experience can therefore be summed up as:
that experience a customer is willing to trade-up to have with your brand because it exceeds the value they can get elsewhere and makes them feel better for having had the opportunity to experience it with your brand.
How do we help companies find this state of nirvana? It starts with value planning using a Value Driver Framework (an exercise that helps leaders and executives know which aspects of CX programs are best for them), moves quickly into Ideal Customer Profiling (an exercise that helps cultivate ideal customer and experience profiles from a broad base of your company’s employees), and culminates in Outcome Oriented Journey Mapping (an exercise of mapping your customers’ experiences along a linear timeline to reveal moments of trust, points of friction and opportunities for innovation).
We could write an entire series of books about this topic but there are already 200 of them out there. In the meantime, we’ll say you should be measuring the parts of CX that drive your organization’s CX effort forward.
We counsel our clients to move beyond NPS and feedback as the be-all/end-all measures of CX. Yes, it is advisable to measure the quantity of CX feedback from clients and partners. Yes, it is advisable to be measuring the degree to which you are meeting your clients needs. But it is also advisable to first establish your firm’s CX maturity and graduate to the next level of maturity along the dimensions of CX that you have established in your CX Value Planning.
Here is what you should be queuing up in terms of CX measurement: First, go through a leadership Value Driver Planning workshop to determine what you want a managed customer experience program to yield. This is a two-part workshop that focuses first on inside-out dimensions of CX (how you look at delivering value to your customers or clients) and secondly an outside-in dimension of CX (how your clients see your firm and what you can do to enhance that).
Second, assess and establish the firm’s CX maturity along the customer experience dimensions that you are certain matter most to your firm. Measure your firm’s progress along that maturity curve every six months. If you need help setting that up, give us a call, we do this several times a month with terrific companies.
Next, establish (or continue working on) your firm’s customer feedback or listening program. We are partners with the best client feedback firm in all of professional services and can point you in the right direction if you need help here.
After you have these foundations in place, we recommend establishing an overarching CX measurement strategy whereby you begin the work of driving the mindset of both subjective and objective measures into the culture of the firm through a customer experience platform.
Does this sound overwhelming? It can feel that way for many CX leaders until they get started and then they realize it’s far simpler than they had initially realized.
Here’s the bottom line: Your firm’s pursuit of customer or client experience is now mission critical. You don’t have to take a CX solutions provider’s word for it though.
Any search on CX will turn up hundreds of statistics about the explosive growth of CX and how many firms in your industry are angling to make the experiences they provide the number one differentiator separating themselves from their competitors. As the leading customer experience solution provider for professional service firms, we see it everyday.
And as you can imagine, if your three closest competitors are already investing in CX solutions to focus on differentiating themselves via customer experience, you’ll either need to join the pack or find another way to create revenue.
If you’re just starting out and have no idea how to approach CX or you’re already embroiled in a protracted CX program that you suspect may not be paying you back the right dividends you expected, you are not alone. A swift CX reset might be your next best move. In any case, you need to place your bets accordingly. It’s going to get a lot more CX-y in the next few years. In the case of providing your clients the experiences they deserve, you’ll want to be more on the leading edge than the laggard pool on this. We guarantee you there are smart CX solutions to that.