What is agile customer experience and how do you deliver it?

12th Aug 2019

How agile is your customer experience programme and how can you identify the gaps to help you develop?

When we talk about agile customer experience it’s difficult not to get into buzzwords and phrases. It absolutely is about getting ahead of the customer and failing fast, but it’s also about getting organised in every element of every pillar of your CX programme.

If you are wondering where to start I would recommend some diagnostics. For this you don’t need a top 5 consultancy to march through your door and camp out for 4 weeks; in fact, you could do this yourself in a week with the right level of planning. 

This diagnostic covers three pillars of maturity, and I expect that as you read through you will make some general assumptions of how mature your own CX practice is. My hope is that you will also pick out one or two elements that you have yet to master and ultimately create a CX programme blueprint that includes a realistic timescale to hone any particular elements which still feel a little woolly.

So, what is it about an agile approach to CX that really appeals to organisations? Some leaders see it as a way to inject urgency into making change and getting results. Others are keen to create an atmosphere of test and learn, fail fast and succeed even faster.

Your approach may be stimulated by an executive level imperative to show CX progress to the board or drive a customer programme of “you said, we did”, to gain customer confidence.

All of these drivers are great reasons to jump into this straight away, but before you start making bold plans let’s see how we can first shore up the operation for success.

The three pillars

These pillars are designed to enable you to understand in easy steps what the key focus areas are for you. It doesn’t matter whether you are just starting out or re-engineering a programme, creating a best practice centre of excellence or finally building an innovative programme focused on service differentiation; once you understand where your programme currently sits and you can identify gaps, you can build a programme roadmap.

This roadmap becomes a working document and is your guide to developing your practice for agile readiness.

Committed practice agile CX

The committed practice is typically where you will start if you are inexperienced in CX design or your organisation has recently undergone significant change.

This change can be something as big as a new company merger or acquisition or it can be the result of key personnel changes. It can also be due to a change in supporting budget or even a programme under review which has not yet delivered tangible results and needs to get back to basics.

This stage is all about building the programme foundation and there are as many strategic elements as tactical.

Is this a good time to start thinking about agile? Only in a fairly limited way at this point; it takes time to bed in each of the core elements and to have key dependencies on already becoming agile, as this stage can side track the program into becoming too tactical or you may feel pressured to set unrealistic goals.

I would say that the only level of agile that can be built in at this stage is along the alignment of strategy and overarching CX goals (this will help the flow of key customer requirements and root causes) and customer-led improvement (you can create some level of agility at this stage by making sure that your dev ops is leaning in to use feedback to drive improvement projects, and the service design team are looped in to pick up root causes of journey failure).

The optimised practice agile CX

Once you have created a solid foundation at the Committed Practice stage you are set to push to optimize. This is the stage that we want to really create that centre of excellence; this is where you create the platform for agility, so you need to ensure that your programme has effective governance, has change management focus areas and is checked for re-iteration every quarter.

If in the first stage the programme gold is surfacing stories then for the optimised practice the gold is certainly in the quarterly re-iteration. This is about assessment of successes and uncovering next-best strategic steps.

Don’t forget to address both the strategic and tactical side. This is the number oen point of program confusion and failure amd I try to keep these two areas as separate as possible to ensure I am using both the right lens but also the right skill set from my CX team.

You have some team members that think very tactically and struggle with strategy, so think and discuss these areas as a team and then agree who will drive each.  Approach this like a CX quarterly review. Doing this will keep up the urgency of the programme and help you measure that forward momentum. It’s extremely important.

Tactical elements should draw out the desired outcomes to help the success of the strategic and may include new initiatives such as creating customer “I wish” topics and themes from unstructured text,  or starting to look at bringing in the voice of customer from the employee or even a full Voice of the Employee programme.

The differentiated practice agile CX

The Differentiated Practice is really where agile CX can add fantastic value. It’s the true test-and-learn practice where we see many great innovators changing the course of customer experience delivery. It’s where we see previous great service examples come out of a differentiated practice such as the evolution of click and collect which has moved from buy online pick up in-store to buy online and drive up collection.

Target stores and Nordstrom are great examples of this, with a great new curbside pickup option. Another extension is Dominos Pizza hotspots, with their 'buy online and have it delivered to wherever you want' approach. We are seeing an increase in integration of third-party companies to help deliver a differentiated model and while this often fills a gap of delight for the end customer, this also adds complexity. However, this can lead to a disconnect of customer engagement with the main brand.

True agile CX at its very foundation is about design thinking and is able to link to a proven software development agile process flow. You need to borrow those development concepts and apply them to experiential design, product development, brand evolution and even channel development where you create the environment to move fast and put insight to work quickly.

This practice is typically most evident today in markets which have suffered impact by disrupters or brands that seek to gain or retain significant market share and those that are re-engineering a business model. Differentiators are pervasive in their approach to CX; they are early adopters of new customer-focused technology across the omnichannel customer journey and are predictive in their models for churn and adoption.


CX leaders in this practice are usually industry thought-leaders who carefully measure improvement results and publish across their organisation, in addition to regular submission for industry awards.

These innovators of service show agility of change at scale and they test and learn continuously.

The deep and smooth processes in place at this level of practice enables the business to get more done, the increased productivity enables a surprising amount of human touch such as high levels of closing the loop, even in high footfall or conversion operations. This process is measured carefully using financial linkage and helps build some amazing CX success stories, so the process pays for itself many times over.

Over the years I have been able to note these stages of maturity which have provided consistent success. Agile CX is a wonderful concept but for some it may remain just a concept; it takes dedication to get to the point where many businesses will feel they are ready for agile CX but if you have a mature program now it could be your next big leap.

Of course, whether you are just starting on your CX journey and need some help with getting goals and governance in place or you are well on your way and need some help with process mapping, experiential design, having a great maturity model in place to get you there is essential to give you guidance and keep the programme moving forward with the desired momentum

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Steven Walden
By Steven Walden
15th Aug 2019 09:57

Thanks Rachel. A few things....
1. Change the term product owner to experience designer
2. We need substantially more design thinking in organisations
3. CX is not a panacea for everything (in fact we should call it customer value creation), so we need a co-creation approach where relevant
4. Relevancy is critical. I would use Cynefin as a framework
5. Very important: better VoC / VoE processes required. A greater balance between qual and quant, high use of ethnography and creative thinking, much more critical thinking of NPS (which is partly a vendor sales tool) and more interpretation of narratives.... close the loop not with the contact centre but with the Agile design team: there should be a direct link of narratives/ ideas to design filtering and build

Agile underweights on the importance of customer understanding. When in fact it should be all (from a one sided CX perspective)

I would de-emphasise the immediacy of predicted ROI, and up weight the importance of trial and test.
'what's the ROI of changing our website colour scheme' A ridiculous question: its part of the bigger picture of making it engaging and easy to use. If companies don't get this fine. but you will then be an efficiency brand not an experience brand. No harm in that, just know the constraints of your own thinking: CX or rather a customer value perspective can still help.

All this is well known; by non CX professionals mostly. I reference genuine thought leaders such as Dave Snowden, Olaf Hermans, Keith Oatley, Lisa Feldman Barrett.

CX unfortunately has become a polluted pond full of sharks and charlatans. We need to be more careful who to trust and not trust. IMHO

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