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So you've decided to improve your customer experience - now what?!

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22nd Feb 2013
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Harley Manning outlines how brands can approach customer experience as a business discipline.

Many a business has reached the crossroads of the customer experience – that moment when it has been decided that the organisation must improve the experience, but there is little idea where to go next. And as more brands realise the correlation between customer experience and financial results, so more of them will find themselves with the same quandary.
Harley Manning, a vice president and research director at Forrester Research, and co-author of “Outside In: The Power of Putting Your Customers at the Center of Your Business”, believes that businesses needn’t be so confused. And he suggests the following steps.
Define the customer experience
The phrase ‘customer experience’ is used a great deal, but how often do businesses actually sit down and define it?
“They tend to just think, well the customer is always right, or I have to be good to my customers,” says Manning. “But that falls far short of actionable insight. People need to stop and be able to define what they mean when they say ‘customer experience’. And they don’t!”
For the purposes of the book, Manning and co-author Kerry Bodine provided a working definition that organisations can use, which derives from academic research work. This concludes that a good customer experience is one that meets customer needs, is easy (i.e. there are very few barriers to getting those needs met) and is enjoyable (i.e. emotionally engaging).
“If you look at those three levels of what we call the ‘customer experience pyramid’, you can actually build models and do consumer research on it and see that there is some very strong statistical validity that confirms that those are the essential elements of customer experience,” notes Manning. “Now, there may be others. But those three are definitely clearly in play for any customer – whether it is consumer or business-to-business customer.”
Treat the customer experience as a business discipline
There has tended to be a lot of ‘fluffiness’ associated with customer experience management. But in Outside In, the authors emphasise that customer experience can lead to profits – provided it is practiced as a business discipline. In essence, this means that after it has been defined, it is broken down into its component parts so that it can be understood what drives a good experience, and then everything is measured so that organisations can quantify the business value of a good experience.
“When you do these things, it is suddenly not so mysterious any more – suddenly it seems like something you should have been doing all the time,” says Manning. “It should be common sense. To a certain extent any small shop owner understands customer experience - they may not have a clear mental model of it but they get that they have to treat their customer well and carry products that their customers want to buy or they will go out of business. But in big businesses it is clear that common sense is missing, evidenced by the horrible customer experiences we have on a regular basis.”
So how can organisations get a better grasp of customer experience as a business discipline?
Six business disciplines
As part of their comprehensive research for Outside In, Manning and Bodine examined the many maturity frameworks that have been proposed to help organisations develop their customer experience. Most of these were developed by small to medium sized consultancies, running to well over 200 practices – something that Manning says “felt a little exhausting and intimidating – especially for a company that is trying to get started.”
The co-authors looked at the different frameworks, and also examined companies that have excelled at the customer experience. Based on this research, they observed that the essential practices being identified could be grouped into six broad categories of business discipline that together formed the bedrock of successful customer experience management.
As such, Manning and Bodine concluded that organisations that are serious about putting the customer experience at the centre of their plans, should implement practices that support the following disciplines:
  • Customer experience strategy. A set of practices that craft the overall strategy, these should be aligned with the businesses overall strategy and shared with the employees to help guide decision-making and prioritisation across the enterprise.
  • Customer understanding. Practices that ensure there is a consistent shared understanding of who the customers are, what they want and need, and how they perceive the interactions they are having with the business.
  • Customer experience design. Practices that help businesses envision and implement customer interactions that meet or exceed customer needs. These cover the varied touchpoints, technologies and processes that consumers come into contact with in their increasingly multichannel customer journey.
  • Measurement. The practices that enable businesses to quantify customer experience quality in a consistent manner and deliver actionable insights to employees and partners. These metrics should be as important as traditional metrics such as sales and profitability.
  • Governance. A set of practices that allow businesses to manage the customer experience in a disciplined and proactive way. It holds people accountable for their role in the experience ecosystem.
  • Culture. Practices that create a system of shared values and behaviours that help to focus employees on delivering a great customer experience.
Manning adds: “For the book we examined a number of businesses that have figured out some substantial part of what it means to practice customer experience as a business discipline and are seeing anywhere from good to unbelievable results from doing that. And the interesting thing is that while people naturally associate great customer experience with premium price brands or luxury brands, you can also see it in all kinds of businesses that you wouldn’t even think of, like utilities.”

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