How to make the financial case for CX investment in 2017

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Back in the heady days of 2010, and even as recently as 2015, CX programmes were ‘the next big thing’ and proving value was often a secondary consideration. The focus was firmly on using new, exciting ways of measuring experience - often side lining the need to justify investment.

With customer loyalty widely recognised as an indicator of repeat business and increased spend, many would assume the business case speaks for itself, without the need for detailed financial planning. However, in 2017 – in no small part thanks to the general turbulence of the past year - CX must earn its right to exist. As with any other transformational company initiative, CX professionals must be prepared to make their case.

While it’s already well documented that getting management buy-in is the key to getting a VoC programme off the ground and ensuring its longevity, there needs to be greater clarity about what really motivates board level executives to invest in CX. Do they see value in tracking NPS® or want to hear about ‘non metric’ concepts like culture change?

To demonstrate this value in the language of the board, companies need to build and maintain a systematic and disciplined approach in order to create a strong financial argument to invest in a successful customer experience programme and initiatives that deliver results.

Of course, top of the agenda for most C-level execs is revenue and profit, so securing budget and authority to implement a strategic VoC programme must involve proving that VoC can make an impact on the bottom line.

Making the financial case for CX at this level may seem a complex task, but it should follow the same core principles as any other investment. You need to:

  • Identify the risk: outline the current financial risks to your organisation, such as the detractors that may fail to renew and lose the business a significant chunk of the annual sales target, the cost of acquiring new customers compared to retaining existing ones, the cost of servicing complaints, etc.
  • Maximise the opportunity: demonstrate how promoters can result in increased sales and revenue by cross-selling and increasing ‘share of wallet’, and the financial reward associated with reducing churn rates by even 1%, for example.

This is the first step in outlining your CX case. From this, you can build a clear, fully-defendable financial business case, showing expected cash flow impacts for each risk and opportunity. Depending on the focus areas of your proposed CX programme, you may be able to build a clear, visual model of cash flow for areas such as pre-empting unnecessary contacts to the business, reduction of agent-assisted contact through improved self-service, reduction in shopping cart abandonment rates, and increasing first call resolution.

But how do you work out these financial impacts?

Measuring financial impact

It would be simple if customers provided clear intent in their feedback that they’d spend more with you and recommend your organisation to others if you improved your returns policy, for example. Unfortunately, you have to do the hard work here, which means extracting data from across the company to make this sort of link.

It will take time and energy to integrate large financial and operational data sets with customer and loyalty data to provide context and help the decision-making process for the entire organisation. However, the more focus you put in here, the stronger your business case becomes.

By clearly modelling your outcome objectives for CX, such as customer retention, account growth, or new business through referrals, you can express tangible ROI to your executive team. At the same time, you may uncover ways to demonstrate cost savings and other efficiencies.

It will take time and energy to integrate large financial and operational data sets with customer and loyalty data to provide context. 

You can also take this business case phase as a way to share knowledge, teaching executives who might not understand the connection between focusing on the customer experience and increasing revenue and profits.

The time spent on this phase of your business case is more than worth it, because with a financial linkage model in place, investments in customer experience can be made knowledgeably, with a clear understanding of the business benefits they will provide. This will not only help prioritise what improvements to focus on, but also provide an accurate measure of their impact on the business and on customer loyalty.

From here, you can create an overall cash flow summry that pulls your totals into a proven ROI model, along with the proposed investment and recurring expense amounts, to show the return on investment and payback period for your CX initiative.

Know your audience

Working in this proven, financially sound and accountable way, it is much easier for the executive team to visualise the impact of the CX programme on the business. It also ensures you provide tangible arguments to those who are doubtful about less familiar metrics, or more ‘theoretical’ measures such as loyalty and engagement.

It’s also important, of course, to know your audience. When presenting your case, you need to be able to demonstrate clear alignment with your corporate strategy. Focus on facts, figures and numbers – and be sure that your projections make sense and any assumptions are reasonable.

Equally important is your commitment to a realistic roll-out. By explaining a clear path towards the ‘end game’, with careful phasing of your programme, you can demonstrate that you are willing to continually evaluate the investment being made, ensuring you get each step right and can make adjustments that minimise financial risk.

When presenting your case, you need to be able to demonstrate clear alignment with your corporate strategy.

Even when investment is secured, it’s essential you continue to demonstrate the importance of ROI by creating some quick wins for CX and the bottom line. Using alerts and reporting once the programme is in its first phase, you can make sure that you’re able to take swift action that counts towards the financials you’ve committed to. You can then feed this back to the executive team to provide clear, visual evidence of the impact that CX is having on the business.

Securing executive buy-in from the outset of any CX initiative is key to ensure all stakeholders take the programme seriously, that staff understand the targets they need to meet, and that people across the business are empowered to achieve these goals.  And by investing time in your business case, you can ensure buy-in for the long-term too: not only are you much more likely to get the investment you need from the business, but you will also demonstrate that your programme can truly pay for itself.

About Karine Del Moro

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06th Feb 2017 12:03

Sorry, Karine, but this article just doesn't cut it. HOW MUCH customer retention do you get for the cost? HOW MUCH new business in the future will be produced for how much investment now?
With respect, I'm afraid that the reasoning in this article is why marketers can't communicate very easily with finance people.
The only way to justify CX improvement expenditures in financial terms (and this is what is meant by a "business case") is to start with a reasonable model of customer lifetime values, and to proceed to inferences about how those lifetime values will be affected by current improvements (or deterioration) in the CX.

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to DonPeppers
07th Feb 2017 11:49

Thanks for your response Don. The intention in this article, particularly where I have focused on building a “clear, fully-defendable financial business case” was to make clear that CX professionals need to focus on providing genuine business benefit (in financial terms), rather than some of the “fuzzier” elements of a programme e.g. an NPS score, or a satisfaction metric. There are many ways of articulating financial benefit … from those on the operational side of the business (e.g. process improvement, compliance etc.), to those on the revenue generation side of the business (e.g. new customers, churn reduction, cross sell etc.). While we didn’t focus on any specific method of calculating ROI. Your example of lifetime customer value is certainly one area on which practitioners could focus, if it is a key metric for their organisation. If there is one other point that I would like to get across beyond the deliberately broad nature of the article, it is that it is crucial to invest the time up front to build your CX business case… speaking and working with all parts of the business (inc. marketing and finance) to articulate the potential business benefit of the CX programme. In order to continue to develop your CX programme, and to work towards genuine customer centricity, it is critical that you are able to continually demonstrate the ROI that CFOs are looking for.

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