In my discussions with business leaders around the world, I continue to be impressed with the growing recognition of Customer Experience as an engine of sustainable growth. Well-conceived, well-designed, and well-delivered customer experiences are the core foundation for achieving the sort of marketplace leadership that has become the hallmark of companies like Amazon, Apple, Disney, Southwest Airlines, and Zappos. Their relentless pursuit of great customer experiences has been the one thing that has propelled them to the forefront of their respective markets and yielded significantly higher margins than their competitors who have chosen to compete on other basis such as cost. Indeed, in his book The Curve Ahead: Discovering the Path to Unlimited Growth, author Dave Power goes so far as to state “Customer Experience Is the New IP”.
And yet, far too many companies struggle with how to conceive, design, and deliver really great customer experiences. It’s no wonder that it seems an out-of-reach elusive mystery to many. But it doesn’t have to. Below are five very important reasons we’ve seen that companies fail to deliver meaningfully differentiating customer experiences, and what to do about it.
As a brief primer to anyone new to this area, the points highlighted below all derive from practices known as Customer Experience Design (CXD) and Customer Experience Management (CXM). In the way of analogy, one can think of delivering an experience as not unlike staging a theatrical performance — specifically one intended to deliver delight. As such, there are front-stage actors and backstage supporters, and their combined efforts must be choreographed (designed) and subsequently managed if they are to in fact succeed at creating delight. CX Design is facilitated by, amongst other tools, a process known asCustomer Experience Journey Mapping (CXJM), or sometimes just Customer Journey Mapping. CXJM attempts to map out the touchpoints between the customer and the artifacts of the experience, capturing the critical thoughts, actions, and emotions of the experience. This builds upon a field of psychology known as experience psychology — understanding what thoughts and emotions customers are experiencing at each touchpoint, which often arise out of whether needs and expectations are met, exceeded, unmet, or grossly unmet. Understanding — and shaping — these thoughts, actions, and emotions is critically important if one is to deliver a delightful customer experience.
Failure Number One — No Design
Companies fail to be intentional about Customer Experience by not investing the time and effort to explicitly design the experience. This is akin to relying on “improv”, which some are good at, but most aren’t. There is now a relatively good body of knowledge and toolset available for designing customer experiences. Most of these have evolved from Design Methods — the tools associated with Design Thinking (which, when applied to the design of service experiences, has given rise to the phrase Service Design Thinking). If companies want to ensure they are delivering truly differentiating experiences — as seen from the viewpoint of customers — then they will be intentional about this and will so design their experiences. This is quite often the launching point for organizations to become truly customer-centric.
Failure Number Two — Limited or No Insights
Companies fail to collect and integrate the right customer insights when designing experiences. Customer insights come into play in a number of ways. First, for each touchpoint, we need to understand the needs and expectations of the customer, so that we can design to those. Secondly, and very importantly, for existing (or surrogate) experiences, we need to understand two things… which of the many touchpoints are the most important to the customer (and why), and which have the highest levels of pain / frustration / roadblocks associated with them. This latter information — specifically indentifying which of the touchpoints have the highest combination of importance and pain — allows the organization to prioritize their efforts in terms of how best to use their limited resources to deliver the optimal experience by dialing in the most critical touchpoints.
Failure Number Three — Missing Stakeholders
Companies fail to involve all the stakeholders in the design of the experience. The delivery of any given experience is the culmination of many efforts by many different parties both inside and often outside the organization. We call these the stakeholders, and each such stakeholder has certain “levers” they must pull — some harder than others — in order to deliver the experience. Some stakeholders are acting backstage (IT for example) and others are acting up on front stage (Sales or Customer Service staff for example), but all are important and have to work in harmony if they are to deliver the desired experience. When designing the experience, it is critically important to have the entire cross-functional team represented in the process, because each function has to sign up to deliver on their part of the experience. Full involvement and commitment are an absolute must for success here.
Failure Number Four — Missing the Business Side
Companies fail to capture the business side of Customer Experience. This actually has two parts — what’s in it for the business, and what does the business need to have in order to deliver the experience. This first part is very important, as there has to be tangible and measurable business KPIs associated with delivering the experience so that the whole effort has a positive ROI for the business. The second part is just as important, and is about the ability to deliver a particular experience. As previously mentioned, the ability to deliver a given experience requires a number of “levers” to be pulled by a number of different parties. But if the company does not understand all of these levers, and to what extent each must be pulled, along with how that does or does not fit with their existing processes, then they are likely to stumble. After all, anyone can put down on paper a great experience design, but not anyone can deliver that particular experience. Doing so requires having the right people, processes, infrastructures, and business ecosystems in place and operational. If those things aren’t present, and orchestrated such that they are in the right place at the right time, then the organization will not be able to deliver the experience they otherwise painstakingly designed. Ensuring the right supporting systems and processes are in place is a go or no-go for successful CX delivery. One rather intentional way to address this failing is to undertake the mirrored flipside of CX Design, which is Business Experience (BX) Design. This means looking at the design from the inside-out rather than the outside-in. When both the CX Design and the BX Design are aligned, there can be high confidence in the ability to deliver it (and to do so well). This also segues into CX Management, which is focused on, amongst other things, ensuring these ecosystems and processes continue to function as intended over time so as to deliver the experience consistently time after time.
Failure Number Five — Missing the Attribute Translation
Companies fail to translate touchpoint attributes into corresponding product attributes — a necessity wherever products are a part of the experience. For whatever reason, this tends to be a particularly problematic area. It might be failing to consider the product experience, an organizational divide between Experience Designers and Product Designers, or some other reason. Regardless, Product Designers need the CX Design information in order to ensure the product itself delivers its part of the overall customer experience (and, indeed, should be considered stakeholders in the CX Design process). To address and overcome this, we recommend taking an approach to Product Design called the Desired Experience Model. With this approach, delivering a desired product experience is part and parcel to the Product Design process, and as such, Product Design cannot proceed, let alone be considered “complete”, without first incorporating these considerations. As such, the Desired Experience Model is overarching and inherently forces these two worlds to work together.
These are the five reasons we’ve seen companies fail to deliver meaningfully differentiating customer experiences, and in each case, what to do about it. When these are properly and adequately addressed, businesses can in fact deliver the sort of game-changing experiences that have made companies like Amazon, Apple, Disney, Southwest Airlines, and Zappos the outlying winners in their markets.
Anthony Mills is the Founder and CEO of Legacy Innovation Group, a growth strategy and strategic innovation consulting firm.
Learn more at www.legacyinnova.com.