How to Kick-Start a Customer Experience Program


person walking up steps


PHOTO:
Lindsay Henwood

Is one of your 2022 goals to transform customer experience at your organization? If so, you’re not alone. CRM vendor SuperOffice surveyed 1,920 business professionals and found nearly half of respondents — 45.9% — said that transforming customer experience was the top priority for their business in the next five years.

If you’re building a customer experience program, it’s easy to start knocking off initiatives — bringing on a NPS vendor, writing an onboarding email sequence, building a customer advisory board — to feel like you’re moving forward. But before you pat yourself on the back for those quick wins, you need to step back and assess how ready your organization is to focus on the customer.

It can seem elementary, but as the proverb says, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And before you can take that step, you need a map. Here are three easy ways to get started on a CX program — even if you think there’s no way your organization could ever invest in customer experience.

1. Figure Out Your Current Customer Experience Maturity

According to Clarabridge, there are six stages to customer experience maturity, ranging from unaware (your organization has little interest in customer experience) to advanced (organizations that have a customer-centric viewpoint from the frontline to the board room). Most of us probably fall somewhere in the middle: either dabbling (some awareness of customer experience, but not much internal buy-in) or involved (the beginnings of a formal, funded program).

Regardless of where you start, you need an honest assessment of your maturity before you can move forward. When you’re assessing your customer experience maturity, think about:

  • Starting to listen to the voice of the customer. Do you know what customers think and feel about their interactions with your organization, or do you just think you do? A good CX program is built on data, not gut feelings. Whether you start by paying attention to sentiment on social media or sending a quick survey, listening to customers express their pain points is a good way to identify just how far you have to go.
  • Preparing for change management. No one likes change, but as you start your customer experience journey, look toward parts of the organization where the leader and at least some employees want to change. Whether your support team is itching to be more proactive or your HR team wants to improve employee experience, you might have some prospective champions already on board.
  • Assessing your technology. Before you start scheduling demos, look at what you already have at your disposal. Is your CRM set up to capture and report on the customer data you need to make the right decisions? Are you using all the features in your support platform? Are all your current customer-facing systems integrated together to provide a 180-degree view of the customer? (We’ll get to the 360-degree view later.) While it’s fun to buy the latest technology, be honest about what you have and what you can make the best use of now.

If you’re coming into an organization with zero interest or knowledge of customer experience pitching a sophisticated customer advocacy program, you’re unlikely to get very far. Instead, try laying the groundwork for what’s to come. (And one important note — CX programs typically take three years to get off the ground. So make sure you’re giving yourself enough time to get things going.)

Related Article: Getting Started With a Customer Experience Audit

2. Gain CEO Buy-In for Your CX Program

Since you’re reading this article, hopefully that leader is you. But before you can be the leader, you need a sponsor to help you in your goal of increasing customer satisfaction — and ideally that will be the CEO. To get your CEO on board, you have to align with and address their concerns.

Ideally your CEO has asked you to take on project of improving customer experience. But if you’re struggling to sell the value of customer experience to your CEO, you can try:

  • Viewing your CEO as an internal customer. It’s important to understand what your CEO is trying to achieve, as well as their pain points. To win the CEO’s support, you have to make a compelling case for investment. Here’s one: The Temkin Group found that companies that earn $1 billion annually can expect to earn, on average, an additional $700 million within three years of investing in customer experience — that’s a 70% increase in revenue in 36 months.
  • Aligning your views on customer experience with how the CEO sees strategy. Businesses generally create value by offering the best products, offering the lowest prices or delivering the best overall solution. In the last case, customer experience is crucial. Whatever your CEO’s goal is, explain how understanding customers’ needs, and reducing friction for customers, will help.
  • Explaining what needs to change and why. A frequent response to CX is “we’re already doing this” or “of course we care about customers.” No one doubts that your employees care about customers — your goal as a CX leader is to systematize those one-off efforts. Ideally your CEO can sell the importance of passion for customer success, because it will be a journey. If you can help them understand why the customer is the center of everything you do, that will be crucial to your success.

As your program develops, training, education and communication will be incredibly important. Use your CEO to demonstrate commitment to the program — have them record videos, speak at sessions, or communicate in other ways to help drive home how investing in customer experience will benefit the organization.

Related Article: How to Get Your Whole Company to Buy Into the Customer Experience Ethic

3. Know Your ‘Why’

This is probably the most important step. Why are you trying to change your customer experience in the first place?

I’ve written before (OK, more than once) about how much I love the women’s clothing brand MM LaFleur. MM LaFleur was founded to take the work out of getting dressed for professional women, so they can focus on what matters most. This core vision makes it easy to identify what projects, events and even discounts don’t fit. On its website, it states the brand is “committed to using our products and our voices to empower working women in any way we can.” MM LaFleur focuses on supporting initiatives that are related to its core vision: partnering with Bottomless Closet, which helps disadvantaged New York women reenter the workforce; creating Ready to Run, which offered complimentary clothing loans to women running for political office; and, in 2020, offering discounts to customers who were registered to vote, phone or text banking, or working the polls.

A customer experience vision will help you decide what needs to get done — and why. Even more important, it will help you decide what not to do. Once these principles are in place, they will drive the behavior of your organization. More than that, knowing your why will help people build empathy and create emotional connections with customers.

Think about all the social media posts about how online pet food retailer Chewy sends pet portraits to surprise and delight customers, or sympathy cards when a beloved pet passes away. It’s not just kindness, it’s good business. According to the Harvard Business Review study “The New Science of Customer Emotions,” customers who are emotionally engaged are at least three times more likely to recommend your product or service — and less likely to shop around (44% said they rarely or never shop around). Those results come from knowing why you are focusing on customers and how you are making their lives better.

Of course, there’s more to building a customer experience program than just conducting a maturity assessment, identifying your leader and knowing your why. But the rest of your strategy — metrics, new hires, technology investments — will stem from that. So, if you’re looking to start the year with a renewed focus on customer experience, make sure that you’re building your foundation first.

Melissa Henley is Senior Director of Customer Experience at KeyShot, the global leader of product design rendering software. Customers are at the heart of all Melissa does, and her passion is around connecting people to content that can have a genuine positive impact on their lives.



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