Avoid the North Star in Your Customer Experience Strategy
- Understand what makes customers tick. A successful CX strategy starts by knowing what consumers want and what makes them happy.
- Bulk up your VoC program. Observe how your customers interact with your brand to better highlight their voice and preferences.
- Turn inward. Ensure the agents and CX leaders on your team value a customer-centric approach and culture.
When it comes to developing and executing a strategic plan, many companies love to point to their “north star” as the focal point of their vision. You may have even seen some companies give their strategic initiatives names like “Project Polaris” or “Mission: North Star.” The metaphor itself works — every business needs a guiding principle to direct their journey.
But in the case of a customer experience strategy, another star more fully captures the goal: Sirius. Unlike Polaris and other common stars, Sirius is a binary star. It consists of two stars so far away and so close to each other that, to us, they like a single star. Similarly, a healthy CX strategy needs two components that are so closely bound together that they appear to be one.
The first component is obvious: understanding customer satisfaction and sentiment. We might call this the “outward facing” element, composed of three distinct pieces.
The first of these pieces — and the heart of CX — is a robust and well-defined Voice of the Customer (VoC) program upon which everything else is built. This includes a strong customer survey program and a variety of customer listening outposts to capture unstructured VoC. Sources such as chat transcripts, email, social media and call recordings can provide the richest source of proactive, actionable data. And actionability leads us further toward the ultimate destination.
Related Article: What Is Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)?
A Clear Customer Journey
The second piece is a well-documented customer journey. Too often, brands end up documenting what they think the journey ought to be, not what it actually is. Don’t misunderstand; that “to-be” journey is an important part of the navigation plan, but what’s equally important is a candid, fact-based assessment of the current journey. How do our customers experience our brand now? To do this effectively, you need to “go to gemba” — get out and observe how customers interact with your brand “in the wild.”
Here again, unstructured VoC sources provide a great clue to where to make those observations. As your CX strategy matures, you can turn journey maps into journey reconstructions: heavily VoC-driven actual individual customer journeys that are infused not only with VoC, but internal operational support system data such as orders, bills and maintenance records.
The customer understanding component of your binary star is rounded out with a means to communicate the insights you’ve gathered from listening to customers. This communication first goes backwards to the customer, closing the loop to let them know they were heard and that you’ve addressed their inquiry.
However, “addressed” does not necessarily mean “resolved,” so even if you may not have been able to solve the problem, closing the loop tells the customer their issue was not ignored. At this point, communication needs to turn inward and become a launching point for the second component of our Sirius binary star. This communication piece focuses on reporting KPIs, customer feedback and customer stories to internal stakeholders.
Related Article: Your CX Altitude Change: Customer Centricity to Life Centricity
Turn Inward: Be Mindful of Internal Customer Stakeholders
This communication piece is also a natural handoff to the second program component (the second star in our binary system), which is “inwardly facing.” As we share customer content, context and sentiment, our communication needs to also be mindful of internal stakeholders: front-line agents, back office employees and executive leaders.
Although it is vital to capture what customers are telling them in routine interactions, it is equally important to understand how CX leaders and agents feel about working within the “machine” their brand represents.
Sadly, many CX programs overlook this important piece — and those that do often address it through internal stakeholder surveys. However, nothing is quite as effective at revealing the stakeholder experience as a practice known as, once again, going to gemba — getting out from behind your PC and spending time in the call center, the retail store, the parts depot. And simply observing.
The second part of the inwardly focused “star” is perhaps the most underappreciated and underutilized, yet entirely essential for success. It complements loop closure in customer communications mentioned earlier, but again brings that focus inward by compiling those numerous customer issues into insights that focus on root causes. Why do we continue to hear that complaint? How are our processes making it difficult for customers to engage with our brand? Taking inventory of the volume and severity of negative customer feedback provides the basis for process improvement projects that proactively drive out the root causes of customer pain and build long term loyalty.
Focus on Customer Culture
Finally, the last piece is the bedrock of it all, the center of gravity between the stars. Without a truly customer-centric culture, the other components can’t hold together and both stars decay into cosmic dust. It’s often said that a truly customer-centric culture is one where there is no single dedicated team responsible for customer experience, but rather one where every individual, top to bottom, within the company considers customers first in all their actions. How is this manifested in practical ways?
One example would be empowering front-line service agents to use common sense and do the right thing for customers instead of blindly conforming to scripts and processes. Too often, service representatives recognize even a small accommodation will solve the customer’s problem, but they are bound by restrictive company-imposed rules that prevent them from exercising the best judgment.
A successful CX strategy needs to have a dual focus, one that looks outward and one that looks inward. One might alternately characterize these as “hearing” and “doing.” CX professionals rightly seek to better hear the voice of the customer, but too often seem to hope the experience will improve simply because they are hearing it — they leave the “doing” to chance.
Effective CX programs have a deliberate focus on both. They are truly “Sirius” about their efforts. Interestingly, a 1978 song by Gerry Rafferty says, “you’ve been as constant as the Northern Star, the brightest light that shines.” Although this is nice poetry, it is not true. The actual brightest star in the sky is — you guessed it – Sirius.
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