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You've seen the show "Undercover Boss" by now, right? The premise is simple, but brilliant: Ask senior executives to go "undercover" within their own companies as frontline employees to investigate how their company is really doing and how they might improve and better satisfy their customers.

The executives get an up-close-and-personal look at how their company does business with customers—and what that customer experience looks like. From tip to toe.

As I watch the show, I'm constantly thinking: All CMOs should go through this experience. Why? So they can get a better handle on the customer experience their company fosters—from the eyes of the frontlines.

Many CMOs try to get at customer experience effectiveness by looking through a marketing lens. That's great, you'll get oodles of important information that way. But you won't get a look at the complete customer experience—and that's what CMOs need to see in this competitive business climate.

After all, they're sitting at the table with the CEO, CFO, CIO, and other C-level leaders. They need to know how the business is doing—not just how the marketing department is performing.

Since CMOs often struggle with this notion, here are four outside-the-box ideas to get a better handle on your company's customer experience.

1. Ask your product managers to answer one simple question

What are your customers able to do differently or better because of your product/service?

Simple question, right? What you're after here is a frontline understanding of what your staff is solving for customers, not what you're selling.

Because customers buy absence of pain or a desire fulfilled rather than products or services, all of your operating decisions (and your performance outcomes) flow from focused execution on the answer to this key question.

If your product managers can't answer this question fairly quickly, the chances that your company will exceed your performance goals are very low.

2. Be a customer all the way through the customer experience

Many CMOs go through this process from time to time—with the goal of trying to get a better feel for what their customers go through when purchasing from the company. Too many CMOs and marketing leaders get stuck in the "trial and purchase" phases and never bother to look at the whole experience. Don't fall into that trap.

What happens—and how do your target customers feel—as they learn about your brand or service for the first time? How do they try you out and buy, yes, but also, How do they use your product or service to solve the need that triggered them to act in the first place?

And here's a big one many marketers spend little time on: How do customers' needs evolve over time? Are you anticipating those as new demand, or are you simply using purchase algorithms to drive cross-selling?

Do this exploration as a customer, and use metrics that demonstrate value to customers and your company at each step. Only by looking at all these stages will you get a complete picture of the experience from both your customer's and your organization's points of view.

You'll make decisions and meaningful changes that will drive profitable growth and value if you are armed with ALL this insight.

3. Look backward from performance outcomes

Steven Covey said "start with the end in mind." The effectiveness of any customer experience is measured in the outcome for your customer and the outcome for your organization. So a great way to better see your customer experience is to look backward from these outcomes.

For example, when customers have used your product or service to solve their problem, need, or desire, a Net Promoter Score might be a key performance outcome, or metric, you can unpack. You might look for the predictability, speed, or flexibility actions that are driving your positive or negative NPS.

The number is great: It's an indicator. But the real value comes from looking backward from the number and figuring out what is working—and what is not—to improve your customers' experience.

4. Find the tipping points in your customer experience

Have you ever noticed there are a few "tipping points" in any customer experience that have a disproportionate impact on its success?

It might be the moment you slip between the sheets of a heavenly bed at a Westin, or find yourself smiling and relaxed watching the safety video on an Air New Zealand. Or the moment you received all the charges for your son's broken arm in one easy-to-read and no-surprises bill from your health plan (I made this last one up, but we can dream, right?).

If you get them right, tipping point moments seem to have a halo effect on everything else. And if you get them wrong, you're forever climbing out of a big hole of negative customer perceptions.

Do you know what the tipping point is for your customer experience? Finding it, and getting it right, can mean the difference between creating an army of brand advocates and loyal customers... or an apathetic slog of customers who feel chained to your brand.

* * *

Those are my ideas. What about you? Any outside-the-box ideas for CMOs to get a better understanding of their customer experience?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Linda Ireland

Linda Ireland is co-owner and partner at Aveus, a global strategy and operational change firm. Linda's book, Domino, covers how leaders can define customer experience and use it to tip everything in a business toward better financial performance.

Twitter: @LindaIreland

LinkedIn: Linda Ireland