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OK, let's get real about the buzz around customer experience. As has been the case with nearly every incarnation of customer-focus activity, the focus on experience is inadvertently randomizing corporations, sending people out on tactical missions to map customer touch points that have no future relevance to the operation, and making a lot of consultants happy.

To make customer experience stick as part of your operation, you need to have an organized and phased approach for integrating it into your organization. Without it, customer experience becomes one more customer-focused tactic that your company tried for a while and then abandoned.

So here, based on working with scores of clients from around the world, is the real-world approach for how to integrate customer experience into your operation—in a way that will make it stick and change how you work.

In this article, I'll discuss the first three focus areas. In the next installment, I'll discuss the last two focus areas.

Focus No. 1: Alignment Around Customer Experience

(Images in this article refer to an insurance industry example.)

Many organizations say they focus on their customers' "experience," but few do the hard work to define the stages of the experience from the customer's point of view.

Instead, each operating area does its own thing, driven by each area's internal tasks, agenda, and scorecard. A lot of work is done, often in the name of the customer, but it doesn't deliver a unified experience for the customer. The big things don't get systemically fixed, and we miss the opportunities for the big "wow" moments.

In this focus area, you define the stages of the experience and the moments of truth that determine all the customer touch points, which include both the obvious touch points, such as when the customer places an order, and opportunities that might be missed, such as when the customer places the 100th order or when the customer has contacted customer service three times in a month.

At this stage of the work, lead your teams to identify the top 10-20 moments of truth so that you can prioritize the touch points in order to begin improving reliability and weaving in those differentiating "wow" moments.

The significance of doing so is huge. Not enough companies understand that this is the first "duct tape" exercise, to get your organization moving together in one direction—to agree on the stages of your customer experience..

It is also the platform work for the journey to transform the customer experience; that is, once you've reached agreement, you can...

  1. Line up customer feedback to those stages—where you gather feedback on the experience
  2. Connect cross-silo operational metrics for the delivery of cohesive experiences
  3. Establish reward and recognition that enforces key moments
  4. Give leaders a way to hold the company accountable—both to the stages of the experience and to cross-functional teams that affect the stage. Doing this changes accountability from "down the silo" scorecards and dashboards to "across the experience" shared metrics and accountability.

Focus No. 2: Experience-Based Customer Listening and Feedback

Because of the way we take feedback and then hand it off for resolution down the silos, we inadvertently send a "false positive" to CEOs and company leaders that customer issues are being resolved.

See whether this sounds familiar to you: As your results come in from surveys, reports, and social media, they are handed over to an operating area, or silo, to "go work on it." The survey results are sent throughout the company, where each silo interprets the results and then decides what it will do.

What happens next is...

  1. Every leader interprets "go work on it" differently.
  2. Whichever department receives the survey results to "go work on it" does some action internally and then reports back at the next meeting.
  3. Because we take feedback results, categorize them into silo buckets, and then dole them out to be fixed by silo... the customer experience doesn't have a chance of getting fixed—from the customers' perspective.

Broken customer experiences often result from many things across the operation not working right. For example, billing is a challenging customer experience not just because of what the billing department does.

Communications, Sales, Marketing, Operations, IT and Billing all play a role in what the customer experiences. Customers experience a company across the operation, not down the silos. So doling out the issues down the silos has to change if you want to achieve customer-experience accountability.

Moreover, where we get the information to inform what we should solve and fix is frequently tied to survey results alone.

Surveys are important, but there are many opportunities to really "listen" in on what customers have to say about their experience with your organization, such as via call-center calls, product returns, Internet-based feedback, and in-store communications.

Collecting and organizing that information is important to prevent one-time fixes and requires committing to the following three alignment action items:

  1. Categorize the customer issues and consistently collect and trend feedback.
  2. Report customer feedback by customer-experience stage.
  3. Don't hand off the feedback to one department—identify the multiple silos that affect the experience and, from there, drive accountability.

By using everyday feedback, we loosen our reliance on surveys alone and focus on the things that really matter.

Focus No. 3: United (Cross-Silo) Experience Reliability

Once you have done the foundational work of identifying your stages of the experience and have identified the key 10-15 "moments of truth" or customer touch points, you can start to build experience reliability in a focused manner that won't feel like you are trying to change the world overnight.

This part of the work is about reliability in your experience, by not waiting for survey results but proactively managing the key touch points with shared accountability across the silos. Do this by:

  1. Identifying and establishing operational key performance indicators (KPIs) for your top 10-15 customer-experience touch points.
  2. Bringing cross-functional teams of people together to take experiences from "broken" to "reliable" to ultimately a differentiating moment. Once you've got this process down, you can move past the top 10-15 touch points. But start with just these few; otherwise, it will become overwhelming.
  3. Establishing what the forums should be for driving accountability. I recommend a "Customer Room"—a practice that has had a high impact on my clients' organizations.

The idea comes from something we did at Lands' End long ago to get us out of our day-to-day tasks to experience the world as we were delivering it to our customers' doors.

We stock-transferred in every outerwear product in the catalog to see how the products were packaged and what the hang tags, communication, and outer packaging looked like. What a mess! But what an impact the exercise had.

We have now implemented a Customer Room with clients such as TD Ameritrade, St. Jude's Children's Hospitals, Bombardier Aircraft, and many others—driving the operations to come together, drop their silos, and think "experience."

In a Customer Room, we depict the stages of the customer experience across the walls. Beneath each stage we show the artifacts that customers physically receive: the packing slip, hang tags, materials, overstock notices, etc.

We also list beneath each stage the complaints we've received, the KPIs for the key touch points, and the survey results that are affected by it. Doing so brings the organization together to think "experience" rather than "my silo."

We also play customer calls so the folks in the room can hear in the customers' voices how the experience was delivered.

On a quarterly or monthly basis, the leadership convenes in the room to discuss the areasin which we are letting customers down and allocate teams to determine cross-functional fixes.

As those teams work on improving customer experiences, they present their findings and recommendations, and ultimately results, making this room also a place of celebration. It takes the customer work off of spreadsheets and puts the customer in the middle of the business with passion, fun, and a great amount of collaboration and innovation.

Stay tuned for the second installment of this article, which will discuss the last two focus areas to help you grow your customer loyalty by orienting your internal practices to best support it.

Continue reading "Customer Experience Leadership Survival Guide, Part 1" ... Read the full article

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image of Jeanne Bliss
Jeanne Bliss is the founder of CustomerBLISS (, a consulting and coaching company, and the author of Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action.