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Customer Experience: Five Pillars To Reach A Sustainable Competitive Advantage

by Ryan Hollenbeck Forbes Councils Member
Understanding customer needs and desires across their journey and responding accordingly has never been more important. According to Gartner, 81% of marketers say they soon “expect to be competing mostly or completely on the basis of CX” (customer experience).
Brands that get the customer experience equation right often reap greater customer loyalty and increased revenues. However, those that fail risk customer defection. Our company’s 2019 study of more than 34,000 consumers in 18 countries found that two in three consumers say they’ll happily jump ship to brands that provide the best experience or service.
How do companies go about creating inspired customer experiences? They anticipate and accommodate customer needs and develop a customer-first mindset at all levels of the organization. We do the same in our organization with a dedicated customer experience program, for which I’m proud to be an executive sponsor.
We’ve put in place extensive resources to support both the overall customer experience and customer success. The foundation of this program is based on organizational education and alignment, prioritizing our customers’ point of view and actions that foster strong customer relationships, with a focus on ensuring customer loyalty and extending the value proposition of our solutions.
There are five integral pillars to our program — pillars I believe every company looking to improve its customer experience (CX) program can incorporate:

The Art Of The Start

I’ve found that most organizations have wisely focused on the customer onboarding process to guide customers to attain success and value as soon as possible. But there’s more to the art of the start of a customer-vendor engagement, and that “more” is what transforms the relationship into a long-term collaborative partnership. It’s critical to work with your customers to capture insights and, together, create a blueprint for success.
At our company, we invite our customers to our executive engagement center in Alpharetta, Georgia, where we meet to architect the strategy to bring the business and technology vision to life. We then conduct quarterly business reviews to ensure continued alignment.

Working The Core

Following onboarding, there is a vast array of opportunities for customer listening and engagement. It’s this middle ground, the core of customer experience, where companies have tremendous opportunity to cultivate a culture of exceptional customer care.
Last year, we added a new element to our customer experience program focused on “the middle,” creating a CX catalyst network to address customer satisfaction and employee engagement in one initiative. The CX catalyst network formalizes and leverages our very best CX asset: our frontline, customer-facing employees. These employees talk with customers every day and hear their pain points; they have insight into what’s causing the pain and where operational obstacles exist. Our employees in our CX catalyst network devote a quarter of their time to these activities and are empowered to influence their co-workers and provide feedback to those in leadership positions.
You can open up opportunities in customer listening and engagement by looking at both structured and unstructured data collection, including email, post-call surveys, digital feedback from websites and mobile devices, and customer interactions from contact centers. This can bring you closer to a complete view of the true voice of the customer and uncover blind spots that are often missed.

Creating Opportunities For Co-Innovation

Giving customers a voice in product ideation is a powerful customer experience force. Our customers are involved in our customer innovation partner program, where they can participate in beta programs to “road test” solutions before their general release and provide feedback to help shape the product. We also host an online idea portal where customers can submit ideas for new product features and enhancements and receive immediate feedback.
Leveraging a customer-sourced idea flow — be it through beta programs, online forums or other platforms — ensures your company listens and is in touch with its customers’ needs, requirements, wants and desires to spur innovation, collaboration and co-ideation.

Instituting Measurement And Customer Feedback Loops

You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and this is true for customer experience programs: Measurement and benchmarking is vital. I’d advise that measurement be achieved through a combination of both analytic and anecdotal insights. For example, a key customer satisfaction “barometer” is our customer loyalty index, which we monitor regularly, along with renewal rates and repurchase rates.
We also have several customer advisory boards. Such boards can lead your user community and work with your company’s leadership to guide product strategy and offerings and address shared industry challenges. Another idea is to create an executive sponsorship program, through which your executive sponsors can visit with your customers periodically to foster continuous improvement — this is an initiative we have found to be effective in ensuring our customers feel valued.

Building A Holistic Customer Experience Program

Many of today’s visionary organizations know customer experience is critical to sustainable competitive advantage. By designing your program holistically, you can elevate your company’s customer experience so it’s front and center with everyone in the organization. This can lead to deeper loyalty built with each customer interaction.
When designing a customer experience program, start at the top. To ensure it’s taken seriously in your organization, the executive in charge of customer success should hold a prominent position in the company.
Next, map out the assets you can utilize to help build a comprehensive customer experience program that is woven through the entire organization. Involve everyone!  Work to engage executives, middle management and customers to achieve your customer support goals.
The key assets to drive your program forward are there; you simply need to put in place the enabling framework and empowerment to activate these elements to take your customer experience initiatives to the next level.
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