A new(er) way to look at innovation in customer experience

Customer Experience design is often considered to be at the point of interaction. That’s why we see so much process analysis, and so many customer service training being conducted for customer facing teams. Enough has been written about elevating this approach and expanding it to include complete customer journeys. In this post I’ll try to bring out an important addition to that CX model and present another dimension that must be considered.

Innovations at the physical interaction level are important for driving innovation. They also enable individual enterprise to flourish by empowering employees and making them feel passionate about the work they are doing. Some great examples are:

  • Handling a customer’s call to ensure highest satisfaction
  • Managing customer relationships at key accounts to delight customers
  • Processing service requests at a branch to deliver the best service
  • Delivering products and orienting customers to ensure loyalty
  • Training customers on how to use a product to make customers proud of their choice
  • Providing a personalized website or mobile experience to promote transactions
  • Setting up a proactive email automation program to stay in touch

These bottom-up approaches are indeed required. In fact, stories of amazing customer experiences that people share and cherish often come as a result of training and initiatives that motivate employees to go out of their way:

  1. The Sainsbury’s store manager who responded to a little girl about why a bread was called “tiger bread” instead of “giraffe bread” even though it certainly looked like a giraffe!(see reference 1)
  2. How, amidst a pretty harsh rainstorm, a Wendy’s employee went outside, removed the umbrella from one of the tables, and walked an elderly man to his car. (see reference 2)
  3. How the store associates at Trader Joe’s made up a home delivery service for a WWII veteran who was snowed in. And didn’t charge for it. (see reference 2)
  4. And the list goes on.

Thus, instead of trying to execute a grand old strategy – or despite a grand old strategy –  initiatives such as these at the grass roots keep the ball rolling by making incremental innovations on how we operate, galvanize others, and build a brand that people love.

However, these initiatives must also be supported by a grand old strategy to prevent us from running into inconsistent customer experiences between the multiple touch-points we all have with our customers. That’s true even for small businesses where the biggest limitation is time and resources.

In my book Dancing The Digital Tune, I laid out 5 core principle of competing in this emerging digital world where business models are merging and customer interaction is transcending channels and mediums. Of these principles, the principle of customer interaction can be used effectively as a first step to create the right CX framework to begin with. Other principles are important too but our grand old strategy can be reasonably jump-started by the use of this principle alone.

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Basically, the principle states that since we interact with customers at both emotional (advertising) and physical (product performance, service and interactions) level, our approach must be oriented to complement the two ends of the customer interaction spectrum, and bring them together. It’s about creating an experience that assures them that our firm will deal with them in the way promised.  And to be able to do that, we must align these 4 elements:

  1. Our positioning – what do we promise customers or want them to remember us for? Just as business travelers used to expect excellent and personalized customer service from American Express wherever they are, or when the J&J name sends a message that only the highest quality ingredients will be used to maintain the highest health standards, or that IBM products will never be the wrong choice for CIOs and CEOs (all of these examples are debatable of course but I am citing these examples because these have been well known traditionally). The positioning results in implicit assumptions made by people, primarily driven at the emotional end of the customer engagement spectrum.
  2. The life cycle – from awareness to purchase to post-purchase engagement. This is about meeting the promise of our positioning throughout the life cycle of a customer’s interaction with us. When do customers interact with us? Are we driving home the brand message, or substantiating it constantly with our actions? It doesn’t have to be during customer service alone, but during initial on-boarding, normal transactions, cross sell and during “peace times” as well.
  3. The mediums – through advertisements to education to promotions to customer service. Each of these mediums is active throughout the various stages of the life-cycle, and sometimes multiple of these are in play at the same time.
  4. The channels – phone, email, in-person, in-store etc. These are obviously the actual means to realize the mediums, and today’s Omni Channel world is connecting them together anyway.

The CX framework model

It looks complicated. But the only real additions here are the inclusion of “positioning” or “brand promise”, and the linkage or strategic feedback loop with the products & offerings. The framework looks complicated only because it’s a more granular breakdown of higher level customer interaction model we have often used to define our CX approach. Execution is often as simple as taking the brand message and weaving it in with the customer expectation at the right stage in life cycle, the medium and the channel in use, and feeding it into the product & service roadmap. Here are some examples:

  • A cable company competing with incumbent DSL services touts its network of free wi-fi hot spots, and how they are the obvious choice over other alternatives due to all the other great things they have to offer. But customers struggle to utilize the hot-spots various reasons). At the same time, the incumbent telecom providers constantly remind customers about the shared browsing speeds at home. This is a classic case of CX dissonance, and how customers believe what they constantly hear. What we claim must be reinforced by the physical experiences at every stage. How do we mitigate this risk through messaging, CX changes across the customer touch-points, and even strategic developments of the product itself?
  • When we visit a bank branch, we often finish our transactions at the teller, and then we’re off. And if the bank does initiate a dialog after that, it’s to sell a product or service, and hand us off to someone with a glossy brochure. Although, our financial well-being is something that is often touted on billboards, advertisements and on signs inside the branch, it’s surprising that it doesn’t translate to active financial management assistance – inside or outside the branch. How should we try to resolve this CX dissonance? Active use of digital and analytics can perhaps enable these mutual benefits if we consider CX as the driver of future differentiation and success.

Examples like these abound in every industry. It’s obvious that CX initiatives at both individual interactions as well as at the corporate level are needed to support each other. The individual initiatives can resolve a “known pain” with a business scenario. Every business scenario has exceptional flows when things don’t go as expected. And that’s where the human enterprise and empathy really shines. Think of the associate who goes out of the way to help you with a return or a claim. Individual initiatives create a lasting impact here.

However, although they are a critical element, the individual initiatives cannot be the anchor for our CX “strategy”. CX is to be enabled by a top down agenda of the right positioning, enabling of touch points to support that positioning, and even be the conduit for product and service innovation & evolution. Realizing the CX vision often needs product improvements and other overreaching corporate changes. A simple first step towards that journey may be to educate all our touch-points on how they are all working together to create the desired effect, and how interconnected they are. But a lot more needs to be done. I’ve highlighted that in The Principle of Presenting in my book if you’re interested.

In summary, a framework approach to CX must be thought of as including not only obvious people interaction points, but also a business process driven analysis supported by technology, and powered by analytics. Solving CX issues at obvious customer touch points like at the contact center or during in-person contact must lead to enabling of CX at the brand promise level. Complete customer journey mappings are therefore not enough because they are generally done at a process level from a customer service perspective (or customer acquisition, or commerce perspective). To drive the right CX strategy we must align the physical experiences with the emotional connections we are hoping to establish at the customer level. This implies that our business process analysis must have the customer at the center, not the business process. Otherwise, our interaction focused CX efforts will always be prone to consistently inconsistent performances.

Based on the 5 principles from the book Dancing the Digital Tune: The 5 Principles of Competing in a Digital World; read more about the principles here.

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