Overcoming Customer Experience Program Stress Points

Along with my colleagues at Customer Innovations, I’ve had the opportunity to help structure and manage major customer experience initiatives for a wide range of companies.    In the course of doing so, we’ve run into every imaginable roadblock and gone down our fair share of unproductive “rat holes.”   About a year ago, the Customer Innovations leadership team took a step back and summarized the stress points that organizations face as they try to build and maintain momentum with their customer experience programs.   Here’s what we came up with:

Customer Experience Program Stress Points

Customer Experience Program Stress Points

These stress points create confusion, slow or stall progress, and often partially, if not totally, derail the effort.   We’ve found that these stress points occur predictably with certain roles (e.g., the project team, executive stakeholders, support functions, etc…) and at certain points in the lifecycle of the effort.   Although they occur predictably, they tend to catch most organizations by surprise.   The key to building and maintaining progress is to know how to anticipate these stress points and manage them in advance.

Here are just a couple of the predictable stress points and what we’ve found is important to proactively address them:

  • Moving Beyond Platitudes (Executive Sponsors). Many executives have strong rhetoric around customer-focus and the need to deliver a compelling customer experience.  Very rarely do they understand how to move the organization beyond this rhetoric into action.  The experience that customers have with the business is typically the product of very deeply entrenched structural, cultural, and behavioral “legacy effects.”   Shifting the customer experience in any noticeable and profitable way involves knowing how to shift this deeply entrenched organizational behavior.  Addressing this stress point requires having a comprehensive, well-tested roadmap that allows Executive Sponsors to know how to create the conditions for success with a program that follows through on the rhetoric.  This roadmap must take into account surfacing and addressing the legacy effects that get in the way.  (see:  Centers of Gravity: Levers for Shifting the Customer ExperienceHow Employee Experiences Drive Organizational Behavior, and Integrating Customer and Employee Experiences)
  • Knowing Where to Start (Project Leadership and Support Functions). Improving the experience customers have with the organization seems all encompassing.  There are usually a very wide range of processes, functions, technology, and people that touch the customer.  Most organizations have multiple lines of business, each with multiple types of customers, and often many different channels or intermediaries that play a role.  Where do you start?  Do you try to work top-down on the things that are common across all of these dimensions or do you try to work bottom-up by focusing on individual elements of what the organization does to influence the experience?   The answer is neither… and both.  We’ve found that an iterative top-down / bottom-up process works best.  Starting with top-down principles and a unifying customer experience specification (see:  Customer Experience Specification) and then refining the principles and specification in bottom-up detailed design and pilots with individual lines of business or experience components.
  • The Experience Mapping Swamp (Project Team and Support Functions). Touch-point mapping… the analysis of how customers experience what the company does at each of the points of interaction… is the central approach used in most customer experience initiatives.    It’s very rational that the organization would want to know how it’s doing at those points of interaction.  The problem is that it’s close to useless for figuring what to do to significantly improve the experience.  In most cases, addressing the issues that get surfaced in touch point mapping exercises creates no more than “better sameness.”  (see:  Whose Experience is it Anyway? and The Customers’ Experience Does Not Happen At Your Touchpoints!)   The fact is, the customers experience doesn’t just happen at an organization’s touchpoints and, as a result, it’s really impossible to know how to meaningfully improve that experience unless you understand what’s happening at the non-touch-points.   The most effective tool for proactively addressing this stress point is making sure that the effort starts with an “experiencer-centric” definition of the experience.   (See Experience Miner: Creating Profitable, Evocative Experiences)

There are many other stress points:   Facing the ugly truth in “Coming to Terms with the Truth About Today“, overcoming the tendency to define an “Ideal Experience We Can’t Implement,”  having the guts to do drive towards “Differentiation vs. Better Sameness,” while avoiding “Painting the Surface vs. Changing the Core,”  and overcoming the “Surfacing Unwritten Rule Barriers” that make it impossible for the organization and it’s intermediaries to behave in a way that creates the desired experience, etc…  You get the picture.  We’ve developed effective strategies for addressing each of these stress points.   I’m happy to provide additional information…. just shoot me a message.

Cheers, Frank

Note:  Our stress point framework was inspired by the “Reengineering Stress Point” framework originally created by brilliant consultant,  Glenn Mangurian, while he was at CSC Index in the mid-90s’

Another note:  If you found this post interesting, you might also find the following posts helpful:

The Customers’ Experience Does Not Happen At Your Touchpoints!

In an earlier post I mentioned that touchpoint mapping is a relatively useless approach for making significant improvements in the customers’ experience.  Unfortunately, touchpoint mapping is also the most frequently used approach… either followed by companies on their own or recommended by consultants who claim expertise in customer experience design.   The most important thing to realize is that… the most influential elements of the customer experience often occur at the non-touchpoints with your business.  As a result, touchpoint mapping doesn’t lead to anything more than incremental improvement that, for the customer, amount to “better sameness.”

In most situations, the lifecycle of the customers’ experience follows something that roughly approximates this simplified picture:

Above and Below the Surface Experience

Of course, the details look different for each situation.  However, in most cases, an organization’s touchpoints with the customer include:  sales contacts, ordering activities, fulfillment activities, and problem resolution.  As you see, the customers’ process includes a lot of other things that have a substantial impact on their overall experience.  In addition, customers often have to integrate products and services they get from you with the products and services of other organizations in order to address their needs.

For example, one of our recent clients is a leading jewelry store chain.  Like many retailers, there is a natural tendency to think about the customer experience from the perspective of “things that happen in the store” or, increasingly, “things that happen on a website.”  However, for most jewelry stores,  70% of the customers are “male gift givers.”  For these customers, the experience is really defined by the end-to-end process they go through when they give a gift that makes a meaningful contribution to a “relationship bank account” with someone that matters a lot to them.

The customer is certainly affected by what happens in the store… but major parts of the experience have little to do with the store.  They may think about an upcoming event, like a birthday, anniversary, graduation, or holiday.  Although many male gift givers put off actually buying anything until just about the last minute, they typically engage in a “semi-conscious consideration of options” for what to buy.  These customers have unwritten or implicit “rules of thumb” that influence how they shop.  For example, “do a quick pass through three of four stores, then return to buy the best I find… or… “spend two months salary on an engagement ring.”  There are also very significant portions of the experience driven by how they give the gift, how the recipient reacts both initially and over time after receiving the gift.  If the gift giving experience does not go as planned, there are many cycles of highly emotional reactions for both the gift giver and the recipient.  One of these that is particularly important is the experience that precedes having to return an item… which many stores make very stressful.

These are just the highlights.  There’s actually quite a bit more.  In this case, the parts of the experience that happen outside the store are the primary determinants of the quality of the experience for the customer.  If a jewelry store were to focus on understanding and improving what happens in the store and/or online interactions, the best they’ll come up with is better sameness.  The opportunity for a creative jewelry chain is to leverage insight into those portions of the customers’ experience that are “below the surface.”  This provides insight that can help not only improve what happens at the “above the surface” touchpoints, but also provides insight into related services that address customers’ unarticulated or unmet needs at the non-touchpoints.