Customer experience


Improving customer experience: Smaller sprints, bigger impact

Companies struggling with customer experience improvements don’t have to scrap their initiatives. Instead, by using customer experience management (CEM) concepts and Agile management methodology, organizations may be better able to instill change that sticks.​​

If you’re an executive embarking on a customer experience (CX) improvement effort, consider this question: When was the last time you heard a customer say, “I wish this experience were seamlessly connected across all of my favorite retail channels” or “I would love an integrated communication platform with a common message across all of my touch points”? The answer is likely never because customers don’t think about channels or platforms or touchpoints.

Customer-focused executives, on the other hand, think a lot about those things when considering ways to improve their company’s CX. In an effort to provide a consistently rewarding experience whether the customer is online, in a store, or on the phone, some companies shift their focus inward, looking for ways to break down organizational barriers and building platforms as part of a companywide “omnichannel” CX transformation effort. Although those efforts can be productive, Deloitte research has found that many leaders were more focused on meeting internal requirements than on creating emotional connections with customers.

In theory, a large-scale omnichannel CX overhaul makes sense, but in practice, it can lead some companies to disappointing results because it takes time, money, and attention away from the customers themselves. Fortunately, these companies don’t have to scrap the initiatives in which they’ve invested. Instead, they can support the aspirational objectives of their omnichannel efforts using a modified approach. Pursuing incremental improvements using customer experience management (CEM) concepts and Agile management methodology, companies can notch smaller wins that can add up to a bigger impact.

The CX challenge

Why do companies sometimes struggle when it comes to CX transformation? Often it’s because they are channel-aligned—and hence, seeking an omnichannel solution—rather than customer-aligned, seeking a seamless experience for the customer.

This is an important distinction. Think of a startup company: no legacy organizational infrastructure or technology, no disparate products or brands, no ingrained politics among long-time employees. The founders can build their company around customers’ needs. Now imagine a large, well-established company that has grown over the decades, acquired numerous businesses, and branched out in product offerings. It is channel-aligned; leaders most likely devise a business strategy around products and distribution rather than around customers. When the startup company sets out to shape CX, it is a much simpler undertaking—it happens naturally as an extension of the evolving business model. The established company, by contrast, faces a daunting task, and an omnichannel strategy, even if suboptimal for the customer, often appears to be the best solution.

The goal of an omnichannel strategy is to take a single view of the customer for the entire organization and to design experiences that transcend any single business unit. But omnichannel teams sometimes don’t have enough authority to enact meaningful change. This is because, typically, omnichannel efforts are not directly tied to a discrete P&L. Other times, in an effort to influence meaningful change, an omnichannel team will suggest sweeping transformations in critical experience elements that may improve an aspect of customer interaction but conflict with the growth objectives of an individual business unit.

Incremental change

So how can CEM and Agile principles help marketing leaders address these challenges? Originally developed as a way to release software, Agile is an iterative methodology that relies on incremental changes based on constant feedback. By improving CX through a series of repeatable “sprints” rather than as a single overarching transformation exercise, organizations are better able to instill change that sticks.

Here’s a closer look at the steps involved in an Agile approach to improving CX:
  1. Agree on your CX vision. First and foremost, transforming an organization into a more customer-centric enterprise requires leadership alignment on goals across functions. This means defining what you’re going to be in the eyes of your customers and articulating that vision across the entire organization. The CX vision should include three key elements: a feeling you want to invoke, a larger purpose, and a way to make that feeling and purpose tangible.

    It’s not enough just to have the vision, however; a dedicated leader at the top of the organization must champion it and help prioritize it over competing interests. With C-level support, the vision can become a rallying point for all employees and can translate into meaningful goals and success indicators.
  2. Implement a CEM tool. Once an organization defines its vision, it needs a baseline set of metrics to assess its current state. The chosen metric can range from customer satisfaction to the more nuanced Net Promoter Score, as long as a consistent metric is established. The organization also needs ongoing feedback from key performance indicators that can be correlated to the overall metric to support the strategy and identify opportunities for change. CEM tools provide this information by running surveys, tracking customer and employee experience in real time, and displaying information through dashboards in a roles-based fashion (i.e., getting the right information to the right employee at the right time). With this feedback, organizations can test and learn from the immediate reactions to CX improvement initiatives. 

    Business leaders should determine which metrics they should track to manage the established CX vision. Using feedback from the CEM tool, leaders can then share these metrics across the organization and connect different functional silos as they all shift toward achieving similar goals. Having these granular details available on a regular basis allows organizations to move gradually and steadily toward providing customers the experiences they really want. Instead of attempting to implement a risky, lengthy, and large reorganization, companies can react and reap the effects of changes quickly and effectively.
  3. Launch the Agile sprints. In any sprint, identify a manageable set of opportunities to focus on. Ideally, the opportunities should be both feasible and high-impact. These projects can be either simple, one-off changes or more complex, multipart initiatives. 

    A clothing retailer, for example, might get consistent feedback that its stores don’t feel welcoming. It could launch and track a simple sprint for training all salespeople to greet customers with a smile. Alternatively, it could launch a more complex series of sprints around training greeters, shifting the store layout, and partnering with a food or beverage provider to set up a kiosk in the store. The retailer would then test these changes in a handful of stores and use its CEM tool to consistently track how CX changes as measured by the previously defined key performance indicators.

    Because CEM tools now track metrics in real time, a review of the data will quickly show what is working and what is not. The organization can then use the insights from the data to guide the next set of sprints.
True customer-centricity

Companies that combine CEM and Agile for enough time should see a gradual move toward customer-centricity without the need for a transformational reorganization exercise. Tracking and measuring key performance indicators in real time, CX leads can continue to find ways to improve their teams and their departments. The organization can begin to incorporate customer-centricity into its everyday practices. Ultimately, the CX mentality should go beyond the customer-facing functions and become embedded in the culture of the entire company.

Will this approach help an organization create the types of experience that customers desire? We believe so. By thinking beyond channels that would patch together an omnichannel experience, organizations can create a living, breathing customer-centric mechanism that recognizes and addresses what customers are thinking. Executives can sense and respond to the changing needs of their customers and put those needs first—and that’s what being customer-centric is all about.

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