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How to build a world-class customer experience system

Megan Burns highlights the first four building blocks necessary for building a customer experience -- core journeys, criteria, blueprints and safety nets -- in this first article of a two-part series.

It takes more than great products to woo buyers. They want to know working with you will be a good experience. Employees want that too, but it's complicated. How do you coordinate thousands of people and dozens of channels to provide a seamless experience? And how do you keep doing that in the face of constant change? Scale creates problems that empathy can't solve.

The answer to this problem is systems. A customer experience management (CXM) system is a self-sustaining network of people, process and technology that's woven into the fabric of firm operations. It helps employees know and do the right thing at the right time every time, even in sticky or unfamiliar situations. Systems are how brands such as Apple, Starbucks and Amazon keep pushing the CX bar upward. Having researched and helped build dozens of them, I want to share with you the eight building-blocks that make up a robust customer experience capability. For this article, I'll outline the first four. They're the foundation on which everything else depends.

The key to experience management success is focus

Truth time: No one tracks every nuance of their end-to-end experience. There are too many moving pieces, even for medium-sized businesses. That's why the first thing on your to-do list when building an CXM system is narrowing scope. How? Answer these questions: 1) which subset of the experience will we manage with the most rigor? and 2) What level of quality will we aim to achieve?

The first answer leads to what I call your core journeys list. That's a short list of customer journeys (about five to seven) around which you build your most formal and deliberate governance. To choose core journeys is complex, but here's my rule of thumb: Err on the side of action. Every business has at least one journey that everyone knows is essential. Build the system around that and add others later.

Your second scope-setting list comes from question 2 above. It's a list of quality criteria. If your organization has a CX vision, this is where it comes in. If you don't have a vision yet, that's okay. Work with your team to complete this simple sentence: The goal of our XM system is to make sure customers/clients/members say their experience with us is _________________, _________________ and _________________.

Why only three blanks? The point of this list is to focus. Employees can't even remember 10 or 15 criteria, let alone meet them all. The system should specify what they keep top of mind and use to make decisions day-to-day.

Get people working from the same blueprint

As a word nerd I tend to think in lists, but most people think in pictures. That's why a good CXM system displays each core journey in a concrete way. It's typically done with the third building block, journey blueprints. They're similar to customer journey maps -- both are visual representations of what customers do, think and feel. The difference is time. Maps show what is or has been, blueprints show what should be.

Journey blueprints are the most heavily used asset in a well-run CXM system. Managers use them to train new employees and coach front-line teams. They get everyone on the same page, literally and figuratively. People who don't work directly with customers use them, too. Design and development teams use them in CX governance. Think about it -- if you want to change a building you can't just start swinging a sledgehammer, right? There's a process. Sketch out how you want things to look and how you'll build it. Experts from various domains review your proposal and weigh in. Is what you're suggesting feasible? Is it consistent? What ripple effects might it cause that you haven't thought of? Those questions are as applicable to experience as they are to construction.

Set up an CXM safety net

What about voice of the customer (VoC) programs? Where do NPS, surveys and feedback loops fit in? These tools show up because they play a specific role in the broader system. They form what I call the "CX safety net." They do two things: monitor CX quality and trigger reactions when and where each is needed.

So much has been written about feedback tools within CXM systems that I won't spend much time on them. I will, however, make one critical point: Safety nets are only one part of the system. Dealing with problems retroactively is the least and most basic form of management. A better name would be XT -- experience triage. Everyone needs it; mistakes happen in all organizations. But if that's as far as you go you, your CX will struggle. Employees get tired of fighting fires all the time. Like the game whack-a-mole, it's exciting at first but gets old fast. There are real morale implications, too. A client once confided in me that her peers had started avoiding her in the hallway. "Why?" I asked. After three years leading their VoC program, she discovered that the only interactions her peers had with her were negative. She had become "the problem lady."

Next: Moving from defense to offense

The building blocks outlined so far -- core journeys, criteria, blueprints and safety nets -- are not easy to build. It can take years. I assure you, though, it's worth the effort. A large tech company took almost $2 billion dollars of cost out of their business with a reliable CX safety net. It helped stem the tide of customer loss and gave them the resources to take CXM to the next level. What is the next level? That's what I cover in part two of this article.

Sneak preview, the remaining four building blocks (eight total) raise the floor and ceiling on CXM quality long term by preventing problems before they happen and helping employees turn what's currently a good customer experience into a great one.

About the author
Megan Burns is an experience strategist, keynote speaker and thought leader who helps Fortune 500 companies use customer experience as a path to profitable growth. Most people know Megan from her decade at Forrester Research where she built the Customer Experience Maturity Model and The Customer Experience Index 2.0 along with 70+ reports on leadership, culture and governance. Megan is a trusted advisor to customer-centric executives around the world, including more than half of the Fortune 50 companies. When she's not working Megan loves reading, documentaries and exploring historic places in Greater Boston where she lives.

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