Customer Experience needs a Customer strategy

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Funnily enough the worst thing about Customer Experience (CX) right now is that it improves nearly everything.

Right along the value chain things get better through businesses: Making a digital upgrade + Using personal customer data + Removing some of the legacy nonsense + Mapping out the customer’s journey…and doing it all in an uncommonly cross-departmental way.

Of course there is some benefit in this. After years of neglect and siloed dysfunction any reduction to system friction is bound to have a positive impact as the company becomes easier for customers to deal with. But it is leading to a world of undifferentiated and standardised experiences where one provider is indistinguishable from another. And these baseline CX 1.0 tactics offer only short-lived gains as competitors suffering a shiver of FOMO can roll out their own version in less than three months.

Moving beyond first gear

Most businesses have now embraced the acronym jungle of customer experience (SMS, ML, VOC, etc.) to some degree but the focus and capability needs to move beyond solving legacy problems of operational effectiveness.

All of us should by now be working to engage the individual customer in the moment that matters – ie that person who is about to find out for real whether the company or organisation they have placed their trust in will stand up and deliver what was promised or not (and by ‘deliver’ I mean blow the doors off).

‘Best practise’ is table stakes. CX proper is the art and science of personal experiences that stir the soul, doing that at scale is the signature of a great CX driven company.

The company without a customer strategy tries everything

To get there brands need a specific customer strategy because the choices and sacrifices required for those higher order emotional experiences are impossible without one. You are compromised right out of the gate if you try to do everything and please everyone. And so doing the strategic work that creates the clarity to make hard choices is liberating. A customer strategy defines where a brand starts in shaping those experiences, and equally importantly where it stops.

Approaching CX in this way is a pathway to rediscovering the brand differentiation and value that has been slipping away over the years. It means looking beyond today’s customer gripes and answering the question that should really preoccupy  a business: How to be blisteringly relevant to current and future customers in a world that has changed beyond recognition.

Through focusing on your true value to the customer the business gains a framework to reach beyond the narrow lanes of its existing category. It enables the invention that comes from merging different ecosystems, data sets and ideas with new partners whilst it also makes your company clear, simple and easy to use. And that is where the things start to get really interesting.

I am drawing on BJ Fogg’s excellent model that explains consumer behaviour through three drivers: Motivation, Ability, and Prompts.

Source: Used with the kind permission of BJ Fogg.

Source: Used with the kind permission of BJ Fogg.

In the world of CX the Ability axis represents the ease and convenience in dealing with the company, the Prompts are the contextualized and data driven engagements, and the Motivation is the deeper relevance of the product or service on offer. Fogg has taught us that all three dimensions need to be present to drive behaviour, and so when we are designing engagement for the customer we need to be thinking in those terms. 

Many CX solutions are digitally led making the obvious place to apply these new capabilities the Ability and Prompts elements of this equation; Tech based solutions that tackle the long standing pain points, or pushing out messaging to make the machine work faster.  But this means we are working only 2 of Fogg’s magic 3 and falling short of the soul stirring stuff.

Understanding motivation moves CX to a new level

Without the hard thinking, customer insight, and brand purpose of a strategy it is too easy to step straight past the motivation that underpins how people feel and therefore what they do. Without that strategic thinking the tactical approach of fixing generic customer complaints becomes the preoccupation and distracts from the real customer challenge of relevance. Without the strategy businesses end up slipping into the age-old habit of addressing ‘what’ and ‘how’ without figuring out ‘why’.

Conversely the brands and businesses that are thriving today nail the underlying motivation and build their customer strategy and experience from there. And it makes all the difference. Look at KMART and Sephora in Retail. How are they managing to fill their stores with happy customers when so many other stores are empty and online retail is growing? The modern experience in all these places is built around the changing and real motivation people have to make a visit, which is neither the historic truth of the category nor them jumping on the Amazon bandwagon of ‘speed, choice and convenience’. Instead they have found a way to occupy a valued place in their customer’s lives, and in return people make the time to be there.

Let’s make CX live up to its potential

As CX develops as a discipline it can be a true lever to support the business and help it win through amongst the disruption that is coming. That means creating genuine value through the artful combination of all three of Fogg’s criteria.  Or it fall short and get stuck as a series of band-aid tactics to fix issues with products or services that are falling further and further down the motivation scale.

So if you are dreaming of a blisteringly relevant and differentiated customer experience for your brand start with a customer strategy. Reach beyond the obvious tools of operational best practise and rediscover the sharper edge needed to compete for customers in the new world.

Nick Andrews