When you engage in a digital transformation strategy, one of the first and foremost important steps in the process is to design a compelling customer experience (CX).
Think about some of the leaders in the CX space: Amazon, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, and Zappos. We all know that they have a strong CX the moment we see it. While good CX is easy to recognize, it can be equally difficult to deliver. Why? because, It’s the sum of all customer interactions and, behind the scenes, the people, systems, technology, and guidelines that enable and power those experiences.
Since CX sits at the intersection of your product, brand, customer engagement, transactions, and customer care, designing (or redesigning, which is more often the case) your business around your customer requires remarkable collaboration and effort. CX is a hidden thread that ties all interplays into a cohesive whole, with the desired end result being a happy customer who won’t hesitate to continue to do business with you.
While CX is on its way to mature and fully evolve, let’s consider some of the best practices and guidelines that are in focus.
A Customer-First approach
Across the board, anyone you speak with will echo the “start with the customer” mantra and lend support for an “outside-in” approach, where putting yourself and your team in the shoes of the customer is “Job# One” when it comes to creating a useful and differentiating customer experience.
“Start with the customer” sounds commonplace, but companies often address CX and digital transformation from an inward-facing, cost-cutting or productivity point of view, which rarely results in the preferred experience for the customer.
For Scot Gillespie, CTO at the Washington Post — who heads the team responsible for a suite of 26 products under the Arc Publishing umbrella that provides support and facilitates newsroom operations, along with the creation, distribution, marketing, measurement and optimization of WaPo content — the “customers” he designs for, are not the only subscribers to Washington Post but also the internal newsroom operations and his own engineering and development team. Handling all these groups as “customers” has encouraged Gillespie and his team delivers experiences that are easy, useful and enjoyable based on the needs of specific personas.
Empathy (For the Customer)
Choosing an “outside-in” approach that represents empathy for customer is a key pillar in user experience design, while it also pertains to customer experience efforts.
Carlos Manalo, co-founder of design firm “Office of Experience”, shared his thoughts about empathy. Manalo said his firm “helps companies think about the customer journey through a ‘user-centered’ design approach.”
“A big part of this process is fostering empathy for the customer, and it can be difficult to gain that perspective,” he added. “But, in crafting a useful and appealing customer experience, it’s imperative to get out of your company (or brand) headspace and really look at things through the lens of the customer.”
With multiple options available to undertake this type of work, qualitative and quantitative research, stakeholder interviews, observation, ethnographies, focus groups, and co-creation approaches are all useful. Also, social insights can help provide appropriate learning and feedback into a persona and user-story development.
A Holistic Approach
Effective customer experience is one built with the intention that takes into account all of the various touchpoints and tasks that a customer engages in. Great CX is “intentional, purposeful and consistent,” said Diane Magers, CEO, and chairman of the board of the Customer Experience Professionals Association. CX is “not just about the transaction,” she added. It also “optimizes every touchpoint and takes into account all customer interactions, both online and offline.”
Want of leadership can derail the customer experience, and while it is important to gain approval, it doesn’t naturally end there. Expertise and input from all units and functions should be incorporated into customer experience planning efforts.
According to Jeannie Walters, founder of 360Connext, a customer-experience strategy firm, CX design is a challenge because “it doesn’t fall into one department or function — even with a chief customer officer in place, the purview isn’t always big enough because they’re not involved in designing the experience. They get bits and pieces, but not the whole thing. It’s a difficult role to define right now, and [the shift] is similar to what marketing went through two decades ago.”
Ideally, a strong customer experience builds on your brand equity. According to Manalo, “brands that can take advantage of [customer experience] will continue to build equity; [CX] deepens engagement and is the new road to ‘stickiness’ and getting advocates and influencers.”
Given the varied nature of customer experience, constant iteration and experimentation have become a requirement to get the desired results. Agile development, when applied to product development, marketing or customer experience planning, means “a constant tuning, and concentrates on speed and performance, measurement, and trust in front-line employees,” said Gillespie. “Because,” he added, “if you want to get closer to your customers, you have to trust that the people closest to them working on the front lines, will do the right thing.”
Another way to think of this is to envision the customer experience as an “ever-present continuum” and recognize that “the goal is to be planful and purposeful for as far down the pike as you can see” according to Manalo.
How The Washington Post Tackles CX
The way the Washington Post has approached CX is fascinating. A case study of digital transformation on a grand scale. According to Gillespie, many of the products were “born out of necessity” at a time when the journalism industry was struggling to stay afloat amidst dual threats of declining interest in print media and the advent of digital content.
Fast-forward several years with an intense digital transformation focus, and now the Washington Post’s publishing products are so successful that the company has monetized the product suite and is offering the products and services to other companies, brands and digital publishers under the “Arc Publishing” umbrella.
How did Gillespie and his team do it? By designing not just for the millions of WaPo readers and subscribers who are the end users, but by also taking into consideration the hundreds of internal individuals and teams at the company whose job is to produce and deliver news and content — correctly, consistently and at lightning speed.
The end goal at the Washington Post and its Arc Publishing arm, according to Gillespie, is to focus internally on “speed and performance” in the products they develop to deliver “something that is quick, seamless and enjoyable” or, essentially, a “frictionless experience.”
Tip for a Prudent Journey Ahead
These best practices are also indicative of a design-thinking approach. Here are a few other things to keep in mind when embarking on your customer experience-planning journey.
For enterprises new to this space, CX “has been a catalyst for organizational change, and it needs to sit in a place that encompasses all facets of the organization,” according to Magers. “A governing body like a council can be helpful in defining the strategy and empowered to execute on it.”
For companies that are well into their digital transformation journey and have well-defined customer experience in place, the simple piece of advice: Do not get contented. Enterprises do have a tendency to slow down or stop innovating. The Washington Post has been successful because they continually pushed the needle and have transformed themselves from a publisher to a software company and now a media company.
As digital-first disruptors mold the business landscape, customer needs for more digital services and operational expertise are posing a significant hurdle to the incumbent players across all sectors. The rejoinder calls for a new working model that puts the customer’s needs and wants at the center of a digital transformation strategy, enabled by redesigned customer journeys and agile delivery of insights and services.