Most companies say they want to differentiate themselves based on a superior customer experience. But the reality is very few manage to provide an experience that truly differentiates a brand from competitors. Consider the health insurance industry: as a group, this entire industry is in its customer experience infancy, earning a “very poor” rating of just 53 (on a 100-point scale) in Forrester’s annual Customer Experience Index study.
So how can organizations excel at customer experience and advance to higher levels of maturity? And how can they sustain those advances once they’ve made them? The basis for organizational maturity in any field stems from adopting and consistently performing a set of sound, repeatable practices that lead to excellence. In the world of customer experience, maturity is about the extent to which an organization routinely performs the practices required to design, implement, and manage customer experience in a disciplined way.
At Forrester, we’ve identified forty key practices that organizations must follow in order to achieve customer experience maturity. These practices cluster into six unique disciplines.
Discipline 1: Customer Understanding
The first step toward providing the right customer experience is understanding the customer. This means creating an accurate, consistent, and shared understanding of who your customers are, what they want, and how they perceive the interactions they’re having with the company today. A solid customer understanding program can help a company identify problems with current customer interactions, maximize the business value of improvements to those interactions, and build new experiences that resonate with customers. For example, when a South American bank found that the majority of its customers were highly mobile, its global agency initially recommended building an iPhone app. Then disciplined research revealed that the vast majority of the bank’s target customers actually used BlackBerrys.
Discipline 2: Measurement
Organizations with good customer experience measurement practices track customer experience quality on an ongoing basis using customer perceptions as the ultimate test of what’s “good.” Such practices are critical to maturity because they allow the company to understand the state of its current customer experience, which levers it should pull to improve experiences, and most importantly, how efforts are progressing over time. Firms like Office Depot and Citi have been able to show real improvement in both internal and external customer experience metrics and how those improvements relate to changes in broader business key performance indicators (KPIs).
Discipline 3: Governance
Governance systems are the way in which companies manage customer experience in a proactive and disciplined way. They create accountability by assigning specific experience management tasks to specific people, and include the processes a company will use to monitor experience quality and improve it on a continual basis. Governance processes are critical to customer experience maturity because they help organizations create broad awareness of customer experience programs, keep bad experiences from getting out the door, and hold people accountable for their role in the customer experience ecosystem. For instance, one financial services firm’s governance system includes performance standards for account managers that require proactively reaching out to B2B customers at least once a year. Why? The company knows that these customers report a better experience when they receive such calls.
Discipline 4: Strategy
A customer experience strategy defines the type of experience a company wants to provide. This definition guides employees as they choose which activities to perform and how to allocate resources. Organizations that define, socialize, and use a customer experience strategy properly can say no to tempting, but off-strategy ideas and stay on track to create the experience known to be right. For example, employees at W Hotels know they’re expected to deliver on the company’s “whatever/whenever” promise to young and trendy urban professionals, which leads them to offer significantly different services compared to employees at Omena Hotels. The latter promises a low-priced room in the center of town, but eliminates aspects of the hotel experience that its target customers don’t value much, like a front desk, bellhop, and room service.
Discipline 5: Design
Practices in this discipline include following a formal design process, co-creating experience designs with key stakeholder groups, and iterating rapidly to hone in on the best designs quickly. Taking the time to implement these practices helps an organization leverage expertise and ideas from customers, employees, and partners, and helps weed out bad ideas early in the process. For instance, to examine the usability of a new hotel lobby design for Holiday Inn, Continuum constructed a full-scale foam-core prototype of the new lobby in a warehouse. Physical mock-ups like this, as well as wireframes for digital design projects, help customer experience professionals separate winning concepts from duds.
Discipline 6: Culture
A customer-centric culture is essential to a mature experience. The goal of culture-building activities is to establish customer-centricity as a core value, as a means of embedding practices from the other five disciplines into employee DNA. Reaching that goal will turn customer experience excellence into a habit, and make future change much easier. Think of it this way: although people naturally resist change, they respond more favorably when changes help them achieve goals they already believe in. For example, companies looking to appoint a chief customer officer (CCO) must often take steps to create a more customer-centric culture before they create the position. Otherwise the new CCO may struggle with resistance to his or her efforts to transform the business.
For most organizations, adoption of the customer experience practices in these disciplines isn’t black or white. Rather, most find themselves somewhere along a continuum ranging from undeveloped, when an organization doesn’t perform the practice at all, to systematic, when it reliably follows a defined process that specifies when, where, and how to perform each practice.