The 5 Step Plan to Create an Exceptional Customer Experience

Employee Engagement

The power of the customer experience has always been a corporate life fact. Truly, customer experience can make or break companies. Only in recent years has this idea gained momentum on the executive floor. As one would expect, this has caused a paradigm shift in the corporate strategy landscape.

Anyone who says they care about customers has to make an amazing customer experience an integral part of their corporate strategy. Furthermore, it has to be interlinked with all other main elements of the overarching strategy.

And yet – as many have already discovered – creating and executing a consistently above-par customer experience is hauntingly difficult. Countless ambitious and compelling strategies have withered when being faced with reality, and management is often fighting a losing battle trying to convert fancy “Strategic Priorities” and “Must Win Battles” into the actual change of the day-to-day actions of their employees. This is particularly critical when it comes to your frontline staff. After all, they are the people driving the customer experience!

Your frontline staff interacts with your customers every single day. They are, therefore, acutely aware of how to create a great customer experience. But more often than not, these “golden nuggets” are not passed on in any structured manner. Your customer experience strategy is thereby missing vital components.

This leads to the classic rift between what management believes is needed to better the customer experience and what frontline staff sees as the key to making customers happy. And voila, you have a recipe for disaster.

So how do we…

…keep managers from pulling out their hair in frustration over lacking results?

…avoid disengaged employees who are frustrated by their invaluable insights into the customers’ needs and wants not being heard?

…ensure synchronised employee actions that are smoothly aligned with company goals and strategic cornerstones?

In the end, it all comes down to – surprise! – people. And not the people on the executive floor, but the ones on the shop floor and in customer service – the ones who are in the front line every single day and who can tell you directly what woos the customers and what doesn’t. Your frontline employees should be an integral part of developing your desired customer experience, just as they are for succeeding in making it come to life. You need to make sure that your employees are excited and “on board” to deliver great customer experiences as this will instantly affect how customers perceive you:

Correlation between employee engagement and customer satisfaction

When designing a great customer experience, it is easy to go for the perfect, ultimate deluxe version. The perfect experience should be your guiding star – you shouldn’t lower your ambition level when it comes to delivering the best possible experience for your customers. Be aware, your customers are exposed to an abundance of options on a daily basis and are quick to change their preferences. Often they will have moved along before you have the chance to implement that mind-blowing experience.

That fact can help explain why “agile” has become such a buzzword in recent years; rather than going for the 100% finished design, you start testing early and adjust your solution depending on the reactions you get from your customers. Otherwise, you risk going to market with a perfectly designed customer experience that completely misses the mark.

In addition, creating the customer experience must be an iterative process. This means that you work with customer experience in cycles, where you deploy a design only to kick-off a new cycle by exploring how that design actually works for your customers. So creating the great customer experience is not a one-off thing – Customer Experience Management is a discipline in itself and should be formally embedded in your organisational setup with matching capabilities. Assigning the responsibility to a part-time student help won’t cut it.

We believe that using the agile and iterative approach for creating your customer experience will help build a current design with a strong customer fit:

The agile and iterative customer experience framework

Explore: Ensure a thorough understanding of the current customer experience. This is key to form the right strategic themes underpinning your customer experience design

Design: Design your desired customer experience at all touch-points based on your insights from the “Explore” phase.

Develop: In the typical agile project “Develop” means building the technical solution. In customer experience management it means setting up the infrastructure, building capabilities, developing processes, etc., needed to deploy the design.

Test: This is an iterative process, where you will test and retest your assumptions and design to figure out what works and what doesn’t for your customers. Structured feedback from the test is key to adjust your solution accordingly

Deploy: Execute on the design to create that exceptional customer experience

Well, that seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Do not be fooled by the simple approach, it hides pitfalls every step of the way. And if you want a successful execution, you need to avoid them all. So below we give you our take on the key obstacles to delivering a great customer experience and what you can do to mitigate them:

Explore and Design: The “ivory tower trap”

A typical pitfall when identifying and shaping your key customer experience themes is what we call the “ivory tower trap”. Typically, an executive or manager will use their management team to explore these themes. While everybody in the room will have an educated opinion, they don’t have the knowledge of the people working the floor each day. What often happens, is that you will get the polite and polished version where the message loses its edge and “call for action”. That is why it is so important to make the time for engaging directly with the people on the shop floor – it will give you true insights and tools for prioritising your efforts. And the employees will love you for it. A typical frustration you will hear on the shop floor is that “management never listens” and “they do not understand how things really work”.

Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible for management to be physically present on the shop floor on a regular basis. But with today’s workforce of digital natives, that is not a requirement – actually, it might even be easier to catch their attention using digital channels. Ensure you “keep the lines open” and create channels that are easy and second nature for them to use. This allows them to share their thoughts on the customer experience, what works and what doesn’t, where they can share best practices. It could also be a “Share Your Brain” inbox, where the employees can easily dump their improvement ideas. “Idea of the Month” is another way to both gather and highlight best practices from all employees. By gathering and highlighting, you encourage innovation and engagement.

All this is a treasure chest for you as a manager as it provides you with the unfiltered version of what goes on when interacting with the customers – giving you the ability to form strategic themes and issues that will clearly resonate with your frontline staff.

Develop: “Not invented here” syndrome

A classical pitfall is developing solutions without involving frontline employees. But they know and understand all the tricky details that will make your solution work for them rather than becoming an obstacle in their daily work. Let’s say you want to implement a system that captures customers’ experiences. To do this, you will undoubtedly need to involve floor staff. But employees often feel bombarded with information and tasks from HQ, this is just another thing on the list.

The “not invented here” syndrome is not something to take lightly. If ignored, you risk developing a solution that employees will not take to heart.

Hence, you need to involve the employees in the development process. This encourages employees to take responsibility for the solution: How can it be set up so that it easy to use, how do you make it engaging for the employees, how does it fit in with all the other systems and procedures? The best strategy is often to involve some of the most critical voices. They will have a million objections, and although annoying to hear, it is a valuable source for improving your solution.

Test and adjust: You are not geared for daily testing

As earlier mentioned, testing is a key step for creating the great customer experience. In order for testing to become an integral part of daily operations, it must be prioritised, and that means building structures, procedures, communication, training, etc. to smoothly and effortlessly support testing of different scenarios on a continuous basis.

“Our success at Amazon is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day.” – Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.

Nonetheless, many companies struggle with aligning all these parameters in an easy and efficient way. This makes testing cumbersome and results in it being skipped or done on an ad-hoc basis. Testing does not need to be like this, nor requires big commitments from management or employees. It should be easy and fun!

Competitions or recognition of employees making an extra effort can go a long way. You can make the team collaborate and compete with frontline staff on mapping or describing everything that happens at a customer touchpoint. If they manage to meet certain criteria within a deadline, they get a prize. Or celebrate the best feedback on a specific customer experience and announce the winner as a ‘Customer experience expert.’

And last but certainly not least, you need metrics to capture and understand customer and employee feedback. The right system and metrics will help you collect, analyse, and instantly act on feedback. Measuring without acting will no longer cut it.

Deploy: The “Knowledge/action gap”

Now that you have tested and adjusted your customer experience, it is time to make it come to life! Unfortunately, this often leads to a common challenge;

A common challenge with delivering a great customer experience is the time spent, and resources spent informing all employees. When your business spans several stores, countries, or continents, it becomes exponentially more difficult.

Combine this with the building frustration from management when they realize they do not see the results they want. Thankfully, there is a beginning awareness of the fact that knowing something is a far cry from actually changing sticky habits and acting in a different way. You need to build actionable bite-sized ‘training nuggets’ into your training programs, and you need to take the training out of the classroom and into real life. If you still rely on traditional training methods, such as having a trainer visit each store, this will become both difficult and expensive.

Now you’re probably thinking “aha, but we have an e-learning setup – that’ll do the trick”. Well, not quite. Typically, the e-learning modules are 10-30 minute sessions, where you sit in front of a pc. Today’s workforce has an ever-decreasing attention span and a clear preference for mobile solutions. PCs and 30 min. training sessions will not work as well.

Training, reworked

You need to completely rethink the way you do training if you want to get the results. That means:

  • Keep it short and actionable. Each training activity shouldn’t last more than 1-3 minutes, and it should contain a specific task which the employee must complete during the day (e.g., “Ask 5 customers what they have at home that the product should match or work with”). You avoid extra training lessons and staff can do the training when the store is quiet.
  • Training activities should be easily accessible. If there is one thing that Generation Z keeps close to their heart, it is their phone. So you might as well capitalise on this and make sure your employees can access all training on the phone.
  • Training should be tied to operations, campaigns, and product launches. This makes it instantly relevant rather than hypothetical.
  • Take a serious approach to gamification as a change and engagement driver. A vast majority of gamification ‘tricks’ and mechanisms actually de-motivate more than they engage because there is no deeper understanding of the underlying psychological drivers.

In order to succeed with the deployment of your customer experience strategy, you need to strike a fine balance between control, guidance, and empowerment of your employees. Especially as new generations of customers and employees value authenticity in all their interactions. Two things need to happen. Firstly, you need to give employees all the tools and knowledge they need to provide the best possible service. Secondly, employees also need the tools to grow, perform, compete, share and celebrate. Engage them on their own terms, using digital communication forms that are second nature to them.

Chances are you already know what customer experience you want to deliver but struggle with delivering it. That is why we built ATOBI into a gamified full-suite engagement platform. The app has 10 different modules within Communication, Training, and Performance & Engagement, which you can assemble to fit your specific needs. It will help you align the organisation and engage every single employee in delivering that EXCEPTIONAL customer experience!