Maintaining a winning customer experience


A customer experience strategy is an amalgam of practices, systems and values that guide interactions with customers and prospects across different sales channels, platforms and geographies. In an increasingly competitive and commoditized marketplace, creating a ‘wow’ customer experience is one of the few tools left for companies to retain customers, sustain margins and build a long-term competitive advantage.

Elements of a good customer experience strategy include customer-centric process design, passion-driven employee engagement, coherent interactions across multiple touch points and operational integration. Companies as diverse as Nordstrom, Lexus, Disney and Singapore Airlines have built industry-leading market share, profitability and shareholder value by consistently delivering ‘wow’ (i.e., higher than expected) customer experiences at every interaction.

In many cases, however, designing the ideal experience is the easy part, particularly if it is built on a foundation of product, brand and service excellence. The tougher challenge is maintaining this capability over time. Companies can preserve their winning customer experience by (1) developing real-world measurement systems, (2) institutionalizing key values and (3) staying close to changing customer needs and requirements.

Dropping the ball

Ten years ago, my company worked with the functional teams of a large IT solutions company to develop a customer experience strategy for their sales, support and professional services. The model was developed by working backward from their desired client interaction, and tailored to their different segments, customer types and channels. The new customer service strategy embraced every touch point, from the sales teams scripts and customer on-boarding practices to support triaging and billing processes. After only 12 months in market, the new model was credited with boosting loyalty as well as cross selling rates.

Three years out, however, the firm’s growth stalled. The metrics showed declines in customer satisfaction, online engagement and service levels. A deeper analysis indicated that their customer experience had degraded due to a variety of factors: changing client requirements and expectations (they went higher); a lack of organizational continuity (increased turnover of front-line staff prevented the inculcation of customer experience values into new employees); and clumsy integration of new enterprise software (which reduced service levels and complicated processes). Ultimately, a gap had developed between the initial customer experience strategy and its supporting capabilities.

Sustaining your customer experience strategy

Companies can preempt these issues by better institutionalizing their customer experience management practices and values. Some ways to do this include:

  • Frequently research your customers to stay in sync with their dynamic needs and requirements as well as ensuring your customer experience is consistent through new sales and support channels.
  • Make cultural fit and internal alignment a priority. Every customer-facing employee must inculcate customer experience purpose and values (e.g., ‘the customer is always right’). Rotating customer ownership through senior leaders in key departments is a good way of keeping focus and alignment.
  • Develop early warning systems to track progress, identify problems and generate learnings that can improve existing programs. These systems should track actionable metrics that align to each department’s and individual’s performance goals.
    A Canadian leader

One company that does a good job of maintaining a compelling customer experience is Sun Life Financial. The insurance and wealth leader did all the right things when they designed their customer experience in 2012, such as linking the program to key business metrics and adopting a global and holistic business view. Moreover, Sun Life Financial did not leave the program on auto-pilot.

To ensure focus and follow through, Sun Life Financial created a global working group made up of senior leaders from many departments, including marketing, finance and operations. This group meets often to track and review a variety of customer metrics, including net promoter scores and how they are tracking against improvement measures across all lines of business, as well as to review the latest customer and brand research. Importantly, they are not a corporate rubber stamp body: Their strategic mandate includes exploring opportunities for scale economies, sharing learning between regions and businesses and recommending changes in tactics (if necessary) so that customer needs are placed first and foremost.

“Our customer experience program reinforces the philosophy that the customer is at the centre of everything we do,” says Mary De Paoli, Executive Vice-President, Public & Corporate Affairs and Chief Marketing Officer, Sun Life Financial. “Delivering exceptional customer experiences requires a commitment to asking your customers, regularly, how you can improve the products and services they depend on from you. We believe this is the number one driver of the long-term success of our business.” Although it is still early days for the working group, the program has been credited with creating a winning online experience and better enabling the channel (e.g., plan sponsors, brokers and consultants) experience.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

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