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Customer Experience Strategy: The Ultimate Guide On How To Improve It

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Do you know what can set you apart from the competition? A deal may come to mind easily—lower pricing or more features, maybe—but you’re barely scratching the surface here. Dig deeper and you’ll see why customers prefer and keep coming back to a particular company: they have a positive experience with it.

Sure they must like the product to keep buying it with unprofessed fealty, but not for the sake of it. It is the sum experience with the company that drives them to commit to repeat purchases. Where your product is more similar than different from others, this experience, a.k.a., CX for customer experience, is the deal breaker. You may ask: Isn’t CX nothing but customer service?

To a customer, it may be. But from a management point of view, the customer service is just a cog in the CX wheel. Customer experience requires a strategy, a top-down organizational cohesion, and bottom-up feedback. This overarching strategy, in fact, gave rise to a new discipline: customer experience management or CEM (or CXM). It oversees all interactions in the customer journey and involves cross-functional teams — executive, management, sales, marketing and service — and multiple touchpoints.

Ultimate guide to customer experience

CEM is complex, yes, but doable even for the largest organizations with the aid of today’s gamut of intuitive business applications. Our aim is to walk you through the big picture of CEM as a strategy, so you can fine-tune the details on your own. Once you’re done reading this article you will gain the following insights:

IMPORTANT: CRM and live chat are at the core of a good CX strategy. After thorough analysis  of the features and assessing user reviews, our team of software review experts recommends HubSpot CRM and HubSpot Service Hub for a solid CX tech foundation. You can download the free HubSpot CRM here.

 

6 Elements of Effective CEM Strategy

Source: Econsultancy. “Digital Marketing Trends.” 2018

CEM as a strategy isn’t as fixed as, say, project management or the creative process. Much of the strategy will be shaped by the actual perspectives of your customers, for which your teams are in the best position to digest. But certain elements can be gleaned from various CX strategies and they are consistent with the CX management disciplines identified by Forrester. Let’s take a look at them:

1. Goal

What is your purpose for undertaking CEM? Making customers happy isn’t the goal, but the means to it. Ultimately, the CEM outcome should be a business goal, an ROI. It can be to optimize sales from existing customers; make them brand advocates to gain more customers; or both. The goal should be to improve the business with clear KPIs.

2. Customer understanding

You need to know what makes your customers tick before you can meet (and surpass) their expectations. Having clear buyer personas is key to successful CEM strategy. Personas are the ideal customers in your mind based on traits and buying behavior within your customer segments. They allow you to personalize messages with emotive triggers that inspire a purchase. Econsultancy can teach you here the steps on how to create buyer personas.

3. Design

A good CEM strategy follows a roadmap that tracks customer interactions through multiple touchpoints. This map should, among others, identify the level of engagement, buyer’s friction, staff in charge and common issues in each touchpoint. We can say the CEM map borrows from customer journey mapping, a design tool that plots the various paths customers take after the first encounter. The aim is to place the push pin on that sweet spot where customer expectations and yours align.

As a policy, the design ensures customer experience consistency in all brand-customer crossroads: websites, mobile apps, brick-and-mortar stores, packaging, customer service, staff uniform, public relations, anywhere and anyhow customers interact with you, subtly or directly.

4. Measurement

You need to measure metrics to know where your CEM strategy is heading. More critically, to cast the strategy in cement. A major cultural shift like CEM needs solid proof that it is working, to transform the doubting Thomases — likely the line managers whose routine will be shaken up — into believers. We’ll discuss in detail below the standard metrics measured through surveys, focus groups, Voice of the Customer research and other observational studies.

5. Governance

A clear decision pathway to manage CEM is a must since it involves different business units.  The decision structure is both horizontal (across departments) and vertical (organizational hierarchy) to ensure functional alignment when moving decisions from top to bottom and sideways, and feedback from the bottom up. What are the typical governance units? They can be cross-departmental committees, working groups, and even an oversight body. Clearly, CEM brings with it a degree of restructuring, so expect to redraw those lines in your organizational chart.

6. Culture

CEM requires cultural pivot in the way business is done. The main change is, where companies are organized around products, CEM shifts the focus around customers. That’s a major turn, affecting how things are done daily and outputs measured, not just in one department, but the whole company. There will be stumbling blocks to hurdle: resistance to change, employee fear, a dearth in CX competencies and misconceptions (thinking CEM is all about technology). That’s why CEM should be the CEO’s pet project (think Elon Musk and Tesla; or Steve Jobs and Apple). A lesser authority will have difficulties keeping everyone to toe the line.

A CEM map by one company showing customer journeys goals, metrics and owners (source: McKinsey&Company).

5 Key Steps on How to Start CEM Strategy

CEM is a big leap for your company. There will be a lot of moving parts so carefully plan the steps. The following is a general roadmap on how to implement customer experience management, but by all means, they don’t guarantee success. Rolling out CEM is an organizational shakeup, and much will be demanded on your leadership, how you inspire commitment and steer the entire ship towards a common goal. These steps will guide you on getting on the dot implementing the CEM elements, securing the right tools, onboarding key players and launching and evaluating CEM.

1. Decide on the CEM rollout

The rollout is critical to your CEM success. It will create the momentum and inspire everyone to rally behind the new strategy or demoralize your people, their interest withered away following a troubled launch. So, carefully decide on how to hit the push-start button before anything else.

You have two options for the rollout: by area and, what McKinsey called, the big bang, cross-functional approach. Both have its pros and cons.

Rolling out CEM within an area or by function

  • Disruption is contained within the unit
  • It’s quicker to make adjustments
  • A smaller budget for training

but —

  • It undermines CEM’s true benefit. Whatever awesome work put up by the service team can be negated quickly by one sloppy work from a non-participating party (ex. sales fail to follow up on repeat leads generated by the service team).
  • Measuring KPIs is limited, if not inaccurate
  • Rollout success has less impact

Rolling out CEM by the big bang or cross-functional approach

  • It is aligned with the multi-touchpoint customer experience
  • KPIs reflect true revenue impact
  • Rollout success creates organizational-wide momentum

but —

  • Disruption is wider
  • Making adjustments is complex
  • A bigger budget for training

You may ask, why not go for an aggressive rollout, cross-functional? Ultimately, you’ll need to implement CEM across the organization, right? Well, it depends on your priorities and risk analysis, not to forget the budget. So a by-function rollout makes sense for others.

2. Have the right tools

Today’s software solutions, especially SaaS, afford for intuitive and data-driven CEM. Features such as automation, analytics, ease of use, scalability, customization and affordable plans make these tools accessible even for people with limited tech skills or for businesses on a tight budget. What are these CEM tools? We can divide them between operational and feedback.

Operational tools

These are solutions that’ll help you engage customers better across multiple touchpoints. You may find plenty of “customer experience software,” but truth be told, many of these solutions are a hodgepodge of CRM, help desk, marketing automation, and analytics. Essentially, when looking for CEM solutions, it is better to consider CRM, marketing and help desk tools as a suite, instead of using separate apps. You get smoother integration, consistent support, native data sharing and, likely, a better pricing plan. A suite that has all these tools provides a more solid CEM backbone.

We have reviewed dozens of CRM, marketing, and help desk software solutions. To get you up to speed with the top tools, you can simply check these guides:

In our analyses of key factors including key features, integration, ease of use, scalability, and pricing, we found that one of the most solid tech stacks for CEM is the suite of HubSpot Service Hub, HubSpot Live Chat, HubSpot Marketing, HubSpot Sales and HubSpot CRM.  

Here’s how simple it is to start building your operational CEM tech stack at no cost:

  1. Sign up for the free HubSpot CRM here. The CRM is your centralized customer database. It consolidates and associates related customer data including deals, tasks, transactions and other interactions of each customer. Any team you give access to the CRM will have a 360-degree view of your customers.
  2. Sign up for the HubSpot Sales here. The sales app gives you a visual sales pipeline that tracks deals and tasks. You can set it based on your sales stages and workflows. As part of the CEM strategy, the sales app ensures repeat leads are pursued and tracked. Plus, it gives you a live chat app that will be critical to your CEM operation.
  3. Make the HubSpot Live Chat central to your CEM. CEM is about meeting customer expectation at the right time. A live chat makes this possible, at least for your online customers. Included in the HubSpot Sales starter plan, the HubSpot Live Chat helps you engage customers on your website when they’re ready: whether to buy, download your content or listen to sales. This is possible by setting rules to target message visitors who meet your preset criteria, for instance, free trial users or specific mailing list segments. You can also set it based on browsing behavior. For example, someone is browsing a specific product feature a minute too long; support or sales can initiate a chat with suggestions or tips around this feature. With context and timing, conversations between you and your customers or prospects become more natural and engaging, leading to increased conversion rates.
  4. Sign up for the HubSpot Marketing free trial here. Key to your CEM success is closely associating marketing campaigns with customer data. The app helps you to design time-tested CTAs on professional-looking landing pages; create personalized lead-to-purchase paths with native integration of the lead pipeline with sales and CRM apps, and run analytics and create reports to measure campaign results and returns.

You can set HubSpot Live Chat to engage only web visitors who are ready and willing.

Feedback tools

The other half of your CEM toolkit should help you gauge how your customers perceive the new strategy. A good place to shortlist these tools is by checking our top 10 customer experience software guide. You have a slew of dedicated software for surveys and CEM metrics like Net Promoter Score or NPS, Customer Satisfaction or CSAT and Customer Effort Score or CES.

NPS measures customer loyalty to predict business growth using a scale question. Typically, a question is asked — How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?  — and the answers are plotted against a 0-10 scale: “Not at all likely,” “neutral” and “Extremely likely.” The expansion of the “loyal” customer base indicates growth. You can check the details on how to compute NPS here.

NPS is scaled from 0-10 based on “customer loyalty” or willingness to promote your product to others.

On the other hand, CSAT measures how happy your customers are with your product. It uses the same scale question as NPS, but the focus is on product satisfaction instead of loyalty. Results are averaged and expressed in percentage. Qualtrics further explains the steps on how to calculate CSAT here.

Lastly, CES measure the customer’s ease of experience with your company. HubSpot provides the details on how to measure CES here. Many marketers swear by CES as the best indicator of CEM success. They argue that customer experience is most acute in customer service encounters. But this thinking denies the overarching reach of CEM across your other business processes. Measuring NPS, CST, and CES is the best approach to gauge CEM success.

A typical CES questionnaire.

3. Choose an area where CEM has the most impact

Your aim is to have something big to show everyone at once, to hit acceleration fast and get everyone motivated. A major ROI helps you to lower cost, too, and allocate more funds to expand CEM into other departments.

Rolling out CEM is likely in any of the three major customer-facing areas: sales, marketing, and service. You can narrow down the area further, for instance, within the e-commerce space alone for sales or concentrating on a particular service level agreement for customer service.

If you’re launching a cross-functional CEM, you can select the customer journey path with the least conversion but with a potential for growth. That way, you’re maneuvering the CEM ROI towards the biggest margin it can achieve.

4. Reverse engineer the customer journey

The whole approach to CEM is to look at it from the customer’s perspective. What is the specific outcome that defines your customer is happy? Product upgrade? Referral? 1-year subscription? Once you have this picture, take a backtrack one stage at a time identifying the conversions that must happen leading to that final stage and the initiatives to overhaul. This tactic guarantees that your CEM stages and actual customer experience are tightly aligned.

5. Prepare the CEM elements

Finally, you can put together the elements we’ve talked above. So you have a clear vision or goal, customer personas, customer journey map, metrics to be measured and governance.

You should also identify the resources and CEM ambassadors in your organization. The ambassadors can be coaches to skeptics and become change agents that will help spread CEM adoption across the organization.

Whatever management style you use at this stage, you’re likely to use any or all of the most common organizational CEM units: cross-functional working teams, joint committees, and an oversight body. These special units will help aggregate, analyze and gather customer insights and CEM processes and track the progress towards the goal.

Conclusion

We have laid down above the CEM elements and steps to implement the new strategy. CEM will surely disrupt the way you do business, and for the better. CEM means more loyal customers, more repeat sales, higher conversions and more referrals to you. The sooner you adopt this strategy the brighter the future looks for your business.

By Jenny Chang

Senior writer at FinancesOnline who writes about a wide range of SaaS and B2B products, including trends and issues on e-commerce, accounting and customer service software. She’s also covered a wide range of topics in business, science, and technology for websites in the U.S., Australia and Singapore, keeping tabs on edge tech like 3D printed health monitoring tattoos and SpaceX’s exploration plans.

Best Customer Experience Management Software of 2019

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