What is a customer experience strategy?

Customer experience strategy relates to the plans and processes implemented by an organization to understand, manage and continually improve the experience enjoyed by its customers. Customer experience itself is effectively the perception held by a given customer of what they’ve experienced when buying and consuming a product or service from you. 

Not all customer experiences are the same and not all are positive. It is entirely possible that – following the adage that “you can’t please all of the people all of the time” – an organization will have a group of customers having a good and positive experience at the exact same time another group of customers is not. Operating a customer experience strategy at scale is therefore all about the organization’s success in designing optimal customer journeys, enthusing employees to achieve customer excellence, meeting and exceeding customer expectations, and many other things across the board.

How important is customer experience strategy?

Customer experience strategy is the key to achieving a repeatable and scalable way of optimizing customer experience across the maximum number of customers. Implemented correctly with a dynamic and intelligent approach, it can also be persistently successful at doing this despite changing customer behaviors and external factors. 

This makes customer experience strategy absolutely imperative to most, if not all, organizations that wish to avoid complacency in how they address customer needs. Customer experience strategy is central to any business in which the customer experience is an essential consideration in purchasing choice, loyalty, trust and retention. That is to say, pretty much all of them.

This is because customer experience really matters to customers; increasingly so, even in comparison to other decisive factors such as price, availability and confidence. Across all industry sectors, customer experience is used as a competitive weapon. Organizations that excel at customer experience enjoy strong brand reputation and find it easier to both acquire customers (on the power of this reputation) and retain them (because poor customer experience is a key driver for churn).

How to formulate a customer experience strategy

There’s a lot to consider in a customer experience strategy. The bare bones will already exist in your organization, even if a formal strategy does not. It lives in the processes you have in place for dealing with and engaging with customers – the chain of interactions and touchpoints that makes us a typical customer journey. It’s also there in the customer-facing staff you employ and the levels of service they provide. Fundamentally, the way in which you are relevant to solving your customer’s problems and meeting their expectations when doing so are critical to the starting point for your customer experience strategy.

We’ve identified 9 steps to follow when formulating a customer experience strategy:

  • Define goals and create a vision
  • Equip your team and foster a customer-centric culture
  • Understand what customers want from their experience with you
  • Decide how to measure and track customer experience 
  • Collect customer feedback regularly and maximize response rates
  • Analyze customer feedback for expectations, drivers and triggers
  • Find what’s memorable and remarkable
  • Map the journey for effort and friction 
  • Measure, report and continually improve

Define goals and create a vision

As with all strategy formulation, customer experience strategy has to start with a vision and some defined objectives. Chief among these is going to be making the experience positive for customers and keeping it that way. It’s a good idea to try to describe this in as much detail as possible rather than leaving it vague. The primary question when formulating customer experience strategy is often, “what makes a good customer experience for our brand?” or “what does a good customer experience look like?”

Ultimately you’re going to need to speak to some customers to test your assumptions. What’s important to them? This will inform whether you’re looking at a customer experience strategy that is tweaking what you already do, or whether more disruptive change is needed to revolutionize your approach.

Equip your team and foster a customer-centric culture

Whatever the customer experience strategy you end up with, getting all your employees enthused and focused on common objectives is crucial. This means communicating sensitively, inclusively and transparently with staff to really put customer experience on the employee agenda. What have they seen? What ideas do they have? Follow this approach and you’ll be more successful in coming together as a team to accomplish your goals.

Happy, motivated and well trained employees are also key to providing a positive customer experience. This can become self-perpetuating. If employees are happy and committed, they can better deal with issues that arise that might ordinarily spoil the experience for a customer. Never forget that staff in the front line of customer engagement are absolutely key to carrying out your strategy.

Understand what customers want from their experience with you

How do you know what experience customers want? You need to research this in detail, capturing audience personas and getting deep into the minutiae of customer problems. One of the ways you’re going to evaluate the success of your customer experience strategy is to ask customers their opinion at regular intervals. So to stack this initiative in your favor, you need to identify the key customer careabouts. Things like:

  • Personal service and interaction
  • Ease of doing business
  • Fast response time / low wait times
  • Seamless omnichannel experience
  • Always keeping promises
  • Your brand’s values and commitment to corporate social responsibility

This should help establish “what good looks like”. You should also consider what competitors are doing and the effect this may have on customers’ expectations. In what ways are competitors’ customer experiences perceived? How might they be better, worse or different from yours?

Measure and track customer experience 

An early action in the development of your customer experience strategy should be to work out how you’re going to measure customer experience over time. Clearly you’ll need to be gaining feedback from customers about their experiences and doing this at regular intervals to show progress over time. We cover this in more detail in a later section of this guide.

Collect customer feedback regularly and maximize response rates

Customer feedback needs to be at the heart of your customer experience strategy to keep track of how perceptions are changing. The process is circular in that customer feedback drives insights that cause you to react, and the effect these reactions have on the changing face of customer experience can be measured through more customer feedback. These changes are likely to occur on two levels:

  • As a result of your intervention with an individual customer, provoked by their customer experience ‘reading’ showing negative.
  • As a result of strategic improvements you are making, which themselves arise from what you’ve learned from customer feedback.

Your chosen customer feedback system will need to be optimized for maximum response. In other words, you stand to benefit immensely from having a high proportion of customers providing you with feedback. However, your customer experience strategy is compromised should you fail to elicit sufficient feedback, on account of the inherent bias and unrepresentative nature of small samples.

Here are some of the golden rules for optimizing your customer feedback response rate.

Analyze customer feedback for expectations, drivers and triggers

How you respond to and act upon customer feedback is crucial, to the extent that this can transcend measurement of CX strategy and impact almost every facet of your business. Here, we’ll focus on the strategic improvements that stem from analyzing customer feedback to develop improvements in your customer experience. For tips on how to respond to individual customer feedback, read our comprehensive customer feedback guide.

You’ll want to uncover the following in your analysis:

  • Expectations: what is the minimum customers expect from the different aspects of the experience? How might this differ between types of customer?
  • Drivers: what are the drivers (i.e. reasons) for customer experiences being positive and negative? 
  • Triggers: what triggers, events or other stimuli can present make-or-break moments for the customer to cement their perception of the customer experience?

It makes perfect sense to work through the kind of analysis you want to achieve before you start asking customers for feedback. This is so you can design questions that surface specific findings, rather than relying solely on quantitative, metric-based CX readings.

Find what’s memorable and remarkable 

By now you’re getting a fulsome appreciation of the customer experience through their eyes. This is a very enlightening process where you get to collect vignettes and stories of how customers have related to your business and what this has meant to them. It should also provide a high-level picture of commonalities between customer experiences. This in particular will often reveal some of the things you do particularly well as a matter of course (and are appreciated by customers) and those you don’t (and that customers dislike).

It’s important to remember that customer experience is a human phenomenon and human perceptions are driven by emotion and memory. If you succeed in provoking a visceral, highly emotional response (positive or negative) then this will embed in memory and be difficult to shift. That’s a good thing if you create positive memories, and bad if the opposite.

The zone of tolerance

If you don’t create a memorable experience, your default is a forgettable experience. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Think of it more of a missed opportunity rather than an outright failure. It’s all to do with your ability to fulfill expectations and is best described in Leonard Berry’s ‘zone of tolerance’. This framework posits that all customer experiences sit on a spectrum from memorably positive to memorably negative. Between these extremes is a sea of adequacy and tolerance where experiences aren’t particularly remembered. When customers change their perceptions of an experience, they do so because of how well their expectations were met. That could mean shifting them from a situation where everything is ‘OK’ to when you do something remarkable for them. Likewise, your improvement could elevate them from a state of memorably negative to a plateau of forgettably adequate. 

 

Remarkability is another aspect of customer experience that’s closely related to memory. Something remarkable is something worthy of remark i.e. worth sharing with others. If one of the goals of your customer experience strategy is to increase word of mouth, identifying what is or could be ‘remarkable’ about your customer experience is a great approach. 

Map the customer journey

The next and penultimate step is taking everything you’ve to map out the customer experience into its various stages. Literally, to draw a map of the customer journey. Customer journey maps are highly useful in understanding the various touchpoints and interactions that customers use and undertake in dealing with a brand. Absolutely don’t leave this to assumption. Companies that undertake a customer journey mapping exercise invariably report finding journeys and experiences and longer and involve more process stages than originally thought. Use this activity to apply the feedback you’ve garnered about where experience is most positive and negative. 

In particular, look to pinpoint opportunities where the processes customers undergo can demand less effort. Find points of friction and delay that you can reduce or eliminate. Then test again, by asking for customer feedback, so determine the impact.

You can find a comprehensive guide to customer journey mapping here.

Measure, report and continually improve

The final stage is to plan how to implement your strategy on a continual basis by measuring, reporting and continually improving upon the customer experience. 

Ways to improve customer experience strategy

There are many different approaches to improving customer experience strategy. As stated above, this should be a continual process – fed by a continuous supply of customer feedback intelligence – to constantly discover improvement and evolve the customer experience in the context of changing behaviors and external factors.

how to Improve Your NPS Score

Go for customer service excellence

Customer service is often confused as being the same as customer experience. It isn’t. Rather, customer service is a constituent part, and a very important one at that. The customer service department (or function) is where customers go when they need help. This heightens its importance as a potential make-or-break trigger event. If a customer needs urgent assistance to solve a problem, how customer service responds can dictate their perception of the experience forever.

Some organizations put so much into customer service that it becomes core to their public reputation and ‘remarkability’. They do this by focusing heavily on staff training and the development of a customer-centric culture, as well as prioritizing resources where necessary to deliver the requisite service levels. This not only improves CX and reduces customer attrition, it can even support new customer acquisition.

The service recovery paradox

A final point on this is what’s known as the service recovery paradox, which demonstrates why great customer service is so worthwhile. The service recovery paradox concerns customers who’ve had a negative experience such as a product or service failure. By responding excellently and appropriately to the problem and making things right, that customer’s satisfaction level can be restored to a level higher than if the failure never occurred in the first place! 

Harness automation and new technology

If you aren’t offering an omnichannel customer experience then you could already be behind the curve on meeting customer expectations. Digital touchpoints have increased massively, and the effect of this is customers who are more comfortable with a digital customer experience as their default. 

Self-service tools like knowledge bases and automated chatbots are also becoming not merely tolerated and accepted but embraced and sought after. Younger demographics in particular favor these forms of engagement. This demonstrates the importance of understanding your customers and facilitating their preferred modes of communication. It also reveals opportunities to continually innovate with technology, using sophisticated AI-driven tools and data analytics to optimize the customer experience.

This links back to the strategy formulation step concerning journey maps and the elimination of effort and friction. Brands can go further still by using advanced technology as a means to understanding customer behavior patterns and use this to complement their customer feedback intelligence to make better decisions. 

Make it personal

All that being said about the advantages of automation, it remains essential to provide a genuinely human customer experience. Or at the very least, the appearance of one. For example, through enhanced digital personalization that makes a customer’s experience unique to them.

Not all organizations need to rely on the personal touch, but it’s worth prioritizing empathy when considering customer expectations and responses. If every customer experience followed a predefined process that was optimized for the best possible experience – what latitude exists to manage exceptions? As a theme park, auto parts wholesaler or telecom operator with the best customer experience around, how do your humans respond when something goes wrong? The only conclusion is to hold human interactions and automation in an appropriate balance and keep this under constant review. Be ready to step in. And learn how to anticipate issues before they arise.

The other aspect to personal, human customer experiences is going the extra mile and implementing special ‘magic touches’ that inspire memories and remarkability. There’s a strong case to say that machines can’t do that. Technology is better for ‘brilliant basics’.

How do you measure customer experience success?

An important step when developing your customer experience strategy is deciding how to measure the progress you’re making with customer experience over time. This demands both quantitative and qualitative insights at regular intervals. 

For quantitative insights, it’s likely you’ll use one or a combination of the 3 most common customer experience metrics:

  • Net Promoter Score® (NPS)
    • NPS measures the willingness of customers to recommend you to other people they care about. The thinking is that if customers claim to be very willing to do this then they must surely be enjoying a positive experience. 

  • Customer Satisfaction (CSAT)
    • CSAT measures the satisfaction level of customers. ‘Satisfaction’ implies that expectations have been met, so a positive satisfaction reading shows that the customer experience has met or exceeded expectations.

  • Customer Effort Score (CES)
    • CES measures the amount of effort customers have had to expend in their dealings with you. If CES shows up too high, this infers that customers have had to work hard to get through their experience with you. The idea here is to reduce and minimize customer effort and so, as a consequence, enhance the customer experience.

Qualitative insights will also be beneficial in fueling the improvement programs covered above.

Once you’ve decided on a metric, you need to baseline current customer experience levels. This will require you to have a customer feedback system in place capable of obtaining results from the maximum number of customers. You can use this baseline to chart how well you progress towards your CX objectives.

How can you compare or benchmark your customer experience?

There are numerous other customer experience-related metrics that go beyond the 3 listed above. The advantage with all of them is the ability to baseline your starting point and compare progress over time. You can also benchmark yourself against publicly available metrics from research bodies and competitors.

Not all organizations publish figures of course, with the possible exception of NPS which companies often use transparently to demonstrate their commitment to customer excellence.

NPS is measured in a range between -100 and +100. The top end of this range denotes a business where all customers state a high likelihood they will recommend it. The bottom end denotes when all customers are unlikely to recommend it. Everything in between reflects the mixture of different customers with different opinions. Anything above zero is therefore good and anything below zero is bad. SurveyMonkey’s data based on 150,000 organizations puts the average figure at +32.

Measuring your own business against this scale should be done in the context of:

  • What industry you are in and the average NPS levels that prevail
  • What NPS scores are present among competitors

We’ve collected an industry breakdown of NPS benchmarks here to compare your business against. 

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