Article published on April 2017 by:

Efforts to improve the customer experience can deliver tremendous value, but temptations that can undo good intentions lurk in any change program. Resist seven common missteps.

1. Myopia

Many managers enter a transformation with no real vision for the organization’s future state. Instead, they have a general desire to improve the customer experience and rush into action very quickly, before defining a more specific vision. Targets are often vague, devoid of aspiration, and lacking in specificity—a reflection of an underlying fear of failure. Managers communicate broad, operationally anchored goals and praise marginal results instead of inspiring a powerful vision for the future. Leaders may also prioritize the wrong areas of focus, wasting time setting targets for parts of the customer journey that don’t have a real impact.

Great organizations instead spend significant time up front to define a clear, compelling, personal, and ambitious aspiration, which doesn’t necessarily involve becoming a customer-experience leader. Depending on the context, it may make sense for a company to aim at having a best-in-class customer experience or to improve the baseline but not invest in a full transformation.

2. Indifference

Many customer-experience transformation fails because it doesn’t become a top-three priority for the CEO or the top team. Without their support, securing cross-functional alignment is difficult, and transformations lose momentum when internal resistance or apathy materializes. The odds for success improve when engaged leaders role-model the new behavior and ensure integration across internal silos.

3. Worthlessness

Many organizations launch programs to transform the customer experience with no sense of what a better one will be worth and therefore no way to judge potential initiatives. Leaders of such a transformation will find it hard to secure sufficient resources for needed investments if they don’t have evidence that their efforts will generate business value. And if the CFO isn’t on board, your transformation effort will probably come to a halt.

Building the link to value is possible, before any action has been taken, by using customer research and operational data to link satisfaction with the customer experience to outcomes of financial interest, such as loyalty, customer churn, and revenue. This analysis will provide the foundation to know what each point of satisfaction is worth.

4. Heedlessness

Many customer-experience transformations begin with the top team’s assumptions about what matters. Are these leaders overly weighing the voices of a few dissatisfied, highly vocal customers who are “squeaky wheels,” or are they seeing the world through their own experience as customers? Some organizations set out to “boil the ocean,” transforming all parts of the business at once. They therefore spend significant time and money on things that, in the end, don’t matter to customers.

Successful transformations therefore tend to start with a rigorous attempt to identify those things that matter most to customers. Such efforts establish a clear understanding of where improvements in the customer experience can create value across the organization—financial returns, operational efficiencies, and improved employee engagement and outcomes.

5. Imbalance

Sometimes, customer-experience transformations collapse even when executives have correctly determined what matters to customers, defined a good target, articulated a clear link to value, and provided strong support. In these cases, the culprit is often a loss of momentum from a project’s failure to have an impact in the short term.

Many leaders focus on long-term changes or holistic service redesigns and don’t expect any financial impact from them for two to three years. Employees may become frustrated during this period and disengage, while customers may decide to take their business elsewhere. Moreover, leaders may focus exclusively on the top-line impact—revenue from increased loyalty and reduced churn—to the detriment of equally powerful cost levers, including cost to serve. Great customer-experience transformations include a balanced portfolio of initiatives (long and short term, revenues and costs) to show success early, sustain momentum, and learn over time.

6. ‘Fractionalism’

A lot of managers think about the customer experience very narrowly, focusing only on individual issues and forgetting about the overall system for delivering value. Some excel at designing specific kinds of interactions with customers but ignore the fuller experience, both before and after purchase. Many build measurement systems and focus only on reporting and tracking, underestimating the importance of the internal cultural changes needed to achieve and sustain a new approach. The belief that top-down management, supported by measurement alone, will improve the customer experience is a common mistake of these transformations.

We believe that successful cultural change relies on four factors. To be sure, one of them is formal measurement and performance systems. But employee involvement, role modeling from leaders, and clear explanations of why change is necessary are important, too. Great transformations work across all four at once and spend as much time on the “soft stuff” of culture change and communication as on the “hard stuff” of performance management.

7. Orthodoxy

Leaders seeking to transform the customer experience may look only to traditional or even outdated techniques, without understanding the power of cutting-edge design and digital capabilities. When companies fail to consider opportunities from design thinking, they may not succeed in transforming identified customer pain points, in particular, by learning from other experiences and industries.

Great organizations apply the tools of human-centered design to create distinctive customer experiences and separate themselves from the pack. Companies can apply these tools equally across product, service, and digital experiences. From call-center scripts to the replacement of printer ink, great customer experiences build loyalty, which drives growth and generates competitive advantages.

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