Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Is Your Customer Experience the New Normal?

Image courtesy of micahb37
Is the customer and his experience ingrained in your organization's DNA?

A while back, I wrote a post titled, What the Hell is Customer Experience?. The basis for that post was a story about fish responding to the question, "How's the water?" - to which the fish responded, "What the hell is water?" Reason being, water is what they live in every day; it's part of their environment, just natural for them, to the point that they don't even think about it as being separate from who they are.

That aligns well with Google's definition of DNA: the fundamental and distinctive characteristics or qualities of someone or something, especially when regarded as unchangeable.

Fundamental qualities. Unchangeable. Like the water.

That's how I think about customer experience when I talk about the customer and the customer experience being ingrained in the company DNA. It's part of who you are. And it's unchangeable.

I think Neil Lindsay, Amazon's VP of Advertising, Device Sales & Marketing, said it best when he talked about how Amazon makes the customer its top priority: their focus is to create an experience so magical “… it disappears into our customer’s every day as their new normal.”

In other words, what the hell is customer experience?

So, how do we get to that point? How do we deliver an experience so magical that it really becomes the new normal?

I'll get to that in a second; first, though, here's the challenge with making that the new normal (and let's be clear; we're talking about a good new normal, not a frustrating one):
  • Some say that you can (or should) never really try to delight customers, that you should just focus on reducing effort and meeting the current expectation, the current normal. 
  • Once you actually meet that current expectation on a consistent basis, customers will want you to elevate the experience to a new normal. It's a moving target, and you should just focus on a static target.
But, I digress. That's a more-detailed post for another day. Let's focus on getting to that magical experience, the one that becomes the new normal. Besides, does anyone hate what Amazon is able to deliver? I don't!

On to the question at hand: how do we get to the point of the magical experience being the new normal? what are the inner workings of the organization that drive that experience? how does the customer and the experience become a part of your company's DNA?

First and foremost, know that it's a lot of hard work, and it takes a long time. Dare I say, it's a journey.

Let's start with some of the fundamental necessities.
  • CEO buy-in and commitment
  • well-communicated CX vision and strategy
  • employee experience as a priority
  • employee commitment, alignment, and clear line of sight to customers
  • Chief Customer Officer* (or similar) and a governance structure
  • understanding customers
  • a culture of outside-in thinking
  • a customer-obsessed workforce and mindset
*Note that some say that once the customer experience is ingrained in your DNA, the CCO role is no longer necessary. That's a true "what the hell is customer experience" culture.

To build that customer-centric culture, to get the entire organization to live and to breathe the customer, here are some adoption techniques to consider:
  • brand your initiatives, even name a character/mascot after it
  • deliver ongoing education about customer initiatives, expectations, new products, etc.
  • communicate openly and transparently about issues, financials, customer initiatives, and more
  • hire the right people; culture fit is definitely important
  • set expectations during onboarding and through continuous communication and education about who the customer is and the experience to be delivered
  • share customer feedback and insights throughout the company via intranet, monitors, weekly standing meetings, 1:1s with employees, etc.
  • create a customer room and encourage employees to visit frequently
  • create a customer experience wall, which is not that different from a customer room except that some companies don't have a room to spare or may find it more accessible and more effective to line walls with customer journeys, customer feedback, personas, and more to ensure the customer is ever-present in the employee's mind
  • use persona cutouts strategically place around the office to keep those key personas front and center at all times
  • develop awards and recognition programs for random acts of kindness and exceptional experiences
  • tie the experience (via key metrics/KPIs) to compensation (be wary of gaming and other detrimental responses/behaviors)
  • talk about the customer and his experience in all meetings
  • place an empty chair at the table in all meetings; the chair represents the customer
  • or designate one person in each meeting to represent the customer
  • bring the customer and the customer voice into all decisions (outside-in thinking), design meetings and discussions, and development efforts; ask questions like...
    • what would the customer say?
    • what would the customer think of that?
    • how would that make the customer feel?
When customer-thinking is part of your culture, when delivering a great customer experience is ingrained in the DNA, when everyone speaks "customer," then you've achieved the "what the hell is water?" level of customer experience maturity, your new normal. How ingrained is the customer and his perspective in your company's DNA?

Our DNA is as a consumer company - for that individual customer who's voting thumbs up or thumbs down. That's who we think about. And we think that our job is to take responsibility for the complete user experience. And if it's not up to par, it's our fault, plain and simply. -Steve Jobs


  1. An comprehensive list Annette, but I guess the really big question is how do you change people's beliefs about what is important?

    I guess that is the million dollar question.

    1. Thanks, James. That is the challenge, of course. If only every company had a Jeff Bezos.

  2. Hi Annette,
    Great list and I would agree with your idea that a truly customer centric organisation and one that just does CX doesn't need a CCO or any specific governance structure. Because, if you do, does that not imply that you are fighting an internal battle?


    1. Yup, great perspective, Adrian. I like how you've stated that.