customer experience excellence 2021Customer experience excellence is certainly defined a bit differently now, compared to years past. Some aspects of the new definition are obvious: heightened empathy and benevolence, smoother digitalization, stronger security and safety, greater inclusion and diversity.

The 2020s decade is clobbering us over the head with the urgent realization of these essentials. Yet they’re not really new needs or luxuries: they’re long overdue.

Another interesting thing about this list of obvious CX excellence needs is it’s not necessarily in the average customer experience manager’s scope of control or influence.

  • Heightened empathy and benevolence go beyond touch-points to include policies and processes that are owned by a wide variety of functional areas.
  • Smoother digitalization involves the IT function plus business process owners across your company.
  • Stronger security and safety is enabled by facilities, legal, safety, operations, and other functional areas.
  • Greater inclusion and diversity is a commitment of attitudes and actions across your whole enterprise, and with your alliances, channel partners and suppliers.

How can leaders wrap their heads around these overwhelming mandates for customer experience excellence? How can it be achieved NOW, rather than over the course of several years?

Interestingly, like the list above, the answer to customer experience excellence in 2021 is to revisit the basics: they’re long overdue! Here are 21 tips for achieving 2021 customer experience excellence in these areas and beyond:

1) Stop referring to customer experience as interactions

This is success-limiting because it pigeon-holes responsibility with those who manage customer touch-points. Clearly, the above list of 2021 mandates is the responsibility of everyone in your company’s ecosystem, no exceptions.

2) Start picturing customer experience holistically

This is success-promoting because it reflects reality. You are a customer of many companies as an individual consumer: you know that your experience begins far before an interaction and ends when you no longer have the need for a type of solution.

Taking employee experience as a corollary, you would surely disagree with the notion that your pre-employment journey with your company equals your employee experience. Similar disagreement would occur with the idea that your employee experience equals HR’s resolution of your complaints.

3) Stop calling customer experience management “customer experience”

This is success-limiting because it mixes apples and oranges. Customer experience is something that occurs in customers’ perceptions. Customer experience management is what business managers do to understand and guide the matching of perceptions and performance.

4) Stop calling customer service “customer experience management”

This is success-limiting because it’s remedial. Customers want their journey to be trouble-free. Service is vital, to be sure, and plays a pivotal role in retaining customers. Yet we’ve established in the above tips that Service is one of many facets of the customer experience itself. The 2021 must-haves require far more than Service.

5) Start seeing customer experience as “the hand that feeds you”

customer experience priorityThis is success-promoting because it reflects the reality that salaries, budgets and dividends come from customers who are pleased with their perceptions-versus-expectations equation.

Accordingly, customer experience is the lifeblood of every organization. When you prioritize investors ahead of customer experience, you’re putting the cart before the horse. If you think your growth is from investors, you may actually be running a Ponzi scheme.

6) Start “nailing it” with your core-growth customers

This is success-promoting because it focuses your efforts on high growth that’s sustainable. Different customers have different expectations, so avoid “boiling the ocean” by focusing on getting it right with those customers who you depend upon most for near-term growth.

When you focus customer experience excellence on your core-growth customers, your intentional customer experience can be much clearer and your NPS becomes more meaningful, less diluted. Naturally, you want to be the market share leader with your core-growth customers.

7) Start focusing on customers’ objectives

Customer Expectations SegmentationThis is success-promoting because it elevates your decision-making toward customers’ end-results. It opens up your creativity to see many paths toward solutions customers will reward. Every customer is buying or interacting as a means toward a capability they want: peace of mind, risk avoidance, simplification, expansion, timeliness, efficiency, etc.

Customer Experience is customers’ realities in selecting, getting and using a solution that enables a capability they want.

8) Stop being obsessed with quick wins

This is success-limiting because it’s myopic, short-sighted. Quick wins have their place in establishing initial value. But the nature of customer experience is long-horizon, not instantaneous. Relationship strength is your aim for recurring ROI on your customer experience efforts.

The largest ROI available in the early stages of deliberate customer experience management is achieved by stopping stupid costs: quit doing things that bother customers.

Preventing recurrence of hassles for large groups of customers or for your whole customerbase is where huge sustained growth emerges. Everyone saves money, time and goodwill. You redirect otherwise permanently dedicated resources from remedial to constructive purposes. London School of Economics found that one percent decrease in negative word-of-mouth yields 3X revenue gain versus one percent increase in positive word-of-mouth.

9) Stop seeing NPS as your sure-win

This is success-limiting because Net Promoter Score® implies (probably inaccurately) that customers who are inclined to say good things about your company will offset customers who are inclined to complain about your company. While there are many good techniques for engaging Promoters (positive word-of-mouth), nurturing Passives (non-vocal), and transforming Detractors (negative word-of-mouth), there are numerous caveats.

How many Promoters are among your core-growth customers, and vice-versa? Have you evaluated your Promoters’ propensity to recommend only your brand, or do they likely suggest two or three choices when they speak about your brand? Is the passion and longevity of Detractors’ negative word-of-mouth a one-for-one trade for that of Promoters’ positive word-of-mouth?

10) Start seeing your customer experience index as a lagging indicator

This is success-promoting because it focuses attention on managing what leads up to Net Promoter Score® and other indexes. Voice-of-the-customer is by default a lagging indicator, even when it’s real-time, because it already happened. You’re learning about customer perceptions after they’re formed.

Leading indicators are identified by conducting (1) key driver analysis (also known as correlation analysis) with your index (e.g. NPS), and then (2) Pareto analysis (80-20 rule: 80% of the consequences are solved by 20% of the causes) for each key driver, based on prevalent themes from customer comments or operational data for the key driver, and then (3) root cause analysis (also known as 5-Why’s or factor analysis, FMEA, inter-relationship diagraph, Ishikawa diagram, fishbone diagram, etc.).

customer experience leading indicator

11) Start expecting everyone to align to customers

This is success-promoting because you’re only as strong as your weakest link. A rogue decision by a small group or even one individual can derail your customer experience progress, reputation, and even your stock price.

customer experience purposeWe tend to be courageous in expecting customers to engage, but timid in expecting employees and partners to engage whole-heartedly. Customers have paid fair market value and owe nothing to your company. Employees’ and partners’ existence depends on superior customer experience, as pointed out in Tip 5 above.

Customer Experience Management is company-wide alignment to customers.

12) Stop over-relying on customer experience technologies

This is success-limiting because it assumes the attitudes, policies, processes and handoffs across your company can be automated. Technologies are essential for information accessibility, efficiencies and important aspects of ease-of-work and ease-of-doing-business. Yet there are many other aspects that require human-to-human facilitation. Traditionally, customer experience budgets are over-extended on technologies and anemic on everything else.

Digitalization is undeniably central to 2021 customer experience excellence. One of my favorite quotes is from Doug Milliken, VP of Marketing Transformation at Clorox: “We realized that in order to do digital we needed to be digital.” By this he means seamlessness digitally requires seamlessness among people.

13) Stop obsessing about customer journey maps

This is success-limiting because it tends to exhaust bandwidth and energy on mapping rather than actioning. It’s possible to make grand strides in customer-centric culture-building and in customer experience improvement without having journey maps. They’re nice-to-have, not must-have. The main points are to contrast customers’ expectations versus their perceptions, whether pictorially, textually, by video, or any other format — and then, most importantly, to sustain resolution of key issues for the benefit of your whole customer base. Plan up-front for balanced effort to last for the long-haul in making a difference for customers.

14) Start making voice-of-customer relevant and vital to every role in your company

This is success-promoting because customer-centric thinking and actions rely on keeping in-sync with customers’ shifting expectations and perceptions. Especially in 2021, these shifts are frequent and require operational agility company-wide.

Relevance depends on more than accessibility. Relevance means each functional area readily recognizes VoC as useful to their specific role. Vital means each role appreciates VoC as an instrumental guide to their job performance. Make use of voice-mining, text-mining and similar technologies to distribute customer comments on a frequent, regular basis in a more personalized way to your internal customers across your company.

15) Start operationalizing customer experience management

This is success-promoting because it instills a systematic cadence for every group across your company to engage in cross-functional workshops that are so vital to preventing recurrence of customers’ thorny issues. Give every group their own cut of voice-of-customer data, and facilitate actioning workshops where cross-functional reps zero-in on true root causes. Give high visibility to action plans — not just green/yellow/red dots — to keep the momentum rolling and to enable executive sponsors to give accolades and remove roadblocks to action plan fruition.

16) Start recognizing teams for prevention of customer issues

This is success-promoting because your highest ROI comes through prevention of problems: saving time, resources and goodwill for all involved. Teamwork is essential to seamless customer experience. This can significantly shift your culture to much higher customer-centricity maturity.

17) Start viewing customer experience roles as facilitators

This is success-promoting because there’s only so much a few people — or even a small army — can do. You rely on everyone in your company’s ecosystem to do their part toward aligning with customers, preventing issues, anticipating customers’ reactions, and creatively designing better customer experience. Non-customer-facing groups are just as vital as anyone in ensuring customer experience excellence.

18) Start seeing customer experience roles as silo-smoothers

This is success-promoting because silos are poison to customer experience performance. Silos are operational (data, processes, channels, systems, organizations) and executional (vision, assumptions, goals, metrics, handoffs). Silos can be prevented by starting every assignment and project with a holistic view: who else needs this, who’s done this or something like it before, how can we build from lessons learned, how can we share with those who have a stake in it, etc. Customer experience professionals can help silo-smoothing become a way of life. This improves ease-of-work and ease-of-doing-business.

19) Start cascading customer experience objectives

This is success-promoting because it engages every line of business, functional area, and managerial level in being specific about their contribution. Engage customer experience roles in facilitating organizational learning from this process, both in the cascaded objectives as well as the performance metrics roll-ups.

20) Start rewarding performance of leading indicators

This is success-promoting because bonuses focus attention and effort on what leads to intended results. Leading indicators are what teams can see before their stakeholders can see it. Workflow diamonds are typically the faulty filters that allow poor customer experiences as outputs of the workflows. When you fix the faulty filters, you can predict that customer experience will improve, with corresponding increases in business results. This also removes the horrible practice of begging customers to give a 10 rating, which is one of the biggest shams to voice-of-customer validity (negates customers’ and your investment in VoC because it’s not accurate!).

21) Start coordinating among all facilitators of customer experience management

This is success-promoting because CRM, VoC, UX, DX, Service, Success, Experiential Marketing, Loyalty, and so forth are all trying to improve value to customers and customers’ value to your company. It makes no sense that these efforts are silos. Strengthen internal communication and coordination across these to strengthen customer relationships and lifetime value. Help them see how their efforts flow from one to the next.

customer experience excellence model

I’ve always found that maturity is fast-tracked in sports, music, academics, and everything else, when the basics are revisited and continually perfected. These are not common practices today, but they are customer experience best practices. By following this list of 21 tips for customer experience excellence you’ll find that the 2021 must-haves are facilitated more naturally. It’s not an either-or situation for customer-first, employee-first, digital-first, safety-first, or revenue-first. That’s nonsense. Customer experience is intertwined with all of these. Instead of making a separate customer experience “pillar” in your corporate strategy, weave-in customer experience aspects and targets to all pillars, all evaluations and approvals. This is how you make customer experience excellence a way of life. This is how to differentiate for customer experience-generated growth sustainably.