I originally wrote today’s post for Zendesk. It appeared on their site on March 7, 2022.

If you’re not yet focusing on the customer experience with your organization, it’s time to get started! Not just started… but it’s time to kick it into high gear! Customer expectations are higher than ever and evolving. You’ve got to get ahead of that!

There are often challenges to getting a customer experience program off the ground in any organization, so let’s overcome those and get moving.

But first, what is a customer experience program? In simplest of terms, it’s the systematic approach your business takes to improve the experience. It involves outlining the people, tools, data, and processes that will be needed to implement your customer experience strategy. And, obviously, it involves developing and executing that strategy.

By the way, it’s not really a program per se. It’s a transformation. It’s about the way that you’ll do business going forward. The program is about your approach to successfully transforming the business and the customer experience. It’s about continuous improvement. A program often sounds like it’s a one and done. Customer experience work is not. It’s a journey. It evolves as your customers evolve, as your products evolve, as the business evolves, as the industry evolves.

How and where do you begin? Here are five things you’ll need to do or have in place to get started. These are some of the foundational elements that you’ll need in order to put your best foot forward and set your customer experience program up for success.

1. Executive commitment and alignment

First and foremost, to ensure your customer experience program is successful, you’ll need both executive commitment and alignment. Leaders must commit to putting the customer at the heart of the business. That commitment comes not only in a verbal form but also in the form of resources – human, time, capital, etc. – to show employees that “we mean business.” And they must all be aligned; if only some executives across the organization are on board, then you won’t get far – and the customer will have a disjointed experience.

Oh sure, you can start without all that, but then you’ll need to build the business case and get that commitment before you get too deep into your plans.

2. Current state assessment

I like to start with a current state assessment of the organization that includes interviews with executives, employees, and customers – as well as a maturity assessment to identify major gaps and needs for a successful customer experience transformation. It’s a good way to understand the current situation: where do your stakeholders (executives) stand, what’s the state of the culture today, what’s going well or not with both employee and customer experiences, and what are potential technology needs going forward. The interviews and assessment inform the program roadmap.

The interviews and assessment also help to identify change readiness within the organization and then inform your change management approach, including communicating your change vision.

3. Objectives and desired outcomes

Also important to kickstarting your customer experience program are clearly outlined and defined objectives and desired outcomes, as well as success metrics. Why are you doing this? Why now? What are the desired outcomes – for employees, for customers, and for the business? How will you link the data and the work involved to those outcomes? And what does success look like? How will you track it, and how will you measure it?

4. CX Vision

Next, you’ll need a clearly defined and articulated customer experience vision. Your customer experience vision is an inspirational and aspirational statement that outlines the future state of the customer experience. It briefly describes the experience you plan to deliver. And it serves as a guide to help choose future courses of action. It should align with your corporate vision. The idea is that this vision fuels innovation and reminds employees that there’s a human being on the other end of your CX strategy and transformation.

Also, keep in mind that the CX vision is informed by customer feedback and insights. It’s not your vision for the future experience; it’s based on what your customers are saying and expecting. Remember, this is all about the customer, so don’t forget to put the “customer” in customer experience.

5. Governance

Governance is about oversight and execution of the work that lies ahead. Without it, customer experience programs become siloed or stagnant. There are two parts to governance: (1) the structure, which is all about the governing body but also about establishing policies, monitoring, and enhancing the prosperity of the organization. This part covers both oversight and execution, as well as driving accountability throughout the organization by creating committees and assigning specific tasks and responsibilities to those committees. (2) the operating model, which drives execution of the customer experience vision to strategy through data democratization, socializing and operationalizing insights to action, prioritizing improvement initiatives, developing new business processes, defining success metrics, outlining the decision making process, defining the communication plan, and more.

The two parts work together to ensure that the organization works together toward a common cause, goal, and/or outcome. Governance bridges the gap between departments. It helps to break down and connect silos. It’s also the best source of that grassroots groundswell to get everyone involved.

Closing thoughts

I don’t want to gloss over the importance of your culture, which I mentioned in #2, the current state assessment, to ensure customer experience transformation success. If your culture was not deliberately designed to be customer-centric, then this is where you need to get started. It will just make everything else easier. In order to do that, though, your CEO must be on board. And then you’ve got to have the core values in place (and socialized and operationalized) to ensure that the customer’s best interests are always at the heart of everything you do.

In a world where products and services are becoming more and more commoditized, customer experience is the only true and sustainable differentiator.

Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. In 2019, she published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. In 2022, she published her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business (Advantage|ForbesBooks), which is now available to purchase on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other outlets around the world! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your CX game.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.