August 2017
By Axel Poestges

Image: © Sergey Nivens/123rf.com

Axel Poestges spent several years working as a global business consultant and account manager for SDL. Today he works as a freelance consultant and associate lecturer at Pforzheim University in Germany. He has strong expertise in global information management and customer experience management.

axlpst[at]gmail.com
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A shortcut to global customer experience management

So we’ve all heard how important it is to change our business thinking and put ourselves into our customer’s shoes. But how realistic is it to change the mindset of an entire global organization? Impossible, you say? Here is a quick-win approach that might get the process kick-started.

"Customer experience" has been a much-debated buzzword over the past few years. Indeed, no manufacturer, supplier, or service provider will seriously doubt the impact happy customers have on their company’s long-term success and market position. Globalization has added a new challenge to keeping customers happy, as we can no longer simply ask them directly how they feel about our products or services. But substantially nothing has really changed in our strategic endeavor to make customers happy.

Making your GCEM part of your business model

Any Global Customer Experience Management (GCEM) should be part of your company’s business model in the management system section. This will greatly enhance the status and value of your customer experience efforts.

 Business models help companies to transfer strategic goals into operational guidelines. A typical business model has several building blocks and two central base plates. Each of these elements has various connectors to most of the other building blocks within the model. As you can see in Figure 1, one of these fundaments deals with business ethics and social responsibility, while the other contains all the management systems the enterprise deploys. The customer experience management system is a very strategic one and must be connected to all the other building blocks. Processes, go-to market channels, target group definition and customer relationship management, to name just a few, must all be connected to your individual GCEM. In fact, there are even interdependencies between the different management systems. Quality management, for example, is a management system that influences most other management systems. The intensity and nature of these interconnections differ greatly from industry to industry. But the bottom line remains: A customer experience management system reaches deeply into every aspect of your organization and offers great business leverage.


Figure 1: A standard business model

 

The complexity of customer experience

The better you can plan and control a management system, the easier and more effortless it is to implement. Just take a look at quality or environment management systems. Both reveal strong leverage effects when connected with different system elements and process phases.

But with customer experience management systems, things are not as easy. This is mainly due to the fact that customer experiences will happen during any part of the customer journey. From a potential customer finding the relevant information available in his own language through to effective post-sales customer support, there are nearly endless touchpoints between your company and clients. Each phase of the customer journey as outlined in Figure 2 offers multiple opportunities to engage with customers.

Different behavior patterns that vary greatly from customer to customer add to the complexity. Predicting a potential customer’s activity is particularly tricky in the investigation and pre-decision phase. Some people only shop from the comforts of their own home on their mobile devices; others prefer to make their purchases in physical stores, while others respond strongly to print advertisements. For the different touchpoints, these characters have completely different interaction profiles and require different targeting.

To enable reproducible positive customer experiences, you have to know exactly what your targeted client is going to do next. This determining factor is the core issue for any customer experience management system and the reason why implementation often fails. It is a marketer’s dilemma: We cannot predict our customer’s actions during the most crucial phases of the customer journey, at the very moment when this knowledge is needed the most. After a client has made his buying decision and purchased the product or service, it is much easier to interact with the customer and learn more about his expectations and needs. This is why most successful GCEM business cases relate to a phase in the customer journey when clients have already made their decision.


Figure 2: The customer journey

 

The focal point strategy – focusing on what we can capture and where

For this reason, many companies focus their GCEM projects on the post-purchase phase of the customer journey. This so-called focal point strategy is typical for projects in service, support, and quality assurance. Such projects have a higher success rate, which is due to the fact that service and support offer predictable customer reactions with short and clearly defined communication channels. They offer a wide range of possibilities for learning more about customers and for gearing interactions, tools, methods, approaches, and processes towards your customers’ expectations. Unfortunately, this close connection to clients does not allow a reliable conclusion about their behavior before their buying decision.


Figure 3: How to get relevant information out of touchpoints

 

The catalyst strategy – leveraging what we know

Trying to influence your client’s pre-sales interactions is usually a matter of trial and error. Feedback from a defined touchpoint such as the support hotline is much more meaningful compared to anonymous touchpoints such as web-page visits, expectations marketing efforts, or discussions with a sales representative. The so-called catalyst strategy of customer experience management uses existing experiences and knowledge of customer interactions to set up virtual touchpoints in those customer journey segments that take place before the buying decision is made.

This "learning link" between the engagement phase and the pre-sales decision phase leverages the intelligence we have collected post-sales to enhance the customer experience pre-sales. No matter what products or services your company offers, you can only positively influence the decision-making of a future customer when you know his specific buyer type and his interaction profile in depth. The easiest way to get the necessary information is to use the post-buying decision phase, in which you can get as close to your client as you like. In this phase, you have the option of learning nearly everything about his expectations, the technology he uses, or the communication channels he prefers.

Why not start with a "field book" of interaction profiles of your existing customers? This is the easiest way to enable touchpoint design for your typical customers. As interaction profiling is a learning approach, the information retrieved will also address new target groups with new or modified value propositions.



Figure 4: Learning link between the different phases of a customer journey

 

Practice has shown that, even if you start out with only one or two interaction profiles of typical customers, this effort in the pre-buying decision phase is far more focused, demands less effort and will maximize the leverage effects. The "learning link" does not solve the problem of making customer experience management effective enterprise-wide – but it certainly helps.

Unfortunately, there are very few companies that have linked their knowledge of post-sales customer interactions to pre-sales interaction profiling. This is probably one of the reasons why you read very little about successfully implemented enterprise-wide GCEM. What you will find are either reports on customer-oriented service touchpoints or successful touchpoint optimization through improved design of digital presences. Even the use of direct feedback in the pre-buying decision phase does not offer the expected information value because there is usually no direct connection between the information retrieved and the interaction profile designed.

Changing corporate thinking – step by step

Switching a whole company from thinking in dimensions of revenues, products and processes to "walking in the customer’s shoes" is a huge challenge. It may succeed in departments with close connections to the market (i.e. sales, marketing, pre-sales support etc.), but a company-wide rethinking including departments such as accounting or human resource management borders on the impossible. Literature does not offer many GCEM success stories with an enterprise-wide approach.

Enterprise-wide change management is an extremely ambitious undertaking. It will take some time before you will be able to present the first real success. Getting all relevant stakeholders on board and having them spread the new approach is not easy. Anyone who read The Apple Experience will agree that an Apple-like customer experience infrastructure takes top-down internalizing and a willingness to permanently think in customers’ dimensions. If you lack this "customer experience DNA," the amount of effort, time and money spent will be even greater.

Changing the mindset of a multinational company to allow customer orientation requires a disproportional effort. This is why a localized and focused "quick-win approach" is much welcome and can deliver presentable results in a short amount of time.

To be able to deploy the "learning link" between pre- and post-purchase decision phase activities, you must figure out where to get the most valuable information. Usually customer contacts in service, support, maintenance etc. offer enough contact opportunities to extract relevant information. Feedback from direct customer interactions allows great insight, but a pre-structured questionnaire might be easier to evaluate. A sufficient number of responses will allow you to identify relevant customer types, which in turn provides an indication of prospective buyer types. Making use of the relevant channels and touchpoints will enable you to build some meaningful interaction profiles.

Choose touchpoints with a defined feedback option like sales interactions or direct marketing activities. This will enable you to apply the customer profiles to pre-buying decision phases. Once you start designing touchpoints according to your interaction profiles, make sure to do so in an agile implementation process environment. This allows you to countersteer and progressively align the activities. A necessary prerequisite is the closed-loop feedback from customers interacting with these touchpoints.

This approach should quickly reveal some success and perhaps even get stakeholders enthusiastic about customer experience management. The interaction profile “blueprint” allows you to kick-start your GCEM with an initial rollout phase that involves touchpoints in the pre-purchase decision phase that are crucial to business and have disproportionately high leverage effects.

Conclusion

Customer interaction profiling based on information from existing customer touchpoints is a very pragmatic and easy-to-handle approach. Moreover, you do not have to employ a consultant, as this approach can be dealt with from within. The interaction profile blueprint allows you to design the most important touchpoints – those that attract prospective buyers and will ensure positive customer experiences. The blueprint can easily be adapted to other touchpoints and even be launched in other global markets. Global customer experience management needs to be part of your business model. The learning link will not automatically generate happy customers, but it is one step on the way to turning prospective buyers into long-term customers.