Customer experience has become a major differentiator for large companies. In a McKinsey survey of senior executives, 90% of respondents saw customer experience as one of the CEO’s top three priorities.

But how should innovation managers start innovating on customer experience? Here, I share my experience in helping companies start innovating on customer experience in a pragmatic and strategic way.

Step 1: Start with Strategy

  • Determine how you want to be seen in the eyes of your customers

First, agree on your aspirational vision around customer experience: How do you want your customers to see you? Look at your mission as a company and select the top value(s) you stand for: Do you want to be seen as the most “reliable”, “fast”, “sustainable” or “innovative” company in the business? Evaluate these values with your customers to assess which drivers are key to your customer experience.

  • Envision where your company stands in the pyramid of customer experience and where it wants to go

How well do you believe you meet your customers’ needs in the different phases of their journey? How easy are you to do business with? And how enjoyable are you to do business with? Write down thoughts, experiences, and insights and define objectives for the future.

pyramid of customer experience

  • Define which customer group you’re focusing on in the first phase

When you start your customer experience assessment, keep things simple and pragmatic. For example, focus on happy and loyal customers so you can understand what it is that makes them happy and loyal. Alternatively, focus on the less happy/loyal customers or even non-customers.

From my experience, it’s good to focus on the loyal customers first – the ones you know personally, who can be reached easily and are willing to interact with you – they can already bring a lot of insights to the table that you can use to improve your customer journey in general.

You need to assess what your focus is: Is it inside-out or outside-in, purpose versus value? This will enable you to prioritize the insights, opportunities, and ideas that emerge from your customer experience journey.

An example: Philips

Let’s look at Philips. Recalling how I viewed Philips in the past, I remember that when my father bought our first video recorder (a VHS from Philips) when I was a child, I was completely hooked on it and thought of Philips as a cool high-tech brand. For me, it was one of the world’s leading consumer electronics companies.

However, times have changed and so has Philips. Its strategy today is about growth and creating value in the healthcare sector. The company assesses where the market opportunities are and where it can create value through technology, and then enters those markets.

Philips has reinvented itself from a consumer electronics company into a healthcare company in a matter of years. It has a clear outside-in perspective and, is always on the lookout for creating new value, customer and consumer insights are very much embedded into its processes and way of working.

Step 2: Start Mapping Your Customer Journey Internally

Look at the customer journey through the eyes of your customer with the knowledge, experiences, and insights that you and your team have today. Discuss your objectives for each phase of the customer journey, explore different touch points, and share insights, customer perceptions, and experiences: the positive, the surprising, and those that are challenging within each phase. 

Woman talking

Start by defining the phases and touchpoints that influence and drive the customer journey note them on your flip chart and highlight the objectives, touchpoints, actions, and insights relating to each phase.

Reviewing each phase with your team based on your existing knowledge should enable you to start to pinpoint the level of customer satisfaction so you can build a picture of how your customers feel on every step of their journey with you. This can help you find and discuss pain points and opportunities to explore further during field research with your customers.

I’d recommend breaking down the mapping exercise into the following six phases:

  • Phase 1: Needs

During this phase, your customers realize that they have a need and want to act on it. That need can be triggered by something they have seen or experienced; a problem or an opportunity can trigger a need.

Most companies invest in this phase and try to play a proactive role in discovering and/or triggering their customers' needs through research and marketing via discussions, workshops, fairs, and conferences.

  • Phase 2: Research

The customer takes action and starts exploring the problem/need and possible solutions for it. Often, customers’ first step in exploring solutions is to use the internet and then contact a company/supplier. The same typically holds in a B2B environment.

  • Phase 3: Evaluation

At this point, the customer evaluates the options in their consideration set. During the evaluation, you need to understand what tools, media, and people (touch points) the customer is in contact with and what factors drive decision-making.

  • Phase 4: Purchase

In the purchase phase, explore everything that relates to purchasing, including financing, invoicing, preparation of delivery, and the delivery itself. Companies invest in customer experience during the purchase phase to make it enjoyable, convenient, and transparent for the customer to see what has been purchased and when they can expect delivery.

  • Phase 5: Usage

During the usage phase, customer service is the key area to discuss. Does your company solve issues reactively or does it have a system in place for solving problems proactively?

  • Phase 5: Re-purchase

In this final phase, explore why some customers are more loyal than others. What drives their loyalty and what can you learn from that? Examine the key values your team defined during your internal discussions, and review examples that have driven customer loyalty over time.

Step 3: Talk to Your Customers

After finishing your internal analysis of your customer’s journey, it’s time to reflect and talk to your customers.

Customer interview

You can use a number of different methodologies to get your customers’ input:

  • Set up a series of interviews to assess your customers' journey. Ask them about their expectations and experiences, comparing these with the insights from your internal analyses, as well as any pain points or opportunities for improvement.
  • Create two or three small focus groups (6 - 8 customers per group) and ask the participants to talk about their journey and compare experiences.
  • Set up an online customer research community and invite 30 - 50 customers to share their experiences via forums, polls, and creative tasks. This is a good option if you plan to keep your customers involved in the phases from project development through to co-creation.

Step 4: Compare Internal and External Analyses of Your Customer Journey

Once you’ve concluded the internal analysis with your team and the external analysis with your customers, translate your learnings into something tangible like a spreadsheet or a graph that summarizes the main findings. Discuss these findings with your team and start brainstorming to translate the key learnings into actionable projects.

Step 5: Act on The Customer Experience 

Someone in your organization should take ownership of the agreed-upon projects to improve the customer journey and make open innovation happen. This can be a customer experience manager or innovation manager coaching multidisciplinary teams to move ideas forward into tangible results. If you have an online customer community in place, ask some of your customers to join further co-creation sessions to shape ideas and projects into valuable customer experiences.

Above all, the steps I’ve described should make the innovation process around customer experience straightforward, efficient, and actionable, and avoid getting lost in complexity.

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