Customer experience: 10 tips for a successful CX strategy

Once relegated to the back office, CIOs are now key customer-facing leaders charged with delivering great customer experiences.

According to our State of the CIO 2022 survey, 57% of responding IT leaders say improving customer experience (CX) is a top goal, while 81% are implementing new technologies to support customer interactions.

Research also indicates that many organizations are struggling to reach their CX objectives, as they face challenges in bringing together the required skills, tools, and data. To help overcome those hurdles, we asked researchers and CX leaders to list steps CIOs can take to strengthen their organization’s customer experience function. Here’s the ten action items that will have the greatest impact.

1. Embrace a customer-centric mindset

CIOs themselves will have to think and work in new ways as their organizations make CX a strategic objective, says Elli Rader, a partner at digital services firm West Monroe who works in its Product Experience and Engineering Lab.

Some CIOs, however, will have to work harder than others to make this shift, Rader says.

“Some CIOs — particularly in times of pressure, which is now — tend to fall back on things they’ve done for a long time. They fall back on things that are familiar because they have muscle memory. And those things tend to be around delivery, like ship fast, but, unfortunately, they miss what’s best for the customer when that’s your focus,” Rader says.

“They need to be open to new ways of working, so not just building the same well but building the right things,” she adds, explaining that CIOs need to learn enough about human-centered design and other CX-related methodologies so they’re able to effectively lead their CX teams.

2. Evolve the culture

“As a CIO my role is to first create an organization and culture that supports and enables customer-centric, design thinking, technically innovative, agile ways of working and secondly to enable and empower our colleagues to be successful in re-imagining the way we work and the way we provide value to our customers, both internally and externally,” says Mark Mintz, senior vice president and CIO of Charles River Laboratories.

“When we are evaluating opportunities for how best to serve our internal and external customers, we continuously seek to understand the core of the opportunity from a customer perspective as well as from a business perspective and strive to re-imagine those experiences based on what we learn,” he explains. “From there we identify our key metrics that we expect to impact through our re-imagination and then we stay focused on regular collaboration with our customers, guided by data and metrics, to ensure we are delivering the highest value experiences that not only are delights for our customers but also creating real business value for them.”

3. Create shared responsibility for CX within the C-suite

Customer experience technologies were among the top IT investments over the past year, according to Foundry’s 2022 State of the CIO Study. But CIOs have to own more of the CX program than technology delivery; they must share ownership for it, along with the marketing, operations, sales, and revenue officers, as well as the chief customer or chief experience officers if those roles exist within the company.

Research has found that companies that deliver great customer experiences make CX a shared responsibility, says Sudhir Rajagopal, research director for Future of Customer Experience at research firm IDC.

“It’s not about any one person or one function,” he says. “It’s one thing to say it, but what it means is that each one of those functions, every one of those leaders within their functions, thinks about how they’re delivering on their operational pieces against the same customer objectives.”

4. Build joint ownership through cross-functional teams

That joint ownership must extend throughout the organization, says Sam Bright, chief product and experience officer at Upwork, a platform serving the freelance work market.

“In order to ensure better product and business outcomes, it’s essential that tech leaders put a structure in place that tightly couples product, experience, and data teams and even combines them at certain junctures where it makes sense. This instills a culture of collaboration across the organization that brings multiple departments — whether directly or indirectly responsible for the customer experience — closer together,” he explains.

Bright says Upwork has focused on creating a team structure that “binds together product and experience.” That includes co-locating these teams as well as promoting transparency and collaboration across the organization.

“With a more unified team, where VPs and product managers of our various products or delivery models sit right alongside our UX function, analytics team as well as customer support and trust experts, we get a true 360-degree view of customer problems we’re trying to solve while creating a real feedback loop that revolves around customer obsession,” Bright says.

5. Align CX strategy to the enterprise strategy

Delivering great customer experiences is a good goal, but the objective should be delivering great experiences in ways that also help the organization achieve its goals, says Thomas Randall, advisory director at Info-Tech Research Group and its SoftwareReviews division.

“IT has to work with the business to ask, ‘What are our goals for customer experience?’ whether that’s upselling or customer retention or customer acquisition,” Randall says, explaining that aligning CX with the corporate strategy enables IT to identify the technologies, features, and functions to pursue and advance.

For example, CIOs whose companies are focused on customer retention will need to prioritize the delivery of technologies that can solve customer problems on their own and, if they can’t, enable customer service reps to quickly do so.

6. Define the problem before defining the solution

“As technologists, it’s easy for us to quickly jump to the addition or purchase of a technology solution without clearly defining the reason and problem it is meant to solve,” says Erin Howard, executive director of product, service, and experience design at Charles River Laboratories.

“Using methodologies found in design-thinking practices can help to define the problem space; journey and process mapping, persona definition, ideation workshops and many other broad thinking tactics can help you and your team spend time in the problem, empathize with the customer and ultimately define and design the solution with a focus on the needs and experience of your customer,” she explains.

That’s critical for determining not just how to build a great customer experience but building the right ones.

“Fully understanding the problem, looking at it from different angles, and spending more time in the problem space will lead to better solution evaluation, understanding of needs, and definition of goals before purchasing your next technology solution,” Howard says.

7. Get a handle on the data

Teams looking to improve CX often focus on the experience layer, putting most or all of their efforts into understanding customer journeys and customer personas.

But teams need good data to do all that successfully. “That’s the layer that needs to be fundamentally addressed,” Rajagopal says, pointing out that IT is instrumental in building the infrastructure needed to bring in first-, second-, and third-party data and create a “unified customer data view.”

Justin Skinner, CIO of SmileDirectClub, knows the value of building data sets to leverage for enhanced CX, pointing to the company’s SmileMaker Platform, which uses artificial intelligence to enable customers to see in minutes how the company’s treatment plans could change their smile.

“With this technology, we’re able to utilize data from 1.8 million smiles to create an educational experience for customers that makes it easier for them to get started,” Skinner says. “Analyzing the smiles of our existing users allows new customers to go through the process more quickly, while also enabling us to reach consumers across the globe at scale.”

8. Prioritize and prune

“There are way more ideas and work than time and money,” says Amy Evins, executive vice president and CIO of LPL Financial. That’s why she believes high-performing CX functions have a disciplined approach to prioritizing their work.

To that point, Evins’ team calculates the value of proposals and prioritizes them based on the impact that they are each expected to bring.

“That also empowers the team to say no, so when they push back, they have the data to show why, and then they can prioritize the customer experience products that will drive the most value,” Evins says.

Rader advocates for that approach, too. She also advises CIOs to use a similar approach with existing features and functions by determining which ones don’t deliver value so they can be retired.

“Look at what features are being used and kill those that aren’t. Why spend money maintaining that stuff when you can spend money building new features that customers will actually want?” she asks.

9. Measure the impact of CX efforts

To prioritize and prune effectively, and to determine which activities are actually improving customer experiences, organizations must have accurate ways to measure the value of their CX work, Rajagopal says.

That means using more than the Net Promotor Score (NPS) and instead using additional customer-centric metrics such as the Customer Effort Score and measuring whether CX initiatives bring increased consumer spending.

There’s some movement on that front but not a lot. IDC predicts that at least 30% of organizations will introduce new success metrics to track and measure the internal and external flows of customer value creation by 2024. IDC also predicts that one-fourth of global brands will abandon the Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) as a measure of customer experience and adopt a Customer Effort Score correlated to outcomes as a key indicator of journey satisfaction and success by 2027.

Rajagopal says CIOs can bring in tools that enable such measurements, adding that CIOs can also deploy AI technologies that analyze text and verbal tone, enabling organizations to gauge customer sentiment during interactions.

10. Build CX teams and a true CX discipline

Like other CIOs, Mintz lists attention to hiring the right people as one of his top tasks in support of a strong CX function.

“A large focus of my time is spent on attracting, exciting, and retaining world-class talent and giving them the support they need to use the best of their expertise to deliver on our objectives,” he says.

CIOs should also be attentive to how they organize their talent, Rajagopal says, adding that research shows that organizations with the best CX have specialized CX teams with dedicated resources to execute experience transformation. Furthermore, those teams are coupled with the organization’s digital transformation strategy.

“So the customer experience team is looking across all [functions and touchpoints], asking whether they’re addressing customer needs while also addressing some of the operational constraints,” Rajagopal explains.

Such moves, experts add, enable organizations to move past seeing CX as a series of one-off projects to creating a true CX practice that’s capable of continuous improvement and evolution as market demands change.

Digital Transformation, Software Development