The five pillars of the sustained customer experience planning process

A sustained customer experience planning process is as much about stakeholder engagement as it is innovation management.

Tamas Tuzes-Katai, Unsplash

Digital innovation opportunities that improve the quality of customers’ engagement are hard won. There’s a lot at stake, and a sustained customer experience planning process that delivers them is as much about stakeholder engagement as it is innovation management.

Every customer experience (CX) programme needs a collective of people at its core, with a clear ‘reason for being’. They’ll ‘see the light’ that customer’s cast on the current model’s inadequacies, and must also be prepared to begin imagining what no one else can, as the closest people to the source of ‘truth’: the voice of the customer. That insight can be used to pilot and implement successful new service concepts and microservices to meet and exceed customer expectations.

However, it’s not unusual for leaders to face challenges when instituting and formalising the process of managing their CX. Whilst enclaves within their organisations may advocate for CX being at the centre of business decision-making, they can also face the stumbling blocks of achieving financial investment for foundational efforts. When establishing and instituting the process, one of the biggest questions asked is, ‘how do we attend to what’s most important?’

In response, here outlined, are five pillars of the sustained customer experience planning process, which have emerged from my work within one of the world’s ‘top 100 most innovative companies’ and as an advisor to multinational enterprises (MNE) including automotive OEMs, both mainstream and premium, and other customer-focused organisations. These pillars are ‘food for thought’ for any established organisation seeking to formalise its CX planning process.

Pillar 1: Futureproofed customer journey mapping

If the intent is to act on, and improve, parts of the customer journeys which make up your CX, not only is it important that all journeys are mapped in their entirety, end-to-end, they must also be labelled or ‘tagged’ with a unique ID. Coding or tagging of parts of the journey ensures that as and when operating models are augmented, such as adding a new microservice, you know which of the coded elements have been improved or replaced.

Coding also enables you to track the performance of a portion of the journey, linking any performance measures and providing a history. This will enable conversations about improving, replacing or sunsetting services to be more constructive and evidence-based. You can link initiatives in your innovation portfolio to specific portions of the customer journey, by referencing a portion’s ID.

This process requires investment and is painstaking work. However, it lays the foundation for all future activities. It enables swifter processes for communicating change and finding alignment internally regarding CX investment within your organisation, and is useful for briefing internal agile teams or external agile design-and-build agencies.

This customer experience planning process activity will need to be sustained indefinitely. And, at some point in the future, there will be a revision to the way you operate. In that eventuality, it is much simpler to remap existing IDs than start a map anew.

Whilst a spreadsheet can be a good starting point to document the parts of your end-to-end customer journey, you can run into limitations further down the line. There are multiple SaaS tools on the market that support customer journey mapping. However, consider that whatever you enter into a SaaS tool, needs to be easily extracted, and should retain your ID structure and naming conventions in the process of doing so.

This is important if you need to move from one SaaS product to another. SaaS products come and go, and the continuity of your customer experience planning process, to some degree, is contingent on systems being in place, and your data easily transferable.

Pillar 2: Clear review process intent

The voice-of-the-customer should be used to shape, iterate and improve parts of the customer journeys that constitute your CX. It can also be said that the strategic intent behind the review process of the end-to-end customer journey is to interrogate the customer journey, listen to customers, and identify pain points and ‘frictions’, so that they can be removed or reduced at a level of investment that is financially sustainable for the organisation.

It is important to clearly articulate and communicate this intent to all project team members responsible for defining and developing review activities, so that they execute this role with vigour. This should include commissioning research by impartial research agencies covering both broad and shallow mapping of frictions across the end-to-end journey, and narrow and deep mapping of frictions in specific areas of the end-to-end journey.

All analysis has a shelf life and research should be scheduled to be refreshed frequently on a semi-annual basis as part of a continuous review process program. It’s like the painting of the Forth Bridge; no sooner than a cycle is complete, should it begin again. This ensures the insight remains valid, and your investments still well-aligned to current, relevant insight. Customer research that is out of date can quickly become a liability.

It is possible to accomplish this without fully coded customer journey maps. However, for a sustained customer experience planning process, there are advantages to overlaying frictions and pain points from research directly onto coded customer journeys, including the provision of evidence sets required for business cases for investment in innovation.

Pillar 3: Proactive CX trendscape and intelligence gathering

Insights gathered from customers about the customer journey which make up your CX will not be collected in a vacuum. Whilst the subject of the customer research is your CX and the related pain points and frictions, their experience of your CX, also occurs against a backdrop of current CX best practice or emerging trends which your customers find compelling. They’ll often say, ‘Why can’t it just be like it is on the Nationwide app?’, or ‘It should be as easy as booking a delivery slot on Ocado?’, or even, ‘I used to get a notification for this type of thing, when I had my Infiniti SUV. Can’t it be like that?’.

That is one of the reasons why there is a requirement for a role for a team member within the CX planning process to build and maintain an up-to-date map of CX trends inside your industry and beyond. Critically analyse companies that are ‘born digital’ which may be outside of your industry, such as pure play direct-to-consumer brands or platforms. A ‘butterfly collection’ of compelling experiences should be assembled and openly discussed with decision-makers to depict trends and the realms of possibility.

Do not be confined to geographical boundaries in your analysis. Developing countries often do not have legacy infrastructure to dismantle and can ‘jump to the frontier’ with ease by adopting what is new. So, foster a curiosity for CX trends in countries such as India or in the UAE, to name but a few. You may find they are ahead of the curve, and it is not uncommon for multinational organisations to have differing levels of new technology adoption in different geographies.

You should also include a market analysis to identify and gather intelligence on your brand’s competition in its segment and its nearest rival – a company which directly competes for its customers and has the capability to conquest its customers using a range of service and marketing technologies. Consider whether you are playing catch up or keep up regarding specific portions of the end-to-end journey with your nearest rival.

Pillar 4: Test all forward thinking

The CX planning process can reach the state of being ‘sustained’ when insight is intentionally and systematically transformed into new experiences and research is in motion. The act of doing this involves thinking about the future and beyond the immediate financial or performance year. This kind of forward-thinking vision should be created twice: once in the minds of the extended team drawn from insight and innovation planning; and, secondly, ‘in the world’ as prototypes, pilots and fully-implemented roll outs.

Prototypes can be designed and tested in as little as five days using the design sprint methodology. However, if you want to ensure your path to introducing new experiences to the world is unimpeded, it is wise to consider the minimum viable bureaucracy (MVB) acceptable to the organisation – just enough bureaucracy to make things work. When addressing MVB new pilot or roll out will have ‘sign off’ points that are peculiar to each (about 20%) and common governance checkpoints that ‘cut across’ all (the remaining 80%).

As with the 80:20 rule, the cross-cutting governance (the 80%) will be relatively routine and take less time, and the ‘peculiarities’ (the 20%) will take longer, as each requires new perspective and new lines of inquiry. Testing your forward thinking, then, is a delicate balance between insight and innovation management, and governance in MVB form. You cannot have the art without the management science if you want your process to be sustained into the future.

Pillar 5: Monitor and steer

Monitoring and steering the CX planning process can be split into two main activity types: performance and sentiment evaluation of the customer journey experiences in-flight; and, the forming or shaping of decisions so they can be taken by decision makers.

Decision science is central to both activity types. The performance and sentiment evaluation information you collect will be part of the decisions that you form. And, the forming or shaping of decisions should use a well-established process which presents alternatives and produces a final choice, which may or may not result in an action.

If you lead a brand that is a key foreign market, separate from the home market HQ, then your steering committee may well include an international component.

If you are a lead market for innovation in CX in an MNE, then care should be taken to create a window on your activity which can be observed by other geographies who may be seeking to reduce their innovation spend by ‘fast following’ your activities. Present to other geographies the full picture of project challenges, so that they can prepare themselves appropriately, adopting what you have achieved in their own geography.

Moving forward with support

With the five pillars in place, you have the foundational elements for a sustained customer experience planning process. From this point you will be well on your journey towards co-creating a‘near-to frictionless CX which meets or exceeds the current expectations of customers, with a prioritised pipeline of customer-validated improvements, to be implemented at a cadence that is financially sustainable for the organisation.

I hope you find the pillars useful on your path to establishing a sustained customer experience planning process. It can often be useful to seek support to outline the step-by-step ‘strategic staircase’ for implementation, based on the peculiarities of your challenge and the internal environment where you seek to establish your process. Moving forward with the support of an advisor, can shortcut the setup time for your operation considerably, as they assist you in piecing together your process from an objective standpoint.

Want to learn more about mapping and planning customer experiences? I’d love to chat about how we could help.

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