In the early days of running Customer Experience programmes, demand was primarily about implementing customer feedback survey systems.  It was about giving the customer a voice, allowing them to be heard and using the data to drive improvements in customer service.  Whilst this could be implemented across all customer touch-points and results given in real-time, the data was solicited and controlled and failed to give a full account of the true Customer Experience.

Roll-on 5 years and the customer insight business looks almost unrecognisable from these simple customer feedback systems. Technological advances in automated analytics and the explosion of the social media space, where customers are not afraid to voice their opinion in ‘real time’ and ‘all of the time’, offers organisations a vastly increased sea of data including the emotional and sub-conscious responses of their customers.  However, today a successful Customer Experience programme is about more than just the customer data; it requires many integrated elements working together to deliver actionable insight.

In this article, Dave Howard, CEO of InsightNow Ltd looks at the critical success factors and how you integrate all the key elements required to deliver a successful Customer Experience (CE) programme, which increases the quality and value of the delivered customer experience.

Base Camp
The success of any change programme is underpinned by the relationship between what you do and what you expect to achieve. Designing and implementing a CE programme should provide a clear line of sight between actions and outcomes to significantly increase the probability of success.

Effective CE programmes are supported by key enablers that provide a firm foundation and create a sustainable environment upon which the programme can be built – a bit like ‘Base Camp’.  The following diagram presents the key elements that must be in place:

The starting point is having well-defined brand attributes that resonate with your target customer base. In the mobile telephone sector, we know that there are  clear differences in the way customers associate with a brand depending on age, location, usage patterns and the type of product or service purchased. For instance, the needs and behaviours of pay-as-you-go customers are very different to  those on a contract. Pay-as-you-go customers are buying a commodity service where cost and features offered are paramount. Often they will have multiple SIM cards, for different providers, and use whichever represents the best value at a given point in time. Developing a CE programme to maximise the value of this community will require a very different approach to that adopted for a contract pay-monthly customer whose needs and loyalty behaviours are totally different. This may sound obvious but many of the clients we have worked with have made the mistake of trying to harmonise their CE programme without recognising the distinct differences that exist across their customer base.

Take the retail supermarket sector, a recent assignment  highlighted significant differences between customers who use their smaller convenience stores, compared with those using the traditional supermarkets. For convenience store users, particularly those who use stores located in stations, the ability to find and purchase the desired goods were the two key drivers of customer experience. In this context a customer’s time is extremely precious and they are focussed buyers of a limited number of goods. Given this backdrop the odds are stacked against the retailer to deliver a ‘Wow’ customer experience, largely because the customers don’t want or expect to be ‘Wowed’. What they want is to grab their shopping and get on their train and find a seat and have a comfortable journey. Understanding this context is vital when designing a target customer experience.

Another issue we see repeatedly is corporate slogans that advocate customer centric behaviour but don’t penetrate into the DNA of the organisation – a great strap-line gives nothing if it doesn’t then permeate into product design or service delivery.  Strap-lines such as  “customers are at the centre of everything we do” can be very powerful if they are translated into a target customer experience based on care or customer centricity. The counterpoint to disconnected corporate strap-lines is when CEOs decide to unpick them and really understand if the strap-line is a true reflection of the delivered customer experience.

In a recent assignment for a retail client the CEO wanted to understand if their brand promise was true and, more importantly, appreciate what the specific attributes of the Customer Experience were that made people either love or hate the shopping experience. Connecting the brand promise with the current CE, and then using the gaps to design a target CE for the specific customer segments is the lynchpin of any successful programme.

The other two enablers are what we refer to as the Voice of the Customer (VoC) and the Voice of the Operation (VoO). To give a true picture, the VoC data should be gathered across all touchpoints and be related to specific customer journeys. For instance, when we have reviewed customer feedback for claims customer journeys, the potential for delight and dismay varies throughout the lifecycle of the claim. In the beginning, the opportunity to create a great customer experience exists by making it easy for the customer to make a claim,  removing any barriers or concerns that exist. The key here is to focus on the key outcome the customer wants, such as a  refund or a replacement of goods or services, and not the actual claims process. The difference is subtle, but important. To put it simply, if I damage my mobile phone then I want a replacement as quickly as possible. A claim is a means to an end and the focus of the customer journey should be on the drama free replacement not the claim process.

One area where we see that claims journeys have the potential to damage the customer experience is unmanaged hand-offs.  In the world of car insurance this typically occurs with third party claims assessors or repair centres. Unless the VoC feedback is collected and analysed at distinct points in customer journeys, root cause analysis and optimisation won’t be possible and problems within these value destroying and costly touchpoints will not be highlighted.

The VoO then looks from the inside-out and gives a complementary view of the efficiency and effectiveness of internal processes and procedures, providing valuable data about the effectiveness of customer journeys judged from an internal perspective. It can be thought of as an extension time and motion study where value adding and value detracting elements of customer journeys are identified and quantified.

Combining both the VoC and the VoO creates a well-informed heat map for the steps in each customer journey that have potential for:

  • Inefficient service provision.
  • Contact avoidance through either channel substitution or elimination of unnecessary contacts.
  • Customer delight/dismay through ‘Wows’ and ‘Glitches’.

Analysis from these two perspectives, for each of the major customer segments, is the final part of the foundation that secures the journey to ‘Base Camp’, providing the foundations and the preparation for the final ascent.

Moving the Dials

When we talk to board level executives about their success criteria for CE programmes invariably the answers are startlingly simple and can be summarised as follows:

  1. To understand the levers that influence the target CE and the relationship between the target CE and desired outcomes.
  2. To understand the relationship between customer and financial outcomes to provide a robust business case for implementing and sustaining a CE programme.  For instance what Net Promoter Score (NPS) yields the optimum cost to serve and customer lifetime value?
  3. To define a realistic timeline for changes in target outcomes to materialise. In other words how long will it take to “move the dials” on the key outcome Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and what is the level of confidence associated with the cause and effect relationship with the levers?

Point 3 hits at the very essence of a CE programme.  Without the clear line of sight between changes to the input levers and the expected movement in target KPIs (both customer and financial), programmes will succeed or fail by accident rather than design.

The following diagram seeks to encapsulate all of this; providing that line of sight and confidence that the desired outcomes and timeline expectations are achievable.


At the heart of the process should be a robust mathematical model that identifies the levers, that impact a given outcome, whether that be customer spend or cost to serve. Typically we would seek to identify the smallest number of levers that are responsible for 80% of impact upon that outcome.  The source data comes from the VoC and VoO feedback systems and customer journeys. Producing and calibrating this model can be a revelation and is a real game-changer. It crystallises the case for action and provides the underlying catalyst to initiate and sustain a CE programme based on hard facts rather than intuitive expectations of the benefits.

Critical Success Factors (CSFs)
Successful customer experience programmes are not about technology deployment and can’t be implemented out-of the box. In our experience CE programmes fail primarily because the links between what you do and what you expect to get are not well understood or internalised throughout the organisation. In part this is a measurement issue, but sourcing and collecting the “right” data is key. The real issue is making sense of it and having the confidence to act on the data.  In our experience the following are the four CSFs that all successful CE programmes share:

  1. A clear understanding of the financial benefits that will flow from improving the quality of the customer experience. Without a complementary and compelling financial imperative, CE programmes will falter.
  2. A defined target CE, tailored to each segment, supported by a robust model that allows the cause and effect relationships between the levers and the outcomes to be used to prioritise the interventions that will have the greatest impact on the desired customer and business outcomes.
  3. A willingness to optimise the target CE to suit local variations in service provision, operational competencies and customer expectations.
  4. Setting clear targets and providing a clear feedback loop that keeps customers informed of actions taken on their behalf and allows continual adjustment of the levers that impact the desired outcomes.


CE programmes are underpinned by hard economics supported by integrated KPIs and a belief and value system that pervades the entire operation.


Dave Howard is the Chief Executive and joint founder of InsightNow Limited. He has been at the forefront of large scale service delivery since 1995 when he co-founded Catalyst IT Partners, the UK’s leading independent contact centre consultancy. During this period Dave worked as both a business and technical architect for blue-chip organisations worldwide, designing, implementing and optimising contact centres for over 50 clients.

Dave’s professional ambition is to change the way contact centres interact with their customers to create a much deeper and robust understanding of what makes a great and profitable customer experience that can be delivered with passion and purpose by engaged employees.

Dave has held a number of positions in financial services, management consultancies, software development companies and engineering companies and is an active non-executive director for several customer focused companies

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