If you are responsible for leading a customer experience effort at your brand, you may have already felt how daunting those first steps are. Everyone wants a clear line of sight to a successful finish—a measurably better customer experience. However, correctly figuring out those first steps without the advantages of having a crystal ball or the experience of doing this kind of work before is quite the challenge!

Conventional wisdom (and your boss) may tell you to measure where you are first, then to make incremental improvements so that you can get ‘there’ (to the goal of improving the customer’s experience). The challenges with that approach are:

  • The time it takes to get today’s pulse takes too long and the measurements often don’t relate well to what customers want the business or brand to become going forward.
  • Customer experience goals are often poorly defined and they keep changing.
  • Department leaders may not be on the same page. They bring their own (very different) ideas on the best ways to make progress.

If the situation just described seems to fit, but you want more dramatic gains with your customer experience initiatives, consider focusing your efforts first on your front-line employeesi. They already know what’s wrong with the experience. They also know what’s wrong with the connection points to the back-end systems that need to change in order for the experience to truly get better.

  1. Ask your front-line employees “What is the one thing that would make your job better?”

    After you get the one-eyebrow-up look, and hear the “What do you mean?” question, make sure to share your personal support, affirm that your question is serious, push for a specific answer (including examples where possible), and reassure every individual that his or her job is not at risk.

  2. Arrange each of the ideas, comments, complaints, and suggestions in a way for everyone to get more value.

    Here’s how. Move the index cards or sticky notes (you took your interview notes on them, right?) onto a grid with the stages of customer experience on the x-axis and the situation on the y-axis. Using situations is a smart way to organize. It puts focus on cause and effect, not on people and departments or systems. Your grid might look like this (multiple notes per cell are expected):

    • Aware
    • Compare
    • Buy
    • Use
    • Share
    • Malfunction
    • Misunderstanding
    • Poor Service
    • Wasted Time
    • Confusing Software
    • Add Your Own Here…
  3. index cards or sticky notes

  4. Create a dependency diagram that shows how the ideas, comments, complaints, and suggestions connect to each other.

    Your dependence diagram might look something like a molecule or a Tinker Toy® constructed model. Use lines to connect issues that ‘ripple’. For example: poorly performing call-center software that requires lookups on multiple screens may impact call time for clients, training time for employees, call volumes, and call center costs. You get the picture!

  5. Do something to make the front-line experience better for your employees.

    Pick one situation to fix. Don’t look only for low-hanging fruit or an easy win…those solutions generally don’t last. Instead, look for ‘first dominoes’, those projects which, when finished, cascade forward making it easier for the next project aimed at improving the customer experience to be successful.

  6. improving the customer experience

  7. Follow up with each idea contributor.

    Share with them how their contribution was used and/or how it morphed into or was combined with another idea. This is a critical step in the process because it proves that you are listening and tells everyone that you’re really going to do something with their thinking.

  8. Communicate your intentions and ask for feedback.

    Once you know what situation you are going to improve and have turned the dependency diagram into a project plan, tell your team/company before beginning the build. You’re not asking permission here, you’re just reaffirming your follow-through promise and showing respect for your employees by providing a heads up.

  9. 7—It’s time to implement.

    Make sure that everyone building, installing, training, testing, or otherwise helping on the project is familiar with the sticky note grid, the dependency diagram, and the intention of the project. It may be boring for you to repeat what you’ve already lived through and experienced first hand, but remember that to everyone else this may be new. Giving your team the experience of discovery is essential to getting a great solution from them!

Bottom line results come from winning adoption for changes within the business that make the customer experience better. Using an employee-first perspective is a (usually) quick and effective way to make the necessary improvements—with everyone’s support. The employee-first approach doesn’t require much quantitative research, proceeds quickly, keeps people connected, and sets up a reusable best practice for follow-on projects.

Mike-Wittenstein-03Mike Wittenstein
Mike Wittenstein calls himself ‘a designer who can’t draw’. He’s a pioneer with several start-ups and consulting practices under his belt, a client roster of 400+ companies in 25 countries, who claim $1.5B+ in additional value from their work with him. Currently, Mike is the founder and managing principal at Storyminers in Atlanta, GA. He and his team help retail and service firm leadership teams improve their customer experiences with a unique combination of experience, service, and business design. Mike’s favorite assignments are ‘Store of the Future’ and ‘Sustainable CX Innovation Platforms’. He’s a family man, speaks four languages, and squeezes in furniture design/build projects on the weekends.

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