Monday, November 16, 2020

Becoming an Experience-led Company: Part 4

Innovation / Strategy

This blog was co-authored by Jason Cimino, Product Innovation and NY Account Lead; Jonathan Green, Sr Group Experience/Creative Director; Ben Johnson, SVP Emerging Technology; Justin Kaufman, VP Product Engineering, and Ben Wakeman, Sr Director, Head of Product Management.

Customer experience might seem like an intangible thing, but it’s built out of very concrete elements. And we’re not just talking about the foundational building blocks of data, design, and technology. We’re talking about the entire structure of your organization, workflows, and systems. 

Data, design, and technology are the tools you use to craft different aspects of customer experience. But there’s a whole other layer of operational and procedural pieces that facilitate experience.

This is part four of our four-part series for how to transform your business to thrive in the Experience Economy. Read the firstsecond, and third parts here.

Build Operations to Scale Experience

Even though they may not realize it, your customers, employees, and partners are exposed to your operations, processes, and systems with every interaction. These parts of your business may be invisible, but they have a lot of influence on experience. These underlying operations are the framework that supports and enables the front-end of your business. 

Experience-led companies know how to reimagine all these behind-the-scenes processes in a business so that they empower more aligned and proactive participation in creating a great experience. This might look like replacing an outdated intranet with an employee experience strategy that allows for better, more relevant communication, which in turn helps lower operation costs while boosting efficiency. It might be an overhaul of digital operations to ensure more reliable website performance so customers are never left hanging. It might be applying experience methodologies across every point of your supply chain to not only ensure the product gets delivered and suppliers get paid, but that each touchpoint is tied together with a vision.

Get Your Employees on Board

Change happens from the inside out. If you put your employees first, they will be able to put your customers first. And if your employees aren’t bought into being a proactive part of your experience-led transformation, your efforts will fall short. 

The importance of having everyone aligned and working toward delivering a consistent experience ties back to the need for authenticity and empathy. Everyone needs to be fully versed on and committed to the mission. On the other side of the equation, you must give your employees the tools, support, and autonomy they need to successfully deliver on the promises your brand makes.

Empowering your employees to think creatively about the entire experience lifecycle and actively participate in making that experience more delightful creates major benefits for your customers and your brand.

Adopt Agile Ways of Working

Because experience is more a verb than a noun, it’s important that you’re able to adapt to change quickly and efficiently. Agile methodologies are a critical part of achieving the required flexibility at scale. Experience-led companies prioritize the pursuit of exceptional experiences over rigid adherence to a process. They aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo in the name of a better experience. Especially in today’s environment, companies who succeed will embrace the action needed to pivot, reinvent, and innovate and move faster than they thought possible.

This doesn’t mean that experience-led companies are constantly going rogue. Far from it. They employ sophisticated measurement capabilities that allow them to blend data and design to create a virtuous cycle that enables the continuous creation of the ‘next great experience’. Since experience is constantly evolving, experience-led companies invest time and resources in careful monitoring of what’s working and what’s not. This ensures they have a constant flow of insights that inform ongoing improvements.

Tear Down the Silos and Find New Ways to Collaborate

Customer experience is everyone’s job because every role within a company impacts customer experience. This means everyone has something to contribute. To take advantage of all those insights, you need to build an organization that allows for a unified approach and deep collaboration. 

Tearing down silos often flies in the face of traditional company structures that are organized around functional areas and product lines. But the reality is that customer experience doesn’t conform to those artificial boundaries. 

Here is an example of experience-driven innovation that took the combined efforts of many disparate parts of the organization that launched them.

Blue Bottle Coffee — Key Insights Can Come from Anywhere

When Blue Bottle raised $20 million, they knew they wanted to translate the magic of their brick-and-mortar cafes into an equally magical online store, but they weren’t sure where to start. They ended up pulling together a sprint team that included not only the founder and the head programmer, but also the COO, CFO, communications manager, customer service lead, and executive chairman. This was not your traditional software development team, but the decision to include a wide variety of people and expertise paid off. One of the biggest challenges was how to help website visitors determine which coffee to buy. It was the customer service lead’s prompting question, “What do we do in the cafes?” that ultimately led the team to their winning design, which focused on the brew method.

Assemble the Right Team

Every CEO will tell you that employees are a company’s most valuable asset. This is doubly true for experience-led organizations. 

Talent is what sets experience-driven organizations apart because customer experience begins with employees. Employees not only help define experience; they are the ones who deliver it. From the developer building the product to the customer success agent providing user training to the person in accounting who manages billing, each and every member of your team contributes to the experience. 

Making sure that everyone is aligned and able to participate in the overall mission requires that you do two things exceptionally well: recruit the right people and create an environment that empowers them to make a difference.

Recruiting Experience-minded Individuals

Customer experience is every employee’s job. To make sure you’re hiring people well suited to taking on this responsibility, you want to hire for mindset above all else. This means looking for people who are curious, creative, and self-motivated. Often, these people are trained in multiple disciplines. Even if they specialize in one skill set, they appreciate others—think designers who are curious about technology and technologists who understand (and value) pixel-perfect design. 

Recruiting this kind of talent means investing a lot of effort into how you find, grow, and engage the best people. It’s critical to establish trust early in the hiring process and to understand what’s most important to the kinds of candidates you want to reach. Often, what matters most is work-life balance, career development, and opportunities for both ownership and cross-functional collaboration. The team members who will have the biggest impact on experience are the ones who really want a chance to influence the work and the actual outcomes.

Empowering Your Employees

Even the best people will only thrive if put in the right environment. You need a culture free of common problems like excessive process, poor communication, internal politics, and bad leadership. Just as importantly, you need a culture that provides the white-space opportunity for people to engage and be successful without worrying that their ideas will be shot down. This means creating an open and highly collaborative environment that encourages cross pollination and innovation. 

It’s also critical to involve everyone in becoming experience-led. The transformation won’t work if you’re only focusing on customer-facing teams. You need to include support functions like IT, Finance, Human Resources, and Purchasing. From the boardroom to the front line, everyone has to understand and own the vision and the mission. In this paradigm, no area should be considered solely a cost center because everyone has a direct role to play in the experience, which is to say that everyone has a direct role in the overall success of the organization.

Achieving excellence in these two critical areas not only helps you create and maintain a better experience; it also helps strengthen your company in other ways. For example, when back-office employees feel more ownership in the mission, employee retention rates go up (reducing hiring and training costs). Collaboration between functional areas often uncovers operational efficiencies. And, in general, happier, more engaged employees are more productive.

Harness the Right Technology

Technology is obviously an integral part of customer experience, but it’s not its source. The companies that successfully shift to become experience-led are the ones that consider transformation through a business lens, not a technology one. 

There are a few key things to keep in mind when considering technology’s role in becoming experience-led:

  • Start with your vision and business objectives, which are the foundation on which you will build your technology-enabled customer experience.
  • Use blueprinting to guide your transformation and help ensure a well-orchestrated integration of the most appropriate emerging technologies like AI, automation, augmented intelligence, and analytics.
  • Build a technology infrastructure that is flexible and scalable so you can deliver a more sophisticated, fluid, and adaptable customer experience. 
  • Go beyond expectations by thinking well outside the box. To become disruptive, you need to explore new ways to use technology to offer a better experience, one that offers more value and delight.

Welcome to the Next Chapter in Your Company’s Story

The world is changing quickly. Collectively, we are facing many new challenges and discovering many new opportunities. The experience economy is in full swing, and leading companies are already reaping the short- and long-term rewards of investing in experience on a strategic and tactical level.

In the near future, the most successful brands will be the ones led by people who understand that the experience they create is as important as the products and services they deliver. Already, the performance gap is widening dramatically between companies that are embracing experience and companies that are falling behind the curve. 

The good news is that it’s definitely not too late and you don’t have to do everything at once. Becoming a fully experience-led organization ultimately requires that you shift your operational model by adopting the right mindset, setting up the right company structure, and building the right team. But, in the meantime, even small experience-based improvements and innovations can drive game-changing business outcomes. 

You can start almost anywhere. The opportunities are everywhere if you know where to look. We believe in the power of experience and are passionate about helping companies define and deliver on their experience-led transformation. Download our POV to learn how to become a company that is able to envision and execute exceptional digital experiences.