Why Is Everyone Talking About Customer Experience?

The short answer: because it is the foundation of everything a business does in its attempts to connect with clients and prospects.

"Customer experience is the sum-totality of how customers engage with your company and brand, not just in a snapshot in time, but throughout the entire arc of being a customer."

~ Adam Richardson, Harvard Business ReviewSide note: customer experience (CX) is sometimes conflated with user experience (UX), but they are not the same thing. Customer experience is the broader scope of how someone interacts with your organization, whereas user experience is usually about a more specific interaction, such as with a website. Read more on the difference in this great post by Jerry Ao at UXPin.

Okay, moving on...

I love technology and finding ways to apply it to marketing objectives in order to optimize and measure results. But this is one of those instances where technology isn't going to address customer experience challenges such as knowing 1) who my clients and prospective clients are, 2) what they want/need, 3) how to reach them, and 4) what to say to them when I do. And these answers change at every stage of the customer journey. I work at a law firm, so my marketing efforts needed to reach the customer before they even know they need representation (awareness stage), and this requires different marketing strategy/tactics/channels than the stage at which they have a specific legal problem that requires hiring counsel. And this stage requires different tactics than reaching them when you have just wrapped up a matter and you are hoping they will be a referral for you down the line.

To truly get into the mind of your clients and prospects to visualize what their experience is - and to adjust your marketing accordingly - requires brainstorming and workshopping and interviews and research and testing. It requires a willingness to let go of expectations and truly listen to what your data show you. You need to get out your whiteboards, colored sticky notes, markers, and other design tools and get to it. (Man, do these folks love sticky notes.)

A month ago, to strengthen my abilities in this area I attended a highly-respected conference on the subject, UI22. Eight full-day experience workshops led by industry experts. As the conference name suggests, this was their 22nd year holding the event. They really know what they are doing. It was an amazing week of interactive workshops attended by service designers and product managers and CMOs and CEOs from across all industries. What follows are just three of the many customer experience exercises we worked on. They should be helpful as you get started thinking about your own organization's understanding of customer experience.

EXERCISE 1: PERSONA DEVELOPMENT

Who are the audiences that interact with your business, and what are their needs? For law firms, this includes current clients, prospective clients, the media, summer associates, referrals, and lateral attorney hires. Composite sketches of your key personas will help you deliver relevant content where they are most likely to receive it, in a format that will be useful to them.

There are dozens of templates out there for personas. They all ask for the same basic information (profile, key attributes, needs), so don't worry about which template you use. For this workshop exercise at UI22, the challenge was to develop personas of people who ride mass transit - specifically, Boston's MBTA, or Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (known as "the T").

We identified Sam the Student and Edward the Employed. The key attributes and needs of the bike-riding student are very different from those of an older, time-crunched 9-to-5 worker, and crafting their personas helped identify the features they would want to see in a mass transit system. Sam the Student needs bike racks, late night schedules, student discounts, and wifi. Edward the Employed needs predictable schedules, a quiet comfortable ride, and connection to other mass transit (airports and Amtrak).

Buffer's Kevan Lee is a great resource for articles on content strategy - here is one of his posts on personas. And HubSpot has a good persona tutorial here.

EXERCISE 2: CUSTOMER JOURNEY MAPPING

A customer journey map follows each persona on every step of their journey to help focus on how to best serve them. What are they expecting to see? How can you improve the quality of the interaction? Can you pull out ahead of a competitor by differentiating the service you provide at a particular stage?

At the UI22 workshop, we drafted the journey of Sam the Student as he checked the website for train schedules, then went on Twitter to look for any tweets about delays, biked to the station, bought a student pass, got his bike through the turnstile, found a train car that allowed bikes, and on until he arrived at his class and locked up his bike.

As you can imagine, we identified many ways a mass transit agency could either simplify or frustrate the customer experience at each step depending on how well the service is designed. Before this day-long workshop ended, we were sent out into the city to become Sam the Student, finding our way to the train station, purchasing a ticket, and getting back to the conference hotel. (If you've never ridden Boston mass transit before - and maybe even if you have - trust me, this was an eye-opening activity that drove home the importance of understanding the smallest details of the customer experience.)

Want to take this exercise back to your team? Try putting yourself in the shoes of one of your personas, and walk through every step they take with your organization. Is it easy to find information on Google and other search engines? Is your website designed in a logical manner for their needs? What if someone calls reception or an 800 number - will the receptionist/IVR be able to handle their questions effectively and efficiently? What greets them when they enter your lobby? What about billing statements - are they providing all of the information the persona expects to see? After the transaction is over, how are you ensuring the customer will speak well of your organization? What is your journey map for when things go wrong?

"A Customer Journey Map is a living thing, not a #$*@! deliverable" ~ Marc Stickdorn

EXERCISE 3: EMPATHY MAPS

Empathy maps go hand in hand with journey maps (and help you dig deeper at each step of the journey) as you try to understand how your persona is feeling at the various stages of interaction with your organization. They help you identify the right solution to offer. In the law firm example, we know that one of the first needs in the journey of the potential client is figuring out the law firm's bona fides. They are thinking "has this firm handled legal issues like mine before?" They are feeling cautious and concerned, and are hoping for proof that the firm can handle their matter. So...now that we know this, what can we offer to ease these concerns? We can offer case studies that detail the work that we have done in that particular area. We can provide client and industry testimonials that show we are top-ranked in this line of work. We can make it easy for them to find this information by ensuring our website has been optimized for search engine visibility.

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The three examples above are just a few of the customer experience exercises we workshopped at the conference. There are a plethora of resources available as you start your own forays into customer experience, and it can be overwhelming. Here are a few resources I've found helpful in getting started:

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