A lot of organizations talk about delivering a great customer experience—and many of them do just that. Far too often, though, it’s by happenstance. And it never quite reaches the “wow” point. You know … the type of experience that gets customers talking to each other, spreading the word, and actually attracting new business by doing the heavy lifting for you.
 
That kind of “wow” takes more than just listening to the customer service department or your customers and reacting to what you hear.
 
Don’t get me wrong—listening is great! I certainly advocate for more listening to the voice of the customer and voice of the employee in any experience design. Problem is, if you do only that, it’s essentially starting at the end point and skipping most of the fundamentals that will keep that experience strong, stable, and talked about for years to come.
 

Leadership needs to drive the fundamentals

Where to begin? It starts by getting your house in order at the most basic level first—something only leaders can drive. You need to look at the basic foundations on which your organization is built.
 
Think about your own company and what I call “The Customer Experience Ecosystem.”

Customer Experience Ecosystem

The Ecosystem is focused on delivering a superior, sustainable experience that employees can embrace, internalize, and consistently deliver to drive customer loyalty.
 
Working outward from the center, that experience is heavily influenced by a defined brand—the promise that the organization makes and delivers to its customers—that permeates the entire organization. The success of that brand, in turn, is determined by the health of the organization’s culture and the level of workforce engagement. How in tune are employees with the culture? And how engaged are they in delivering on the brand promise?
 
The level of employee engagement, the health of the culture, the strength of the brand, and ultimately, the delivery of an outstanding customer experience are built upon a number of areas that work integrally as the basis of a strong organization. Starting at the top of the diagram (just to the left and working clockwise), they include:
 
  • Position & Corporate Narrative. This is the space you hold in your customers’ minds (your place in their selection set) and the unique, ownable story the entire organization understands, can clearly tell, and delivers upon.
 
  • Vision/Mission/Values. These should be defined, simple, and realistic so that they’re integral to each and every employee’s job and success. All should clearly understand where the organization is going and the rules of the road for getting there. That means they’re lived within your walls, not simply in a frame on the wall.
 
  • Leadership. Leaders’ roles in delivering and supporting the brand promise should be clearly understood. You should have a plan for engagement and regular two-way communications with staff and customers to ensure the organization is proactive in delivering internal and external experiences.
 
  • Organizational Development. This area plays a key role in creating and executing plans for building culture, understanding the brand, and continued training in delivering on the experience.
 
  • HR: Employee Attraction/Retention. Employee onboarding that includes cultural clarity, brand immersion, and ongoing fit with vision/mission/values is crucial to a seasoned, engaged workforce. It’s an employee’s first touchpoint with the brand and the expectations of delivering the promise from the very start.
 
  • Internal Communications. Help keep engagement levels high by keeping staff and key stakeholders up to speed with a defined communications plan that shares successes, areas of improvement, and real-time events.
 
  • Experience Design. How you plan and set up the customer and employee experiences needs to be well thought out, with defined behaviors at each and every touchpoint. Most organizations don’t have an intentional, repeatable, and sustainable customer experience plan. But the most successful ones do … and it’s continuously evaluated and improved.
 
  • Marketing Strategy. This is where key audiences, messaging platforms, market insights, brand advantages, and available resources are brought together to create a plan to attract and engage prospects. Marketing should share customer insights company-wide to ensure a consistent customer experience at every point of contact.
 
  • Creative Execution. The best-laid plans are just that, unless they get to work by clearly and engagingly differentiating your organization and products from the competition through big ideas that get customers to take notice. You may have a great product, but unless the messaging truly moves and engages the audience, you’re not going to end up with a “wow” experience.
 
  • Sales & Customer Service. All is for naught if one-on-one contact fails to deliver on the promises of the brand and marketing materials. These need to be closely aligned to deliver a seamless customer experience. You need to develop standardized behaviors, expectations, and materials that provide confidence to these teams and a consistent experience for the customer.
 

Your employees are your brand

Ultimately, all of these together determine the type of experience customers have with the organization at every touchpoint. It impacts what they think, how they feel, whether they’ll buy from you again, and whether they’ll tell others about the experience, be it good or bad.
 
The power for that experience is in the employees’ hands … thus the brand is in their hands, as well. And brand is the lens through which customers view you and must be the lens for defining performance.
 
Employees have to understand the brand promise and their role in delivering on it. They need to have the ability to make real-time, market-based decisions. They’re closest to the customers. And they’re the ones who will ultimately define the experience. But they need the building blocks—a functioning ecosystem which only leaders can provide—if they’re to be truly successful in the long run.