Do You Understand Your Customer?

Customer Experience (CX) is a proven path to sustained growth and profitability. It makes sense – give customers and buying teams what they value, when and in the format they want it. Yet, operationalizing this simple concept continues to vex organizations. While adoption has been slow, we’re finally heralding in the year of Customer Experience. We’re at a critical point in the evolution of customer experience. CGS’ annual report “A Look Ahead: Business Process Outsourcing Trends in 2020”, found that companies of all sizes have as their top 2020 priorities improving customer experience and cost-effective operations. Organizations realize the time for talk is over, and they need to ‘walk the walk.’ A prime catalyst is that prospects are quick to discern brands that do not compete on customer experience. Those brands are eliminated early on in purchase and renewal cycles. At the core of CX adoption are two issues. The first is that customer experience requires a mind shift from viewing it as a tactic to embracing the discipline as a business strategy that touches every corner of the organization. The second is gaining an actionable, current “outside-in” understanding of the customer – the “hows” and “whys” of their actions and expectations. The study found five trends prevalent across company sizes and over 30 industries:
  • Focus on customers and costs
  • Harden data security
  • Strengthen in-house customer care and technical support core competencies
  • Manage IT infrastructure change
  • Shift technology investments
At heart is a growing focus to understand customers and the experiences they value. Companies are figuring out that customers reward brands that engage them on their terms. That means understanding how various types of customers define value along with when, how, and why they want brands to interact with them. As I’ve written about for a decade, the customer owns defining the journey, not the brand. It is the brand’s responsibility to align their strategy, people, process, and technologies to the customer’s expectations. Do that, and sustained growth is yours. While it might seem counter-intuitive, business process outsourcing plays a more significant role in customer experience than just cost savings. The study found that 48 percent of companies, of all sizes, have as their top strategic outsourcing the goal to ‘provide better customer experience.’ That goal cascades down the organization and is reflected in the objectives of departments that use outsourcing. For example, the primary goal of customer service and operations departments is to provide a better customer experience. For Finance, it is process standardization to improve efficiency and consistent delivery. IT departments rely on outsourcers to help them stay current on technology to meet business goals. While every company’s needs are different, BPO providers bring expertise and resources essential to leveraging automation in customer interactions, hardening customer data security and compliance, and CX best practices from other industries. Technologies like chatbots, virtual assistants, RPA, analytics, immersive training, real-time automated coaching, and artificial intelligence are table stakes for successful CX. Yet the technology choices available can be overwhelming. What sounds good on paper or in a demo can, in reality, be challenging to integrate into a company’s enterprise ecosystem. Knowing when and how to fit new technologies into your customer engagement strategy is one area where BPO can make a big difference. The experience of serving multiple clients across numerous industries enables BPO vendors to lead as well as teach best practices on how to satisfy customers and meet business goals. Just as customers expect more from the brands they do business with, so too are companies demanding more from their BPO partners. As CX continues to top the list of strategic imperatives, companies are increasingly looking to their outsourcing partners for help beyond traditional services by filling an internal resource or skill gaps. Over 50 percent of study respondents said they look to their BPO partners for help in customer experience transformation, customer journey mapping, and implementing new supporting systems. Selecting the right BPO partner is more than finding the right capabilities match – it’s about establishing a trusted, long-term relationship. At stake is the future of the customer – and your business. The study found that companies are evaluating outsourcing partners based on how they align with the company’s vision, goals, and culture. That is in addition to a demonstrable track record of delivering ROI in the form of improved efficiencies and lower costs. Evaluating how outsourcers manage their own business is increasingly part of the selection process. How do they onboard new employees, conduct training, enforce business policies, communicate internally, and govern their business are just a few due diligence areas. Relationship ‘fit’ cannot be overstated – it is a significant determining factor in the success of the outsourcing partnership and the results realized, especially when it comes to CX goals. The key to realizing the top and bottom-line benefits of customer experience is to align your culture, strategy, and processes outward to customer journeys then institutionalize new practices, processes, and behaviors with automation technology. While some brands still stubbornly perceive customer experience as a tactic, a marketing campaign, or a new label for the customer support function, increasingly companies embrace it as a mindset, a business strategy, and discipline that the entire organization must master. It all starts by understanding your customers, through their eyes, in detail. BPO outsourcers can be valuable, trusted partners to gaining and operationalizing that understanding so you can use customer experience as a brand differentiator.

3 Things That Drive Efficiency in Customer Experience

Customer experience has been heralded as a new differentiator in the CGS 2019 BPO Look Ahead Report. The results of the report point out that CEOs should focus on improving the overall customer experience in order to boost brand visibility and customer efficiency in 2019. Firms that measure and improve customer experience are on the rise. While that shouldn’t be a surprise, it is for many leaders. For many, customer experience are tactics that help improve customer acquisition and encourage repeat purchases. By viewing customer experience so narrowly companies are missing the operational efficiencies that come from aligning customers’ expectations with business workflows and company culture. There are over 30 areas where efficiencies can be gained. They range from product roadmaps, field service/maintenance, employee onboarding, and channel/alliances to technology ecosystems and agile outsourcing. It’s a mindset, a business discipline and a strategy. How much you can gain is limited only by how well your organization can embrace change and by how deeply you understand customers’ expectations. The place to start is by developing that deep understanding with journey mapping.  Done correctly each “map” will clearly tell you what and how interactions should be handled: By technology such as chatbots; by an employee in-person, by phone or email; or by a third party such as a BPO partner.


Journey maps document the details of the steps, decisions, content sought, emotions and expectations that customers’ persona engage in during the relationship lifecycle. Each map includes all digital, physical and social actions taken with any brand engaged with, not just your company. To gain the level of actionable detail needed to identify cost efficiencies, the best approach is outside-in and qualitative journey mapping at the market persona level. Approach journey mapping by first identifying which target markets are strategic to your future growth. Define each market in terms of geography, demographics, and buyer personas/roles. Agree on what overall journey model methodology your company will adopt so each journey map(s) utilizes a common set of definitions, techniques and structure. The resulting maps should be fine-grained documentation of every action taken throughout the relationship lifecycle. It should take approximately 30 to 45 days to journey map each market.


Journey mapping reveals where misalignments are between customer interaction expectations – physical, digital, content, etc. – and business processes.  Some misalignments are annoyances, others are severe enough to drive churn. One of my SaaS software clients had multiple teams involved in onboarding new users with frequent interactions. Once users were trained, customer communications shifted to generic emails sent once or twice a year by a customer success representative, not always from the same person. Customers wanted the exact opposite; they wanted to interact with the same team members for the life of the contract. They also wanted quarterly phone calls on how to use the software more effectively and monthly emails that were personalized to their industry and use case. In response, the company reorganized it onboarding, implementation, customer support and renewal sales teams and streamline processes to align with the customer journey maps and expectations. The result was reduced churn, increased product usage and customer satisfaction. Identify the misalignments by conducting gap analyses of current workflows compared to the aggregated journey maps. Aggregation of journey maps identifies common experiences and actions across market segments. By conducting gap analysis at each stage of the lifecycle, efficiency opportunities become very clear.


In working with over a hundred companies in North America and Europe I’ve found that a majority of customer experience cost efficiencies fall in one of four categories:
  • Data integration and integrity - the right employees and partners have access to the data they need.
  • Streamline workflows to align with journeys- to overcome organizational silos, political ‘turfs’, inefficient technology and eliminate out-of-date, habitual tasks.
  • Employee empowerment - enable employees and BPO partners to connect the dots between each of their roles and specific customer interaction expectations.
  • Scale tasks – use smart AI technology to automate routine, repetitive and replicable activities to deliver consistent experiences.
Begin by prioritizing efficiency opportunities into short, medium and long term based on the severity of misalignment and cost benefit. One key to success is to rationalize all the efficiency opportunities within an overarching customer experience strategy and plan. This creates an end-to-end contextual customer experience map that empowers employees and partners to deliver consistent experiences. Use journey maps when making decisions regarding business processes, workflow, IT systems, SLAs, employee training, etc. It becomes the foundation for competitive advantage.   Next, conduct a cost analysis on the alternatives to meet customer expectations – new technology, outsource to a BPO provider, reorganize staff, training, etc. This enables you to track the cost savings, productivity increases and customer metrics. A successful discrete manufacturer client of mine believed their customers wanted more product collateral.  After journey mapping their markets, they were surprised to learn that over 80 percent of their existing content wasn’t used. While the company enjoyed strong brand loyalty, the gap analysis showed customers wanted a comprehensive digital experience focused on solving specific regulatory and compliance issues. Customers were looking for a personalized experience that proactively informed them of upcoming relevant OSHA, FDA, EPA, etc. regulations, product recommendations and compliance best practices. Customer co-creation sessions were used to overhaul the company’s digital experience and define the needed technology ecosystem. During one co-creation session, the company discovered that customers were willing to pay a premium for the new experience. Process efficiencies and customer experience go hand-in-hand. By simplifying workflows, creating a solid process and anchoring customers to aggregated journey maps, organizations become leaner and more agile.  Differentiate your brand based on desired customer experiences. The added benefit is that as customer expectations change, and they do every year, keeping your organization aligned becomes easy and straightforward.  Actively involve your customers and BPO partners in this transformation – you’ll see greater results, faster – with less push-back.  For more information on how companies are engaging with and evolving relationships with BPO providers, read the full report here. First published in CGS Blog -  

Lessons General Motors Teaches Us on How To Become Customer-Centric

General Motors has made a remarkable come-back from the brink of failure in 2009. And large part of that is a result of its shift from traditional automotive products to a customer experience company. GM’s business goal today is to be the best in customer experience across any industry. They don’t compare themselves to Ford, Toyota or the Volkswagon Group but to USAA, Starbucks, and Amazon.Brands that have successfully achieved cross-functional customer alignment and continually innovate experiences in response to evolving customer needs and expectations.

GM’s path to becoming customer-aligned is an interesting one and therein a role model on how to successfully transform from a product to a customer-centric organization. While GM’s transformation is unique to them, there are valuable lessons for anyone involved in customer-alignment. Getting Started The CEO is critical to a successful transformation. They define the approach, are the champion, hold teams accountable, defines what success looks like, and model daily the behaviors that they want their organization to embrace. In other words, the CEO owns this and needs to get their hands dirty. Mary Barra, General Motors’ CEO, doubled down on customer alignment transformation by rewriting the company’s vision and values when she took the helm. She communicated these through an internal video called “earning customers for life” which demonstrates, from the customer’s perspective, what a great experience is. GM’s approach to customer-alignment is a series of pilots, small projects and initiatives. The pilots are defined based on journey map data that identified where initial low-hanging fruit and key opportunities were. Dave Mingle, Global Director of Customer Experience Strategy and Enterprise Experiences of General Motors, is a strong believer in the value of journey mapping to discover and understand the relationship lifecycle of personas, key interaction points, and micro-moments of pain. “Getting the organization to focus on micro-moments of pain is critical to changing the customer experience,” he shared. GM knew that becoming customer-aligned was, at the root, change management and that requires people, process and systems to evolve. “The opportunity is to get past the vision discussion and on to ‘how do we turn a silo centric legacy system business’ into one that is truly engineered to deliver customer experiences,” said Don Schuerman, Chief Technology Officer of Pegasystems, a customer engagement and operational excellence platform, and key IT ecosystem partner of GM. “What I see happening in enterprises that are doing this right is a top-down and bottom-up culture commitment coupled with a strong vision of what the company wants the customer experience to be.”That empowers everyone, not just the front line, to deliver the desired experiences and helps employees change how they think about their role. Before Mingle’s team jumped into journey mapping, they reviewed existing information and defined a hypothesis on what customers valued, experience pain points, and root causes. That equipped them with a clearer focus as they launched journey mapping, using qualitative and quantitative techniques. “To get started – some journey mapping is needed. Organizations need to do just enough analysis to have an educated belief and then get it out there to test and learn from it,” said Schuerman. “In many organizations, the danger is trying to do something perfect instead of good enough. What is the minimum you can do that is loveable by your customers and have a net improvement knowing that you are going to iterate on it?” To achieve this, Mingle kept initial journey mapping at a high level by targeting North American personas as defined by GM’s brand management and documented those interactions and moments that mattered most. That gave the team not only a manageable place to start but a realistic path to success without causing duplicate work down the road when more detailed segmentation journey mapping would be done. GM’s initial mapping identified six customer journey stages:
  • Learn
  • Shop
  • Buy
  • Onboard
  • Use
  • Own
To GM’s surprise, the Onboard stage was a high pain point. By the time the customer reached this stage they had been through what can be a long and stressful experience of the Learn, Shop, and Buy phases.Certain customers even reported some level of buyers’ remorse primarily because they didn’t understand what they had just purchased. The team learned that one of the root causes of dissatisfaction was a lack of education on the vehicle’s features, how to properly use them, etc. Based on journey data, initial customer alignment pilots were prioritized and success defined, which helped secure internal seed funding. Pilots that achieved success and earned ROI within a business unit where advanced to the next stage of the process and rolled out across the organization.  According to Mingle “Getting the strategy approved is easy. Implementation is harder because business unit leaders are not always aligned on short- and long-term customer experience investments, especially if it impacts their short-term metrics.” The customer alignment transformation focused first on fixing the Onboarding pain points. Pilots focused on enrolling customers in services and education programs within the first 30 days of car ownership. Some of those pilot programs that have been successfully rolled out across GM include enrolling all customers in OnStar Services, the Owner Center and encouraging them to download a GM application to their smart phone. “When customers don’t go through the ‘how to’ modules that we know address likely pain points, the owner center and app may prompt the customer to complete the activity,” said Mingle. These interactions provide a persistent connection between the customer, the car and GM. Dealers were also provided with a more structured process to follow in Onboarding customers and how to anticipate and proactively address problems. Fixing the Onboarding process was a significant and very visible win that touched every business unit. Mingle’s advice is to “Eat the journey, one bite at a time. “ Schuerman recommends doing “one journey at a time. Pick a journey, not a channel, that has a clear outcome attached to it and fix that .” The very act of doing that touches multiple parts of an organization and highlights changes needed – retrain employees, change brick / mortar layout, redo processes, etc. - to support the target outcome. Journey mapping a process or stage will naturally result in numerous variations of that journey based on the product and persona researched; each variation represents a slightly different set of experiences. “Pick the stages or processes that have a high degree of commonality and focus on researching and documenting the variations,” advises Schuerman. “Then reuse the journey map for additional products/channels/personas to find differences - building off the commonalities.” Mingle’s fledgling customer experience group was formalized into the Global Connected Customer Experience Team which reports directly to Barra.The global team now has about 30 members and is measured on customer loyalty, CSAT, service retention, digital engagement, and connectivity leadership. To avoid the common problem of spotty functional group buy-in when companies set up dedicated CX teams to ‘own’ the customer experience, GM took deliberate steps to seat ownership within the business units. They achieved this by socializing pilots and soliciting ‘hand raisers’ from all levels and functions in across business units to help execute pilots. Mingle’s team trained and worked with these employees on how to storytell the results within their own business units which earned the CX team and the many ‘hand raisers’ credibility. Today, the six journey stages are owned by functional groups. Sales and Marketing owns Learn, Shop and Buy. The corporate CX team owns OnBoarding, CX governance, and the digital customer experience. Customer Care and After Sales owns Use and Own stages. These three teams bring the customer journeys to life across General Motors. Lessons Learned
  1. Discover key micro moments through journey blueprinting; build on them by mapping additional personas and sales situations.
  2. Technology is not “the” silver bullet to achieve customer alignment; it requires end-to-end streamlining of processes, data and culture.
  3. Integrate CX methodology into the product development process; define what success and failure looks like for each journey step.
  4. Process owners must be held accountable for bringing each customer successfully through their journey segment and to the next process point and process owner.
  5. Data and infrastructure are the glue that stitch together new experiences and enable employees to do the right, informed thing.
  6. Story tell in ways that matter most for each audience; tune each story to the interests of internal business leaders and link CX results to each leader’s goal structure/metrics.
  7. Change the behavior of distribution channel partners with incentives tied to specific CX metrics to motivate partners.
General Motor’s New Customer Experience In bringing its vision to life, GM discovered that connectivity changes the customer journey, positively. In response GM is integrating their customers’ digital life with their vehicle. In connected cars, every time the customer turns the key the car is telling GM something about how the car is performing. That enables GM to offer highly personalized services and targeted discounts. For example, data captured by vehicles can be used to offer safety recommendations to customers on how to drive better. If you’re a good driver, you could share that data with your insurance company for a discount. Connectivity produces a lot of data – within which lie opportunities for new products and services. “We do not share customer data with dealers unless there is a specific event like a maintenance schedule, and only if the customer has consented,” said Mingle. Of the 12 million connected vehicles on the road, 4.5 million have 4G LTE which turns the car into a mobile hot spot and keeps customers connected with their digital lives. In 2016, that resulted in 200 million customer interactions. GM uses Pegasystems to handle 200,000 OnStar in-car calls per day from drivers last year and automate over 1 million decisions an hour. The goal is to make it easy for customers to enjoy their car. General Motors currently uses the Pega Customer Decision Hub and the Pega Platform to power their standalone decisioning engine that drives capabilities into all channels their customers use to interact with the company. When a customer contacts General Motors, the Pega solution uses rules, predictive intelligence, and machine learning to drive the next best action regardless of channel for consistent, relevant interactions. Additionally, the Pega Platform provides a model-based environment that enables General Motors’ development teams to easily make changes as they need, so customers see continuous improvements in service. The lessons General Motors has learned in how to transform into a customer-aligned organization are applicable to everyone. The key lessons are:
  • Start small by picking a customer segment, product line, or business unit.
  • Come to terms that this is change management, not a one-time Sales or Marketing project.
  • Journey map through the buyers eyes the journey stages, key interactions and pain points.
  • Adopt a proven methodology, like the Sellers Compass, to guide you through the process.
  • Secure funding and support by storytelling the ROI in ways tailored to leaders’ metrics.
  • Involve employees to own the pilots, it increases success and momentum.
  • Established a funded (small) central CX team as a COE, the rest of the company owns CX.
If GM can make this transformation, so can you. Where are you getting stuck?   First published on MarTech Advisor.