Taking Customer Experience Firmwide: Marketing’s Role

SMPS Marketer CX

This article was first published in the Marketer – Journal of the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS).

According to an Accenture study, 90 percent of B2B executives cite customer experience (CX) as “very important” to achieving their companies’ strategic priorities, but only 20 percent excel at it and see strong returns on their investment.

Why are 80 percent of companies failing? Often the cause is misalignment between CX goals, strategy, and execution. Although companies understand the importance of CX, they struggle with the “how” of it.

To capitalize on CX potential, experience design and implementation must be fully integrated into everything an A/E/C firm does – from its long-term strategy to daily actions and across all functions, departments, and communications.

CX is not a “program.” It’s how your firm operates.

Creating Value Through Integrated CX

Successfully operationalizing CX throughout an entire firm is a monumental cultural, behavioral, and operational shift.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the A/E/C industry is that most firms still operate in functional silos:

  • Marketing is responsible for the brand experience
  • Leadership and project management are responsible for the customer experience
  • HR is responsible for the employee experience

As a result, everything is fragmented and inconsistent: the brand, the process, and the experience. Delivering value to customers through a unified and seamless experience – and reaping the full benefits of CX – relies on full integration. And until there’s a unifying force across all functions and departments of the firm, it will continue to result a fragmented and inconsistent experience.

Because CX is directly tied to the brand and culture (places where marketing plays a major role), marketing is a natural choice to help firms master CX.

Customer-Focused Brand

Your brand is central to your firm’s experience. Brand-based customer experience and brand-based culture is what creates a competitive advantage for any business today.

In fact, CX is how your firm delivers on its brand promise. CX dramatically impacts how your brand is perceived and remembered because it affects how your brand is experienced—for better or worse.

  • Does the experience match what the brand has promised?
  • Have you clearly articulated your firm’s value to customers?
  • Do all your brand expressions speak in your firm’s unique brand voice?

To answer these questions, you first have to strategically define your brand and its core elements. You can’t skip this step in the branding process and make it all about the logo. Brand strategy is the critical link between brand promise and delivery, between brand experience and customer experience.

Where to Start

  • Begin with a brand strategy informed by customer research. This will help your firm articulate the brand in terms that are relevant and meaningful to its customers.
  • Develop a brand through the eyes of those who experience it. Becoming your clients’ top choice takes more than a well-crafted marketing message. Creating a purpose-driven, values-based brand and experience has become essential for attracting “ideal clients” to your firm.
  • Take control of how the brand is represented at every customer touchpoint—from personal interactions to public-facing communications and across all offices, departments, and teams. Lead your firm’s ongoing brand engagement and education efforts to ensure that every employee (client-facing or not) is aligned with the brand, can articulate the brand, and lives the brand with every decision, action, and customer interaction.

Customer-Focused Culture

Customer needs and journeys are cross-functional. They are not based on your firm’s organizational chart.

You can’t create a seamless experience for your customers if the internal company structure doesn’t support it. All business functions must understand their role in improving firmwide CX and how it contributes to the growth and profitability of the firm.

A brand’s reputation is based on customers’ perceptions and how well the brand meets their needs. Marketing plays a critical role in understanding, communicating, and serving those needs.

Where to Start

  • Implement feedback processes and tools. Make customer feedback standard to how your firm conducts business. Collect customer data and direct and indirect feedback at all stages of the customer journey.
  • Use data-driven insights to align your firm around a shared vision for CX. Marketing should serve as a curator and translator of information—sharing a comprehensive view of the customer across the firm, helping all teams and departments design and deliver better CX.

Customer-Focused Experience

How do we make our customers’ lives easier and better? The answer to this question must guide all decisions, interactions, and experiences.

Making your firm more customer centric begins with two things:

  • Understanding your customers: what they value and why
  • Understanding their decision-making context

This deeper level of understanding enables the shift from firm-centric communications and experience to becoming fiercely relevant to your customers.

Relevance is about creating value – helping your prospects and clients do their jobs, achieve their goals, and advance their personal agendas. In return, they will give you their time, attention, a piece of their business, and, ultimately, their loyalty.

Making your firm relevant requires rigorous, ongoing research and data mining across the entire customer journey and creating a shared understanding of customers among all employees.

Where to Start

  • Develop robust customer personas. Learn your customers’ aspirations, fears, challenges, and motivations at every step in the relationship, as well as how they consume media, interact with technology, come into contact with your brand, and search for information and content.
  • Map the experience for each persona across the entire journey—from awareness to the first contact through the process of engagement and into a long-term relationship.
  • Conduct a touchpoint audit that encompasses all departments and functions of the firm—not just marketing. Prioritize those touchpoints that have the most influence and impact on the customer decision-making process.
  • Use the audit to identify any gaps between the current and desired experience and to develop an actionable CX blueprint for experiences your firm wants to deliver at each key touchpoint. Define specific actions each team will take to ensure a unified and seamless experience across the entire customer journey.

Put CX Into Action

Make CX Manageable

Executing firmwide CX, not to mention creating a firmwide CX culture, can be overwhelming.

Consider an incremental approach. Prioritize a few quick wins that build momentum, secure buy-in, and help you make the case for your firm investing more in CX.

Once you have a few victories under your belt, begin tackling your firm’s biggest CX issues. Then you can move on to designing more complex CX architecture and experiences.

Keep Up With Changing Customer Expectations

Customers’ expectations are rapidly evolving. A/E/C customers no longer tolerate outdated, fragmented, or generic processes, communications, and experiences.

They want everything to be online, available, accessible, convenient, seamless, and fast. Your firm must continually evolve its collective skill sets, processes, and technologies to meet customer needs for information and experiences that are relevant, personalized, and useful.

Your marketing, sales, and project management especially must be built around helping customers do their jobs (faster, with more ease) and boosting their confidence that your firm is the right choice as a partner.

Stop Mislabeling “Soft Skills”

The abilities to actively listen, exhibit empathy, proactively and accurately read another person or situation, thoughtfully communicate, and be vulnerable and authentic—in other words, connect on a human level—are typically referred to as “soft skills.”

Strong emotional intelligence is paramount in customer and team relationships. Labeling these critical skills “soft” devalues their essential role in the customer-first culture and experience.

Prioritize Employee Experience

Employees are instrumental in delivering an exceptional, differentiating experience to your firm’s customers. The quality of the employee experience (EX) your firm delivers directly affects the quality of experience your employees will deliver to your customers (CX).

Everything – from how you communicate internally to your work environment and daily rituals – contributes to your employees’ understanding of the brand and what it means to act on brand.

  • Does your firm live out its stated values?
  • Does it reward on-brand, values-based behaviors?
  • Are your employees aligned and engaged with the brand?

Studies show that brand-based culture, EX, and internal alignment directly translate into increased motivation and productivity, higher quality of work, and better CX.

The Opportunity for Marketing

The biggest downfall of CX implementation is internal misalignment. To align your firm around its CX strategy and champion the change throughout the firm, you need a strong leader.

No other business function is better positioned to bring unity and collaboration in improving firmwide CX than marketing.

  • Marketing knows firm’s internal and external stakeholders.
  • Marketing understands the ideal customer and has customer data.
  • Open, transparent communication is essential—and communication is where marketers shine!

Why Should Marketing Want to Lead the Charge?

According to a Forrester study, 76% of business executives state that improving CX is a “high” or “critical” priority. This is an opportunity for marketing to be at the center of what matters for your firm: today’s competitive advantage and future growth. Leading the CX charge is how you can create measurable value – for your firm and for the marketing function within the firm.

More and more companies are hiring chief experience officers. In the absence of that role, in many industries it is increasingly becoming marketing’s role to align their companies around CX.

Given the importance that business leaders now place on CX and EX as related to the bottom line, taking charge not only earns marketing a seat at the strategic table but it future-proofs your jobs.

Keep in mind that whether or not marketing formally leads the CX charge, its design and management are a big part of marketing and will be even more so in the future.

“Maybe you’re not ready to replace your CMO with a CXO. But consider adding the X and creating a CMXO, Chief Marketing & Experience Officer. It’s a step in the right direction.” —Shep Hyken