Forrester Report: How To Develop Your Digital Customer Experience Strategy

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Companies need a digital customer experience strategy to ensure that they build the right experiences to suit their customers’ needs and expectations - especially in a world of proliferating interaction points. Building a strategy can be difficult if you don’t know where to begin: This document outlines the steps firms need to take to develop a digital customer experience strategy that supports business objectives, accurately reflects the brand, and aids in prioritising which customer goals to support and how to support them.

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Derive Digital customer experience strategy from business OBJECTIVES and user goals

In previous research, we highlighted a fatal disconnect: Customer experience is a strategic imperative for many firms, but few have a digital customer experience strategy that helps them prioritize activities to deliver on that imperative. In contrast, firms known for delivering differentiated experiences, like USAA, are able to design, launch, and deliver them largely because their experience strategy is clear and all other activities flow from it.

Organizations that aspire to differentiate based on digital customer experience need a clear, cohesive execution strategy. Customer experience professionals have the expertise required to create experiences that deliver value to customers and the business and should take the lead in developing a digital customer experience strategy for their firm. To get started:

  • Define business and brand objectives. A firm’s mission and value statements should guide all activities and investments. A customer experience strategy that defines what the role of digital interaction points will be — and will not be — must be built on the foundation of the company’s overall business objectives and brand attributes.
  • Develop a deep and shared understanding of target users. A corporate strategy defines a target audience whose needs the company aspires to meet. A digital customer experience strategy must define how the company will deliver experiences to its target customers through digital touchpoints. Therefore, a digital customer experience strategy must include a deep qualitative understanding of the audience members’ key goals, how they accomplish those goals, and their expectations of the brand.
  • Prioritize and fund critical touchpoints. The world’s largest organizations market and sell to many customer segments, but an experience designed to serve the needs of all segments in the same way will serve no one well. A customer experience strategy prioritizes the most important channels for delivering on customer goals, keeping focus on the activities that provide the highest value to the most valuable customers, the most important business objectives, and the brand.

Define Business And Brand Objectives

Websites, apps, and other digital interaction points are a means of delivering customer experiences that drive top business objectives.2 To uncover the role that digital interaction points can play to deliver business value, customer experience professionals should:

  • Review internal strategy documents. Company meetings, investor calls, and public records such as annual reports and 10-K filings provide an excellent starting point for understanding how the company strategy is communicated internally and externally. For example, if your firm says in its 10-K that it’s trying to increase revenue from existing customers by providing integrated solutions, it’s probably not a good idea to consider creating separate websites for each business unit.
  • Interview key stakeholders. Acquisitions, reorganizations, and changes in corporate strategy that take place without realigning critical items like key performance indicators (KPIs), incentives, and responsibilities breed varied — and sometimes conflicting — stakeholder needs that hobble efforts to deliver good experiences. That’s why customer experience professionals should interview key players to determine what each stakeholder requires of digital touchpoints in order to meet their specific objectives. These sessions have the added benefit of giving interviewers a forum for socializing and getting buy-in for digital customer experience strategy development and use.
  • Define and document brand attributes. Customers bring specific expectations of a brand to the interactions they have with a company. A digital customer experience strategy must include a clear, actionable definition of a brand’s essence — one that goes beyond mere buzzwords. The definition must specify behavioral characteristics of digital touchpoints that will match the customer expectations of the brand.3 Customer experience professionals must push their partners in brand and marketing to provide a clear set of guidelines for the core brand attributes as well as unmistakable definitions of what they mean to the business and to customers. They then need to turn those into a description of how digital touchpoints must behave to deliver a brand-appropriate experience.
  • Determine topline strategy. Once the business and brand direction is clear, customer experience professionals need to determine the primary role digital touchpoints will play in supporting the business’ customer experience strategy For example, USAA’s digital customer experience strategy follows from its segmentation strategy that focuses on customizing interactions for its member base.

Develop A Shared Understanding Of Target Users

Customer experience professionals’ next step is to determine what content and functionality digital touchpoints must deliver in order to serve the customer goals that drive business and brand objectives they have defined. To do this:

  • Conduct exploratory research to determine customer needs and expectations. A good customer research plan incorporates a mix of techniques. Firms tend to focus their efforts disproportionately on techniques that evaluate and evolve existing solutions. However, a digital customer experience strategy requires an understanding of users’ real needs and expectations — information best discovered outside of the context of research designed to evaluate existing offerings. Exploratory techniques like ethnographic studies uncover motivations, unmet needs, and overall expectations. The insights gained from this type of research provides context for how digital channels can support customers’ real needs as well as what customers expect of the brand.
  • Capture aspirational information in personas. Personas are the best tools we’ve seen in our research for distilling users’ behaviors — the findings from exploratory research — into a handful of archetypes that companies can design experiences for.8 The best personas go beyond the scope of functional needs to give stakeholders and designers a full picture of their target users that includes their real goals. For example, Sallie Mae’s personas include information that outlines the real issue parents have when sending their kids to college, which is less about how to save for college than it is about how to pay for college — and where those funds will come from. That subtle distinction has important implications for deciding how to design an appropriate experience. When personas are well crafted and thoroughly integrated into design and decisionmaking processes, the insights they provide can have a profound impact on determining how to use digital channels to enrich customer relationships.
  • Plot key customer journeys. Proliferating interaction points have increased the complexity of the digital environment.While more channels provide more opportunities to engage with customers, it also means that a single customer goal might be served in multiple touchpoints, either simultaneously or over time. That’s why customer experience professionals need to map the most important customer journeys as revealed by their research and determine where digital touchpoints can best enable those journeys. Based on an understanding of its customers’ journeys, Marvel Comics built an iPad app as a way to supplement consumption of print comics to provide a more immersive experience that’s designed to complement, not replace, the experience customers have with the print version.

Prioritize And Make The Case For Critical Touchpoints That Support The Strategy

Having built an understanding of business objectives and user goals, the next step is to align these critical pieces and prioritize the activities that will support the most important customer goals.

  • Determine which touchpoints are best suited to support the most important journeys. Once they have uncovered the customer goals and behaviors that are most important to business objectives, customer experience professionals must then identify what content and functionality customers require. The next step is to determine which touchpoints are best suited to support customers’ activities based on the relative capabilities of each channel. For example, a credit card application on a bank website lets users easily type and tab through a form. But it’s unlikely that users will feel the need to apply for a credit card on a mobile phone that is more prone to user input errors. Instead, mobile devices are more appropriate for targeted, frequent tasks, such as checking balances or paying a recurring bill.
  • Rank the relative importance of each touchpoint. Faced with an expanding array of tantalizing options for providing interactions with customers, firms need to prioritize the most important touchpoints — and platforms — they should invest in to reach their target users. For example, a South American bank found that the majority of its customers were highly mobile. The initial impulse of its global agency was to build an iPhone app. But disciplined research revealed that the vast majority of the bank’s target customers were BlackBerry users. A simple prioritization matrix based on factors such as benefit to the business, benefit to users, and number and importance of users affected can help determine the overall weighting of channels.
  • Make the case for touchpoint investments. Executives favor projects with clear benefits. That’s why customer experience professionals need to make the case for their investments based on qualitative and quantitative data that shows a problem or opportunity exists, demonstrates the size of the opportunity, and shows cost and benefit estimates. Customer experience professionals should be prepared to make a concise and compelling business case that contains critical information that executives need to make a decision, verbatim customer feedback, and analysis of the projected return on investment (ROI).But the business case shouldn’t be dry. Instead it should surprise and inspire the audience and solicit participation in slated projects

Recommendations: Create A Road map For Digital Customer Experience Transformation

After aligning customer needs with business goals and brand values, customer experience professionals need to put their digital customer experience strategies to work. They should start by creating a road map for digital customer experience transformation based on the strategy. The road map should plot the specific activities required to support each of the most important digital experiences; determine the near-term, midterm, and long-term objectives; and create timelines for implementation.

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