Five steps to a successful customer experience platform

By now you likely know all about the importance of the user experience (UX) in product design. Another angle on making your organization user-centric that’s getting more attention is CX, for “customer experience.” Simply put, CX seeks to give enterprises maximum visibility into every step a user takes on their journey with a given product or service. 

From Amazon to Zendesk, companies are leveraging CX platforms to streamline user engagement, improve loyalty and maximize operational efficiency. In principle, creating an integrated portal that includes account profile, product information, product purchase and service functionality in an easy-to-use design makes tons of sense. In practice, CX platforms can be one of the most ambitious and rewarding programs an enterprise undertakes.

CX platforms are so hard to get right because they combine the complexity of integrating disparate systems and processes with the art of customer interaction. We’ve helped clients in B2B, B2C, and in professional and trade associations design and implement CX platforms that are increasing customer loyalty, maximizing efficiency and driving competitive advantage. In the process, we’ve  discovered and honed several best practices that, when applied to CX initiatives with consistency and diligence, deliver optimum results. Here are five of the most important steps you should be sure to take as you start or continue your own CX platform journey:

  1. Do your homework (go slow to go fast): In our experience, a “ready, shoot, aim” approach does not deliver positive outcomes for CX platform projects. As much as you want to get right to work, adequate planning is a  success factor critical to understanding the overall objectives, customer segments, use cases and business case. Let’s look at each in turn: 
  • Objectives: While each use case is different, Nikil Sharma’s model highlights five common objectives as a starting point. There is no single right answer, but you should expect to have to prioritize the objectives based on business goals.
  • User Segments: Spend some time defining the customer personas who will use the CX platform, and identify their common and unique requirements. This will be useful as you define your project roadmaps, and align new functionality within your user segmentation strategy.
  • Use Cases: This is the “so what” part of the exercise. Articulated from the end-user’s perspective in non-technical language, the use cases become the contract between the business and developer team on what will be delivered. Well-defined use cases keep developers focused and become the basis of epics, features and stories within the agile framework. 
  • Business Case: Leverage your core use cases and customer segments to estimate the overall business case and value of the experience platforms. This sets a baseline and frames the maximum capital investment over several budget cycles to hit the required rate of return.
  • Governance: Assuming the project gets approved, it is important to establish a long-term governance structure to define policy, prioritize the project roadmap and make provisions for project resources. This guidance will help accelerate the project through its development and release phases and builds organizational consensus and ownership.
  1. Make it useful (utility + UX = adoption): Almost by definition, a CX platform needs to provide enough utility for users to keep coming back.  Since what users want and what the company wants don’t always align, primary research through customer interviews and surveys is not optional.  One client found great success by setting up a user panel over the life of the platform development, getting valuable feedback that helped cut non-essential tasks from the roadmap.  The agile “minimum viable product” approach is also a helpful tool to stay focused across the release roadmap. Any discussion of utility would be incomplete without noting the integral role of good UX/design.  Bringing in designers early in the CX platform’s development is critical to ensure adoption and usage of the intended functionality.
  2. Train ALL your users (learn to love): No matter how good the designers are, CX platform users will still need some handholding to understand and use all of the functionality. Whether you build your own or leverage existing training modules from your platform providers, make sure to invest the time to train your user base at launch as well as provide ongoing learn-as-you-go skills trainings.  Training is important for end users AND the internal team who must maintain the experience platforms. I worked on one university experience platforms project where the team did an excellent job training students. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the time/resources to train the staff and after a few months the platform looked like a ghost town due to neglect and glitches.  As students went back to old channels, university staff were inundated with calls and emails they were no longer staffed to manage.
  3. Energize the Community (realize network effect): Assuming you are keeping your core user segments in mind for the use cases and design, users should be thrilled about your efforts to simplify their experience with you. They won’t be, however, unless you invest time in a communications strategy to include users in the dialogue and actively manage expectations. Communicate early and often is a good code here, since even well-intentioned companies can run-afoul of users who’s cheese got moved. In later phases of the project it is possible to step beyond basic communication and look to ways to engage and energize the community. Gamification is one  element of this, where offering a competition, rewards and recognition can lead to desirable user behavior. Also consider user crowdsourcing models that add value to the business. Some examples of this include Amazon’s customer reviews and Motorola’s unpaid super users who generated much of their product FAQ’s and trouble-shooting tips.
  4. Keep improving (done is dead): The CX platform landscapecontinues to evolve as new tools, channels and platforms arrive and disrupt the old paradigm. Because of this, an attitude of continuous improvement is vital to keep pace with marketplace demands for increased efficiency and functionality. Dashboards with Key Performance Metrics are helpful in recognizing and prioritizing future improvement opportunities and establishing performance targets over time. On the user adoption side, look past high-level metrics (# of users) and dig into the detail of daily visits, transaction volume by type and user contributions. On the efficiency side, look for improvement opportunities in transaction cost and cycle time to help to encourage adoption.

At the highest strategic level, the CX platform aligns the entire business to best attract, support and retains every organization’s most critical business asset: the customer. Sound complicated? It is.Transformational? Absolutely. We recommend that anyone working on a CX platform (portal) project include these five steps in their process. We’d like to hear from you about your CX development process.