Making a Case for Discipline(s)

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The explosion of social channels including Facebook and Twitter, as well as countless other technological advances, has made 2012 the Year of the Customer. Consumers can instantly exchange product and brand information with others, comparison shop with the tap of a key on their smartphone or tablet, and spread the word of their experiences, good or bad, to a seemingly endless number of others, making doing business more of a challenge than ever before. With all the information your potential customers have at hand, the only sustainable source of competitive advantage these days is customer experience. Traditional sources like manufacturing strength, distribution power, and information mastery have all been commoditized away.

Can your company compete in this environment? Many organizations think they can, but they don't understand what it takes to consistently deliver experiences that match what customers expect from their firms. They say all the right things about dedication to delivering a great customer experience (who in their right mind would say that customers aren't important?), but fail to get there because they don't understand what they are committing to when they make that promise.

What's the root cause of this misunderstanding? Some don't know that the game has changed and that they need to care about customer experience. Others believe customer experience is important, but don't understand that it requires more than common sense. The leaders of these firms might think they are focused on customer experience, but they aren't actually adopting it as a business discipline.

In contrast, there are people who know that customer experience is important and know that to establish a competitive advantage, they must transform their organizations to be mature in customer experience practices. These organizations have a huge advantage. Why? Because customer experience disciplines are not well-known, transforming an organization is hard to do, and doing so takes time, like any organizational transformation.

Customer experience is a business discipline that requires both a systematic approach and a set of consistent processes. To compete on the basis of customer experience, your organization must adopt six subdisciplines:

Strategy: The set of practices that create a clear vision of the experience the company wants to deliver, link that vision to the company's brand, and apply it to guide the activities and resources of the organization.

Customer Understanding:The set of practices that enable the company to create and maintain a consistent and accurate picture of target customers and the experiences they want, even in the face of changing expectations.

Design:  The set of practices that allow the company to determine the characteristics of interactions that meet or exceed customer expectations.

Measurement: The set of practices that enable the company to measure customer experience quality on an ongoing basis across the entire enterprise, and the use of that data to drive continuous improvement.

Governance:  The set of practices that enable the company to monitor and manage customer experience quality in a proactive way as part of the overall corporate governance system.

Culture:The set of practices that enable the company to create and maintain a culture in which a great customer experience is embedded in the organization's DNA.

Companies that excel at these disciplines make customer experience management a core organizational competence, setting the stage for success.

What should you do to get started? First, you must convince others within your organization of the business value of treating customer experience as a business discipline. Start with what we call the "find and fix" process, the goal of which is to find and fix specific customer pain points that, when eliminated, produce positive results. Map the ecosystem of customers, employees, and partners associated with your most important customer journeys. Use that map to find what's broken, fix those problems, and measure the business value those fixes deliver. Evangelize your results across the organization. Explain that the six customer experience disciplines will not only prevent problems from happening at all, but also help you establish a sustainable competitive advantage.

Moira Dorsey is a vice president and research director and Megan Burns is a principal analyst, both at Forrester Research, where they serve customer experience professionals.

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