Why your customer experience efforts need a guiding principle
What’s driving your customer experience strategy? Are you playing by a set of rules, or making it up as you go along? These days, most companies have some sort of strategy or guidelines in place but taking that a step further is critical to improving your customer experience and avoiding negative experiences for your customers.
I’m a writer at Black & White Zebra, an indie media publishing company and the core of what we do is creating a community around topics and professions such as project management or software quality engineering. We focus on creating a customer experience for our community members that helps them achieve their goals.
Our customer experience efforts are directed by a single guiding principle: to help others succeed. Everything we do in customer experience is guided by this, as are our other activities that support our customer experience, like content creation and publishing, marketing, sales, and more.
That’s one example of a guiding principle that lays the foundation for what your customers experience in their interactions with your brand.
In this article, I’ll explain why your business needs a guiding principle for your customer experience (CX) efforts, the benefits, how to create and implement it, and a few examples to demonstrate principles in use.
First, a word of caution. There are lots of examples of general guiding principles out there that you might be tempted to adopt as they are ready-made, but you need to define one that’s specific to your business and your customers or clients to get the most out of it.
Customer Service vs CX: Both Apply To Your Guiding Principle
When we talk about a guiding principle, it’s important to note that while I refer to it as a guiding principle for CX, it also applies to your customer service strategy. In brief, the difference between CX and customer service is that customer service involves responding to customer questions, problems, and complaints as they occur, as well as anticipating needs so you can address them in advance.
CX is more proactive and focused on designing a good experience for the customer that meets their needs before a potential customer or client even interacts with the brand. CX also encompasses non-customer service interactions that a customer has with a brand, such as advertising, product use, and more. Here’s a more in-depth differentiation between the two, if you’re looking for more information.
Your guiding principle needs to apply to both — without alignment between your customer experience and customer service efforts, both will suffer. Your customer service won’t align with the rest of your customer experience, confusing customers, and a less-than-ideal customer experience brings down your customer service efforts with it, as customers will be put-off from the get-go.
Why Your CX Guiding Principle is Not A Vision Statement
Before we dive into the benefits of having a guiding principle for your CX efforts, it’s important to clarify that a guiding principle is different from a vision statement. Most companies have some sort of vision statement that proposes a vision for their company but doesn’t necessarily note how the company is going to achieve that vision.
A guiding principle should be more specific and concrete so that it can direct your day-to-day activities as well as an overall strategy. It’s not about how your customer experience will look 1 or 2 years down the road, it’s about what you can do every day to achieve the customer experience your customers want.
Another difference is that the vision statement is often a big hairy audacious goal (BHAG). BHAGs are aspirational goals that might take your business years to achieve, like aiming for 80% of the market share in your industry or striving to earn one billion dollars in annual recurring revenue by a certain year.
While these are great to have for goal setting and focusing your efforts on achieving that goal, not everything you do will be in service of that goal. Every company has to take care of business as usual tasks that take time. Your guiding principle can help ensure that even these business as usual tasks serve your customer experience.
Benefits of a CX Guiding Principle
There are several benefits to creating a single guiding principle that all CX efforts must align with. Here are a few of the main ones:
You’ll have a way to structure your other processes, such as content publishing, dealing with support tickets, and UX and UI design.
You’ll be able to get alignment between departments and teams on the best way to proceed in terms of improving the digital customer experience.
You’ll have a definitive answer to whether or not you should pursue a certain tactic or activity — does it serve your guiding principle? If not, it’s probably worth reevaluating.
You’ll be able to more easily track the success of your customer experience management efforts, whether you use a digital experience platform for tracking or you do so manually.
How to Create a CX Guiding Principle
When you’re coming up with a guiding principle for your CX efforts, there are a few things you’ll need to think about to make sure your guiding principle is meaningful and useful. If your guiding principle is just a lofty statement to put up on the wall and look at, it won’t end up meaning anything to your team. Here are some considerations you’ll need to make when creating a CX principle that is meaningful for your CX and customer service teams.
Align Your Guiding Principle with Your Company Goals
If your guiding principle doesn’t match your short-term and long-term company goals, the resulting customer experience will be mismatched. For example, if one of your company goals is to reduce customer churn by a certain percentage, but your guiding principle is focused on, say, prioritizing the innovative and new over keeping up maintenance, you might continue to lose previous customers or clients whose needs aren’t being prioritized.
Once you have a guiding principle in place for your business, any future goals should align with it. For example, as part of our membership offerings for The Digital Project Manager, our goal has been to implement a forum for members to discuss their challenges and issues. This is aligned with our principle to help others succeed, in that we created a space for members to help each other, increasing overall success for everyone.
Align Your Guiding Principle with Customers Wants and Needs
If your guiding principle doesn’t match what your customers want or need, you won’t have any customers to provide an experience for. One way to avoid this mismatch between customer experience and guiding principle is to find out what your customers and clients want — by asking them directly. Survey your customers often and analyze customer data on a regular basis.
A great example of this comes from Ruari Spillane, who turned a Facebook group for Irish immigrants into an entire business for people from all walks of life moving to Canada.
He told his story in the Indie Media Club podcast, emphasizing over and over again that building a successful business was all about listening to what his audience actually wanted and then giving it to them.
Once you have enough information on what your customers actually want, create a guiding principle that will meet their needs. For example, at The Digital Project Manager, we have created several surveys for DPM members and members of the project management community at large.
We include explicit questions about what people like about what we do, things they think we could do better, and what they want to see more of. This information helps us ensure we can help them succeed — our guiding principle — by providing content, resources, training, and other items that they need to succeed.
Align Your Guiding Principle with Your Company Culture
While you need to ensure first and foremost that your company’s customer experience is serving your customers, you also need to make sure the employees that enact the customer experience strategy are on board too. The easiest way to do this is by making sure your guiding principle matches your company culture.
You don’t want to have a guiding principle all about innovation if your office has been sticking to traditional, tried-and-true, business processes. At Black & White Zebra, our guiding principle of helping others succeed is also part of our company culture. We make a point to help each other internally, with reviewing and proofing items, asking each other questions, collaborating on tasks, and more.
How to Implement It
Now that you’ve got a guiding principle in mind, here’s how to implement it. You’ll need to communicate it to all employees, guide them on how to put it into practice, and check-in from time to time to make sure it’s being used as intended. Here are a few ways to do this:
Onboarding: Anytime you onboard a new employee, train them on the guiding principle, how to use it meaningfully, and provide examples of it in use.
Ongoing training: Train your employees on an ongoing basis, and take mistakes as learning opportunities. The guiding principle and its use cases need to be as clear as possible in your employee’s minds to ensure it is implemented correctly.
Reinforce it in other processes: Bring your guiding principle into your other daily processes and activities, like content publishing, marketing, and sales. All your departments and processes need to work together to support the customer experience. For example, if your brand’s guiding principle is about educating customers and clients, you might create educational marketing and promotional materials around both your services or products and around your industry, market trends, and other topics your customers would find educational.
Your CX guiding principle will help ensure your company's customer service, customer experience, and brand perception efforts are aligned across the board. Whether your customers are users, clients, members, students, or something else, how they experience your brand and whether you meet their needs is critical to whether your customer experience (and your guiding principle) works for them.
Where do you stand on a guiding principle for your customer experience efforts? Do you already have one in place? Are you monitoring your customer experience management efforts with software? Let us know in the comments below.
Find out more about our guiding principle and how we are helping people succeed on the Black & White Zebra website.