Five ways to improve the customer experience

25 November 2021

We measure customer satisfaction so that we can find ways to improve the customer experience, but many organisations struggle to turn customer feedback into solid plans of action.

Improvements are often ad-hoc and inconsistent, feeling like they're focused on the surface level of the customer experience rather than the real heart of what matters to customers.

That's why we've developed a new online course on action planning from customer insight.

Knowing what to improve

The starting point is to identify where you need to improve, which comes from effective research that identifies priorities for improvement and backs them up with comments from customers that help you to understand what is going wrong from customers' point of view.

But knowing where to improve, and even what you need to deliver to customers, is not the same thing as knowing how to do it.

Identifying how to improve

In Chapter 2 of the course I suggest 5 approaches to improvement that you can consider once you've identified your priorities:

1. Diagnose perception gaps

As we're always saying, "perception is reality", but before you plan improvements you need to honestly reflect on what you think as an organisation. This can shape your whole approach to improvement.

I've seen so many organisations waste time and resources trying to make incremental improvements to areas in which they were already objectively performing well, simply because they didn't stop to consider if there might be more effective ways to improve customer perceptions.

So ask yourselves the question: is this customer feedback a fair and accurate reflection of your performance?

Don't assume your own view is objective truth, but if you find a perception gap your first step is to dig into it so you can figure out what's going on. There are basically three options:

  • Your view needs to be updated to better reflect reality (e.g. are you defining "product quality" too narrowly?)

  • You need to close the perception gap by addressing an unmet need (usually keeping customers better informed)

  • You need to manage customer perceptions directly (e.g. by making sure they know when deliveries are on time).

2. Root causes

Root cause analysis is an essential part of improving the customer experience, and it ties in very closely with a quality management view of the customer experience.

It's a lens that is focused on consistency and eliminating problems, so it's particularly well suited to givens or hygiene factors. Quality tools such as the "5 Whys", fishbone diagrams, and Pareto charts are useful here.

3. Systems thinking

One of the problems with root cause analysis is that it often gets stuck somewhere that basically says "human error". Someone, either the customer or a member of staff, made a mistake and that led to a bad experience.

Systems thinking is an approach that says we need to understand why those mistakes happened. We start with the assumption that it is the system that creates the experience, not the elements in the system such as individual people, and it's the system that needs to change if we want the experience to be different.

4. Context & behavioural influences

Similarly, behavioural science teaches us that many of the things which influence customer attitudes and behaviour may be details of context which operate at an unconscious level.

These can often give us a way to set customers up to have a good experience, support their expectations, and remove anything that's detracting from their experience unnecessarily.

How do we approach that in a consistent way? It starts with being very clear on your proposition: what kinds of experiences are you aiming to create, and for whom? At this point improving the customer experience can become directly tied up with your strategy.

5. Strategy

It's become common to talk about improving the customer experience in terms of an "inner loop" and "outer loop", to capture the interplay of tactical improvements versus longer-term and more strategic investments in systems, supply chains, and propositions.

That's fine, but if your customer research isn't given the opportunity to inform that strategic level, there's a danger that you're limiting your potential to improve and impoverishing the strategic decisions you make.

In the course we go into detail to discuss how to use each of these approaches in designing better customer experiences. By using the right combination of them you can identify concrete opportunities for improvement in any situation.

The next step is to turn them into an action plan that will deliver real change.