Operation experience: Defining a customer experience treatment plan matters.

As a kid I was obsessed with the idea of becoming a doctor.

I pored over my grandfather's hand-illustrated human atlases, admiring the way sheathes of muscles attached to bones, layering up to form a functional being. I also invested a fair amount of time playing Operation, a panic-inducing game for children where you use tweezers to remove various sick bits from an unsuspecting plastic patient against the clock. The game ends when a loud buzzer sounds, jolting you into dropping said sick bit on the floor. Sorry, patient.

My obsession lasted right up until the point at which I was offered an entry interview at medical school.

It was at that point I realised a medical career meant kissing goodbye my social life and future sleep. And I love sleeping. So I didn't go to the interview. But believe it or not, the work I do now with large organisations to improve their customer experience is not too far from my childhood doctoring dream. Although I don't do surgical operations, I do spend a lot of time thinking about operationalising experience.

There's no doubt that customer experience is on (almost) every business's mind.

global survey of 13,000 marketing, creative and technology professionals found customer experience management has emerged as the top strategic priority for businesses in 2018/19. It has to be, because retail and business customers simply expect excellent experience. When customers receive sub-par experience, they vote with their feet. When they get excellent experience, business revenue grows, operational costs drop and employees are happier. Win, win win.

But standing between leaders' in-principle commitment to customer experience excellence and the financial and human spoils experience delivers, is typically a large-ish wall.

That wall is our difficulty defining exactly what customer experience looks and feels like. We find it really hard to know what our aspirational customer experience looks like from a cultural, behavioural and symbolic standpoint. And even harder still is knowing how we're going to chart our progress. How will we know when we get there? How will we know that we're not there? What landmarks will we expect to see along the way?

Like any good operation, experience must start with a plan.

It might go a little like this.

  • Agree that customer experience is important and the business is committed to achieving excellence.

  • Define the business's aspirational experience: what does experience mean for this business?

  • Define the business's operational experience. What are the behaviours, symbols and systems that will drive the business towards its aspiration? How will you measure progress? How will you measure success?

  • Measure the actual experience. How are you going against your aspirational measures? What's the size of the gap (if it exists)?

  • Design a tactical response to close the gap between aspirational and actual experience. What are the critical projects? Who else do you need to support this work?

Like the human body, experience is the sum of many parts. It is the product of many individuals working together as one. And like an operation, excellent experience takes planning, skill and a defined post-operative plan to ensure the body returns to optimal health.

What's your customer experience treatment plan?

Emily Verstege