Harvard Business Online

A Framework for Building Customer Experiences


Posted on Experience Matters: June 11, 2009 2:12 PM In helping a client understand how to reframe their internal conversations to support delivering customer experiences, we shared with them the following framework that has helped our thinking. Systems: Companies have core systems that serve as the foundation for their efforts. The most obvious example are IT systems—ERP, accounting, CRM, and the like. Perhaps less obvious, but in certain cases quite crucial, would be facilities—such as real estate, architecture, and infrastructure. Procedures: The policies, processes, and business rules that provide the "logic" for how the business is run. Some of this is embedded in the systems, some of this is taught to employees. Touchpoints: The liminal spaces where engagement with customers occurs. Typically considered through channels such as in-store, call center, postal mail, or online. Interactions: The activities in which customers engage. Any business supports dozens, if not hundreds of interactions. With a bank, you can deposit money, withdraw money, write a check, pay a bill, move money between accounts, open or close accounts, apply for a loan, etc. etc. Experiences: The sum of what the customer takes away from the interactions they've had with you. Many companies don't intentionally plan their customer experiences, and as such, design from the inside-out. This is particularly true when companies consider CRM initiatives. One would hope that something focused on "customer relationships" would take the customer to heart when being developed. Instead, as Edmund Tribue points out, "Most companies have concentrated on automating processes for their internal users…But what about the customer? This mindset is perfectly illustrated by the most common CRM objectives: increase sales, drive cross-selling, minimize resources, reduce ancillary expenses, and lower the number of costly channel interactions. Those objectives indicate an inside-out view that implicitly treats the processes and internal metrics as more important than the customer." Customers have no idea what's going on in those layers below "interactions", and just end up feeling insulted and abused by these mercenary mindsets. Instead, companies need to identify what makes for a delightful customer experience, and coordinate their interactions, touchpoints, procedures, and systems to support that. This harkens back to the my last post about Target's ClearRx. By starting with a prototype, an embodiment of an experience, Target was then able to align the appropriate interactions, touchpoints, procedures, and systems that would support it. And as the Target story pointed out, it's not a one-way street. Reasonable limitations with the systems, regulatory restrictions on procedures, those are going to ripple back up and ultimately affect the experience. But by beginning outside-in, you make better decisions when you deploy from the inside-out. (Thanks to my colleague Brandon Schauer whose work helped shape this article.)
Peter_merholz
Peter Merholz works with Adaptive Path, an experience strategy and design firm. Since 1998, he's published thoughts on design, technology, and people at his personal site, www.peterme.com.

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