Many customer experience initiatives don't meet their full potential — or worse, fail completely — because companies don’t have a complete picture of what the customer experience actually entails or the dynamics that go into creating it. In order to break from their tunnel vision, companies need to understand their customer experience ecosystem: the complex set of relationships among a company's employees, partners, and customers that determines the quality of all customer interactions.

Here's a clip from my keynote at Forrester's recent Customer Experience Forum that explains this complexity in more detail:

In order to deliver great customer experiences across all customer touchpoints, companies must understand and take control of their customer experience ecosystem. How?

  1. Map it. The first step is to systematically uncover and document the ecosystem's hidden dynamics. To make the process manageable, start by picking your most important persona — the customer archetype that represents your most important behavioral customer segment. Document what that persona does, thinks, and feels at each step of one specific painful journey, and note each touchpoint that the persona interacts with along the way. Then identify the sources of your customer's pain: all of the people, processes, policies, and technologies that affect the customer journey. Consider things that happen in plain view of the customer and, perhaps more importantly, things that happen behind the scenes.
  2. Co-create it. The right customer experience for your company is one that is on-brand, is in sync with your corporate objectives, and meets your customers’ needs. Designing what this experience looks and feels like can be hard enough — and in parallel, you’ve also got to design an ecosystem that can actually deliver it. To pull this off successfully, you need to embrace co-creation. I’m not talking about holding focus groups or soliciting ideas through a website. (Those things can help, but they’re not sufficient.) To co-create the customer experience ecosystem, you need active participation from employees, partners, and customers throughout the design process — from upfront research to in-person ideation sessions and concept testing.
  3. Socialize it. Through co-creation workshops and exercises, you can engage a fairly large number of employees, partners, and customers. But for most large companies, this group will still only represent a small fraction of the people in your entire ecosystem. That’s why you also need to socialize the ecosystem. You need to help every single employee and every single external partner — especially those in behind-the-scenes roles — understand how their actions and decisions affect the customer experience. (People in legal, finance, IT, and human resources: I’m looking at you!)

As I say in the video clip, this is going to be messy. And it’ll take time. But significant and long-lasting customer experience improvements can only be achieved by adopting a holistic approach that acknowledges and then aligns the complex interdependent relationships in your ecosystem.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to MAP your own customer experience ecosystem, please join my teleconference on Wednesday, August 17, 2011, 1:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m. Eastern time (18:00-19:00 UK time).