While I write frequently about the rise of the chief customer officer within firms advanced enough in their customer experience efforts to consider this kind of executive position, I often get questions at a much more basic level, such as: "Where do I get started?" Often an individual may get a mandate from an executive to spearhead creating a greater customer focus at the company. For those, here are seven steps for getting started:

  1. Put together a cross-functional work team of supporters. Getting involvement and buy-in from different functions across the organization is important . . . a working group can be a source of getting allies across the organization. Build a working group of 10 to 15 individuals who can help put together some foundational pieces of your customer experience effort. While having diverse functions represented in this group is important, more important at this stage are influential leaders who are putting their budgets and reputations on the line in support of the effort. Look for supportive leaders who are already actively supporting customer-focused efforts or are willing to with some direction. A great source of early supporters is the frontline, where customer care and call center organizations interact regularly with customers. In addition to main marketing/branding, sales, support, and operations organizations, others you may want to consider early on include market research or customer insights, IT, HR, and legal/compliance leaders.
  2. Define key elements of a strategy. There are many different kinds of experiences that companies can deliver . . . all of which are valid. Witness USAA and Costco, both of which score very high marks on Forrester’s Customer Experience Index. A strategy should provide a vision for the kind of experience to deliver, derived from a core value proposition inherent in a company strategy and key attributes of the brand promise that are most meaningful to customers. This “intended experience” should provide guidance about the kinds of activities the company can start (and stop) doing to achieve the end state. The strategy also needs to articulate the company’s aim for how good the experience should be . . . does the firm seek to be the best in its own industry or across all industries, or is it merely trying to maintain parity with other firms? This will guide the kind of resources that the firm may need to dedicate to reaching this objective.
  3. Map the customer journey. Firms rarely have a sense of how many interactions and communications a typical customer has with an organization across how many departments. One health insurance company did an audit of all outbound communications to customers and realized that marketing was responsible for less than 20%. Mapping a typical customer journey can bring this to life and begin the process of identifying early wins. Involve customers in this exercise to make sure you’re accurately understanding the journey from their perspective.
  4. Consolidate customer data collection into a voice of the customer program. Firms often have a tremendous amount of data about customers. The problem is that it’s scattered across the organization and often lacks a systemic way of collecting it, meaning it typically has a narrow internal view rather than one that’s focused on the overall customer experience. Bringing some oversight and analysis to this data, and beginning to expose it to employees and departments, can begin building awareness of problem spots to deal with as well as bright spots to replicate elsewhere in the organization.
  5. Create a governance mechanism. As customer data collection and analysis gets underway, firms often find more fixes they need to do than there is money for. Additionally, customer experiences by nature cross internal department boundaries. For these reasons, a governing function that can allocate resources to the most worthy projects — and mediate conflicts between departments or with departmental metrics that undermine customer experience — is a critical function to ensure that improvements don’t hit major roadblocks. Canada Post requires that every business case for project funding includes answers to 10 customer-focused questions to ensure that everyone is considering the customer impact of efforts. It also sets aside a percentage of all of its funding budget to address customer irritants that no department would make a business case around.
  6. Map the customer experience ecosystem. As firms begin finding weaknesses in the customer journey — or areas ripe for improvement that will create differentiation — turn to customer ecosystem mapping to identify the people, partners, processes, policies, channels, and technologies in the ecosystem involved in delivering those parts of the experience. Never is it the sole responsibility of a customer service representative or a salesperson to deliver an experience . . . and trying to put Band-Aids on a unhealthy ecosystem will fail. Fidelity Investments invites customers into its offices along with cross-functional representatives and uses butcher paper and sticky notes to map customer experiences and the ecosystem for new product launches or experience redesigns.
  7. Select projects that build momentum. When starting out, pick projects that have a very clear benefit to both customers as well as have a clear-cut ROI to the company. Focus particularly on projects for which you can make a business case for what customer experience consultant Jeanne Bliss calls your company’s “power core” — the base of power within a company that determines what’s rewarded at the firm. Making successful change will require the understanding, support, and active buy-in from the power core . . . use these early projects to gain good will and momentum there.