In my last report, "Standardize Great Customer Experience Delivery," I look at how companies create, share, and assess customer experience (CX) standards. Done well, CX standards prevent avoidable customer experience mistakes, ensure consistent experience delivery, and set a high bar for customer experience quality.

But bad CX standards are worse than no standards at all.

Unfortunately, customer experience professionals can make current problems worse — and even cause new problems — when they create the wrong CX standards. Remember the infamous Comcast customer-service call from the summer? That was, in part, caused by a bad CX standard. Comcast created a standard for its call center reps that requires them to capture a specific reason why a customer is canceling his or her service before moving forward in their scripts. Back in July, a customer recorded his agonizing attempt to cancel without providing a reason and then posted it online — where it was listened to by millions, creating a public relations nightmare.

But don’t give up on CX standards. 

To craft the right standards, CX professionals should identify which parts of the experience need standards, create effective standards that strike an appropriate balance, socialize and reinforce the standards with all employees, and measure the impact of standards on customer and business metrics to confirm that they work.

  • Identify the parts of the experience that need standards. Companies should start by reviewing data and feedback from their voice of customer (VoC) programs for ideas. Careful review of customer journeys is another way to uncover opportunities for standards. For example, European energy utility E.On mapped its five most important customer journeys, one of which occurs when customers move to a new house. E.On’s CX team already knew that customers were unhappy with how long it took to handle their moves. When E.On mapped the end-to-end move journey, it uncovered key inefficiencies where adding standards could streamline the process. As it started to roll out improvements, E.On found that customers noticed and appreciated the company’s response time when the process took two days or fewer, which became the overall standard for completing the end-to-end process.
  • Create CX standards that pass the Goldilocks test. Companies like Nordstrom are famous for providing minimal guidance to employees about the standards for their experience. But that approach won’t work for companies that aren’t already delivering exemplary customer experiences — and is likely apocryphal anyway. Standards should be specific enough that employees know what to do, and no more specific than that. For example, Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) created a standard that the voicemails of customer-facing employees should always contain up-to-date information about whether or not the employees are in the office that day. However, the CX team did not create scripts for employee voicemail messages. Instead, it explained why an accurate voicemail message was important to customers and let employees customize their messages appropriately. In other words, the standard was just right.

  • Socialize and reinforce new standards. Companies need to ensure employees understand how to adhere to new guidelines and know why they’re important to customers. After all, the team members who develop CX standards know what impact they want them to have on customer experience. But employees across the company won’t know. That’s why companies should integrate content about the CX standards into ongoing skills training for employees so that it becomes an integral part of how they do their jobs, rather than an isolated CX initiative. And they should reinforce standards adherence with coaching. Shell has quality assurance and process coaches who listen to and review customer service calls both to ensure adherence to its interaction standards and to provide coaching to customer service professionals. The company tries to make this review process aspirational — focusing on coaching employees toward better performance and identifying unmet customer needs. 
  • Evaluate the impact of standards on customer and business metrics. The right CX standards will result in happier customer and better business performance. But just to be sure, companies should evaluate whether new standards are driving improvements in those metrics. The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Group has modeled the correlation between experience drivers, Net Promoter Score (NPS), and revenues. Connecting these metrics has helped it identify areas where its CX standards are having an adverse impact on business metrics. For example, RBS used average handle time as a call center metric, which incented shorter calls. But it noticed that customers who were behind on their loans, credit cards, or overdrafts were much more likely to agree to and stick with repayment plans if the calls were longer. To better understand why, RBS conducted an experiment with one call center team and found that when the team focused on fully understanding the customers’ financial situations — which required asking more questions and taking more time on the phone — repayment rates went up as much as 80%. That more than offset the increased costs from longer calls.

For more details on how companies use CX standards to fix flaws, ensure consistent quality, and set a high bar for experience delivery, read the full report. And please share your comments and questions below.