crowd in Times Square surrounded by billboards for different brands
PHOTO: Teun Swagerman

Here’s the unfortunate truth: in today’s business climate, odds are your customer experience (CX) just isn’t cutting it. It’s understandable. Customer expectations and new digital capabilities are evolving so fast it feels like only the Googles and Amazons of the world can keep pace. In a 2018 survey my company, West Monroe Partners, did with the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), 61% of respondents said their company’s ability to quickly adapt is a top strategic priority — yet only 17% thought efforts to do so were currently mature.

What remains is a sea of sameness across industries. For example, the majority of mid-market banks provide commercial loans with paper-driven processes that lack transparency and force customers to chase their applications down. Those who now win — and will win in the future — automate these processes, offer a digital portal to their customers, and communicate a timeline for completion. This creates a connection with customers and generates revenue: adopting these capabilities can cut down the time to revenue cycle on the loan approval process down by half.

However unfortunate the current state of CX may be, it does create opportunities for differentiation that — unlike price or product — are ripe for the taking. Here’s how to get it done.

Set the Foundation With a Data-Driven Strategy

Data should be central to any organization’s CX mission. However, most companies still have no idea how to harness (or even efficiently access) the vast amounts of data sitting in numerous systems.

To revamp your business’s CX, you must direct and infuse data with purpose. Think of it as a guidepost lighting the way to your company’s overarching North Star. Gear this data collection — whether its ethnographic studies, customer and employee surveys, or focus groups — around customer sentiment. Then analyze and segment it to establish customer personas, journey maps, and key performance indicators to benchmark your CX success.

Related Article: The First Steps of Data Mobilization: Data Audit and Data Consolidation

Ask: Can I Translate These Insights Into Actual Business Decisions?

Embedding data-driven insights at the ground level will inform and validate your business’s top-line strategy — but this step should also help you make the agile, tactical adjustments needed to keep pace with the ever-changing customer expectations.

Right now, most organizations have a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, as well as a platform designed to track voice of the customer (VoC). Some companies have customer success platforms as well. The most advanced companies have artificial intelligence (AI) tools, like Einstein, which is part of the Salesforce CRM product suite. Your CRM keeps a historical record of touchpoints and facilitates customer interactions, while VoC tools collect customer feedback and sentiment, customer success platforms watch behavioral data to assess customer health. But the platforms tend to be isolated from one another, which means there’s no way to get the full picture of your customer, or to make business decisions based on the overall health of customers. Without having these platforms connected, it’s also not possible to leverage AI tools to analyze the data to identify insights and create predictive recommendations.

To stay competitive, companies will need to integrate and operationalize these platforms, so when fluctuations happen, you have a way to take action — at scale. We’re starting to see this trend play out in the marketplace with SAP’s acquisition of Qualtrics. We expect Salesforce to follow suit and purchase Medallia as well.

With integrated data-driven platforms, your organization’s customer interactions will have the ability to translate into tangible business actions. For example, you can make outcome-based investments by pinpointing exactly what’s wrong (and when, and with which customers), and what you need to fix it. So those mid-market banks might, say, invest in streamlining and automating document preparation and collection after noticing that customers get frustrated being asked for the same information at various points throughout the loan process.

These data-driven insights will facilitate better omnichannel communication, allowing your employees to understand which channels are most effective for which customers at which times — and then empower those employees to quickly adapt to preferences to best meet customer needs.

Related Article: 6 Things to Know About SAP's $8B Qualtrics Acquisition

Adopt a Customer-Centric Culture

At the end of the day, no amount of new technology will differentiate your organization’s CX if there isn’t a corresponding organizational mindset shift to using data insights to improve customer experience. Employees must know how to access valuable data and have the power to act on insights without jumping through hoops.

What’s more, organizing your business around customer journeys, with agile teams that cut across departments and take authority over key aspects of these journeys ensures a smoother customer experience and engages employees by granting them ownership over functions and capabilities tied to specific customer outcomes. Having the platforms in place to interact with customers in optimal ways — and the insights around next best actions to support a specific journey or personalized up-sell opportunities — enables employees to form stronger customer relationships, reduce problems and drive sales. One financial services firm used customer life events (e.g. engagement, buying new home, birth of child) as key points in the journey. They then used these as the basis for the real-time, omnichannel marketing architecture the company needed to stay relevant — and keep its credit card at the top of wallet — during these big spend moments in time.

This kind of thinking can differentiate your organization in 2019: thinking that uses data-driven insights not merely to sell a product, but to assess customers’ various life stages and what they need each step of the way. Combine this with the ability to engage them across channels through a timely and personalized experience and you have your recipe for success.

We can expect more of it. Especially now, when organizations are starting to collect buying history, customer sentiment and analytics. And especially when organizations start combining VoC and Customer Success platforms with their CRM to deliver better personalization, communication, sales, and overall end-to-end customer experiences.

The time to differentiate on customer experience is now — because if the data we’re starting to collect is no longer the same as years past, the way we use it shouldn’t be either.