Customer Experience – The Tablestakes

So you’ve read my last post on the benefits of managing customer experience and decided to pursue a customer-centric strategy yourself. Congratulations! Deciding to put the customer at the centre of everything you do is a big step and already places you ahead of the majority of organisations today.

Now where do you start?

Here is a list of what I consider to be the tablestakes of a good CEM program. Without these in place the chances of your strategy failing increase exponentially.

A Plan

State your goals. Typical objectives include reduced customer churn, improved customer acquisition, an improved Net Promoter Score, and a reduction in the number of complaints made to the company. In the case of one company I met with yesterday, amongst their goals was “improve the way our customers talk about us”.

Now decide on how you’re going to measure them. NPS and number of complaints are relatively easy to attain. Measuring an improvement in the way your customers talk about you is a little more difficult.

As with any plan you create, ensure it has a timeframe.

Make your plan clear and concise and communicate it to the entire organisation. You need to align the company behind the plan. Remember: a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Executive Support

Countless CEM programs have failed because of a lack of support from above. It is crucial that your program has an executive who will actively champion it, continually looking for new ways to maintain enthusiasm around the CX strategy. This will not happen unless your strategy is made one of the company’s top priorities.

Here’s an example from a couple of years ago where the executive team of Australia’s largest telecommunications company, Telstra, showed their support by spending time on the frontline in one of the company’s contact centres.

(what’s impressive is that they filmed it and made it publicly available – see my point on transparency later on)

A Customer Feedback Mechanism

Its important to look at your company through the customer’s eyes but unless you’re getting your customer’s perspective you’re not getting the full picture. You may think you understand your customers but without an Outside In approach you’re flying blind. Ascertain how your customers are interacting with you and make it easy for them to provide feedback. Typical ways to survey your customers include post call, web chat, email, web, and SMS.

Of course, in today’s social world, you can also collect feedback from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social applications. If your company has a presence on these platforms (and if your customers are on there, you need to be too), you need the ability to collect their feedback from there as well.

Never ask a customer for feedback unless you’re intending to use that data. Once you’ve collected it, you need to determine how you’re going to turn all that feedback you’ve received into actionable insight.

After that, close the loop. Follow through with your customers by telling them what you’ve done and explain why you didn’t do something. Powerful customer engagement can be attained when your customers know that you listened to them, heard their issues and whether or not you were able to address them, you got back to them. It also greatly increases the chances of them providing feedback again in the future.

Engaged Staff

I spoke above about the importance of aligning the company behind your CX strategy. Staff members, and particularly frontline staff, need to engage around providing exceptional experiences to customers (after all, if you want exceptional results, you need to deliver exceptional experiences). They need to be motivated, competent and innovative.

To do this, clearly communicate your plan, provide them with the training they require, equip them with the tools they need to provide those experiences and finally delegate to them the power to make decisions. We’ve all been on the end of a line with a contact centre agent who needs to check with his superior before approving what seems trivial. It’s a waste of our time and it damages our perception of the company.

You’d be surprised how much more engaged staff members are when they understand the direction of the company, are trained properly, empowered and given the tools they need to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.

Another great way to engage frontline staff is to expose them to customer feedback on their performance. Its one thing to hear from your supervisor that you mumble on the phone or are abrupt when dealing with customers face-to-face but to listen to the customer’s opinion (especially in the customer’s voice with their inflections and intonation) is a much more powerful thing. Customer perception is reality. The added benefit of exposing frontline staff to customer feedback is that it can increase their speed to competency.

Alignment of Incentives

Placing the customer at the centre of everything you do means recognising and rewarding employees for providing excellent experiences and aligning every incentive in the company around your CX goals. Everybody needs to be pulling in the same direction so you need to ensure you’re motivating people in the right way for that to happen.

As an example, you wouldn’t incent an executive team on the company’s NPS score while hammering your contact centre agents over their Average Handle Time because a short interaction is not necessarily a good one. A customer with multiple questions seeking to engage an agent may be cut short or even worse cut off simply because the agent wasn’t incented to provide that customer with the best possible experience. You could be pretty sure that particular customer wouldn’t be providing a 9 or a 10 the next time they were asked: “on a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend company X to your family and friends”.


If you’re going to put the customer at the top of the pyramid, you need to deeply understand them. As such, your internal systems need to provide you with an integrated view of each and every one of your customers.

Organisations collect information on their clients but often this information is gathered by different departments or individuals and then saved into different information systems. Many of these information systems are not connected and if they are, it is often difficult to determine whether the different systems contain the same clients, with their relevant information. Insight into client behaviour, needs, and risks is therefore almost impossible to achieve.

Gartner defines an integrated view as: “the combination of the technology, processes and systems necessary to create and maintain an accurate, timely and complete view of the client across multiple channels, business lines, and enterprises, where multiple sources of client data in multiple application systems and databases can be discerned.”


“A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity” – The Dalai Lama.

You can’t love something you don’t trust so if you’re going to embark upon this journey your organisation needs to foster an environment of trust and that means being transparent not only with customers but with employees as well. Your goal is to develop trust relationships with both.

For your customers this means you need to be clear about what you do, how you’re doing it and why. If you’re just starting your CX journey, begin with publishing your vision and mission statement along with your values and any relevant policies on topics such as corporate social responsibility, support and hiring practices. Ensure your customers know and understand your commitments and if you miss them (and this should be very, very rarely), openly discuss why that was the case.

For employees, you’re looking to engender an environment of trust where people who work for you feel free to speak their minds – employees, after all, are a wonderful source of feedback that should not be ignored. Constantly communicate how the company is tracking with respect to its goals and encourage their thoughts, ideas and comments. As with customer feedback, if employees take the time to provide you their thoughts, make sure you get back to them communicating what you’ve done with their feedback.

Brand Promise

One of the keys to engendering trust is to deliver on the brand promise. To do this, you need to understand why customers are using your product (or service). The reasons will include not just the functional problems that your product solves but also the emotional value your product and or company delivers.

Once you know these reasons, work to ensure you reinforce your brand with every interaction. A brand’s strength lies solely in the minds of people. Take every opportunity to reinforce in people’s minds what you stand for and why.


Its no small list, is it? But each factor is just as important as the others and if you want to maximise the chances of success for your CX strategy, they all need to be in place before you begin.

Once you’ve achieved all of these, you’re ready to start mapping your customer journeys. My next post will cover how to do this.


view all posts

Subscribe to Cxpert

* indicates required

2 comments on “Customer Experience – The Tablestakes

  1. Felicity Brazil says:

    Thanks Ben!

    I’m enjoying reading these great posts on the criticality of customer experience for a business and ensuring that it has a customer-centric approach.

    I love this comprehensive ‘tablestakes’ list and I totally agree with each of the points and that they need to be in place before a business begins. These are essential to be in place for both their external customers and their internal customers.

    You mention about delivering on brand promise and, in one of the earlier posts, about what feeling do you want your customers (essential this is both external and internal customers) to have and take away with every experience of the business. This is so powerful for businesses to know and connect with … valuing customers and truly delivering on what the customers values and eliminating/reducing that in the business that doesn’t do this.

    I’m looking forward to the next post.



    • Admin says:

      Sounds like I’m preaching to the converted, Felicity. So glad you’re enjoying the posts. Thanks for your support!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>