With the sudden change in the business landscape due to COVID-19, customers expect that brands or organizations will not only achieve but exceed their rising expectations. How can this positive change be achieved from a proactive perspective?

In this interview, Janelle Mansfield, Vice President of Customer Success and Customer Experience at Gazelle.ai, shares three principles to ensure an integrated approach to improving brand strategy and service transformation.

These principles consist of having a comprehensive digital strategy, understanding how customer experience works, redefining its value, and leveraging data points (customer feedback) to scale up digital efforts or brand initiatives.

How did you get started in customer experience roles?

I went through different roles and teams, but it always had a common theme around customer success (CS) and customer experience (CX). These two business functions have significant advantages in capturing customer insights and sentiments. It helps improve your understanding of your customers’ needs and strengthens your relationship with them. 

That is why I always advocate for a better experience as a foundational element of genuine and trusted relationships. Not only does it strengthen loyalty, consistency, and customer satisfaction, but it balances the business ethos so that customers can embrace, feel or connect with the brand purpose. This connection is the primary touchpoint and reliable foundation of these continuing relationships.

For me, customer experience and customer success is a management discipline or practice focused on driving customer-centered operations by defining success from a customer perspective and delivering high-value outcomes through services and products.

Do you think there is an overlap between customer success and customer experience? How can the business solve this?

I view CS as a functional area like sales, marketing, and support, but customer experience is a horizontal function that spans the entire organization. It affects not only the customer journey but everyone in the organization that interacts with customers.

By recognizing where the overlap is — an organization can quickly adapt, link insights to drive action, and collaborate in real-time. It helps its focus on customers and maintains a competitive advantage by improving service capability or enhancing product value. 

We need to bring these two together to deliver compelling and meaningful outcomes that empower customers to make a difference in their organization and appreciate the results we provide. 

Our focus has not changed: make customers successful and keep their interaction with us seamless and remarkable. However, just looking at a digital experience through objective eyes is not enough.

We need to measure it proactively and know whether we have successfully delivered our commitment or brand promise. How would we know we have achieved it? Through the experience, we are striving to achieve and the positive emotions we are trying to invoke. Hence, customer experience is a springboard that enables us to ascertain or determine if we have achieved it or not. 

How vital is customer experience? How does it provide value to the organization?

Customer experience contributes to the value business aims to provide and commits to deliver. If customer experiences are cluttered, sketchy, or not aligned with their expectations, it gives signals that we are not reliable, consistent, or the right business partner.

Think of CX as a service offering. If you are offering this as a SaaS service, it should help customers achieve their success or solve their challenges. If that happens, then the perceived or intended value of the service/product is met or fulfilled. 

It works the same way for customer experience. It needs to facilitate or encourage how it should accurately deliver its goal to create mutual value. 

For example, if the experience is not optimal, then the delivered value is perceived the same. But if the experience is exceptional, the perceived value is also the same. In other words, if the experience (or service value) is not efficient, optimal, or easy to understand, its goal or designed purpose is unlikely to be realized (or recognized). 

What are, in your opinion, the top customer experience challenges that companies should be aware of today?

Customers want us to get to know them — personally and professionally. What are their needs and challenges, or what keeps them up at night? Also, their motivations, aspirations, and career initiatives.

The biggest challenge around the CX discipline is a set of assumptions. Hence, it is imperative to understand their sucess metrics, what matters to them, and how they deal with their challenges. Otherwise, we will not know how we will support or provide the success they expect and require.

Here are some things a business needs to continue to improve to make the most of this discipline.

  • Build a unified vision of what CX is or the value it provides. If you look at the leadership perspective, there is a complete understanding of CX that is lacking. They think of CX as a process rather than an outcome to achieve or deliver. Organizations should invest in customer experience strategically, not just tactically. They should not just develop the strategy but execute it cross-functionally across the customer journey. They also need to build a unified vision inside the organization about what customer experience is. 
  • CX maturity (value proposition) is evolving and requires prioritization for brand differentiation and growth. Like with CS, CX is also misunderstood. That is because its program metrics are associated with the traditional ones like surveys, NPS, CSAT, and emails. To gain alignment, we must redefine or ascertain the value of CX. Otherwise, we will fail to strengthen or reinforce the value it brings or provides. Organizations need to have better metrics aligned with the overall business objectives. These metrics must both meet customer expectations and achieve success.
  • Business leaders or executives must be well-aligned with the ROI this discipline provides. It goes back to the first reason cited above. They must realize it is about the customer and not just about the product or service offered. In other words, every customer interaction must create a personalized and acceptable experience. To position CX as a growth provider, enabler, and driver, we should tie it to our overall success metrics beyond touchpoints, emails, and surveys. That means organizations must get an exact picture of where this principle (CX) stands and how they can help customers be successful.

What metrics do you think should measure the success of the customer experience programs or initiatives?

Within the CX community, there’s significant debate about NPS. What is its value and place from a business standpoint, or how does it contribute to financial success? To determine the quality of customer experience programs, we need to measure or assess their effectiveness. 

For me, I always want to start with the outcome. What it is you are trying to achieve. When looking out for the scoring type of systems — whether to assess customer experience or its successful implementation — it is best to understand first what you want to achieve. Doing so will help you identify which metrics or frameworks you should be using.  

The other thing I think is important to note is that using NPS, CSAT, or other metrics does not mean they equal the voice of customer programs. 

The voice of customer program is more robust. It consists of several processes, channels integration, methods, strategies, tasks delegation, and integrating customer feedback. Achieving such a program’s success involves C-suite investment and everyone’s support and buy-in to be unified in their approach. 

Do you consider customer experience as a business strategy or business process?

CX is super strategic. Companies that do well treat CX as a strategy. It requires strategic vision and necessary steps to define strategy both at the corporate and team level. It also includes a cohesive plan to implement, execute, monitor, manage, change, and revisit this plan or goal.

Perhaps that is why they confused CX with CS, and they think it is the same. But on a strategic level, they are different. CX is more strategic, while CS is more of a process-driven approach. 

What are the advantages of improving the customer success process through the customer experience lens?

I’m using the CX lens in the development, enhancement, and progression of the CS team. It helps the organization understand the CX concept through the CS team, converging on their priorities, responsibilities, or goal attainment. 

As an example, we use the CX approach to redesign the customer onboarding journey. I use a lot of stories to help people connect with customers and with teams. It includes the learning challenges or using success stories to share their meaningful impact. 

However, the concept of CX is more abstract. If you dive into it only to improve the business bottom line, you will miss the mark. But if you step back, design, analyze and understand its concept outside-in, the impact and outcome will likely be different. 

Another example is devising customer journey or journey mapping. When you teach people the concept, not just the process on a personal level, it strengthens the connection and understanding of how it becomes meaningful and purposeful. 

Any final thoughts or ideas you would like to share?

Businesses need to learn from their customers across their entire journey. No matter how big the CS, CX, sales, marketing, or product team is, if the customer experience is not top of mind, CX strategies will not help fix broken systems or disconnected experiences.

CX is a clear understanding of the mission or purpose of the organization, its commitment to staying connected, and the values that will guide its actions. Also, it is a competitive pursuit or desire to make consistent changes when desired experiences are poorly delivered or not achieved.

Many studies show that businesses that invest in CX do better, outperform, and outgrow their peers. A sustainable competitive advantage is possible when you have a CX strategy, not just for the product or service but with a strong focus on the customer experience.

By creating consistent experiences, businesses can strengthen their relationships with customers and build stronger loyalty. As stated earlier, customer experience is a springboard that enables us to ascertain or determine if we have achieved it or not.