Creating a customer-centric CX strategy in the age of AI innovation

Editor’s note: Mehul Nagrani is managing director, North America, at software development firm InMoment. 

The business landscape is undergoing some groundbreaking changes due largely to artificial intelligence. Customers want more than ever before, at a hyper-personalized level – and they want it quickly. 

How do you make sure your customer experience strategy will work in this new era of innovation? I’ve put together 10 steps to get you started. 

1. Establish clear objectives.

Like the beginning of any strategy, you need to start by planning. Design with the end in mind.

Define clear, measurable objectives for your CX strategy. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Improving customer retention.
  • Driving customer acquisition.
  • Reducing cost to serve.
  • Increasing customer lifetime value.
  • Enhancing brand reputation.
  • Establishing and achieving key satisfaction metrics.

You’ve probably heard of SMART framework: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. All objectives must pass through these filters to ensure your goals are well-defined and attainable.

Once you choose your objectives as your framework for success, you’ll have clear guidelines for building your program. 

2. Collect and connect data from everywhere.

Even if you're capturing data from multiple sources, like surveys, our integrated CX approach suggests there are always more sources you need to consider. It's rare for any business to have a data set that truly captures all its signals. Any data source left untapped is a missed opportunity. Let’s go over each one.

Call center/customer service data is all the information collected through customer service interactions. It includes call recordings, chat transcripts (human and bot), customer queries, complaints, feedback and other details captured during customer service calls. Analyzing call center data helps businesses understand common customer issues across the entire universe of interactions, assess the quality of service provided and identify areas for improvement in products or services. It can also provide insights into customer sentiment and preferences.

Surveys are a direct method of collecting customer feedback. They typically include questions designed to gather specific information about the customer's experience, satisfaction, expectations and perceptions of the product or service. This data is valuable for gauging customer satisfaction, understanding customer needs and identifying trends or gaps in the customer experience. 

Reviews and social include customer reviews and ratings, competitive learning, brand monitoring and mentions. Most of us have left a review if we had an exceptional (or awful) experience with a product or service. Monitoring and analyzing customer reviews and social media posts provide real-time insights. This channel is valuable for understanding public perception, managing online reputation and engaging with customers directly to address their concerns or appreciate positive feedback.

Market research includes brand tracking, competitive analyses and benchmarking. These are used as comparative models to get an accurate picture of your business's position within the market. 

Transactional, financial and operational customer data is the data you already have. Still, if you don’t combine it with the other data signals, you could be asking your customers for it each time. These data signals need to come together for a complete understanding of your customers. 

According to Forrester, 80% of the world’s data is unstructured, and the volume is expected to double in 2024. With that in mind, it’s now more important than ever for businesses to collect, unify and interpret this data. 

3. Understand and interpret the data.

Now that you’ve set up your customer feedback sources and created a 360-degree view of your customers’ voices, you need a way to understand and interpret the unstructured data to guide your action plans. Traditional methods of data analysis fall short when signals are coming in from a myriad of channels. 

This unified view is more than just an aggregation of data but the synthesis of all the touchpoints your customer uses to interact with you into a single, comprehensible narrative. Patterns and trends that are invisible in isolated data silos become clearer when examined as a single data set. For instance, a dip in NPS scores might correlate with specific call center complaints, pointing to a systemic issue that needs addressing. This level of analysis is critical for businesses to understand their current standing and predict and shape future customer experiences. The analysis helps guide the actions to reach the business goals. 

All customer signals merge to form what you could think of as the public opinion of your brand – in totality. Integrated CX synchronizes all of them to create a holistic view and uses AI to understand and interpret everything.

4. Create seamless experiences.

Developing seamless experiences is about having flawless execution across the entire path a customer takes when dealing with a brand. It’s about tracing this path, from their initial contact with your brand to various touchpoints like website visits, purchases, customer service interactions, post-purchase feedback and even after they have churned or left you as a customer. This process isn’t just about plotting points on a graph but more about understanding the emotional and tactical journeys of the customer at each stage. When you act on this data you can create seamless experiences for your customers.

The key is to identify and analyze every interaction your customer has with your brand with an objective lens – not biased by who created the journey. These interactions could range from when they hear about your company in an ad to the after-sales service they receive. At each touchpoint, ask: 

  • What are the customer's expectations? 
  • Are these being met or exceeded? 
  • Where are the friction points? 
  • Are we doing everything we can to create a customer for life and a promoter for our brand?

This level of scrutiny highlights operational gaps and actionable opportunities for overcoming them. The insights gained from journey mapping help pinpoint exactly where customers are getting the most value and where they're facing challenges. 

By understanding the customer’s journey in its entirety, you can identify new avenues to enhance it through personalized marketing, streamlined processes, innovative product features, etc.

5. Create hyper-personalized experiences.

Offering experiences that are tailored to each customer is more important than ever. Forrester implores businesses to “look for consumers to be cautious in 2024; they won’t stop spending but will expect to maximize economic value.” Part of maximizing this value is a push toward more personalized, individualized consumer experience – everyone wants to feel special.

Utilize the power of AI and machine learning to analyze the integrated customer data collected from the various feedback signals mentioned. This analysis will help you understand individual customer preferences, behaviors and needs at a granular level. 

With this insight, create dynamic customer profiles that evolve over time with each interaction. Use these profiles to tailor your marketing messages, product recommendations and service offerings, making every customer feel uniquely valued. 

Personalization extends beyond just addressing customers by their names in e-mails; it involves curating experiences, offers and content that resonate with their desires and anticipations. This could mean personalized shopping suggestions based on past purchases, customized content in newsletters or targeted promotions that align with their interests. A caveat here – be sure you get it right. It is one thing to get someone’s name wrong in an e-mail. It is entirely different to suggest a product offering that is not appropriate, such as “wine of the month” to an underage consumer.

The aim is to make every touchpoint along the customer journey feel like it's designed especially for them, enhancing engagement, loyalty and conversion rates.

6. Measure success, identify opportunities and take action. 

The effectiveness of your CX strategy will be measured by the actions you take from building out an integrated CX program and by showing the impact on customer experience and financial metrics from what you build. You will need to implement a robust analytics framework across traditional CX and financial metrics that reflect the customer experience and the resulting economic value. Think about things like: 

  • Customer experience metrics: customer / overall satisfaction; Net Promoter Score (NPS); customer effort score. 
  • Financial metrics: customer lifetime value; cost to serve; new acquisition created; retention/attrition.

These metrics provide insights into the health of your customer relationships and the performance of your CX initiatives. While these metrics are primarily quantitative, the qualitative feedback gathered through surveys, interviews and social media provides the rich insights that help create the actions that drive these performance metrics.

Far too many clients become dependent on their metrics, such as NPS. Listening posts get added using the same metrics that “we’ve always used” based on customer journey work – that may or may not truly reflect the moments that matter for customers. 

Implementing this step ensures your CX program remains relevant, dynamic and responsive to changing customer expectations and market conditions – while remaining financially impactful.

7. Create a closed loop.

Establishing a closed-loop process is crucial for a world-class customer feedback program. A recent report from Forrester claims that “nearly eight in 10 programs close the customer feedback loop. But respondents struggle to prove the business impact of CX changes, and many don’t consider their reporting as engaging to stakeholders.” This involves collecting feedback across all channels and analyzing it in real-time to identify issues and solve them as quickly as possible.  

Implement systems and processes that allow for quickly identifying and resolving customer issues. Encourage and facilitate easy feedback submissions for customers at every interaction point and ensure they feel their input is valued by taking proactive action. This feedback loop should also include a mechanism for regularly thanking customers for their feedback and sharing the changes you've made based on their suggestions. This step of the closed-loop process acknowledges the customer voice as critically important to your brand. 

8. Empower your team.

Empowering your team is crucial for delivering exceptional customer experiences. This step involves investing in comprehensive training programs that cover product knowledge and service protocols and emphasize empathy, active listening and personalized service. 

Using an integrated CX approach that delves deep into the employee experience (EX) is a great place to start. This involves listening to employees on a continuous basis through direct solicitation feedback – engagement surveys and targeted milestone surveys – and indirect feedback such as looking at data from Glassdoor. This approach to integrated EX allows you to hear the heartbeat of your business from the employee lens. Knowing their general feelings toward the company, tribulations, feedback and woes, you can take data-driven action to foster a culture on a momentous, upward trend. 

When your teams feel supported, equipped and listened to, they’ll create more compelling brand experiences for your customers. They’re your most valuable asset and the lifeblood of your organization – they need to be treated like it.  

Recognizing and rewarding employees who go above and beyond to enhance the customer experience is crucial for motivating your team and reinforcing the value you place on exceptional service.

9. Build a customer-centric culture.

Many companies think they are highly customer centric, but building a culture based on a customer-centric attitude is less common than you’d imagine. 

The employee-customer link is deeply rooted. Fostering a culture that prioritizes customer and employee satisfaction at all levels of the organization drives customer centricity. This culture requires leadership buy-in, cross-departmental collaboration and recognizing employees who contribute significantly to customer experience improvements.  

A customer-centric culture is about making a commitment at every level of the organization to see the world through the customers' eyes and make their satisfaction and success the goal. This leads to happier customers and drives employee engagement as teams feel more connected to the mission and purpose of their work, resulting in a cycle of positive outcomes for both the business and its customers.

10. Focus on innovation and continuous improvement.

Your final step to building a successful CX program is also one of the most important. Innovation and continuous improvement are the foundations for continuous success and justification for the program’s expense.

Foster a culture of innovation within your organization, where new ideas are encouraged and experimentation is the norm. Additionally, embrace failure as a learning opportunity, refining your approach based on what works and what doesn't. 

Integrating these insights into your strategy will help you stay ahead of emerging technologies, customer trends and best practices in CX. Consider implementing advanced technologies like chatbots for 24/7 customer service and reputation management tools.

This commitment to continuous improvement and innovation will ensure your CX strategy remains relevant and effective, driving sustained business growth and customer loyalty.

Make CX your differentiator

Ten steps may seem like a lot of work – and it is. But, with competition and customer expectations increasing every day and technology speeding everything along, customer experience will be your differentiator.