Want to Keep and Grow Your Small Business? Embrace “CX”

“Customer Experience” (a.k.a. CX) is an evolving discipline that’s being embraced by nearly every industry, from the board room to the front-line.  Large organizations have dedicated CX leadership roles and are prominently highlighting CX initiatives in their business plans, investor reports and recruiting efforts.  If you find a large co. that hasn’t informed all stakeholders that CX is a core element of the company’s business plan, it will be or they’ll be extinct soon.    

These iconic leaders are unequivocal about the importance of CX to their business.

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” – Jeff Bezos

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around.” – Steve Jobs

CX is not the exclusive turf of large companies with deep pockets.  Small business owners can pursue CX excellence by defining what it means within their company, assigning value to it, and helping employees buy-in to CX.  In small businesses, a dedicated CX function may not be possible, so the owner or a senior leader will need to lead the charge toward CX excellence.    

What Exactly is CX?

In text book terms, CX is the result of an interaction between a customer and an organization for the duration of their relationship.  A real-world definition of CX is how the customer feels about working with your organization.  That “feeling” (experience) spans the entire interaction, from first to last contact.  A customer’s journey has many “touch-points”:  Entering your web site/location, finding what they want, interacting by chat, phone, in-person, email, text, placing an order, receiving the good or service, seeking service, doing a return and providing feedback.    

A good customer experience means that the customer’s expectations were 100% met.  Practically speaking, customers do not frequently rate their experience as 100% good.  This means that there’s almost always opportunity for improvement.  To effectively identify and make the improvements needed to be rated 100% good, companies need to determine what constitutes “good” experience, break-down the customer’s journey into individual touch-points, identify shortcomings, and find the root-cause.  With this information, companies can develop processes, training, systems, reporting necessary to achieve CX excellence. 

Where Did CX Originate

 “Customer Experience” (a.k.a. CX) has emerged into a formal discipline from its roots in call-center technology and marketing analytics.  As TQM (total quality management) came to prominence in the ‘80s, professional in this space began to consider the customer implication of all activity.  This led to the concept of “customer satisfaction” emerging, which was applied to products, then services, becoming popularized by JD Power & Associates work in the auto industry.  In the ‘90s the focus shifted to “customer value”, which further evolved a wholistic view of the entire customer relationship.  In the early 2000s, a Gartner analyst gave rise to the Enterprise Feedback Management” model, which spurred firms like Medallia and Qualtrics to develop and deliver “voice of the customer” systems for mainstream business.  Shortly thereafter, several researchers developed what is known today as NPS (net promoter score), which has become a wide-spread standard across diverse industries and businesses of all sizes. 

CX is Here to Stay

CX is beyond a burning hot topic – its importance is growing, and the discipline will continue to evolve.  Last year, major research company (Gartner) exploring the prevalence of CX discussions on social media found hundreds of thousands of conversations taking place about CX design, data, analytics and strategy.  Gartner also found that CX is the key factor driving >40% of all data analytics projects.  This makes great sense given that experts in industry, academia, and other thought-leaders are writing books, giving speeches, conducting interviews about CX importance, its impact on industries, markets and society.    

Dedicated CX consultancies exist, producing indices of measure, promoting models to track financial impact of CX levels and ROI of CX initiatives.  Companies committed to CX have begun tying it to performance and compensation.  Excellence in CX is being used as the basis for recognition, identifying best-practices and pursuing ways to embed CX into company cultures. 

CX certifications are now offered, trade groups support professional development and networking with CX experts and like-minded peers.  The subject of CX has permeated just about every aspect of business today, with many co.s dedicating resources to driving excellence in CX.    

What’s This Mean for Small Business?

For the smallest businesses, some feel that CX success manifests itself in what they do to meet customer expectations – it’s a prerequisite, rooted in common-sense.  For these folks, the barometer of CX success is the absence of complaints, an occasional compliment, consistently higher revenue and profitability year over year.  For an independent, owner/operator small business with a few employees, this is an understandable point of view. 

For owners of small businesses that are part of a franchise system, they often enjoy a distinct advantage over independent businesses.  This is because franchisees have a peer group of fellow owners, all of whom share a common bond of vested interest in their success.  Franchisors have begun embedding CX excellence into the company’s operations, and especially their development efforts where they gauge a candidate’s ability/desire to embrace CX excellence.  Some Franchisors, who have committed to CX, take it a step further, “journey-mapping” customer interactions and adapting procedures, systems, feedback mechanisms, performance metrics to optimize desired CX outcomes.  And some franchisors correlate CX excellence to financial performance, using data to recognize and showcase best practices. 

CX Focus Helps Mitigate The Impact of Disruption

While any business can be disrupted, small businesses are particularly exposed.  Resources can be scarce (people, capital, time) vs larger companies.  However, what small business owners lack in resources they can off-set with speed, agility and their team’s ability to rapidly solve problems.  Another asset of small businesses is their “heart”, confidence and capacity to innovate and adapt to changing needs/expectations.  Successful, durable small businesses are plugged-in at all levels to how their customers feel about their experience, which serves as an early warning-system to changing customer needs.  

Pursuit of CX Excellence is a Competitive Advantage

As some companies are proving, the pursuit of CX excellence is a competitive advantage that can be leveraged in sales/marketing to capture new and unanticipated growth opportunities.  When a business is among the first-to-market with a product/service, there’s a first-mover (early adopter) advantage – that’s the case for companies that pursue, achieve and sustain CX excellence ahead of the pack. 

As you continue to explore CX, undoubtedly you’ll find that co.s of all sizes are embedding CX into their culture.  The pursuit of CX excellence is impacting nearly everything they do, and they promote this fact.  By positioning CX as “mission critical”, they showcase their people (helping to reduce turnover), the deepening of customer relationships (boosting retention), and supplement revenues (referrals lift sales).    

When you see other companies promoting their CX endeavors as drivers of their success,  recognize it for what it is – smart marketing.  Use it as a rallying cry to energize/inspire team members.  Resolve to embed CX into your culture, do the work to accomplish this, and make it one of your objectives to be able to tell a compelling CX story that positions your company favorably in the eyes of customers, prospects and potential employees.     

Where to Begin? 

If you own or lead an independent small business, unaffiliated to a brand or franchise, then its entirely up to you, and your immediate team, to define what CX means to your organization, how it will be implemented, measured and what CX excellence looks like.  It’s not unusual for the owner/leader to “own” CX and champion the cause until it takes root and benefits become tangible.  If you have the resources, a CX consultant can guide you through the creation and implementation of a blueprint for CX success. 

If you’re affiliated with a brand or franchise, carefully examine and understand how the franchisor defines CX, what metrics, methods or tools, and what CX excellence looks like.  Remember, you bought-into the brand/franchise to capitalize on a proven model – this should include training, guidance and metrics to track progress and reinforce/recognize CX excellence.    

A comprehensive source of CX info and resources can be found at the Customer Experience Professional Association (www.cxpa.org).  CXPA offers the industry’s premiere certification, education, networking and best practices platform.  You can attend training, seek mentorship, find a consultant, view success stories and much more.  The organization also makes a myriad of articles, white papers publicly available on their web site.    

It all begins with a small business owner believing in the significance of CX to their company’s success.  To make CX excellence sustainable, it needs to be embedded in the company’s culture.

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2 Comments

  1. Robby Hollin

    Great article! So my question is this: How long should I expect to wait before a small business is profitable? My dad is about to invest his retirement into a business idea. That’s not a good idea right? Eagerly awaiting your reply. 🙂

    Reply
    • Phil Harvey

      Thanks for your kind words. To assess profitability of a potential franchise investment, speak with existing franchisees – their actual experience is as real as it gets. Re. your father’s potential investment, hope that he’s consulting with trusted professionals to help assess, risk, financial viability. Doing so will give him confidence in his conclusions & help him make an informed decision.

      Reply

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