Why is the customer experience so important?
We are all customers or users of services, so we can all relate to what individuals go through when they receive a service, be it good or bad. Few organisations in the service sector have a one-off interaction with their customers; it is usually a number of interactions along a journey. Every interaction between a service provider and a customer is a ‘moment of truth’, a point at which the customer will shape their impressions of the provider. The customer experience at each of these moments is an opportunity for the organisation to either create satisfaction or dissatisfaction.
Customer experience is an element of service most organisations are keen to improve, but, unless the organisation understands what represents value to their customers and what is preventing them from delivering this value, customer service cannot be improved with any certainty. ‘Value’ in Lean Thinking terms refers to a customer receiving the service and/or tangibles they want, right first time. Knowing and understanding first-hand what customers are experiencing is integral to improvement, after all, only a customer can authentically describe their experience of a service.
How many organisations do you think truly know what their customers are experiencing during these numerous moments of truth? Can you say that your organisation knows? If the answer is no, how can you be sure you are adding value for your customers? How can you know what elements of your service are causing dissatisfaction amongst your customers – what is preventing you from adding value? How can you be certain you are not spending money improving things that aren’t a priority to your customers?
How can taking a Lean perspective help?
Lean is centred on understanding customer value and continually improving to achieve processes that deliver this value without waste (steps in a process that do not add value). There are many tools and techniques being used across the public sector to improve processes, to remove waste and to deliver services quicker and at a lower cost, but obtaining and understanding the ‘Voice of the Customer’ (VOC) accurately is a critical component.
VOC is an effective approach to understanding customer needs and requirements. Once an organisation’s customers are clearly identified (Step 1), information about their needs must be gathered (Step 2) and then this information is analysed (Step 3). The output of the analysis should be a clear understanding and articulation of customer value and how this is or not delivered. We use Customer Experience Charting, at Steps 2 & 3 of VOC, to help ensure the right information is collected and that it is analysed in a way that will deliver the intended outputs.
What is Customer Experience Charting?
Customer experience charting is a method used to understand what actually happens to customers when they engage with a service. Importantly, it looks at things directly from the perspective of the customer rather than the service provider, which is too often the case when tools such as Process Mapping or Value Stream Mapping are used in isolation. Customer experience charting enhances the information in the value stream map, enhancing subsequent improvements – it adds to the picture! We use it to improve the service delivered to customers, maximising their experience of the service, as well as achieving improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of internal processes undertaken to deliver the service.
Simply put, customer experience charting is recording and visually representing the customer’s perception of their experiences of a service to understand what their requirements are and how well these are being delivered by the organisation. It can be conducted in numerous ways, but it is most effective when customers are accessed and involved in a way that suits them. One thing is for sure; it will always involve ‘Go See’, a key aspect of Lean. This involves observing customers whilst they are receiving a service, which may not always be appropriate, but the quality of information that can be gathered means it should be undertaken whenever possible.
Below are the six basic stages of Customer Experience Charting:
- Agree the customer segment
- Determine the best means of accessing customers and information
- Gather the charting data and information by being with and talking to customers
- Create a visual customer experience chart
- Validate the chart with customers
- Use with other data to steer redesign.
Step 1 involves identifying the key differentiating characteristics of the customer groups you want to involve. It is important to understand which groups are a priority – it is best to consider known problem areas and/or strategic priorities.
Next is to consider how customers interact with the organisation in relation to the process you are analysing. By considering the process at a high-level it is possible to identify how customers become involved & develop an outline high-level chart of the interaction points. From here you can decide the best way to access the customers at each of those points:
- Observation in customer areas e.g. Reception
- Discussion with customers
- Shadow’ customers (with permission).
Once we know the steps of the process involving interactions, relevant tangibles, e.g. letters/instructions, can be collected. Primarily this step is about collecting as much information as possible by the agreed means. As we continue, a picture of the customer’s journey, the customer experience chart, can be created. Using icons that are easy to understand, this chart should be visual, adding details to illustrate experiences further e.g. using speech bubbles with actual quotes.
Example of a Customer Experience Chart
Once the customer experience chart is created, it is important to go back to the customers involved and validate its accuracy. This is to confirm that their perceptions have been understood in the way they meant them. Once validated, the chart is used as part of analysing the current state – the experiences should be aligned with other customer satisfaction data and used to enhance the Value Stream Map. It should, together with the other diagnostic tools used, then form the basis for redesigning the process to better deliver value to customers.
Customer experience charting is a simple yet effective tool if used correctly. The common pitfalls for people undertaking this type of charting are:
- Turning it into a process map – the focus should not be on the process, but rather the each of the experiences of the customer as they go through the process
- Assuming we know and have understood the customer correctly and not getting the chart validated by the customers
- Not getting customers on-board first.
Done incorrectly, it could focus improvement on the wrong thing, leading to an organisation doing the wrong things better, but done right it could significantly improve customer satisfaction by focusing on aspects that most affect customer experience.
Importance of Customer Perspective
There is no replacement for the value gained from undertaking this type of charting. It is a key tool used to provide accurate information about a customer’s perspective of their experiences in a format that is easily understandable. Experience charting forms an important part of any diagnostic, be it a process, service or function. Its key benefit is that it provides a way of understanding true value from the customer’s perspective whilst also providing a clearer way of identifying what prevents a service provider from delivering it right first time, every time.