Six principles behind a symbiotic Customer Experience

Six principles behind a symbiotic Customer Experience

There are those who think that CX doesn’t really matter, and there are also those who think that CX is all that matters. Both are wrong. Any good business is a win-win. The customer gets their desired outcome and the business gets its reward as a result. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

While this may be a statement of the blindingly obvious, getting the balance right and achieving mutually beneficial outcomes takes vision and a lot of thought, planning, and coordination. In New value disciplines must be mastered for the digital age, I outlined three critical value disciplines that provide a high-level view of how businesses need to operate in this digital era. Orchestrating a superior customer experience is one of the three, and in this blog, we go a little deeper.

Just as an architect must understand the fundamental properties of materials, the design discipline, and regulations, developing a consistently positive and relevant customer experience must be governed by certain principles. This blog outlines six design principles that will lead to a happy place where both customers and the business achieve their desired outcomes = symbiotic CX. They are more challenging than they may appear and the one constant behind them is access and use of accurate customer data.

A channel-agnostic customer journey orientation

It’s a common mistake to design customer experiences around each interaction channel that customers use. The problem with this approach is that it creates channel silos that frustrate the customer, especially if they use multiple channels throughout their various journeys. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated customers’ use of digital channels, but they don’t want to be forced down a digital silo. Customer journey mapping provides a baseline for how customers might be expected to engage with a firm, but they provide a static proxy of reality. Channel choice is up to the customer, so experience design must take a channel-agnostic approach. Observation, Voice of the Customer (VoC) survey data, and customer journey analytics (CJA) can help inform the CX design process, but as we will see, there is more to it than that.

Recognize and know your customer

Regular customers expect to be recognized. While those who sign in to access service are superficially recognized, this recognition is merely transactional. It does not reveal the customer’s context or provide any clues as to why they made contact or what their experience might have been along their journey to this point. Recognizing and knowing the customer depends on the quality of the available data about them. Their history, preferences, past behaviors, and current interaction journey. Without this, real personalization is impossible, or at best, lucky guesswork. A dynamic customer profile must be available at the point of interaction to trigger a relevant response or provide guidance to smooth the path to the customer’s objectives. It’s of no use if the required data is locked away in the marketing department’s customer data platform (CDP) but unavailable to a service agent trying to help the customer solve a problem. This is why I recommend developing a customer engagement platform so that subject to permissions and role, whoever interacts with the customer, even if it’s a bot, has access to all relevant data, preferably in real-time – see The Customer Engagement Platform – part 2: Anatomy

Build trust

Trust is fundamental in any relationship, and hardly a week goes by without some major data breach coming to light. Customers want to know that their data is protected at all times and only used as they permit. While there are a host of regional privacy and data protection regulations in force and significant penalties for non-compliance, common sense should make this a no-brainer. However, large companies awash with customer data are especially at risk of destroying trust through data breaches. No matter the size, every business must develop disciplines and governance to ensure that trust is maintained.

Trust is also based on the values exhibited by a business. While the price may be the final deciding factor for some, ethical product sourcing is also a contributor to trustworthiness. Zara, part of Inditex, has complete traceability from raw materials to clothing and requires all its suppliers in over 50 countries to sign up to its stringer Code of Conduct. It conducted 1,396 audits to ensure compliance in 2019. The UK online fashion retailer Boohoo has recently instituted unscheduled surprise visits to some of its suppliers to check that the working environment for employees is up to standard. Transparency and traceability rest on data and are an increasingly important feel-good factor in the customer experience—values matter.


The pandemic has added impetus to the need to be empathetic with each customer. Lockdowns have generated anxieties and changes in customer behaviors and expectations. Face-to-face interactions have been displaced by online, mobile, or video-conferencing. Active listening, understanding, and concern for the customer’s wellbeing, intentions, and context are cultural. They are also contextual. Scaling empathy across many hundreds of thousands of interactions a day where decisions are often automated puts the human touch at risk. The increased use of AI to trigger decisions, such as mortgage loans or insurance claims, may reduce operational costs but lead to bad decisions based on embedded algorithmic bias. Ethical AI is essential for empathy at scale – see Responsible AI – What is it, and why it’s important to CX?

Dynamic orchestration

Today, dynamic orchestration of the customer experience is more aspirational than fact. The idea is that throughout every customer journey, online and offline, the customer experience is fluid and supported with contextually relevant information, content, or guidance as required. The static customer journey design approach to CX relies on assumptions or research to create rules to trigger what is hoped is the right response. Dynamic orchestration depends on data fuelling a network of AI and appropriate underlying process automation to trigger relevance at the right time and form and in real-time. The most advanced customer engagement platform vendors such as Adobe, Microsoft, Oracle, Pegasystems, Salesforce, SAP, and Zoho, to name a few, have been moving in this direction for several years. Their platforms use a mix of rules-based and semi-autonomous AI-based approaches. While these platforms have evolved from former CRM systems to support employees in marketing, sales, and service departments, they now encompass a much broader scope. They are now hybrid systems of record and engagement. When integrated with back-office operational systems they deliver a unified omnichannel or channel-agnostic customer experience.

One of the best examples in use is Pega Infinity (Pegasystems), used by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA). The bank has developed a customer Engagement Engine that generates 20 million daily responses in under 200 milliseconds across 18 channels, supporting 50 million-plus in-person next best action recommendations. A coherent cross-enterprise customer engagement strategy underpins the effective use of AI.

Continuously adaptive

Customer behaviors, expectations and the options available to them, and the art of the possible are in an accelerating state of flux. To maintain customer relevance any business must learn to adapt at speed. Modern cloud-based platforms can help, but ultimately adaptation requires a high degree of sensitivity to change and the ability to sense, anticipate, respond and adapt as critical survival capabilities – see The Enterprise as an Adaptive Living System. Multiple *OODA loops connected to a central ‘brain’ provide the sensing capabilities, along with observation techniques, such as ‘walking in the shoes of the customer’ and feedback from voice-of-the-customer/employee (VoC/E) mechanisms. This brings me back to the three value disciplines that must be mastered – operational excellence, CX, and continuous innovation. Get this right, and you will deliver symbiotic CX and enduring customer relevance

*Observe, orient, decide, act’ developed by military strategist and USAF Colonel John Boyd

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