Customer experience (CX) is reshaping the way brands do business. Having a customer-centric approach is no longer a buzzword, it's a linchpin to the success and longevity of organizations as competitive landscapes continue to evolve at breakneck speeds.

As more organizations begin to realize the customer must be at the center of all they do, the questions then becomes, who should own the experience and what data should be used to construct it. The fact of the matter is, one person, or even one department, cannot be held solely responsible for running point on CX -- it must be woven into the entire company --and it can't be built on data alone.

Don't get me wrong, CX initiatives should most certainly be constructed around shared data points from across the organization, but numbers shouldn't be the only ingredient. Leaders must remember emotion is also a key factor in effectively delivering a winning customer experience.

It takes a delicate balance between understanding data and keeping real emotion in mind. But if your organization doesn't figure out how to leverage the two to create an unforgettable experience and emotional connection, customers will start looking elsewhere.

Going beyond the data

Yes, the data gives powerful insights into customer and prospect behavior --we can identify purchase behaviors, what messaging they responded best to, what content they engaged with, and the list goes on. But at a more fundamental level, do you know what prompted your customer to even begin their search for a solution in the first place or even who or what along their purchase path may have influenced their decision-making process?

These are questions that will only be answered through one-to-one conversations with customers and prospects. Talking with your customers enables you to dig deeper and really get to know the person behind the purchase.

But also consider the person making the purchase may not be the one using your product or service. It's important to talk to both --purchaser and end user. With this insight, you are better equipped to not only make more effective marketing decisions, but also know which functions, features and updates to prioritize based on user feedback, which impacts the customer experience.

Beyond serving as an important feedback loop, conversations with customers also gives you a way to test and eliminate assumptions, and understand how your product or service makes your customer feel. Forrester released a report outlining the importance of emotion as it relates to customer experience and loyalty. After interviewing 45,000 consumers, the findings revealed that emotional experience accounts for almost half of customer loyalty to the brand.

So while customer numbers and account activity should be part of your data collection and reporting process, what your customers feel while using your product matters and should be measured.

Building the path

If coordinating one-to-one conversations with customers and prospects sounds like a lot of work, well, it can be. But there are also ways to systematize and even automate it to a certain to degree to make it a much more fluid process.

But it has to be a company-wide effort and even woven into the fabric of your company culture. This is an all-hands-on-deck operation.

This might start with automated feedback loops --general surveys or quick Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys -- but then there has to be a process for reviewing and taking action on that feedback. Who on your team will be responsible collecting, analyzing and acting on the data? Keep in mind, in many cases this will not be a one-person job.

For instance, if the feedback is pertaining to a product issue, perhaps there's a person on the product team who is elected to run point on customer outreach to better understand the issues they may be having. Or for more general feedback, it could be someone on the customer service or success team. Once the feedback is collected, it's key to take the conversation to the next level with a direct conversation with the customer.

Consider nominating a CX advocate in each department as every step of the customer journey contributes to the individual experience. A recent report revealed 75 percent of consumers expect companies to provide a consistent experience wherever they engage with them--both online and offline.

And the first step to delivering a positive customer experience is ensuring your internal procedures are consistent company-wide. This is where things like data collection processes and procedures are paramount.

Remember: the decisions based on data are only as good as the data collected and the ease of accessibility to that data to everyone within the organization. If your data isn't properly collected, or even if it is, but it's locked up, you've already lost.

Asking the right questions

There are plenty of specific insights that will be valuable to various individuals within your company. Your product team will want to understand feature usage. Your sales and marketing teams will want to understand what hooked them to finally sign up for a demo.

Uncovering a particular customer experience requires a specific set of questions. To ask the right ones, start first by making a list of the ways you think you are already delivering a good experience.

It's time to cut through the norm and ask the prodding questions. If you don't, they'll find another product that can do similar things, and make them feel better while doing it.

Once you've identified the valuable and actionable data, it's time to consider what changes your organization should make to improve the experience your customers are having. And remember, this is a company-wide effort. Work first on building the infrastructure for supporting a customer-driven approach, then begin the outreach.

Published on: Mar 31, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.