Article | 12 min read

Customer experience strategy: A step-by-step guide

Build a customer experience strategy to consistently create positive experiences that resonate with your audience.

By Emily Miels, Contributing Writer

Published June 7, 2017
Last updated September 6, 2022

In today’s fast-paced and competitive landscape, providing a great customer experience is critical for increasing retention and reducing churn.

According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022, 61 percent of consumers will switch to a company’s competitor after just one negative experience—that’s a 22-percent increase from the year before. And after multiple bad experiences, 76 percent of shoppers will take their money elsewhere. On the flip side, 91 percent of buyers are willing to spend more with companies that provide good experiences.

A great customer experience makes all the difference, but it doesn’t happen by accident. The process takes planning and preparation. A customer experience strategy gives your support team the structure it needs to consistently deliver high-quality experiences.

Develop a plan to create memorable customer experiences, and you’ll start to see fewer tickets and less churn.

What is a customer experience strategy?

A customer experience (CX) strategy is a blueprint for providing positive experiences at every customer touchpoint and improving your customer relationships over time.

The strategy captures the big-picture view of the customer experience, both online and offline. It describes who your customers are, what pain points they’re experiencing along the customer journey, and how you plan to address those issues.

Creating a customer experience strategy

When building a CX strategy, take the following steps to help achieve success.

1. Get the rest of the company on board with your CX strategy framework

A customer experience strategy takes dedication and expertise from every department—not just those in consumer-facing roles. As issues come up, you’ll need the support of various stakeholders to execute customer-centric initiatives.

Secure buy-in by showing teams why customer experience is a profitable differentiator for your company with these stats:

  • Our CX Trends Report revealed that 74 percent of consumers will forgive a company for its mistake after receiving excellent customer service.
  • A McKinsey & Company report found businesses that implemented an enterprise-wide customer experience program saw 15 to 20 percent increases in sales conversion rates, 20 to 50 percent declines in service costs, and 10 to 20 percent improvement in customer satisfaction.

Once your organization understands the benefits of building a customer experience strategy, it’s time to recruit help. Encourage other department heads and company leaders to show enthusiasm about the customer experience and emphasize why it’s important. If high-level managers are prioritizing CX, others will naturally follow.

Beyond the leadership team, find your customer experience champions. These are the team members outside of the support department who are going above and beyond to ensure customer success. They can provide important feedback, help you execute and refine your customer experience strategy, and highlight the importance of CX across the company.

You can also host team meetings, webinars, and “lunch and learn” events to get colleagues up to speed and answer questions about the overall customer experience.

2. Gain a deeper understanding of your customer base

Gain a deeper understanding of your customer base, magnifying glass

Only some customers will enthusiastically respond to your brand, products, or services—and that’s okay. If you want to develop a successful customer experience plan, you need to hone in on the consumers who will truly appreciate what you offer. Then, you can target your efforts accordingly and offer a great customer experience that’s tailored to those brand advocates.

Start by studying your current customer base. Specifically, look at your long-term customers who drive the most value for your company:

  • What do these loyal buyers have in common?
  • What industries do they work in?
  • What are their job titles or income levels?
  • Is there a particular product or service they gravitate toward?

Keep an eye out for similarities and make a list of shared traits. Dive even deeper by creating customer profiles (sometimes called personas) of your ideal buyers based on your current data. These profiles usually include key demographic information (age, location, job title, etc.) as well as buying habits and pain points. Customer profiles provide a shared reference point across your company so everyone is on the same page.

You should also think about new groups that might find value in what you’re offering and what might prompt them to connect with you. You may be surprised to discover an untapped audience. For example, a hotel may think its main audience is tourists. But the hotel can potentially get plenty of business from local groups, too—engaged couples who need a reception venue and lodging for guests, companies looking to host an event, residents in need of a staycation, and so on.

3. Listen carefully to customer feedback

Customer churn often happens after a buyer has a poor interaction with a business—whether it’s speaking with an unhelpful agent, waiting on hold for a long time, or having to repeat information. But you can’t fix something if you don’t know what’s broken.

One way to understand your audience’s perspective is to collect feedback through customer engagement surveys, online reviews, focus groups, casual conversations, and social media listening. Watch for trends and recurring themes in responses. For example, maybe consumers love your product but note it’s difficult to reach customer support and wait a long time to talk to an agent.

You can also compare your company to the competition. Just like a customer would leave your business for a competitor after a negative experience, they’d also leave a competitor and come to you if the situation was reversed. With that in mind, look at your competitors’ customer reviews.

  • What do customers seem to love about your competitors?
  • What don’t they like?
  • What do you offer during the customer support process that competitors don’t?

Use that information to find your competitive advantage, and focus on areas where you can outshine the competition.

4. Train and support your agents

Train and support your agents, person with whistle in month

A positive customer experience begins with a positive employee experience. Customers don’t want to speak to stressed-out, confused support agents. They want to connect with people who are engaged and capable of solving problems.

Investing in your team’s well-being will boost customer loyalty. After all, your support experience is bound to improve with friendly, knowledgeable agents who can resolve issues quickly.

Keep your agents happy and informed by providing robust customer service training, creating a supportive work environment, and giving them the tools they need to do their jobs well. It’s important to routinely gauge engagement, too. Regularly hold 1:1 meetings, team check-ins, and employee engagement surveys. These interactions make it easy to receive feedback from your agents about where they’re struggling and what’s going well.

You can also invest in tools that improve agent workflows and simplify tasks, like a flexible customer relationship management (CRM) platform. This keeps information organized and provides the context agents need to address customers’ concerns adequately. Agents can also work together from a shared agent workspace to deliver faster resolutions.

Our CX Trends Report found that housing information in one place increases agent productivity and meets customer expectations—71 percent of consumers want companies to share information internally so they don’t have to repeat themselves.

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5. Refine your CX strategy at every touchpoint in the customer journey

Create a customer journey map to track the success of customer interactions. This map breaks down the stages of the buyer’s journey—awareness, interest, purchase, experience, and brand loyalty—so you can see where you’re excelling and where there’s room for improvement in your customer experience.

“The journey map allows you to understand what customers are experiencing, so you can have a more holistic view of where you fit in to make sure that it’s cohesive for the customer,” says Zoe Koven, VP of customer advocacy at Zendesk.

6. Fill in the gaps to create a seamless experience

Fill in the gaps to create a seamless experience, puzzle

Once you understand where the current customer experience falls short, you can start to develop and implement solutions to better meet customer expectations. The right solution will depend on what is negatively impacting your CX. Here are a few examples of potential gaps in the customer experience and how you might address them:

Example #1

Say you recently discovered that customers are waiting a long time to talk to a support agent. Here, expanding your self-service options—with AI-powered chatbots, help centers, and community forums—might be the right solution.

Companies across various industries have found that self-service empowers customers to help themselves and significantly reduces hold times. Thanks to self-service chatbots and a shared agent workspace, Tile decreased customer wait times by 28 percent.

While it makes sense to build a plan that drives customers to lower-cost channels like self-service, be prepared to see a shift in agent responsibilities. As more customers solve their problems via self-service, agents will be tasked with tackling more complex issues and support tickets.

Example #2

Perhaps customers are frustrated because you’re not connecting with them on their preferred platforms. Consumers like to communicate with companies on the same channels they’re already using to talk to family and friends.

Set yourself apart from the competition by providing an omnichannel customer experience where buyers can reach you on whatever platform they want—including Apple Messages for Business, Google’s Business Messages, and Facebook Messenger.

European gaming tech company Kaizen connects with customers over various social media channels, ranging from WhatsApp to Viber. That multichannel experience extends beyond social media. Kaizen support agents can see a customer’s pending email at the same time they engage in live chat, for example. This approach has helped the company achieve a 95 percent first contact resolution rate and an 85 percent customer satisfaction (CSAT) score.

The gaming company isn’t alone in its success with omnichannel customer service. According to our CX Trends Report, companies offering integrated, cohesive support across multiple channels and touchpoints resolve tickets more than three times faster than those that don’t.

Example #3

All the patient, knowledgeable customer support agents in the world can’t overcome a poor online experience. If your website is too slow or lacks functionality, people will drop off before they finalize a purchase. Every second of load time makes a huge difference in CX and, in turn, your bottom line.

Ecommerce company Swappie learned the power of speed after it reduced the mobile page load time by 23 percent. This change led to a 42-percent increase in mobile revenue.

Meanwhile, auto manufacturer Renault slashed its bounce rate by 14 percent and increased conversions by 13 percent with just a one-second improvement in page load time.

According to Portent research, website conversion rates drop by an average of 4.42 percent with each additional second of load time (between 0 and 5 seconds). In cases like this, you may need to work with engineers and web developers to make significant technological improvements.

Of course, these are only a few examples. Whatever the specific issue and potential solution may be, it’s important to follow up with your team and customers. Solicit feedback to see if the solution improved the customer experience as desired.

7. Follow customer-centric best practices

You’ve learned how to create a customer experience plan, and you’ve even checked out a few scenarios to understand improvement opportunities. Now what? Put the icing on the cake by educating yourself and your team on a few customer care best practices.

The name of the game is speed

Remember to nail the basics of a positive customer experience first. Consumers value speed of service: 73 percent say their number-one priority when contacting customer support is a fast resolution.

That relationship between customer service speed and customer satisfaction is partly why Udacity increased its CSAT score by 4.8 percent after improving resolution times by 28 percent. The company made gains on those metrics while doubling its customer volume.

Help customers help themselves

Make sure you have a deep well of knowledge for both customers and support agents to draw from.

Our CX Trends Report revealed that 89 percent of consumers will spend more with companies that allow them to find answers online without having to contact anyone. You can empower customers to do this by creating a comprehensive help center and implementing a powerful AI chatbot.

Don’t make customers repeat themselves

When customers can’t find the solution on their own, customer service reps also need a knowledge base so they can quickly surface an answer and save the customer from repeating themselves.

Our report found that 92 percent of consumers will spend more with companies that ensure they won’t need to repeat information. Generate more revenue by gathering key customer data from every step of the buyer’s journey and housing it in one place so your agents can easily access those details across channels.

Avoid repetition when it comes to technology errors, too. When a bug is reported, make sure your engineering team has the support and resources they need to fix it promptly.

Measure your success

Finally, track and assess your efforts with customer service software. The right solution has built-in reporting and analytics to monitor important CX metrics, such as CSAT score, Net Promoter Score℠ (NPS), ticket resolution time, and more. This data can help you determine where agents may need additional training or resources and where they’re thriving.

Continually evolve your customer experience strategy

Crafting a CX strategy for your business is not a one-time thing. Technology, your products or services, and customers’ needs will continue to change. Your roadmap for delivering customer satisfaction should, too. Set aside time to evaluate and optimize your customer experience regularly.

Solicit customer feedback to ensure you’re providing the best experience possible, talk through issues and trends with your agents, invest in top-notch customer service software, and review customer support data to evaluate performance. These steps will help keep you on the right track even as customer expectations evolve.

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