How do you solve a problem like… Telling your client that their CX sucks?

Next week, we’ll dig deeper into customer experience (CX) with a new set of features and opinions. Ahead of our Deep Dive, we asked agency readers how they’re tackling a thorny issue in the industry — how to tell clients their current setup isn’t up to snuff.

Customers care about and understand customer experience much more than 10 years ago, but that doesn’t mean agencies expect brands to come to them. Diagnosing a client’s business issues can be a way to create new opportunities. A brand’s onboarding systems for new customers can be rubbish, and you might have the solution to fix it, but how do you convey that without sounding dismissive?

How do you solve a problem like…telling your client their CX sucks?

Karen Boswell, EMEA Experience Manager, VMLY&R

Sucky CX is something that customers often already realize but ignore because they can’t quite put their finger on a root cause. I find the best way to help them identify what needs to change is to find out what they don’t know. Which data points should be connected? What questions do they ask?

Nine out of 10 look for business-first resolutions, such as “how can we get customers to buy our products?”. But that’s not the right question to ask. Instead, reframe their business purpose as a customer-centric one and ask yourself, “How could we do things differently to enable customers to do something they couldn’t do before?” Reframing will invert the CX model to focus on customer issues that lead to business opportunities for growth.

Patti Alderman, Assistant Vice President, Zone and Cognizant Digital Experience

CX is complex, so exposing the shortcomings of a customer experience forces you to look beyond surveys and digital journeys. So it’s essential to start with the customer, but you need to follow the thread to the employee experience, business processes, and ultimately the company culture. Direct customer feedback goes a long way, especially quotes, but images also paint a powerful message of the reality of an experience.

Video of actual in-store experiences or recording a digital journey can quickly paint the scene of the reality of the experience – not what it looked like on a process map – from the customer side and the employee.

Ben Ingle, Business Manager, Stink Studios

In our experience, customers often know when their customer experience could be better, but there could be multiple reasons why this hasn’t been resolved – more pressing challenges, legacy systems, lack of available budget, etc. – so it is important to sympathize and not file. At the same time, it is our job as external partners to challenge our customers in pursuit of a better customer experience.

To do this, we believe it is important to frame the challenge in a larger context, state the opportunities, share a vision and show how it can add value. It’s not rocket science, but providing clear reasons for investing is often the most helpful approach.

Niyi Duro-Emanuel, Senior Vice President and Head of UK Strategy, Merkle

Problems can be frightening, especially considering that a customer’s total experience with a brand is influenced by multiple factors, multiple teams, and multiple functions within the company. Providing customers with a clear assessment of exactly where their customer experience is breaking and giving a step-by-step roadmap on how to address their challenges often helps mitigate the message “your CX sucks.” At Merkle, we have a framework called the “Customer Experience Blueprint” that gives customers a clear roadmap, tied to an end-state vision of what their ultimate CX should feel like to their customers.

Laurie Jarzemsky, Director of Experience Strategy, Barbarian

In short, pin it on the customer to tell them bad news. As the foundation of every project, my approach is to establish a shared understanding of a customer’s holistic journey in the real world, regardless of the customer’s brand. I build current state journeys to synthesize and contextualize research and use them to facilitate and neutralize these conversations. Overlaying the customer’s existing CX journey over the user’s actual context reveals tensions and gaps objectively. The exercise produces a framework and vocabulary to hold everyone accountable throughout the process and often surfaces opportunities for innovation beyond the original scope.

Conrad Rasmussen, Experience Manager, Wunderman Thompson

The truth comes out when the research is meticulous. Accuracy is important if you plan to make a real difference. The best leaders already know that their brands fall short. But no matter how open we are to feedback, it always hurts to hear how bad things can be.

So it’s important to remember that positive change happens when people see how the change is happening for them, not for them. We are in the same boat. Side by side, we highlight problems so we can begin to solve them – bridging the gap between customer expectations and reality. It hurts but it’s necessary, so we know what to fix.

Sian Brereton, Senior Account Manager, Engine Transformation

First, be respectful. Chances are your client was once proud of their work and some of it is still being used, so acknowledge that. Second, collaboration is key. Your customer is an expert on their brand and you are an expert in your field. Leave the ego behind and bring these skill sets together to create cohesive practical solutions that empower your client and elevate their program to be a leader. Finally, use the data. Remove the fluff and share impactful and tangible discoveries. This will make them more likely to want to travel with you.

Zoha Zoya, Creative Director, R/GA London

Our role as a client partner is to bring the client to the forefront of their business. When initiating a project, we do extensive research to understand how business priorities align with the client’s mindset. This goal is to help clients understand the challenges while presenting the opportunities to improve CX and differentiate themselves. We need to be honest and transparent during this process, often with difficult conversations, but ultimately clients come to us for our expertise, allowing us to give constructive feedback if we think their current CX is n is not what it should be. We just need to speak with empathy and understanding, humanizing the technical side of the discussion.

Ultimately, the goal is to make every interaction throughout the customer journey meaningful and memorable by shifting the experience from transactional to relationship-focused.

Jane Austin, Experience Manager, Digitas UK

You don’t tell them. You let their customers tell them. In the new CX economy, an agency should not act as a wise guru dispensing expertise from above. Instead, an agency should shape research, harness insights, and tell brands a story about themselves they rarely hear, distilled into actionable insights: a story about how their customers see them and how to respond. Overview and the answer is the key. Agencies add value by shaping and prioritizing information so clients can tell the wood from the trees, the urgent from the important, and helping clients take the next step by helping them understand what’s going on. must be repaired first and how. Insight, prioritization and solutions that focus on clients and not internal politics are the superpower of agencies.

Roxanna Larizadeh, Sales Manager, Starcom

We focus on the improvements we think our customers should make, rather than the things that are wrong. For example, instead of saying “your product page experience is inconsistent across your e-merchants”, we say “by setting guidelines for your product pages across all e-merchants, you will help customers have an seamlessly online with your brand”. We also show customers how we can help them improve their CX, for example “we can streamline your digital storefronts across platforms so customers can see more items/buy faster/find what they are looking for’ instead of ‘your storefronts are not user-friendly’.

Sophia Teixeira, Managing Director, Loop

It is important to remember that clients view agencies as experts and guides. How you tell the customer and what you tell them are equally important. The “how” is diplomacy. You should provide feedback in a respectful manner without watering it down. Constructive feedback is better than criticism.

Support the “what” with facts and data. Go through your client’s customer experience to get concrete examples of why something isn’t working and how it can be improved. When working with clients, we map the CX journey at different times. What makes us and the client successful is an “outside-in” perspective.

Zeina Fahra, Vice President of Experience Design, Somo

Data, data, data. When it comes to convincing clients that their CX needs help, there’s nothing more compelling than evidence-based arguments. The data, in this case, can offer a multitude of different issues: the volume of calls to a call center regarding a particular issue, to analytics that highlight drop points along the customer journey. Even without formal testing, a case could be built by testing with friends, family members, and co-workers to highlight pain points that customers encounter. Companies that take customer centricity seriously and deliver exceptional customer experiences should not hide from these eventualities, but welcome the opportunity to act on what the data tells them and continuously improve.

Do you want to participate in future debates? Email me at [email protected]

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