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April 10, 2019

How Customer Experience (CX) Can Help Your Agency

Every organization wants to put customers first. But before you can meet customer expectations, you first have to fully, and deeply understand your customers, their challenges…and ultimately, the human needs they’re looking at you to fulfill.

That’s the challenge of getting to “customer-centricity.” Organizations can be good about knowing their business problems but very often don’t understand the whys behind their customers’ issues. Instead, they rely on preconceived and untested assumptions of what customers want and need.

The best way to learn about your customers’ needs is to go where your customers are; observe them in their daily environment as they live, work, and use your products and services; and ask them directly using methods that test assumptions, reveal hidden needs, lead to practical solutions, and are supported by data.

That’s what we do at the Customer Experience Center of Excellence (CX CoE) and why we went out into the field (literally), during our first phase of work , to interview 40 producers who were applying for Farm Service Agency (FSA) Direct Farm Loans, looking for ways to improve the loan process.

Our initial assumption was that producers would want more online tools and fewer face-to-face meetings with their loan officer (to reduce the need to drive long distances to their FSA Service Center). However, our field research quickly found that producers value their in-person interactions with FSA loan officers as a vital source of guidance and advice. Producers want new digital services to enhance those personal interactions, not replace them. And, both producers and staff wanted those digital services to fit with their lives, level of expertise, and technology challenges. These and other valuable insights are guiding our current work.

How We Do CX

The steps included in the customer experience design process includes a kick-off, research, synthesis, ideation, and protoyping to delivery

CX research methods rely on empathy, but don’t confuse that with “touchy-feely”: We use solid frameworks for gathering qualitative data in field interviews and customer observations in the real world (not behind glass in focus groups) using ethnographic research: studying people in their culture.

CX is also data-driven, using quantitative data on customer experiences gathered from sources like satisfaction surveys, operational metrics, and website usage data. Combined with the qualitative data, we’re able to provide the needed context behind the number and go further to identify problems and challenges (“pain points”). This partnership of qualitative and quantitative methods results in deeper insights on the behaviors of actual human customers.

Once the design research is gathered and organized, we use CX methods to identify themes and patterns—a process we call “synthesis.” We then generate ideas for solutions— “ideation”—not in unstructured brainstorming, but using a proven framework to recombine ideas into often-unexpected ways. From there, CX practitioners create solution prototypes that we can rapidly test, evaluate, and refine.

Additional Considerations

Here’s a core tenet of CX work in slogan form: “No unending research.” The goal of CX is to quickly—but thoroughly—define the customer problem so we can start prototyping solutions. Depending on the size of the challenge, the research phase could be a few days, weeks, or months. By using this iterative process, we can “fail early, fail often,” to build on what works and throw out what doesn’t. By doing so, we deploy working solutions that pass real-world testing—instead of creating gigantic solutions that take so long to build that they’re no longer suitable because the challenges have changed.

CX is a solution—CX isn’t the only solution. CX is a great way to get deeper customer insights, and plugs in nicely to other approaches for process improvement, including Six Sigma, lean process management, and Agile. No matter what additional methods you use, CX helps you translate customer insights into actions that create outstanding experiences for customers.

In a coming post, we’ll look closer at CX terms, methods, and outputs.

More CX Posts

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