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  • Writer's pictureMark Slatin

What’s under the hood? 5 keys to a CX engine that creates raving fans.

As a teenager, one group of my friends were into “muscle cars.” They would often compare engines between their Firebirds, Cameros, and Chargers. Every year, millions of car enthusiasts travel thousands of miles to stroll past rows of open hoods, each featuring engines shinier and more pristine than the next. Owners stand next to their craftsmanship with pride, anxiously waiting to tell their story to the next passerby. The hoods are open because the engine is usually the star of their show.

(Full disclosure: I only open the hood to my car if the light says I need wiper fluid. Even then, if there’s no rain or snow in the forecast I might wait until my next trip to Jiffy Lube.)

Engines and Customer Experience?

When you think about the brands that differentiate themselves based on the experience they deliver (which come to mind for you - Chick-Fil-A, Amazon, Apple?), one thing you will find they all have in common - they all have 'CX engines.'

What’s a CX engine?

As a customer experience practitioner for more than a decade, I learned a lot of things the hard way. Initially, my focus was on establishing the core CX competencies that were modeled after world class businesses. The competencies (such as customer listening paths, metrics and measures) were akin to parts of an engine. One by one, we built out the competencies and what I discovered later on was that the goal wasn’t to accumulate the best parts, but to create a high performing engine. All parts of the engine work seamlessly together to bring great joy to its owner, time after time.

Customer driven growth is a byproduct of delivering consistently outstanding experiences. Those outstanding experiences don’t just happen by accident, they are the driven by a high performance engine. The best CX companies have them embedded into their operating model, without exception.

Without a CX engine, it’s easy to fall into the trap of playing whack-a-mole. According to CX thought leader and author of Chief Customer Officer 2.0, Jeanne Bliss, “This reactive nature of waiting for the results and then taking actions that chase the score push the work to what I call “whack-a mole” tactics…Customer-focused actions are one-off reactions to survey results, or to an executive in the field getting direct customer feedback, or to a letter that lands on someone’s desk. Information is delivered, the silos react, and the cycle repeats.” She says, “The work must be defined as building your customer-driven growth engine.”

What’s under the hood?

In order to operationalize customer experience into outcomes that create raving fans, companies must:

  1. Actively listen

  2. Convert data into insights

  3. Design the new experience

  4. Measure results

  5. Repeat

Key #1 - Actively listen

Think about what it feels like to get ignored at a coffee shop or to finish a great meal only to wait forever to get the check. A fully optimized listening system captures the customer’s touchpoints at every step of their journey with you. Fully listening to customers is a blend of both art and science. Determining the right questions to ask, the right frequency to ask them, and the best way to capture that data takes practice. The payoff is that your listening strategy is the GPS that steers you in the right direction.

Key #2 - Convert Data Into Insights

The data collected from customers should include both “X” and “O” data. “X” data is experiential data that includes feedback from customers about their sentiment or feelings about their experience with your brand. “O” data tracks customer behavior or what they do with their feet. Examples of operational data include # of website visits, # of abandoned calls, # of customer referrals or $ per transaction. According to Bruce Temkin, Head of the XM Institute, “X- and O-data together provides an analytics goldmine.”

Once you’ve collected both quantitative and qualitative data, you’re not quite done.

X and O data is internal but depending on the goal of the research, it may make sense to get external data from the market that would provide industry trends or competitive benchmarks. This gives you an “outside-in” view of trends in the market.

Once you have collected the customer data you need, it’s time to turn that data into actionable insights. That means you’ll need to discern the key themes the data is telling you. What’s the story? What are the key trends? What are the pain points and opportunities?

Key #3 - Design the new experience (Experience Design)

The design (or re-design) of a future customer journey should only come after you’ve mapped their current state journey. Journey mapping is a great way to do that. Providing a visual representation of your customer’s journey that is completed by a cross functional team will help on many levels. Understanding their pain points and opportunities to dramatically improve their experience in the current state is the best way to design the future state.

One of the key outcomes of journey mapping is a solutioning activity that involves the participants. Architecting the future journey could range from a few minor adjustments, to a completely new customer experience. If only Blockbuster video had done a journey map! If you think about how people shifted from traveling to a Blockbuster store to select a new movie only to find it was out of stock, to the anytime, anywhere experience of movie rentals today, you get a sense of how experiences can dramatically change.

Key #4 Measure results

How will you know if you’ve actually improved the experience for customers if you don’t establish measurements? Sometimes measurements of success are simple such as customer satisfaction and other times they are more complex.

If you think about your customers as assets, then you might ask this question: As the result of our actions, has our most important asset grown in value? That could mean measuring the net increase in customers or a lift in the average customer profitability or engagement level.

There are many ways to measure results, the key is to gain agreement with the key stakeholders ahead of time.

Key #5 Repeat

Jim Collins said it best in his bestseller Good to Great, “No matter how dramatic the end result, good-to-great transformations never happen in one fell swoop. ... Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond.”

Much like Collins’ flywheel, the model of incremental changes leading to transformation is also true for the CX engine. The CX engine is a machine that operates in a cycle rather than a linear process. Once built, the engine provides a framework for all key customer journey improvements in a systematic and deliberate way. It’s why, as a consumer, you get the same outstanding experience that translates to you becoming raving fans for your favorite brands.

Now here comes a confession. As a practitioner, my initial focus on organizational transformation leaned on getting the components right, making sure we had a full inventory of all the parts. Then it dawned on me that the goal, instead, was a fully operational CX engine that powered customer journey improvements. In other words, transformation only happens when the engine is fully operational and a part of an ecosystem. A flywheel.

As a driver, people like me who want to enjoy the drive, appreciate that we don't have to worry about looking under the hood.

Oh yeah, at YOUR favorite brands, the ones you go out of your way for, the ones that you can't wait to tell your friends about, the CX engine is there too…it’s just typically under the hood.

What do YOU find most challenging about building and maintaining a CX engine? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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81 views2 comments


Charles H. Green
Charles H. Green
Jun 01, 2022

What a great metaphor! It transforms what could have been just another dry 5-step process into a compelling narrative. I learned a lot, thanks.

Mark Slatin
Mark Slatin
Jun 01, 2022
Replying to

That means a lot coming from the Trusted Advisor himself! Thanks Charlie!

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