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What the heck is CX?

An Introduction to Customer Experience for Beginners

A person stands at a whiteboard covered with stickies after a journey mapping session

A journey from Highland’s last Customer Journey Mapping Masterclass | Photo by Bridgett Colling

When I started at Highland, I was tasked with finding new clients for our growing Customer Experience (CX) practice. But first, I had to ask myself an important question:

What the heck is CX?

Sure, I had a general idea, but did I truly understand the nuances of customer experience work?

After almost a year of working at Highland and countless conversations about CX, here’s what I’ve learned about how to define it, who is responsible for it, and where organizations should get started.

Defining Customer Experience

According to the Harvard Business Review, CX is “the sum-totality of how customers engage with your company and brand, not just in a snapshot in time, but throughout the entire arc of being a customer.”

Unlike UX, which focuses on screen-based interactions, CX attempts to capture the entire span of a customer’s relationship with an organization in both digital and physical contexts.

We had a fun time distinguishing between CX and UX in the Highland Slack channel a while back when a Highlander ran into a CX/UX snafu with our office toaster oven. That story might help you wrap your head around how to distinguish what CX truly is:

While we use the word “customer,” we think of Customer Experience as valuable practice for any organization that wants to improve the experience of the people they serve. This includes nonprofits, who have a broad range of non-customer constituents like members and donors. In healthcare organizations, “customers” are patients and their families, whose experiences can be extremely complex and emotional. We work with many mission-driven organizations and find that CX and its related practices are great tools for helping them solve sticky, human-centered problems.

Who is responsible for CX?

I’ve found that in a majority of organizations, CX falls under the Marketing umbrella. According to a 2017 Gartner Customer Experience in Marketing Survey, “Customer experience (CX) is the new marketing battlefront. According to that same survey, more than 81% of companies plan to compete mostly or completely on the basis of CX this year.

Andrea Istwan, a VP Director of Client Experience at Envestnet — a Chicago-based fintech company — recently transitioned into CX from her previous channel marketing role. She remarked that the shift from CX to marketing was an intuitive one for her:

We’ve always been a client-centric organization. With my new role, we’re now laser focused on putting a measurement behind that effort. I’m focused on looking across all client engagement efforts and providing insights to help decision makers provide a better experience to both our clients and employees.

Andrea also mentioned that the shift to CX is having a broader impact across the company — both externally and internally. “By gathering data across multiple touch points, both top down and bottom up, we can create a holistic strategy to vastly improve not just our client experience but our employee experience as well.”

While CX efforts tend to end up in the Marketing department, I’ve also spoken with companies who have assigned CX responsibilities to Operations and even Finance teams. There’s no one right answer to where your CX efforts should live, but the deciding factor should most likely be proximity to actual clients. The closer your CX teams are to connecting directly with the people you serve, the better your CX will be.

The Four Foundations of CX

So now that we know what CX is and where CX responsibilities should live within an organization, we’ve come to our next inevitable question:

What the heck do I do next?

Whether you’re a seasoned customer experience pro or a CX newbie, we think these four foundational projects are critical to organizations who would like to deepen their understanding of their customers.

Design Sprints
A design sprint is a week-long immersive process that uses design thinking to reduce risk when bringing a new product or service to market.

Design sprint engagements are great for teams who:

  • …have a big problem to solve but an unclear solution (or too many solutions).
  • …want to be as efficient as much possible while mitigating risk.
  • …want a structured way to organize and act on their best ideas.
  • …have heard about the power of design thinking and are looking to try it out.

Learn more about design sprints here:

Customer Journey Mapping

Customer Journey Mapping provides your team with a visual representation of the thoughts, feelings, actions, and touchpoints of a specific customer segment.

Customer journey mapping is ideal for teams who:

  • …come from established organizations who want to become more customer-focused.
  • ……want to break down silos, and organize their actions & priorities around their customers.
  • …want evidence-based customer insights that will help their shape long-term strategic goals.
  • …want to be more innovative.

Read Highland’s Guide to Getting Started with Journey Mapping:

Jobs to Be Done Research

JTBD research enables companies to capture customer needs and systematically identify opportunities for growth.

Jobs to Be Done research is ideal for teams who:

  • …are feeling some stagnancy and confusion but are unsure what the root of the problem is.
  • …are worried about being disrupted by or falling behind their competitors.
  • …want to reach new customers and retain existing customers.
  • …want to strengthen the alignment between their offerings and their customers’ subtle social and emotional needs.

Read more about why JTBD is so important:

CX Roadmap

This is a strategic document that defines the experience you want to deliver to your customers and gives you a path for how to get there.

CX Roadmaps are ideal for teams who:

  • …are led by newly-appointed CX leaders or have recently formed as a CX team and want to get off to the right start.
  • …want to clarify and document your CX goals, strategies for reaching them, and tools to measure success.
  • …want a concrete 90-day roadmap with actionable insights and a plan for how to put them into place.
  • …need to garner executive support and convince the organization of the ROI of CX.

No matter where you are on your CX journey, Highland is happy to help you take the next step. We love to partner with organizations to create meaningful connections with the people they serve. If that sounds something you’d like to do, get in touch.