How to make the customer experience a competitive differentiator.

Today’s article is focused on how to make the customer experience a competitive differentiator. It’s difficult to grow revenue faster than your industry’s growth rate and faster than your competitors. Leverage the How to Make Your Number in 2018 Workbook to access a revenue growth methodology to hit your number quarter after quarter, and year after year.


Why this topic? Customer’s expectations have risen, and failure to provide an exceptional experience for each and every customer can result in poor revenue growth. Some customers prioritize their experience over product performance, believe it or not, when making a purchase decision. This requires a deep understanding of the customer’s journey and each touch point along the way. Mapping this customer’s journey is a difficult yet mission critical task that when done correctly can result in exceptional revenue growth.


I recently interviewed Cigna’s Vice President of Global Product Strategy and Operations, Rob Wentling.  Cigna is one of the largest global health services companies in the world. Rob works within Cigna’s product organization to build product strategies and road maps and convert those into operating models to execute and achieve growth targets. 


Rob is uniquely qualified to speak on this topic, and below you will find the questions and answers from our discussion.


Could you provide the audience with your definition of customer experience design?


I’m going to give you a very simple answer. It’s really creating an experience design that exceeds customer’s expectations. Basically, providing them greater value than they anticipate or they expect. I would simply define it as that.


For those in the audience who may be new to this topic, this topic being customer experience design and that being a source of competitive advantage, can you explain why you think that this topic is important at this moment in time?


To me, the customer experience has always been important, but the expectation of customers grow over time. Especially in situations where you’re in a competitive state. Let me step back a little bit and talk about the elements of the customer experience. Something that is critically important is to identify the moments that matter most for customers. When you’re delivering services and customers are experiencing your product and you’re walking through that journey is knowing which of those touch points are most important helps drive focus. At the end of the day, when you look at customers and you put them into segments, understanding the needs of those customer segments and understanding the total lifetime value of those segments are key elements to building a customer experience. To continuously evolve and continuously be ahead of your competition, you need to have the greatest experience that you can afford to provide them. Customers that provide the greatest value understanding which touch points are most important outs you in positions to build upon those individual customer experiences, deploy capital towards creating those experiences that delight customers, while sustaining price points that keep you competitive.


Greg Response: I would add to that that traditionally, if you think about what we learned in university, you have three primary ways to compete. You can compete on product differentiation. You can compete on price, so maybe you have a lower cost basis. Therefore, you can charge less for your product or service. Third, you can compete on the customer experience. It seems like that we’re living in an era where product differentiation is harder and harder to obtain, product life cycles are much shorter. With global competitors, product features are sometimes easily copied very quickly. It also is very difficult to maintain or sustain a competitive advantage if you’re going to compete on price only because the things that result in a lower price point, maybe it’s off shore manufacturing or automating a supply chain. Again, these are things that are easily copied. It’s not a sustainable competitive advantage.


The customer experience is uniquely human and until we figure out how to clone human beings, which is probably on the radar screen at some point, but hopefully well past our time here on Earth, it’s much more difficult to copy. If you can truly master that customer experience and how humans interact with other humans and differentiate in those moments that matter, that Rob mentioned earlier, it’s sustainable. 


As you mentioned in your intro, you have an incredible record of accomplishment. 25 years or so of business experience at some the world’s great companies, such as AT&T, ADP, the Hartford Insurance company, and now Cigna. Your experience includes business unit strategy, product strategy, business development, marketing, and actual product development, which is a very diverse set of experiences, maybe more so than our typical guest on our show. From your point of view, from your expert opinion, can the customer experience be a competitive advantage? If so, why, or why not?


Absolutely. Having the right customer experience, as you mentioned before, the triangle around price, product differentiation, and customer experience. Price is always comparative. You need to be competitive on price, but as I start to think about the customer experience and product features, they start to blend together over time. Having product differentiation with the right customer experience is very, very critical for a competitive advantage. Putting yourself in the price category is a necessity. For example, in healthcare. Healthcare can be complicated. I’m sure most of your guests on this podcasts have purchased healthcare and experienced the healthcare experience. Everything from trying to figure out what plan you want to pick, determining which doctor and specialist you need to go to, figuring out your out-of-pocket expenses, what’s covered, not covered, reading your bill, and so on.


Going back to the customer experience and understanding which of those customer touch points are most critical, those moments that matter the most, are essential. If you put together an experience and you communicate very well with the customers and you segment your customers and understand which customer segments have the greatest needs at the different moments that matter puts you in a level of differentiation. As an individual, you may have more needs to find the right specialist that matters to you or a greater need to understand exactly what your out-of-pocket expenses will be. If you build that experience and you communicate and make that transparent to clients, you will differentiation yourself. Once again, customer experience, critically important in a competitive market place.


Greg Response: It’s just a great example. When you think about healthcare, I must be honest, I don’t think of a great customer experience for all the reasons that you just mentioned. If your company, Cigna, is winning because you have a superior customer experience. The level of difficulty in your industry must be high. That’s a great use case.



Rob, how do you embed the customer experience design in your organization?


Cigna, like most companies, have an end to end product management process. Everything from conceiving ideas to building products to delivering them to market. Once they’re in market, maximizing them and then ultimately retiring them. As we develop and build products from the conceive idea phase all the way through the retirement phase, embedding customer experience design throughout the process is critically important. Everything from design thinking, which is about understanding problems we’re trying to solve, intimately understanding our customer needs, developing solutions, not just products, to exceed their expectations, are embedded in each step of that process.


It’s clearly embedded in this end to end product management process that I get. Does it go outside of that? Does it go into marketing? Does it go into sales? Or is it primarily embedded in the product management department?


It goes across all functions. 


Even though we may say product, and I know now and days there’s the “product management process”, but it’s more than product. It’s service. It’s solutions. It’s marketing. It’s sales. It’s customer retention. It’s involved across all functions within an organization and all customer touch points.


How do you develop customer experience journey maps to understand what exactly motivates people and what bothers them specifically when buying your product?


We do use journey mapping. As I mentioned before, we have an end to end product management process. The journey mapping effort really starts with the conceive phase. Even before we look to deploy capital in building a new product. Basically, our product teams put themselves in customer shoes, think about the experiences that they would have with a new product or service or solution or feature, identify the pain points, and really think through how that’s going to work. Even before we get to the point of deciding how much it’s going to cost, how much capital we need, and start to deploy resources. If you become intimately familiar on how that experience will be and you take the steps a customer will take, you can save yourself a tremendous amount of capital even before you start building.


Greg Response: That’s fascinating. I haven’t heard that before. Normally, journey mapping happens later in the process, but you all are doing that before you even commit the capital needed to bring the product to market. That’s an interesting approach and I can understand the logic behind it. It seems common sense to do that. That’s an interesting thought.


Let’s go now to maybe one level deeper. Within the journey maps, we typically do touch point analysis. I wanted to ask you, do you use the tool that we call touch point analysis? If so, maybe describe your experience with it and maybe offer some guidance to the audience members on how to do it best.


I think, probably, the ways of doing touch point analysis, essentially understanding how … What I call moments that matter, are impacting the customer experience. That is an area that continues to evolve within the organization. As we look at the moments that we think matter the most, understand how those experiences are, have an understanding with different metrics and even net promoters scores holistically, we continue to take that information and, one, not only evolve the moments that matter, but can help us decide are there other moments that matter almost as much or maybe even matter more over time.


Greg Response: That’s an interesting concept. You are doing it, but you’re doing it with heavy emphasis on the moments that matter, which I think makes a lot of sense. For those that are listening or watching to this, if you’re not familiar with touch point analysis, let me just expand upon Rob’s answer a little bit. The idea here is you have your journey map so you know how the customer goes through their experience with you over time. Along the way there, they’re going to touch you, and you are going to touch them. They’re going to interact with you in some way. That could be simply through an email or a telephone call or interacting with your website or running into you on social media. It could be any number of things. In fact, when we’ve done touch point analysis for our customers, sometimes the types of touches can be in the hundreds.



Identifying each of those touch points and maybe classifying them around moments that matter and maybe that moments that matter less and then asking yourself this question: what is that experience at that touch point? That moment that matters, what is that experience? Should that be an experience where I have a highly skilled employee engaging with the person at the moment in time? Should that be an experience where I’m communicating with them digitally in some way and maybe that’s the way that the customer wants to experience that moment of truth, so to speak, at that point. Mapping the customer journey is the beginning, not the end. Understanding the touch points in that journey is really, important. Just wanted to add to Rob’s explanation there.


Do your customers care about the customer experience only after they have purchased the product and are using it? Or do they care about the experience as they are buying it? What implications does that create?


Both are true. When customers are making a purchase, there’s always some level of anxiety. You’re risking capital dollars. You’re risking time. You’re utilizing resources when you make a decision. Even to some degree, your reputation could be at stake. Having a buying experience that it not only helps them understand and is transparent into what they’re buying, but also sets expectations and builds their confidence in what they’re buying, is critically important. Once they make the buying decision, the actual experience needs to exceed their expectations to keep them coming back.


Greg Response: I agree with you. We’re signaling … Especially to new customers, we’re signaling what their experience might be post sale, during the sale. If that’s a difficult experience, then you’re signaling to the customer that maybe post sale things like customer service might not be great. It’s really important. You’re right. You’re putting your reputation at stake there.


What impact does the customer experience have on brand loyalty? You mentioned that you measure NPS. Is there any relationship there between the customer experience and positive NPS scores?



Absolutely. Customer experience is practically everything. As I mentioned before, exceeding customer expectations is so, so powerful. In some cases, even fixing mistakes can even be more powerful. If you’re really, really good at it, you can create a mistake just so you have the opportunity to fix it, but that can be a little dangerous. That can be a whole other conversation. We do use Net Promoter Score religiously. Definitely a leading indicator of loyalty. At the end of the day, customer retention is the true measure.


Greg response: I agree. It’s so true. We’re going to make mistakes. It’s how you deal with them afterwards that really can highlight to a customer how much they mean to you. Let’s make sure, audience members, that when things don’t go according to plan, our response is an over the top response that tells those customers how important they are to you.


Rob, in your opinion, who should be the primary customer advocate inside the organization and why?


This is probably going to be my shortest answer. It’s really everyone. I know you asked who the primary customer advocate could be, but it really, really needs to be everyone because whether you are touching a customer directly or touching a new prospect directly, whether you’re building a product, developing pricing, figuring out how you will continue to market to gain new customers or retain them, every single person needs to be an advocate. Everyone needs to understand what matters most to your customers, and everyone needs to have that mindset. The short answer is everyone.


We an individual within the enterprise who is our chief customer advocate. His role is to ensure that the enterprise is educated on, as I keep going back to those moments that matter and customer experiences that matter, and helping us measure net promoter scores and customer experiences and helping drive tools throughout the enterprise to keep that top of mind.


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