CX maturity playbook: Customer experience strategy

Actionable insight to uplevel your customer experience strategy approach.

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How to use this playbook 

This playbook features one of the nine key elements that we measure in our customer experience maturity assessment: CX strategy

Here we provide an overview of the element's five levels followed by actionable next steps to advance from one level to the next.  

If you have yet to assess your maturity, we suggest you take our assessment now, identify your current level of maturity for CX strategy and return to this playbook for how to move forward based on your score. 

The insight provided is in partnership with Jeannie Walters, CX expert, CEO, and founder of Experience Investigators™.


CX strategy

A Customer experience (CX) strategy is an actionable plan that guides the activities and resources needed to deliver experiences that meet or exceed customer expectations. 

A mature CX strategy actualizes the organization’s business strategy. It helps fulfill the company’s customer-centric goals and vision by guiding decisions and allocation of resources to enable the necessary change. 

It also helps bridge the gap between what your customers want and what your organization can deliver. This allows you to introduce purposeful planning that empowers leaders to decide what really is important for business success versus what is just a “nice to have.”

Such a state is achievable through strategic action, which you can start taking today with the help of this playbook. 

The five levels below are defined based on general processes, rules, and expectations of a CX strategy. We recommend you start with the level that our assessment scored you as.  


Level 1 to Level 5

Level 1   

What it looks like 

At this stage, there is no customer experience strategy defined or communicated. Improvements to the customer journey are made ad hoc and when absolutely necessary. 

Customer experience importance is mentioned by some leaders, but not in ways that tie desired outcomes to business operations. Customer feedback is not collected in a consistent way, and leaders don’t have specific objectives around the customer experience. As a result, employees don’t necessarily see their role tied to CX, unless they are dealing directly with customers in Customer Support or other frontline positions.

Because there is no CX strategy, leaders don’t fund or make improvements to employee processes and systems for the sake of improving customer experience.

You might hear employees make statements such as: 

I know customer experience is supposed to be important, but that’s hard to believe when we’re short-staffed for all the service calls we receive and the executive team doesn’t implement any changes. Customer experience feels like a buzzword with no action behind it. —  Contact Center Leader

Priorities to advance to the next level   

Moving from Level 1 to Level 2 happens when leadership loosely defines the key CX strategy for the organization and begins to make improvements to reach business outcomes. These CX efforts, however, are driven by different leaders at the touchpoint level. 

To move forward, focus on: 

  • CX effort outcomes 

  • CX advantage

How to take action

Step 1: Focus on CX efforts within specific teams that will drive business results

Even at Level 2, leaders are still working in silos when it comes to customer experience—prioritizing customer journey improvements at a touchpoint level—which means introducing a holistic approach to CX may not be realistic. 

But you can start setting the stage for a bigger, more universal approach, by working with leaders to identify at least one CX effort, within their teams, that has a positive impact on the business.  

To do so, invite team leaders to lean into the corporate strategy, whether that’s an annual plan or long-term vision, or a combination of both. Then, look for business outcomes that are directly related to customer experience results. 

For example, if an increase in customer referrals is one of the overall business goals, then make the point that happier customers are more likely to refer new customers. Therefore, driving CX improvements that will result in happier customers will lead to more referral sales. 

Customer experience improvements can also reduce expenses from serving customers. If Customer Support has identified one touchpoint that causes friction, like delayed product deliveries, then improving that touchpoint will lead to fewer service calls and lower overall costs for the organization. 

Once these business goals are defined by leadership, then the CX strategy starts to take shape with plans to drive those outcomes. 

A Marketing leader may create a plan for asking happy customers for referrals at key moments along their journey. Or the Product Delivery team may generate a task force to identify and address the reasons for product delivery delays.

To help leaders define their team’s strategic CX objectives:

  • Know the organizational goals: Look to the overall business goals to prioritize the CX efforts that will best serve those objectives. 

  • Identify what is actionable: Some things cannot change right away, so choose strategic goals that can impact what is within the leader’s control.

  • Get as specific as possible: It’s important to measure success. That means defining a strategic outcome in specific ways. Instead of defining a goal as “increase referrals,” for example, try “increase referrals by 5%.” 

For more guidance on CX goals by department, check out our free guide.

Step 2: Communicate with leadership how customer experience is a strategic advantage in the marketplace

At Level 1, many leaders don’t see their work and teams as connected to the customer experience. To advance to Level 2, start to demonstrate how defining and acting on a customer experience strategy will result in staying ahead of the competition. 

Ensure team leaders know that CX is not just business jargon. Highlight how customer experience, when truly incorporated as part of the overall strategy and business discipline of an organization, provides real results. 

Here are just a few data points that demonstrate CX drives business success: 

Help leaders understand their team’s advantages in contributing to the customer experience effort by honing in on the metrics that matter the most to them. For example, referral rate is a key metric for Marketing, and we know that happier customers result in higher referral rates. A better customer experience will also lead to a reduced need for inbound customer service, which in turn saves costs for the business, a key success metric for your Finance leader. For more ideas on how to connect the dots between customer experience effort and department leaders, read our free guide.

Of course, any CX strategic objectives also have to be tied to the overall vision and values of the organization. leaders must feel connected to these and understand why their role supports not just objective goals, like more revenue, but purpose-based goals, like helping customers achieve their goals.

Review our guide, how to prove the ROI of customer experience, for more ideas on how to communicate the value of CX efforts.

Level 2   

What it looks like 

At this stage, the CX strategy is loosely established in general terms––often defined by platitudes, not plans. Ideas like “delivering exceptional service” are embraced by leaders as strategy, but there is no clear definition of what successful outcomes would be. However, individual leaders do have specific CX strategic goals for their teams. 

Business planning documents and specific outcomes are not defined within the context of a customer experience strategy. Instead, leaders focus on improving the customer experience where they can, at the touchpoint level directly related to their team(s).

Leaders and employees don’t consistently see their roles and responsibilities as connected to the overall customer experience. For example, while there may be some measurement around outcomes, like the use of Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) after Customer Support interactions, these CX metrics are only reported at the departmental level. And the culture is not yet supportive of governance around a centralized CX strategy.

You might hear employees make statements such as:

We’re hearing about how important it is to create a great customer experience. I suppose it’s important but we don’t really see what the organization is doing about it. Our team is responsible for internal operations, so we focus on measuring how fast we can process internal orders. But what can we do to help improve customer service? Not much. —  Logistics Team Member

Priorities to advance to the next level   

Moving from Level 2 to Level 3 occurs when the customer experience strategy is clearly defined and integrated into overall business values and goals. 

To move forward, focus on: 

  • A clear CX strategy 

  • Cross-functional governance

How to take action

Step 1: Define what customer experience success looks like for the organization and measure that success with CX and operational metrics

At Level 2, there is more understanding around the importance of customer experience, but the overall strategy is still loosely defined. And though it might be common to hear things about the customer journey or communication around reducing customer effort, it’s at Level 3, where the communication evolves into how to deliver on these goals. 

To advance, the executive leadership team should define the overall CX strategy with input from leaders from customer-facing teams like Customer Support and Customer Success.

The CX strategy should be defined with the following questions in mind:

  • What are the overall CX outcomes? This could be something like––increasing customer happiness to improve renewal rates.

  • How will these CX outcomes serve the overall organizational goals? An example here might be the organization’s 5-year strategic plan to increase market share by 10%.

  • What will appeal to leadership? For instance, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) wants to know how renewals will impact the bottom line. For more on how to appeal to different department leads, read how to bridge the gap for CX across the organization

  • What CX metrics will be used to measure success? For example, to measure the increase in customer happiness, you could track renewal rates and Net Promoter Score® (NPS). For more, see our full CX metrics catalogue.

Every organization will have a different customer experience strategy. For instance, a technology provider could create a CX strategy based on the idea of empowerment in all they do. This means that customer experience delivers results if employees, partners, and customers feel empowered to use the technology to its full potential. This strategy would lead to defining outcomes like customer adoption gains and tracking Customer Effort Score (CES) after self-service options. This focus on empowerment as a CX strategy would define how leaders see their own roles and generate the right ways to measure success.

Creating a well-defined CX strategy, with clear goals and outcomes, will help all leaders, employees, and even partners understand and act on what’s best for the customer and the organization.

Step 2: Establish a cross-functional leadership team focused on governance to ensure that the CX strategy is enacted across the entire organization 

To move to Level 3, focus on setting up a strong foundation for success by establishing a cross-functional leadership team that will enable plans for the CX strategy and will determine what to prioritize and how to distribute funds and resources. 

Consider these factors as you set up a cross-functional governance team:

  • Which leaders need to be included from the beginning? For instance, it’s likely that technology will be a part of your actionable plans around customer experience. Include tech leaders who can support CX goals.

  • What roles, responsibilities, and processes can be clearly identified at the outset? Most governance teams include an executive sponsor who can provide approval, resources, and funding. Many also include roles around internal communications, data management, and project management. Ultimately, leaders from Human Resources, Finance, and even Supply Chain Management can be included to add their insights and leadership on how to execute the CX strategy, but that may not be necessary right away.

  • What are the criteria for prioritizing CX initiatives? These should tie directly back to the well-defined customer experience goals and overall strategy. As such, the governance team can decide which improvements will best move the organization closer to the overall business vision. 

Setting up a cross-functional team to move the CX strategy forward is often overlooked by eager leaders. Take the time to get the foundation started to gain traction. Read our guide for more on how to establish a CX governance team.

Level 3   

What it looks like 

At this stage, the customer experience strategy is clearly defined and understood throughout the organization. Customer experience is a priority for all leaders and business goals are measured against CX metrics.

The customer experience strategy is shared and communicated on a more regular basis through internal communications, leadership events, and how employees are evaluated. 

There is a clear definition of CX success at the organization, and the brand’s promise to its customers is evident to both employees and consumers. Southwest Airlines, for example, talks about being in the customer service business. That promise is out in the world, so customers expect to receive great service when they interact with the airline.

At Level 3, for customer-facing teams like Customer Success and Support, success is tied to both CX metrics and operational metrics. For example, the overall organizational goals for a CX strategy might include increasing renewal rates whilst reducing service costs. This is all driven by a plan of action to reduce customer effort and improve the overall Net Promoter Score (NPS).

Leaders understand their role in delivering on these CX goals and communicate it with their teams. Employees are accustomed to evaluating their own team performance against specific CX goals and measurements. And a cross-functional leadership team has been established to prioritize and apply governance to customer experience efforts. 

You might hear employees make statements such as: 

Everything we’re doing now is about making the user experience seamless for our customers. Our team’s Vice President asks us to measure our performance against the overall CX goals of the organization and it’s exciting to see how our work is having such a direct impact on the customer and our organization’s success. — Product Leader

Priorities to advance to the next level   

Moving from Level 3 to Level 4 occurs when the customer experience strategy drives business decisions and customer experience efforts. Also, evaluations and improvements for CX are well funded and resourced.

To move forward, focus on: 

  • Customer insights 

  • Executive buy-in

How to take action

Step 1: Lean into customer insights to drive business decisions

Empower leadership to use customer insights for strategic decision-making. 

For example, if an organizational goal is to improve renewal rates, then a Customer Success leader might review customer insight and find that 90 days before renewal, feedback reveals that most customers want a contract review to ensure they are getting the most value. That leader may request hiring more Customer Success managers who can proactively reach out to the customer at that critical time along their journey.

Leaders can rely on centralized tools and integrated data—like customer insights and operational data—to gain a holistic view of the customer journey and make smart, business decisions based on it.

Step 2: Gain executive buy-in for proper investments in customer experience 

To gain executive buy-in for CX investments, focus on goals and outcomes.

Your leaders have their own set of goals, and gaining their buy-in means incorporating their motivations with the CX strategy.

For example, your Chief Financial Officer would be interested in seeing how investing in the CX strategy could help reduce the cost of service and improve the bottom line for the entire organization.  

As you communicate about the CX strategy and plans, keep the focus on only what business leaders need to know. Such as: 

  • The potential return on the investment in CX. Communicate how tactics like journey improvements will drive better customer experience metrics and result like retention and referrals (see our ROI guide).

  • Tell customer stories. Leaders appreciate numbers and data, but stories capture emotions. Share the positive and negative experiences discovered through the Voice of the Customer program.

  • Inform them of the overall marketplace and CX landscape. This means reaching beyond just the relationship between the customer and your organization. Customer expectations change based on customer experiences in general, not just in one industry. For example, all customers expect on-demand experiences, even in B2B and healthcare, so watch other industries for how to shift strategy and stay ahead of the competition. 

Leaders want forward-thinking ideas that will deliver long-term results. And they will invest where they see the positive potential for better outcomes. Align the CX strategy communication with gaining buy-in and engagement from leaders and teams across the organization for better results.

For more on how to appeal to leadership in different departments, read how to bridge the gap for CX across the organization.

Level 4   

What it looks like 

At this stage, the CX strategy is understood as a key driver for business decisions. CX initiatives are well-funded and a cross-functional leadership team provides governance to support a holistic approach.

Customer experience has become a part of the organizational culture and is well ingrained in the decision-making processes for leaders. The CX strategy is supported by customer journey maps with integrated customer and operational data. Improvements are prioritized and optimized for the entire journey, and the governance framework works regularly to act on customer insights.

Employees throughout the organization connect their role with customer experience success. They regularly discuss and plan for ways to improve the experience, and the employee experience reflects the values and vision of the organization and the CX strategy.

You might hear employees make statements such as:

Our team’s priority is to remove friction and help the customer achieve their goals. That’s why we listen to customers and act on their feedback quickly. I really appreciate how much emphasis our leaders place on making customers—and employees—happy. — Digital Leader

Priorities to advance to the next level   

Moving from Level 4 to Level 5 happens when each team, whether customer-facing or not, has CX-specific goals to support the overall CX strategy. Leaders and employees prioritize doing “what’s right” for customers and have a clear vision of what the ideal customer experience looks like. 

To move forward, focus on: 

  • All hands CX strategy support

  • CX wins and employee rewards

How to take action

Step 1: Empower all leaders––including those not customer-facing––to create CX-specific goals for their teams that support the overall CX strategy

At Level 4, the CX strategy is well-defined and drives business decisions. It may still be coming from the top of the organization, and now is the time to empower every leader to not only follow the strategy but help it evolve.

Set expectations for every team to lean into the strategy and goals in new ways. For example, to support the overall customer experience, ask each leader to submit annual plans that drive success. 

For instance, if the CX strategy is focused on reducing friction along the customer journey, every team leader––including Human Resources and Internal Communications––can see a way to support this proactively. A retail facilities management team, for example, would create a CX-specific goal about reducing friction by addressing warehouse shipment delays or improving traffic flow for certain locations.

It’s a good idea to work with leaders as they set annual goals and other long-term objectives to ensure they all support the overall CX strategy. Each leader should understand what customer experience success looks like and how their team’s efforts lead to that vision.

Step 2: Partner with Human Resources and Internal Communications teams to recognize and reward employees contributing to the success of the CX strategy 

Once leaders and teams have specific CX goals, it’s important to share and reward stories of success throughout the organization. This means consistent communications to showcase what employees are accomplishing on behalf of customers. 

Work with leaders from Human Resources (HR) and Internal Communications to share customer stories, ambitious CX goals that are achieved, and innovation around the customer experience.

Here are a few ways you could recognize and reward employees:

  • Create special awards that can be passed from peer-to-peer and feature the new “winners” in internal communication channels. For example, you could invent a “desk trophy” that is given from leader to leader. There can also be a large version of the trophy displayed in the lobby that includes a record of all those who have earned it. 

  • Feature stories of teams who considered customer experience in new ways, especially those who aren’t as customer-facing as others. An engineer who creates a more efficient process that leads to faster service for customers, for example, could be highlighted in a regular employee communications platform like the corporate intranet. This highlights doing “what’s right” for customers.

  • Promote the individual team CX goals that contributed to the overall customer experience strategy. For example, a Product team could have led the way with a goal around product deployment and the Customer Success team prioritized improving the onboarding process––both of those efforts would lead to better CX results. 

For more on how HR can support the overall customer experience strategy, read: Bridging the gap between human resources and CX.

Level 5   

What it looks like 

Level 5 is the North Star. Here, every team prioritizes “what’s right” for the customer, guided by CX-specific goals that funnel into the overall customer experience strategy.

Each employee understands how their individual role contributes to delivering value to customers and providing a great experience to fellow employees. In fact, employees are encouraged to provide feedback and innovate around the customer experience. 

Leaders cooperate cross-functionally to strategically plan and act on customer feedback, achieve overall organizational goals, and maintain a customer-centric culture. Long-term strategic business planning and annual goals are clearly defined and aligned with the customer experience strategy. 

You might hear employees make statements such as: 

I love working for this company because we do what’s right for our customers and for each other. The leaders encourage us to think of better ways to deliver for our customers and I believe our business performs better because of it. I’m proud to be a part of a team of people who really care about the experience. It’s obvious to me that when we invest in the customer, we get results as a business. — Product Development Leader

Where to go from here  

Like any business strategy, the customer experience strategy will require ongoing attention and evolution. Leaders should look ahead and modify strategic plans based on where they believe their customer needs and expectations are headed.

To look to the future:

  • Consider how customer expectations may change based on experiences outside of your industry. For example, disrupters like Uber and Amazon created on-demand experiences that customers came to expect, regardless of the industry.

  • Modify goals as they’re achieved, so the strategic vision is always looking beyond the current state of customer experience at your organization.

  • Continue to look for clues in customer feedback. Follow up with customers and watch carefully for changing behavior to keep up with their expectations.

A customer experience strategy means creating a long-term vision, setting ambitious but realistic goals, and developing plans of action to achieve those. This type of forward-thinking planning never stops. 

Get creative and innovate around the CX strategy to empower, enlighten and encourage leaders and teams to create experiences that support that vision.


Closing thoughts

A customer experience (CX) strategy will lead your organization through the right activities and prioritization that are needed to establish a customer-centric culture.

As you take action, retake our maturity assessment to track your progress. Remember, you shouldn’t expect to make all major improvements at once—this is a slow process, but each change will add up to positively impact the quality of your customer experience program. 

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