We often see companies make great strides in improving Customer Experience (CX), but then they hit a plateau. Managers look for solutions. They ramp up training, buy new software, or start process improvement projects. These things can improve CX in the short-term, but a culture “tweak” is what is needed to make further improvements.   Following is a story of what one client did to link Continuous Improvement (CI) efforts with their CX program and how the linkage has made a difference.

The Customer Experience – Continuous Improvement Plateau

As a large, midwestern specialized equipment dealer, our client provides sales, product support, and rental services to business-to-business customers. Approximately 1,500 employees serve its more than 10,000 customers through a 40+ store network. 

The company began its first CX improvement efforts in 2006, and these have been ongoing. The company made consistent improvement over the years, but gains were small in the 2015 period (see chart below). Managers thought the continuous improvement efforts did not yield the desired results and made some changes to the program to connect it to the Customer Experience program. 

Empowering Managers

In 2017, the first improvement was to change the bonus program from “hitting an operating budget” to achieving a targeted return on assets. Managers were now empowered to develop their own plan for success with identified goals. The managers have far more leeway to make decisions to improve overall performance on both the income statement and balance sheet. 

Taking this step is a significant cultural change. I researched definitions of employee autonomy and one that kept coming up again and again;  “Autonomy is the power to shape your work environment in ways that allow you to perform at your best.” This company just gave their managers and employees a better place to work and feel fulfilled by their work. Along with connecting Continuous Improvement, this company dramatically improved Employee Engagement with one decision. (For further reading on empowering employees, read 6 Ways to Encourage Autonomy With Your Employees.)

More Changes Followed

Following the precepts of Paul Akers, they started a “fix what bugs you” campaign. Employees were encouraged to fix those seemingly little things that they had grown to accept. Following is a simple example. 

An employee noticed that customers and employees had trouble when exiting and took action to improve the situation. The picture on the left shows the entrance to a location from the outside. Note, the “Watch Your Step” warning. However, there was no similar warning from the inside to warn customers to step down when leaving. The picture on the right shows the new warning sign placed on the inside of the entrance door. 

Continuous Improvement - Outside Door - Inside Exit - Now

With employees now empowered to prioritize the small issues at their locations, a second change was to have only one broad CI initiative in a year. Rather than trying to fix everything, the focus was now on one major thing. 

How Are Continuous Improvement and Customer Experience Connected?

When employees start talking about improving things, which they did and do in this example, the focus is not just internal. Take the case of the sign on the entrance door. The lack of a sign was affecting employees and customers since both used the door. Many of those “internal” improvements also have impacts on customer experience. A good CI program drives conversations, which ripples through many internal and external areas of the company, including customer experience. 

This company has a formal CI program, with a “suggestion” box showing ideas and actions. More importantly, management provides a monthly report showing the number of suggestions and uses pictures, such as the one above, to highlight what employees are doing to improve. Employees see that looking for ways to improve is an expectation that is part of their jobs, which, in turn, causes more discussion about other areas of improvement. 

Encouraging employees to discuss and be willing to “fix the things that bug them” is particularly important in improving CX. There is seldom one or a few problems that, if solved, create great experiences for your customers. Instead, it is many mostly “little” CX problems that change constantly. You cannot easily use Pareto analysis to identify the small number of issues that cause the bulk of your problems. 

The best CX organizations have employees whose eyes and ears are always looking for ways to improve things for their customers, just like the employees who realized that not having a warning sign on the step was a safety and a customer experience problem.  (For further reading, Using Continuous Improvement in Customer Service from our blog library.)

Is it Working?

For this client, the changes they made to their CI program and linking it more closely to the CX improvement efforts are paying off. The company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) improved to almost 84% in 2019. Year-to-date 2020, the NPS® stands at 86%. Customer complaints are down dramatically. They are receiving many unsolicited comments from customers, such as the one below. 

“Communication, parts availability, delivery. It all seems to be improved. We’re really thankful for that. I know some people have put some effort into improving our experience, parts availability, and things like that. That I appreciate. It’s going really well.”

Additionally, this company has deployed new technology, which has helped even more. While the company is not against formal training, they took a different approach and provided some training options and let employees choose what they wanted. Again, empowering employees to select their training path. 

CI and CX—They Go Hand-in-Hand

Our client took two essential steps to connect their Customer Experience to their Continuous Improvement to optimize both programs and grow their company. First, they empowered managers to develop their plans to meet goals. Second, they created (are creating) an environment where employees are encouraged to fix those annoying things they have come to accept. This change caused employees to actively look for ways to improve, even if seemingly small. The exponential effect is that employees are encouraged to talk about things to improve and how to do it. Inevitably, these discussions sometimes involve customer experience. Through these discussions, employees are “fixing” those many things that get in the way of excellent customer experience. 

Tell us how you’ve connected your CX and CI programs. What are you doing to optimize your CX data to grow your company? We’d love to share your success with our clients. 


Net Promoter®, NPS®, NPS Prism®, and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Satmetrix Systems, Inc., and Fred Reichheld. Net Promoter Score℠ and Net Promoter System℠ are service marks of Bain & Company, Inc., Satmetrix Systems, Inc., and Fred Reichheld.

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