So You Say You Have a Customer Experience Strategy?

Health club members giving each other a high five

I spend almost all of my time helping companies with their customer experience strategy. Operational customer experience management (OCEM) takes strategy and embeds it into daily operations making it come to life every day. Bear with me while I walk through strategy and then give you a simple and powerful pathway to delivering on yours.      

In my opinion, the top minds on strategy are Richard Rumelt at UCLA Anderson School of Business, and Michael Porter and Cynthia Montgomery, both at Harvard Business School. All are accomplished authors and thought leaders with tight similarity in how they think and communicate strategy.    

  • Rumelt: Strategy is problem solving.
  • Porter: Strategy is differentiation.
  • Montgomery: Strategy is your system of advantage.
  • Combined: Your system of advantage that solves a problem for your customer in a way that is materially different than your competitors.

Your customer experience initiative needs to live within your overall strategy.

The heavy lifting in strategy is making it come to life throughout your organization and not to let it just become a marketing message.

Tying it all together looks something like this. First, you must ask what problem am I solving? The answer: To help every member make exercise a habit. This is a hard problem to solve and, therefore, it is worth a lot more money if you can do it. An important note on this: If you are simply attracting people that already have an exercise habit, then you are not solving this problem. You don’t get to take credit for the people that already have a habit.

So what key elements need to come together in a cohesive way to solve this problem?

  • Plant and equipment
  • Exercise programming
  • Marketing
  • Human systems (position descriptions, compensation etc.)
  • Staff training and development
  • Member-facing processes
  • Policy design
  • Customer engagement technology

This may or may not be all the areas that combine into a system of advantage, but it only becomes a system if you assertively guide each of these areas based on the stated problem to solve—build exercise habits. You must design every aspect of your system to solve the problem.

How will we do it differently and better? By identifying a hard problem to solve and by building a system to solve that problem I have already differentiated. But to be materially different, I need to put the customer at the center of these decisions. I need to understand my business through the members’ eyes and quickly adjust and innovate around the feedback and aligned with my strategy.

Man that’s a lot of work, you may be thinking. Yep. That’s what differentiation is. It is always hard work. If it wasn’t hard work, then what you may have is a temporary competitive advantage but not differentiation. What I describe above is both hard to pull off and extremely hard to duplicate.

The way to get started is by committing to putting the customer at the center of your decision making. Done right and done with a growth mindset, this becomes the forcing function behind a true customer experience strategy.

The starting point is simple: The owner/CEO must make the member experience initiative his or her priority. This should never be a handoff. Own it as the leader of the company. The next step is to begin collecting feedback at volume—lots of feedback using smart metrics that reflect the skills and behaviors you need from everyone in order to deliver a great experience.  Now you can put the customer at the center of your decision making. If you simply do these two things and have a commitment to continuously improve, you will look back in a few years and realize the member experience has improved by magnitudes as has your ROI.


Blair McHaney is a teacher, student and practitioner of operational customer experience management (OCEM). He spent two and a half years at Medallia as vice president of strategic initiatives. He is currently president of MXM, a Medallia partner company specializing in OCEM for the fitness industry. McHaney also is president of Confluence Fitness Partners Inc., operating health clubs in Central Washington since 1983.    


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