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You might think your customer experience is great—but do customers agree with you? A Bain & Company survey found that 80% of companies think their experience is “superior,” while only 8% of customers say the same thing.

To close this gap, you need a customer experience audit. To run a CX audit, take a step back from your business and think like a customer. You’ve had good and bad experiences while buying something yourself—and those are the instincts you need to lean on when switching to “customer audit mode.”

For example, I’ve recently been buying furniture for my home. The department store I bought from delayed shipping by months. When the furniture finally arrived, one of the products was broken. Their customer service was indifferent.

Now, imagine if the CEO of this business secretly bought products from their own department store to observe the hiccups in the experience. That’s essentially what a CX audit is—but backed with much more data and analysis.

What is a CX audit—and why is it important?

It’s shocking how infrequently business owners interact with their own businesses. Pull up any given website and you’re likely to see broken contact forms, customer service lines with 46-minute hold times, and “Follow us on social” buttons that lead nowhere. What makes these poor experiences mind-boggling is that CX is overtaking price and product as the key brand differentiator—and 96% of customers will leave you due to bad customer service.

A customer experience audit is a detailed investigation into your customers’ experience as they interact with your brand. A good CX audit looks into every touchpoint your customer has with your brand:

  • How customers found your brand
  • Why they chose to buy from you
  • The sales and delivery process
  • Customer service interactions
  • The experience after the sale

To run a CX audit, you need as much first-hand experience as possible. At a minimum, you’ll want to walk through the buying experience yourself, conduct customer interviews, and review your business’s customer analytics.

How to run a CX audit

Step Into Your Customer’s Shoes

In 2010, Office Depot’s sales were falling. Kevin Peters, president of Office Depot North America, wanted to understand why. He traveled undercover to 70 Office Depot stores across the United States, shopping and observing customer behavior. He returned from his trip with a plan to turn the business around.

In retail, mystery shopping is standard practice. It’s often outsourced—rather than done by the company’s management—but if you want to uncover issues that may not be showing up in your CX metrics, there’s no better way than a stint as a secret shopper.

You don’t have to be in retail to "mystery shop" your CX. Here's how to do it, regardless of your industry:

  • If you're in SaaS, start by hopping onto your website’s live chat and ask questions to a sales rep.
  • If you manage an ecommerce brand, make a purchase. Ship stuff to your friends and family, too. Ask everyone about their experience.
  • If you run a service business, look at your website as if you were a customer. Click every button you can find to make sure things are working. Make an anonymous inquiry through your contact form. See how the team responds.

Do Customer Interviews

Before you start digging through data, you’ll need to talk to real customers. The intangibles of the customer experience aren’t always noticed in raw metrics.

There are a few ways to do this:

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Casual Chats

Like the president of Office Depot, you can just show up at your business and start talking to customers. This is a great way to get an anecdotal sense of customer sentiment, and can uncover tidbits you wouldn’t find in a more formal setting.

The downside is that these conversations won’t go as in-depth as a proper interview would. And if you don’t run a retail or service business, it may be hard to pull off—although you can always give customers an unprompted email or phone call.

Customer Interviews

Customer interviews give you more time to dive into the details. Your challenge in an interview setting is keeping the session structured while not making it feel stuffy and formal. Come prepared with a list of questions, but make sure the questions are open-ended enough that your customer has a chance to say whatever’s on their mind.

Ask Your Customer Support Reps

In addition to speaking to customers, speak to your customer support team. From months or years of speaking with customers directly, they’ll have a distilled sense of the customer experience—both good and bad. By asking your reps the right questions, you’ll uncover frequent customer questions, concerns, complaints, and requests.

Choose Key Performance Indicators

Now that you have an anecdotal sense of your customer experience, you can start to dive into the data and get a quantitative sense. Choose key performance indicators (KPIs) that illuminate the areas of customer experience you want to focus on.

Make sure you’re measuring the right things. During Office Depot’s CX audit in 2010, they realized that although the company’s customer service scores were up, its sales were down—because they were measuring things customers didn’t much care about, like clean floors and bathrooms.

The following KPIs are commonly used to measure customer experience:

Net Promoter Score (NPS)

Net Promoter Score (NPS) measures customers’ answers to a simple question: “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this product/company to a friend or colleague?” The beauty of NPS is its simplicity—you can quickly ask this question at the end of a customer support call, within a popup on your website, or in an actual customer interview. Research by Bain & Company found that NPS explains 20-60% of the difference between growth rates among competitors.

Customer Satisfaction (CSAT)

Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) is focused on service and product quality. It measures answers to the following question: “How would you rate your overall satisfaction with the [goods/service] you received?”

Customers answer on a scale of 1 to 5:

  1. Very unsatisfied
  2. Unsatisfied
  3. Neutral
  4. Satisfied
  5. Very Satisfied

Churn Rate

When customers churn, it means they stop doing business with you. Churn is usually used in the context of subscription-based businesses. Churn is closely correlated with customer satisfaction—unless customers are unsatisfied, they won’t usually stop doing business with you if their needs haven’t changed.

To measure your churn rate, divide the customers you’ve lost by your total number of customers and multiply by 100. For example, if you had 500 customers overall this month and lost 40, your churn rate would be 8%.

Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)

Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is a measure of how much money the average customer makes you for the duration of their relationship with your business. CLV helps you maintain profitability by ensuring you don’t spend more acquiring a customer than you’ll earn from them. But CLV is also an important customer experience metric—when customers have a positive experience, they’ll keep coming back to buy more from you, increasing their lifetime value.

Customer Effort Score (CES)

Customer Effort Score (CES) measures how hard (or easy) it is for customers to get things done when interacting with your company.

  • A high CES means your company is difficult to work with. Customers might have trouble navigating your website, completing payment, or getting issues resolved with customer support. If you have a high CES, you’re building negative word of mouth. You’re on your way to a poor customer experience.
  • A low CES means it’s easy to do business with your company. Your website is streamlined, it’s easy to pay, your products ship on time, and any customer service issues are handled fast. If you have a low CES, you’re building positive word of mouth and customer advocacy. You likely have an excellent customer experience.

Research the Customer Lifecycle

customer experience audit infographic

By this point, you’ve already played “mystery shopper” by going through the purchase process yourself. You’ve also spoken with customers to understand sentiment. With any luck, you’ve got ideas to improve the buying process and customer support experience.

Now’s the time to bring structure to your CX audit by researching the customer lifecycle. Dive into every aspect of your customer relationships—from the first time they hear about your company to the moment they stop doing business with you.

As you research the customer lifecycle, you’ll explore questions like:

  • How do customers find you?
  • What touchpoints do they encounter on the path to purchase?
  • What percentage of customers bounce at checkout with an abandoned cart?
  • Where are you failing to meet customer expectations?
  • Are customers signing up, but churning soon after?
  • What is your rate of returns or refund requests?
  • What problems are users experiencing?
  • What’s your conversion rate?
  • What is your churn rate?

To organize all of this information and create a cohesive story, you’ll want to use a customer journey mapping tool. Customer journey maps help you document each part of the customer journey so you have a high-level picture of what’s working—and what’s not working.

Analyze Competitors

CX audits are about your customer, but remember—when customers leave, they’ve often been lured away by a poor experience with you or a better experience somewhere else. If customers are being better served by your competitors, it’s time to do a bit of spying.

Depending on the industry you’re in, this work may already be done for you. Firms like J.D. Power provide a third-party assessment of customer satisfaction based on their own samples of consumers’ experiences—for example, their rankings indicate that Citi is the highest-ranking small business bank. Competing banks should focus on figuring out what Citi’s doing right.

Small and medium-sized firms likely have to do this work themselves. The simplest way to do this is with sentiment analysis tools, which analyze social media to gauge not only what customers are saying about you, but what they’re saying about your competitors. Use these tools to create a benchmark for improvement.

Another method is to mystery shop your competitors. Go through the sales process at competing firms to see what you can learn from how they handle each customer touchpoint.

Improve Your Customer Experience

Once you’ve gathered qualitative and quantitative data and bundled it up into a CX audit, you’ve reached the most important point—putting your recommendations into action.

A CX audit won’t help if doesn't translate into action. As you’re preparing the audit, distill your findings into actionable steps to improve each aspect of the customer experience. Create a high-level summary so it’s easy to understand what your business is doing right and wrong.

  • What’s going well: Although CX audits are focused on fixing issues, they’re also an opportunity to recognize the things that are going right. For example, if you find that customers are having a great experience with your support team, pass the compliment on.
  • What needs improvement: The bulk of your audit report will be focused on improvements. Be practical with your recommendations and address the root cause of the problems you see. For example, if customers are frustrated with slow delivery times, it may be time to switch shipping providers.

Remember—each improvement you make to the user experience adds up. Consider using CX tools, customer experience management software or customer satisfaction software to manage the process, and track KPIs to see how customer satisfaction changes over time.

Repeat Regularly

If you’ve never audited your customer experience before, you’ll want to schedule a CX audit as quickly as possible. Until you’ve explored your business from your customers’ point of view, your ability to improve retention, customer lifetime value, and customer experience will be limited.

Repeat the CX audit process annually. Your business changes frequently—revenue might be going up due to higher volume, but if your NPS is going down due to slower delivery times, you’ll want to take action.

Don’t wait for your next customer experience audit before taking action. The goal is continuous optimization. Keep a close eye on your customer experience KPIs, and respond quickly when you see issues pop up in your customer experience. Run a new CX audit whenever you need clarity on what improvements to prioritize.

CX Audits Make Happier Customers

CX audits can be an intensive process, but don’t lose sight of the end goal—happier customers.

By putting yourself in your customers’ shoes during an audit, you’ll naturally stumble into customer pain points. You’ll get a first-hand sense of where your customer experience is delighting and where it’s sorely lacking. Turning your insights into action means happier customers and a faster-growing business.

For more tips on creating happier customers through the power of CX, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter.

Related read: Best Customer Analytics Tools

Ryan Kane
By Ryan Kane

Ryan Kane has been researching, writing about and improving customer experiences for much of his career and in a wide variety of B2B and B2C contexts, from tech startups and agencies to a manufacturer for Fortune 500 clients.