Outstanding customer experiences don’t just happen. They are the result of a carefully coordinated design that works to anticipate a customer’s needs and then exceed their expectations.

Customer experience is a key driver of customer satisfaction and loyalty. In fact, 67 percent of respondents surveyed by thinkJar identify sub-par experiences as the predominant reason for switching brands. This statistic not only demonstrates how important the customer experience is, but it highlights the edge your organization can have by optimizing these interactions.

But for any customer experience management strategy to be successful, organizations have to answer one question: What is the customer experience?

What Does Customer Experience Mean?

Fundamentally, customer experience is the interaction a customer has with an organization. Beyond the basics, however, customer experience is a representation of the relationship between a business and its clientele. It’s an end-to-end concept, from how customers discover your company and make contact to when they make purchases and promote your brand. It’s the sum total of every touchpoint and communication, serving as the foundation for a number of customer decisions.

Five Ways to Improve It

Positive customer experiences require an understanding of the entire customer journey, as well as taking a customer-centric approach to understanding their needs. Cultivating effective customer experiences is an ongoing process—one that has to be constantly refined to keep up with dynamic demands.

1. Maximize digital interactions and experiences to differentiate and drive revenue growth.

Digital customer experiences happen across touchpoints, such as websites and apps, and customers who have a poor digital user experience with a company are less likely to return. As customers become increasingly reliant on the digital world, they want their virtual proceedings to be both easy and enjoyable. These exchanges have to be designed to not only get customers what they need, but to allow them to complete their tasks with the least degree of hassle, especially on mobile devices. Brands have to be both flexible and responsive to customers in the digital environment, as cycle times are compressed and customers expect much faster response and delivery via digital channels.

Brands that can deliver a seamless, efficient, valuable omni-channel customer experience will retain a higher number of their current customers, expand their customer base and experience higher revenue growth compared to their competitors. One of the best methods of accomplishing this is to find ways to integrate your offerings with services your customers are already using. An example of this strategy is the money-management app Mint, which integrates with users’ bank accounts to help them keep better track of their spending.

2. Conduct user research and leverage existing research to identify significant customer journeys and major pain points.

Optimal customer experiences are created by having a comprehensive understanding of the customer journey. This requires research into your customers’ experiences and careful analysis of each step of the interaction.

Effective digital interactions are cultivated by analyzing not only things like traffic and digital purchases, but behaviors such as exactly where customers go when they arrive on your site or what kinds of tasks they most often do using digital means. Run regular usability tests of your digital collateral to ensure a high level of accessibility and value.

You can draw valuable data from customer surveys and other feedback, but you have to be able to discern where problems may lie even without specific negative feedback. One common paradigm is dissatisfaction many people have with their cable TV provider. Although people may rate their individual interactions with customer service rep and installers favorably, the overall experience is often lacking. In many cases, this discrepancy is due to things like scheduling problems, which can reflect badly on the company as a whole. But the only way you can have this level of insight is to assess the performance of each touchpoint and identify kinks in the line.

3. Establish sound data metrics strategy to fully harness analytics and deliver responsive and predictive personalized services.

Providing the best service to your customers requires looking at your interactions from their point of view. For instance, an inbound call to the call center is put down in simple metrics for businesses, such as how long the call took. But for the customer, these calls represent a possible solution to a very real issue in their lives. From that perspective, how long a call takes is one of the least important aspects of the interaction. Instead, companies should look for how many customers had their issues resolved, how often calls had to be escalated and what was offered if the customer’s ideal resolution could not be met. Replaying customer interactions, whether online or over the phone, can also provide valuable data metrics.

4. Intelligently create feedback loops to improve interactions upstream and downstream.

The above metrics serve as the start of feedback loops, which businesses can use to map customer journeys and continuously improve their interactions. To do this successfully, however, you have to connect all sources of feedback and other data. This includes solicited feedback, such as email and intercept surveys, as well as unsolicited comments via feedback buttons and links on websites. Amazon is a leader in the feedback loop arena, sending surveys and other feedback requests after every interaction to gain insight into their customers’ wants and needs.

Keep in mind that when you’re assessing large amounts of feedback, it may be helpful to look for upticks in dissatisfied customers and then look for commonalities.

5. Fully map out customer touchpoints and then strategize, craft and integrate the best customer experiences.

Companies cannot afford to just focus on singular interactions. The customer experience is a collection of digital and face-to-face interactions, and companies must be able to fully map out that journey. Success in this aspect is about making your company’s services as valuable as possible at every step.

Temporary transportation provider Zipcar fulfills this obligation nicely, with seamless capabilities that allow users to find and reserve cars, manage their accounts and even handle gas and insurance, all from a single, simple dashboard that can be accessed on any device. The entire customer journey has been accounted for creating an effortless, pleasant experience.

Providing customers with quality experiences is vital to business growth and development. With the right customer experience digital strategy in place, your business can create a loyal customer base that increasingly outpaces the competition.