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As more companies shift their focus to building a top-notch customer experience, competitive benchmarking becomes necessary to stay one step ahead. At its core, benchmarking is as simple as comparing what your team is doing to what the best in the industry are doing. This could be how your team stacks up on key metrics or support operations.

That said, benchmarking done right is much more than a casual, anecdotal look at the competition. Pinpointing which of the hundreds of companies and customer metrics to focus on is a tricky, but worthwhile pursuit. Companies need a well-thought-out strategy to get the desired results the first time.

Here are six benchmarking best practices that can make your efforts more impactful:

1. Start early

If you want to be the best, it’s never too early to start benchmarking. Studying your competition and knowing where and how you can improve is like getting a map to your destination. The sooner you have the map in hand, the sooner you can transition from reactive to strategic, and start down the path to perfection. Keep in mind that half of benchmarking is knowing where to draw your starting line. Allow yourself time to put the proper measurement systems or tools in place so you can keep accurate tabs on your progress and see how far you’ve come.

2. Have a timeline

Between researching competitors, analyzing where opportunities exist for improvement, and implementing changes, benchmarking can demand a lot of time. Limit the scope of your benchmarking to research and activities that can be finished within a time period that mirrors the typical planning cycle in your company. For most companies, this is once a quarter or 90 days. This way you can analyze how you compare to competitors early in the quarter, implement changes, and share results back to the company before planning starts for the next quarter.

3. Choose an appropriate peer group

The companies you study should, first and foremost, exhibit excellence. However, location, size, industry, product category, and business model should all be considered based on your goals. For example, if the objective is to see how your performance compares to companies most like yours, limit your peer group to your same industry. However, if the intent is to gain perspective on different business processes and push your team to think outside the box, studying companies in different industries could be a great option. On that note…

4. Look outside your industry

Some of the most dramatic learning can come from companies who operate outside of your industry. One approach is to start with the problem then brainstorm other industries with the same problem but to the extreme. For example, if you’re having trouble getting customers to respond to surveys or give feedback, look at how fast food chains or hospitals approach this. One will give you an idea of how to catch customers in the moment, and the other how to be sensitive to their circumstances.

5. Stick to meaningful metrics

The health of a customer support organization can be measured in a myriad of ways. This is why it’s important to be collectively clear as an organization which metrics define world-class customer support and therefore should be studied. Limit your benchmarking research to a few metrics or factors that are standard across your industry and, therefore, can easily be compared apples-to-apples. It’s also important to decide with your team exactly how these will be measured before kick-off.

6. Focus on improving operations

In the words made famous by Marshall Goldsmith, “What got you here, won’t get you there.” Once you have a clear north star of where you want to be, shift your focus to your team’s operations instead of the metrics themselves. Statistics cannot be improved, but the technology, processes, people, and strategies that drive them can.