Kodwo Manuel’s thoughts …. Why leadership matters in customer experience

Kodwo Manuel is the Managing Consultant at Capability Trust Limited a People and Learning Organisation serving the market with Talent Acquisition and Management.

 – Lead the charge and change your story

It is said that the purpose of a business is not simply to make profits nor create jobs, on the contrary, many have explained clearly that the sole purpose of a business is to satisfy customers. This might seem contrary to the common perception that a business is driven by its mission, vision, and values among others. Some have argued also that businesses offer value by providing products and services to customers who in turn pay for the value with cash or equivalents. According to Richard Branson, the billionaire behind the Virgin brand, his purpose in starting a business is ‘to make a positive difference in people’s lives’.

The role of leadership in every undertaking is pivotal to its success and customer experience is no exception to this rule. Therefore for any customer experience activity to work effectively, you will need senior leadership actively engaged in support of managing the customer agenda. Leadership must facilitate a unified view of their customer by listening to the voice of the customer and actively pursue customer-centred programmes. According to Matt Dixon, author of the best-selling book, Effortless Experience, “Those customers who are surprised, delighted, and wowed are no more loyal than those whose expectations are simply met.” He says ‘there’s a lot of good companies can do by simply delivering the basics’. Focusing one’s attention on delighting customers alone doesn’t pay, studies have shown in B2B markets that up to 65-85% of defectors were satisfied or very satisfied with their former supplier.

Consequences of leadership ‘mis-focus’

Many leadership teams have become their own worst enemy by focusing more on products, losing sight of the fact that the world had changed and they had not. Today’s generation of customers has developed strong opinions about products and services, and as such demand more user-friendly and customer-defined solutions. Apple’s customers demanding a return of frontline workers to their stores is an example of the culture of listening to customer concerns and how that can trigger a surge in customer numbers and loyalty. Therefore, as customer experience grows in importance and influence, leaders are compelled to step up and resiliently navigate their organisations through the customer experience transformation journey. The focus must now be on what to do, to make improvements within the organisation to address their shortcomings. We can draw some lessons from IBM whose dominance in the industry in their early years was indisputable. By the mid-90s their share plunged and stock prices fell from $110 to $37 per share. IBM’s historic strengths and internal self-reliance as experts became their weakness and almost ruined the business. The good news is that they learned from their mistakes and as a matter of survival have subsequently listened to their customers and developed business capabilities to provide what they want. Leadership must avoid the attitude that makes them go ‘silly customers we know best’.

Avoiding customer effort

Additionally, leaders must avoid what Dixon describes as customer effort, where customers needlessly jump through hoops as they engage with your touch-points. There are a few such examples in the experience of the average customer: First, customers call multiple times to get their problem fixed. The strain of following up to resolve an issue will eventually lead them to switch allegiance, having found themselves tossed over as many times from one service advisor to the next without an end in sight to their issue. Second, they are subjected to confusing or broken self-service options. Ambiguity in dealing with your touch-points can be a major frustration for the customer. A typical example could be where you are processing an application and are required to use the online channel, yet on submission of your application you are asked to redo the application manually, the service user is forced to provide the same information twice or more using different channels. Third, forcing customers to switch channels to get help. You call the call centre hoping to resolve an issue only to be told that you will need to trek to a shop-front to address your issue, you then wonder whether waiting in the queue to be attended to by the customer advisor at the call centre was worth your while. Forth, transferring customers from one department to the next. How many times has one experienced this frustration dealing with an agency where you have been transferred to different departments and in each case appeared not to have made any progress? Fifth, making customers repeat information, such as account numbers. Where records are kept in ‘brick and mortar’ environments you tend to experience this, curiously even in certain cases where technology is part of the mix you find yourself needlessly having to repeat information you have already shared as internal processes operate in silos. These could be major challenges that need leadership attention.

The leadership influence versus employee experience

Great customer experience requires holistic change, one that affects every part of the organization. The Chief Customer Officer of Peoplefluent, the Talent management software provider says, “by merging all customer-facing roles from pre- to post-sales into a singular accountable organization, we align the business to deliver a single complete customer solution. In doing so, we are driving all business and product decisions around best customer outcomes.” His business through the provision of people-centred solutions sought to establish end-to-end accountability concerning customer engagement. An affirmation of the claim that customer experience is indeed everyone’s business. So the key is to deliberately design experiences and not processes when your focus is the customer.

Great customer experience thrives on a customer-focused internal culture which as we keep learning defines an outside-in thinking-frame supported by an inside-out employee experience. Customer experience requires a significant shift from advisory and “ivory tower” positioning to more operationally structured positions. Leadership must urgently drive and influence culture change across the organization. Some organisations go so far as to reorganize all marketing and sales activities under the direct control of a customer experience executive while others are putting customer quality and sales distribution networks in that frame. According to experts, processes form organically over time, and few organisations consider the customer experience as a whole, let alone explicitly design, implement, and measure it consistently across the board. The goal must always be to raise the profile of the customer as an integral part of business strategy through demonstrable support for customer activity. The current effort to return to normalcy from the COVID-19 lockdown presents a great opportunity for organisations to create tailored responses to workplace challenges by leveraging on the goodwill and camaraderie which characterized the lockdown period.

A McKinsey research carried out recently revealed 3 overarching insights, each coupled with practical steps leaders can take to support employees through the next phase of the crises. They outlined them as follows;

  • As a leader, you’ve had to make sweeping changes in recent months to address your employees’ most pressing needs, and your workforce thinks your instincts were probably right. Build on the trust and affiliation you’ve earned by continuing to be present, action-oriented, empathetic, and fully transparent.
  • In addition to basic needs (safety and security), three other experience themes (trusting relationships, social cohesion, and individual purpose) are having a disproportionate impact on employee well-being and work effectiveness. Enable improvements in those areas by prioritising actions that will address a broad set of needs for the majority of your workforce.
  • Changes are hitting your people in widely diverging (and sometimes unexpected) ways. Some are struggling, and some are thriving. Use a combination of science, technology, data, and analytics to segment your employees like you would your customers and tailor interventions to support them in personalized and meaningful ways.

The key is to continue to build trust by listening to your workforce. The COVID pandemic has had a global impact of monumental proportions particularly the human tragedies that have played up as a consequence globally. People’s lives have been disrupted such that homes, communities, and jobs have been significantly affected. Leadership must be readily available to help employees make sense of the crises by building resilience to deal with its effects. One way they can achieve this is to connect employees to the organization and to one another for social connection and affiliation, both formally and informally.

The leadership influence in customer experience

Very specifically leadership must be the backbone of organisation’s customer engagement strategy to effectively address customer needs. They must do this through active engagement with frontline processes. This can be done in the following practical ways. Spend at least 2 hours a month with frontline staff listening in all calls, this will enable them to experience at first-hand what front-line employees deal with to have the customer in mind as they make decisions affecting their experiences. Discuss a prepared digest of customer feedback every week in team meetings, the goal is to enable you to identify areas of conflict between short- and long-term goals and company objectives, providing more explicit direction and clearer priorities to help employees make better day-to-day customer centred decisions. Be prepared to talk at a meeting about how your role impacts the customer and explain how your business can become customer-centric and why this matters. Visit a customer with a brief to ‘listen humbly’ to what works/does not work for them today. Feedback about what you have learned. Engage direct reports in one to one meetings about the customer e.g. ‘next time we meet I would like you to have thought about what we do and how it impacts our customer.

The Writer is the Managing Consultant at Capability Trust Limited a People and Learning Organisation serving the market with Talent Acquisition and Management, Leadership Development, HR Outsourcing and general HR Advisory, Training and consulting services. He can be reached on 0591757205 [email protected]/www.linkedin.com/in/km-13b85717

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