Manage your experience by seeking first to understand the customer:…Develop and harness the customer-focus mindset


It was Peter Drucker the doyen of management, who once wrote, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. This statement underscores the primary role of culture in any organization, as an integral part of its existence and key to its success or otherwise.

Drucker goes on to argue that, culture, if not well-managed has the potential to undermine value creation. Therefore, we posit that culture, the way of life for any group of people representing their norms, values, artifacts, and so on, needs great attention as a major panacea for success.

This is no different when we engage with our customers. Getting it right and offering a great experience emanates from a culture that is supportive of the customer’s interest.

Bob Thompson, an international authority on customer-centric business management and a founder and CEO of CustomerThink Corporation, independent research, and publishing firm, has outlined 5 customer experience practices as the biggest source of differentiation between developing and winning customer experience initiatives.

He recommends the following steps in building a framework to enhance your customer engagement strategies and competitiveness. T

ake an outside-in perspective to understand and act on customer feedback, develop customer journey maps to diagnose and improve experiences, have a commonly understood brand vision and promise that guides customer experience (CX) strategy, create a business case to connect CX improvements with key business outcomes and support CX efforts with committed senior executives who are personally engaged.

Outside-in Perspective

Many companies when asked about their view of the customer are quick to respond that they have an ‘outside-in’ view. On the contrary, if your focus is on ensuring that your internal systems are ‘well-placed’ to serve your customer’s needs, chances are that your perspective of the customer’s needs is ‘inside-out’. Your customer journey map (CJM) helps you understand the customer view of how they experience the sector, product, or service ‘outside-in’.

A study by Accenture found that top managers of leading global companies set CX as their top priority. The research further revealed that these managers also considered CX to be more important than both growth and profitability.

To offer customers outstanding experiences in a crowded marketplace a company must distinguish itself in the mind of the customer. Getting the ramifications of your CX right, must be something you pursue diligently as a business entity seeking to excel.

Today’s customer is bolder than in the past, they no longer consider the brand to be the expert, so they do comparative shopping on their own thus compelling companies to prove that they are better than another brand.

The fact is that customer understanding is an organizational attitude of mind. It is recognizable in organizations that can prove that “this is the way we conduct business” or “listening to the customer is part of our culture”. Having a dynamic approach to collecting and acting on customer and market data, as part of their culture and systems, gives one great leverage in terms of becoming the customer’s preferred choice.

Virgin Group is an organization that has demonstrated over time how to bring radically new products and services into the marketplace without being the first to market in a particular sector.

Their understanding of the value-adding factors that matter to the consumer enables it to successfully operate in markets where it has taken on established giants in a ‘David versus Goliath’ battle for consumer loyalty.  Consequently Virgin has gained a reputation as a challenger brand.

Developing customer journey maps – identify the customer ‘persona’

Recent research carried out on several businesses concluded, that too many companies today make their decisions based on intuition rather than smart CX focused strategies. Consequently, each year, approximately half of all new products fail to launch.  Businesses need to understand that the “Customer Experience Journey” is the key to success and that the only way to stay on top of that journey is through Customer Experience Management.

The Customer Experience Journey is a methodological framework that gives managers a practical way to diagnose failures and helps them to design differentiated and memorable experiences.  It is a powerful tool that provides a visual representation across all the stages that customers pass through and records what they think, feel, or do at each interaction with the brand.

Kweku is a sales representative and has just started working for an insurance company. He was thinking about what to eat for lunch, it was raining outside. After getting feedback from friends on his phone he quickly checked Google on his desktop computer to locate a local restaurant.  He found some more options in addition to the ones his friends had recommended.

Finally, he decided on ‘apem ampesie’ and called the order line to order for lunch. He chose this particular restaurant because they offered delivery services and that suited him as he was not keen on braving the rain outside to get lunch. Besides, it gave him time to check his social media status and other activities during his lunch hour.

He planned to pay with mobile money as he wasn’t too sure about giving the money to the courier who brought the food to him. He liked the food as he felt he was eating healthy and was impressed with the packaging.

After the meal, he took a selfie and tagged it ‘my first lunch in my new position’. Kweku has traversed several touchpoints in this transaction. Touchpoints refer to any interaction a customer has with a brand.

Social media, ads, website, invoices, correspondence, sales representative, packaging, retail stores, and memorabilia. Kweku’s experience across all the touchpoints he engaged with (in italics) is worth noting to develop a customer ‘persona’. There are no one-size-fits-all for the customer hence the need for a profile as close to the customer as possible. This is encapsulated in the customer ‘persona’.

Customer Experience Strategy – develop the brand vision

Understanding the customer experience an organization wants to deliver can inspire, align, and guide it as well as bring innovation and energy, to help shape strategy.

Knowing that your organization is primarily in the customer-service business is not, however, enough to achieve organizational change.

What is required is that you lead proactively in building internal momentum for initiatives to develop a unique customer experience.

This will potentially help your employees to understand how the business can perform distinctively in the market.

To develop an effective CX strategy requires a few key steps. First, set up an announcement campaign where the CEO and other top executives deliberately inform everyone about the Customer Experience programme through emails to employees, posters, and bulletin boards, and so on.

Second, launch your Customer Experience programme formally, this could be an event where refreshments are served. The CX team will make a presentation at this event highlighting the kind of training and activities to be pursued in this regard. Third, organize training workshops to prepare employees to translate the CX objectives into action as they perform in their job roles.

Make these engagements interactive to enable them to feel they are a vital and active part of the company’s transformation.

Fourth, conduct follow-up evaluations where you review benchmarks and other relevant metrics to see how well each department and touchpoint is doing. Share the information across the board to keep all employees in the loop. Create quarterly brochures and reports for stockholders.

Fifth, periodically reward your employees who have demonstrated they are committed to applying new CX concepts to their jobs.

Hold events to recognize them in front of the whole group, continually emphasize that the company is successful because each employee is a living example of how to provide an effective customer experience.

Create a business case to connect CX improvements with key business outcomes

Forrester produces regular analyses of the relationship between customer experience and business performance but it shows no causal link. According to them, ‘You could use it to tell a story. But you won’t be able to calculate a Net Present Value for investment’. In building a revenue generation case there is a tendency to focus on ‘the avoidance of cost’ rationale. Potentially, saving money is great for justifying outflows.

However, the advice is to stop focusing on just spending the money and instead focus on realizing the benefits of customer experience improvements as a project in its own right. This way your business case options are reduced to ‘our customers will be happier’.

A good question to ask is ‘might customer experience management be a basic need of every business? Like desks, email, parking, team building, is it something we know is right but cannot justify?’ Unfortunately, the ‘happy customers’ argument rarely washes, however with the benefit of using data, culture, and empathy we can help our stakeholders appreciate how we derive value from listening to the Voice of the Customer and respond with our resources.

Supporting CX efforts with committed senior executives who are personally engaged

Listening to a customer’s concerns can potentially trigger a surge in customer numbers and loyalty. Great customer experience thrives on a customer-focused internal culture which defines an outside-in thinking-frame supported by an inside-out employee experience. Senior executives must consciously shift away from advisory and “ivory tower” positioning to more operationally structured positions. They must actively engage with frontline processes.

This may include sitting with frontline staff and listening-in on calls to 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 the customer’s issues regularly at team meetings to enable you to identify areas of conflict, providing more explicit direction and clearer priorities to help employees make better day-to-day customer-centric decisions.

Pay a random visit to a customer with a brief to ‘listen humbly’ to what works or does not work for them today. Feedback about what you have learned in meetings with colleagues at a high level to build a consensus on appropriate solutions.

Engage direct reports in one-to-one meetings about the customer and challenge them with questions to push them towards the needs of 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’.

Almost every successful company recognizes the need for customer experience. A diverse range of organizations is committed to this principle.

They include the likes of the online retail giant Amazon, Walt Disney Company who transitioned from a small studio in California. Knowing that your organization is primarily a customer-centric entity must motivate you to strive consistently for the organizational changes and interventions required to stay in tune with your 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 059 175 7205, [email protected]/

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