Leading your customer Experience Initiative: all must think ‘outside-in’

Kodwo Manuel

Thinking ‘outside-in’ can be a daunting prospect for the average business. First of all, imagine how much hassle you go through to drive your processes towards planned outcomes and the additional effort required to move the product to the end-user. For service-based businesses, you have even more tasks to perform to ensure that your services match the expectations of your targeted customer. Why go through the further trouble of pleasing the customer after you have worked so hard for the same customer?

Research by American Express revealed that 86% of customers are willing to pay more for a better experience. Recently the Temkin group published a study and found that companies that earn an average of $1 billion annually can expect to earn averagely, $700 million within 3 years of investing in Customer Experience a 70% increase in revenue within 36 months! Companies that successfully implement a customer experience strategy achieve higher customer satisfaction rates.

Furthermore, a plethora of studies has proven that Customer Experience has a favourable effect on loyalty, revenues, and profitability, as well as the market share of the business. Companies that deliberately invest in and implement Customer Experience initiatives are relatively more profitable than their counterparts who ignore its importance. The consequences of not paying attention to this quest eventually lead to the proverbial outcome of struggling to play ‘catch-up’ after realizing (too late) that “the emperor has no clothes.” The success of any customer experience initiative hinges on transformational leadership. Business as usual will not trigger the significant outcomes we seek, to achieve different results we must do things differently! Transformational leadership focuses on changing the attitudes of employees across the entire organization. The contrast is transactional leadership, it will not help the company achieve new behaviorial patterns for sustained change and growth.

A recent study concluded that approximately 44% of organizations today have no formalized Customer Experience programme. One may argue that many of these companies are small businesses, but a good many of them are not. This is why the case for setting up an organization behind your customer experience is a compelling one, to ensure that the whole company stays customer-centric in a volatile market environment by keeping a tight rein on the beginning-to-end journey of the customer. The way forward is to introduce initiatives that would help your wider team rid themselves of the fear factor and work confidently towards planned improvements. According to experts (Pennington, 2015), the following are recommended actions in this regard;

  • Provide senior leaders with support through coaching, mentoring, awareness sessions that will equip your teams to actively engage with the customer experience with confidence.
  • Review your current training and development programmes that you run internally or subscribe to. See where you can inject customer experience into these programmes. Your feedback from customer engagements can serve as a useful input for designing programme content.
  • Introduce a customer experience module into your senior executive training programmes – look to inject the customer into other components of these established programmes. By doing this you are ensuring that the needs of the customer are on the minds of decision-makers cascading down eventually to the ‘Average Joe’.
  • Engage in Customer Journey Mapping work. Do this collectively, all hands on deck!
  • Provide opportunities to introduce the Voice of the Customer into business at different levels.

The objective of this initiative is to arm the business and its people with the capacity to focus on the customer view as a lens through which to consider strategy, review business decisions and engage with colleagues. One scenario here from which we can draw interesting insights, how would you react if you have to answer the ringing phone that could be a customer or ignore it and finish a report that your boss wants on her desk by 200 p.m.?  The fact is the former may occur only a few times in the year but the latter may occur a countless number of times a day.

The challenge of developing customer experience leads

The debate around this is whether it makes sense to appoint a formal role occupant whose responsibility is to drive the organisation’s customer experience agenda. The problem with this is that very often the new appointees find themselves in a team with minimal executive authority thus are unable to exert any meaningful influence enough to bring the customer conversation to the fore. What is recommended is the appointing of a customer experience lead who with the executive muscle s/he wields will be pivotal in filtering the right mix of information between front liners and board room actors and influence decisions and actions that are customer-centric, for both ends of the organizational spectrum.

Such a person will be influential enough to drive the customer experience agenda to improve business results, by focusing on what will increase revenues and reduce cost. S/he will work to make the customer experience visible and get the whole organization behind it. Additionally, the customer experience lead will have enough clout to raise the customer experience to the strategic rather than tactical level. Ultimately this will be the catalyst and person who leads the transformation towards a more customer-focused organization.

Key focus areas for the Customer Experience lead

Researchers advise that we must be careful not to confuse customer service with customer experience. Customer service focuses on a single touchpoint with a brand, while customer experience impacts feelings and emotions and encompasses the entire customer journey. This underscores the importance of equipping teams and individuals to think like customers, think differently and challenge the status quo, and to influence the resulting customer experience.

The goal is, therefore, to develop and secure employee engagement by ensuring that your team members understand the importance of their roles in delivering the brand promise and what their contribution is. The customer experience lead plays a critical role in managing people by providing feedback mechanisms to support them on how to improve. This would involve such activities as team meetings to share experiences from the frontline in an atmosphere of free exchange where ideas are traded and lessons learned to enable actors to quickly adapt to new ways of customer engagements. Additional tasks will include engaging and developing frontline staff according to their service-oriented personality (technical and industry knowledge can be learned), putting in place motivation and incentives to encourage the right behaviours, and ensuring that senior managers demonstrate a commitment to customer care, through leadership, performance management and active involvement with customers.

Customers expect consistency of experience this means that all channels (touchpoints) must offer consistency in service quality in the eyes of the customer. Therefore by raising the profile of your customer you are creating the best opportunity to succeed in improving your customer experience.

The customer experience perspective

Companies invest variously in ensuring that their various departments are functioning optimally. Therefore the HR department will plan and deliver trainings and mentoring for their team on how to recruit or retain talent while the sales team will receive training on how to sell, the finance on how to record financial transactions efficiently and manage the organiation’s assets and so on. These pieces of training are undoubtedly effective in helping to keep the company to keep functioning. Customer Experience on the other hand seeks to drive the company towards excellence in a highly competitive business environment. To succeed in this ‘harsh’ regime requires the entire organization to have a “customer experience perspective”.

Experts opine that when employees can see the big picture it makes them feel that they are a valuable part of the company. They are more likely to put their best efforts into the goals of the company. Being a part of something having a purpose and value, in this case, the company triggers pleasure.

At the heart of the issue is that business leaders, often unintentionally miscommunicate the goal, the challenge of how to articulate and describe what you are setting out to achieve and managing the human reaction to it requires great effort in harnessing your best resources internally with a keen eye on the needs of the customer throughout their journey with your brand. The research linking Customer Experience to improved business performance is compelling.

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]/ www.linkedin.com/in/km-13b85717


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