- …strive from within to bring the customer to the centre of every conversation
Aspiring to become Customer-Centric is a noble undertaking, organizations with this aim attest to the great rewards from delivering enhanced experiences to their cherished loyal customers. Marleen van Wijk, customer experience consultant sums this up aptly by referring to the role of a Customer Experience (CX) Leader as one of an intangible discipline full of contrast. The reasons for this are not far-fetched.
Firstly, CX is a strategic process with a definite plan that needs Executive buy-in. in reality, though your success as a leader hinge largely on your ability to engage the people on the floor. Those at the frontlines who are dealing with the customer frequently. Therefore, CX, as much as it is strategic is also operational thus requires significant leanings on pragmatic thinking and carefully planned execution.
Secondly, a good CX process is interlaced with very complex pursuits encompassing alignment with channels, processes, touchpoints, journeys, IT systems, and people. Like every other change programme, it attempts to change behaviour leading ultimately to culture change. A good CX transition requires hard work focus and time. The need to get the balance right is paramount to the success of every programme (a general principle) as in most cases the CX lead finds himself/herself overwhelmed not knowing where to start.
Thirdly, although a CX leader seeks direct interaction with customers to help understand their needs and sentiments more succinctly, you will find that a large chunk of the work is performed internally to persuade stakeholders to accept the quest to put the customer’s needs at the centre of every engagement and process. Simply put this is actually about the things stakeholders need to do or stop doing to impact positively on the customer experience as opposed to the negative.
A CX leader analyzes a plethora of customer feedback to bring to bear on product development, customer service operations, business intelligence, staff training, and marketing among others. another reality to deal with is the threat of departments operating in silos with a focus on KPIs and bonus metrics thus leading to a reluctance to make changes based on customer feedback presented by the CX leader.
To address this challenge the CX leader must play a bridge role to navigate these nuances. CX proponents recommend the following approaches, cross-functional collaboration, conducting research, challenging status quo, storytelling, and the employee experience.
To develop and sustain an internal cross-functional collaborative campaign you need the cooperation of all stakeholders namely teams, functions, business units, and Profit and Loss sectors. The goal is to move away from silos and build a partnership with marketing teams to monitor the data and act on changing customer behaviours. This includes influencing a culture that embeds CX into everyday work on the front line and in the back office.
It includes building a strong partnership with teams that work across key customer journeys to deliver win-win outcomes for customers and the organization. We know that in real-life settings traditional solutions such as restructuring and changing the culture, are very challenging prospects and can take ages and significant resources to successfully implement. Today’s customers often engage with a brand or business using different channels and touchpoints.
While they go through their journey, they expect personalization and perfect harmony among all the contacts of the business. Even though the experience on each channel could be excellent, if transitions across the channels are not smooth or experiences are inconsistent, the overall experience will suffer. Companies must therefore aim to deliver beyond one-off initiatives and focus on operational ecosystems that respond quickly to customers’ needs. The key is to work at transforming internal operations to resolve challenges posed by legacy business practices.
It is necessary to find out about the customer and support your beliefs through the data. As the saying goes ‘The Truth is in the data’. More importantly, your ability to convert them into facts brings greater value to the process and leads you to a more informed assessment of their needs and sentiments. By collecting and analyzing ongoing behaviour, experience, and business metrics and monitoring these constantly in conjunction with customer feedback and sentiments you develop a cycle of continuous iterative improvements.
According to Kim Salazar of Nielsen Norman Group, you need to make yourself a casserole of data with lots of different sources and ways to measure. This means if your NPS score goes down, you have things like click data to tell you why. The data sources complement each other and help you drill down on the truth about the context you are dealing with. The good news is that the days of lab settings and behind the scene R & D settings are now a feature of the past.
Today, product research seeks to keep pace with consumer demand and customer demands, offering an output that helps brands avoid costly mistakes, by driving innovation and aligning with the needs of customers. According to Fred Reichheld the inventor of The Net Promoter Score (NPS) tool for measuring customer sentiments, most companies are using it wrongly. For example, a common use is to tie them to compensations and bonuses an approach that is devoid of the customer inclusiveness in assessing their issues.
In his opinion, this encourages situations where customers are forced to give dishonest opinions about a service or product by over-zealous frontline workers. This is a no-no as you will be better served with honest and sincere feedback as opposed to subjective responses influenced by a frontline team member with a narrow aim of improving personal performance metrics.
Challenging the status quo
The key is to develop a habit of internally focusing on customer issues. This will challenge the conventional way of working in functional silos. Although (I assume) everyone understands the pivotal role of customers in making the business stand on its feet, the lure and appeal of attaining goals may influence how we prioritize their needs. Frequently in meetings, group thinking drives the conversation to issues that are more internal thus leaving the CX agenda on the shelf while we deal with more pressing issues such as the next visit of our external auditors.
The result is a situation where aligning the CX plan with business strategy is not duly prioritized. How do we overcome this bottleneck? According to Sales Consultant Dave Brock, we must not shy away from asking difficult questions such as; how can we help them better utilize the products they currently use? How can we help them expand, doing more? How do we find new opportunities in new parts of the account to help them grow and achieve?
Responding to these questions obviously will require a different approach to the normal way of doing things internally. The customer conversation becomes the main focus as opposed to the business approach that aligns more with ROI, KPIs, cost-cutting, and so on. According to Tyler Saxey, Director Customer Experience, Foot Locker, an online shoe brand, the right approach is ‘to identify key moments that matter in our customers’ journeys and drive change in those areas. This approach gives our executives better metrics to run the business and elevates our results.’
Relying on data across different domains within the organization can be very useful and resourceful. Through data gathering and personalization Netflix the video streaming service provides highly relevant, tailored suggestions creating unique experiences for users. It offers a show called Bandersnatch which allows users to make decisions and alter the course of the story.
Through personalization, users can interactively alter the course of a story. The opportunity to create your own story adds weight to the saying that, ‘customer experience is a journey, not a destination.’ I have repeatedly told a few stories of my personal experience of getting free groceries from a supermarket in the UK due to a technology hitch, a story I hold so dearly to my heart over a decade after the incident.
The story of a British tourist who received personalized services from a Hotel in Elmina is also a case in point. He was offered a pick-up service at Kotoka and a menu of Tourist attractions to fill his itinerary. My brother’s encounter in Papua New Guinea where the Hotel staff refer to all the guests by their first name and would greet, ‘Peter Good Morning how may I help you today?’ Don’t hesitate to leverage positive stories as testimonials of great experiences from customers.
Employees at the frontlines already have a good understanding of the customer’s important role in sustaining the business and are trained to deliver experiences that will keep them coming back for more. The challenge is how to influence this mindset across the organization. Inclusiveness is the key here. By talking to employees across the organization and allowing them to share their ideas on how to better serve the customer you earn their buy-in.
Ruth Crowley a Customer Experience advocate suggests that leveraging cross-disciplinary expertise is fundamental for success. CX leaders must deliberately work at influencing a purpose-driven, learning mindset among employees. The ultimate beneficiary is the customer. The key is education, by educating the wider team you reduce the fear factor and instill in them the confidence to pursue improvements.
A range of interventions will change the game here. They include coaching, mentoring, and organizing awareness sessions to equip them to actively engage with the customer experience confidently. Inject the CX philosophy into your internal training programmes, introduce CX modules in executive training workshops, and provide opportunities for introducing the voice of the customer into the business at different levels.
To achieve great things, we are encouraged to do things differently. Jeff Sheehan advises that careful communication is vital. By continuously engaging stakeholders to understand the organization in-depth CX leaders position themselves as anchors for transformations through the incorporation of essential feedback into the CX plans, programmes, and projects. Creatively channeling your efforts at working for stakeholders not against them, is the sure path to success.
|The Writer is a Management Consultant (Change and Customer Experience). He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected], https://www.linkedin.com/Kodwo Manuel|