Invest significant effort within your organisation to embed a culture of customer-centricity

the Customer Experience Agenda
Kojo Manuel
  • Ensure that your CX Strategy is well-aligned with your Business Strategy and brand

Can you count the number of times you have offered unsolicited advice as a customer, to a service provider or supplier and received a passive response? You could get a reaction such as ‘What do you know about our business?’ This is an assertion we can all agree with; however, there is one drawback to this ‘honest’ response. It sends the message – ‘Get off my back!’ – to the poor customer who was only trying to be helpful.

On a platform I belong to, there was a ‘loud cry’ recently by a customer about poor service, it was so loud it got to the top. The response was quick and decisive as the top reacted promptly with reassurances of an immediate resolution. The swiftness of the response, though heartwarming, sends a clear signal of disconnect between leadership and the operations. It begs the question, how customer-centric is this business?

In most businesses, the quality of customer experience is a key differentiating factor against competitors. In 2015, a survey conducted by KPMG revealed the direct impact of customer experience on business performance. Analysing the stocks in different sub-sectors established the following outcomes. Financial sector results in the FTSE UK went up by 5.4%, this was even higher in the CEE (Central and Eastern Europe), where an increase of 14% was recorded.

In the travel and Hotel sub-sector, these values went up by 3.7% and 5.1%, respectively. These findings underscore the fact that where customer experience is rated high, the stock markets are similarly high and vice versa. One thing is clear here, keeping your customer experience on ‘auto-pilot’ is not ‘a walk in the park’. It requires deliberate planning and execution.  The renowned Chinese Military Strategist, Sun Tsu, was quoted once as saying: “Strategic planning without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategic planning is the noise before defeat”.

Jeff Sheehan, a CX proponent, suggests several approaches to ensure that your CX strategy aligns with business strategy. First, aligning the CX strategy plan with the business strategy. Second, be deliberate about developing a CX strategic plan. Third, apply a framework to create a strategic plan. To ensure that our CX is in a good place, we must be deliberate about how we manage it.

Align the CX strategy with business

The dictionary meaning of strategy is so apt. It refers to strategy as a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim. The second meaning adds credence to Sun Tsu’s fame as a war strategist. It says strategy is “the art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle”. Both meanings draw attention to the fact that a deliberate act of planning to achieve something significant is core to the success of any business.

So a business will set its goal to become customer-centric. How this materialises will depend on the commitment of the business to the goal. How do they demonstrate this? By articulating very specifically how the organisation will use customer feedback and customer research for all-new product development and enhancement decisions, starting from Q3 of the year, for example. Leadership must get the balance right between a clear strategic goal and actual execution to achieve anything meaningful. A well-crafted CX strategy gives meaning to the business strategy.

Ryan Hart, a CX consultant, drops this warning about ensuring that execution follows beautiful plans when he says: “A distressing number of CX strategies are either too high-level to be useful or else a laundry list of principles and initiatives without context”. He opines further that: “A CX strategic plan must serve as a roadmap to actualise, deliver and measure progress toward the customer-centric goals of the business.’

The CX leader must drive the process of developing a CX strategic plan that is fit for purpose. The CX plan is the tool that captures the Now-Where-How of your CX programme for a specific period. It must align with your organisation’s goals, priorities and capacity (Now). It must lay out the work to be done (Where), and establish the initiatives and priorities for CX outcomes (How). It must have alignment with the business strategy and brand promises. It must not stand on its own.

Developing your CX strategic plan

Experts advise that you develop a CX strategic plan with a great deal of detail without becoming a project plan. Additionally, it must align with the business and brand strategies, the KPI and incentives of internal stakeholders, and customer understanding. Four steps are recommended as pre-work to begin this process. Step 1 is about discovering the business strategy, operating model, mission, vision, values and the long-term (strategic time) and short-range (tactical time).

Here, the CX leader also examines the organisation’s incentive programmes, which are powerful forces to align with it. Step 2 is to understand the brand, the target market, and what the intentions are of the brand promises. This is where customer expectations of the art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle of the business begin to form. Step 3 is to make it a bottom-up process while simultaneously maintaining a top-driven strategic intent. Engage all the principal stakeholders who deliver on these promises in the process of the CX Audit.

The goal is to drive a culture of interdependence aligning all stakeholders across the organisation for effective delivery. Step 4 determines the scope of your programme. Depending on the scope of the plan, you may need dedicated resources and authority to impact its full scope. Conversely, if the scope is narrow, it can be accomplished as parts of other functions. Here CX leaders need guidance from the senior leadership team to carve out the exact scope and expectations of CX programme outcomes.

When the strategic plan is owned across the organisation, it becomes a combination of a broad and clear top-down strategic direction with sufficient, bottom-up, specific initiatives which enable the organisation’s overarching strategy to function at full gear. The all-inclusiveness has everything to do with gathering momentum and sustaining the drive toward becoming a full-fledged customer-centric organisation.

Applying a framework to create a strategic plan

The process of developing a strategic CX plan can best be done in a collaborative environment as the CX leader here will need support across the entire organisation in reviewing and revising a strategic plan that has buy-in from everyone. Several reasons underlie the wisdom of this approach. First, the complexity of the planning process encourages critical thinking and cross-functional collaboration including the outside-in perspective of customers to foster accountability and generate an organisation-wide customer-centric culture.

Second, the very nature of CX planning, in terms of its cross-functional orientation, requires that all parts of the business pitch in. CX transcends organisational boundaries such that business units, divisions, departments; and P & L must all have a stake in planning and executing CX strategy as the CX leaders will need to engage all stakeholders to ensure that there is ownership across the entire organisational spectrum.

According to Sheehan, the CX strategy is guided by 3 basic rules. Rule 1, CX Strategic planning flows from and aligns with the overarching goals of the organisation and brand strategies. Rule 2, CX Strategic Plan guides the portfolio and prioritisation of CX projects and investments. Rule 3, CX Strategic Plan addresses the gap between customer expectations and internal capabilities.

The framework encompasses 3 broad areas of demand established by the organisation’s mission, vision, values and business goals which created it in the first place. The brand also creates demand for the business as it begins to set expectations and creates awareness with customers. Supply is essentially the capacity of the organisation to deliver on-demand. The 3 key dimensions of the strategic plan are: Key Dimension 1, Product-based, emphasises the design, sale, and support of the offerings.

Dimension 2, journey-based, emphasises the various touchpoints and channels a customer interacts with to learn about, purchase and receive support. Dimension 3, Customer feelings, emphasise their human experience with the brand’s usefulness to helping customers succeed in their job to be done.

Where CX is a deliberate strategy we see it play out repeatedly on the frontlines. There are always great stories to tell and to learn from. Last week, I talked about one experience onboard a Virgin Atlantic flight from Fiji to Melbourne in Australia, and how one passenger in Business Class used his credit card to buy in-flight meals for the Fijians all of whom could not afford to purchase meals due to the requirement of the use of a credit card for the purchase. This passenger changed the mood on the flight with his kindness, but the cabin crew member who initiated this earns the plaudits.

My brother experienced a customer-centric culture last weekend when he missed his flight from New York to Texas. This meant he’d have to purchase a new ticket to board a flight but guess what, he met a helpful front desk assistant who put him on a flight and made out in the notes that he got caught up in traffic, and so my brother did not have to pay any extra charge to take his trip on the next flight. How cool was that?

Years ago, a friend of mine traveling back to the UK from Ghana was upgraded to First Class randomly and enjoyed premier services even though he boarded with an economy ticket. In customer-centric organisations, where there is cross-functional ownership, people are empowered to take steps to assuage customer issues to enhance the reputation of their business. The Uber driver who returned a friend’s phone last week adds credence to this claim.

The process of developing and executing a fit-for-purpose strategy may be complicated and long-winding; however, the rewards are great – making the effort at Strategy planning for CX worthwhile. The key requirement is that it must align with the business strategy and must be an all-inclusive endeavour.

Rethinking your experience strategy to step-up growth: Keep doing what works best and aim to improve   The Writer is a Change Management and Customer Experience Consultant. He can be reached on 059 175 7205,

[email protected],




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