- commit to addressing the obstacles to keep your business customer-centric
Years ago in my Strategy lectures, I learned some valuable lessons about strategy that have stayed with me over the years. According to my lecturer, Gordon Pearson, as outlined in his book, Strategy in Action, whatever strategy or strategic model you commit to as a business, some very telling characteristics should never elude you. He opined, that every strategy is about a direction and must be consistent in the execution of the chosen path, must have concentration once the direction is clear, and above all must be flexible, you must have a plan B for when things go wrong.
Staying the course in your experience strategy is critical to success. however, like every other human undertaking you may find yourself dealing with fatigue at certain stages in your journey. This can be heart-rending, one of the fallouts from this is that leaders are prone to developing cold feet when things get tough. According to Gayana Helder a Customer Experience Management proponent, this tendency is common and, in some cases, could lead to the abandonment of very laudable CX programmes with great potential.
Initiating a customer-centric culture and driving momentum towards desirable outcomes require some 3 basic qualities on the part of leadership if they are to maintain the drive towards a customer-centric mindset where the whole business is aligned with the customer experience. Gayana’s insights highlight the following key dilemmas that leaders must deal with. First, they must maintain their belief in CX even when the going gets tough. Second, in tough times their belief in ROI from CX initiatives must remain resolute. Third, they must deal decisively with the plague of operating in silos with conflicting KPIs that don’t align.
Maintain belief even when going gets tough
Years ago, I recall a popular adage we were introduced to when the going gets tough the tough get going. The customer journey is very common to frontline staff as they ultimately are the ones who engage customers regularly. It is they who understand the way customers feel and are more ready to address their needs when the occasion demands. Unfortunately, in some cases, they do not have the clout to make the key decisions when the challenges confronting them are significant thus requiring leadership intervention.
As is the case with most change programmes, when the process of reaching set goals appear long and winding, management is prone to ‘let their foot off the pedal’, especially when delayed results have high budget implications. A recommendation on how to deal with such situations was made by researchers after a survey revealed how employees think about what is most valued by customers. They said; expertise, relationship, and trust in that order.
The same question was asked to customers and their response was; trust, relationship, and expertise. Customers value trust above everything else. Maintaining trust in customer relationships is vital in the long run. Both parties are enthusiastic but not in the same order of importance. These different perceptions have implications for how management views customer issues at the journey touchpoints differently from their frontline staff.
Kotter, the management prodigy writes, in his book, 8 Steps to Accelerate Change in Your Organization: “So you’ve had a few wins. It can be easy to lift your foot off the gas pedal after experiencing some success. Instead, this is the time to press harder and use those wins as momentum to further fuel the change.” He argues in his piece about how change management contributes to CX’s success, that the most frequent cause of inertia in CX programmes is a focus on survey reporting that’s yielding numbers that just won’t budge.
That’s when it’s time to face your very own Moment of Truth and discover whether your CX programme is really about driving customer-focused change or simply reporting about the customer experience. Gayana shares a lesson with us thus, to make a change you sometimes have to be brave and show the potential of what can be achieved, and drive it, to make people believe. Encouraging words if you are the CX lead dealing with a management that is shy of change. Boldly sell the change vision and earn buy-in as a lecturer under whose feet I once sat said aptly ‘earn the right to continue.’
Staying resilient in tough times
A second dilemma relates to listening to customers. Although companies understand the need to collate what customers think about products and services and can flag key improvements, as well as finding it relatively straightforward to listen to and gather feedback, acting on the data is hard because it costs time, money, resources, and needs effort. Spending money on a customer-centric business is not easy if the financial benefits are not easily understood.
Making a business case using Net Promoter Score (NPS – used to measure customer sentiments firsthand) for example to collect feedback to understand customer sentiments is compelling. Management will not hesitate a programme that justifies x% of business growth and less churn. But that’s not how it works out in reality, according to CustomerThink research and other industry studies. After the excitement wears off, business executives will only continue to fund programmes that produce tangible benefits for the company and CX is no exception.
Even though most executives say they want to “compete based on CX” – but as Harley Manning, Research Director in the CX practice at Forrester puts it so well: “Let’s make our customer happier” gets smiles but not funding. The lesson here is this, although improving customer experience always leads to rewards the best way to create the environment for change is for your CX team to deliver the future model as a prototype before tying that to performance metrics or a bonus.
Change programmes need buy-in. there are no shortcuts even if that is what the data tells you. It is not enough to just have customer insights. what you need is to create an environment that understands the change before it can change. According to Forrester, you need to justify the measurable impact of your CX transformation programme and it must be meaningful, therefore you must demonstrate its relevance to your business. This ties in with the axiom, you are what you do, not what you say you do. In other words, walk the talk!
Operating in silos results in conflicting KPIs
Undoubtedly in the average business, there is a common tendency to gravitate towards operational silos in which teams share information, resources, tools, and techniques to achieve their common objectives. Working in teams can be very beneficial as the strength of synergizing makes the team stronger with superior capabilities in their drive towards goal attainment. This notwithstanding, silos can inhibit cross-functional synergies, leading to inefficiencies, higher costs, and unacceptable delays in detecting and resolving customer-related and other challenges.
Experts advise that the way forward here is to take a step back and revisit the question, what is your desired customer experience that you want to deliver? It’s about knowing how your customers feel so that you can translate your understanding of their sentiments to your customer journey. Two key insights are evident here. First, focus on structuring their organization based on the customer journey to align the various silos. Second, help employees to understand the role they play in delivering the desired customer experience across the company.
I have a personal experience of how debilitating silos can be sometimes. When we were implementing our ERP system years ago, we had to deal with a costing issue where the production and technical functions in the business had a different view from finance on how we valued stocks and some specific fixed assets. This was a constant bone of contention at every month-end with neither party willing to yield their positions. Eventually, we scaled that obstacle when the company addressed the core issue of customer experience as the driver for everything else.
Ultimately the ERP was adjusted to address different views with a common data store that provided a ready resource for everyone regardless of functional requirements. To address this nagging issue of silos you need to focus on processes thus tying internal activities to customer needs. The result is consistent cross-functional interaction with an eye on metrics that respond quickly to customer concerns. Let’s illustrate this from an IT perspective, transactions and data are passed between departments to create data silos.
When a customer calls for information, the department responds this is not my area and the customer is passed around the company. Turn this on its head and think of an IT solution that is designed to support your employees, who support your customers. When the customer information is transparent across the organization you are well on your way to breaking the silos and bringing the desired customer experience alive.
E. Luccock, the prominent American Methodist minister and professor of Homiletics at Yale’s Divinity School said, ‘No one can whistle a symphony alone. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.’ Gayana affirms this when she says ‘we can align KPIs, but the real magic happens when your employees understand and the other’s part to be played.’
The following solutions will effectively address the silo bottlenecks and enable your employees to develop a common view of the customer experience;
- First, create a movement bottom-up and inspire the senior leadership team to actively participate.
- Second, be enthusiastic about the customer as a company and let this enthusiasm flow around the company.
- Third, share real-life customer stories to enable all your employees to learn from these out-of-the-world examples.
- Fourth, you are what you do, not what you say. Be ready to make courageous and uncomfortable decisions as part of the deal.
- Finally, align with the customer journey and ensure every employee understands the role they and all other contributors play in delivering the desired customer experience.
Breaking down operational silos involves redesigning business processes and then selecting the right tools and creating the supporting software stacks to implement those processes. Certainly, this transition is not one that will take place overnight, but one that managers should start planning for now as the first step in moving from silos to synergy. It is a long and arduous process requiring a ‘stick-to-itism’ attitude (my late father’s coined words) and a defiant streak to anticipate and deal with imminent opposition in a humane way.
|The Writer is a Management Consultant (Change and Customer Experience). He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected], https://www.linkedin.com/in/km-13b85717/|