- Work relentlessly to sustain your experience drive and deliver value
Years ago, I worked on a project with an organisation called Footprints Africa. The goal of this not-for-profit organisation was to unite international corporations, African SMEs and public sector institutions in Africa to create cross-sector solutions for long-standing challenges that continued to stifle local businesses. It was an exciting journey of researching challenges faced by SMEs as they strive to meet the requirements of their multinational business partners.
A concept that was raised and is currently being promoted by the organisation is what they refer to as the ‘circular economy’. The goal of the circular economy is to design out waste and pollution, and keep products and materials in use to extract the maximum value among others. Giving back through recycling is what the circular economy aims at; and through this support, quite a few SMEs have emerged and are doing extremely well. In many ways, this analogy fits perfectly in the mould of ensuring that businesses work tirelessly to keep their brands visible to customers.
Two lessons we can draw from this noble project are: first, it seeks to minimise waste in the ecosystem by recycling plastics, thus minimising their harmful effects on the environment to ensure a thriving economy. Second, a critical mass of eco-friendly SMEs is a big boost for our economy as we strive to maintain a clean environment and as well create jobs for our teeming youth to keep the wheels of progress in motion. Aligning with the circular economy concept means one subscribes to a continuous process of keeping a healthy environment for the economic well-being of our dear nation.
Customer experience offers a similar opportunity for businesses to address the needs of their customers consistently, to ensure that they are satisfied and committed to the company’s products and services – and willing to stay as patrons for the long-term as well as convince others to join them. Being deliberate about CX is unfortunately not ‘a walk in the park’. It requires persistence and an avowed commitment to ensuring you stay the course.
There are several things we must carefully consider if we want our CX agenda to yield positive dividends for both our business and customers alike. First, we must understand that CX has no end and it is an infinite way of running an organisation. Second, creating an outstanding Customer Experience is a collaborative endeavour. Third, executive buy-in is vital for a successful CX programme. Fourth, ensure that you are on the same page with your stakeholders. And fifth, do not assume – rely on facts.
Customer Experience has no end
CX is about business improvement, working hard to ensure that the business is customer-focused across the entire organisation. Ian Golding, a CX consultant say: “CX encompasses not just the customer experience, but also the employee experience, digital experience and, in essence, the entire human experience”. The reality confronting us is that customers have been around forever; without them we have no business.
A clear lesson from this assertion is that even though our Customer Experience Management requires we deploy several initiatives to achieve our goals, we must accept the fact that since technically customers are always there, in our experience agenda there is no start or end date. Although addressing customer experience initiatives may require projects, your CX activities should consist of different short-term projects with a broad scope.
It demands long-term work and short-term milestones. Let me expatiate on this from a personal viewpoint. Change is best implemented in small chunks to ensure that you have a good grip on what you are changing and can sustain the change after the process is installed. During my years in IT Change Management, we automated business processes bit by bit starting with our General Ledger; learning all the vital lessons and adapting accordingly, such that our implementation of additional modules (Sales Order Processing, Procurement, Inventory Control, etc.) proved easier.
The outcome today is a fully automated process end-to-end with continuous improvement to keep the momentum. We were dealing with evolving needs. Pablo Picasso, the famous Spanish painter, buttressed these thoughts when he said: “Our goals can only be reached through the vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success”. Customer needs are always changing, if you consider CX to have a finish line you will not adapt to these evolving needs.
What’s needed is long-term focus and a commitment to creating an environment of continuous improvement. However, to keep your senior management on board, do share a variety of shorter-term results showing milestones and celebrating success to help drive engagement in this endless journey.
Your goal is to create an end-to-end journey with a unique experience for your customer persona. This is something that cannot be achieved effectively by working in silos. You will need cross-functional expertise, involvement and commitment from employees across the organisation. Every Kweku, Adjoa or Abena plays an important role in not only designing the experience but also delivering them. Let’s consider this example for clarity. If your business is building a house, as the CX lead you will be helping the business understand who lives in it and what their goals are.
The total requirement for this edict is that the house will need a roof, a floor, running-water, and heating among others. You may want extra bathroom facilities because you have teenagers in the house, and a host of design requirements for your kitchen, dining-room and bedrooms. The key is to engage all of the skills needed to put these together and maintain everyone’s focus on who will live in the house and what they want to achieve.
Additionally, you will need to engage with your customer to get a real-life understanding of what their needs are. According to experts, it’s like having an (unpaid) expert every time you want to answer a question or meditate about what the journey should do, or how it means never having to say “I don’t know”. This means you have access to vital information without commissioning more market research; it also means you make better decisions faster. Note, however, that collaboration needs clarification on the scope of ownership and roles and responsibilities.
Executive buy-in is vital
A true commitment to the CX transformation lies in the hands of the highest executives in an organisation. It should be on their radar, but you may start it without them – however, at some point of the journey, management buy-in and active top management involvement are crucial. Implementing CX impacts every single individual in the company, as you will need to navigate your CX programme through the organisation’s cultural nuances. Having top-management behind it will help drive the improvement of experiences at the working level.
Steve Jobs of blessed memory articulated this: “Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have faith in people; that they’re good and smart, and if you give them the tools they’ll do wonderful things with them”. Having top-management behind you will help answer crucial questions about who, why, what and how. As senior executives, they will determine the vision and mission; help navigate the CX agenda across the organization; and define top-line measures with a named individual owning each item on the roadmap.
Additionally, they will operationalise strategy in chosen segments of the business and manage performance at each step of the journey. When executives feel connected to the CX agenda, their influence ultimately moves the conversation toward one-company leadership – whereby everyone is ideally on the same page and making decisions which benefit a customer-driven growth engine. This positions you well to align silos and collaborate more effectively. With CX well-aligned, companies are now making astonishing profits because their customer experience is simply better.
Be aligned with your stakeholders
Engaging stakeholders can be very tricky – one could say as tricky as getting turkeys to vote for Christmas. The good news is when you get your strategy right, the sky’s the limit! The truth is the term ‘customer experience’ has gained traction in the public space, with the result that people have different interpretations of it. Some say it’s the new marketing, while others see and relate to it digitally. Often, CX and customer-centricity are used interchangeably.
Regardless of how we look at it, CX affects all of us; therefore, it’s important that when pursuing our CX initiatives we must ensure everyone on our radar is on the same page. When they are not, you find yourself in a situation where you are having to work twice as hard to achieve your goals, without any guarantee of success. Another consequence of non-alignment with stakeholders is that it could lead to miscommunication. A stakeholder is someone with an interest in a project or process and will affect, or be affected by, its outcomes. Let’s consider this: is a customer a stakeholder? Yes. By that definition, a customer is most certainly a stakeholder.
So, based on the definition above, it is important to talk to stakeholders as you begin to build out your Voice of the Customer (VOC) strategy. VOC is a term that describes your customer’s feedback about their experiences with and expectations for your products or services. You will need to conduct some stakeholder interviews very early on in your VOC efforts, as their input and alignment are key to defining and designing your strategy. You aim to effectively align with stakeholders’ business objectives, priorities and needs.
Gather information about stakeholder needs and concerns, and identify believers and naysayers – in other words, their level of engagement in the process. Objectives of the stakeholder interviews include: clarifying the vision, strategy and key metrics of the business units; uncovering pain points, bright spots and general information needs; identifying key customer segments and critical relationship factors; defining customer insights needed to support business planning and operations; and getting buy-in for the work that lies ahead.
Do not assume anything, rely on facts
Avoid making logical assumptions about what customers want. Focus on understanding research and testing your findings. A ‘solution’ created with an assumption is likely not to work; or, at best, not work to its full potential. It is important to take a step back before developing a ‘solution’. Invest in relevant research to understand your actual audience. This can potentially save you a lot of time and resources, especially in the long run.
It is critical to test and adjust the solution in determining if it is right. If a customer likes your business and continues to like you, they are going to continue supporting you – and even recommend you to others. Collecting customer data for in-depth knowledge and valuable insights takes a lot of work that many businesses don’t consider, as they don’t see the immediate value. Lack of awareness on the value of research and understanding can undermine the success of any product, even the business as a whole.
It is proven that businesses stand to improve and enhance customer satisfaction while growing more sales and boosting their market share by placing a great focus on customer experiences. To deliver the needs of customers, your best bet is to drill down into research, data and insights. The final and critical phase in the cycle is to test the data to ensure it will work. Finally, involve top leadership to keep your CX agenda in motion and ensure alignment with your stakeholders.
|The writer is a Management Consultant (Change and Customer Experience). He can be reached on 059 175 7205, koj[email protected], https://www.linkedin.com/in/km-13b85717/