…identify the main pillars and harmonize them for the mutual good (1)
Every major organizational initiative requires great commitment from the planning stages through to operational processes that will ultimately birth the outcomes envisaged at the inception of the process. It is a journey of sorts that requires great leadership and a good understanding of the (internal and external) dynamics to ensure that the goal is achieved to meet the expectations of all those who are interested in its success (stakeholders).
The process itself requires that careful steps are taken to identify why the initiative is necessary, what has to be done to achieve the desired outcomes who has to do what to ensure that activities within the process are carried out to the right specifications and how the goal of adding value is achieved such that success can be tangibly identified either in qualitative or quantitative terms. Measuring success in this context may not be straightforward as all the interested parties will need to accent the meaning of success. This is no different when the goal is to create a Customer Experience programme.
Every new initiative in the real world requires a change management organization behind it to ensure that the investment in time, effort, and resources (money, materials, people, etc) yields positive outcomes. In our contemporary world change is the norm rather than the exception. Our learning antennas must therefore be alert to change and with it the expectations of those whose actions and thoughts trigger the need for us to respond with the changes that will meet their expectations, in this case, the customers. Change has therefore become commonplace in our business space as customers increasingly demand more from us.
Like every other discipline Customer Experience will thrive on frameworks, models, and practical insights. More importantly, paying close attention to the needs and sentiments of those who remain loyal and continue to invest in your brand has great value for the future of your product development and the capability to nurture and sustain great relationships for the common good.
Years ago, while waiting in the queue in class to show my work to the tutor a friend caught a motto on the back of the book of one of our mates. It read “Education has no end”. Learning as a culture is key in this quest. We must develop a culture of learning to learn to keep our customers aligned with our brand. Jeff Sheehan a CX proponent identifies some key building blocks that underpin our Customer Experience endeavour among others.
These are (in no particular order), first, leadership in facilitating and delivering CX and embedding it in our internal processes as second nature. Second, a CX culture where what we do and how we think resonates and aligns with customer sentiments. Third, Change Management to address what needs changing to keep aligned, and fourth an Audit process to ensure that we stay aligned. Fourth, journey mapping operations to keep the customer journey in focus and to work persistently to ensure that our customers enjoy happy landings (experiences) as opposed to turbulence.
One of the core capabilities of a CX leader is the ability to listen and discern from the customers what needs doing to stay aligned. Listening may be informal including interactions with customers, or formal listening processes where you employ specific tools to capture relevant data and analyze to understand what customers are communicating to you and distill this into actionable insights for internal teams. Active listening includes empathy, a willingness to learn from others, and a commitment to take on challenges and be accountable for your actions.
Great customer experience is not accidental. It is planned, we need to be intentional about how we learn from our customers and deliver out-of-world experiences. Recent research has revealed that customer experience is a key focus for many executives across a swath of industries, regions, and companies of varying sizes. This notwithstanding, it has been discovered that 30 percent of businesses do not have a clear definition for customer experience management across their organization and lack a definite plan to implement it.
The CX leader’s role transcends all the functions and processes of the organization. Note that the customer’s needs will be addressed by both front-end and back-end actors. This poses enormous challenges for the role of the CX leader. S/he will need to analyze feedback and distill this across the organization to ensure that there is a common understanding for the customer cross-functionally and that dealing with customer needs with the right mindset and approach is the responsibility of every individual in the organization. To this end, the CX leader draws from a range of sources of authority to navigate through the organization’s cultural and political environment.
The sources of authority are positional where the organization empowers the CX leader to make decisions, manage people and acquire the right tools for the job. Second, there is borrowed authority drawn from others notably a top executive who acts as a sponsor to the CX lead. For example, as CX lead you derive actionable insights from the Voice of the Customer (VoC) and engage stakeholders using business cases to make the case for change. To do this effectively the CX leaders must be effective communicators, must be able to manage cross-functionally, and learn to choose his/her battles carefully.
Influencing a CX Culture
Here we can learn from an approach commonly used in international development known as adaptive management. It is used where there is an assumption of uncertainty about what will work to address the challenge. It recommends a flexible approach that involves testing, monitoring, obtaining feedback, and (crucially) making course corrections where necessary. Adaptive management is best understood as a broad approach, rather than as a specific method or set of tools.
The organization’s culture is pivotal to addressing the mission and purpose of the CX programme. The CX leader has to quickly learn and align with the culture to be able to apply this to plans and approaches in the execution of CX initiatives. According to CX guru Bruce Temkin, “the CX you deliver is a reflection of your culture and operating processes. Who you are externally is a reflection of how you operate internally. If you have jumbled processes, mixed-up reporting lines, and a culture of blame, then there’s no way you will be able to consistently deliver great CX.”
Jeff Sheehan (2019) recommends an approach used frequently by the military, the acronym FLOAT, for Forward Line of Own Troops. According to him, there can be dissonance between what an organization says it’s about and how it operates. So the question is how the mission, vision, and values of the organization align with the “ground truth”. I recall years ago providing support for a Nigerian businessman in the UK, who was setting up a college for international students. He was a smooth talker and sounded very convincing in his aspirations.
Unfortunately, his actions did not match his words, and thus eventually what was a promising business prospect was terminated by the authorities as his activities did not conform to regulatory requirements therefore he fell foul with the law. According to Sheehan (2019) to be effective in influencing a culture change, the CX leader must work assiduously to lead the lines in developing a shared understanding of what matters about customer issues, let the customer’s voice be heard across the organization, build bridges by leading discussions with stakeholders, and be consistent in internal communications.
Managing the Change
One of the key requirements for change is situational awareness. Our world today is very dynamic and change happens fast at a pace that is faster by far than our ability to learn and stay attuned to the change. Customer experience management is a discipline that is rooted in continuous improvement and that means frequent changes in organizational (internal and external) levers to stay aligned. The effect of any change initiative is cross-functional therefore one has to learn to engage various organizational silos to adopt the change in a timely and sustained manner.
The change aims to bring significant improvements to the way we work. Change is hard. To manage the complexity associated with any change programme it is advised that you adopt a model that will guide you through the complexity in a relatively structured way. John Kotter the Management Guru recommends an 8-step process. The first four are mentioned here as, first create a sense of urgency – pay attention to the issues that can potentially hurt the business such as customer churn (the rate at which you lose them), low revenue, and high effort (implied in high costs).
Second, to sustain an improved customer experience programme you must involve leadership. Create a guiding coalition that includes your top managers such as the CEO, and functional heads to create a sustained change initiative. It can be hard work to engage leadership at the inception but ultimately it will save you time and accelerate the change going forward with their involvement. Third, create a vision to demonstrate to employees where you are going. An effective vision makes the goal clear to all so that even in your absence decisions can be made. Encourage teams to work flexibly within reasonable limits.
Fourth develop good initiatives to keep the customer as the real focus by creating a compelling case change and prioritizing the activities that will drive you toward your goal. Kotter’s model may not be a CX-focused model however it presents a solid framework for implementing CX initiatives, creating happier customers, and a healthier business. Experts recommend the Agile approach to change organizational structures, job roles, processes, and systems as well as address the required management approach to help individuals adapt to the business and technical changes for success.
Let me throw in a caveat here that there are a plethora of models that can be adapted to your change programme. Use what works best for you as there are no hard and fast rules here. The orientation of your organization will be a major influence in your approach and in choosing a relevant model to successfully implement change.
Having operationalized your CX game plan you need to develop capabilities to assess how your target customers respond to your changes through their interactions and how these changes have influenced their perceptions of your brand. This will require a careful look at all your key “touchpoints” while your customer’s journey from finding choosing and interacting with your brand right to their willingness to return after the sale. This process will require great attention to detail as you navigate through the organization for feedback data.
CX practitioners recommend that you use an Audit checklist to bring some structure to this process. The broad areas to look for in the Audit are the organizational key levers encompassing collaborations among departments, leadership commitment, compensation linked to CX, and CX culture where employee feedback is solicited collected, and used, whether there are any differences between employee and customer perception of customer experience and whether this is captured in pieces of training, and journey maps and VoC reports.
Other broad areas to address include the CX Strategic Plan and CX Governance to assess how CX projects are collaboratively prioritized and resourced. Knowing how customers and prospects interact with your brand will give you great insights into how to improve your CX in the short, medium, and long-term. By adopting a practical and effective approach to your Audit process you will identify very small improvements that you can make quickly to set your brand apart and develop a clear picture of what you should aim at doing for the longer term. The outcome of the Audit process is a list of quick wins to use across key areas of strategy, people, process, and technology.
According to the management guru Peter Drucker, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” If you don’t measure, then how do you know how you are doing? How do you know if you are doing well? Customer Experience Management enables you to formalize your understanding of the customer accurately and lead the lines (internally and externally) to align all your stakeholders to the customer-centric agenda.
|The Writer is a Change and CX Management Consultant. He can be reached at 059 175 7205, [email protected],