Ensure the key role of leadership in striving for and attaining customer-centricity


 – build a sustainable experience culture with consistency

In a highly competitive world, the need to build and manage customer relations through learning and a high degree of responsiveness is imperative. The pressure to resolve complaints and proactively engage clients is high as customers demand more from us. One way to keep pace with the high expectation of customers is to use the relevant tools to gather feedback and ensure a data management regime where information is highly valued and dealt with assiduously. The focus on feedback must not only be from customers but also from our frontline teams.

Keeping our eyes on the ball in our customer experience agenda requires great effort and a commitment to ensure that our quest to keep the customer happy is relentlessly pursued, regardless of the challenges. These could range from our people to systems, processes, and resources, not least the financial capability to ensure that our initiatives are on course. The kind of things that could frustrate our best efforts includes – but are not limited to – how we quantify Return on Investment (ROI), and how we break down data silos to ensure that we are all aligned when managing customer information.

Additionally, our willingness and appetite to identify and prioritise CX problems can make or break our best efforts. Coupled with this is how we generate actionable insights as we respond to customer concerns from our touchpoints. Having a clear strategy to address emerging challenges is key to keeping our eyes on the ball. Additionally, our ability to deliver personalised services is the icing on the cake as a consequence of getting all the essentials right. Why is leadership involvement so critical to this process?

CX initiatives have a higher chance of success when there is support from top leadership. There could be that one senior executive whose enthusiasm is a great encouragement. However, this senior executive may be the owner of a silo, and therefore, would only have one company perspective, a limited view or sphere of influence.

According to Thomas Feeney, a Director of Business Transformation at Flogas Ireland – an electricity and gas company, “overcoming silos isn’t just about multi-department collaboration”. He states further: “To remove silos, business leaders need to identify all the teams that interact with the customer. Determining pain points in the path to purchase can also pinpoint areas where the customer journey can be streamlined”. According to him, any time a customer has to enter the same piece of information twice, it is a sign that teams are not effectively sharing relevant customer information.

Please don’t get tired of John Maxwell’s axiom on leadership because it encapsulates the whole essence of leadership influence – “Everything rises and falls on leadership”; trust me, this is not the last you will hear of this. Leadership influence is a game-changer in CX, and here is why. First, CX is cross-functional, and thus, is reliant on developing a 360-degree view of the customer. Second, we develop a strong team culture to ensure that we resolve customer issues quickly in a closed loop.

Third, we must learn to fix broken experiences at scale (bite-sized chunks) – Let’s not bite more than we can chew. By managing change progressively in small chunks, we ensure that our grip on customer issues focuses on our understanding of the customer. Fourth, using dashboards will give leadership a quick picture of what is happening at the frontlines without necessarily having to peel through scores of data.

Develop a 360-degree view

The pivotal role of leadership here cannot be over-emphasised. The goal is to ensure that you leave the customer with a positive memory after every encounter. Years ago, working in the IT support team of a company in London, I had a rare experience with a satisfied customer whose laptop I had built anew. He sent an email to my boss to express his appreciation for what I had done. The personal feeling was great and my manager made it a point to share the email with me and commend me on the good work done. I was only doing my paid job; but boy, it felt good to receive a pat on the back.

As we have discussed earlier, customer experience works best when managed cross-functionally. This means, in effect, that as leaders we must influence our organisation to lean away from the linear view of experience management. The reason is that the customer journey, when buying our products and services, hardly plays out in sequential steps even though our blueprinting and process documentation appear so. It calls for broad thinking about experience management as more of an iteration than sequential steps.

The customer becomes the centre of all our customer-led processes when we are strongly oriented toward customer-centricity. Note that ultimately, it is leadership who defines an organisation’s culture; and as leaders, they encourage employees to come along when they live the culture. An effective way to do this is to learn from information, data, and each step in the process to help employees improve in real-time, empowering employees to take decisions within reasonable thresholds to identify and fix problems and go on to communicate resolutions to the customer.

When mistakes happen, the question will be how quickly we can recover and be poised not to repeat to restore the satisfaction of our customers. Ian Golding shares the story of an airline pilot who came to explain a delay in the flight schedule by standing in front of the passengers rather than announcing it from the comfort of his cockpit. Leadership must be involved in experience management at all levels. It might even pay off if they occasionally sit with frontline staff to listen in on customer calls and participate in the resolution of operational issues.

Building and resourcing effective teams

Today’s modern agile and mobile-friendly Digital Workplace offers us great opportunities to engage with customer issues more intuitively. Employees are more supportive of one another working collaboratively, thus, empowering them to deal more effectively with the external customer. An internal culture that supports employee experience translates into an accommodating experience culture for our external customers.

Leadership must aim to influence a proactive culture where teams are empowered to engage customers at all touchpoints in a uniform approach. Note that customers will always remember the bad experience and will be quick to react when things don’t go well with them. Social media makes it even easier for them to quickly communicate their feelings to your potential customer. Shivani Chaturvedi, a CX advocate, recommends the following top skillsets needed to build high-performing CX teams.

Develop an inclusive team and work environment with broader values and an inclusive mindset, noting that this is no longer an option but a necessity for thriving in our modern world. Next, empower teams to learn through trial and error – within reasonable limits. Choose enthusiastic members who are eager to learn new things when developing the CX team. They should be encouraged to adopt a ‘fail fast and learn fast’ approach to provide better services to the customers.

Furthermore, utilise best practices and a body of information to provide an excellent experience. Today’s world is rich with customer data through the advancement in technology and digital space. However, having the information at our fingertips is not enough; we must develop capabilities to convert the data into actionable insights, thus increasing growth prospects for the business. Last but not least, build a culture of collaboration with other teams to get the best results.

The experience team must have diversified members who can bring their diversified experiences to the table to help the team. With a problem-solving orientation and varying expertise, the team members can help one another grow; and together, make the best decision for the benefit of the growth and future of the business.

Fix broken experiences at scale

The goal is to continually improve the customer experience; and to do this effectively, we must maintain consistency from fixing big process issues to solving isolated incidents. A few years ago, I recall reporting a water shortage in our area to a manager at the water company. The problem persisted for quite a while, so I called him a few times more after he had assured me of a solution which unfortunately wasn’t forthcoming. This got him upset; so on my last call, he told me where to go. He even challenged me to go on and report him. I won’t recommend that approach to anyone.

A recent survey indicated that nearly all consumers – 92 percent – believe that customer service needs improvement. It goes further to report that 8 in 10 consumers have switched brands, thanks to poor customer service. When I was in the UK, I recall that I switched brands a few times for utility services and the reason was that I was dissatisfied with my previous providers. Many of us are willing to leave a brand after just a single negative interaction.

Leadership focus must, therefore, be on taking steps to improve CX. Using the right technology, for example, can help improve the experience and enable us to support our vision more effectively. How we plan for the future is a big part of our quest to fix broken experiences and improve our engagement strategies going forward. We must endeavour to think about the long-term, not just about short-term wins. Our choice of technology is a big part of how we scale across channels to grow our business and meet new challenges.

The key is to ‘work smarter, not harder’.  As much as technology rules today, we must be alert to the fact that customer experience must factor in a blend of technology and human interactions. Customers want to feel important; therefore, getting the balance right is pivotal as technology may not necessarily appeal to the customers’ emotions. What we need is a combination of human and artificial help – the situations that would leave our customers satisfied with outcomes, knowing that we have addressed their concerns.

Access real-time dashboards

Real-time dashboards will give you a snapshot of customer status and help in making data-led decisions. I recall a personal experience years ago in the early days of my career when we had to deal with aged customer data. The data had been kept for so long that they hardly presented a true picture of the customer status. Every year, the auditors would comment on it in with recommendations on how to deal with it. However, it sat there for ages as nobody dared take on the responsibility of sanitising it.

Eventually, management decided to write them off to give us a clean sheet to start managing our customer information more proactively with a newly acquired ERP; and thus, ended the harrowing story of our aged debtors.

For example, dashboards can give you a range of quantitative and qualitative measurements that tell us if a job is getting done. A quote by Peter Drucker says: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”.  They present us with the relevant metrics to help diagnose business problems and, in this case, give us a true picture of the customers’ history at our touchpoints by giving us a visual representation of crucial data for business insights.

A useful one for leadership is what we refer to as executive dashboards. They help the top management team and board members understand how the business is progressing without investing much time trying to understand the data meaning behind it, as well as make better decisions. They are also great for employee engagement. A simple and easy-read format allows everyone in the company to see how their specific department is doing. This way, the staff feels more involved in the company as they can assess their contributions to the business.

As leaders are responsible for living the culture, they must lead by example in modelling customer-centricity within the organisation. They must live and communicate this mindset to employees and stakeholders. This includes creating an environment where employees are encouraged to provide feedback and suggestions on how to improve the customer experience, providing the necessary resources to support training for example to keep everyone aligned to the goal of delivering customer satisfaction with the right balance.

The writer is a Management Consultant (Change and Customer Experience). He can be reached at 059 175 7205, [email protected], https://www.linkedin.com/Kodwo Manuel

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