Moving your customer experience from the planning stage to execution


– transforming from design to actual transformation

The expression “Failing to plan is planning to fail” is widely attributed to Benjamin Franklin, famous for his role in signing the declaration of independence and many other things, making him an icon of American history; these words make so much sense and are worth paying attention to, even today as was the case in 1790. Transformation in any organisation involves great effort and endeavour if one wants to install a new way of doing things and discard the old. Consider this: think back to the point when you realised that you wanted to change your customer-facing processes.

When you reflect on the hard work that preceded the change you planned and executed, having reached the point where you realised the need to transform your business from its previous state into a customer-centric business – and the effort and energy you put into making that happen, you will probably beat your chest and punch the air in satisfaction. That’s if you were successful in pulling off a major transformation initiative one that ultimately gains acceptance across the entire business and all others involved in the transformation process. You will also remember the long drills that culminated in this successful transition.

Given the presentations you made and attended, the articles you read, the case-studies and books you mulled over (including the one you are currently holding) for guidance and inspiration, the big question on your mind after all this will perhaps be, what next? How you sustain the momentum going forward hinges largely on adoption and accountability. A major concern will be who does what? Is there enough clarity and ownership? What lessons can we draw from the bumpy ride leading to the journey’s end as we think through this new phase of sustaining what we have strived to build “through blood and tears”?

Deborah Rowland has written and spoken extensively on Change leadership and says: “Change is the disturbance of repeating patterns” – and thus (according to her words) by definition change is a disturbing process as it usually involves resistance due to known and unknown reasons. Furthermore, in the words of change expert Spiros Milonas, Change is hard as it’s never easy to lead a process from “how we stand now” to “where we want to stand”. The objective of this article is not to discourage you but share with you some basic tenets we must adhere to if we want our change initiative to transform our business into a thriving customer-centric entity. To begin with, we must come to terms with the fact that in today’s world change is an ongoing process.


What this means is that we must embrace change if we want to transform our organisations, and be prepared to manage the intricacies of our change initiatives with our eyes fixed firmly on the goal regardless of the imminent challenges we are confronted with. How we install and sustain customer-centricity depends on our preparedness to navigate the change process, however daunting this may seem from inception. How do we transform our organisation into a customer-centric entity, where there is a common understanding of customers’ situations, perceptions and expectations across the entire organisation?

Here are a few tips on how we can start and manage this process sustainably. First, acknowledge the need for change (why change); this may be self-imposed (internally driven) or imposed (driven by external factors). Second, acknowledge what it is that needs to change in your customer experience. Third, plan for the change – what programmes, policy developments and so on need to be addressed? Fourth, put the plan into action and roll out the change.

Acknowledge the need for Change

Perhaps a good question to ask at the inception of this process is whether your customers believe that you are a customer-centric business and are willing and prepared to vouch for it. Is the customer the focal point of all decisions related to delivering products, services and experiences to create customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy? The triggers for change in any business could either be self-imposed (internal) or be driven by factors beyond its control (external). Whatever the triggers are, what is evident is that there are essentially some fundamental triggers of change with potentially significant impact.

The crux of the matter is how you are poised as an organisation to think through and empathise with customers as they journey across your touchpoints. Think about the internal dynamics of your organisation. Is this thinking organisation-wide, or is it just a few members of the system who have this awareness? A successful transformation will require that founders (parents), leadership (guardians) and the majority of employees (family) are behind it. This is vital because acceptability of the planned change is crucial, and this will depend on the extent to which the change intention (clarity, acceptance and motivation) is articulated.

Do we see the need to collaborate cross-functionally so as to enable us address customer-centricity proactively? What is it that the organisation truly values? Is the conversation more about profits and ROI than the customer experience? It is important to look closely at what the organisation truly values non-judgmentally.

Does the leadership focus less on micromanagement and work consistently at adjusting the team’s role? It is more about what the organisation truly values than what it says it values. To put it in clear terms about the customer experience culture of your organization, “does it do what it says on the tin”?

The Hilton is a well-known brand in the hotel business, with 6,110 properties and more than 971,000 rooms. Regardless of this pedigree it boasts, its energies are focused on being truly customer-centric. It has a guest loyalty programme with over 115,000,000 members. An honours programme is available for guests on their loyalty programme. Guests can book their stay using a free Hilton mobile app that enables them to select the exact room they want, order meals, check in and out, and unlock their doors and elevators with a Digital Key by using their smartphone.

What needs to Change?

What is it that needs to change for the organisation to change? How do you diagnose and identify the ‘blind spots’ to find out what you are truly dealing with? You can use a range of things to help you address this effectively. These include internal questionnaires to the whole team and use of appropriate tools to elicit customer perceptions about their experience – e.g., Net Promoter Score and Customer Satisfaction surveys are helpful tools to address this. Using these approaches will enable you to assess the ‘as is’ situation. Every organisation belongs to ‘ordering’ forces and the rules by which they operate.

These forces can either propel the organisation to higher levels or become entanglements and drawbacks as it seeks to express itself in the business environment. For example, if a company decides that people (including its management) should be fired for financial impropriety, the question arising is how tolerant have we been as a system to all kinds of things and happenings which must not find a place in our system? As we allow such things as rebels, jokers and events that cause pain or embarrassment to influence the system, we end up with both that which is acceptable and unacceptable finding a place – with the ability to undermine its growth and potential.

We must be thorough to help us identify all the change resistors, and also note the positives we must leverage to drive and sustain change. The organisation’s leadership has a pivotal role in influencing culture through the ways of working within the organisation. The video clip that went viral a few years ago of the Dutch prime minister spilling his coffee on his way to work – and taking a mop from the cleaners to do the cleaning himself: the effect this had on the cleaners and other staff that morning was profoundly evident. Leaders behave the way they want others to behave. Followers follow for learning opportunities beside others.

The policies, measurement systems, processes, reward systems and infrastructure all need to be addressed to ensure everyone is aligned with the system and is voluntarily eager to offer support when engaging with customers. The key question to ask is, what will success look like from both the internal and external customer perspectives? How eager we are for the change must be strongly driven by our orientation toward the customer – outward-in thinking.

Planning the Change

Following the diagnostics, we are now ready to plan and execute the next phase in the change process. The key elements in focus here are the necessary actions required; such as measurements, Voice of Customer (and employee) surveys, and improvements needed to move the organisation to its (promised-land) new phase. The key thing when dealing with customer experience within the organisation is to accept the inevitable need to co-create with people which have accepted the need for change and what you are trying to do.

We must plan to ensure every customer has a positive experience throughout their entire customer journey. Our goal of meeting customer expectations must not be compromised no matter where customers are in their journey, ensuring happy endings to every engagement is critical to a brand’s success. IKEA’s goal “To create a better everyday life for many people” speaks volumes.  Evaluate your current customer experience strategy to identify where you’re doing great and which areas need improvement.

Next, design questionnaires to elicit feedback from customers to gain raw insight into customer perceptions. Your goal is to ascertain their satisfaction with your brand. Analyse your customer satisfaction metrics using NPS to measure how customers are likely to recommend your brand to others based on ratings from 0 to 10 to gain an understanding of their perception of your brand. Utilise the Customer Effort Score (CES) to measure how much work it takes the customer to solve an issue with your team. The more effort a customer has to invest in resolving their problems, the more friction there is in your customer experience provision.

Walk through the customer journey by trying to understand the various goals customers come to your brand with today, and how they intend to accomplish those goals. Follow the path it takes for a customer who has a problem with billing and starts online, for example. Or a customer who needs a return or refund and starts by calling your number online. Then map out the explicit steps it takes for that customer to have their needs fulfilled, or identify where that isn’t currently possible. Among follow-ups here is included articulating the experiences you plan on delivering to ensure a shared understanding of the customer and target segments.

Roll-out and sustain the Change

This is the big moment when we are focused on rolling-out and putting the plan into action. The challenge here is how you influence your constituents to want to abandon their comfort zone and follow your change initiative. The danger in most organisations is that they are willing to start this process, yet are unable to nurture and sustain it for various reasons. One key reason is that other things may come up requiring they shelve the change initiative for what is believed to be more critical than ultimately improving the experience.

Be prepared to adjust your plan and have clarity on what you intend to do. You must have a well-thought-out communication plan to engage (internal and external) stakeholders. Your interventions will create a movement within the system; therefore, getting the plan right will ensure that nothing blocks this movement.  When things get held up in change initiatives the consequences are dire, and ultimately have great cost implications in terms of the net effect. For example, you decide that you need a CRM to enable you to manage customer issues more effectively and go on to acquire the software as part of your change initiatives.

For some reason, the implementation didn’t go well. You end up with a huge capex bill with no result to prove or justify the initial investment. Several reasons could account for this. First, it may well be that the acquisition was poorly negotiated – so the consultant comes in and hurriedly installs and trains one or two people, but does not invest much time into ensuring that the software gains acceptability. The result of this is what consultants call the ‘dead-body syndrome’. This outcome is that nobody wants to hear anything about system investments going forward.

Finally, ensure that you share success stories across the board: such as linking KPIs and benefits with CX as well as leadership acting as role-models to motivate followers who are willing to learn, are clear about the vision, and will grab every opportunity to innovate and eventually improve their career growth in the process. This resonates with Steve Covey’s ‘win-win’ philosophy. It works magic! I have personal experience of becoming more versatile in my organisation because I availed myself of a major change initiative.

The quest to become customer-centric must be a deliberate undertaking. Being intentional about understanding your customers to address their needs is ultimately rewarding. Ask Apple why their patrons choose Apple products over relatively cheaper and equally good products. The answer is customer experience. All the well-known brands will vouch for this unequivocally.

The Writer is a Management Consultant. He can be reached at 059 175 7205, [email protected],

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