Planning and executing an improved Customer Experience Change initiative

digital marketing strategy

– think through and deploy the plan to make customer issues top of mind

Change is always very hard.  First, you have to identify what it is you want to change and then think through the series of events that should take place to realise the change. Next, you will need to harness the resources needed to bring this change to fruition. Beyond that, you also need determination and resilience to navigate the culture of the company as you proceed on your planned journey. It becomes even more challenging when as the main driver of the change you are not very high up the corporate ladder in which case you will need a careful strategy of engaging allies who will buy into your change philosophy and throw their weight behind you.

As always, the beginning of the journey will require some deep soul-searching to understand the current situation. Typical questions to ask would be; where are we today? Where do we want to get to, and do we have a map that shows us where we want to get to as a business? In other words, you need a change plan, one that has organization-wide acceptance. Now that is not easy to achieve if the organization you work for has within it many different parts (functions, sections, processes, people, etc.). My personal experience in managing change taught me some hard and valuable lessons many years ago.

Coming out of Uni with some skills in designing and coding computer software I felt a bit on top of the world. That feeling was short-lived as I learned very quickly that my skills in coding were not necessarily the masterstroke to driving organizational change. A few hard lessons were thrown at me that changed my reality. At the time the company was heavily dependent on Electro-mechanical machines for managing accounting and other transactions within the business. Everyone around me had faith in the status quo. Many questioned my presence there since the mechanical machines had operators.

The general understanding among the naysayers was that if they could handle the accounting machines then the computers will be easier to use. None of them had figured out that you needed coding skills to develop software to process data from the company’s transactions with customers and business partners etc. Only I and a few other managers understood what was required to make the computers useful resources for the business as well as the enormity of work required to transition from the old tools to our “Real World” of computer software and new processes.

Another thing of note was the fact that I was only a national service personnel then, with very little coding experience. Caught on the web I had to learn to manage expectations, and very quickly develop interpersonal skills. Learning the lessons from challenges was the most fulfilling experience of my career. Change is very complex and needs all “hands on deck” once you begin that journey. As a business when the clarion call is made for all to focus on the customer, it is usually received with mixed feelings. Those who work directly with customers at the front lines will naturally embrace this call keenly. They have a better understanding of the customer.

Dealing with the backend staff is where the challenge is. Their focus is more on the business requirements than the customer. Call them the “navel-gazers”. This notwithstanding, to implement a successful change programme you need EVERYONE on board. Jeff Sheehan the CX consultant uses the military analogy to describe CX change management. First, develop situational awareness, assess your customers, and develop CX projects in response to their needs. Second, incorporate change management into all planning and execution. Third, be clear on the type of Change. Fourth, apply Action Learning principles to plough back learnings.

Situational Awareness

Jeff Sheehan uses the military analogy to explain this and draws parallels with business scenarios. According to him, on a battlefield, it is crucial to know where the threat is, and where your friendly forces are, this is called situational awareness. He reiterates that situational awareness can be as basic as a “gun tube orientation” meaning it’s pointed at me; it must be a threat. It can also be sophisticated real-time battlefield information provided by satellites, drones, sensors, and biometrics showing exact locations, movements, health, and system status of friendly and threat forces.

The typical business offers a similar dynamism and requires situational alertness including awareness and agility to compete and win. According to Aaron De Smet, a Senior Partner at McKinsey, Agility is the ability of an organization to renew itself, adapt, change quickly, and succeed in a rapidly changing, ambiguous, turbulent environment. He states further that Agility is not incompatible with stability—quite the contrary. Agility requires stability for most companies. This is to allay any fears that pursuing organizational Agility will destabilize your organization.

The evidence is clear that Agile organizations outperform the market average by double digits in customer experience and customer loyalty. The Covid-19 pandemic was one big accelerator for the concept of agility in organizations. Benchmark data shows that customers have been increasingly turning to social messaging apps, live chat, and phones for customer service. In particular, WhatsApp usage has surged in usage globally by a whopping 124 percent since the crisis began. My personal experience of joining DeVictors a Sierra Leonean digital learning platform set up by a former student, colleague, and friend of mine in London affirms this.

Today I am part of a wide network of professionals in Sierra Leone and globally as a result of this pioneering initiative. CX leaders are change agents who bring a cycle of change to organizations. According to experts, agility is about speed. We also need stability to make good decisions but also to get fast decision making. What has to be stable, for instance, is that you have empowered the people lower down in your organization with a clear mandate that they can take the decisions that they should be taking close to the customer. CX leaders with their understanding of the context must incorporate Change Management principles, they must be situationally aware.

Change Management

In the year 2000 the company I worked for sent leaders to a week-long internally focused programme in London, UK. I was originally meant to be part of that group unfortunately I had to drop out because I was leaving the company at the time to pursue my MBA programme at Keele also in the UK. That programme gave the leadership a deep dive into the mindset and practice of agility. Leaders spent days learning, talking, and thinking about their leadership style and how their mindset could help make the business more agile. A big part of change is mindsets and how people behave.  

Customer Experience Management as a business function is deeply rooted in continuous improvement, and that means change. The change will include business and technical changes encompassing organizational structure, job roles, processes, and system adjustments.  The people side of the change will require support for individuals impacted by the business and technical changes to adapt and be successful. There is a tool we use in our training workshops dubbed “Evolve, dominate, or die”. This tool from Prof Eddie Obeng’s “Real World” model enables the organization’s leadership to establish a desired future condition.

This is a future that all team members need to aspire towards depending on how they relate to it from their specific function, section, or process. This change is triggered either internally or externally. Covid-19 has served as a major trigger for many of these changes. Nike says it used digital orders to offset damage to retail from the pandemic. I have shared countless times how Gin 5 a well-known Gin brand in the UK went into the production of sanitizers a model that was replicated by Kasapreko here in Ghana to good effect. The use of Zoom as a meeting tool and for pieces of training has become widespread as a result the pandemic.

Managing the change required to enable you to respond to the customer needs in good time is necessary to ensure that while you adapt to these changes your business is not derailed. The CX leader must visualize the end state and develop a detailed change management plan to address the scale and scope of the change. The CX leader in addition to planning adequately must also be resourceful enough to know how to engage the rest of the organization in the change initiatives. Drawing out detailed work plans, engaging stakeholders, and communicating the change across the organization are a few tangibles among others not to be left out.

Type of Change

There is a plethora of models to help drive any change. The important element here is having a good understanding of the context and the dynamics of the organization. The Project Management Institute offers three distinct categories of change namely, first-order spanning a very short period focusing on modifications to work processes with easy reversibility, second-order change which may require policy changes, doing something significantly different, this is medium term and is irreversible. The third category is third-order change where the organization is compelled to rethink governing values.

The ADKER model also offers a great template for successful individual change. It offers a framework for individuals to align with the CX programme. Individuals and stakeholders can see themselves as part of the solution.

Source: Customer Experience Field Manual – Sheehan (2019)

The ADKAR model drives results by offering a structured approach to ensure that each team member is involved in a change effort moving through the five phases necessary to make it successful. Using effective techniques will enable CX leaders to reduce “change fatigue”. Note that the key is adaptability. There is no silver lining for all change programmes what is required is your ability to diagnose the change required and to effectively communicate our chosen model to address the need and ensure that it is fit for purpose.

Action Learning

Michael Marquardt author of “Action Learning in Action” defines Action Learning as a powerful problem-solving tool that has the amazing capacity to simultaneously build successful leaders, teams, and organizations. It involves a small group working on problems, taking action, and learning as individuals, as a team, and as an organization while doing so. Action Learning has six components namely; Problem, Group, Questions, Action, Learning, and Coach. The process starts by identifying a problem (project, challenge, opportunity, issue, or task) the resolution of which is of high importance to the individual, team or organization. The focus could be on one problem or multiple problems in the organization.

An Action group is formed (also called a team), usually composed of some four to eight members who identify an organizational problem which has no easy identifiable solution. The strength of the team is that they are from a diversity of backgrounds (cross-functional) form functions or departments, may even involve suppliers or customers.  Next the team goes through a process of insightful questioning and reflective listening. The focus is on questions rather than answers since great solutions are contained within the seed of great questions. Through group dialogues and cohesiveness, they generate and enhance learning results.

Members of the group must have the power to take action. The group may have a member from the front lines who introduces a customer issue, at this stage the team must take action or be assured that their recommendations will be implemented. The team must have a commitment to learning to enable them develop the capacity to solve organizational [problems. I recall years ago in my own experience when we had to resolve an aged debtor’s issue, when nobody wanted to tackle it until management eventually decided to write it off. I can imagine how Action Learning would have dealt with the issue quickly.

The process creates a learning environment where learning is ploughed back for strategic value in comparison to what is gained by immediate tactical advantage of early problem correction. A coach is needed (internally or a consultant) to facilitate the process to ensure that the focus is on the important (i.e. the learning) as well as the urgent (i.e. resolving the problem). Action learning will have the important advantage of enabling the business resolve customer issues promptly and efficiently.

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


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