Overcoming key dilemmas in customer experience

Rethinking your experience strategy to step-up growth: Keep doing what works best and aim to improve  

 – aspire to be true believers by focusing on the needs of customers

Customer Experience is about creating memorable experiences for customers. Any customer that engages with a brand is on a journey that could last a lifetime or for some non-sentimental reasons could be short-lived.  The focal point of this journey is the customer who at every stage in the process makes a key decision based on how the interaction goes. It could be a positive experience leaving some fond memories to relive or a poor one that could lead to not-so-fond memories. Either way, what is worthy of note here is that the story will be told, and also that the decisions made during the journeys are not necessarily rational.

Years ago, I learned something profound about business transactions and how they play up when customers engage with brands. The decisions made during engagements with brands tend to be more emotional and yet are very significant influences in buy or not to buy outcomes. This is known as Bounded rationality, which experts say is “a human decision-making process in which we attempt to satisfice, rather than optimize. In other words, we seek a decision that will be good enough, rather than the best possible decision”. In short, what we refer to here is the subjective nature of human judgment.

Prior to the Covid-19 scourge, I recall that anytime I went out to buy water, I was usually drawn to a particular brand having learned that for every bottle sold part of the cost of that bottle is donated to charity. That sounded cool as I felt that by buying that particular brand, I was giving back to society by helping others in need. This decision satisfies my desire to be ethical by choosing this specific brand from all the others. However, according to experts, when we make quick choices based on specific labels we often fail to stop and think about what draws us to make those decisions.

Bounded rationality encourages us to make decisions that satisfy a particular criterion, such as being ethical, without making the most optimal choice within that criterion. Perhaps we don’t have enough time to look out for the possibility that other brands may have replicable gestures in different domains. Customer experience is more about the customer’s perception than a rational judgment based on sound business principles. This notwithstanding we must accept the reality that the customer is the ultimate beneficiary and decision maker when making the choice for a product or brand.

Where am I going with this? I read on social media recently about a corporate service-based company sharing its CX accreditation online as a Level 1 CX accredited organization. I did not hesitate to congratulate them (as did many others) for their unique feat however I raised an exception to the plaudits given to them. The simple fact is this, however, accredited we are as a business our customer experience is best expressed in the words (and perception) of our customers. If we tick all the right boxes and make all the noise about our customer centricity but fail to listen to and respond to customer needs, we only project at best “a storm in a teacup”.

The French Priest Vincent de Paul, who lived in the 17th Century summed it all up in his famous quote “Noise makes no good, good makes no noise.” When we deliberately invest in the customer, we get in return as our reward, the customer’s approval. It beats every accreditation we can possibly aspire for. Evidently, finding out whether an organization is customer-centric or not is not far-fetched. Gayana Heider, a CX consultant identifies three key signs of toxic customer experience. First, Senior leadership says they are true believers but when it gets tough “they recoil in their shells” and simply lack the bravery to face challenges.

Second, we take shortcuts and justify the return on investment. Nothing can beat good customer engagement, it’s the only way we learn about them. Third, when we operate in silos with conflicting objectives and misaligned KPIs we fall into a trap best expressed by H.E. Luccock (a Methodist Minister, in the 19th Century) as follows, “No one can whistle a symphony alone, it takes a whole orchestra to play it.” When an organization invests in these key areas such that Senior Leadership are true believers, Customer Experience Management receives deserving attention with the whole organization pushing the customer agenda in unison.

Here are a few talking points on how to effectively drive customer centricity. First, create a bottom-up movement and inspire senior leadership to actively participate. Second, learn to walk the talk with customer experience and not just be an enthusiast. Third, share real-life customer stories. Fourth, ensure leadership and employees are aligned with the customer journey.

Create a bottom-up Movement

Customer experience is about developing and embedding a culture of customer-centricity within the organization. A Ritz-Carlton Client Manager articulates this mindset in an interview where he talks about a day in the office. According to him on arrival, he goes round all the departments to find out what’s going on to ensure that his hotel is ready for the customer on the day. He addresses any spillovers from the previous evening and goes on to greet all the employees because they are pivotal to customer success. He then holds a meeting with all department heads to plan the day.

In CX, as they say, the devil is in the detail or execution. Customer-centricity must be a long-lasting priority across the entire organization. It must be embedded in the organization’s culture in other words we must not view it narrowly by focusing on the CX alone. It encompasses the employee experience (EX) and what some call the leadership experience (LX). These different types of experiences (CX, EX, and LX) reinforce each other. Improving customer touchpoints (e.g. physical stores, websites or Mobile apps, home deliveries etc.) is a significant part of improving CX however making employees feel good about what they do makes them feel empowered.

Linking the three elements creates a continuous cycle of good feelings and emotional energy. A three-step process to address this is recommended. First, we must assess our current situation and where we need to go. Leaders must understand their “cultural thumbprint”, a collection of traits and behaviours that define corporate culture. Next, create a bottom-up movement to trigger the change. Ensure that there are important connectors between leaders and operational employees by creating “special forces” or “cultural ambassadors”. Finally, track your progress and make necessary adjustments and additions as appropriate.

Walking the Talk

In your CX journey ensure that you say what you mean, then go on to show that you mean what you say. Every Business has as its sole aim meeting or exceeding expectations, primarily customers’ expectations as they are the main element in the equation. This must be reflective of how you demonstrate “customers first” on a daily basis. It is about doing the right things right the first time and every time. This is extremely important because your customers hold the purse strings therefore it is imperative that you work to retain them as it is they who leave and not the other way round.

In real life, we say actions speak louder than words. This calls for us to back words with congruent decision-making and behaviours that reflect the right signals. Walking the customer experience talk means customers’ well-being supercedes your list of corporate values and priorities.  Not backing words with concrete action breeds distrust, disillusion, disgust, and departure. These lead to wasted time, unnecessarily high costs, negative word of mouth, and missed revenue. Your link between CX and the Business Strategy must be articulated at all levels to ensure buy-in. it is about customer-first driving business performance.

The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos started the practice at executive meetings by announcing that an empty chair at the table represented “the customer”. Throughout the meeting, the executives were compelled to include the customer in their thought process and to consider their comments’ implications on the customer, as if “he/she” were present at the meeting. Building a customer-focused culture is an ongoing journey. This journey is called internal branding, where “outside-in” thinking is introduced into the job of the average Kwame and Adjoa company-wide, managing their personal impact on the customer experience.

Share Real-life Customer Stories

People live in the real world and face everyday situations. Therefore, if your customers are treated in the real world they tend to feel more at home than when your focus is on the numbers. I hope you catch my drift about the importance of emotional engagement with customers as against flaunting the metrics. The starting point for storytelling is the data. The graphs and charts easily depict changes over the period in question such as weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly. If I remember right during the Covid-19 crisis the hospitals were very focused on the data to help them track how interventions were influencing drops in cases.

A range of tools are available to us to enhance our capacity to tell stories in customer experience. accurately capturing the stories is what will help you gain buy-in from the leadership. Collect stories throughout the year to share at away days, annual wrap-ups, or strategy meetings. Some of the ways to do this effectively is to use journey maps as they depict the customer journey and the experience playing up at touchpoints. I got this one from the Ritz Carlton which I think is really cool. A family checked out of their hotel room after their holiday outing and got home only to realize their little girl’s teddy bear had been left behind.

Well at the hotel they had discovered the teddy bear and quickly contacted the family to make arrangements for its return. They assured them that the hotel was organizing the delivery of the toy but in doing so they also had in mind something more interesting. They sent shots of employees carrying the teddy bear in different departments and the pictures in addition to the toy were mailed to the family. The emotional effect of a note behind each picture thanking the little girl for sharing her teddy was so profound. The family was deeply touched by the gesture and did not hesitate to make this known. How cool was that!

Ensure Leadership and Employee Alignment

Alan Pennington shares some insights into how leadership can engage and be actively involved in the customer experience. The organizational challenge is not often about the general belief that improving the experience would be great for the business but simply that leaders are not used to managing the customer agenda and are unsure of what their role is in the process and also how to deliver while managing their already busy diaries. As CX lead you can help cross that bridge by sharing your plans with leadership and being clear about how they can actively support and become role models.

Here are a few pointers from Pennington for managers to effectively support the CX agenda and be aligned with the customer conversation. Leadership must spend at least two hours a month listening in to calls. I had this personal experience during my Uni years in the UK working at call centres where the manager will pop in randomly to listen in on my calls as well as those of my colleagues. Prepare a digest of customer voice feedback every week in team meetings. Visit a key customer with the intention to listen humbly from them what works and what does not work today and feed back on what you have learned.

Be prepared to talk at a meeting about how your role impacts the customer. Add the top three customer issues or complaints as a standing item at board sessions.  Challenge individuals or small teams to manage improvements and report back on their findings.  Add a question into one-on-one meetings with direct reports about the customer e.g. “Next time we meet I would like you to have thought about what you do and how it impacts our customer. Once we have identified how your role impacts the customer, identify one way to improve that experience“. By doing this you are raising the profile of the customer as part of the business strategy.

Being deliberate about the experience is pivotal to customer success. The customer journey must be the focal point for all customer-related initiatives and issues. For this to be executed effectively we need the involvement of every individual in the business from the Executive level to the shopfront. We must note that it is not what we say about ourselves on the contrary it is what the customer thinks about us that will impact the fact that our story is a good one or not. Accreditations are great but we must be listening to ensure that our accreditations match customer expectations and experiences.

The Writer is a Management Consultant (Change and Customer Experience). He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected], https://www.linkedin.com/in/km-13b85717/



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