Influencing Organizational Aligning with customer centricity

Gearing up customer experience is good for the small business

– work collaboratively to influence mindsets toward customer orientation

John F. Kennedy of blessed memory famously defined change decades ago profoundly. He said, “Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past and present are certain to miss the future.” This suggests that change is about envisioning and moulding your future. A significant part of Change is Culture. To influence any change you will need to influence the way people think and behave and this has to be done persuasively to gain buy-in. As management scientists have opined “A struggling squadron with a poor organization culture doesn’t have to fold – it can change.” The endeavour to change culture must be backed by deliberate and decisive actions.

When dealing with a wide range of constituents (stakeholders) the awareness of different thinking frames is helpful. For example, the young man or woman who runs the company’s IT systems has a mindset that is focused on the hard-concrete reality of data and the look and feel of say a computer screen or a server. My own experience resonates here, years ago, when I was running IT in my organization my Finance Director always took a dig at me in meetings saying “If you ask Kodwo how many computer units we need he will say one hundred.” My greatest lesson from this assertion. Is the importance of engagement.

My technical orientation at the time made me focus more on acquiring hardware and software assets without seriously considering the business requirements to justify the need for IT resources. In this kind of thinking, the subjective experience of customers is not important. In this kind of thinking how we equate the relationship value to functional and hygienic factors is of very little importance. The focus is more on efficiency than what will make the customer satisfied, this is called “navel-gazing.” The need to gain buy-in is critical and must be given due attention when driving mindsets towards customer-centric thinking and behaviours.

This tendency for a narrow focus on internal processes runs across any business with CFOs and marketers thinking from different viewpoints apart from that of the customer. They are most likely going to consider a thinking pattern in the following direction, ‘What is the return on customer experience?’ ‘How much will it cost?’, and above all else, ‘How can we save money by cutting costs?’ in other words, culture and subjective experience are not of concern. In contrast to this thinking when we weigh heavier on building relationships and developing loyal customers, the essence of Customer Experience (CX) is better addressed! it should be more about the experience the customer has, everything else must come secondary to this!

As much as sales growth and process efficiency are indispensable in business we must not ignore the customer’s sentiments when thinking through our customer engagements. Having a clear view of what customer experience affords us the opportunity to gain a more intuitive understanding of the customer’s needs and drive towards actions that will ultimately trigger the required advantages over the competition.  Understanding the customer is key in getting the balance right. Let’s think more in terms of what route we should take to enhance the experience and all the other things will be added to it.

Steven Walden of TeleTech Consulting London in his book CX Rebooted, recommends the following approaches among others to influence a mindset change in the organization. First, change the corporate mindset, this must start with leaders’ actions and behaviours. Second, create a small, passionate, cross-functional CX Programme Team. Third, be customer advocates. Fourth, be consistent while maintaining flexibility, and fifth, promote IT is not the answer alone.

Changing the corporate mindset

Understanding the role of customers as the most important influencers is key to this endeavour. A workforce that is striving to meet the needs of its consumers, is one that is ensuring repeat business. Customers are the most important influencers in any business. The more your workforce engages with them, the less likely they are to contemplate switching to your competitors. Additionally, involving customers in the early stages of product and service development creates opportunities for collaborating innovatively with them. This allows the business to better tailor their services to them and to grow advocates exponentially.

Leadership must walk the talk, communicating their belief in experience throughout the organization. Leadership of customer experience hinges on collaborative engagements. This is necessary because customer experience thrives in environments where there is cross-silo (internal processes and functions) and cross-business cocreation. According to CX experts (drawing from the 80:20 rule principle), eighty percent of the leaders’ activity needs to be on the ground dealing with human issues; 20% needs to be about the task itself.

To enhance customer co-creation requires that ways of working to seep into process design, and team building within loose hierarchies to avoid creating a restrictive myopic bonus culture. it requires buy-in from board level to influence an integration of the needs of the customer into the core strategy, objectives and KPIs thus creating a unified and interconnected company. Internal communications are imperative to dispersing the CX message. This way the message is reinforced to employees over time and throughout the line of management.

Create a cross-functional CX Programme Team

There are enormous advantages of being a team but this cannot be achieved without a willingness to invest considerable time and emotional energy in the development process. Let’s consider this analogy from American football. It is the handoff. This is essentially an exchange made by handing the ball to a teammate. This is based on the fact that a good understanding exists among teammates as they work towards the common goal of winning. The practical way to run CX in your business is to influence a culture of collaboration with business units and departments aligned with the common goal of delivering the best customer experience possible.

To reinforce the team effect here are 4 steps recommended by Jeannie Walters, CEO and Founder of Experience Investigators, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. Develop a mission statement, this is a guiding statement for your organization around what the experience should be for each customer, every time. It provides a consistent purpose around what the experience should be to your employees, whether they are interacting directly with customers or not. Next, delegate CX roles to employees within a “CX bubble” – a narrow range of departments or verticals.

This at least allows for some cross-departmental collaboration. To make those in different departments value CX, make sure the goals are tied back to their own objectives. Avoid the temptation to use exclusively customer-facing employees or those who otherwise directly interact with customers. Customer experience succeeds because all teams, right up to the top management level, recognize its importance and their role in it. This year at the CXP conference it was suggested that C-suite members spend more time at the frontlines to understand and empathize with what goes on there.

When building the cross-functional team be sure that you include leaders who will have direct accountability over the most likely actions required to improve the customer journey and, team members from other areas that are close to the customer experience. (note that this may not only be customer-facing areas).  To facilitate effective teamwork a team charter to help the CX team be in alignment is recommended. Use a small team to keep them focused on specific issues. For example, a bank in Singapore originally had a small team of 15 highly focused on redesigning journey pain points, and this was in a big corporation with hundreds of thousands of employees.

Customer Experience is a continuous process requiring regular attention and action. This includes regular meetings to review CX issues. The exact frequency of meetings will vary from organization to organization, but it is crucial to establish the culture and ensure ‘stick-to-it-ism’ (my late father’s mantra .. smile). A typical agenda for such meetings will encompass; a review and discussion of CX mission and goals; checking in on progress on CX programmes and priorities; review of customer feedback and insights; discussion of innovations and forecasting; and, Identifying next actions and accountabilities.

Customer advocates

Customer experience is about promoting the customer-first view and creating interconnections between departments and processes around this view. The reality is that there is nothing wrong with silos. It is the interconnections between them through interactions and data that are important. Although we all need to think about the customer in reality we need to facilitate appropriate levels of “think customer” across the business. We are not in a perfect world and CX is no exception to this reality! It is all about being intentional about how we address the needs of customers and driving sustainable actions to realize this goal.

CX then is that part of the organization that takes the customers’ and employees’ side, to balance the risk of companies myopically focusing on themselves, the business account and closing down creative potential. We are the customers’ advocate at top management level and through champions within the firm. Therefore, at the interface with top management we shouldn’t just recruit people from within our industry; we need to challenge thinking and depart from doing the same old same old. In other words, we must influence active engagement with customer issues and motivate everyone to drive this effort to ensure that our touchpoints are seamless.

Consistency and flexibility

Consider McDonald’s and Disney. Both are brands with clear direction and consistency in their approaches to business. They are clear about the fact that it is what you do that really matters, in other words, they focus on behaviours not just the measurements. Other brands are either too strict in defining their criteria hence they end up failing to evolve and see how markets change. Their lack of consistency in defining and driving through a clear CX approach has ultimately affected them adversely. Finding this balance is crucial. Who wants to work in a firm where there is no breathing room.?

Similarly, how many customers want to pay for an inconsistent brand experience, where the experience in one store differs from the next one? If I walk into a branch of Shoprite or Melcom I am looking for consistency. A disjointed CX programmes is a complete put-off. A characteristic of a disjointed CX programme is that things are all over the place. There is a bit of support here, a bit of money there, a head of CX with no power but under the remit of the call centre manager, and so on. This does not help spread belief in the programme. Any CX environment, without leadership traction, will result in wasted efforts and will ultimately die from disillusionment.

Information Technology Is Not the Answer, Alone!

IT systems provide us with capabilities to automate; that’s what they are there for! They are not a substitute for human understanding. Therefore, when we automate our journey maps we must do well to leverage on visual presentations and make them engaging. For example, use video and anything that will drive learning amongst employees. Don’t just automate in a big data solution, use the employees’ understanding of the experience, as well as the customer data that we can relate to from our interactions. These are more insightful. In other words, seek better data, and not just big data.

it is critical to have the customer experience eye on any IT implementation initiative. Unfortunately, heavy reliance on IT has led to the commoditization of the employee experience. For example, we put stuff on our intranet site and make it 100 pages long when 2 pages would do. Furthermore, when we make any administrative activity a maze of IT systems, not because it benefits the employee but because it saves money. The value of IT in enhancing business performance cannot be underrated, however, it is important that IT serves as a useful complement to the experience and not a replacement.

Changing the corporate mindset to embrace customer experience is critical. It must start with leadership actions and behaviours for buy-in at all levels. They have the power to influence mindsets and mindset change is the catalyst for changing the way of doing business.  John Maxwell sums it up thus, “Everything rises and falls on leadership”.

The Writer is Head of Training Development & Research

Service Excellence Foundation, and Management Consultant (Change and Customer Experience). He can be reached on 059 175 7205,

[email protected],


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