…be intentional about influencing a culture change to embrace customer-centricity
The online dictionary’s meaning of transformation is instructive. It explains transformation as “a marked change in form, nature, or appearance”. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “a complete change in the appearance or character of something or someone, especially so that that thing or person is improved”. In terms of an organization the expression used commonly is organization adoption and accountability. In the transformation journey, it is important to be clear about “who does what” to ensure that there is enough clarity, accountability, and ownership. These are elements that people leading CX transformations have to deal with.
Any transformation leads to a significant change from the original state. Founder of Still Moving Change Consultancy, Deborah Rowland defines change as, “the disturbance of repeating patterns”. This implies that change is a disturbing process and usually involves resistance due to known and unknown loyalties. What is certain about any change is that it is not an easy process. Making the transition from “how we stand now” to “how we want to stand” is not an effortless process. As individuals and in organizations the norm is to stay with the familiar. We are not easily prone to leaving our comfort zone.
Tracking back to my personal experience in change I can identify with the challenges that we have to address to transition from one state to the other. Going into the unknown has never been easy. What is important is how we manage the transformation. It requires careful planning, identifying (rightly) the vision for change, understanding the dynamics of the organization, and navigating your way through the “minefield” of organizational culture to embed a new concept and set of behaviours. People are critical to this process. Transitioning to a customer-centric organization is no different from any change initiative. What is important is the process to follow.
To begin with, no two change initiatives are the same. Be that as it may, we are not lost in the woods, experts and researchers provide us with useful templates to adopt and adapt in our change journeys. Here are a few pointers to consider when embarking on this change journey. First, accept the need for change and ensure that there is alignment with this. Second, identify the “What is”, and the current situation that needs changing. Third, devise a definite plan for change. Design the necessary actions and interventions required. Fourth, deploy the change, and put the plan into action. Fifth, embed the change by offering the necessary support to allow the internal “movement”.
Accept the Need for Change
The change initiative may be triggered internally or externally. Everyone involved in the change must know why the change is necessary. Everyone includes employees, shareholders, customers, and regulators, the list is endless. Just driving a change agenda with no clarity on its rationale can be counter-productive. Therefore, the initial step in this process is to work to gain buy-in from all the stakeholders (everyone who will be affected in some way by the change). This is the hard part, if you fail to gain buy-in you will be trying to “push a boulder up a mountain”. That is a tough act. The discipline that drives this process is Change Management.
Your best bet in gaining buy-in is to sell the benefits of the change. Depending on the nature of the change the benefits may vary. Some general benefits could range from Improving collaboration or cooperation within the business to providing a path to achieving specific business objectives, improving employee productivity, Improving the efficiency of work processes, and adapting or responding to changes more efficiently (agility). As Customer Experience is a cross-functional activity you will need to sell this change to a wider audience than say a new recruitment process which might only involve HR and related functions.
According to Spiros Milonas founder of KRATAION Consulting based in Athens, Greece, whichever way the change is initiated in a business the chances for a successful change initiative are brighter if the founders (parents), leadership (guardians), and the majority of employees (family) are behind it. He asserts further that the intention (clarity, acceptance, motivation) is what will fuel the organization’s shift. This is no different when it comes to customer experience. to gain a “critical mass” embracing the change you will need to use data, and case studies from other companies to make a compelling case for the change. Link the change you are proposing to what the organization values. It’s all about what’s in it for me (wiifm).
Identify “What is”
The next step in the process is “what is”. What are you changing? This may require surveys using questionnaires, interviews, and trying to understand the “as is” from different perspectives. Note that organizations are systems. These systems have their influences and are driving forces that affect the way we operate. The late Bert Hellinger a psychotherapist associated with a therapeutic model articulates the four main ordering forces of human systems as follows. First, events that have happened with time and have left their mark. Consider Ghana’s epic independence celebration as an indelible mark in our memories of Ghana’s history.
Second, the extent to which everyone has the right place in the system. Consider roles and responsibilities within the organization and our individual and collective contributions to the organization and how it functions. Third, the balance in all that is exchanged and registered by the system’s intuitive sense of what is owed or deserved. Consider the mutual relationships between ourselves and the organizations we work for in terms of what we owe the organization and what it owes us, and fourth, everything that needs to belong so that the system feels complete. Here we reflect on policies, processes people, and so on.
Therefore, for example, if you are a CX lead and you are serious about influencing a customer-centric culture in your organization knowing your organization’s patterns as part of the “as is” is very critical in how far you can go in your quest to navigate the change. Finding the “blind spots” and knowing your way about is very significant in achieving success. If only a few people feel strongly about CX and are vocal about it, this will not be enough grounds to embed CX as a function in the organization. According to experts, a person serves a function and not the other way around. If CX is not embraced collectively it faces the threat of becoming idle.
Devise a plan
Two world leaders, known famously for their exploits in charting success against adversity, Benjamin Franklin, and Winston Churchill, shared a popular axiom during their years in leadership. The former is quoted to have said “By failing to plan, you are preparing to fail” while Churchill said, “He who fails to plan is planning to fail”. To overcome the threat of CX becoming idle, we must endeavour to co-create it with people who are aligned to the change needed to embed a customer experience culture. Leverage the experience and knowledge of this group by including them in conversations about customer experience management.
The key according to Deborah Rowland, is to focus on designing fewer deeper more impactful interventions while providing the space for processing, reactions, and inputs. Focusing excessively on things peripheral to the change keeps us trapped in actions that usually keep us in the current state instead of moving us forward. These include a combination of very impressive pieces of training, workshops, programmes, and so on. As useful as they may seem if not properly balanced with carefully designed interventions followed by observations the shift we desire will not happen as planned.
Planning for a customer experience (CX) transformation is a critical step in pursuing an organizational change in how your company delivers services to your customers. Here are three recommended steps in how you approach the task. First, share your share, this includes articulating the benefits of change. Ensure that your team clearly understands what you are aiming to achieve customer empathy. Next, you must explain how the changes are going to happen. Apply use case scenarios, and draw a roadmap of what to expect throughout the process.
Next, conduct an employee assessment to better understand what your team members don’t know about customers and their experiences. Conducting an employee CX assessment will help you in revising your old policies Then, develop and enforce new policies concerning the customer-centric culture you need to embed within your company.
Deploy the Change
To begin with, you need to assess your entire organization’s needs and processes to ensure a smooth transformation. According to a report by Genesys “77 percent of consumers will leave a brand after five or fewer poor customer service interactions”. So, to prepare for a transformation, you need to take stock of your current strategy and your pain points, both within your organization and for your customers. It enables you to know where to make improvements that will boost your overall CX. You need to set the tone for this process by asking some key questions.
These are; how can we differentiate the brand using customer experiences? Do we have the capability to orchestrate interactions with other internal processes and systems seamlessly and consistently? How can our front liners personalize the customer experience and show empathy? And, what business outcomes do we want to improve with CX? What are those KPIs? Today’s customers have higher expectations than ever. The challenge for most businesses is to keep up with the fast pace of change in a world where change is happening faster than we learn.
Any company that wants to be part of this story must be adaptable and must have the ability to innovate on demand as customer and market needs change. Any strategic transformation positively affects all stakeholders and one way to do this is to leverage fit-for-purpose technologies. Front line employees have stressful jobs. Let’s not burden them with tedious, manual tasks as it only adds to the frustration. A lack of a clear plan to deploy the change can degrade the overall customer experience. in today’s world, you need to employ AI and automation to meet new use cases. Get the needed help to address this need.
Building a customer-led organization cannot be enforced. Put a definite plan in place to provide you and your team with a sense of safety as you step into unknown territory. Your focus must be on the end goal and not the path. In the words of Spiros “observe, adjust, and mindfully respond”.
Embedding the Change
At this point you are looking to create a new paradigm for your organization. Your goal is to create a clear operating model for bringing the vision to life. Leadership must take the lead in providing superior customer experience by participating in the initiatives behind the transformation to realize tangible CX business impact. A McKinsey model emphasizes the need to ‘Build aspiration and purpose’. The goal is to adopt a customer-centric and, indeed human-centric vision. This is the only lever for a customer experience strategy to be effective and produce value, there are no shortcuts!
A crucial enabler for an effective CX transformation and potentially one of the biggest roadblocks to greater CX impact, if not addressed properly, is how we integrate customer experience into the organization and operating model. Approach from the start by listening to the customers! Ensure that data from the feedback surveys and “listening to the clients” end up on the right executive desks including the CEO. Monitor systematically the customer experience through different qualitative and quantitative methodologies and tools. Ultimately, what matters is that the customer’s point of view is considered in business and strategic decisions.
Embedding customer experience within the organization means taking a holistic approach. CX requires an operating model that defines CX roles and responsibilities at all corporate levels, up to the board level. This is why incorporating the customer experience into the organization is not just an entirely operational matter. CX transformation is the transformation of your organization’s values, structures, operations, technology, and culture to mature your CX capabilities and create an environment able to operate with a focus on the customer and deliver high-quality CX. Building an effective framework for your CX delivery is the sine qua non for successful CX execution.
The only constant in our contemporary world is change itself. As we battle the pace of technological advancement and globalization, all stakeholders need to understand the benefits and drawbacks of organizational change. Change can be positive if planned carefully by addressing the right levers and ensuring that you navigate a process devoid of unnecessary and unproductive complexity. Simply be transparent!
|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,