March 20, 2021

By Augie Ray

Many companies have embraced the concept of customer experience (CX), but relatively few organizations have achieved mature, self-sustaining CX programs that enable enterprise-wide customer-centric culture and significantly improve customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy. As with any business discipline, there is plenty of devil in the details to get CX right, but I am often surprised by the big ways companies undermine their CX outcomes from the start.

I will share three significant ways organizations may seed the eventual downfall of their CX programs in their early days. To do so, I will use an analogy. If you want to work from home but lack the proper furniture, there are three things you need to solve your problem: Knowing what sort of desk you need, knowing where to buy that desk, and using the right vehicle to get the desk home.

Know What You Need: Customer-Centric Outcomes

If you are tired of working from home on a rickety folding card table, the first thing you must identify is what sort of desk will provide what you need. And, if your organization is going to launch a CX program, you must focus on what you need from that program: Improved customer relationships that earn trust, satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.

I recently saw an article posted by a CX consultant, and it was the perfect demonstration of this problem. It provided a client example where the outcome of a CX project was a reduction in interaction and operational costs. That’s a great business result, but you know what it is not? A customer result. When we skip the customer and focus only on efficiency, we are not doing CX. The competitive landscape is littered with efficient companies with weak customer relationships, high churn, and poor reputation. The goal of CX isn’t just to be efficient at managing customers; it’s to be effective at keeping and growing them.

At Gartner, we use the term: “Customer first, company also.” Doing CX right isn’t about altruism for your customer but knowing that when you provide what customers want, need, and value, you will improve your relationships in ways that enhance retention, growth, and WOM. If you start with the wrong goals and vision, you cannot be surprised if your CX program fails to deliver the desired results. Or, stated another way, if you need a desk but go out and buy a TV, it doesn’t matter how great the deal, you’ll still end up lacking a place to work.

Know Where To Go: Customer Insight

Once you know what sort of desk you need, you next must identify where to get it. If you decide you want to build a cheap desk out of 2x4s and a door (A/K/A the Jeff Bezos desk) but head to the grocery store, you’ll be frustrated. That may sound ridiculous, but in the business world, many CX programs head to exactly the wrong place for the customer understanding required.

Many consultancies and agencies will start their CX discovery phases by interviewing senior leaders within the client organization. That’s good for the leaders since it stokes their egos and makes them feel in control. It’s also good for the vendor since it raises their visibility to key decision-makers in the client organization. But a CX program must start with an understanding of the customer, and there is one (and only one) source of wisdom for that: The customer.

Too many CX programs are launched based on what people inside the organization want or think they know. One sign of this problem is when leaders or employees are locked into a room with sticky notes and asked to devise a customer journey based on what they think their customer wants. While every CX project requires support and input from leaders and employees to be successful, the place to start is with Voice of the Customer (VoC) data, customer and user research, and customer listening.

Relying only on what leaders and employees perceive on behalf of the customer is like trying to find desk parts in the aisles of your grocery store. Sure, you can make a very creative desk out of cans of tomato juice and broomsticks, but will it be a desk that suits your needs?
Use The Right Vehicle: Create And Fund Your CX Program In Line With Expectations

If you think my desk metaphor is oddly specific, then you’ve never spent two hours at an IKEA buying a desk only to find the boxes won’t fit into your Honda Accord. (That’s a mistake you don’t make twice, let me tell you!) You can’t get the job done with the wrong vehicle, and with CX, that means treating it as a discipline that requires resources, staffing, and commitment.

I once spoke with a CX leader at a Fortune 500 company with no employees and no budget. She was expected to “influence” a customer-centric culture across a 30,000-employee organization without support. (She is an extraordinary individual, but no one is that good!) This was clearly an outlier situation, but it is not uncommon to find CX leaders where CX is a part-time job in addition to their “real” job. Or CX leaders whose entire budget is based only on project work rather than a consistent and ongoing commitment from senior leadership.  Or CX leaders who must proceed without customer understanding (see above) because the organization won’t invest in the VoC program or customer research necessary.

Your organization expresses its priorities in several ways:  What it measures, what it staffs, and where it spends its cash. If your leaders speak a lot about customer obsession and implore employees to be more customer-centric, but it still measures and rewards success only in short-term financial terms and leaves its CX program understaffed and underfunded, then the organization is neither customer-obsessed nor customer-centric.

CX leaders can overcome these challenges and earn greater leadership support by demonstrating the value delivered by strong customer relationships imbued with exceptional satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy. Still, at the end of the day, a lot of companies have invested a great deal in internal communications and training to convince employees of the importance of customer-centricity, but they haven’t built the right CX vehicle to gather and disseminate customer insight, construct and maintain the right CX tools, and collaborate across the organization as necessary. Don’t tell your employees you expect them to bring your desk home but give them a skateboard to do it. That will frustrate employees and won’t result in you getting the desk you need.

And with that, I think I’ve stretched this analogy as far as I can. Done right, with the right goals, right customer understanding, and right resources, your CX program can and should be a source of differentiation, powerful customer relationships, and the kind of retention, growth, and reputation others envy. You can build a CX program that is “customer” in name only, and you can use a stack of books as a desk–but then you don’t have anyone to blame but yourself when your company’s customer retention and growth lags or when your laptop screen breaks after being knocked to the floor. (Turns out I could stretch that analogy further.)

Know what you need. Know where to go. Use the right vehicle. Succeed at customer experience!

 

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