In a major customer centricity programme I ran a number of years ago, we interviewed over 100 people at all levels of the organisation. We wanted to understand how customer-centric they considered themselves to be and compare these findings to the behaviour of the whole business.
The results were staggering: a full 100% of people scored themselves good to very good on the topic of customer centricity. Everyone we met was truly convinced that they understood what customers wanted and that they acted accordingly. They also all knew the corporate mission statement placing the customer at the heart of every decision.
As the company's customers painted a rather different picture, we dug deeper and a more nuanced view emerged. Those we interviewed considered themselves to be customer-focused, but their bosses, well ... that was a different matter. In spite of the customer rhetoric in PowerPoint presentations, their real priorities became clear every time quarterly numbers were due.
Hit the targets, was the mantra. No matter what the commercial consequences might be. Burning the occasional customer was acceptable collateral damage, as long as it meant bonuses were safe.
In other words: everyone talked about customers, but the business, the leaders and the CEO weren't walking the talk. The root cause for this was that they didn't see the financial value of customer-centricity, but from their people's perspective, they were all words and no action.
If you want your business to become customer-centric, it's important that as a leader, you avoid this trap.
You need to convince your colleagues of formulating a set of clearly observable leadership behaviours to which each of them is willing to be held accountable. Only if people see that their leaders are living the customer values the organisation puts forward, they will be willing to live these values themselves.
To provide a more tangible illustration of this, I have listed eight behaviours which I have heard being formulated by senior teams embarking on a journey towards customer-centricity.
For each, every executive typically commits to:
I'm not saying that you should adopt all of the above (though it might be an idea :-).
I am saying that by living a set of clearly observable customer-centric behaviours you can help your colleagues distinguish whether you are a talker or a walker.
So which one will you be?
If you work in customer strategy, sales, service or marketing, there is a high probability that you stay up to date on the latest developments in your field of expertise. You read articles like this. You visit conferences. You talk to colleagues in other companies to exchanges hints, tips and practices. You may even keep up with the latest communication and social technology to understand how they may affect your multi-channel reality.
But how is your state of knowledge on topics like material science, nano-technology, synthetic biology, genomics and artificial intelligence?
In case you wonder where I’m going with this, my thesis is that you should also keep up to date with this more scientific part of life. Not at specialist levels, but enough to stay up to date on what is going on.
The latest technical developments in each of these fields are preparing a revolution which is going to utterly destroy any concept of what we currently consider business as usual. In the coming decade, factories, supply chains and customer expectations will start transforming our reality well beyond anything the internet or mobile phones have done for us (and we thought they were pretty major).
If you don’t believe me, have a look at this 10 minute video from a recent TED talk:
It wouldn’t be hard to imagine how an industry grade version of this technology would affect what today we call customer relations.
Products could be produced anywhere on the planet (in the Amazon warehouses?) and arrive at the customer’s home hours after their production. Designs would become like templates which people can infinitely customise (with or without your help). You would have to manage tens of thousands of individual dialogues to understand your customers and meet their continuously evolving needs. And as your customers would get ever more used to having life exactly the way they wanted, you might have to give them the keys to your design department.
Sure, this won’t happen tomorrow (though if your building a factory today, 5-7 years is nothing in terms of amortisation). But parts of this vision are already relevant to today’s reality. 3D printing is reinventing machine tools and prototyping. Tesla is turning the automotive orthodoxies upside down. Big data is a reality. IBM’s Watson does beat humans at Jeopardy.
My suggestion to you is therefore to read up and recognise that most of the parameters you use to design, organise and measure your customer experience are based on reality as we know it and will be outdated in a number of years. This is OK, as we all still need to make our money today. But it shouldn’t turn into a mental straight-jacket which shapes our customer experience thinking. Especially if this straight jacket gets translated into capital expenditures of company infrastructures with a 5-7 year amortisation schedule.
The more advanced brands I know are already responding to this challenge by splitting their customer experience design efforts into two tracks:
The results of these breakthrough journey maps are sometimes scary, but always remarkable. Also, while most elements are fairly futuristics, there's always one or two aspects which can be applied today.
Just a thought you might want to consider :-)
What do you think would happen if during an offsite meeting, 6 members of your 10-people strong management team came up with the most brilliant brand and customer strategy on the planet. In fact it was so brilliant, that it would give Apple, Google and Amazon a run for their money. It would go down in history as the best strategy every written.
But then they decided to keep this strategy a secret, only to be shared by the worthy ones. They’d only tell 1 in 4 employees. 1 in 2 managers and none of the other four executive team members who didn’t participate in the off-site.
Ludicrous? Well, according to the Gallup survey The State of the American Workplace, this is exactly what happens. When asked to answer the question “I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand(s) different from the competitors”, 40% of executives, 54% of managers and a 63% of employees couldn’t respond with full confidence that they did.
In which we should consider that thinking that you know is actually still different from knowing. Taking that criteria, Kaplan and Norton - the guys from the Balanced Scorecard - found that up 9 out of 10 of employees don’t really understand the company strategy. In an HBR article, it also became apparent that the majority of managers were unable to articulate the strategy as well.
The disconnect lies in what I like to call knowledge projection. Once us humans knowsomething, we have a very hard time imagining how it is not to know. Combine this with the fact that not all of us are equally gifted communicators, and you get a recipe for Chinese whispers. With the best of intentions, everyone thinks they are doing the right thing, but the definition of the thing and the measure of right, may be all over the place. Along the way strategies disintegrate and your customers experience anything but what you intended.
So how do you avoid this happening to your preciously crafted customer experience strategy?
For me, the answer lies in making sure that your message, your choice of audience and the media you deploy truly support he distribution of your strategy in every way.
1. Message: Don’t settle for shiny but shallow customer journey maps
When it comes to developing a true experience strategy, most businesses start by crafting a customer journey map. If properly done, this is a great place to start, as it allows the creation of a common picture around which all parts of the business can organise themselves. What’s more, if done by a colourful artist, they also look great on the wall behind your desk.
But unfortunately many of the maps I’ve seen stop short of being really useful beyond the people who helped create them. They describe steps and journeys from a customer perspective, but forget to translate them into experience standards which the people in the organisation can actually work with.
Whether you call this activity operationalising CX or see it as part of your service design process is up to you. As long as you make sure that every step of the customer journey has been translated into clear processes, KPI’s and behavioural guidelines which tell every last employee at every touchpoint exactly what they need to do to make the desired experience happen.
Without this, they will need to make it up, and even with the best of intentions their interpretations may very wildly.
2. Audience: Make sure you include everyone
Once the customer experience plan is hatched and properly detailed, people need to be informed about it. Here, companies typically invest in the sales, service and marketing departments as they are most in touch with the customer. But in many businesses I have encountered, the non-customer-facing employees only get a cursory update. If they are informed at all.
This is a grave mistake. Any customer experience transformation which isn’t carried by all supporting departments is doomed. After all, who writes the software service which agents use to resolve customer issues? Who compiles the contracts that the commercial teams put in front of prospective clients. Who challenges the financing or vendor selection for the marketing department’s campaigns?
There is only way to make sure that the intended front line experience actually comes to life. This is to make sure that is the back line, the people in your company who never encounter a customer, fully understand what you are trying to achieve and how they fit into this picture.
Failure to do this will once again mean that they need to improvise and eventually frustrate your front line staff by not getting it. The fact that they have never been told, may never enter that evaluation.
3. Media: Think beyond posters & powerpoint
Communicating a customer strategy is not a one off event. It’s not about giving people a PowerPoint supported presentation of which they are proven to forget 80% within 24 hours. It’s not about hanging We love our customers posters everywhere in the building. It’s not about making smiley mugs (even though I like mugs :-).
Customer strategy communication is a sustained activity which needs to manifest itself across all media in your business, every day of the year. Your meeting agendas, your reporting systems, your dashboards, your newsletters, your company presentations and yes, your mugs. Every day should be customer day, and every activity should remind your employees of the customer goals your business is trying to achieve (and how they fit in this picture).
In this context, I always suggest to pay special attention to two - often under leveraged -communication tools: leadership behaviour and storytelling (about people getting it right). It’s the lowest budget activity of them all and what's important: it works. Evolution has taught us to judge people by their actions, not their words. Seeing these actions for ourselves (behaviour) or hearing about them (stories) is still the best way to make us move.
Doing all the above will not guarantee that your customer strategy will bring you riches. But it will make sure that your people actually understand the customer strategy you propose. Especially if you regularly measure whether the message actually arrives and adapt your approach as needed.
So please make sure you get that first step right.
About this blog
Whenever inspiration strikes, I use this space to share my thoughts on customer experience management, storytelling or what ever else crosses my mind.