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Leading Customer Experience Management

Providing a level of customer experience that ensures your customers ‘feel’ the difference between your business and competitors is crucial to success.

A key element to be able to make this a reality rather than a pipe-dream is how many of your employees and particularly leaders ‘live the reality’. Discussing customer experience (CE) as a core part of business culture genuinely reinforces the messages – but not if this is felt by a few, not the many. Effective business leaders should always know that they are building a culture and understanding with all employees that the customer matters. This cannot be achieved through empty words, sound bites or a shallow attempt at driving a customer-centric organisation.

CE can be incredibly complex and very simple at the same time. I wonder whether the proliferation of data and new technology is being used to best advantage. Whether we accept the implications of technology and the modern version of customer experience goes a long way to building a customer-centric culture. Taking meaningful steps based on a company-wide strategy that is reinforced through leadership, technology and action is core to starting to build a culture where the customer is seen as important.

An example can be seen where greater CE focus and recent technology has meant that many organisations have identified a need to be present in the Social Media space. This is often seen as a critical aspect of understanding and managing customers, however few organisations have a purposeful strategy of how Social Media fits into the rest of the organisation and CE strategy.

In 2012 customer service will become the “killer app.” Engaging customers today requires all stakeholders within the company to be committed. It also requires that organisations redefine (or repurpose) what the brand represents—internally and externally. (1)

I  equate this to my own observations which have been confirmed through external research over the years. After working in the call centre industry for over 15 years I was regularly surprised by the apparent desire to exceed customers expectations, yet the processes and business practices would often not lend themselves to supporting the strategy. Developing a strategy and understanding of what your business is trying to achieve through the gathering of CE data and insights is important before making decisions based on the data. Key questions to ask:

  • What does success look like?
  • How do you achieve improved results?
  • How do you establish the right culture to balance employee, customer and business needs?
  • How do you use the extensive quantities of data available to real advantage?
  • How do you create employee engagement, empowerment and buy-in that means your customers feel the benefit?

Data and insights in themselves offer little value. Collating and filtering CE data into meaningful trends is essential. Businesses typically are challenged in using data to advantage – it is a real skill and should be part of your process and strategy, but is not always the case. Usually a business measures itself through internal metrics, KRA’s and KPI’s, that make sense to the managers and employees (usually!). This is no more evident that in targets, metrics and measurements. For example, traditionally the typical call centre measurements consist of Grade of Service (GOS), Time To Answer and similar call-based metrics.  All very legitimate and logical, however there is one critical point that is being missed. The question to ask is:

Are these internal measurements the same standards and  expectations that your customers feel are the most important?

The answer is often an emphatic…No!

Unless your business sees Customer Experience as a culture, not a tool, then your customers will feel the pain of what is not being provided by your front-line team members. After spending several years in Customer Experience leadership, I am convinced that engagement, morale, culture, sub-cultures and the impact of leadership on these can be felt by all customers. An effective CE strategy has a core function to gather insights and data and use this information to develop Leaders and Team Leaders, drive process improvement and clarify direction.

CoachStation: Customer Measurement in Business Model

The link between providing a high level of consistent customer service and the satisfaction of your employees has been proven. Extending this concept further, an organisation’s employees are significantly influenced by the leaders within it. In a recent blog on this subject, Adrian Swinscoe wrote that:

Many businesses will look for process, system and technology fixes and assume that more and better internal communications or more surveys will increase engagement. It might. But, I don’t think there will be any guarantees with those type of initiatives.

It is a mistake to think that more data in itself will make the difference. Very few employees, who are the people in the actual position to make the difference, are even privy to this data, let alone provided with a summarised view that is presented in a way that makes sense and is usable. It is this point that is the most remarkable.

Greater technology advances, Big Data, information flow and accessibility are all the potential positives with modern Customer Experience Management. They are also its greatest flaw!

Unless your organisation can make sense of the incredibly vast amount of information and present it in such a way that your leaders can easily decipher the key insights / trends AND the leaders are skilled to be able to provide this information in a way that their team members will care about, then CE insights and data collection has little value.

CRM is as much a marketing tool as anything, but convincing your customers of your value proposition and making commitment to improve based on customer feedback, if not followed through by your leaders and front-line staff can be quite damaging. This negative sentiment can be felt internally amongst your team. If they are aware that insights and data collection is occurring, but there are no obvious and tangible changes or application, then frustration, disappointment and other negative reactions are likely.

The most interesting part of all of this, it is no different for your customers – they will also become frustrated if feedback is sought and then commitment to change is not followed up with action.

A simple way to view this aspect of CE – if you don’t want to know the answer, then don’t ask the question. I am not advocating that any business should ignore or not actively seek the customer view. Quite the opposite, in fact. What is clear though,  is that setting up a false set of expectations either internally with your employees and/or externally with your customers, that is not followed through in a way that the stakeholders ‘feel’ the difference, is often more damaging than not asking in the first place.

Adrian Swinscoe discusses the elements that align employee engagement to the customer experience, including a list of ‘basics’ that should be adhered to.  He also asks a very pertinent question that we all should know the answer to if we are serious about our people and customers.

How can we expect employees to take care of customers if the business does not trust, recognise, support and treat them well too? Much of employee engagement is about relationships. The relationship an employee has with their job, their colleagues, their customers and their organisation. And, relationships are all art and very little science.

So, let’s not sweep the art under the carpet and start getting better at it.

A focus on insights and development based on CEM has three major benefits, amongst other key points:

  1. You are able to learn about individual businesses processes, what is working well and what can be improved.
  2. Crucially, seeking Voice Of Customer and identifying themes enables you to know what your customers are thinking and saying about your business – not assuming to know how they feel.
  3. These insights can be used to design and run developmental programs at an individual and  team level, including workshops and 1:1 coaching, aligned to specific trends and customer needs.

Many of you will relate to the issues and culture described in this blog and that of Adrian’s. Some of you may even be living the experience now. But, as I have stated many times, knowing what is wrong with your business and doing something about it are not the same thing. The danger here, as with so many other critical factors in business, is that acknowledging flaws, both personally and organisationally is a difficult thing for most of us to do. The most effective leaders have developed a skillset and attitude of ongoing development and a willingness to influence culture. Part of this philosophy is the ability to see things for what they are, not what you would like it to be.

If you want to see change, you must lead for change.

If dissatisfied, speak up.

If your customers are unhappy, ask them why and what they would like to see differently – and take action to remedy.

Most importantly, don’t accept mediocrity! By actively challenging the status quo, you will take the first steps to influence change and differentiate yourself from other people and your business  from other organisations. Your employees will love your for it, and so will your customers.


(1) The New Science of Rewards and Recognition: Transforming Your Business

The Link Between Customer Experience and Employee Engagement: More Art Than Science: Adrian Swinscoe

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