CEO’s Guide to Growth through Customer Experience Engagement

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customer experience engagementCustomer experience engagement is a growth strategy. It’s the aim of Net Promoter Score®, CRM, loyalty programs, experiential marketing and so forth — rallying customers toward purchase volume, referrals and long-term relationships. While some growth can be gained solely through these programs, diminishing returns are inevitable.

Growth subsides eventually when it is enticed. It’s a never-ending hamster-wheel to entice engagement. Growth endures when it is earned through trust.

Customer experience originated when the first people on earth bartered: it’s essentially a law of nature — not something that was invented in recent decades. Customer experience is customers’ realities compared to their expectations. As such, we need to step back and rethink best methods for earning enduring customer trust.



Like attracts like: customer engagement is unlikely to be sustained without employee engagement in customer experience performance. Organic customer engagement is reciprocated to the extent that employee engagement improves customers’ well-being. Rallying customer-experience-centered employee engagement is a prerequisite to rallying customer engagement for continual growth.

Engaging Employees Toward Engaging Customers
Engaging employees in customer experience goes well beyond customer-facing roles. Customer touch-points are only as successful as the rest of the enterprise empowers them to be. Every discipline across your company has a ripple-effect on customer experience, like concentric circles rippling from a pebble thrown in a pond.

“Employees who are engaged as customer advocates are more fulfilled in their jobs,” explained Bill Cusick, former VP-Customer Experience & Brand Management at Zurich North America, and author of the book, All Customers are Irrational: Understanding What They Think, What They Feel, and What Keeps Them Coming Back. “Engaged employees are more productive than other employees without spending more time on the job. They have better work-life balance. Engaged employees in customer-focused companies are happier and more fulfilled at the end of the day, even without requiring additional compensation or recognition. If you’re not engaging employees around customer experience, be aware that your better employees will tend to look elsewhere.””

In the majority of firms, non-customer-facing roles are value-creators (or inhibitors) while customer-facing roles are value-deliverers. Marketing conveys the value proposition, the brand promise. Your whole company delivers it.

Gaps between what’s promised and what’s delivered are the main reason why we invest in customer engagement programs — remedial investments. These gaps erode trust.

Customer experience management, as it should be managed, is alignment of the company to customers. Customer experience is the horse that fuels the cart of financials: customers fund salaries, budgets and dividends. Align the cart to the horse for a smoother, faster, rewarding ride.

Engage Non-Customer-Facing Roles
All employees want to work in a well-respected organization. They have an inherent desire for customer engagement success. In fact, their livelihood depends on it! Most employees do not hear much about customers’ realities and expectations. When they do, they’re not sure it’s actionable for them. What if standards for every role could be defined by customer expectations rather than industry norms?

  • Amazon starts every meeting with a customer story.
  • In SunTrust meetings they check assumptions: did customers tell us they want this?
  • At Thomson Reuters Elite, meetings include a chair representing the customer, to emphasize outside-in thinking.
  • At Applied Materials, during the 11 years I led customer experience performance, messages about customers were shared in numerous ways: in every newsletter, training course, Intranet site, lobby, cafe, break room, staff meeting, ops review. Messages included a bulleted list of specific relevant actions for Engineering, Manufacturing, Legal, Safety, IT, and so forth.

“Long-term success with customer experience comes only when everyone in the organization understands who the customer is, what the customer’s expectations are, and how they impact the customer,” observed Cusick, who is now a CX and innovation consultant at CX Prophet, as well as a ClearAction Senior Advisor.

  1. Make customer experience (CX) a context for all employee roles, rather than an add-on. Financial responsibility is a context for all employees’ decisions. Make sure they see the connection between the horse (CX) and the cart ($$).
  2. Develop a multi-faceted communication plan that meets employees where they are now, and guides them to greater understanding of what customers expect and how it applies to them in improving the realities customers experience.


Stimulate Trust-Building Strides
Engage all roles in making strides that improve customer trust. Self-reporting team recognition generated advantages on many levels for years at Applied Materials:

  • Categories and criteria communicated new performance standards to employees, including customers’ acknowledgement of improvements.
  • Self-reporting empowered teams to track their progress per the criteria before submittal.
  • Panels of executive judges provided constructive feedback.
  • Teams missing the mark could re-submit in a future quarter.
  • Winning teams’ achievements and methods were announced in every possible format.

This was quite powerful in evolving customer-centric culture. Cost savings, productivity improvements, and higher morale were enjoyed throughout our company and across our customer base. Examples of achievements that grew customer trust:

  • 16X reduction in customers’ time for service
  • Exceeded customer expectations by 75%
  • 10X increase in customer productivity
  • 10X reduction in lead time from 5 days to 5 hours
  • 6X improvement in trouble-shooting cycle time
  • $1M savings monthly to the customer
  • 80% reduction in customer engineers’ learning cycle time
  • 75% reduction in customer-reported bugs/issues

“Disparate efforts to improve customer experience may not have measurable impact.” Cusick recommends: “For sustainable change, think of culture change as creating an engine. The CEO and the entire C-suite must be true advocates for customers and improving customer experience. But the energy and long-term success comes from all employees’ engagement and participation.”

Customer experience engagement is a two-way street. To rally customers’ referrals and purchase volume, first rally employees enterprise-wide. You’ll rise above diminishing returns of enticed engagement. Trust-based engagement has staying power. Trust-based engagement is a sound growth strategy.

This article is third of a six-part series as an exclusive CustomerThink Advisors column: CEO’s Guide to Growth through Customer-Centered Management. This series explores ClearAction Continuum’s Customer Excellence DNATM methodology as introduced in the article What is Customer-Centricity DNA?

1. CEO’s Guide to Growth through Customer-Centered Management

2. CEO’s Guide to Growth through Customer Experience Alignment



3. CEO’s Guide to Growth through Customer Experience Engagement

Image licensed to ClearAction Continuum by Shutterstock.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I applaud your article. The key is effectively engaging employees to drive the company economics, which of course, start with the customer. As an example, take one client of mine, Southwest Airlines.
    They empower their employees to think and act like owners, so they are economically engaged. Mike Van de Ven led this effort, which they called “Plane Smart Business”, classic SWA humor. He is now the COO. They provide employees with challenges to improve the economics, not perks. Their legendary performance / customer satisfaction flows from this.
    These Forbes and Harvard Business Review articles provide more background: https://hbr.org/2018/01/more-than-a-paycheck http://www.forbes.com/sites/fotschcase/2016/05/31/engage-your-employees-in-making-money/

  2. Thanks for your comment, Bill, and for the case study. You’re right that the primary benefits to a company driving engagement of customers and employees is foremost economics: savings by stopping stupid things and starting smart things. What most execs aim for — revenue uptick — is a consequence of those grass-roots-led economics if you want it to be organically sustainable.

    This fact became crystal clear to me as I analyzed ClearAction’s 5-year global study of business-to-business customer experience practices. The emphases of mainstream practices were focused on voice of the customer and loyalty, with much less activity acting upon VoC to earn loyalty.

    Acting upon VoC to earn loyalty is an enterprise-wide imperative: that’s what a customer-centric culture is.

    To visualize the sequence of necessary efforts, I’ve created a flowing CXM ROI model that readers can see here: The Future of Customer Experience Calls Urgently for a SIgnificant Shift.

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