At CXPA events I often run across new attendees with a familiar story. They’re obsessed with customers, and they want to transform their companies to be more customer-focused. They desperately want to change their companies! But they’re not in a customer experience (CX) role.
How, they ask, can they change their company if their company hasn’t given them a CX title?
It’s a great question. It’s always easier if you have the title. If the company cares enough to create a customer experience role, and to trust you in it, that’s a huge head start. It’s still difficult to drive change, but at least you’re beginning with some momentum.
But what if you don’t have a CX role?
I was discussing this very issue at CX Day when our speaker reminded me of the classic Harvard Business Review article Radical Change, the Quiet Way by Debra Meyerson. The article is focused more on confronting such challenges as racism, gender bias, and other workplace issues, and recommends you become a “tempered radical” to make moderate changes in your culture.
While these issues are obviously very serious, these skills also apply to our domain.
Meyerson recommends tempered radicals learn a continuum of skills. She callis out, in particular, disruptive self-expression, verbal jujitsu, variable-term opportunism, and strategic alliance building. All of these have a useful role to play in your efforts to build customer focus.
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Three examples serve to help us understand how to use these in your efforts to build customer focus.
Disruptive self-expression is the most personal, least public of these skills. It’s also one you may be using today. It involves showing your customer focus in your words and actions. My old manager Shawn Phillips used this to help create more of a customer focus back when I served in a large retailer’s IT department. Shawn would frequently – and publicly – leave for an afternoon to work at a register in a store. His argument was that you can’t design great products if you don’t understand the user’s experience. Soon he had a number of us visiting stores and competitors to better understand what most mattered both for our end customer and our retail associates. It’s easy to talk about customer focus – but actions are what help move a culture.
Variable-term opportunism involves recognizing and acting on the change to motivate others. I first met Kathleen Hoski (who’s now our customer ethnographer) doing exactly this at Best Buy. She led a deep ethnographic research project for Best Buy’s web team. But rather than just presenting the results and moving on, she used this to find like-minded people who wanted to learn how customers actually think about purchasing consumer electronics. She motivated them to think differently about how to enable customers, enabling pockets of change that helped accelerate Best Buy’s growth.
Strategic alliance-building is the most public of methods, used by many successful CX champions to drive change. When your leaders don’t prioritize CX – when inside-out thinking has worked for them, and they’re not investing in CX – strategic partners are the way to move forward.
Our client Daryl (not his real name) is a good example of using this capability. He wanted to drive customer focus, but didn’t have the mandate. So he put on a road show of CX capabilities, including our journey mapping, to find a partner who was ready to operate differently. Once he found his partner, he brought all of the tools at his disposal – surveys, training, journey mapping, etc. – to showcase what could be accomplished with a customer-focused approach. He invested to make his first partner a success. Once that happened, he found that others – including those previously uninterested – suddenly wanted to talk to him. As a result, CX became part of his responsibility, and he was able to drive change throughout the company.
It’s easier – and certainly more fun – when the organization gives us the CX mandate. But even if you don’t have it, these quiet skills can help to move your culture. And it’s far more effective than sitting back waiting for that CX role to be given to you.