Double talk. It can feel like it’s everywhere sometimes.
Let me be a little bit blunt to open this post, although I think many of you may have experienced this at least once. In short? Customer culture is talked about by many leaders, but ultimately misunderstood by most organizations.
Let’s do a quick example. We know many companies have “core values,” for example — and while often some of the top people try to live by them, oftentimes they feel like a list of words tacked on a wall. This happens with CX work too. There will be a “customer commitment” or “customer manifesto,” but the problem is … most people working directly with customers don’t know how to translate that back to their daily priorities and actions. (Priority management is not very strong at many companies, sadly.)
OK, so on the wall you might see something like this:
“We have a deep commitment to the customer and their needs.”
That’s great — and it’s a good start. But unless it’s translated into direct priority and action, it doesn’t mean much.
Essentially at this point, it’s double talk.
Now what if you walked into an office and saw this:
“We will not go to market until these 12 customer requirements are met, even if we’re in danger of missing the quarter.”
No company would ever put something like that on the wall (typically), but what if they do? That’s real transparency and it speaks to action. Now employees know: “OK, if we want to go to market, make the quarter, and be rewarded, there are 12 things that we must do.” It’s a lot more direct than the first statement.
How do you avoid the double talk? Part of it — a large part — is about practicing one-company leadership. You need to move beyond “customer commitment” and the “customer manifesto” and translate that commitment into actions that your employees will feel proud to follow and emulate.
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This happens, normally, in a three-step process.
Prevent double talk: Unite the leadership team
This is Step 1 of my fifth customer experience competency. It’s always Step 1. If the leadership team is not united, the customer experience will be fragmented. It’s really that simple.
You need to align the silos. Get rid of silo-by-silo metrics and surveys. Move away from “Well, we will re-prioritize this work in our vocabulary and action templates.” None of that works in 2016. Customers have options galore in virtually every industry. The Internet opened everything up. You need to be focused on end-to-end consistency in your experience. If your leadership team is all over the place focusing on their functional department, it won’t work.
This helps you prevent double talk, too — because now vocabulary and spreadsheet action plans become consistent across departments, instead of marketing looking at it one way and sales another.
Prevent double talk: Give permission and behaviors to model
With apologies to Counting Crows: “All monkeys do what they see.” This is true in companies too. In reality, your “culture” is just the behaviors modeled and permitted by the senior decision-makers, filtered throughout the organization. Whenever a scandal like Wells Fargo hits, people are aghast. They should be, because it’s bad — but it’s not necessarily surprising. Those types of behaviors were likely baked into the culture of Wells Fargo, so ultimately that was going to happen. It was just a question of when the rest of us found out.
When I talk about “permissions” and “behaviors to model,” I mean questions such as:
- What is the company focusing on?
- Where is the attention being paid?
- How is strategy being aligned with execution?
- Who makes the decisions?
- Why are people rewarded?
You need obvious answers to all those questions. Consider the last one. If no one understands the bonus/incentive structure, that leads to a lot of double talk — which leads to a lot of turnover. Who wants to work 12 hours/day for five years and barely get any extra money — and not even understand why? You leave those jobs. As people leave, customer experience suffers. It’s not that complicated.
Prevent double talk: Prove it with actions
That’s what the fifth competency is all about: “prove it to me.” The main bulk of the idea here is that leaders need to be united around (a) how they determine investments and (b) how they prioritize actions. Then, models and examples must be provided down the chain. If this isn’t happening, there’s a good chance that low-priority, potentially-invented work is getting done — as opposed to real, customer-growth-engine work.
If you’d like some more resources on preventing double talk and driving a one-company approach, let me humbly suggest my podcast. I’m at 24 episodes — No. 25 will be this Tuesday — and we talk in almost every one about uniting the leadership team and moving away from double talk.