When I first conceived the idea for the article I wrote in my exclusive CustomerThink column in October 2016, I did not think I would be able to continue writing about the subject matter, seven months later! My seven ‘tips’ that will enable any organisation to become genuinely customer centric, have allowed me to share my experiences, thoughts, case studies, successes and failures observed over the last twenty three years, helping organisations and practitioners to put the customer (and employees) at the centre of their respective universes!
Committing to writing and sharing my thoughts in the public domain is a remarkably rewarding experience in itself, especially if others take inspiration from what I can ‘bring to life’. It is therefore with a tinge of sadness that I have reached the end of this particular writing odyssey, if that is not to put too grandiose a status on things!
Recognition Builds Authority
During the last seven months, I have covered everything from making customer experience (CX) a priority for everyone; to CX frameworks; to knowing how it feels to be a customer and an employee; to engaging your people in CX activity; to CX strategy; to the importance of communication. This last post is key in helping to build, gain and sustain momentum on your journey towards customer centricity, by getting recognition for the good/great things you are doing AND building authority as customer centric practitioners, leaders and organisations. In my original article, I stated:
“I am a huge advocate of winning external awards for the work done around customer experience – in my experience, where external recognition has been gained in this way, it has been hugely significant in motivating people at all levels of the organisation to stay focused on driving the customer centric agenda.”
Focus; commitment; sustainability; momentum; belief; buy-in; motivation; all words that can be used to help describe customer experience transformation. The true meaning of each of these words is very difficult to achieve. Customer experience professionals need to be able to use every tool in their armoury to make these words a reality.
The clear majority of organisations aspiring to be customer centric around the world are ‘legacy businesses’ — ones that have existed for several years, decades or even centuries. Changing the way these businesses, think and behave is akin to turning around an ocean liner in a car park.
Transformation of legacy businesses takes time, which is why it proves to be so challenging to maintain focus. Therefore, it is vital to continually ‘inject’ validation that the work being done to transform is achieving the desired result – the intended vision. Validation develops ‘authority’ — authority that demonstrates the change being achieved is recognised as being as good, if not better, than anything being done anywhere in the world.
Entering and winning nationally recognised awards, has been a core part of my customer experience strategic planning since 2010. As a finalist, winner, proud boss and judge, of the UK Customer Experience Awards, I have experienced every emotion that the awards throw at you.
There are times when the experience is like sitting an exam — nerve-wracking; sweat inducing; painful!! There are times when it is the best feeling in the world — not quite as rewarding as becoming a proud parent, but close! There are times when you must laugh at the comedy of it all – you will never see so many people ‘pacing’ as you will at the UK Customer Experience Awards! The feeling I get most often though, is one of immense pride and satisfaction — that the profession I feel so passionate about is growing every single year.
Win or lose, what I have witnessed over the last seven years, is the undeniable ability of those working hard to transform their businesses to generate huge advances in ‘authority’, by getting the recognition that their work richly deserves. The authority gained, has allowed them and their organisations to further advance their work.
Customer 1st Aid
I first experienced the effect of ‘getting recognition and building authority in 2010’. Three years earlier, in an impromptu meeting with the Chief Operating Officer of the company I worked for at the time, I suggested that I was going to launch a new initiative. Entitled ‘Customer 1 st Aid’, the initiative was intended to engage all 10,000 employees of ours in playing a role in improving the customer experience. The plan was to increase visibility, understanding and momentum around the need to improve the customer experience.
Customer 1st Aid was essentially a process that allowed our employees to ‘do something’ when they identified an issue that was detrimental to the customer experience. A ‘closed loop issue resolution process’, once an issue was received, my small team of passionate warriors would liaise with the relevant functions in the business, to resolve or correct the issue. Simple!
The COO was not convinced. Worried that the initiative would just encourage negative behaviour among staff — highlighting issues that were more about their working conditions, than the customer experience — he was not prepared to provide any budget or resource to enable me to make it happen. In other words, I was not able to generate the authority I needed to make it happen in the way I had envisaged.
As is necessary for any successful customer experience professional, with the support of my team, I continued unabated. To build authority, you need to demonstrate that your ideas, whether they be tactical or strategic, do make a positive difference. Without any budget, the only way I could get that authority, was to use the tools available to me: Microsoft Outlook and Excel!! I created an administrative nightmare for my team – they did not love me for it!!
The initiative was officially launched in 2008. By 2010, over 10,000 issues had been raised, with approximately 70% coming from front line Contact Centre staff. The resulting improvements to the customer experience had delivered £6.4m of net incremental benefit. The phenomenal success of the programme in the initial 2 years since launch was despite the systemic restraints.
In 2010, Customer 1st Aid won a UK Customer Experience Award — the very first time that our organisation had achieved national recognition for its work in the customer experience space. The winning of this award was hugely significant in the evolution of our customer experience transformation.
The COO who had been highly sceptical three years earlier, was now beaming with pride. Receiving national recognition for our work provided external validation that not only were we doing the right things, but that we were excelling in doing so. For three years, we almost had to ‘push water uphill’ to make Customer 1st Aid happen. Winning the award changed everything. We had finally secured the authority to get the investment and systems needed to allow it to run smoothly in the future.
Winning awards gives an organisation ‘authority’ in customer experience – it allows people to recognise the great things that are being done and drives them to want to do even more. Yet recognition of the importance of customer experience also comes in the form of knowledge. Your ability to transfer knowledge to your people will also build their personal authority in the subject. That authority will have an effect of driving them to focus on the customer indefinitely, and that is what sustains a customer centric culture.