You’ve scored big with C-level buy-in and you’re starting to engage the frontlines. Here are three strategies for ensuring middle managers are CX advocates, too.
Some frontline employees are CX naturals. They have an intrinsic understanding of what it means to be customer-centric in the work they do. Far more common are the employees who need support from their supervisors and managers when it comes to putting their daily tasks in the context of enterprise-wide CX strategies. That’s why it’s important to have middle management on board with any CX initiative, but sometimes that’s easier said than done.
C-level executives and senior vice presidents are paid to be visionaries, whether it’s CX or any other company-wide initiative, while department managers and directors have more immediate priorities—namely, the objectives of their specific department or area of leadership. They are focused on the task at hand. They also are accountable to finance and have other organizational obligations. The CX effort is often just not top-of-mind for them.
Let me be clear: I love working with middle managers and see them as a critical part of the process. Nonetheless, at our company, we’re facing a breakdown in the CX communication cascade at the mid-management level, and we have carved out some strategies to solve it.
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1. Set clear expectations
When we developed our “Customers for Life” program, we did our due diligence and gained senior executive buy-in. After that, we took on the task of motivating employees to start making changes. We created a “Customers for Life” Steering Committee made up of middle managers—VPs and directors from service, support, renewal and sales, all customer-facing teams. We met with the committee, reported our latest customer satisfaction scores and ways to improve them, and assumed that the information would cascade down to their employees. Guess what—it didn’t.
I discovered in subsequent meetings that the managers were unclear about how much communicating I would be doing with their people, and how much was their responsibility. I learned that the short vision/mission statement we had developed for the steering committee wasn’t enough, so we followed up with a list of expectations of committee members:
- Model customer-centric behavior.
- Communicate CX information regularly, using the Voice of the Customer.
- Assign CX Catalysts for your area or areas. (See last month’s column on our CX Catalyst Network, a program that enlists formal and informal leaders within each department to serve as CX motivators for their teams.)
- Align hiring, performance management and reward systems.
- Embed customer centricity into core business processes.
2. Invest more time communicating
We generated a lot of excitement across our company when we launched our “Customers for Life” program, but the excitement had to be followed quickly by real details and a concrete plan to keep the momentum going. The plan includes frequent communication with steering committee members.
There are times when I defer our monthly group meetings and schedule individual meetings with them. These conversations can be particularly illuminating. For example, in recent one-on-one sessions, I asked about the expectations we had shared. Are they reasonable? Are you able to do all this? Members were much more forthcoming and talked to me about areas where they felt they were falling behind or were not as far along as everybody else. I responded with, “What can we do to make you more comfortable?” These were extremely productive sessions.
In addition to the monthly meetings, we produce a quarterly customer relationship survey, which includes an overall report and a more detailed report for each steering committee member’s department. I share the reports with them and make myself available to join their department meetings and discuss the data if they’re not comfortable going through it all on their own. If it sounds time-consuming, it is, but I always find that it is time well-spent. We’re not only communicating, but we’re also educating our managers on how to communicate critical customer relationship information where it matters most.
3. Prove their value with data… and persistence
Our support team has quarterly meetings at our headquarters for all of its managers and vice presidents. I used to attend the meetings occasionally, but now I go to every single one. Why? At one of the first meetings, I provided data that showed the value of the team’s participation in our CX program. This report revealed customer expectations and the areas where expectations weren’t being met. The managers weren’t convinced at first, but they agreed to put in place a few improvements that I recommended.
On subsequent surveys they found — to their delight — that the needle had moved. As they implemented more improvements, they in turn saw the needle continue to move accordingly. Today, I am part of the agenda for each of their quarterly meetings. The results are truly gratifying. They’re excited about starting new projects. Customer satisfaction scores are improving rapidly, because CX is embedded in their culture now. They use CX reports for information and inspiration on what to do next.
Other departments that are similarly engaged with our CX program are also seeing big increases in their customer satisfaction scores. These ‘early adopters’ are a joy; the challenge is bringing everyone up to that same level of engagement!
Above All Expectation, Be Flexible
There are seven steps in our CX journey to accomplishing a customer-centric culture, and we are at the halfway point today. We’ve secured executive buy-in and assembled a team to lead the transformation. Now we’re working to create a shared vision for the intended experience, and rallying and aligning employees to the transformation.
Frankly, the halfway point is probably the most challenging so far. When we started the journey a few years ago, we never would have predicted all the paths we’ve taken to make it a success.
For example, the CX Catalyst Network was not necessarily included in the initial plan, but something we learned we needed in order to extend our executive CX strategy to the frontlines. As that program launches, we are increasing our focus on aligning middle managers and acknowledging their needs and more of our involvement than expected. It’s worth the effort and a valuable lesson for us. It requires senior leadership, middle management and frontline employees all working together to make CX programs successful.