Senior executives ‘walk the walk’ in firms that are truly customer-centric. How can you make it happen?
Senior executive buy-in is high on the list of ingredients for successful customer experience (CX) programs. In a previous column, I wrote about how to achieve this when you’re starting a program. The next big question is how do you keep it going along the journey to build and maintain a customer-centric culture. It’s important to consider what senior leaders do to set positive CX examples on a regular basis, and how they manage it all.
Ryan Hollenbeck—senior vice president, global marketing and executive sponsor for Verint’s CX program shares, “I set it as a personal goal to interact with a customer every day—it’s a great way to recharge and reconnect.” For Hollenbeck, it’s not always a face-to-face conversation. Sometimes it’s an email exchange. He adds, “It’s easy to get bogged down in day-to-day work activities, but I really consider it a high when I hear directly from our customers.”
Hollenbeck and I worked together to start our CX program nearly four years ago. It started as an initiative to take our CX efforts to the next level under guiding principles to communicate proactively with customers, understand their business needs and making it easy for them to do business with us. We knew we couldn’t achieve excellence in customer experience without support from the larger leadership team. Today we realize we’re fortunate in that each member of our senior executive team is a strong advocate for our program’s success.
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The examples are plentiful:
- Our president of customer engagement solutions writes an internal blog on a regular basis. It highlights efforts of employees to develop customers for life in our organization. Sometimes he highlights the customer projects that have been enabled by our software and services. Other times he focuses on exemplary, customer-centric behavior by employees.
- Our vice president of professional services has recently established a CX committee just for his teams. The committee works closely with me and our CX Catalyst network to improve customer processes within professional services.
- Our vice president of customer support has set up CX training for her teams. The training focuses on how to meet customer expectations by being proactive and striving to make it easy to do business with us.
Walking the CX Talk
In addition to the individual special things our senior executives do to support CX, all of them work within the infrastructure of our corporate CX program and help direct its progress. This is the biggest contribution any senior executive can make to the CX effort.
1. They provide structured guidance, feedback and support.
When we started our CX program, we interviewed 25 of our global leaders. They offered good illustrations of how the company was customer-focused, but all agreed there could be more structure and definition to the efforts going forward. From that group, we formed a cross-functional executive steering committee to guide the program and gauge its performance against a written set of guiding principles and objectives.
Our president, general manager, CFO, and senior vice presidents of sales, product and marketing are members of the steering committee, and the seriousness with which they take their responsibility is greatly appreciated. The group meets regularly and the first task is to review the latest customer feedback and monitor trends. Because they have set eight focus areas for improvement, their next agenda item is reviewing progress in those areas. The lively discussions we hear are an indicator that interest in our CX program is alive and well. Rarely do members miss a session.
The steering committee also supports the branding of our program company-wide. When it was time to replace coffee mugs in breakrooms, the decision was unanimous to print our program’s logo, “Developing Customers for Life,” on them. Program banners hang in our offices worldwide. We even had a muralist paint our guiding principles on the walls of our offices in Alpharetta, Georgia.
2. They take time to interact with customers.
We provide quarterly customer survey results to our senior executive team, but Hollenbeck and other members of the steering committee make it a practice to dig a little deeper. They read every one of the verbatim comments we assemble from those surveys. They find the comments offer valuable, specific insights into what the company is doing right and what areas need improvement. And, after review, the team agrees on action items that come directly from the voice of the customer. These verbatims are also a great way to recognize specific employees who are mentioned by customers in their survey responses!
Members of our senior executive team also visit our customers during the year as executive sponsors. When they discuss the partnership between our company and theirs, they do so using the guiding principles we wrote for our CX program. In other words, our program is not an afterthought in these meetings, but sets the framework for the entire discussion. In these visits, our senior executives are ambassadors for our CX efforts. What more could a CX professional want?
“In the past, we might have been leading with tactical things like, ‘Here’s how your implementation will go, here’s how you contact support, here’s what you do to be part of the Verint family,’ but now all those things fit under an umbrella that we can articulate very clearly,” says Hollenbeck. “We’re no longer talking off-the-cuff, but defining what we mean when we say we are putting our customers first.”
3. They preach the ROI of CX.
Sometimes senior leadership will surprise you. Early in the program, I didn’t expect the executive in charge of our product group to be that interested in our CX program, but he emerged as one of our biggest advocates. Because of his analytical nature, he immediately saw the connection between CX and loyalty and revenue, and he worked with me to demonstrate the connection to others.
Some executives might think that CX is “fluffy” and not vital to the bottom line, but if done well it is an analytical subject and analytical people are drawn to it. They know that if you can grasp the drivers of customer loyalty, understand what operational parts of the business affect those drivers, and then measure the business based on those operational metrics, you will be successful.
Business decisions through the CX lensOne of the best ways our senior executives support our CX program is the way they make business decisions—through the lens of customer experience. They always ask the question: “Is this what our customers want?” For example, many contact centers cite average handle time or first-call resolution as measures of success. We don’t use either of those metrics.
When we looked at our customer data, we knew that what’s important to our customers within our particular business model is issue resolution time. It is one of our chief CX metrics because it takes the customer’s perspective. And we don’t call an issue closed until the customer says so.
Keeping the momentum going
Senior executives are busy people with many obligations. Speaking for the ones in my company, I know they appreciate any efforts to help them keep our CX program “on their radar.” I produce a one-page, printable infographic that summaries the latest customer feedback. I ask each executive to print it out and keep it in their daily notebook so they can refer to the data during their internal meetings. This helps bring the customer to the table, so to speak, even when I’m not there to share the data myself.
I also make a point to share customer satisfaction stories that are relevant to the executive’s responsibilities. Data is important, but individual stories have a real impact, too.
In addition, when the executives request customer insights that aren’t included in our standard reports, we always work to find the insight in our data or, if necessary, design a special study so they will have the data they need for their operations.
We also find out what type of customer feedback is helpful to them, and we evaluate if we should incorporate that feedback request into some of our other projects. It’s another way of reminding them that we are working together as partners in the quest to improve the customer experience. In return, our CX program receives a daily show of support from the senior leadership team.