As a Master Black Belt at General Electric, I got to see the rise & fall of 6 Sigma. For those of you less than familiar with 6 Sigma, 1) thanks for already proving my point and 2) it’s a data-driven process improvement methodology that seeks to reduce customer defects. (Check out this definition for more.)
I know what some of you are thinking, “Wait a minute … there’s still plenty of black belt jobs around.” You’re right, but the emphasis is nothing like it was in the late 90’s to mid 2000’s when nearly every company was trying to get on the bandwagon and seemingly every project manager was trying to get a 6 sigma certification. FLO Partners released a study of process excellence professionals documenting that 71% of respondents used 6 Sigma in 2005 while only 33% did in 2013. What happened? The tail started wagging the dog.
Six Sigma started its decline at GE when Jack Welch mandated that every employee become Green Belt certified. It seemed like a good way to get 6 sigma into everyone’s DNA. Unfortunately, it backfired. Think about your business. Now think about every employee completing a project where they measure a process, fix it and then monitor its progress over time. Oh, and pass a test with math and statistical analysis. I’ll pause while you think through that … every employee.
As I was mentoring (and I use that term loosely) sales veterans – who rarely even turned on their computer – to use Minitab to statistically analyze data to determine if their 2-sample T test had a p value less than 0.05, I realized something was wrong. When I was flying home from Connecticut after presenting 60-page PowerPoint decks about projects I had finished several months earlier and had already shown big improvements, yet required some “additional pages to fully flesh out my statistical results,” I knew we had completely lost sight of our goal. Instead of using 6 sigma to improve processes in a methodical, data-driven way, we were doing 6 sigma for the sake of 6 sigma. The tail was wagging the dog.
The question is, “Will Customer Experience go the way of 6 sigma?” Unfortunately, I see some of the warning signs already. Ask yourself, “Are we really trying to improve customer experience or are we just trying to improve out net promoter score (NPS)?” You can view a webinar on this topic here. How much time are you spending building your team vs. time spent understanding your customer’s journey? Are you counting the number of CX projects your business completes or are you measuring the outcomes of those projects? In particular, I think it’s in “outcomes” where we’re collectively falling short.
I work with several clients who started their CX programs in earnest a few years ago. They’ve grown from one person to a team, moved from smaller projects to larger ones and set up their customer research processes. But they don’t have a lot of clear results at which to point. And, their leadership teams are starting to notice.
The most common concern I hear from my clients with semi-mature CX programs is that their leadership team is starting to ask about results. Often times, leaders weren’t 100% bought in to CX, but they thought it was worth a try. They’re now looking at the cost of a CX program and wondering if it’s worth it. Just like when interest in 6 sigma started to wane, they’re deciding if CX is a fad or if it’s something that will truly change their business for the better in terms of improved retention, revenue and whatever other business outcome is most important to them (and it’s usually not NPS). It appears the CX honeymoon may be over.
Every business is different, but here are a few ideas I’ve seen around the industry that help drive tangible results.
- Start with the end in mind. With a nod to Stephen Covey, this is a very important concept for CX. Instead of initiating an improvement in your customer experience program based solely on a customer complaint, start with the business metric or outcome you want to improve. If it’s retention, what drives retention? What processes most closely affect those drivers? Then, within those processes, where is the largest gap between customer expectations and customer satisfaction?
- Use linkage modeling to connect survey results to financial outcomes. You don’t have the resources to solve every customer problem so figure out the ones that are most important and solve those. Statistically show the correlation between specific survey responses and operational data … especially operational data that’s linked to financial outcomes.
- Closely monitor the customer touchpoints you most care about (see #’s 1 and 2 above) and act quickly when there’s an issue. Checking trends once a month may work ok in the aggregate, but it feels like an eternity to a customer that’s just had a bad experience.
Using these techniques and others, we can drive the results we and our business leaders are seeking. Also, by pushing ourselves to achieve real business outcomes with our CX projects, we can avoid the fate of 6 sigma. Let’s make sure customer experience isn’t just a fad, but instead, a lasting part of our business’ DNA.
Full disclosure: I’m the Senior Director of Strategic Consulting at MaritzCX so I’d be happy to help you realize the business outcomes you’re seeking. If you want to do it yourself, that’s cool too. At the end of the day, we’re all customers and I want our experiences to be awesome – regardless of who made them that way.
6 sigma: http://www.ijgolding.com/2013/09/16/shhhhh-dont-mention-six-sigma-the-truth-behind-the-stigma/
Tail wagging dog: http://kippaxvet.com.au/Media/Blog/tabid/2295/EntryId/145/Understanding-What-Your-Dog-is-Telling-You.aspx
Confused with computer: www.stmarys-ca.edu
Question mark: http://monroevillein.com/?attachment_id=2005