After eight years I recently resigned as a leader of global customer experience for a technology company. Eight years is a long time in any position but, particularly in a CX leadership role. Experts say the average tenure for a CX leader is between 12 and 24 months. I learned a lot in that time and, looking back, some successes give me much satisfaction and a few failures make me wonder what I was thinking.
I’ve also wondered what would happen if I could go back in time with what I know now. How would I advise the younger version of myself? Here are four lessons that I’d pass along.
Lesson #1 – CX is a long-term play and most organizations and their shareholders are short-term focused.
By nature and design, CX initiatives are big and involve a lot of organizational change. The customer insights they glean propel their proposals towards multi-departmental initiatives and large system re-designs. These types of projects make a huge impact on customer experience and, at the same time, take time and investment. However, organizations, particularly those that are publicly traded, are interested in quarterly returns. Did we make our number? Did we manage our expenses? Did we achieve an even greater profit margin than expected? So the challenge becomes how to maintain support for the long-term projects while much of the organization is focused on quarterly outcomes.
Part of the answer is to always have a portfolio of short-, mid-, and long-term projects. The inherent challenge of this approach is in reporting the outcomes of projects in a way that appeals to the need for instant, impactful results and the typical lack of organizational patience of executive teams. Reporting on several short-term projects creates a picture for executives that the impact is there but it isn’t significant. Reporting on larger projects that are making slow progress creates a picture that the CX initiative is requiring too much time to make a significant impact. This is where executive support comes in.
Lesson #2 – Executive support is vital – and built or lost every day.
Communicating the voice of the customer — through feedback and insights — to organizational leadership is one of the primary duties of the customer experience leader. In an ideal world, the entire management team should understand the link between customer loyalty, revenue, and business success. And, they should offer the required support to extend the value of the customer experience program across the broader organization, creating a customer-centric culture.
I knew that relationship building with organizational leaders was critical and, for me, it took shape in several ways including welcoming new leaders with an orientation to the goals and structure of the customer experience program, regular meetings with each executive, and encouraged participation in CX committee meetings. And yet, in retrospect, it wasn’t enough.
My advice to my earlier self would be to double down on informing and gaining support from the executive team. Do not assume at any point that they “get it” or are supportive of the program just because they are not voicing opposition. Look beyond the attendance at meetings and examine actions. Is each executive modeling customer-centric behavior with their teams? Are they engaging the CX team for additional insights, journey mapping, or culture building? If not, it’s an indicator that there is more work to do with the executive team.
Lesson #3 – Employee engagement is key to customer engagement.
Most CX Maturity Models start with understanding the customer, move to “find and fix” and, then, to culture change. Honestly, it’s possible to get through the first two stages without active employee engagement. But culture change is near impossible without a solid strategy and implementation for employee engagement.
The customer is everyone’s business and the customer knows when employees are engaged with their jobs. An employee who goes through the motions or doesn’t make an effort to produce a positive interaction can create a less loyal customer. And that less loyal customer is going to consider going to a competitor.
It may be surprising, but I wouldn’t advise my younger self to own and manage employee engagement. Rather, I’d encourage her to make sure that there is an active employee engagement initiative in the organization and she is integrated into the effort. Help promote employee engagement by providing transparency with customer feedback. Share both the good news and bad news. Give kudos to employees who receive positive comments from customers. And, most importantly, candidly and regularly share customer satisfaction trends across the organization.
Lesson #4 – The value of analytics to provide customer insights to the organization cannot be overstated.
Eight years ago, when I started as an individual contributor I designed surveys, distributed them, and performed all the analysis. Over time the needs and opportunities for understanding customer behavior through advanced analytics only grew. We integrated financial information to understand the impact of loyalty on purchase behavior. Then we added activity data to begin understanding the journey of the most loyal customers. All of this data integration and analysis required the skills of a data scientist, which we were able to hire. I no longer had to perform the analysis but I needed to understand the capabilities of different types of integration and analysis to ensure we were heading in the right direction.
My advice to my earlier self would be to take advantage of every analytics learning opportunity while staying abreast of other organizational data initiatives. Find out what analysts in other parts of the organization are doing and get involved. Is there a funded effort to develop a data warehouse or data lake? If so, what data could be added to better understand the customer? Whether at a conference or as an online course, take advantage of any opportunity to increase your knowledge of how analytics and artificial intelligence can propel your customer experience efforts.
Hindsight is clearer than living in the moment but it can also be unfair to those who lived through the events. In the final assessment, I would say that our customer experience program was wildly successful. We developed a CX dream team of analysts, practitioners, and advocates who were all passionate about building customer relationships. Customer experience catalysts across functional areas learned how to spark improvement projects in their areas based on customer feedback. As an organization, we were closer to our customers because of CX initiatives such as formal and informal feedback programs, online communities, and advocacy initiatives. Maybe it’s the perfectionist in me or just basic human nature but, even with that success, I’d like to whisper these few words of advice to my earlier self or, even better, to new CX leaders just beginning their careers and journeys.