Prioritizing Customer Experience (CX) is often not enough. The decision to deliver industry-leading CX is a great moment, but it is also a humbling one. We might even know the biggest issues in our process that antagonize our customers, but when pressed we still have no idea how to fix them.
The way to make it happen is to build an adaptive culture that lives and breathes like any healthy ecosystem. Ecosystems adapt as their environment changes, right? If your competitors can out-adapt you to satisfy your customers better, then you are out of business. Success depends upon adaptation to the changing demands of customers and markets. It’s about creating pathways for perceptions that organizations are responsive and can change to accommodate these forces.
Large businesses are often too absorbed with their internal mechanisms to pull off customers’ focus on this level. Silo-mentality, egos, and outdated rules (I like to call Moose) get in the way at every turn. They complicate the process of change by running it through an arbitrary system that is completely estranged from the customer. So the prospect of creating a working, adaptive culture can be daunting.
The question I am often asked is: “Great, Mohamed, but where do we start?!”
The Fundamentals. These five principles are not just important; they are everything.
5 Common Sense Principles Underpinning Customer Experience Excellence
1. Learn by Doing
Recently, this notion of learning by doing has been formalized and is known as design thinking. It is similar to the Buddhist concept of “beginner’s mind,” embracing an attitude of openness, willingness. Beginner’s mind discards preconceptions in order to observe what is actually happening as the result of our actions so that we can adapt on the fly. It’s an iterative process, and the goal is to understand the customer, challenge our assumptions, and redefine problems so we can find new solutions that initially were not clear to us. At its core, design thinking is the relentless pursuit of understanding the people for whom we design our products and services. The Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford breaks the process down into the following five phases:
- Empathize with your user
- Define your users’ needs, their problems, and your insights
- Prototype – create solutions
- Test your solutions
These phases are not a step by step path, they frequently occur in varying orders, sometimes in parallel, and even repeat. This is learning by doing at its best. Design thinking is at the core of every industry-leading CX innovation, so integrating this process is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, you will be forced to copycat your competitors, which will leave you a step behind. More importantly, it will leave you at risk of pleasing someone else’s customers while alienating your own base.
2. Radical Decentralization
The radical decentralization of authority allows change to happen quickly and exactly where it needs to occur, elevating the customer experience in real-time. Recently, a Wall Street Journal Article discussed Walmart’s new employee structure. Their goal was to have fewer mid-level managers with more capabilities while giving the expanded floor level workforce more decision-making power, and also motivating them to engage more effectively with customers. ‘Not so little’ things like returning an item or changing a price which previously took multiple authorizations and too much time, now are executed more efficiently, and their customers are noticing. We have countless of these examples now to show how even the largest multinationals are pushing responsibility to where the customer can see it.
3. A Return to Common Sense (Remove Outdated Policies with a Moose Bounty)
I call outdated policies, procedures, and practices “Moose.” These antiquated, ungainly beasts inhibit adaptiveness and thus the delivery of excellent customer experience. Trusting and empowering your employees to identify these majestic animals and make them extinct is a powerful way to improve corporate culture and customer experience all at once. Our article, A Prerequisite for Customer Centricity and Transformative Growth discusses this ‘moose hunt’ further.
4. Pushing through Fear
Fear is one of the greatest barriers to creativity and does little to foster the adaptive culture we need for customer experience excellence.
We tend to focus on strategic change rather than small change, but often small changes are the precursors to growth. We also like to demand change instead of creating it collaboratively. Looking at the most successful workplaces in the United States, my team discovered that employee feedback is the common thread of employer success. Every one of the happiest and most productive workplaces has devised a way to garner employee feedback and then integrate it into the company quickly.
5. Creating an Empathic Culture
With fear removed, employees become your most vital asset because they understand your customers so much better than you do. Today, 91 percent of CEOs believe empathy is directly linked to a company’s financial performance, and ninety-three percent of employees say they’re more likely to stay with an empathic employer (Businesssolver, “2019 State of Workplace Empathy”). The problem is that most CEOs believe their organizations are empathic, while many employees don’t agree. This gap leads to frustration, loss of talent, and ultimately lackluster customer experience. Organizations that prioritize empathy use employee surveys, town hall meetings with senior executives, and team meetings to engage and communicate seamlessly with their most important resource. Empathy is really the end goal, and it builds naturally from the other 4 common sense principles I have listed.
None of these ideas are new or even questioned in terms of their effectiveness. The new idea is that they must all be present in order to create CX excellence.
Here’s the good news. Integrating these principles into the corporate structure generates value for everyone, not just customers. For this reason, we find a high correlation between employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and profitability. The value of adaptiveness is recognized and appreciated by everyone.